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An Aspiring Actress

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When I lived in Hell’s Kitchen I would occasionally visit a dive bar called Tobacco Road, located across from the Port Authority bus station, where the bartenders wore bras and the patrons were unshaven and grumpy.

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One night I was drinking Guinness and reading Chekhov short stories when a bartender struck up a conversation. She was named Alexa, had gratuitous make-up, platinum blond hair, and lingering ghosts behind her eyes. She noticed my book and told me she was taking acting classes. They were currently performing Chekhov’s play, “The Seagull.” What a coincidence! Did I know it? Yes, I’ve read it twice…now tell me more about your acting dreams. A couple of beers later she gave me her number. We went on a couple of promising dates (bustling coffee shop, leisurely lunch, evening stroll, etc.) We got along well…one night after a dinner date we kissed passionately outside of her apartment. When I stepped back I noticed tears in her eyes.

“We can’t do this anymore,” she said. “Why not?” I replied.
“I’m…I’m engaged.”
“Then we can’t do this anymore. I had a lot of fun, though.”
“I really like you. I didn’t mean to lead you on. It’s just…my fiancé, we’ve been close friends for years, he’s…he’s such a nice guy, he pays my rent, and…I don’t know. I’m so stupid. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s alright. You know I’m a waiter and a writer. I won’t be able to pay your rent for at least ten years.” She did one of those choking laughs. We hugged each other for a minute and parted ways. A week later she came to the restaurant where I worked, Hallo Berlin, for the first time with her fiancé.

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Hallo Alexa. Hallo fiancé. His name was Bill and he was a portly investment banker with thinning hair and a friendly handshake. Alexa talked rapidly, laughed frequently, and told Bill I was a regular at her bar. I’ve never been a regular at Tobacco Road. Bill left a big tip, they walked out holding hands, and I never saw Alexa again. What a funny girl. This actually has nothing to do with the following story, I just had to get that off my chest.

When I lived in Hell’s Kitchen I would occasionally visit a small park on 43rd street between 9th and 10th ave and read next to my bulldog: Hank.

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The benches were uncomfortable and it was often cold, but I frequently felt stir crazy in my apartment. Furthermore, Hank liked to be out and about after a stressful day of waiting at home while I was enthusiastically pushing wiener schnitzel. To stay warm and relieve my lower back, I’d often walk around the park with a book in front of my face. I was like Belle from Beauty and the Beast.

belle

Youth is fleeting, and I can already feel my 20s slipping through my greedy, twitching fingers, but those nights in the park were some of the best nights of my early 20s. I’ll savor them for the rest of my life. I traveled the world inside my head, became close friends with dead people, and felt waves of sadness, love, frenzy, and joy. In addition, the pieces of my first novel were finally coming together, and it felt glorious to be an aspiring, hopeful artist creating a masterpiece that would someday be rejected by almost every literary agent and publisher in the country.

On many of those nights, there was also an old woman who would sit in the park. All she did was stare at a building across the street. She was quite large and looked like an elderly version of Professor Umbridge from Harry Potter.

dolores_ambridzh

For a couple of weeks I would acknowledge her with a head nod when I left the park, but that was it.

One night, though, she came over to where I was sitting.
“I see you here all the time. You read a lot, don’t you?” I looked up. She had bleary, blue eyes, a pallid face, wispy gray hair, thin lips, and a wide smile.
“Yes. I do.”
“My name is Millie. Mind if I sit down?”
“Not at all.” I moved over and she slowly lowered her bulky body and twenty five scarfs to the bench.
“And who are you?”
“Jack.”
“What are you reading?” Her voice was loud, abrasive, and I could already tell that her personality was forward and brash.”
“The Kolyma Tales. By Varlam Shalamov.”
“Ah, the Russians, I like the Russians. Chekov is my favorite writer. Do you know Chekov? What are the Kolyma Tales about?”
“Fragmented stories about the Gulag Labour camps. Very bleak. Very dark. I like Chekhov too. Shalamov’s work is actually described as a more brutal, violent Chekhov.”
“Ahh. Never heard of him. Why do you read so much? Shouldn’t you be on your cell phone? Watching TV? On a computer?”
“I-”
“You must be a writer.”
“Yes.”
“You know, I wrote a book.”
“Really?”
“Yes, back in the late fifties. When I was an actress. It was published by a major publishing house: Ballantine Books. Which is part of Random House now. It’s called Ingenue. That means young actress in French, but also means innocent and ingenuous. You can buy it on Amazon. My full name is Millicent Brower. Spelled M-I-L-L-I.”
“Hold on. Let me put it in my phone.”
“You won’t actually buy it,” she laughed. “I don’t know what I’m saying.”
“No. I will. And I’ll read it.” We sat there in silence for a minute. The night wind passed softly through the surrounding trees and Hank woofed at a passing poodle.
“How long did you act for?” I asked.
“Ten years. It was hard. Very hard. I was in Studio One in Hollywood, but I never made it. It’s tough being an actor. Real tough. People don’t understand.”
“No, they don’t.”
“I stopped acting in my 30s. Not long after I published the book.”
“Why?” She laughed again.
“You know, it’s hard to say. I guess I stopped when I married my husband.”
“Did he tell you to quit?”
“No. He didn’t. George encouraged and supported me.” She had a distant look in her eyes and I could tell she was delving deep into memory. “But life moves fast. Very fast. You wouldn’t believe it. One day you say I’m not gonna go to this or that audition, then your beauty’s gone, and if you don’t have a reputation, nobody cares. Nobody will give you a chance. How old are you?”
“Guess.”
“33.”
“23.” She laughed once more.
“Oh, you wait Jack, you’re young. Time will keep moving faster and faster. I’m 83 now. I remember being 23 yesterday.”
“Hmm. Was it difficult publishing a book? Did you have to send it out to a lot of agents and editors?”
“No, not at all. It was easy. My book was accepted by the second publisher I sent it to.”
“Hmm. Well, I’ll make sure to read it.”
“Please do. You live around here?”
“Nearby. On-”
“I used to live across the street, in that building, right there, with my husband. He died 10 years ago. George was his name.”
“Ah.” She slowly stood up.
“Well, I’m getting cold. It’s freezing out here. Aren’t you cold? I better get going. My back has been killing me. It was nice meeting you, Jack.”
“Yes, it was nice meeting you too, Millie. See you later.” She shuffled away.

