ghosts…

In the late 1990’s I had the good fortune of playing the lead role in one of my favorite plays of all time, Equus by Peter Schaeffer. It was produced by First Banana Players, a community group in Madison that had no formal resources — ie: we didn’t have our own rehearsal or performance space (and this was before the Bartell Theatre); we ended up renting Kanopy Dance‘s old studio…

cast of Equus

with cast, in full horse mode...

I mention this not just for the random nostalgia, but because the recent turn of events has brought the memories of this production into my head once again.

See, the old Kanopy Dance space is in the Gateway Mall on Williamson Street; Kanopy moved some years ago, and the Gateway underwent some remodeling; the front part of the space now is occupied by OutReach, Madison’s LGBT community center; the back part of the space is where the offices of my new employer, WCASA, reside.

It’s a bit surreal, showing up for work every day, walking around the modest office space which has been so transformed that it is hardly the space it used to be – except when I look up and see the black painting on the steel structural beams and ventilation ducts; instantly I’m reminded of its previous incarnation as a performance space, and of the fact that a few feet away from where my desk and cubicle now reside I once stood, lit by gelled fresnels and lekos, and spoke out toward the silhouetted audience: “With one particular horse, called Nugget, he embraces…”

Anyone who has spent considerable time in the theatre will tell you that they – the physical performance spaces – contain ghosts. Maybe not the literal kind; wispy, ephemeral spirits from the after-world; but certainly the theatrical kind – the scantiest trace of memory of the words spoken within its walls that seem to reverberate for all eternity. Standing on a darkened stage in an empty theatre is practically a religious experience for an actor.

So, you can imagine for me the strange mix of feelings; it’s not a darkened theatre, but rather a brightly lit office space. Yet, one can’t help feeling that the essence of Mr. Shaeffer’s words, and the spirit and energy of all the folks that poured their blood, sweat, and tears into the production linger slightly. It gives me a sense of great comfort… even as it spooks me a bit.

Finally…

Sorry for the radio silence. The past month has been jammed packed, and tension-filled. It culminated in a nail-biting, down-to-the-wire cliffhanger which, I’m pleased to say went my way: I got offered a job.

Actually, two jobs; after over two years of job hunting – some 310 job applications and 42 job interviews (a few of those second and third interviews for the same job) – I found myself in the enviable position of having to choose; and not just choose between a mediocre job and a so-so alternative – these were two viable, exciting, interesting jobs in a field I actually have a strong passion and commitment for: ending violence.

In the end, I was flattered to be offered a new job – one that I will have a hand in shaping and building – as the Violence Prevention Communications Coordinator for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA). I will start later this week, as Sept. turns to October. I look forward to it with much excitement and anticipation.

That also means that things might be on the slow side here; I will be spending the first part of this week traveling (returning from a visit on the east-coast with family and friends) and better part of the next two weeks acclimating myself to a new work environment and schedule. As soon as I get a chance to come up for air, I’ll have some stories and thoughts to share here. I promise.

Speaking of which, I’m so please that my last post has garnered so many comments – especially because many among them are folks who were able to avoid falling for a fake condo ad thanks to my warning; happy to do my part in the cause to prevent a**holes from using Craigslist (and the web in general) to steal people’s personal information.

damn you, Justin Ghif

I pride myself on being pretty savvy in general. That’s why it’s all the more disappointing to me that I spent a whole ton of energy composing a reply email this morning before I finally got wise that it was all just a scam.

Like most scams it was, upon reflection, a “too good to be true” scenario; no, I’m not talking about an offer for millions of dollars if I’d only help out someone in Nigeria (see 419 scams.org). In this case it was a delightful looking one-bedroom condo for rent with a flexible lease via Craigslist. Now it so happens that a flexible lease is almost impossible to come by on the isthmus here in Madison, and as my work situation has been – shall we say “in flux” – and I’ve been thinking of downsizing from a two-bedroom, I was immediately intrigued; I sent the poster an email requesting a viewing.

What I got in reply was a request from the poster – for a credit report, complete with a link to a site where I could obtain one (why thank you!… how thoughtful).

The poster, yes, is one Justin Ghif. Or at least he is in name; of course no such person exists; a quick trip to Google (sorry, Bing) reveals that similar ads have been placed in at least a half-dozen other cities; the details are always slightly different – different interior pics (though all of them depict an A-class living space), different prices (but always below the market average for the geographic region) – but the appeal is the same; a sweet looking one-bedroom with pets allowed and flexible lease period in a great location downtown.

