Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in review

As many of you know, I have one tradition that is entirely my own for the secular New Year, and that's to post a year-in-review blog.

The overall theme for 2011 seems to be one of continuity. It was my second full year at my job, and only the second year I've had an uninterrupted year at a job since 2005. It's been a full year since my breakup with Bonnie and even though she is never far from my thoughts, the memories of our time together are definitely fading.

This year has been an interesting mixture of the new and the old. Starting with Wicked Faire ("Wicked Faire!" - Feb. 21, 2011) I've been exploring and cultivating a new set of friends in the kink space. Through a lucky chain of happenstance at Wicked Faire, we met Piper and in a short 10 months she has become one of my closest friends. Through her and Puck and House PNJ, I've gotten to know some really cool people and to attend some really fun events.

The second major thrust of new came from meeting Kacey on Easter that led to further interactions ("Sherlock, Potter and pen pals" - July 5, 2011) and led me to develop another entirely separate set of friends at Papacookie (that includes not only Kacey but also Storm, one of my oldest acquaintances). In an even shorter amount of time, Kacey has also become a close friend, confidant and one of my favorite people in the world.

Obviously one of the highlights of the year was going with one of my dearest friends Agnieszka to visit her family in Dublin ("Ireland" - Aug. 2, 2011). And further on my longstanding friends list, I got to have an epic catch-up with Linda ("Houston trip, week one" - April 3, 2011) and my mentor Ben in Houston, with a reprise over Labor Day weekend in New York ("Visit with Ben" - Sept. 4, 2011). Plus, Lori and I have managed to spend more time together in recent days now that she's single again and living closer in Queens ("Weekend wandering" - Dec. 13, 2011).

So as far as friends go, this has been a very good year. It's been a bit more challenging for Puck and me though. We've certainly had a lot of good things, not the least of which was making it to our third anniversary ("Third anniversary" - Oct. 11, 2011), surprise visits ("Valentine's Day" - Feb. 15, 2011), and introducing them to my co-workers for the first time ("Crossing boundaries" - Sept. 20, 2011). We celebrated their 21st birthday with much gusto ("Wonderful weekend" - Nov. 21. 2011).

But if you've been following my blog this year, you probably have seen more than a few difficult check-ins and bad episodes, although certainly not enough to outweigh the good times. School took a heavy toll this year (which is why they are taking some time off), and there were some unexpected family issues around Passover. Ironically, at two of our lowest points ("Easter egg party" - April 24, 2011 and "MMMM" - May 1, 2011) coincided with my meeting two very special people, Kacey and Jen respectively.

The good news is that after our latest check-in ("Slinging bricks" - Nov. 7, 2011) things have been on an even keel once again. Every relationship goes through its ups and downs, and getting through the downs only makes it stronger in the long run. And there was certainly one positive note that should not go unremarked - we finished Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so it appears we are averaging one season each year of our relationship.

Other personal highlights from this year were watching Tosca at the Met ("Tosca and Dogma" - Jan. 18, 2011), finishing Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin, addressing a huge crowd of half-drunk and half-dressed gay men at Folsom Street East ("Folsom Street East" - June 19, 2011), all the wonderful House PNJ events and watching the Pride Parade after the legalization of gay marriage in New York ("2011 Pride parade" - June 30, 2011).

I can't wait to see what 2012 will bring. Happy New Year to you all!

Thursday, December 15, 2011


As part of the aforementioned Facebook discussion, Puck and I have been chatting about privilege today. There a very illustrative blog titled "Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege" that everyone should read.

My caffeine cessation effort is going OK after 10 days. I've only had one headache, but I find myself hungry all the time. I hope that my body adjusts before I gain weight over this. Addiction is a bitch.

I'm excited about all the movies coming up this holiday season - Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows and War Horse. Then we have Arrietty, Underworld: Awakening, and Hunger Games early next year. And of course The Dark Knight Rises next summer. I'm planning to see the first 8 minutes of the Batman film when I watch the IMAX premiere of Mission Impossible tomorrow.

I'm also secretly happy that Puck isn't going to St. Petersburg next semester. Of course, I'm being totally selfish in saying I wasn't thrilled with the prospect of not seeing them for six months.

I suppose that scenario is inevitable, since Puck's life goals include travel and living in different places and I'm more settled at the moment, but one never knows what life will bring. For now, it's enough to be together and enjoy each moment that we can.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sound of Musak

One of my least favorite parts about the holiday season is the inescapable holiday music in public spaces, especially in Penn Station. The "background music" in Penn is always bothersome to me, but during the holidays it seems like they turn it up even louder.

