Note From Jon


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Stuff White People Like: Road Trips

While it’s not (yet) recognized on the official list of “Stuff White People Like” (a damn funny blog making fun of well…basically me), I expect road trips to be added soon (unless they are held back to be part of their new book deal—congratulations!).

Here’s an example of a hypothetical White People road trip: Shortly after watching their local basketball team get knocked out of the NCAA tournament and screw up their brackets (thus preventing them from raising their status among other White People by showing how much smarter they are at guessing who will win games that no one pays attention to before March), a group of White People decide that they need to do something to make themselves feel good again.

In this case, despite the fact that it is after midnight on a Thursday in Washington D.C. they want… Philadelphia Cheesesteaks. Generally something non-organic topped with Cheese Whiz would not be considered traditional White People food (therefore finding a local late-night restaurant or picking up a cheesesteak Hot Pocket at a 24-hour grocery store—although cheaper and far more sensible—is not an option). The spontaneous road trip fixes that problem. In this case a middle-of-the-night-road-trip-to-Philadelphia meets the following White People needs:

  • Authenticity: As documented extensively on the official list, White People thrive on seeking out things that are considered authentic by other White People (like Pat’s and Geno’s 24-hour cheesesteak stands—Pat’s wins since it is older and therefore more authentic… and White People hate Vegas-style neon decorations unless they are gambling or enjoying the irony)
  • Expensive Sandwiches: While cheesesteaks on their own don't qualify—without seitan and organic local goat cheese—between gas, tolls and the cost of the sandwiches themselves that’s about $25 a cheesesteak.
  • Eating Local Food: Or in this case driving two hours to change which food White People are local to
  • Toyota Prius: Were it not for an onimous check engine light that change in locality would likely happen in a Prius... you know, so that it would be "good" for the environment
  • Traveling: Just like overseas travel, spontaneous road trips make White People look adventurous and fun and raise their status among other White People
  • Hating Corporations (except Apple): Despite aborted franchising attempts and minor family disputes Pat’s King of Cheesesteaks is a genuine family business
  • Asian Girls: At least when one of the White People also happens to be half-Asian
  • Indie Music: What’s a road trip without music after all, and music on a White People road trip is Indie music (Arcade Fire, Modest Mouse), unless they are being ironic and listening to music that would be heard on 80s night (Air Supply... ok so that was a previous road trip)
  • Outdoor Performance Clothes: Worn just in case the spontaneous road trip to Philly suddenly extends into a “kayak then camping” weekend
  • Making You Feel Bad About Not Going Outside: Or in this case at least making you feel bad about being boring and going to sleep at midnight on a Thursday instead of taking a road trip

  • Dogs: Dogs make any White People experience better. In addition they provide a way for White People to feel clever by using an extension cord as a leash, and prove that the road trip was too spontaneous to allow a detour to pick up a real leash. White People treat dogs like people. And what is more White People than a dog with a blog!?! As a bonus, they are always photogenic which helps with the last item
  • Doing things for the stories of having done them: While again not an official entry it is an inherent trait that White People do things mainly so they can have the most interesting photos and stories to impress other people (see Marathons). They will mention these experiences in conversation… or perhaps write a blog entry about them… and you should always compliment them on how interesting and adventurous these experiences make them

As a disclaimer I could have this all wrong because by my calculations I am only 56 out of 92 (60.1%) White. However I think I make up for that by exceeding requirements in the following categories: wearing Outdoor Performance Clothes at my cubicle job, driving the White People car—The Prius—and previously driving the previous-White-People-car—The Jetta, and having officially stated on my blog that The Wire was the best show on television.

I can neither confirm nor deny that the following photos were taken on this hypothetical road trip:

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Green Cards and Visas

That's right. I'll be appearing a little more manly around the climbing gym from now on. No longer do I have to wear a hot pink card on my harness. Tonight I finally took my lead climbing test (and passed) so that I can now wear a more fashion-friendly green card and climb like a man (well an 80s man I suppose since the card is day-glo green). I think it may mean that I can climb in new parts of the gym that don't have top-ropes set up, and also likely take falls that will hurt more... but the important thing is that I can look like a man while doing it! Hopefully my climbing doesn't suffer as a result, since women are better natural climbers...

