Sunday, May 25, 2014

In 1999, I Thought This Was a Good Idea

There's a lot going on here.

Obviously, racially specific casting calls are common. But there are things about this one that are, at best, preeeety embarrassing. I created it in 1999, when I was in college, and posted it in the streets around my high school (Stuyvesant, which has had a ropey few years but remains in my mind a golden exemplar of many many good things) to try to get actors for a film I shot that summer.

One note: it worked, well -- I got a decent number of kids who called, cast a few, and we shot the movie and had fun.

So, but the poster. Part of me admires my chutzpah, part of me is mortified at my insensitivity, and part of me just thinks it's interesting.

Chutzpah: way to go. You tried to catch the eye of Asian teenagers, challenged their coolness, and got them to call you to be in a movie. And it worked!

Mortified: wow, oh my God. Seriously what were you thinking? What the hell are those pictures of old Asian men playing cards about? You were not looking for old Asian men. Are you suggesting that there is some exoticized vision of the "Asian" as a denizen of card-playing opium dens, and that you are trying to channel that vision for your movie? Because that is possibly offensive, and also not what you were looking for. Also these images look like low-res cut and paste jobs from the internet back when it barely worked and computers were like stone stenography tools, because that's an accurate description of the circumstances under which they were produced. Next, what's that in the lower-left? Is that Maoist imagery or something? What the hell has that got to do with anything? You were looking for kids like the kids you knew in high school: Asian-American kids who were into '90s hip-hop culture and repped it in how they dressed and spoke. What the f%*# does shoddy pseudo-Maoist propaganda have to do with that? These images are like a bizarre grab bag from the mind of an insane person who has never met an "Asian" person (wtf btw? can you clarify?) and is not good at graphic design. Oh my God.

Interesting: Letting myself off the hook for none of the above, I do think there's something of the way we processed and spoke about race in my high school that I was channeling with this. We had a deliberate carelessness about racial tropes and signifiers, which made us -- I'd say -- simultaneously frank and naive about the whole thing. For those who don't know, Stuyvesant is unusual for a New York public high school. It is predominantly Asian and white (do I capitalize "white"?), in which categories I am carelessly lumping together all east Asian kids, all south Asian kids, and white kids who varied from 1st-generation Russian to upper-middle class private school escapees (me). It is, famously and controversially, very unrepresentative of the city's demographics in terms of the number of black (do I capitalize "black"?) and Latino students. We were aware of all of this, subliminally and explicitly, and the way some kids dealt with it was a brash explication of race and racial expectation that basically took the form of a lot of joking. I'm sure there were ugly and hurtful incidents, and I'm sure people were bruised by some of this joking. But as the holder of a comfortable and loose racial/ethnic affiliation, I always appreciated it (even, perhaps particularly, when directed at me) and thought it spoke well of the students. I still do, actually, although I also see now that some of the ways in which we probably thought we were being iconoclastic and bold were actually ways in which people were trying on for size racialized views of people/situations, and that it's probably harder to disambiguate faking it and feeling it than we imagined it was at age 15 in 1995. But anyway -- I think that's part of where this sign comes from, my attempt to channel that. Which of course, and rightly, looks totally insane and possibly offensive now. Also, it is incredible how awful I am at anything involving visuals.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Pictures on My Phone 8/17/2013 and 8/18/2013

In which ALL IS REVEALED and also there is bowling.

8/17/2013 was not a dramatic day in our hero's photograph-taking, but it was a catastrophic one in the event that he, for instance, decided to sell his used phone and neglected to wipe all the data and was concerned about identity theft. Because it includes 3 photos:

- a weird out-of-focus one of an upper corner of a room with white paint and functional plaster-work, with a door open and a blue-ish coat hung behind it. The shot is as though you lay down on the floor and pointed the camera up into the corner of the room by the door (or were laying on the mattress in your newly-moved-into flat???). Anyway, this photo looks like an accident or a test.
- a photo of the front of his driver's license. Things I think it's okay to share: our hero is from Andhra Pradesh, along with about 85 million other people, gosh-knows-how-many thousands of whom probably come to the US to study and work. Andhra Pradesh driver's licenses are functional and not too exciting, like US licenses circa 1982.
- a photo of the back of his driver's license. One other thing I think it's okay to share: our hero is 25 years old.

It's interesting for a second to think about why he took shots of his driver's license, then it's not interesting at all. He was newly enrolling in things, and in a new place, and there were probably all kinds of things with school and maybe his lease and who knows what else asking for identification. He doesn't have US identification yet, or maybe he needs this to get it (although in that case I feel like he'd have to show up physically with the actual ID).