Later that night I ordered Millie’s book and read it within the week. Here it is…it’s been out of print for a couple of decades:

ingenue-millie

Holy shit! I remember thinking. This old woman used to be beautiful! For some reason, it made me feel sad. At the time, I remember reading an article about what it’s like being an aging, beautiful woman. The author described the difficult, confusing, and painful transition. For years, a beautiful woman receives incessant attention from men, and in some spheres gets whatever she wants, then it all gradually fades away. It’s not easy adapting to the new lifestyle of being comparatively ignored and neglected.

When I finished reading Ingenue I remember thinking it was one of the worst books I had ever read. Art is subjective, of course, but I personally didn’t like the protagonist and how she looked at the world. She was annoying, demanding, and always complaining. “I’m late for this. Person A won’t give me that. Person B is mean. So many chores. My socks are dirty. Etc.”

But despite my severe criticism of the book as a whole, there was one passage which moved me deeply. I had a feeling she had written the entire book with this single passage in mind. The novel should have been a short story. Two-thirds of the way through, there was an explicit rape scene. It was brutal and wretched. It felt real and I’m convinced it actually happened to Millie. The protagonist was raped by her acting manager. She didn’t know how to deal with it or resist him. She was an aspiring actress and this was the only way she thought she could get ahead.

For weeks I waited to see Millie in order to talk with her about the book. But she was never in the park after that initial encounter. Not long after, I moved to Brooklyn. Since she was 83, I assumed she had died.

When I moved to Brooklyn I threw away her book and mostly forgot about Millie Brower. In fact, when I started writing this post, I couldn’t even remember her name. For hours I wracked my memory and typed random “old woman names” into google: Phyllis Ingenue? Agnes Ingenue? Finally, I got it. Millicent Brower. She actually has an IMB profile and a Facebook too. Her Facebook occupation reads:

“Writter at Sel Employed”

One afternoon I left Brooklyn and traveled to Hell’s Kitchen for an errand I can’t remember. I was clean shaven, cheerful, and wearing a tie. It was a hot day and I walked through that park where I used to read next to Hank. I was flooded with memories. Was that Ingenue writer woman still alive?

As I turned the corner of 43rd and 10th ave, I saw Mr. Biggs Bar:

mrbiggs-1

And as I passed by, I stopped in surprise. There was the Ingenue old woman whose name I couldn’t remember! Sitting by herself outside! What a coincidence! My friends and family know I have an uncanny talent for never forgetting a face. I frequently spot people from my distant past in public. It’s either borderline savant or insanity. So when I saw this old woman, a part of me wasn’t actually that surprised.

I walked over to the table.
“Hey Ingenue.” She looked up quickly in shock. “Mind if I sit down?”
“Ahh. Not at all.”
“Remember me?”
“Are you…the…the writer…with the bulldog?”
“Yes. Good memory.” The people around us stared in disbelief. What was this young man wearing a tie doing sitting down with this wizened, old woman?
“I read your book.”
“Really?” She smiled and her wasted, pallid face blushed pink.
“Yes.”
“How’d you like it?”
“It was…pretty good.” I ordered a Guinness and drank it fast. It was a strange conversation with many pauses and I hardly remember what we talked about. We oddly never asked each other’s names. I think we both thought we were supposed to know. She still lived nearby. Where am I living now? Brooklyn. Am I still writing? Yes. Am I published yet? No, not yet. Isn’t it a nice and sunny outside? After I finished the beer I paid, then stood up.
“Well, it was nice seeing you,” I said.
“Yes, it was nice seeing you too.”
“Have a good afternoon.”
“You…you too. And thank you, thank you so much for…for sitting down with me. This has made my day, my week.”
“No big deal. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye.”

I walked to the corner and waited a minute. Cars passed by. And before I walked across the street, I looked back at Millicent Brower one more time. She was looking down at the table. I could hardly see her face. And to this day, I don’t know if my imagination was playing some cruel trick, but I think I saw her shoulders shaking. It looked like she was crying or about to cry. When the crosswalk changed I turned away and walked toward wherever I was about to go.

 

 

 

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I’ll never get tired of this…

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She’s been waiting. She turns the hot water on and smiles.
“Ready?”
“Born ready.” She laughs. I throw down my bag and step over to where she’s sitting. “I’ve been thinking about this all day.”
“Oh really?” I settle down, let my muscles relax, and the water envelops me. “You are ready,” she says.
“Yes.”
“Good.” She’s from Russia, most likely fresh off the boat. Her accent is strong. Her eyes are dark.

She hovers over me and I shift into a more comfortable position.  Her hands grip the back of my head. She’s aggressive. She’s done this before. Yes, I’m paying. Yes, she doesn’t know me. But it feels intimate. It feels special. She grabs, scratches, presses, pulls, and massages during the whole experience. I keep my eyes closed because I think it would be inappropriate to look her in the face, especially since she’s on the job and concentrating. Soon, I’m blinded by ecstasy. My eyelids flicker. I don’t want her to stop. But stop she must. I’m not the only one…

I stand up and she hands me a towel.
“Thank you,” I say.
“You’re welcome,” she replies.
“I’ll never get tired of this…I mean…that.” She laughs again.
“Feel good?”
“Yes.”

My hair is washed and clean. I walk away. It’s time for a haircut.