Now if only applying for my visa to Russia next month were as easy...

Monday, March 17, 2008

"Smuggling Friendship"

I was bound to like Saving Luna, the documentary about a wayward killer whale… I mean Orca, that I saw as part of the Environmental Film Festival—after all I have a fondness for adventurous sea mammals, like Chessie the Manatee who used to go on holiday up the Eastern seaboard and bump the sailboats in the Chesapeake Bay around a bit, or more recently Manny the Manatee who decided that it was perfectly reasonable to take a 700 mile vacation up the Mississippi River… all the way to Memphis (just discovered while grabbing a link that there's not such a happy ending there...)—but I was still surprised by how much I enjoyed the movie.

The filmmakers’ website has an overview of the documentary that describes it eloquently, and even has some additional notes that aren’t in the movie, although it does give away the ending a bit (just like my friend from The Ocean Conservancy did for me the night before I saw it, thanks Sarah!).

While just the raw footage of Luna befriending people—despite the best (worst?) efforts of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to prevent it—would be captivating and charming to watch, the filmmakers made an invaluable contribution to Luna and to the storytelling. Husband and wife team, Mike Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm (who were in attendance at the screening), morph a three week journalistic assignment into a three-year biography of their friend Luna who “happens to be a whale”. Despite their eventual bias, the film definitely gives a sense of all of the challenges faced when people encounter a “Solitary Sociable” like Luna, and it’s easy to see how different parties feel that their approach is the right one (although not surprisingly I came away agreeing with the filmmakers in the end!).

Mike Parfit did an exceptional job as both script writer and narrator. I was sure he was a hired narrator, but he wasn’t, and it was so compelling to be able to have the story told in a first-person voice. Although the script could have easily been overpowered by the incredible story itself and its show-stealing star, the brilliant writing was not obscured. Countless times Mike took a behavior or a situation and coined (or captured) a memorable phrase that was later used to cleverly and concisely recall that memory. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Luna developed the game “Stealth Whale” where he would just pop up next to a boat in response to boats being mandated to keep their distance from him.
  • Luna liked to “Play Bruno” (apparently based on a character from a TV show The Beachcombers I haven’t seen) and work for the logging company by pushing around 40-foot timbers like his friends who drove the tugs.
  • Watching the epic “Tug-of-whale” between the “Luna Flotilla”—the canoes of the First Nations—and the Department, who are trying to lure him into a net for relocation back to his pod (or possibly to an aquarium). The First Nations believe Luna is their chief that died the week he arrived (and claimed he would return as a killer whale) and they paddle out every day during the Tug-of-whale battle and sing to Luna as he follows their flotilla for miles… away from his friends in the other boat who are trying to lead him into the net pen.

But these are the quotes, as best I can remember, that really summed up the movie for me:

  • “Scientists know whales like child psychologists know children, in abstract detail, the people [in the community who befriended him] know him like parents know one child”
  • “Relationships among Orcas are consistent and they last”, whereas Luna’s interactions with humans were terribly inconsistent, due to the constantly changing attitudes and approaches of the stakeholders trying to save him.

  • But perhaps most touching was watching Mike and Suzanne, and so many others in the community, who were “smuggling friendship” into Luna’s life.

If you’re in Bermuda, Florida, Texas, or Montana… or if Saving Luna plays “Stealth Whale” in your city, make a point of going to see this great documentary.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Ghost and the Dysfunctional Family

P.W.Y.C. Yes those four lovely initials (though not an acronym) mean it’s time for another trip to Woolly Mammoth Theatre. Tonight it was David Adjmi’s new play Stunning which I read the following synopsis for:

Sixteen year old Lily knows nothing beyond the Syrian-Jewish community
[…] where she lives a cloistered life with her much older
husband. Soon an unlikely relationship with her enigmatic African-
American maid opens Lily's world to new possibilities - but at a big

So I thought I was seeing something in the vein of Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns (just replace Syrian-Jewish with Afghani, and African-American maid with first wife). I loved that book but tend to have a hard time with realistic dramatic theatre, so I had fairly low expectations (for my enjoyment at least, not for the quality of the show). My expectations were shattered instantly when New York club music pumped out of the darkened stage and the play opened with a scene I’d describe as Sex in the City-gogue, and the audience was quickly cracking up.