What I completely don't understand is what is wrong with having no music at all. It's a train station, not a cocktail party. If anyone wants to listen to music, there are plenty of ways to hear your own through headphones. It's like we have an unnatural aversion to silence, or simply hearing ambient noise.

One thing Evelyn Glennie demonstrates in her documentary ("Touch the Sound" - Oct. 31, 2011) ambient sound can be interesting and beautiful in its own right. It's also so much more authentic than having someone else's music forced through your ears. I imagine it's worse if you are a fan of Baroque music to be hearing it constantly in Penn.

In Milan Kundera's book "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" there's a section about music (starting on page 92 in my version of the book) that describes the character Sabina's dislike of music for similar reasons:

"Noise masked as music had pursued her since early childhood. During her years at the Academy of Fine Arts, students had been required to spend whole summer vacations at a youth camp. They lived in common quarters and worked together on a steelworks construction site. Music roared out of loudspeakers on the site from five in the morning to nine at night. She felt like crying, but the music was cheerful, and there was nowhere to hide, not in the latrine or under the bedclothes: everything was in range of the speakers. The music was like a pack of hounds that had been sicked on her.

At the time, she had thought that only in the Communist world could such musical barbarism reign supreme. Abroad, she discovered that the transformation of music into noise was a planetary process by which mankind was entering the historical phase of total ugliness. The total ugliness to come had made itself felt first as omnipresent acoustical ugliness: cars, motorcycles, electric guitars, drills, loudspeakers, sirens. The omnipresence of visual ugliness would soon follow."

I'm also reminded of the lyrics for Porcupine Tree's song, Sound of Muzak: "Soul gets squeezed out / Edges get blunt / Demographic / Gives what you want"

It's ironic that they could write such a good song about how people don't seem to care about music anymore. If you'd like to hear the song and see my favorite drummer Gavin Harrison at work, check out the video below:

Watching Gavin makes me long to play the drums again, and I've been tempted to buy a small electronic kit (since playing acoustic drums in an apartment isn't very practical). The only thing that stops me is that I don't really have the space for it. I might look at some over at Sam Ash next week and just see if there's a small kit that can easily be stowed away when not in use - we'll see.

Potty postulations

There was a recent Facebook discussion about gender-free bathrooms, and of course, the tired argument of male rapists dressing up as women to gain access to women’s bathrooms was raised.

It’s troubling that this is the first thing anyone thinks about when discussing the issue of gender and bathrooms. It is blatant fear-mongering and it doesn’t make sense if you really think about it.

Let’s say I was a male rapist (defining male as having a penis). If I wanted to rape a woman, the last place I’d think about doing it is by dressing as a woman and picking out a victim in a women’s bathroom.

First of all, a cisgendered man dressed as a woman attracts a LOT of attention, hardly something a rapist wants. So just getting into the bathroom unnoticed or unremarked is going to be near-impossible. That also means in all probability he will be recognized by witnesses after the crime is committed.

Second, a public bathroom is a busy place, and typically only has one entrance/exit. There’s constant patrolling by custodial staff. Any loud shenanigans happening in the stalls have a high chance of being caught in the act, and little chance of getting away. If your goal is to assault someone and get away with it, I can’t think of a worse place to try it than a public bathroom.

Third, it’s an insult to anyone who is not a rapist to assume that just because you are in proximity to someone in some state of undress that there’s a higher chance of rape occurring. Rape happens when a rapist decides to do it – not because the potential victim made it easier on the rapist by taking off their clothes.

Let’s get real: what we’re actually afraid of is for cisgendered males invading the privacy of female-only spaces – not because there’s any actual danger of rape, but because it makes a lot of cisgendered females uncomfortable to do perfectly human activities around them. There’s probably a fair number of cis-males that feel the same way about male-only spaces. The real problem is embarrassment, not fear of rape. It’s why we have men’s and women’s dressing rooms at the store, even though everyone is ensconced in their own private stall (except at Loehmann’s where they have open dressing rooms).

Unfortunately, that once more leaves transgender and other non-binary people out of luck – victims of oppositional sexism (the idea that you must belong to one of two binary categories of sex or else your needs are not valid).

The advent of the family restroom arose because of the need for parents to take their mixed gendered children into public restrooms, so there is precedent and another good reason for non-gendered bathrooms. Currently, there’s usually one private family bathroom available in addition to any two public bathrooms.