 

The Dangerous and Terrifying Night Part 1

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Here’s me speaking broken Japanese like a toddler:

Rape, Injustice, and Outrage: Aftermath and Analysis of Brock Turner vs. People of California

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Hands Covering Man's Eye and Startled Woman's Mouth

In September 2016, Brock Turner was released from jail after serving 3 months of his 6 month sentence for “sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object,” and “sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object,” in 2015. People were in an uproar, rightfully so, at this despicable act of leniency which made a mockery of our justice system. Petitions were being signed to recall the judge. The founder of linked-in, Reid Hoffman (Stanford graduate) donated $25,000 to crowdpac campaign in order to aid with the recall. The prosecutors in the case had initially pressed for a six year prison sentence, for a crime (rape) which has a minimum of 2 years imprisonment (the official rape charges were dropped, which was why Brock was only sentenced to 6 months). Brock leaving after 92 days was a corruption of the system.

One of my purposes for this post is to elaborate on the following idea:

Justice, both individually and culturally, is irrevocably intermixed and colored by identity and social status. This is why social change happens painfully slow over generations. It is why we have to keep reminding ourselves of unjust cases like this one to prevent a degradation of the law.

If you want to learn the gritty details and perspectives of the case there are thousands of blogs and articles you can find online. But the two “must-reads,” are the letter of the defendant’s father to the judge (read this first) and the letter of the victim to the judge/read to the defendant. Spring boarding from these two perspectives I want to answer four questions:

Who was Brock Turner?
Who was “Emily Doe” (the victim)?
How and why did the rape occur?
Why was the punishment so lenient/who was the judge?

I want the reader to keep in mind during my analysis that I believe Brock’s act was monstrous and not adequately punished. But if we’re going to understand why the judge sentenced him so lightly and move in the direction of positive reform, we have to delve into a painfully sympathetic perspective to fully comprehend the bastardization of justice.

Brock Turner was an awkward, drug-using (LSD, ecstasy), over-achieving All-American swimmer. Based on his father’s letter to the judge, it’s clear that Brock was enamored by his parents and that his father was narrow and dumb. What’s sickening about the letter is the father’s complete neglect of the victim. It’s all my poor son, my poor son…he’s losing his happy-go-lucky personality, his welcoming smile. He was so talented, hard-working, and humble. Now he will never be the same again

The most horrifying line:

His life will never be the one he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.

The emotional destruction of Emily was ignored. The shattering tragedy imposed on her was called 20 minutes of action.

It is obvious from the father’s letter that a parent rarely has a reasonable and clear perspective of their child. It is obvious that a desperate love and fear of loss will often trump the lives and decencies of strangers. A parent is usually ready to forgive the heinous crime of their child and look forward.

Which makes me ask: can a person be defined by a single action? Can a whole lifetime be tainted by 20 minutes of unspeakable stupidity and cruelty, especially when alcohol or drugs are involved? When looking at yourself, the answer must be no. Our pasts, with all our mistakes, are set in stone and we must define ourselves with the next action we take. This is how the judge looked at Brock. The judge believed that Brock was being punished/”poisoned enough” with all the media backlash and having to register as a lifetime sex offender. Did he really need more than 6 months of jail time on top of that? Would that make him a better person? Would the severity of a long prison sentence negatively impact his moral restoration? But the justice system is not our caring parent. The law must look at our actions in a crime as direct and persistent connections to who we are. The law must look at what we’ve done as irrevocable. If it doesn’t, the law breaks down.

Emily Doe’s letter to her attacker is a work of art. Her intelligence and emotional depth sizzles between the words. It reminds me how much injustice can act as a flaming fuel for expression. Her paragraphs pulse with the power of someone who has been betrayed by the courtroom and refuses to back down. She hits the perfect balance of describing her personal struggles with the aggravating details of how the case progressed. She rightfully hits on the contemptible avoidance tactics of the defendants and their unscrupulous focus on the surrounding culture of drinking and promiscuity.

Reading between the lines, I believe Emily is a vibrant, passionate, empathetic, and engaging woman: “…there’s a dumb party ten minutes from my house. I would go, dance like a fool, and embarrass my younger sister. On the way there, I joked about what undergrad guys would have braces. My sister teased me for wearing a beige cardigan to a frat party like a librarian.”

Now let’s turn back to Brock. I’ve personally known two people who have attended Stanford University and transferred after their first year due to a toxic and hazardous social environment. The school is so academically and athletically competitive that it attracts people who haven’t developed socially. In Brock’s father’s letter he states, “When Brock was home Christmas break, he broke down and told us how much he was struggling to fit in socially and the fact that he did not like being so far from home.” Keep in mind that Brock had the highest GPA of the freshmen on the swim team (nerd) and was from the Midwest (relative foreigner). Now, compound all of these factors with the toxic frat environment:

 

Let’s get hammered and get laid!

Here’s the scene: wild frat house, semester just started, high-testosterone-level-athletes heavily drinking, Brock is awkwardly trying to fit in and party. A visiting girl wearing a funny sweater arrives, flirts, dances, and unintentionally gets black out drunk. Brock misinterprets her friendliness as advances. He’s never been good with girls. She passes out drunk outside. Did she kiss him and touch his genitals during the party? Was Emily’s sister telling the truth when she said that she witnessed Brock attempt to kiss Emily, but Emily pulled away? We’ll never know. But in any case, it doesn’t matter (his story frequently changed as the case progressed). He decided to violate her behind a dumpster. Two Swedish men caught him, he ran away, and they tackled him. While on the ground the Swedish graduate student asked Brock, “What are you smiling for?” One of the Swedish men broke down crying. You don’t run away if the sex or penetration was consensual.

Why did Brock decide to violate her while she was unconscious? Besides the animal lust and drunken haze, what other cultural and social factors were at work? More importantly, how can we prevent young men from making such a depraved decision in the future?