This is the ugly side of humanity. Not that someone is so desperate to earn a living – in a culture driven by money we’re all desperate to earn money – but that someone would choose to go about it by creating false ads that bait an eager apartment seeker (like myself) so that they could harvest credit information (one wonders if the poster is directly connected to the “credit site” to which it links or if there is some other gain he/she gets through bouncing from the linked site to its final destination).

No, Mr. Ghif (or whoever) did not get me really because I was smart enough to investigate before clicking through and I didn’t immediately hand-over any of my identity information. But, he/she did steal my time (I spent time carving out a very measured reply wherein I explained that I thought asking for a credit report before I’d even seen the apartment was a bit out of order) and my imagination – for the many hours that I waited (granted most of them sleeping last night) between my email inquiry and the reply, I had visions in my head of moving to a nice one-bedroom condo with washer/dryer inside and underground parking; and all while eschewing the 12-month lease stranglehold that landlords and management companies have on the downtown region.

So, damn you, Justin Ghif; with one hand, I shake a fist in your direction…

…while with the other hand, I’m reporting you to Craigslist, Anti-Phishing Working Group, and the Federal Trade Commission.

Why I don’t feel sorry for Dr. Boyce Watkins

My thanks to my friend, Suz, for pointing me toward an MSNBC piece, re-posted from a blog where Dr. Boyce Watkins, an African-American author and professor at Syracuse University, is a contributor. Tuesday, Professor Watkin took on the recent arrest controversy revolving around  Dr. Henry Louis Gates.

In his post (“Consider this before crying ‘racial profiling'”, which MSNBC retitled “Why I don’t feel sorry for Henry Louis Gates“), Watkins questions the race aspects of the case and in doing so he plays the “class” card:

“America is far more capitalist than it is racist, so a distinguished Harvard University Professor like Gates is likely to get more respect than the average White American. The idea that he is somehow the victim of the same racism that sends poor Black men to prison simply doesn’t fly with me, and Gates should be careful about appearing to exploit the plight of Black men across America to win his battle of egos with the Cambridge Police Department.”

Exploit the plight of Black men? Far be it from me, a caucasian, to say so, but isn’t THIS the plight of black men?! – If I’d shown a valid ID to a cop that would have been the end of the matter, period. Prof. Watkins implies some sort of snootiness on the part of Professor Gates in saying that he shouldn’t be questioned this way.

Further on, Professor Watkins offers this little gem:

“Dr. Gates, in all of his frustration, might have been served well to remember that the officer has a gun…”

As if black men, nay Dr. Gates, need to be reminded of this; and as if in the very sentence the author doesn’t realize that he’s reinforcing the very mitigating factor whose presence he’s trying to deny: if there was a class disparity here it was not between an “elite” Harvard professor and a lowly cop – it was between an un-armed man trying to lawfully get into his home and an armed officer who demanded more proof because the very color of the suspect’s skin made him more suspect. The very presence of the weapon outweighs any power Prof. Gates might have had in the situation due to his status as a professor at Harvard.

Why I dont feel sorry for Henry Louis Gates – Race & ethnicity- msnbc.com.

Moon child

Just slightly more alarming to me than marking my own personal fortieth anniversary of entering the world, is the marking of the fortieth anniversary of the landing on the moon (made all the more poignant – if that’s the right word – by the recent passing of Walter Kronkite). Can it really have been that long ago?

If you haven’t yet, please read Tom Wolfe’s Op Ed in Sunday’s New York Times – “One Giant Leap to Nowhere”; it is by turn tragic, cynical, and hopeful; on balance, very well done. He praises those involved in making the moon landing happen, even as he acknowledges that he thinks the success marked the end of the magic that was the U.S. Space Program.

Having launched just four days before our national lift-off, I have always been tied to the moon; both because of my own innate curiosity about it, and because of the cultural moniker given to all us Summer of ’69 births: moon child.

I think one of the reasons that Wolfe’s piece about the moon landing resonates so deeply with me is there is a parallel to be drawn between my life and NASA. Sounds like a stretch, but bear with me; I, too, like the space agency, am struggling to find what that next goal should be; as I face the prospect, due to financial reasons, of having to return to the home I grew up in, I think of some of the critics who say NASA shouldn’t go back to the moon – “it’s been done.” Even if I manage to find gainful employment that allows me to maintain my current standard of living is that enough? Or is the American public – my adoring fans – expecting something bigger, more unexpected out of me. Relocation, and a new job search in un-explored territory? Connecticut? How about elsewhere in New England? Will only NYC do? Where is my Mars, my Jupiter?

