Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Little Child Runnin' Wild... Continued

Where were we? Oh, right- dumb shit I did as a kid.

Part II - Grand Theft Auto: Suburbia

No, we didn't actually steal cars. I mean, we were young and stupid, but not fucking criminals.

OK. That's... that's not entirely true. We kind of stole cars. Let me explain with a little background first.

It started when we were a little older than the last story, probably junior high somewhere. We got bored one day, and our parents weren't home (when my cousin's family first immigrated here from South Africa, they moved in with my family for a couple of years). Why our parents ever left us home alone together is a mystery to this day. We had always had a thing about cars... we liked watching them, and we had a long standing hood-ornament contest - we'd rip the hood ornaments off of cars and whoever had the coolest one won. You know, five points for Oldsmobiles, 10 points for Cadillacs, 20 points for Mercedes', and 50 points for Jaguars (the Jags were a bitch, you usually needed pliers or some other tool). We also used to periodically take my uncle's car out and do figure 8's in the parking lot, until a neighbor caught us, and told our parents.

I still get a little shiver when I think about the little bit of disciplinary action that resulted in.

Anyway, the point is, we were bored. So we were walking around the neighborhood, looking for something to do, and we wandered into an underground parking garage. And this is where things get a little... quasi-legal. Semi-legal. OK, fine. It was probably completely illegal.

It started out as looking to see if any cars were unlocked, so we could, you know... steal change and shit. I don't know, we were 13 and bored and apparently lacking in conscience. So we found a few unlocked cars (a surprising number, I confess, but this was 20 years ago, before keyless alarms and what not). I should make it clear that we did NOT break into any cars. Ahem. Anyway, then we decided to... well, we decided to move them around. We didn't know how to hotwire them (my cousin would learn this skill later in life, and end up in the clink as a result) but we figured if we popped them into "Neutral" and one of us pushed, we could move 'em around.

Look, I know, alright? I KNOW. This is not what good children do. Would you let me finish my story before you get all judge-y?

So we found about 10 or 12 cars that were unlocked, and took turns steering versus pushing. At first, we thought it would be a funny joke to just put them into different spots, to confuse the drivers when they got out of work. But then (and I confess, this part was my idea), we decided to - ah - to stack them up. Basically, we maneuvered all the unlocked cars so that they blocked in all of the other cars. We essentially created a miniature traffic jam with empty cars in a parking garage. It was actually sort of funny. And maybe sort of evil. I'm never sure which one. The only sad thing is we couldn't stick around to see what happened when people got out of work.

Anyway, that's my tale. Sure, we did some other dumb stuff, but those two stories have been rattling around my head for a while now, so I figured I'd tell them. Listen, if it makes you feel any better, I'm actually a relatively nice person now. Seriously. Ask anyone. If we were to ever meet, I totally wouldn't steal your shit or anything. Finally, if there's a lesson to be learned from my story, it's this: lock your fucking car, people. Seriously. There are some crooked motherfuckers out there.

By the way, if you're curious about how things ended up with my cousin, since he was my chief partner-in-misdemeanors, well, we drifted apart. He moved on to getting into more serious trouble (hence his time in the pokey), while I just settled into minor drugs, drinking, teen angst and occasional shoplifting. The following is perfectly illustrative of how things ended up.

When we were around 17 years old, my family was at his family's house for Thanksgiving. I was up in his room, goofing off, and we had the following conversation:

Cuz: Hey, you need a car stereo?
TK: What?
Cuz: A car stereo. You need one?
TK: You serious?

He promptly slides a box out from under his bed. It is filled with car stereos, as well as other contraband.

TK: Dude. The fuck am I gonna do with a car stereo? I don't have a car.


Cuz: Oh. Right.


Cuz: You need a car?
TK: [sigh] Naw, man, I'm good. Be a little hard to explain to my dad, you know?
Cuz: Riiiight.


Cuz: You wanna get stoned?
TK: Fuck and yes.

Now playing: The Coasters - Down In Mexico
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Little Child Runnin' Wild

Perhaps you may have noticed that I haven't been posting much. Frankly, I've been somewhat lacking in inspiration. But then, as is frequently the case, I found that inspiration in one of the more unusual places. And that place, my friends, is Hobocamp. After reading this, I got to thinking of all the goofy shit I did as a kid. However, unlike our sympathetic heroine Meg, I... well, I suppose it's confession time.