Emily was right in her letter to attack the defense’s focus on the culture of drinking and promiscuity. Excess drinking and sleeping with strangers are not the issues, it’s the lack of consent.

I believe that issues between the sexes will persist long after issues between races have been resolved. Because the steps we have to take in order to emphasize consent sometimes conflicts with our animal natures.

We have to tell young men that hooking up with numerous, stranger women does not make you a man, make you cool, make you fit in, or make you attractive (despite our evolutionary tendency and desire to pass on the seed.) What makes you a man is forming a deep, lasting relationship with a woman. What makes you a man is having the confidence to ask for consent and if you can’t find out, to forget it. We have to make the idea of penetrating a woman who does not give absolutely clear consent as loathsome as possible.

Women can help this process in their own way, but again, this way can conflict with their animal nature. It’s a fact that some women are highly attracted to dominating and controlling men. It’s a truism that women don’t know what they want. They want a man who is knowing and can care for them. The success of the book, 50 Shades of Grey is an example of the fantasies many women have of rich, powerful, knowledgable men sweeping them off their passive feet and forcing them to submit. This Louis CK video describes the wavering mentality (telling a story about when he was, coincidentally, 20 years old/the same age as Brock):

Of course the video only describes one woman, but I think many women expect guys to read their subtle signals and act forcefully. But men are not nearly as emotionally savy or sensitive as women. Most of us are hungry, fumbling idiots. So the more independent and confident women become (which has been happening and I believe will continue to happen)…being clear about what they want and communicating it, the better the relations between the sexes will be. Keep in mind that I am not at all implying that Emily Doe wasn’t being independent or confident enough the night of the party (she mistakenly got black out drunk and black out drunk girls shouldn’t be expected to communicate clearly or give consent). In fact, I believe she is more confident and independent than the average woman. And I’m not saying that more independence and confidence could have prevented Brock’s attack the night of the crime. I’m just saying that if Brock grew up in a culture with less “waitresses-attracted-to-guys-who-just-go-for-it-despite-her-denials,” or Brock had somehow encountered a woman in his past that pounded into his thick skull that a real woman will tell you if she wants you and that if she doesn’t, it’s disgusting to assume…this might possibly have been avoided.

So why did the judge let Brock off the hook?

Judge Aaron Persky is a 53 year old white, male democrat who graduated from Stanford. While at Stanford he was the captain of the club lacrosse team. There’s no doubt that he unconsciously empathized with Brock as another male athlete with good grades from the same school. And democrats have a history of viewing the law as flexible, soft, and malleable. They also lean towards humanitarianism and rehabilitation rather than incarceration and punishment. This world view is shown via the judge’s focus on Turner being a “first time offender,” on Turner “showing remorse,” and the fact that imprisonment would have a “severe impact on the defendant’s life.”

When the judge and defendant share a similar identity, then the sense of justice spreads out beyond the person himself in this instance and the particulars of the case. Justice expands broadly enough to include the defendants swimming records in the past and his future, tainted life as a sex offender. (How will Brock ever find a woman who can love him when the details of his case are eternalized on the Internet?) It minimizes the slice of his action for the totality of his life…which is connected to the judge’s life.

The reader may be wondering: why doesn’t Aaron’s expanding, democratic, humanitarian sense of justice include Emily’s pain and suffering? Because the act which caused the pain already happened and is fading with time, Emily is different from the judge, and Aaron doesn’t see how punishing Brock more severely would further alleviate Emily’s pain.

The scenario reminds me of the death penalty debate. In the nonfiction book, Green Fields, by Bob Cowser an 8 year old girl named Cary Ann Medlin is raped and stabbed to death by a 23 year old man on LCD named Robert Coe. Coe is quickly arrested, confesses, pleads insanity, but is sentenced to death. He remained on death row for over two decades while his sentence was appealed, overturned, reinstated, and briefly stayed, until he was executed on April 19, 2000, the first execution performed in Tennessee in 40 years.

Cowser convincingly and subtly argues for the injustice of Coe’s execution. Cowser was a schoolmate of the victim, grew up in the same backwoods town as Coe, and witnessed the poverty and ignorance of the environment. He researched Coe’s childhood abuse. He empathized with Coe. He described the militant, revenge-fueled anger of Cary Ann Medlin’s family and neighbors. But what did killing Coe rather than life in prison accomplish? It satisfied revenge. That’s it.

A motivation for this post is that I’ve read numerous articles lashing out against Brock’s early release written by women who I believe have the same flexible, soft, and democratic sense of justice as Judge Aaron Pesky. They do not support the death penalty. They believe in rehabilitation, caring about the needy, and giving people a second chance.

Yet they don’t want Brock to rehabilitate or get a second chance. They don’t care if his life is already ruined by this case. Their sense of justice is rigid and hard. They know what it’s like to be a woman harassed by a man. They know Brock is a monster. They want revenge. They want more than 3 months in jail.

Let me reiterate: I’M IN THE SAME, FRUSTRATED BOAT. I believe Brock should have been punished more severely.

But these same women posting against the injustice did not write anything when Eric Gardner was strangled by a police officer (Labron James wore a shirt protesting against it:)

I can't breath

They did not write anything when French journalists were murdered by Muslim extremists (last time I saw Louis CK live he wore a Charlie Hedbo t-shirt):

louis ck charlie hebdo

And there’s nothing wrong with any of these silences! Injustices occur everywhere everyday.

My point is that we become outraged and our sense of justice becomes hard and rigid when someone with a similar identity or social status becomes victimized. On the flip side, our sense of justice becomes softer when it’s someone from a similar background being accused..and we’re the judge.

The emotional, empathizing mechanism impelling women to desire revenge and a harsher punishment for Brock, because he hurt a person similar to themselves, is the same mechanism which caused Judge Persky to be more lenient, judging someone similar to himself.

