Friday, December 16, 2005

On the Question of Forgiveness

So the Terminator-Governator denied Stanley "Tookie" Williams clemency and he was put to death earlier this week - killed by lethel injection given to him by the State of California. His crime? Williams killed 4 people though he maintained his innocence throughout. Additionally, he was one of the founders of the notorious and violent Crips gang in Los Angeles but, from what I've read, dramatically turned his life around in jail and began to write anti-gang books. Basically, a story of redemption but his rehebilitation, apparently, fell on deaf ears or, rather, came at a time when Arnie is feeling politcal heat and felt the need to throw the seething right-wing masses (how many are there in Cali?!?) some good ol' fashioned red meat.

Reading about this case brought up a couple of disturbing questions/observations about these United States at the beginning of the 21st century. Has anyone else noticed that the more "christian" our country becomes the less forgiving it is? The more godly our nation becomes the more hellbent it is on extracting revenge in the crudest, most savage ways possible. Are we sublty practicing an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth type of law? According to pollsters 68% of the population believes wholeheartedly in the death penalty so, I suppose, St. Arnold could forcefully argue that he was merely carrying out the will of the people.

Now, I think this is a particularly interesting case because, obviously, this man, Stanley "tookie" Williams, from all appearances, had made a legitmate turn around, had changed, had tried to to redeem himself or had redeemed himself but...what is the point of redemption if the culture won't recognize it or has lost the capacity to forgive? And, isn't forgiveness at the heart of Christianity?

Monday, December 12, 2005


I meant to write about this a few weeks ago but in the post-Thanksgiving rush forgot. While I was in Portland over Thanksgiving in between tipping strippers and gawking at hunky Kurt Cobain look-alikes (all of whom, true to cliche, seem to work in coffee shops) I also went to see "Rent." I almost felt like I had a duty to see it, being that I am an aspiring New York Boho-Thespian (albeit one that is far more jaded than the characters that belt their way through adversity in Jonathen Larson's "Rent." I should, apparently, take a cue from the characters in "Rent" and sing my way through the Darwinian struggle of living in New York City but then I'd probably get arrested). First of all, I hate to say it, because I like a lot of the "message" behind "Rent" and some of the music is really, fun, clever, moving etcetera, etcetera. But (ahhh, yes, the invetiable "but") this musical has not aged well and it seems, just ten or fifteen years after its debut at New York Theater Workshop, horribly dated.

The premise of the musical is, essentially, the story of eight artist/bohemian types who struggle to live, love, and create in the East Village during the height of the Aids epidemic. The storyline of Puccinni's "La Boheme" is thrown in there somewhere but "Rent" is not a strict reinterpretation of the opera. Not only do the earnest hipsters of "Rent" struggle with the H.I.V virus, they also face the onslaught of gentrification that is about to make their affordable housing (er, free housing) in the East Village (the EAST VILLAGE!?!) a near impossiblity. Now, I think, watching "Rent" in the era in which the East Village is the playland of junior executives from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, who roll up and down Avenues A,B and C in two hundred dollar "Seven" jeans, drinking $15.00 mojitos, talking on cellphones while their thumbs move swiftly and expertly over Blackberry Keyboard interfaces, is quite differnt than watching "Rent" in the early 90's.

The earnestness of "Rent", the goodwill of these hipsters with a cause, the "love will save the day" message that underlies the musical seems, at this point, slightly cringe inducing because it rings so ---hollow. Also, for better or worse, the disease, AIDS, that really gave the musical it's sense of gravity is, now, something that has come to be thought of as only deadly to...poor African countries. I don't think the musical is helped by the fact that the movie is directed by one of Hollywood's great hired hand/hacks, Chris Columbus. The man responsible for "Mrs. Doubtfire", "Stepmom" and the first two clunky adaptations of "Harry Potter" to name but a few of his Hallmark inspired ouevre.

His camera knows no grace and the scenes never soar or seem...filmic, actually. The fact is film is not theater and the film adpatation of "Rent" could have benefitted from a little nip and tuck (it's far too long, with one ballad too many) as well as some editing panache. It gets neither and the camera remains static and worshipful throughout which kills whatever flair was inherent in the score. Oddly enough, by being too reverential of the original stage production of "Rent" the movie has no life of its own and just seems like a weaker, cornier version of what thrilled so many audiences in the theater. True artists (the kind the character in "Rent" aspire to be) know that sentimentality is the enemy of good art but Chris Columbus seems to only know how to direct in mawkish pastel tones. Even the Drag Queen in the movie version of "Rent" comes off as PG-13.

This "Rent" is nothing that a junior Executive from Goldman Sachs would object to, in fact, after viewing it, it'll just make the East Village all that much cooler, now that, you know, "those" kinds of people are not actual residents there anymore (they all left for Red Hook in '93 cause they couldn't afford the ____). La Vie Boheme, indeed.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Now that you've trashed the place, leave.

I went out last night with a friend who I haven't seen in a while. We spent the first half of the evening catching up on our, respective, lives. Engaging in the comforting back and forth of "how are you?", "how's your job?", "your lovelife?", "your complete lack of a lovelife?", "your family?", "what are you doing for Christmas?", and so on and so forth. After we had talked about what had been filling our days and evenings since we last saw each other since summer (hard to believe it had been almost 5 months but that's how friendships often function in New York -- sporadically) we moved on to talk about, you know, the incredibly bizarre and genuinely terrifying state of the world.