I’d made two false assumptions. First, that the play was set in Syria. Notice that deceptive “[…]” up in the synopsis quote? It hides the words “in Brooklyn” which failed to sink in when I originally read it. The second assumption was that the cloistered girl was poor. Actually the family, and in general the whole Syrian-Jewish enclave (which actually exists) is quite wealthy—Lily had just returned from Aruba in the opening scene, so I had to reconcile cloistered with international travel and conservative with trendy clothes.

Having successfully made this mental adjustment, and breathing a sigh of relief that this would be a humor-infused drama, I began searching for what is seemingly an intentional mark of Woolly theatre: The Ghost and the Dysfunctional Family. The play Nutshell from last year’s fringe festival made a joke by describing a play at Woolly Mammoth as “the one about the dysfunctional family”, and when that didn’t narrow anything down, “the one with the ghost”. That line gets funnier to me with every show I see there. So far this season The K of D and No Child… have both had a dysfunctional family and a ghost. Now the family isn’t hard (how many plays have you seen about a functional family?), but the ghost as well? I didn’t have to wait long. In the very opening scene Lily describes how her new house is haunted, and the ghost plays a recurring (though somewhat inexplicable) role throughout the play. The Ghost and the Dysfunctional Family. Check. Three for three.

So the play was off to a good start for me and for the most part it maintained that feeling throughout, although the first half was more enjoyable than the second and the show didn’t feel quite tight enough at points (to be expected from a P.W.Y.C. preview of a World Premiere show—they even made an announcement about the lack of polish during the house manager speech which was a first for me). While the scene transitions were rough at times, Daniel Conway’s set design itself was far more impressive than I’d expected. They successfully recreated a multi-story NYC luxury apartment (the minimalist igloo was decorated entirely in white—to the point where the maid was told that there was a bucket of paint in every room and if she saw a spot on the wall, or just had free time, to touch up the paint). In fact the only part of the whole set which wasn’t in grayscale was probably “Kitty”… the goldfish. Whole walls seemed to open and close like garage doors to reveal different rooms in the apartment, and more importantly to reveal mirrors along the whole back of the stage. The mirrored wall was a new effect to me and led to some interesting staging, notably it enabled some rarely seen back-blocking where you actually picked up the actors expressions in the mirror, and of course to some extent you also saw the audience. Although that could have been distracting, because of the hazy quality of the some of the reflections, I actually linked our ghostly appearance to the haunting of the house.

Race was one of the themes of the show, as you might imagine from a play about Syrian Jews who consider themselves white, look Arab (or are supposed to), but are, as Lily points out in a great dinner scene, Spaniards from the Iberian peninsula who fled the Inquisition—knowledge which she clearly picked up from her African-American maid... the one who she insists on pretending is Puerto Rican. The race relations are humorous at some points, such as when the maid, Blanche, tells Lily the anti-wrinkle secrets of Cocoa butter which leads to the phrase “Black don’t Crack”, or when Lily’s husband asks Blanche if she’s a hip-hopster… yo. But several times the N word is used to stunning effect, and its power is not diminished even when spoken in Pig Latin… which Lily and her sister use to speak secretly in front of the maid… the quad-lingual maid with the PhD in Semiotics from Brown University. Sound Designer Ryan Rumery did an excellent job capturing these diverse aspects of race and class in the scene transition music which included Arabic techno, hip-hop (shortly after the hip-hopster scene) and Rachmaninoff.