Most people know that their measuring stick for analyzing justice is biased when the subject is someone with a similar background. But I believe it’s important to realize that our compasses for discovering injustice and our barometers concerning our degree of involvement are influenced too.

Which is why, as a young man who was also an awkward, over-achieving, athlete who got hammered at frat parties and hit on girls, I decided to write about something that most of these men (who I believe are my audience) aren’t thinking about. If one of them reads this and shifts slightly in the direction of rape empathy and a recognition of conscious consent in their relationships with women, then my goal for this post will have been accomplished.

A Brief History of Braces…ending with some family notes

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Dental X-Ray. A panoramic x-ray of a mouth, with intact wisdom teeth, one of which is severely impacted.

jan_miense_dentist2

If I lived a hundred years ago, without all of the benefits I’ve received from technology and modern medicine, I’d be an ugly-ass man.

I’d have thick glasses, asthma, allergies, scoliosis, recurrent ear infections, a speech impediment, acne vulgaris, consistent rashes…and yes, mangled buck teeth.

Growing up, I had an overbite and my two, front teeth pointed in towards one another…sort of like a bunny rabbit.

bunny braces

I wore braces for a couple of years. When and where did this technology begin?

Some ancient Egyptian mummies were found with crude metal bands around their teeth:

egyptian braces

Looks like humans have been going to great lengths to satisfy their vanities for thousands of years.

The Greek and the Roman thinkers wrote about tooth irregularities (Hippocrates) and altering tooth position by regularly pushing them with your fingers (Celsus). This latter technique still exists today in the hood. Instead of going to the orthodontist they go to the “or-just-push-it.”

The father of dentistry, Pierre Fauchard, in 1728 invented a device called the bandeau.

early-orthodontic-braces Wheresgz the damselssgz at?

Some braces contain nickel titanium…which was developed by NASA.

-8 million people are wearing braces right now.
-75% are under 18.
-100% have to lie to their orthodontist about their salt water taffy consumption

It takes 17 muscles to smile, 43 to frown, 71 to make an “O” face.

25% of people who wear braces have to wear them again because they didn’t use their retainer.

dos equis retainer

Wearing braces in American culture has a nerdy, ugly stereotype…as captured by this 6 second vine:

 

But in the last decade wearing braces has become a fashion trend in China and Thailand.

asian braces smile

Hot.

100% of orthodontists are dentists.

About 6% of dentists are orthodontists.

About 99% of dentists continually refer to themselves as doctors despite everyone else saying, “You mean, you’re a dentist?”

(Note: my grandfather is a dentist. We haven’t talked in years. He lives in Arizona and he likes to gamble and golf. I remember his two favorite quotes:

Analysis is paralysis.

Don’t laugh when you win, don’t cry when you lose. 

I’ve tended not to analyze our relationship. And I tend to laugh when I lose and cry when I win.)

My sister (who’s a real doctor) got her braces off on the morning of 9/11. When she returned to school that day, nobody knew.

 

Bedroom Near Fort Tryon Park

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Fiction

Published in the Spring 2017 issue of
The Vignette Review

Reading Time: 1.5 minutes

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Miss Tina Tinder, Lessons Learned, and a Horrifying Realization of my Shameful Past as a Boy Toy

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Author’s note: This is a fairly intimate essay that I wrote in a notebook for my own attempt at self-awareness. I did not plan on ever posting this publicly. But the girl in this piece sent me a text not too long ago: When are you going to write about me? So I typed up my scribbles, sent her this essay (half as a joke), and asked her permission to post it. To my surprise, she said yes:

On October 1st, in the year of our lord 2016, I swiped right and had a match, a blinking heart, a glimpse of possibility. She was pretty, pale, and had a dog filter. Our initial conversation went something like this:

JW: Are you a dog or a human being? We have to get that question out of the way if this is going to go anywhere.

Tina: Last time I checked, human. Hahah I definitely need to stop using that stupid filter.

JW: It’s just confusing. I’m not trying to pick up somebody else’s shit on a date.

Tina: Hopefully you won’t need to.

JW: I’ll bring doggy bags just in case. You know how people put on a show on tinder.

Tina: I feel like I need a first aid kit and a can of pepper spray when it comes to tinder.

JW: Don’t forget your taser, blow horn, and portable lie detector.

Tina: Ahhhhh, the lie detector, that one I’d like to use.

Additional witty banter, subtle flirtation, innocuous questions, etc.

We exchanged numbers. Before we met a week later, we must have sent 10,000 text messages back and forth. They became quite raunchy and explicit (See James Joyce’s letters to Nora Barnacles). In my search for a serious relationship I deluded myself with this girl and wasted A TON of time. But through it all, I came to 3 realizations:

1.) I need to get the fuck off tinder (which I eventually did). And if you’re also hoping for a serious relationship, you should too. It’s an addicting, silly game. I’ve met married couples who met on tinder, but this outcome is extremely rare. The pool of people on this app has become too large, especially in NYC, and it’s infested with lust-hungry men who don’t have the balls to meet women in other ways, so they harass them out of weakness, and most decent women refrain from taking it seriously. Was I one of these men? Perhaps, in some sense. But I stupidly had the hope of meeting someone promising through this app. My excuse to myself was that I was too busy with working and writing that I didn’t have time to meet women in other, more organic ways. Tinder was so convenient, so easy. I could develop a fast, superficial relationship via texts while taking dumps in my apartment, or whenever I felt like it, then on my 1 day off a week meet up. On top of this, I’ve always been arrogantly proud of my texting skills. I can play with words and ideas all day. I’m better with words than I am at life. But all in all, it’s a waste of time.

