Because science into life doesn't go

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Rahul Kanakia, MOMA, and The Queen of Swords

Friday was by parts: educational, desperate, surreal, drunken, caffeine-tinged, and soul-lifting. And not necessarily in that order.

Who says the diner's cashing in?

The day began in Sleepy Hollow, which as you might expect, is a sleepy town on the banks of the river Hudson. It's not hollow, though. That would be silly. I did manage to get a glimpse of the headless horseman at a local diner, however. Only a brief glimpse, mind -- Felice came tearing in, screaming at me that it was time to bounce or we'd miss our train. Egg rolls in hand, we bombed down to Tarrytown Station, parked the car illegally, and jumped on the train.

Rahul, perturbed after suffering a rare attack

We were on our way to meet a couple of Clarion classmates: the exceedingly tall Rahul Kanakia, and the guy who fondly remembers Clarion as "nerd-camp", Sean Manseau. Felice (5'1), excited by the arrival of Rahul (6'5), did her usual Super Ice Hailstorm attack on the big man which pretty much involves Felice pummeling Rahul's midriff with her piston-like fists. When they hugged goodbye later in the day the picture was even more comical -- Rahul had to lean down as if he was about to cuddle a baby.

Do you like my pretentious pic?

Greetings done, we hit the subway, going all the way to 190th Street to visit The Cloisters -- a self-contained part of The Met which houses a collection of medieval European artefacts. I learnt some stuff about Jesus that I really should already know, fleetingly improved my vocab, and couldn't shake the thought that playing Thief: The Dark Project was a way cooler means of interacting with the Dark Ages.

Seriously cute sculptures in the Subway

Out of the shadows, we headed back into the city for lunch. We ate ridiculously priced, but gorgeous, sandwiches in Bryant Park and talked about books. More precisely we played the "guess the story" game by summarizing great works in twenty words or less e.g. two couples shoot the shit about relationships ("What We Talk About, When We Talk About Love" by Raymond Carver). It's fun to see masterpieces reduced to their bare bones. A quick pitstop in the New York Public Library and then we were back in Starbucks -- there's one on every block.

I said "I'm on the phone!"

Sean and Felice had departed by the time Rahul and I got to MOMA. Wise move. Seems like every other tourist in NY, taking advantage of the free entry after 4pm on Fridays, had converged to see Mondrian's lines and Van Gogh's brushstrokes. The queue zig-zagged for miles and we were told it would take an hour to get in. We headed for a bar instead. Afterwards, with Rahul on his way back to DC, I went back to MOMA. The queue was gone. I only had an hour, but it was enough for a art-lite appreciation of the work. Every other painting seemed to be by Picasso, but I also got to gawp at paintings by Cezanne, Matisse, and Klimt, amongst many others. Isn't there something wholesome and life-affirming about going to museums? I always feel spiritually cleansed afterwards.

Klimt's my fave painter . . . just so you know

Enduring image . . .

So it was back to a bar to wipe away that feeling ASAP. For about thirty mins I sat alone at the bar, my attention shifting between the three games of baseball that being shown on wide-screen TVs above the spirits. There didn't seem to be many single girls around, so I sipped at my beer like a pathetic loser. Then the stool next to me was suddenly occupied. An older woman with a frizzy shock of blonde hair, and bracelets on her upper arms ordered a Mojito and began making small-talk with the bartender. What the hell, I thought, any kind of company would be good.

"Do you watch baseball?" I asked.

She turned to me. Her face was a mess, heavily made-up and strangely shaped as if she'd been sculpted from putty by a drunk. Then I noticed how thin she was, skin almost hanging off her bones. This was going to be purely platonic relationship, I thought (these things rarely go any other way anyhow!).

"Okay, watch this game," she said, pointing at the screen to the left. As she talked I tried to place her accent. It wasn't easy on the ear, and I realised her geographical centre-of-gravity was somewhere in the mid-Atlantic. Her descriptions of the plays weren't going anywhere, so I cut in.

"I can't place your accent. Where are you from?"

Natasha Veruschka -- as I later found out her name to be -- was born in India, raised in Kent, and now lived in NYC. More interesting than that, she also happened to be in the Guiness Book of Records.