Anyway, our-hero-about-whom-I-know-a-lot, wipe your phone better next time, dude. People can crack your s**t from your behavior on, like, Tinder. Lobbing pics of your driver's license front and back about the used electronics marketplace is not best practices.

Now some good stuff.

Because on 8/18/2013 our hero had a Night Out with Bros. And he took 43 pictures. No way am I describing each one  of them -- already, this whole enterprise has me questioning my use of my spare time. But we can relive the night through them -- if you scroll through really fast you can actually sort of see it in fast-motion, which is neat.

First, they took to the streets and -- either drunk, walking-and-clicking, or careless -- took extremely blurry street-scene shots of Cleveland's hustle and bustle. This is 3 photographs, and particular attention is paid either to a white SUV, the building behind it, or -- again -- the intersection at which it is parked; it's impossible to say.

Then, the dudes posed in front of what must be some kind of landmark building in Cleveland I have no idea. It looks mid-20th century; it tapers up to a cupola then a pointed spire with maybe some columns up there, and it's lit a la Empire State Building: on this night, red light then above it white than above that -- the cupola and spire -- green. It took a little figuring to get these photos correct: there are a couple in which our hero is small, you can barely see his face as he disappears in the intersection before the building. Then they sort it out and he's closer to the camera, looming nearly as tall as the building itself, smiling easily with one thumb hooked into a jeans pocket, wearing a grey "Varsity Fame 08" t-shirt (must have been a warm night). This is 7 photos, all together.

The process then repeats with one of our hero's friends, and honestly both photographer and subject take a turn for the worse. The friend stands, wearing a polo shirt (light blue stripe, black base) that looks to me like it reps either a football or a cricket club, his hands in both pockets and arms bowed out in an awkward/uncomfortable looking way. The shot is from far away! He's not smiling! Also the photographer (perhaps our hero) is drunk/crazy. Whatever best practices were learnt photographing the previous subject have been lost: the first photo is from a bizarrely high vantage point and tilted sideways, as though the photographer has hopped up on a park bench and bent himself at an angle. The next is blurry.

But all that's okay, because now we get to it: 30 photographs of BOWLING MAGIC. Here is the cast of characters of these photos:

-- our hero is not in them. probably he was taking them.
-- shorts and red/blue striped polo shirt guy. A buffoon, sadly. Heavyset. You can see in the shots of him selecting a ball that he is timorous about relating to and manipulating this physical object. And then you can see in the shots of his bowling that this timorousness is well-founded: he looks awkward and stuff and uncommitted in his motions.
-- jeans and red/blue striped polo shirt guy. What a stud. If we made a movie of this night, here's our alpha male. He has a nice face -- we only see it in incomplete profile in a couple of shots of his getting a ball, but it's a nice face with a strong nose but not too strong and you know has a keen gaze. And he bowls with the easy grace of a man for whom it comes easily: there's a shot of him with his foot tucked behind himself in that way bowlers do. There's a shot of him approaching the lane with quiet, certain authority, ball raised ready to go. He doesn't say a lot, this guy. He doesn't have to.
-- white button down-shirt. The aesthete. We don't see his face at all, we just get a few shots of him at the lanes. Whereas our alpha male had the unassuming grace of the... alpha male, this guy's got pizzaz. His leg kicks up almost to his butt as he releases the ball, a nearly dancerly motion. His stride up to the lane is long, as if he's devouring the shellacked wood floor between himself and release.
-- a hot pink bowling ball. They all use it some, and it's always quite prominent when they do.
-- jokesy chinstrap-beard guy. There are 2 shots of him; one of him sitting with yet another dude as they wait and he looks a little smiling, a little unfriendly, with his chinstrap and his pooched lips and his phone in his hands. But then! In the second shot in which this jokester appears, he is facing the camera bent over, his butt facing the lane, having just released the ball between his legs backwards for his shot.

Ach, bowling is fun. I'm not being ironic. There is no sarcasm on this blog. That's one of the rules. The other rules is I'm not allowed to write about anything that it's actually a good use of one's time to write about, apparently.

Now obviously, we're judging these guys purely on form, on honestly also on how I like the cut of their various jibs. For all I know, shorts/polo-shirt guy bowls a 280. But I bet he does not. There's a shot of him, face turned to someone sitting behind the ball dispenser, and the look on his face is full of questions: that guy didn't know what he was doing. The other guys seemed to.