2.) BEWARE: If you are above the age of 27, you are probably like me and have very little idea just how good the next generation is at texting. This is especially applicable for people with babies or young children. BE PREPARED. Tina has had a cell phone her entire life. She grew up playing this message game. I’ve never seen anything like it. Her speed and wit were incredible, seemingly beyond her years. A couple times I wondered, am I being cat-fished?

catfish on tinder

Because texting is its own language. How much you say, your ability to read and respond to sarcasm, how much to say, timing, balancing edge and lightheartedness, insult and compliment. This girl was on another level. My bias aside, the girl wielded her phone like a god.

3.) So why did I waste so much time texting this girl when I understood the superficiality of tinder? She wasn’t THAT special looking. Perhaps it was her nerdy-glasses look contrasting with her seductive, pant-less, mirror selfie? Perhaps it was her Midwest childhood combining with new girl in the big city persona? Perhaps it was her silly, youthful energy? I thought and thought and thought…then it hit me:

No, it wasn’t all that…

I’m just an egomaniac.

When Tina first started texting me she did something which I thought was natural at the time, but now I understand the insinuation in which she gripped and throttled my being:

She was J.W. Kash’s first, #1 fan. She read my blog posts and ASKED me about them in detail. She liked my writing. She wanted me to sign a book and send it to her. Right in the beginning of our conversation she stroked my ego like I was a cute, little kitten and it felt so…damn…good. In my arrogant, oblivious mind I unconsciously thought this was natural, DESPITE her being the first person in the past 6 years to give serious attention to my writing. I’ve received a compliment here and there, but nothing like this. Oh no, this flattery was unprecedented. And not only was she my first fan, she was an attractive young woman who liked to read novels! My Achilles heel! Days after texting, she was referencing my posts. So of course we must be compatible. Of course we want the same things. Of course she must be genuine and intelligent, because only genuine and intelligent people will ever enjoy my genuine and intelligent writing. Very sick and sad, but the bitter truth.

It was me who first crossed the bridge from texting to sexting. She was telling me about all the Netflix shows she liked. I replied,

“If you’re trying to Netflix and chill, just tell me.” Then I made some stupid joke about wrestling during breaks between shows. She asked about the nature of this wrestling. Etc.

I even downloaded Snapchat for the first time so we could send each other saucy snaps. Could my degradation have sunk any lower?

We picked a day to have lunch. I organized my schedule to make this happen. The night before our expected rendezvous she got drunk (I wish you were here right now so we could, etc.) and was hung-over the next day. For 8 hours she kept postponing out meet up, until she eventually canceled. This unreliability is a deal breaker for me, but the claws of fandom were already in. I willfully ignored it.

Tina even openly discussed how she wasn’t right for me, that she didn’t want anything serious while I seemed like a serious guy. “I just got out of a long term relationship a month ago, I just want to have fun. I just want to get high, party, and do stupid things. Why do you even like me? I’m such a mess. You’re gonna hate me.” This frivolous outlook on life has always struck me as foreign and odd. But I respected her honesty and, again, I couldn’t get over that she was my first, #1 fan. I even had silly visions of me rolling blunts and us going on a picnic in Central Park. I don’t even smoke weed anymore.


On a Wednesday night she was high in a bar in Midtown (she gets high every day.)
“Can I come over?” she asked
“Yes.”
“Well, I don’t know, I don’t feel like it anymore.”
“Why not?”
“Do you really want me to come over?”
“Yes.”
“I’m so high. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“Okay.”
“You’re not going to like me in person.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“I’m so nervous. I shouldn’t come.”
“Alright, don’t come. I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable.
“No, I want to come.”
“Alright, come.”
“What’s going to happen when we meet? I’m on my period, so we can’t fuck yet.”
“Okay. That’s fine.”

Eventually, I screen-shotted bus routes, texted the directions, and she took a bus at 2am to Staten Island. No surprise she got lost and ended up in the middle of the island, miles away from my apartment, at 3am. Her 360 rotating snaps had the captions: “I’m living in a horror film. Help.” I paid for a cab to pick her up.

When she arrived I went downstairs in my bathrobe, glasses, and flip flops to make a good first impression. No doubt I resembled a nerdy version of “The Dude,” from The Big Lebowski:

Dude 3

It was a strange experience. There had been so much build up for the past week that we both knew (and discussed) the inevitable let down of meeting in person. Both of our expectations had been wildly out of control.

In the elevator I looked more closely at her face. Her nose seemed restructured and the edge of her eyes were peculiar. Ah, yes, that would explain the frequent use of the dog filter. She did tell me that she was born with deformities and had experienced many surgeries (+25) growing up. I still thought she was pretty. In fact, I liked her MORE now that I saw her facial scars in person. I tend to be attracted to girls with scars, both inside and out.

 


In my apartment we sat on my bed and talked. I felt relaxed, but as usual spoke too much. I could tell she was disappointed in the dull reality of JW Kash. In person, I’m scatterbrained and boring. My writing and texting conveys a much more direct, confident, and interesting person. “Who’s this guy?” she seemed to be thinking. Despite her obvious disinterest, after 30 minutes I felt the urge to kiss her. The old mental battle: “You never know if you don’t try,” bombarded my thoughts. I made a move and she turned her head to the side.
“No, not yet.”
“Alright.” I sat back and we talked some more.

Then it hit me: what did I just I do? What am I doing? We can’t date. She’s told me already that she doesn’t even want to date! And if hooking up isn’t my main priority, why am I wasting so much time?

