Archive for August, 2006

Girlbomb, Uninterrupted

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

I started reading Janice Erlbaum’s autobiography Girlbomb at the library last Tuesday when I went in to look for something else. I checked it out and then I couldn’t put it down until I finished reading it at four in the morning. Since I had to get up at six, I then got to experience the brain-fried exhaustion in which the protagonist spent her adolescence, which made the accounting that much more real for me.

Long story short: In 1984 at the age of 15, BUST columnist Erlbaum fled her abusive stepfather and abuse-junkie mother in Brooklyn and went off to live on her own in Manhattan, first in a Hell’s Kitchen shelter, where she was referred to as The White Girl, and then in a multi-ethnic group home on the Upper West Side. She went downtown every day to hang out with her Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n Roll crowd from school and party nearly every night. And yet, impossibly, she manages to carve a normal adolescence out of this mess: She stars in the school play, has crushes on boys, holds down a part-time job and gets into the college of her choice.

In fact, if you substitute “work” for “school”, her experiences are not very different from that of me and my friends in the mid-80′s…except we were ten to fifteen years older than Janice and her friends at the time. Which means that they grew up too darn fast, and we grew up extreeeeeemly slowly.

Also, unless she’s hiding something major in her story, she escapes unscathed save for a broken heart and a near-OD. Some of her peers are not that lucky…one 12-year-old girl is seen hooking at the Port Authority after she disappears from the shelter, one of the most popular senior boys gets his brains bashed in as a result of a drunken antic in a subway car, and three of her friends from her part-time job get busted for robbing the till the day she calls in sick.

There are some who would say that these kids are lawless because their mothers have careers. But it’s Janice’s mother’s earnings that make it possible for her to ultimately underwrite her daughter and possibly stop her from making the same mistakes.

Rather than physical absence, I think the kids’ dysfunctions are rooted in the way that their mothers had had kids without first doing even the most preliminary work at growing up emotionally themselves. Janice’s mother adapts the opinions and behavior of every jerk who tells her “I love you.” Janice’s friend Hope has a mother who’s about to give up her apartment to move in with her boyfriend without making the slightest provision for where and with whom her 17-year-old daughter will live. But it’s not like she doesn’t care: When she finds Hope smoking pot in the house, she whales the shit out of her. After all, Hope was smoking her private stash.

As crazy as my crowd from 20 years ago could be as we celebrated our last over-aged hurrah before actual adulthood set in, none of us were making that final leap while dragging a small child behind us like a rag doll. We were aware that we were wrapping up some unfinished business. Although if we had had kids, I would hope they’d be as resilient as Erlbaum turned out to be. And this holiday season, I’ve made a note to write a check to a home for wayward girls for some Christmas gifts. Apparently, even pre-teen crack whores really, really like nail polish.

Blogging Personna

Monday, August 28th, 2006

I finally met Amba from Ambivablog on Friday evening. We had been meaning to meet in Real Life for a while, especially in light of the fact that until Saturday morning she lived about four blocks from me. She was amazingly upbeat, energetic and attentive to my sleep-deprived ramblings, considering she was facing a six-hour drive with hubby and four cats early the next morning.

She’s settling into their new digs in Chapel Hill, thrilled by the abundance of storage space and appliances. Meanwhile, I’ve spent the weekend absorbed by two residences: The renovation work I’m planning for our apartment, and my virtual space on the Internet.

I’m always apprehensive about meeting people I’ve gotten to know online. Not because I think the other person will be some kind of a nutjob, but because so far, they’ve only seen Online Bruno, a very concentrated and controlled substance rationed at different amounts, depending on the venue. There’s Blogging Bruno, who picks a topic or two a day and writes a mini-humor column. There’s Commenting Bruno, who wipes her feet like a good guest before entering someone else’s blog. And then there’s E-Mail List Bruno and, more expansively, Private E-Mailing Bruno.

What they don’t see is me wandering distractedly through Gristede’s after a knock-down, drag-out day at my job, me yelling at my loved ones–the people who can always make you yell the loudest because they’re the closest, or the me that blurts out, “Oh sit on a tack, you @sshole” before counting to ten and leaving a more rational comment.

And of course, with a personal blog, it reflects a part of you, but not You. Sometimes I think it would be easier, and more exciting for me, to blog as a character with a single message, like this star-spangled girl here, or this guy masterminding his own Netroots revolution. Being a political independent, I could take on either point of view the way an actor takes on a character.

In fact, here’s the old “And Blogging Reminds Me of Stand-Up” analogy: Back in the ’80s, I worked with a comic named Joe Campaiolo, who was a club favorite in New York with his off-beat, acerbic and slightly campy observations of everything. But Joe didn’t get anywhere until he went out to San Francisco, hooked up with Bob Fischer from The Holy City Zoo and created a character named Dexter Madison. “Dexter” was an over-the-top bon vivant, a cartoonish David Niven. When Joe would do the same lines through Dexter that he’d been doing onstage for years, the filter of the character suddenly made everything focused, and a wide variety of audiences could connect with him. He’d gone in a few months from being “A Comedian’s Comedian,” where you’d go grab your friend out in the bar and say, “Joe’s going on,” to someone who was winning comedy competitions and getting talk show spots.

I’d love to be able to tell you what became of Joe, but despite his considerable talents, he wasn’t totally committed to the business, art and bullshit of comedy. There’s more to life than show biz, and more to a career than a personna. But in an extremely crowded and noisy world, it couldn’t hurt.