I was not a very good child. I don't mean that I picked on the smaller kids, or talked back to my teachers or parents (Good Lord, no). I mean that I got into a lot of trouble. I did a lot of stupid, frequently illegal, and sometimes downright dangerous shit when I was a wee TK. There were two reasons for this.

1) When I moved here from Cape Town at 9 years old, I came from an environment that was rigidly structured, with curfews and teachers that would beat you with bamboo canes if you did something wrong, even insignificant things. Late for class? Caning. Can't do division? Caning. Then I moved to the uber-liberal suburbs of Massachusetts, and realized that the worst thing that could happen was I'd get detention. Oh. Fucking. No. Not... detention! Bitch, please. I could do detention standing on my head.

2) When I was a kid, I was fairly certain I was invincible. I'm serious. Somewhere along the line, after escaping a few too many situations, I began to think that I simply wasn't going to die. Not that I wouldn't get hurt (I think I've made that clear), but that eventually, I'd make it out OK. Not a smart philosophy, but hey, I was 10. Cut me some slack.

So allow me to tell you some tales of what a bad and often foolish child I was.

TK's Misspent Youth: A Story in Two Parts

Part 1: When It's Cold, I'd Like To Die

When I was about 10 or 11, my parents lived on a house at the very peak of a very tall hill. There was a municipal fence that ran along the back of all the houses on our street. A 10-foot chain link fence that basically served as the boundary between everyone's back yard and the municipal property. And the reason it was government property is because behind that fence was a hill. A BIG fucking hill. Long and steep. And at the bottom of that hill was... The Massachusetts Turnpike, better known as Interstate-90. It's worth noting that there was no fence at the bottom of the hill. Just hill, then highway.

So, of course, what else is there to do when presented with such a vision? Well, if you are my cousin and I, you go sledding. Yes, one winter, after the first snowfall, we decided we were sick of the little Mary hills on the local golf courses, the little wussy hills that only ended in a fence or a pond or a tree. No, we wanted to up the risk factor a bit. So we jumped the fence with our sleds in hand, and stood there, gazing into the mouth of madness. It was one of those moments that you'll always remember, even when it happened over 20 years ago, where you stand on the precipice (literally) and gaze down into your possible doom. There's a moment where your heart beats impossibly fast, where your breath doesn't seem to want to coordinate with your lungs. When your laughter is the kind of high-pitched, crazed laughter that means you are about to do something that every common-sense cell in your brain is screaming in protest against. Then, with a semi-deranged grin on your face, you sit your snowpants-covered butt down on that plastic red disc, and there's a moment when you simply say: Fuck it.

That run was pure adrenaline. I barely remembered it. But I do remember this: There was no way to stop. The sleds were too slick, the snow was too wet. Digging your heels in didn't work. I realized this halfway down the hill. The only way to avoid certain death was to dump the sled. So I rolled and released, and tumbled sideways to a jarring halt, then flipped over just in time to watch the sled careen down the hill, onto the highway, and get smashed into so much red plastic debris by a pickup truck. Then I watched another sled go flying onto I-90 and then into oblivion, as my cousin had made the same decision I had.

Victory. We had done it, and we had survived, and it had been a fucking blast. Only one problem... after our virgin runs, we were plum out of sleds. And we could hardly tell our fathers that we'd lost our sleds because we'd been sledding down a hill of death. So we did what any pair of morally suspect kids would do in this situation: We stole more sleds. Every weekend when it snowed, we'd wait until it was dark, then creep around the neighborhood and steal a couple of sleds. Then we'd hop the fence and try it again. Of course, it also resulted in a neighborhood-wide campaign by the parents to find the thieves, which is why we only did it at night. Sledding. Down a hill that leads to a highway. At night. Yes, it's actually stupider than it sounds.

The game evolved into a test of wills - which of us could go the longest before dumping the sled. Many people, if they had to think of a term for this game, that term would be... ill advised. Unwise, even. Maybe even foolhardy.

I'm pretty sure my cousin won - my momma may have raised a fool, but she didn't raise no suicide.