"You'll find me on page ninety-three," she said. "I've swallowed twenty-seven and a quarter inches." Of sword. She was pretty short; the sword must've been half-way down her leg. Gullible (or is that honest?) type that I am, I had no doubts that what she said wasn't 100% true. That didn't stop her from pulling her scrapbook from her handbag a moment later. I flicked through newspaper clippings and photos and promotional materials while she went to the restroom. She'd swallowed all manner of swords from rapiers to halogen-illuminated ones. I was impressed.

"This looks pretty dangerous," I said when she got back.

"Britain wouldn't let me represent them because so many sword-swallowers have been killed. That's why I'm listed as American in the book."

Good ol' U S of A. Never one to let mortal danger get in the way of a good show. I guess there are alternative careers she could get into if she ever got too scared . . . She invited me to her show at The Cutting Rooms (co-owned by Mr. Big from SATC!) the following night, gave me her number, and then left. Later I googled her, and sure enough there was her website.

At midnight, back in Sleepy Hollow, I found Felice's flatmates about to go to a bar. Did I want to join them? Silly question. Women seemed to be thin on the ground, but there was plenty of booze -- incl. the inappropriately named "car-bomb" -- and I had a good time getting to know Chris and Swapnil as we crawled from place to place. On Saturday I suffered.

Think I'll give "The Top of the Rock" a miss today . . .

Prometheus . . . overlooking a cafe?!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

An Interlude in Mattituck

I've found my dream home! Unfortunately it belongs to Rob Levy's folks, and I don't think they're planning on selling. Not that I could afford it, anyhow. Located on the north fork of Long Island, the house is amazing for the following reasons and more: beautifully styled and proportioned interiors; a beachside plot; cool sea breezes through the garden; a swimming pool if a dip in the Long Island Sound doesn't appeal; a dozen places to perch a laptop or notepad and shoot the fictional breeze. One day I will live in such a place. J. K. Rowling move aside -- it's time for another YA heptology with film spin-offs.

I'm Mulder, Felice is Scully. Which TV personality are you most like? Check Noah Lusky's new book to find out!

Stress relief, nature's way.

Rob, Felice and I spent two fabulous days swimming, writing, dissecting relationships, cooking, lounging in the hammock, sleeping in, playing Pictionary, reading, and many other relaxing pursuits. It was bliss.

Felice does a little dance of joy -- or has she just trodden on a starfish?

A Clockwork Orange

A partial resurrection of the "Circle of Power" -- a huge glass table around which various Clarionites tapped away last summer -- meant I was able to hammer out a short piece for Nature's Future series.

A triptych of speculative power!

Harry Potter? Pah! Felice researches for an upcoming blockbuster . . .

Now it's time to head back to the city.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

NYC: Fittest city on Earth?

Do you see what I've done there?

New York continued its charm offensive, today.

Coming out of Sean's place I was greeted with blue skies dappled with the occasional fluffy cloud, and 29 degrees tempered by a soft breeze. I ambled down the street and headed into Dunkin' Donuts for breakfast. Purely for the cultural immersion, you understand. It's an American institution, right?! A cup of coffee and two donuts later (Vanilla Surprise, and Brownstone Creme), and I was on my way. Destination?

Central Park.

Try and spot the non-athlete

Here is where NY really begins to shine in comparison to other cities. The Park is clean, and unfouled by man or beast. There are thousands of people running, cycling, skateboarding, and rollerblading around the curved avenues that cut figures of eight. I even saw a couple of folk running while pushing their kid's pram. And they're doing it regularly, not just on nice summer days, because they look HEALTHY. Let's face it, globally the USA has the reputation of leading the world in the obesity/consumption stakes. That's unfair on NYC. In the developed world, I can't think of many places where people look in such good shape. Can you recall many people jogging around Hyde Park in London? I can't.

Breakdancing's just excercise for the hip kids

The knock-on effect of this is that everyone looks pretty good when they show some skin. Yep, sunbathing is another popular activity in Central Park. God bless America! A few places to swim would be nice, but you can't have everything.

All I Really Want is Girls

Another observation: every other person is reading the new Harry Potter book. On the subway, on benches, on the grass, on the sidewalk. I can't imagine this magnitude of readers is occuring anywhere else. Anyone got any hard data from other cities? Not only does this lend to a weird but encompassing atmosphere that allows strangers to converse about magical happenings, it also means that all these people must've read all the previous books too. That's a substantial amount of reading, and can only be helping to make NY one of the most literate (in the loosest sense of the word) places in the world. Perhaps this series of books will, when viewed in hindsight, be seen as a turning point away from lazier forms of entertainment such as television and video games. We can only hope so.