Tina talked about her crazy friends, getting high, her mean boss, her desire to become a groupie, the fact that her ex-boyfriend looked just like a famous rapper. She was a nice girl, but fairly self-absorbed. I refuse to ever judge someone quickly or harshly because of their age: people develop in different ways at different rates, progressing and regressing in turns. But I realized with Tina that we were on two, different planes. These planes were exasperated by the inherent inadequacy of conversation and the inability to express 1/100 of what we feel (opposed to brooding, reflecting texting). So much of real conversation is what you DON’T say. It struck me that she perhaps hadn’t lived enough “life” or had enough “experience” to really judge the superfluous vs. essential in a conversation. And I don’t mean “life-changing,” wild experiences, I don’t mean traveling the world, meeting the Dalai Lama, or seeing a family member die. I mean years of taking out the trash, years of mean bosses, years of being late and feeling anxious, years of waking up hung-over, years of washing dishes, years of paying bills, years of forgetting things, years of mundane, dreary shit. You can’t teach those years to anyone, they just happen. They shove your ego into a little corner and say, “Shhhh, quiet little one, the world is a lot bigger than you and your feelings.” Many people, like myself, resist this humbling, this deflation. Many people never experience it.

Tina and I hugged and she left around 5am. We would never see each other again, although she would text me sporadically over the next couple of months.

After the encounter I sat on my bed for another hour wondering what the hell just happened. I realized that the only way I could date Tina is if I reconciled myself to mundane conversations about how messy her room was and Chance the Rapper. Perhaps if we were high all the time it wouldn’t matter. Perhaps if we had tons of great sex it wouldn’t matter. I wondered: how many relationships exist out there where one person can barely tolerate the chattering of the opposite sex? Yet through other factors (physical appearance, wealth, comfortable social status, previous obligation, etc.) the person endures an incompatible personality. Tina WAS nice. Tina WAS physically attractive. Tina WAS adventuresome. Maybe I could deal with her self-absorbed, rapper-worshiping, partying-obsessed personality because of her other, positive traits? No, that wouldn’t be fair to her. All relationships involve compromise, but in the beginning there shouldn’t be such cold and ruthless calculation.

It was then I felt a wave of horror. Tina was almost the same number of years YOUNGER than me than my ex-girlfriend was OLDER. I began flipping through my memories, like an investigator scanning old files for an unsolved case, with the questions: “Was I MY ex-girlfriend’s Tina? Did my ex endure my self-absorbed, superfluous babbling for other things (well, he is nice, he is adventuresome, etc.)? Did my ex condescendingly look down on me and my youth like I was doing to Tina? I pictured moments of my ex sighing and rolling her eyes at particular things I said, getting annoyed and frustrated at my hopes and eccentricities. I pictured the end of our relationship and all my mistakes. Meanwhile, there I was in the middle of it all, a selfish waiter with literary dreams of grandeur. Someone who was barely paying his rent. Someone who struggled with restaurant work. Someone who was frequently late, severely sleep-deprived, and an idiot. Why did my ex tolerate such boyish traits and antics? Why did she stay with me for so long? She was a respected, hardworking professional in her field and had a group of loving, caring friends. Her apartment was clean and organized. She had a job that was 100x harder than mine, but rarely complained. And despite her belief to the contrary, she had her shit together. I did not.

I thought about my recent, juvenile criticisms of Tina, about my belief that she was self-absorbed and hadn’t experienced enough “life,” to be conscious of the superfluous. Then I remembered it was ME who was sending 10,000 text messages and saucy snapchats. It was ME who was waiting for a tinder girl at 3am in his bathrobe. It was ME who didn’t know what he wanted. The mirrors of life, with such bitter reflections, were being cruelly thrust in front of my contorted visage.

My god, I thought, as a glimpse of dawn appeared outside of my faded window, Was I once…a useless boy toy? Am I still a boy toy? Fuck. I need to get my shit together, fast, before it’s too late…*

*Author’s Note: It’s a work in progress.

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The Verrazano Bridge…and ball sacks

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There she is…what a beaut…she spans from Staten Island to Brooklyn.

Named after the lesser known Italian explorer, Giovanni da Verrazzano,

Giovanni de V

He was commissioned by King Francis I of France to explore the New World and occasionally rape and pillage. His most known voyage was along the Atlantic Coast from Florida to New Brunswick, where he stopped in the New York Bay in 1524 to eat some overpriced pasta in Little Italy. In 1528 he was killed and eaten by Carib natives. According to long lost texts recently discovered in Guadalupe in 2012, Verrazzano’s ball sack was roasted over an open fire and sprinkled with cloves and nutmeg.

The Name Controversy:

In 1951, the Italian Historical Society took a break from doing each other big favors and murdering snitches and requested the new bridge be named after an Italian. After 9 years of picketing outside of government buildings and yelling, “Hooooo, C’mon, I says whaddu mean?! You fuck my wife?! Get outta here…” in 1960 a bill was passed for the name Verazzano and signed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller:

gov rockafeller
“Hyeh Hyeh Hyeh. Yeah I’ll sign that shit.”

 

But during the last year of construction (1964) JFK was assassinated and a petition to name the bridge after him received thousands of signatures. John N. Lacorte, the president of the Italian Historical society, was enraged and started violently throwing his brother-in-law into garbage cans. (He was also a wealthy man and in 1987 he announced a plan to give $1,000 to teenage girls who remained virgins until the age 19…that’s actually true.) Since his hit men just couldn’t get the job done, John contacted the U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Bobby didn’t want to sleep with the fishes beneath the bridge, so he promised to make sure the structure wasn’t named after his brother. The compromise was to change the name of NYC’s international airport from Idlewild to JFK. A small group of hippies began protesting against the loss of the name, Idlewild, but nobody paid any attention to them.

And get this…after all that….the explorer’s name on the bridge is misspelled.

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It cost $320 million to build in 1964, which in present dollars is $2.44 billion/annual GDP of Liberia.

At the time of construction it was the largest suspension bridge in the world, surpassing the Golden Gate Bridge by 60 feet (Fuck you west coast. East Coast build bridges fuck bitches till we die.)

