Friday, January 14, 2005

Fame is Stalking Me

So, a few weeks ago, I got the most surprising call. "Hey, this is Brian!" an overly-enthusiastic L.A.-accented voice informed me, in tones that crowed "I'm your new best friend!" Brian, it turned out, was a TV producer for a major network, and he had a proposal for me.

"We're doing a reality show, and we're looking for an animal communicator in New York, and your name kept coming up," he said. Not sure where this was leading, I asked him to explain. "Have you ever seen 'The Apprentice'?" he asked. Choking back a mocking chuckle, I informed him I haven't. I have a hatred of all things Donald Trump - long-winded expanation omitted - and find the whole premise of the show and behaviour of most "fame-whore" reality show contestants appalling. I did tell him I know the general gist, though.

"Well, this show is kind of like that," said Brian, "except, instead of business people trying to impress Donald Trump, we'll have people who want to be fashion designers trying to get a job with Tommy Hilfiger."

Here my mind was completely boggled. What on Earth could this program have to do with me, I wondered. But Brian was ready to explain that.

"See, the contestants will have to do certain tasks in order to compete," he elucidated. "Like, they'll have to live with a rap star for a few days and design his wardrobe, for example. And they'll have to paint a mural, and stuff like that. But what we thought would be really fun - and where you come in - is that they'd have to live with a dog for a few days and design an outfit for the dog." He paused, almost as if in triumph at his brilliance. "And you can tell us what the dog thinks of it!"

I was truly speechless. I think I laughed for a full minute. "Would it all be for the same dog," I finally asked, "or for different ones?" He explained that it would be different animals. I tried to remain serious, and point out to him that the reactions the dogs would have would depend on their individual personalities, of course, but I kept finding myself laughing, incredulous. "I have to say, Brian, this is one of the most unusual calls I've ever gotten."

I finally informed him that I have a sense of humour, but I'd have to think about it over the holidays and call him back. I never did, however. The idea just seemed so weird, and so potentially damaging, not just to my personal reputation, but to the perception of animal communication in general, which a lot of people already don't take seriously. Perhaps it's just me and my anti-fashionista outlook, but it just seemed frivolous. And, despite some of my friends encouraging me to take the job, insisting that all publicity is good publicity and that I might get both some money and new clients out of it, I had to wonder what kind of effect it would have on my business. Do I really want the kind of people who watch fashion related reality shows calling me up out of curiosity, leaving me serious or prank calls wondering if Fido or Muffy should wear the plaid jacket or the cashmere sweater today? And do I really want to try to do serious translations on-camera with a group of people whose choice of careers I find a bit shallow, especially when I clearly am not a sylphlike, societally-approved fashion plate, myself? I think not.

I probably should have called back Brian to decline, but I just felt so strange about it. I suppose I was afraid that he'd convince me to do it, out of curiosity, the possibility of my business expanding or getting some payment or perks, and my tendency to second-guess myself: "Am I really refusing out of feeling uncomfortable with this and not feeling it fits me, or is it just because I'm being chicken? Should I be 'seizing life by the horns', as it were, just to try out new and unexpected experiences, even if I have the sneaking suspicion that my contributions could be manipulated in a harmful or undignified way? A bunch of my friends are telling me I should do it..." Et cetera. So, I avoided the situation and blocked it out of my mind a bit, basically out of feeling overwhelmed and weirded out. Plus, I told myself, my friends were probably being encouraging more out of wanting to live vicariously through my experience and see someone they know on a reality show than based on measured, professional judgment. Not that I blame them - I might feel the same way in the reverse situation - but only I can evaluate if I think such a move will be beneficial to my profession and, of course, personally, to me.

But, it turns out that Fame hasn't given up on me yet. This week I got called to do an interview with a pleasant-sounding reporter who does slice-of-New-York-life columns for The London Times. While perhaps also a bit frivolous, this seems more my speed, being a print treatment and one in which my actual practice will be evaluated, not some made-up-for-television situation. And, upon reading some of this gentleman's columns, I found them to be mostly interesting and harmless - brief, and unlikely to be an exposé or opinion piece on the tabloid level. Plus, I'm far less likely to get every Tom, Dick and Harry who owns a TV set calling me, or over-exposure, as I'm sure the Sunday online version of the London Times has a far smaller audience, and even those people who read the column probably won't contact me unless they're serious, living across the pond as they do. Long-distance calls to America are unlikely to run rampant on the base of one article, but I can always use it in my materials as a reference, in the future. It just seems more dignified, somehow, and way more handle-able.