See, moving out to WI in the early nineties and pursuing a graduate degree in the performing arts was my long-shot. It was, to use the phrase, shooting the moon. It was the big risk, the kind you take when you are young and relatively privileged enough, and stubborn enough to pursue something you love regardless of its practicality within a capitalist culture. And I did it – I mean, my first degree was earned thanks to my parents and their hard work and judicious saving (which propelled both me and an older sibling to a Bachelor’s degree), but this one was all me, financed by my TA salary (this was long before UW-Madison found its way to tuition remission for teaching assistants) and the six student loans I took out (and have been paying back, up until this past year, entirely on my own). Despite the odds, with a lot of long, hard work, I achieved my goal; I made it to Tranquility Base; I planted my flag.

Being born in the shadow of the moon landing meant arriving on American soil at the moment when America felt a sense of pride in having followed through on the promise of its idealistic, young President some nine years before. Yes, we had suffered his loss, and the loss of his brother and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. thereafter, and we were starting to wake up to the reality of the morass that was the Vietnam War; we were still licking wounds, but we did not let that deter us from reaching for the stars.

Soon after – after the war, and Watergate, the oil crisis, the hostages in Iran, and AIDS, and the dozen or so things we swept under the rug or tried to forget – along came better technology and bigger cars and we got lulled into a sense of false comfort; we were happy enough to have the Cold War end and our economy (seemingly) grow more robust and our standard of living was to be rivaled, so wasn’t that enough?

We forgot what it meant to reach for things – things that cost money and take effort but whose end goal is the furthering of our story as a species and our understanding of our tiny, tiny place in this vast, unimaginably big universe.

So, too, in some ways I became comfortable with my daily job and very nice two-bedroom apartment over-looking the park, and my economic car, and my summer playing Ultimate Frisbee and the occasional trip east to see family and friends. I still pushed myself – did things outside the mainstream, and reached for changing the world, making it better – but it didn’t seem as urgent somehow. Not until I lost that daily job and then the bottom fell out of the economy.

In his article, Wolfe remembers visiting NASA just a few months after the historic landing and finding a former member of the heat-shield team working – as a tour guide. Says Wolfe:

“A baffling wave of layoffs had begun, and his job was eliminated. It was so bad he was lucky to have gotten this stand-up Spielmeister gig on a tour bus. Neil Armstrong and his two crew mates, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, were still on their triumphal world tour … while back home, NASA’s irreplaceable team of highly motivated space scientists … was breaking up, scattering in nobody knows how many hopeless directions.”

How loudly that seems to resonate now. It’s as if all of us, working away in our jobs in whatever our chosen (or not chosen) professions had been through the ’80’s, ’90’s, and early ‘aught’s, were the driving force behind the rise to prosperity of a minority of greedy fellow citizens, and now (while some of them are still on a triumphal world tour no less) we find out that we are dispensable after all.

So, where to from here? How can a nation, entrenched in an unjust (and unnecessary) war, beleaguered with economic collapse from the private sector to the housing market right on up to municipal and state levels, still in many ways reeling from pain it hasn’t dealt with from the recent wounds of terrorism (what’s the statute of limitations on grieving for a sneak attack?), find its way back to pulling together and uniting behind a single, albeit risky, cause?

Can we mark this auspicious anniversary with a sense of pride, but one that is as forward-looking as it is reminiscing? Let us think of extraordinary things – ventures of great importance with lofty goals including the uncharted terrain of justice, fairness, and equality – and let us gather around the drawing board, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.

File Under “Now I’ve Seen It All” : Vibrating Mascara

Now I’ve seen it all… while munching on my breakfast cereal and catching up on morning email on my PowerBook, my ear caught something coming out of the EyeTV (running on a freebie MacMini that acts as my own private media empire) which caused me to actually look at the screen as the Today Show segued into commercial land (this is usually when I look away from the screen)…

And that’s where, as they say, my life changed…

For until this morning I was totally unaware of the existence of Maybelline’s Pulse Perfection Mascara. See, I don’t pay much attention to make-up generally, especially mascara; maybe it’s because I’m male – though plenty of men do, (and “not that there’s anything wrong with that”) not to mention that as an actor I’ve worn my fare share over the years – or maybe it’s because I have plentiful eyelashes that have been the envy of every woman I’ve ever dated (but that’s another blog post…).

Well, let me tell you, eyelash technology has really improved while I wasn’t looking; now you can purchase mascara with a brush that is powered to oscillate some “7,000 times per stroke” [per their ad campaign; number unverified – ed.].

Really? Does the human race really need this? And I’m not being smarmy – like it’s a news flash that someone made another product to fix a need that arguably doesn’t quite exist; I mean to say “does the planet need this?”