Part II - Grand Theft Auto: Suburbia - coming soon.

Listening to: Citizen Cope - D'Artagnan's Theme

Monday, January 21, 2008

If they move... kill 'em.

If you're interested in my continuing efforts to conquer the internet, then by all means, click here.

That is all.

Friday, January 18, 2008

This constant compromise between thinking and breathing

I got nothing today. I've got something interesting coming up for next week, but for now, I'm just going with random crap.

1. Should I be concerned that the mens room in my office smells like bananas?

2. Smoking. It's been 18 days. I'm doing well. I've even succeeded in hanging around a couple of smoking friends. Wasn't comfortable, and I got a little twitchy, but overall, it went well. So things are progressing nicely. Except...

3. Insomnia. It's here, and it's here with a vengeance. It's hard to point to the cause, since as I've mentioned before, this is a relatively common issue with me. But I feel like I've probably had three or four nights of sleep in the last two weeks. It's getting brutal. Today I woke up at 3:00 AM, and lay there staring at the ceiling, trying to will myself back to sleep. And eventually, I did. I fell back asleep at about 5:30 AM. 30 minutes before my alarm went off. Awesome. No, really. Thanks for that, gods of sleep, you fucking bastards.

Have you ever had insomnia so badly that you start drifting into madness? I think it's starting to happen to me. It started out normally... and then I started thinking too much. I thought about work, and what projects I'm behind on. I thought about smoking. I then started thinking about whiskey, and what my favorite brands are. I thought about Irish vs. Bourbon, and decided I'm definitely more of an Irish whiskey kind of guy.

I then started listing my favorite John Carpenter movies, and then wondering how someone can make so many great movies, and yet still make Ghosts of Mars, arguably the worst movie about people possessed by homicidal Martians ever made. I decided to write something, eventually, about the best of John Carpenter. Then I started composing it in my head.

It went downhill from there. Finally, I glimpsed true madness. Have you ever been so tired, so completely and utter exhausted, and yet still not able to sleep? I started wondering (seriously): Could I punch myself hard enough to knock myself unconscious? I mean, I'm a relatively big person, and I'm sure, if I wasn't a complete pacifist, if I got my weight behind it, I could knock someone out. Sure, I might break my hand, but the point is - could I turn that on myself? I decided the physics and the angling just wouldn't work.

So instead I got up and went to the bathroom.

Upon exiting the bathroom, I thought... what if I just took a flying leap at the bed, and deliberately slammed my head into the wall above the bed? I'd get knocked out, and then just collapse onto the bed. It seemed a perfect plan, except it would probably wake (and completely freak out) Mrs. TK, who was sleeping soundly (damn her).

Then back to whiskey. I thought, "I've got a couple bottles downstairs. Maybe I'll just go drink a mess of whiskey and pass out." I abandoned this thought because a) I'd end up waking the beagle, who would promptly become a tiny, three-legged pain in the ass, and b) probably not the best plan when I have to be a work in four hours. I'd be like this by lunchtime:

Then, miraculously, I fell asleep without having to drink myself into submission or crack my skull. And then 30 minutes later my alarm went off. Despite my regular use of profanity on this blog, and my blatant disregard for religion, I couldn't possibly type out the words I used to curse at God. It was that bad. I mean, points for creativity, sure, but anytime you call the Lord Almighty a "worthless whoremongering shitfucking pedophile", and that's the least offensive phrase you used? You should probably just keep a lid on that shit and hope Ole' Big Pants in the Sky was busy monitoring something else. Um... and... apologies to any religious readers. It was an extreme circumstance.

Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is... I'm really fucking tired.

Listening to: Corinne Bailey Rae - Trouble Sleeping

Thursday, January 10, 2008

That's a negative, Ghost Rider. The pattern is full.

Tiny white man, I will break every fucking bone in your hands.

Credit to Agent Bedhead for the picture.

Monday, January 07, 2008

You know me, I'm your friend, your main boy, thick and thin...


So I think I'm finally ready to talk about this. I was nervous about mentioning it, for fear of jinxing it. Or because I'd feel like an asshole if I mentioned it and then it didn't work out. (And no, I'm not talking about the Patriots). Let's begin with an exercise.