Of course, I may be wrong. We shall see. My interview is tonight, as the gentleman from the press accompanies me on an appointment with a kind and enthusiastic long-standing client of mine. Wish me luck, and keep your eye on the papers.

Lost and Found

Lately, I've had Found magazine on the brain. It started with M's find of an excellent example of school note passing on the street a couple weeks ago. Written on notebook paper, it features statements such as "I ate way to [sic] much over Thanksgiving," with a comment written diagonally in another hand "I know you did," answered with "shut up!" A veritable relic in the current age of text messaging, the only things this note was missing were evaluations of boys and doodles depicting favourite musical celebrities. It almost made me want to grab it and scrawl "I hate Math!!!" and render an inexpert version of the Def Leppard logo ("Rockz-4-ever!!!").

Yesterday, I stumbled upon my own find. Walking through the low-income housing development between two buildings of my office, I discovered a slightly damp and dirty - but not too dirty - cheap, fuzzy Christmas stocking. Forlornly crumpled in the middle of the walkway, its bright colours still stood out, and the evidence of glitter and glue decoration caused me to stop and pick it up. On the top, white, furry portion, globs and smears of green glitter described a name of sorts, now completely unreadable, and on the red area, patches of dried glue and silver sparkles depicted the phrase "I [heart] YOU" in a childish muddle. "This is one of the most pathetic things I've ever seen," I remarked to my co-worker, who was staring at me in horror for picking up such a thing from the street. "I think I have to send it into Found magazine." What tugged at my heart and kept puzzling me were the obvious care put into the stocking - such a homey, Christmas-glow inducing object in itself - and the possible reasons for its abandonment. Was just dropped and lost, taken by bullies... or maybe, saddest of all, the person who made it just didn't love the receiver any more? The world will never know.

Finally, today, I found the mother lode. Hunching under my $9.95-special umbrella in the miserable January wind and rain, I had to pause at a street island as the lights changed. The island, a familiar one to me near my work, normally sports some kind of pleasant landscaping, along with plaques commemorating the donors who maintain it - in this case, Gracious Home, Bed, Bath & Beyond and the local headquarters of the Mormon church. This morning, however, the middle of the island was bare, covered only with flat, brown mud, and a most extraordinary creature. There, amidst the dried remains of holiday flowers, was a lumpy, brown-and-black, papier-mâché beaver. At least, I think it was a beaver. It could have been a road-killed dog, or any other type of brownish mammal, with a silver tongue sticking out, a mis-shapen head, and black paint slits for eyes that made it look asleep or dead. The giveaway, however, was the flat, black, oversized tail that sprawled behind it, giving me the impression of a beaver. But what was it doing there? And who had made it? Was it supposed to be there, as some kind of display, or was it left there by accident or as a throw-away, after it had served its purpose as a school art piece or science project? Again, the world will never know.

I had half a mind to pick it up, but its soaked state, along with the facts that it was half as long as me and could have been there on purpose, decided me against it. But how can I ever share it with anyone if I can't capture it and show it to others? At least if I had a digital camera with me I could take a picture of it, so that someone else might share in my pondering its origin and purpose - assuming anyone but me cared. But, as it is, I had none with me, and I suspect, as is often the case with such discoveries, it will probably disappear before I get back to where it was again.

That's why I love Found magazine. It shows one glimpses of the mysterious flotsam we leave behind, and gives one tantalizing scraps of other lives to mull over, so the curiosity and imagination, as well as the sense of all individuals sharing the same humanity, are piqued. Not to mention, it shows me that at least some other freaks out there are as intrigued by this sort of thing as I am. You won't see my lumpy beaver in the magazine (and yes, I love how dirty that sounds), but you may find other items that make you think and feel connected to the emotional lives of other people you will never know. Check it out.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Street Cred, if You're Stuck in The 70s

I was looking out the subway window at all the graffitti tags on the DUMBO buildings and thought to myself that if I had a tag, it could be "pie". "Pie" is easy - just three letters - and while the act of tagging a building carries an air of agressive territorialism or attention-seeking, "pie" is such a cute, non-threatening, homey word that it might change up the reaction people normally have to tags and give them a bit of a smile. I can see it now - "pie", the letters in plump, swoopy bubble style, evoking sweetness and a fullness of the stomach and spirit. And I could also draw a little stylized rendition of an actual pie - but nothing too specific. After all, if I am like a pie, in that I have a crusty exterior but a syrupy, goopy center, the metaphorical crust, filling and topping change from day to day. One day I am a turkey pot, warm and rich and nutritious, full of deep and varying elements, the next a lemon meringue, airy and slightly ascerbic, or a berry crumble, deceptively simple but with a complexity of harmonious components inside.