I think the long-term solution is to make all public bathrooms open to everyone, but keep the family bathrooms available for private use by people who want them (just the way Loehmann’s has private dressing rooms for women too shy to change clothes in front of other women). But that’s never going to happen unless we get over our deep-seated issues around oppositional sexism and just deal with the fact that we’re all people and we all have to use the bathroom eventually.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Weekend wandering

I had an unexpectedly busy but lovely Saturday with my BFF Lori. I had posted on Facebook how unfortunate that last weekend there was so much going on that I missed because I was getting over my cold and this past weekend there’s nothing going on and I’m healthy, and Lori had the exact same situation. So we decided to meet up near the Met to visit an art gallery Saturday afternoon.

It turned out the gallery I wanted to go to was closed for renovations, so we visited the two galleries on either side of it, Skarstedt Fine Art and the Michelle Rosenfeld Gallery. At the latter, we saw a very interesting piece that is made from hand poured crayons mounted in a frame to create a Seurat-like image of colored dots.


We also went to La Maison du Chocolat for a taste of their very fine truffles and ganaches, then sat on a bench in Central Park to enjoy them and take pictures of ourselves. In mine you can see the new buttons on my coat.


I had to pick up my prescriptions, so we killed some time near my old offices at Agent K, picking up a grilled cheese sandwich at the Melt Shop and shopping at the Barnes & Noble. I got a few DVDs, including the BBC's Sherlock, the first two seasons of The Guild, and a documentary on Andy Goldsworthy called Rivers & Tides.


Lori invited me to come with her to her friend Andrew’s birthday, whom I’d met at her birthday earlier this year ("Seventh birthday" - July 19, 2011). We met at the New Malaysian Restaurant in a hard-to-find Chinatown alleyway, along with several other friends to enjoy a family-style dinner that included some of the best Malaysian spare ribs I’ve ever had.


They also served a Hainanese chicken dish which was almost exactly like my mom’s cooking, except her dipping sauce was much more potent. In fact, almost everything we ordered was super-tasty and satisfying.


I met one of Lori’s friends Jenny, a Korean girl from Australia (such a cute accent!). She, Andrew, Lori and I went to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory for dessert.


I ended the night by taking a solo visit to Rockefeller Center and taking some pictures of the tree.


On Sunday I had a much more domestic day. I went to the gym for the first time in a while and did some more grocery shopping. I baked my brownies for Poly Cocktails Monday night (it was a potluck for the first time in a while), plus made a huge bowl of my peanut noodles for this week. That left me with a lot of dishes to clean up, but I still had time to finish my Lord of the Rings cycle on Blu Ray that I started a couple weeks ago.

Monday’s Poly Cocktails was a big success, and as usual lots of House PNJ people showed up in varying degrees of sartorial splendor.


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Top 13 movie endings

I was recently watching The Usual Suspects, which has one of the best endings in recent movie history. Endings are so important for my enjoyment of a movie, but have you noticed that most movies don't really have killer endings?

The best scenes of most movies are at the beginning or in the middle somewhere. Sometimes movies like Lord of the Rings: Return of the King can be excellent in every way, but the ending is a bit of a letdown. What's worse, a bad ending can completely destroy an otherwise good movie - think A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

Some movies like The Third Man have endings that are acclaimed by others, but I just don't get. It's so rare to see a movie where the end is the highlight of the entire work, a surprising revelation, or says something about the story with a perfect touch - for me.

Naturally, if you haven't seen any of these movies, I'd advise you to skip that write up to avoid reading any spoilers.

13. Titanic - Before it became a phenomenon, James Cameron's melodrama was actually a pretty good movie. Let's face it, how creative can you get when you know the damn ship is going to sink and hundreds of people are going to die? That's a pretty downer ending you're saddled with in your screenplay. But by restoring the two young lovers in front of all those who perished to a swelling James Horner score, Cameron makes lemonade out of lemons, fashioning an ending that is uplifting in the face of tragedy.

12. Unforgiven - This is one of those movies that you either love or hate. It's subtle and quiet, a modern reinvention of the Western by Clint Eastwood, who won the Oscar for directing in 1992. The ending is just a melancholy guitar solo and a text crawl in front of a silhouetted scene of a grave marker. Those few words say volumes about the character of William Munny and how misunderstood a man can be.