And Harry woke up. THE END.

Yesterday, Sean and I were comparing notes on our online dating lives. One aspect of this that we'd both experienced was the qualitative difference between meeting someone online (I mean through pics and email/IM exchanges) and meeting them offline. It's probably fair to say that no matter how many words you write, how many pictures you send, while the relationship remains online, you cannot replicate the experience of meeting face-to-face. There's something very visceral about who we choose to like in a romantic way. All kinds of channels of information such as the myriad aspects of speech (tone, delivery, register), body-language, smell, behavior etc which get lost when online can be decisive in determining who we like and who we don't like. The interesting question is: do these instinctive reactions matter?

Hoops: Fun Game or Mating Strategy?

Let's say you meet someone online and you get on well. A couple of weeks later you meet up. You get on fine, having good conversation, laughs, and finding shared values. However, in your heart you know this person isn't the one you would've approached in a bar -- purely from a physical POV. Can you get over this? I hoped it was possible, but in my experience things only get harder and not easier if you persist. When someone asks if you think them beautiful do you bullshit them or be honest? I like to think we're able to overcome our biological tendencies -- or, more precisely, that we must overcome our biological drives if we want to be happy in the long term. Otherwise, we're on a path to sleeping around, salivating over younger, healthier potential partners, and lying about, or exagerrating, our own qualities. I don't want to be a cynic, but is love just biology in disguise?

Shopping on Fifth Avenue under God's Eye

Saturday, July 21, 2007

New York, New York

. . . located on Fifth Avenue

Some miscellanea I've discovered since my arrival:

NY is a vertical city. The buildings go up and up and up. The thing is there doesn't seem to be as many people at street level as there should be to fill these buildings. Are there lots of empty floors? Or do people live in their offices, only coming out once a week to do a spot of shopping?

Blue-sky thinking? No problem!

There's a pleasing level of individuality in the attitudes, dress-sense, and behavior of the people. New York seems to be a city that embraces differences. A refreshing change from Worthing.

Amongst the hoi-polloi

Sean can lift a staggering amount of weight. I showed up at Sean's Cross-Fit gym a little early and he was still finishing his sets. I think he could beat-up most spec-fic writers no problem.

Gotham City. Home of Super Writer Boy!

Grand Central Station looks smaller than in the movies. Plus there was no frantic chase/tense stand-off with the NYPD, either. Still, it's the plushest station I've seen for a long time.

We have a fugative . . .

Talking of the NYPD, have you seen the police station at Times Square? In an effort to blend in with the neon slashed fronts of all the surrounding buildings, the Times Square police station sign is written in fluorescent flashing pink and blue. I expected the cop from the YMCA song to stroll out at any moment.

Yo, man! Are you listening to me?

Everyone's reading Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling used to be a school-teacher, and now she's probably the biggest-selling author of all-time. So, I'm 50% there . . .

You mean my physics teacher was lying?!

Scientology HQ in NY is near Times Square. Somehow, my rambling walk around the city led me to a woman giving out flyers about Dianetics. Coincidence or spooky mind-control?

Bush ain't popular here.

Cheney/Satan? That could be a pretty kick-ass combo.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

[Blockbuster voice] This summer . . .

. . . L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future will take you places you've never even imagined. See the future. Today! [/Blockbuster voice]

And if that isn't doing it for you, then I've got a picture of the Writers of the Future Vol. XXIII to whet your appetite instead:

Personally, I think it's a superb cover. It conveys the sense-of-wonder feeling that characterizes the best spec-fic, and at the same time keeps the intimate, human aspect central.

This isn't the only artwork connected with the book that I've come across recently. A few days ago I was sent a PDF copy of the page-proofs of my story. One of the best parts of this contest--aside from the awards, the workshop, and the publicity--is that the published stories are illustrated by the winners of the Illustrators of the Future contest. The drawing that will accompany my piece wasn't in the proofs, but the name of the artist was. His name is Artem Mirolevich. He hails from Minsk, currently lives in New York (according to his website), and he knows his stuff.

Check out a couple of his pieces here:

The Art of Artem Mirolevich

I can't wait to see what he comes up with.