All of the dudes are South Asian, and all dressed sort of similarly. One gets the sense that they are all in Cleveland in a similar position, although it's hard to tell if they know each other before or have simply come together as fellow students with things in common.

The lane is one of those very bright, neon-y ones with images projected over all the lanes of a full moon and clouds, white and blue and sidewalk art-ish. What's that? You want more sleuthing, more detail? Okay, hotcakes. If you blow up any of the images of the guys bowling, beneath the moon-and-clouds graphic you can make it out: Yorktown Lanes, "your bowling headquarters." Damn straight.

Now, those amongst with OCD or who are savants may be asking: yo, 3 blurry SUV shots + 7 hero-in-front-of-building-of-mixed-quality shots + 2 non-hero-in-front-of-building + 30 bowling shots = 42 shots. Slim buttons, you said 43.

I did. And that's because the dudes ate some donuts. The final shot of this dynamic series, the capstone to a night of wandering around and posing and bowling, is a shot (blurry! again! what's up with this?) of a delicious looking box of donuts. It's hard to tell, but from the lighting, the floor, and the corner of the table the box is on they are certainly no longer in the lanes area of Yorktown Lanes, and I suspect they have decamped to some late-night donut establishment by this point, because that floor looks pretty dirty. There is a jean-ed leg with a hand resting on it in the lower right-hand corner of the shot. And then, centered, the donuts: white box. 4 plain honey-glazed. 2 cinnamon bun. 2 cups of donut holes. 2 cream-filled donuts of some kind, with nuts on the frosting in that bit of frosting that cream donuts often have where a donut's hole should be. 

The donuts look delicious.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Okay, so: okay

My results for the Verdugo Mountains 10k, which I ran this morning with my fleet friend CCK. Just before you start thinking silly thoughts, the first 3.25 or so miles of this race is a pretty gnarly uphill, ~500 ft/mile. So the 8:20/M you're seeing is a blending of a 10+/M on the way up and about a 5:40/M on the (shorter) way down.

If you want to verify them, I assume because you are insane, a link that's active as of this posting is here.

Here is a complete history of my relationship to this race and this result.

Up to t - 2 weeks: "hey whatever, it'll be a fun trail run, a 10k is nothing anyway"
t - 2 weeks to t - 2 days: "okay, I should train some, I wanna do good, it's a race," make a plan, don't really follow it, etc.
t - 2 days: "margh. I semi-followed my plan, and I am sick [true; not excuse], and I am banged up from Muay Thai [true], blech blech blech"
ALSO all this time, up to t - 1 hour: "man, I'm fit as hell. I'm going to toast this race. I may even win my age group and nab that pair of sneakers!"
t - 1 hour to t, upon arriving at race registration and seeing all the very buff and/or gazelle-runner people ready to run it, and also upon hearing from my friend CCK that the female record for this race was 48 minutes: "aw heck. i'll do my best. i'll finish the thing."
t to t + 50 minutes: rising sense of possibility as I pull near the front of the pack, realizing that htere are a small number of people ahead of me, no women ahead of me, etc. "go go go go go"
t + 51m40s: "okay, good job." eat delicious pumpkin pancakes and veggie sausages served for runners
t + 70m, when they posted the results: "darn"

I think the main lesson is that you're always a little closer than you think you are, and persistent effort is generally rewarded. I'm pleased to have been in the top 25 and a little disappointed not to be higher in my age group. I think the persistent effort of generally running and trail running was rewarded, and the fact that I've been focusing more on Muay Thai than running for the last couple months (and frequently banged up from sparring) hurt me a little. Lastly, I feel like I'm getting stronger, and could do this race more quickly next year. So we'll see. If I do, I'll let you know.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Unreleased Tracks: Melancholy Cranberry

The last of my 3 unreleased pieces for The Daily; this one's kind of elegiac. It's about cranberry sauce.

On the night of November 27, 1864, as the chill of winter crept over Union and Confederate troops in southeastern Virginia, Heyward Glover Emmell, a 22-year old from New Jersey, ate well for once.  Emmell, serving in the Union ambulance corps, was sitting in his tent, “wishing that I was home to eat a good dinner, when Brother George came in with a fine turkey, cranberry sauce, celery &.”  The meal was familiar, but the components immediately recognizable today as Thanksgiving necessities – turkey, stuffing, and the all-important cranberry relish – would not have seemed as archetypal to Emmell and his brothers-in-arms, delighted though they were. America’s definitive national meal was still in formation. Public goodwill, one woman’s campaign to nationalize a New England tradition, and the practicalities of wartime came together on the bloody fields outside Petersburg to set the menu and assure the inclusion of the sweet cranberry sauce that Americans ignore 364 days a year but cannot do without on one.