The only problem is, I am not a huge fan of pie, itself. In fact, I'd have to say my preferred dessert is much more likely to be a mousse, cookie or custard. None of those sound quite right as a tag for me, however. "Cookie" is a possibility, but it has a bit of a connotation already attached, and the obvious symbolic association of a tender-hearted but tough diner waitress-type doesn't entirely fit my personality, not to mention being overused. There is one other dessert that might apply, which is actually one of my most favourite comfort foods: pudding. And I like to think I'm like a pudding: richly comforting and sweet, if perhaps a bit too soft for my own good. Which should it be, "pie" or "puddin'"? As I actually find the act of vandalizing public property with vain, hyper-scale renditions of one's nickname appalling, and am too lazy to conduct a po-mo artistic campaign of pasting leaflets baring my moniker on every streetmap and construction scaffolding, the world may never know. But the comparison has given me an idea for the ultimate combination...

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Boba Fett is a Rapist

Last night I dreamed that I was molested by Boba Fett. Yes, the character in the Star Wars movies who rose from a non-speaking bit player to a major character, largely based on the coolness of his costume – that Boba Fett. Somewhere in the middle of a longer drama, I encountered Mr. Fett sitting calmly and with rather lumpen posture on a cheap eighties sofa. In this dream, I was not just myself, but a comely lass with some sort of superpowers - that is, I was stacked and very strong. I remember looking at the movie character with a wisp of a smirk about my lips – this is the real Boba Fett, the one that is so popular and mysterious? He didn’t look like much, slumping with his knees spread wide, his hands folded in his lap and his futuristic costume carelessly rumpled.

Boba, however, had some idea that we were set up on a date, or that I liked him, because he immediately got up, clumsily put his arms around me and began to try to make out with me as best he could – an activity greatly hampered by the fact that he was wearing a large helmet. (In actuality, the helmet in my dream was more like the one Princess Leia wore when she pretended to be a bounty hunter to rescue Han from Jabba the Hutt, but I knew this was Boba Fett, nonetheless.) Initially amused, I tried to slow him down, first verbally and then with pushes, but he only got more insistent and pushed me to the ground, landing on top of me. I began to get worried – was I really about to be violated by Boba Fett? After some struggle, I worked my arms loose and warned him that if he didn’t desist I’d be forced to remove his helmet – for some reason, a terrible threat in his case. When he persisted, I used my super-human strength (apparently, those helmets are locked down with bolts and things) to rip off the helmet.

What did I see underneath? Not some brawny and photogenic clone of a Maori actor, as suggested in the execrable Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, but rather a schlumpy, 30-something not-so-hipster loser nerd. With pale skin, dark receding close-shorn hair and several days’ worth of facial hair growth, topped with red-rimmed, dark-circled eyes, he looked like nothing so much as the engineered spawn of Adam “MCA” Yauch and John Turturro. Upon seeing this dweebling revealed from underneath the much-worshipped armor, I began to giggle uncontrollably – I couldn’t help myself. Soon I, and apparently some other folks who’d wandered in, were full-out laughing, and Boba got up, picked up his helmet and slunk off in humiliation.

Afterwards, however, nobody would seem to take the threat he posed me seriously. They wanted to focus more on how “mean” I’d been in exposing his goofy interior and laughing at him. Despite my protests that I had been the victim – he had been trying to rape me! – I was met with much sad head-shaking and disdain. Nobody likes to see their heroes fall.

1. Clearly a meditation upon the perceptions of cool and likability via fame, this probably related somewhat to my earlier conversation with an acquaintance about the offer to appear on a reality show I recently rejected due to my assessment that it would make me and my profession look silly, and how people who achieve notoriety through movies or television are folks just like the rest of us who have to deal with weird problems (like the celebrity psychic my acquaintance knows who’s been stalked by violent religious fundamentalists). Issues addressed included actual strength/power vs. perceived strength/power, the power of shame, violence, attractiveness, rejection and dismissal.

2. I am a geek.

3. I shouldn’t have played that lousy Star Wars NES game so late last night. It totally sucked.

Other interpretations…? Feel free to comment.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Happy New Year

Things are gonna change around here in 2005, although I'm not sure how. I got completely overwhelmed by the holidays and then the news of the earthquake and tsunamis in Asia. How can I post about trivial stuff in the face of that?

Anyway, since the election is over I may start moving away from posting political news and towards more reflective or creative writing, or I may shift the focus of my blurbs. We'll see.

For anyone who's been reading so far, thank you. Feel free to comment or drop me a note if there's any direction you'd like to see this blog to take.