About 12,000 men worked on it, 3 men died. After the deaths of the 3 men the workers protested, demanded safety nets, and walked off the job for 4 days. The safety nets were granted and 3 men who subsequently fell were saved. The workers were not invited to the opening. Instead they attended a mass for the 3 victims. Hooray.

cool v pic

It is 14 football fields long and weighs 2.8 billion footballs (inflated)…was the heaviest bridge in the world when it was built.

Today it still has the largest bridge span in the Americas, but it is #11 in the world. C’mon American Government. We’re bigger than that. Round up another 12,000 workers to exploit and let’s get to work!

The diameter of each of the 4 suspension cables is only 36 inches, yet EACH cable is composed of 26,108 wires…which amounts in length to 143,000 miles…5.7 times around the globe.

Due to the height of the towers and their distance apart, the curvature of the earth’s surface had to be taken into account when designing the bridge. The tops of the towers are 1 and 5/8 inches farther apart than at their bases. They are not parallel to each other.

Due to thermal expansion of the steel cables the bridge roadway is 12 feet lower in the summer than in the winter.

170,000 people cross it per day. 5,000 of those people are middle-aged women listening to Adele and tearing up in their car. The toll was 50 cents when it opened ($3.84 today adjusted inflation) now it is $16 per car. When Uncle Sam grabs your balls, he doesn’t let go.

uncle sam money
hair ballsack

When I first wrote this essay, a couple of sources stated that researchers were taking part in a collaborative project on the conception and construction of the bridge.  Supposedly, in-depth interviews were taking place of surviving participants to compile an oral history of the architectural landmark. On November 29, 2016 a commemorative plague, in tribute to all the people associated with the construction of the bridge, was supposed to have been revealed…

But now it’s 2018, and I’ve yet to read, see, or hear of such a plague. WHERE IS IT STATE OF NY?! WHERE IS IT?!

tanuki-pulling-boat

Like the magical Tanuki Yoaki and his expanding scrotum, we cringe and move on.

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Sober vs. Drunk #1

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sober vs. drunk

Sober:

Tickle your ass with a feather?

What did you just say to me?

It’s particularly nice weather.

Drunk:

Stick a feather in your ass.

What?

It’s fucking raining.

Marijuana

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Marijuana is fun. Like candy or masturbating. Warning: if you’re part of the rapidly dwindling camp that still believes cannabis should remain illegal, please leave my blog and never come back…loser.

You may be thinking this post is about to promote the glory and joys of the halfling’s leaf. Nay. In the last couple of years I’ve come to a gradual conclusion concerning the chronic and my life: it’s just not my thing. Or at least I use it very, very sparingly, on rare and special occasions, either by myself or with select individuals.

Before I explain my loss of interest let me emphasize: I hold zero judgements concerning people who use weed habitually. I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly in the past, have close friends who use it everyday, have had girlfriends who have used it, family members, etc. But I’ve dropped it from my life for the following reasons:

1.) As a writer, my mind is my workshop and my future means of income. Just as a serious, endurance athlete can’t be crushing candy and fast food consistently and perform at their best, I can’t be submerging my mind in a pleasurable THC bog on a frequent basis. Dope isn’t like it was in the 1970s…today’s strands are 50x to 70x more powerful. When you blaze you go a little insane. Then, after the insanity subsides, my head is in a daze for a week. I can hardly put my thoughts in order. My writing suffers. The vibrancy of my perceptions and emotions are dulled.

2.) Memory loss: everybody knows the space-cadet-forgetful stereotype of the stoner. For me, this is terrifying. I like my memories, the good and the bad. I use them to create art. And perhaps this is a character flaw, but I enjoy (even if it’s an illusion) mental control.

If you feel pain or have a past that haunts you, herb can be a brief release (until it all comes rushing back when you’re sober). If you’re trying to be aware of what’s around you and soak in life to the last, bitter drop…then drifting in a cloud will not be valuable or amusing.

3.) Energy decrease. Again, people know about the stereotypical stoner-couch-lock and loss of motivation. Of course there are exceptions: I’ve met productive, professional, active stoners. But would they be more active without ganja? Who knows? But I’ve observed a subtle, insinuating part of reefer inside of myself…if I’m smoking it more than occasionally, I don’t try. I don’t care. My life blurs. My will sags. I don’t like that.

Let me reiterate: I am not condemning the use of Sticky icky, I’m only, to understand myself, elaborating on my own decision to refrain.

Being a human being is fucking difficult. Someone commits suicide every 20 minutes. We all have to figure out ways to get through the day/our lives. If burning tree fits into your formula for well-being, enjoy it.

People have discussed with me Bobo bush’s positive affect on creativity…sure, it does jostle your mind, but so does reading a book or traveling someplace new. If you want to create music like Willie Nelson or Kid Cudi, smoke away. But if you’re trying to create something in a different vein or learn particular things about yourself and life…I’d suggest you treat bud as an irregular getaway rather than a key to inspiration.

Three, final points:

1.) The clock is ticking. Mercilessly. Perhaps in the future when I’m an established scribbler I’ll let myself indulge more with grass. But right now, while I pay the bills through restaurant labor, sleep 5 hours a night, and am fighting to publish stories, I can’t afford to numb myself with blueberry yum yum.

2.) What if you miss it? My experience in life is severely limited, but already I’ve had the entire course of my life veer in a different direction because of a small and simple (seemingly innocuous at the time) movement, thought, or emotion. Ever been with a group of people when someone decides to go back to their apartment to smoke kush? Or have you ever invited someone to hang out when they decide to stay in and get torched instead? What if THAT night would have changed their lives for the better if they decided to leave the bong? Of course I’m amplifying the significance of everyday experience, but as a writer who realizes that a passing perception can ignite creativity…when the way something sounds or looks might be used 3 years later when you’re sitting at a desk…when a phrase or a glance is fodder for the pen…you can’t let yourself be blindly, blissfully hovering in a haze.

3.) That all being said, I can still roll a mean, fat blunt (see above).

 

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