Perhaps, because it's the end of the year or because I spend many hours of my day being bombarded with information (of my own free will, mind you) I have lately been more dismayed than usual by the utter shittyness of the news. Joyce's qoute about history being a nightmare from which he was trying to awake strikes me, now, more than ever to be totally relevant and reading the newspaper is becoming a truly stomach churning affair. It's curious too, I feel the more information I absorb, the more powerless I feel. Especially reading, hearing, or seeing news about the war in Iraq which, day-by-day, seems more and more like a genuine hell on this earth with the Pentagon unable to entirely censor the images of exploding buses and smoking mosques.

Not to be a total Debbie Downer but looking at the world and feeling any kind of hopefulness right now would take a few esctasy pills and a fifth of bourbon. I have to admit to being slightly depressed even if it is the "most wonderfulllll time of the yearrrrr" and I know I am getting a long covted for i-pod for Christmas (finally a tried and true member of the Born to Buy generation). Now, I must also admit that I have, as of late, been nursing a slight fixation on the Baby Boomer generation, the generation raised by the "Greatest Generation", the generation that gave us George W. Bush but also Bill Clinton, the generation that gave us Oprah Winfrey, and Steve Jobs, and Katie Couric, and Ken Lay to name just a few. A boomer was anyone born post-World War II when western Europe was dragging itself out of the mire and the U.S. economy was booming from all the toasters and nuclear warheads it was making and selling.

For the record, the Boomers gave us the S.U.V and the i-pod, and Wal-mart and our feudal 21st century economy of Warlord/Shareholder and Serf/Service Employee and with it the end of pensions and the shredding of any social or civil contract put in place during the Great Society. I am going to be bold and unforgiving and say: I don't like the Boomers very much. They were born (en masse) and they partied (en masse) and they trashed the planet (en masse) and now they are going to try and stay as long as possible (en masse) and and we, their children (who are fewer), are going to be here to clean up their mess.

They are like the world's worst party guests and we will be picking up their trash and cleaning up for a long time after they've left.

Harumph. Needless to say, hope springs enternal (and who am I to doubt that cliche) but mine has just taken a quick vacation. I hope it returns in time for the New Year.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Twin Peaks

I went to lovely Portland, Oregon for Giving de Thanks. I went primarily to visit old friends who moved to this tarnished jewel of a City from San Francisco ( which is just an outright jewel). My image of Portland prior to my visit was that it was another well-to-do Pacific Northwest mid-sized City that was the benefactor of Nike dollars and Tech industry largesse but, boy, was I wrong. Portland, actually, has one of the worst job markets in the whole country and my friend Korey, who has a fine Master's Degree in Library Science, has been relegated to working at a car dealership temp job located 30 minutes outside the City. He is doing well by Portland standards but, needless to say, he is, now, moving back to San Franciso -- evergreens, no matter how gorgeous, and beer, no matter how tasty and micro-brewed (Potland has a lot of both) are not reason enough to stay in an economically depressed town.

The City plays host to an odd assortment of hardcore Hippies with a well established anti-corporate ethos and Slacker-Granola Punks still sporting flannel and vintage t-shirts a la Kurt Cobain plus, right-wing militia types who preach the words of Jesus and the gospel of the N.R.A. There is no sales-tax in Portland and ballot intiatives to increase funding of schools and whatnot have, usually, failed so there are no civil or social services to speak of. Apparently, the City is so strapped for cash the Police Department doesn't have a computer system and there is a rumor that there are only two snow-plows for the whole town so an inch or two of the white, sticky, stuff shuts the town down.

Not to be terribly crude but speaking of the white, sticky, stuff - Portland has an incredibly vibrant, uh, Adult Entertainment industry that fits into the whole Wild-West, Anti-Tax, Anti-Gub'ment, environment. Fantasy Video is a peep show/porn-store that's big enough for the whole family. Dancing Boys? Check out the Silverado where the men strip for other men (and the few women who love them enough to be dragged out to a gay strip bar: me!). The men taking it all (and I mean all) off were suprisingly good-looking (they had all their teeth) and so hair-free and shiny that comparisons to Ken Dolls would not be far off the mark. They shake what their Mamma gave them to get tipped by men in baseball hats decorated with logos of bald eagles and American flags or a short brunette with a crimson face (again: me).

The only industry besides porn that really seems to be booming in Portland is the manufacturing and distribution of Cyrstal Meth. It seems that meth has become the moonshine of the 21st Century with small rural communities turning to household cleaners that, mixed right, can be turned into a nasty drug that is both a relief from boredom and enconomic desparity. It's entirely possible that the clapboard house tucked neatly into the side of that mountain is a fully functioning meth lab. Hopefully, the people inside know what they are doing because if they don't Grandma's falling-apart Victorian is going up in flames. This is "Our Town" for the 21st Century where tweaker-drug dealers compete with preachers for the soul of America. I saw more than a few people on the streets of Portland who had, obviously, done a little meth -- the manic chin wagging is always a dead giveaway.

However, Portland (and the state of Oregon) is an icredibly gorgeous place and the native Oregonians, to their immense credit, have managed to stave off the rapacious development that mars so many other rural states. No Wal-Mart or Home Depot complexes cut into Oregon's awe-inspiring natural beauty and, bravo to a community that puts it's Mom and Pops and it's environment ahead of a short-term economic boom.

I am glad I got to see where Lewis & Clark forged their trail and you can still imagine how wild and beautiful it must have been untouched. Oregon, wild Oregon, with its evergreens, waterfalls, streams, mountains, meth users, and strippers, all perched on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.