The play benefited from solid acting performances from the whole cast and particularly from the three leads, Laura Heisler, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, and Michael Gabriel Goodfriend, although one of the strongest moments of the night was when Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey, who plays Lily’s sister, personified the rejection which the Syrian-Jewish community apparently expresses to those who leave the fold. Not only are community members directed to only marry other Jews, but they define being Jewish as having two Jewish parents and conversion to Judaism does not count.

David Adjmi’s script was clever and used humor to balance most of the serious issues of the show, which worked well for my tastes, and while the characters seemed a bit caricatured at times, they developed some depth through the show, and became even more real when you realized that no character was wholly good or bad (although some of these changes made it challenging to connect with characters… or at least the same characters… towards the end of the show). Some aspects of the script were a bit unclear to me, so on the off chance someone cares here’s a list of elements that confused me:

  • How old was Lily? At various points she claims she is turning or has turned 17, at other times 16
  • I assumed Shelly was Lily’s friend and not her sister until nearly the end of the show
  • The bookkeeping incident at the office is incredibly vague
  • While I loved the ghost for the continuity of the Woolly Mammoth joke, I had a hard time picking up it’s origin or relevance to the rest of the play
  • Several times the husband’s attitude toward the maid seems unnatural (e.g. seething “You are dead!” at the close of one scene… and convincing you he means it… and then greeting her cordially in their next scene)

I think we’re about at the point where I need to switch over to my bulleted memory format!

  • Some of my other favorite lines, paraphrased as best as I can remember:
    • Lily: I look white!
      Blanche: Not to me you don’t! (gives Lily the trademark Larry David eye from Curb Your Enthusiasm)
    • Blanche: It’s like Helen Keller said, “I’m just one person, but I’m still a person!”
      Lily: I thought Helen Keller was mute.
      Blanche: I’m paraphrasing.
    • Blanche: Lobster isn’t a fish, it’s a sea insect.
    • And because I always think fondly on the college dinner when James tried to explain how the Law of Diminishing Returns applied to our enjoyment of Fazoli’s breadsticks (later I believe he corrected this to be The Law of Marginal Utility), I particularly enjoyed this exchange:
      Lily: You don’t seem drunk at all
      Blanche: I drink a lot. It’s the Law of Diminishing Returns.
    • And because Natalie and I discussed this generation’s Nature Deficit Disorder and its relation to Attention Deficit Disorder, this line was particularly appropriate:
      Blanche: You have the attention span of an Aphid!
      Lily: What’s an Aphid?
  • And some memorable visuals:
    • Blanche, nearly crying, frantically spraying glass cleaner until the mist coalesced and ran down the mirror like tears.
    • Seeing what someone might look like after an attempted drowning in a tray of paint

Finally, Notes to Jon:

  • Apparently I am a horrible date because I’ve now had a different date to each of this year’s four Woolly shows. Granted all but one of them were “dates” with a close friend, but even my real date didn’t want to come back to this one! I may soon be seeing these shows by myself.
  • Parked at the usual Gallery Place spot, and arrived in the theatre right at 6:00, which put us about 70 people back for tickets.
  • I wish I’d read the New York Times article about the real-life Syrian-Jewish community which the play was based on like Natalie did, fascinating stuff.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

If it's 2001 in Ethiopia... what year is it at this bowling alley!?!

In the biggest how-did-I-miss-that since I learned about the rock slide on a local Shenandoah Hike, I was introduced to this place tonight:

Bowling shoes +
2 games +
1/4 pound cheeseburger (with pickle wedge) +
fries +
16oz Coke (fine, it was a Pepsi) =

... in 2008 ...

... 3 miles from my house ...

... no waiting ...

Out of respect to those who shared its secret location with me, I am not at liberty to divulge any more details or photos.

I found it not a moment too soon though... because both my sister and my mom have been beating me at Wii Bowling (which is not surprising since I failed to break 100 in my first game tonight).

One Note to Jon:
  • When I return on a Friday or Saturday night for the 8pm Cosmic Bowling, have one person show up by 7:15, buy shoes and bowl a game. Once you've got the lane you can hold it all night as your friends show up.