And Maybelline is not alone. Apparently Lancome, and several other competitors, produce these kinds of products. These things are powered, somehow – there’s little info on the web on the exact “technology” behind them, but one has to surmise there’s a small motor and some sort of power source packed into the applicator. And it’s not rechargeable, it’s disposable.

See, if they would make it rechargeable, I’d even start using it; it would be my lefty obligation practically. But, come on, do we really need to take a product that was already wasteful and ad mechanical parts and battery acid to the mix and watch these things pile up in our landfills?

Just for kicks, I Googled “Pulse Perfection Mascara, environmental impact” and most of the hits referred to, I’m not kidding, “creating the right spa environment” and how just a few applications of a certain cream “had a big impact.”

I realize I’m treading that dreaded double-standard line: here I am, a man, complaining about a product that’s geared toward women, all the while typing away on a computer which also has a battery and limited life-span and will eventually wind up in a landfill. Granted, Apple’s recycling program is getting better (and I’m trying to help the situation by continuing to use a five year old computer and get every last drop of usefulness from it), but even first world recycling programs can have tremendous impact on third world cultures and the ecosystem (and if you haven’t seen Frontline’s piece, you simply must); so even us non-make-up-wearing techies need to take a sobering look at our own contribution to the problem.

But there’s a larger problem that I see which the Maybelline commercial touched upon: the mechanization of processes that otherwise need no mechanical apparatus. Powering devices to make them useable by people whose physical abilities are impaired is one thing; adding mechanics and power sources to products used in conditions where said power adds very little other than the illusion of a more efficient, convenient way of doing something that good old “elbow grease” can already do just fine seems downright lame.

Are we really this lazy, America?

Another #$*%&!^ blog…

Despite his better intentions to not succumb to the cultural pressure to join the blog-erati, my long time friend, Bryan Reesman, has finally made the leap and installed a WordPress adjunct to his site.

Bry has been a freelance writer for over fifteen years, covering everything from heavy-metal, ambient, industrial, and techno music, to moviesJapanese anime, Hollywood, Broadway, and pop culture celebrities. Not everything he’s captured on tape or put to paper (or hard disc, really) over the years has seen the light of day; after all, writers are the foot-soldiers, but editors really hold the final say over what readers’ eyes see. That’s why it’s so exciting that he’s finally launching a blog where he intends to share some of this other-wise edited content.

Well, it’s not exciting for me; I’ve been privy to his work since we’ve first met in (gulp) 1982, and it’s been my pleasure to watch him grow as a writer and build his career. But it’s exciting for the rest of the world who might finally get a chance to hear what’s been hiding in that head of his for so long…

His first post, “Into the Wild Blog Yonder”, can be read at:

Attention Deficit Delirium – Exploring a plethora of pop culture.

Rob Thomas: The Big Gay Chip on My Shoulder

Good piece on The Huffington Post by Rob Thomas regarding being a straight ally to the gay community vis Prop 8; I think he sums it up pretty well:

A civil union has to do with death. It’s essentially a document that gives you lower taxes and the right to let your faux spouse collect your insurance when you pass away. A marriage is about life. It’s about a commitment. And this argument is about allowing people to have the right to make that commitment, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Anything else falls under the category of “separate but equal” and we know how that works out.

George Orwell would be proud [see: Animal Farm – “all animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others”]. As would John Hodgman: 

I have confidence that, in no short order, Prop 8 will be repealed, and the gay marriage debate will look as absurd at the miscegenation debates of the 20th century do now. I have confidence this will happen not because it is merely right, or because the electorate will suddenly love gayness, but because opposition to gay marriage has no logical foundation in a civil society that is premised on equality.

I seriously can’t quote that often enough; it is the fundamental bottom-line, and this silly Prop 8 would go away in a second if all the folks who claim to love this country and the freedoms it stands for were to suddenly awaken to their collective hypocrisy… anyway, read Thomas’ piece:

Rob Thomas: The Big Gay Chip on My Shoulder.

OMG, Twitter & text abbr. are nothing new ftw

A very nice piece by Rebecca Bizonet at the Heny Ford Blog; clearing out archives at the Henry Ford Museum, she has encountered a fair number of telegrams, and guess what – abbreviations and shortcuts associated with Twitter, texting, and the like, are nothing new; our predecessors had to use shortcuts too. Not only for Telegrams, which could get pricey if one got wordy, but also because, as Bizonet credits Stephen Fry for pointing out, during the 17th and 18th centuries paper was a precious commodity and therefore a kind of shorthand was used in order to cram as much content onto a single sheet as possible.

Of Secret Codes, Abbreviations, and Knowledge Lost and Gained « The Henry Ford Blog.