Sacred Ground

Friday, August 25th, 2006

I was visiting a studio last night that has an interesting history: It had once upon a time been used as a writing studio by Woody Allen and Dick Cavett.

My jaw dropped in awe as I stood in this veritable shrine to the joke writers’ creed, temple of the faith of my comedy forefathers.

Actually, I was imagining where I would put my desk.

Meat Cat

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

This morning on the way to work, I passed a calico cat who was loping casually into the butcher’s, where she’s The Cat. (Hopefully, she’s not The Meat.)

I figured, what a lucky carnivore, getting to live in a butcher’s. Chico and Ashley would be beside themselves if you let them loose in a butcher’s. It would seem as if there were 100 cats swarming as they wouldn’t know what to lick, chew, gobble and gorge themselves on next.

Meanwhile, the butcher’s cat is probably as blase about the whole thing as a rock superstar surrounded by models. “I’m borrred, so borrred.”

NanooNinnyNonny

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

I’ve been telling myself I’m going to do it for the past two years, but this November I have marked NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, on my calendar. It’s a 30-day fiction writing marathon/contest where you pound out a 175-page (50,000-word) novel between November 1 and November 30, which will be perfectly awful and in serious need of editing:

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing
down.

Hey, what the heck, you can always sculpt something decent out of the crap once it’s out.

I checked out the NaNoWriMo book, No Plot? No Problem! and I’ll get it out of the library rather than buying another book right now, because I’ve declared this month to be Get Rid of Half the Crap in Your Bookcase Month.

P.S. It has to be a novel that you start from scratch for the contest, although you can bring notes. You can always go back to those half-finished previous novels afterward, when you’re full of the momentum of Novelwritingness, or NaNoWritingness.

That Sinking Feeling

Monday, August 21st, 2006


In addition to getting some new sheetrock on our walls, which, as you see, resemble papier mache, I was thinking of replacing those acoustic ceiling tiles with sheetrock as well. Some previous tenant put them up, and I always thought they looked as if they should be in a rumpus room on Staten Island.

But then, a funny thing happened to comic Jen Dziura last week when she was running out the door to a gig, and suddenly, sheetrock on my ceiling may be a bad idea.

So maybe I’ll keep the current ceiling, since it only sustains a net damage of one or two tiles every time my neighbors’ plumbing breaks. Or I’ll stick with tiles, but I’ll restore the genuine original antique beauty of my landmarked tenement by using these phony tin tiles.

True Story

Sunday, August 20th, 2006

Melinda: I want to go shopping, but I don’t wanna bring anything new into the house until after we get the work done on the walls.

Jim: But that’s not for weeks. If you need something, get yourself something.

(Three hours later.)

Melinda: Hi, honey, I’m back!

Jim: What did you get?

Melinda: (beaming) A book on how to put up drywall!

(Rat-a-boom.)

"The Graying of AIDS"

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

Because of the improvement in AIDS treatment, many HIV-positive people are living for decades now, and are in their 50′s and beyond. Time has a great photo essay on how these middle-aged and old people are coping with the heavy-duty medications they need to keep the disease at bay, along with all of the other problems of aging; i.e. all the other things that start trying to kill you when you’re over 50, as well as finding some meaning to the rest of your life here on this planet.

I like the conga players.

The Early Cats Get the Worm

Friday, August 18th, 2006


I woke up this morning to find our cats in the living room standing over the dried-out body of an earthworm. I don’t know where it came from, since we have no earth in the apartment. Perhaps it came in on somebody’s shoe.

This leaves me with unanswered questions, such as, “Was the earthworm alive when they found it?” and “How long does something have to be dead before it loses moisture like that?”

I had had similar questions a few months ago when I awoke to find them batting around a dried-out dead waterbug.

And the thing is, when you go “Ew!” and take the corpse away in a paper towel, the cats get resentful. “Hey! That was ours! Boy, that’s the last time we make you a gift.”

Explodo-Pod and Doors

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

Word (that I can’t locate right now) has it that the SONY batteries powering the exploding Dell laptops are also being used in the latest generation of iPods. I’ve checked Apple’s site and other iPod sites to see if there’s a recall, but so far can find no word.

If there is a recall, it’ll be the third time I’ve had to replace this iPod in four months. My 3rd Gen 10-gig one still works even after being used as a hockey puck. Go figure.

Meanwhile, while waiting for my iPod to explode and blow away a finger, a rib or an ovary depending on how I’m carrying the iPod at the time, I’ve been re-listening to The Doors: The Complete Studio Recordings to see if I want to keep it. And I’ve decided that yes, I do. Even though by The Soft Parade Jim Morrison was beginning to lose it so badly that if you took away the other Doors, you’d have a recording of a homeless guy walking down the street talking to himself.

It had not always been thus. You couldn’t do an impression of “Light My Fire” without Densmore’s opening rimshot, Manzarek’s Mephistophelean opening organ riff, and Morrison’s lugubrious vocals, with Krieger’s guitar solo completing the wild, three-or seven-minute Dionysian romp–neatly bookended by the same rimshot and organ riff.

My husband contends that The Doors would have been better off without Morrison. I disagree. Oh sure, their arrangements stayed tight as their lead vocalist drifted further into a self-imposed Hell, but without The Lizard King they wouldn’t have had The Legend. And if The Legend has enticed successive generations to appreciate some great jazz-influenced rock, then it’s worth skipping a few tracks on albums 4 through 6.