The cranberry carries a rich history in the cuisine of both Native Americans and later Pilgrim settlers. However, while it may have been eaten in various forms at harvest festivals in the early 1600s, cranberry sauce was probably not part of these meals: cranberry sauce requires sugar (heaps of it) and in Colonial times sugar was a scarce, expensive commodity. By the mid-17th century, traveler’s accounts of New England begin to mention a distinctive, sweet sauce made of boiled cranberries. But there was no inextricable connection between this dressing and the meal served to Hewyard Emmell, in part because there was no universal definition of the meal itself.

Until Sara Josepha Hale came along, that is. Hale was no particular friend to the cranberry, but she was a great lover of capital-T Thanksgiving, and it was largely through her efforts that a loose tradition became a national institution into which these tart, red berries could be incorporated. A poet, novelist, and editor of the hugely influential lifestyle magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, Hale conducted an indefatigable, decades-long campaign to turn New England’s secularized feast of “thanksgiving” into a formal national holiday. She also clearly articulated its blueprint in her successful novel Northwood: or, Life North and South. Hale describes a “true Yankee Thanksgiving” in detail, complete with stuffed Turkey and pumpkin pie. She makes no mention of cranberry sauce, however – despite having already singled it out as a favorite of her protagonist’s.

The popular story that brings Hale’s mission and cranberry sauce together is this: General Ulysses S. Grant considered Thanksgiving so important and the cranberry sauce so integral to it that he ordered the provision of said sauce with the meal to all of his enlisted men. Whatever Grant’s feelings, a slightly messier narrative seems more probable.

The Union army was six months into a bloody campaign to take over Richmond by knocking out supply lines running through Petersburg and the rest of the region and it had become bogged down in stalemated trench warfare that would ultimately last through the cold winter of 1864-1865. The conflict was grinding and brutal; “We remained under a terrible fire all night and at the present moment 3 P.M. we are in line for another charge I think,” Alex Patten, a young soldier in the 109th New York wrote in his diary, “I walked over the field of yesterday and found our boys and had them buried. There is but three of us in Co. today. 66 men is the entire strength of the Regt. I cannot write no more.” Mounting casualties became a source of public lament in the north, and citizens banded together to support the beleaguered troops by sending seasonal care packages, resulting in 120,000 turkey and chicken dinners being distributed to the wet and cold soldiers. The inclusion of cranberry sauce in these meals may have been practical: a seasonally appropriate relish, cranberries are a robust foodstuff high in benzoic acid, a natural preservative, and more importantly were known for their nutritional properties, particularly their value in staving off scurvy. To the extent that Grant and other military brass were concerned with the bill of fare, these functional arguments obviate the need for any sentimental attachment to a relish.

This 1864 thanksgiving, however, was the one that could create just such an attachment. Weeks before it, Sarah Hale finally won out: on October 20th, Abraham Lincoln did “hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may be then, as a day of thanksgiving…” While Lincoln only mandated a one-off, by November 1865 the North had won the war and a desire to commemorate the Union victory and affirm national unity contributed to increasing observance of the Thanksgiving tradition, now with a new set of associations sprung from the meal enjoyed by young soldiers fighting in that gruesome, pivotal, final campaign in Virginia.

The sauce, in short, was in.

All of which was probably irrelevant to Heyward Emmell as he ate his turkey and cranberry sauce, mashing the sweet of the berry with the salt of the meat. The men knew they weren’t going home soon. “The weather is getting very much like winter; we keep a fire in our little air-tight stove all night when we can get enough wood… Here comes another fellow with a log, we are all right for tonight,” Emmell wrote. He made it home to Morristown, but over half-a-million Americans he fought with and against did not. On that night, however, each army in its way observed the holiday that would become hardwired into the American calendar: as the Union soldiers enjoyed their unexpected repast, the Confederate fighters, entrenched yards away, held fire out of respect. 150 years later the meal is an essential part of the American experience, the sweet cranberry relish now indispensable to families coming together – many still with an empty chair at the table, a loved one much further afield than Virginia, but all still sharing in a meal to give thanks, in Lincoln’s words, for “the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land… assign[ed] as a dwelling-place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.”