11. The Shawshank Redemption - The friendship between Andy and Red is the heart and soul of this movie, one of the best ever made about unlikely friendships and the #1 movie on IMDB's top 250 (for years it was second to The Godfather, but it has finally overtaken it). Interestingly, this ending almost didn't happen. The original cut's final scene was Red in the bus, driving toward Fort Stockton. It was only when it was screened for test audiences that director Frank Darabont realized everyone needed to see the two main characters actually meet again at the end.

10. Ben-Hur - Here is another movie that, like Titanic, turns what looks like is headed for a tragic ending into a triumph, with a little deux ex machina (literally). The reunion between Judea and his restored mother and sister always makes me cry.

9. A Beautiful Mind - Another one of my tear-jerking endings, when John Nash takes the stage in Stockholm to accept his Nobel Prize after all his trials. He says words that I try to keep in mind for myself, every day: "It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logic or reason can be found."

8. Let Me In / Let The Right One In - I get to sneak an extra movie in here because one is a remake of the first, and a reasonably good one too. I love this ending because it is at once poignant, horrifying, touching and tragic. Oskar and Eli have forged an unbreakable bond of love. Two outcasts have found each other, and they are happy in the moment. But you also realize that you've just witnessed how a vampire finds and captures its human servant, something no other vampire movie has ever portrayed. You also realize that you are seeing the birth of a serial killer and the continued murder of untold numbers of future victims.

7. Inception - Is the spinning top going to fall or not? Was it all a dream or is this reality? After watching Christopher Nolan's mindbending masterpiece, this ending makes you hold your breath a little bit longer.

6. Raiders of the Lost Ark - Government bureaucrats finally do the right thing: pack up the Ark of the Covenant and put it where it can never be found in a crowded warehouse that seems to go on forever. It's an ending that is unexpected and unforgettable. The fact that it makes a cameo appearance three movies later in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a clever bonus.

5. Schindler's List - Like A Beautiful Mind, the fact that this is based on a true story lends extra weight to this ending that shows descendants of the 1,100 Schindler Jews paying their respects at Oskar Schindler's grave site. The caption stating that only 1,000 Jews are left in Poland and there are over 6,000 descendants of Schindler's Jews brings home the scope of both the atrocity and the triumph.

4. Toy Story 3 - This ending benefits because it's the finale of a trilogy of movies that were all excellent, groundbreaking movies. These are the characters that built the Pixar juggernaut that has yet to put out a flop in theaters. Woody, Buzz and the gang get a proper send-off as Andy passes them along to a worthy successor, completing the circle of love and happiness for everyone. Like all the Toy Story movies, it's an improbable ending that ends up being pitch-perfect.

3. The Usual Suspects - This is the movie that launched Brian Singer's career and gave him a shot at helming X-Men and all the movies that followed. This is the standard by which all modern movies are measured when it comes to powerhouse endings, surprising on many levels and making you realize you had no idea what's been happening. Kevin Spacey delivers a monologue that makes you want to watch the entire movie over again.

2. Casablanca - The whole five minutes at the end of this classic is a veritable cornucopia of quotable lines and memorable turns of phrases, none so much as the last line, which had to be dubbed in post-production because the writers hadn't thought of it yet during filming - "Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

1. Citizen Kane - The original mystery ending to arguably the single greatest cinematic achievement in American cinema. One word - Rosebud. 'Nuff said.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

A quick update

It's been a long while since an update, and this is going to be a short one. I'm feeling really foggy since I've been sick for the past few days.

I had a nice Thanksgiving weekend in Baltimore with Puck and their extended family. Puck was not feeling very well, so we spent most of our time indoors playing cards, drinking tea, reading books and watching movies.

I took Monday off work and had a lovely day with Kacey, shopping for buttons in the Fashion District. Wednesday night was the Poly Women's Group, where Barbara joined us for first time in a while. Thursday I worked from home to get some extra rest, but it didn't seem to shorten my illness perceptibly.

Saturday night I went out to see a play called "The Myths We Need or How To Begin" with Kacey, Richard and some of the Papacookies crowd. It was an allegorical tale of the Book of Genesis set in Reconstruction Era times. Afterwards, we went to a Hill Country Chicken around the corner to talk about the play.

Today I wanted to go to Kerry's 23rd birthday party, but didn't really feel up to it. I've been resting and watching my copy of Horatio Hornblower, which has been fun. But now I have to venture out and buy some additional cough syrup so I can get through tonight and show up for work tomorrow.