Try to think about something that you've done every day since you were sixteen years old. Something that you do with your friends, or when you're alone. Something that's with you when you're sad, or frustrated, or angry. Something that's with you when you celebrate and when you mourn. Something that you've come to rely on as always being there for you. Something that is always there with you, like your wallet or your keys or your hands.

And then try to think about never having that thing... ever again.


I quit smoking.

I mean, sure, it's only been seven days, but I'm pretty sure this is the longest I've ever gone... since I was sixteen years old. And I'm doing it for real, not just "let's see how long I can go" bullshit. I've got patches and lollipops and all kinds of fucking gum.

It's a pain in the ass. It's not helped by the fact that a) I drink quite a bit, and usually smoke when I drink, and b) all of my friends except one smokes too. Which has led me to these unfortunate conclusions...

1) I have to stop drinking for a while. Needless to say, I am not pleased. Particularly since one of my friends just got me a spectacularly good bottle of Scotch for Christmas.

2) I am also going into temporary exile from my friends, to avoid temptation. I'm not thrilled about that either. But it's gotta be done.

I'm not looking for sympathy, because frankly, I got myself here. It's not like I couldn't have stopped years ago, when it would have been easier. But like most people, I thought I was immortal when I was young, and am more and more being forced to realize that... well, that's just not fucking true. But more importantly, for years I didn't quit because I didn't think I'd be able to. And if that isn't the most ridiculous self-fulfilling bullshit I've ever fed myself, I don't know what is. And then, late last year, I started getting angry with myself. Who am I to think I'm not strong enough? Goddammit, I'm plenty motherfucking strong. I've survived broken bones, stitches, and my parents leaving the country. I've survived heartache and deaths in the family. Fuck that. That excuse just ain't gonna wash anymore.

Not to mention that it pains me to do something that supports one of the absolute worst, most evil corporate machines in the history of the known universe.

So anyway. This is day seven. And it's on like Donkey Kong.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

For real, I'm livin' life with some burdensome niggers.

Oddly, the following was finished moments before the excellent review at Pajiba. So those of you who read both sites, forgive the confusion, as well as any possible similarities. It can't be helped if Mr. Freilich and I share the same excellent taste. While his is a review of season five specifically, I thought I'd offer my thoughts on the show as a whole.

"It's about how institutions have an effect on individuals, and how…whether you're a cop, a longshoreman, a drug dealer, a politician, a judge [or] lawyer, you are ultimately compromised and must contend with whatever institution you've committed to." - David Simon

I'd like to start things off with a quick poll. How many of you are watching HBO's The Wire?

Show of hands?

Those of you who didn't raise your hands should be hanging your heads in shame. Because, while I know that sometimes I have a predilection for exaggeration, I say this sincerely and without hyperbole: The Wire is the best show on television. It might actually be the best cop show in the history of television.

Seriously. Let me explain why. I'm not going to give a recap of the four seasons that have been shown so far, because I don't want to ruin anything. Instead, let me just explain why you should be watching it. The Wire, for the uninitiated, is the complicated story of cops, criminals, politics and education that takes place in Baltimore, MD. The show was created by David Simon, a former police reporter from Baltimore, who wrote the book that another excellent show "Homicide: Life on the Streets" was based upon. Much of it is based on the experiences of co-writer Ed Burns, a retired Baltimore homicide detective (not the asshat in that stupid time travel movie who married a model). By combining the wealth of experience of these two, they've succeeded in creating perhaps the most realistic portrayal of the perils of city living in the history of television.

Because the truth is, The Wire is grim. I mean... really grim. It takes a mostly sparse methodology of portraying its events. There are no special effects. There are no explosions. There is little romance, and there is absolutely no pretense to it. It is brilliant in its simplicity. By ignoring the jokes, the car chases, and the other artificial sociological creations that affect so many other cop shows, it is allowed to focus on the events and the people, making it so starkly real that it is at times uncomfortable. Many of the scenes were filmed on location in Baltimore public housing projects. Normally, given that it's my line of work in the real world, I'd avoid the term "projects", given its stigma. But here, that's what it is. It's what people think about when they think about low-income housing. It's low-income living at it's worst, which for decades, Baltimore was renowned for. Along with Philadelphia (where I once worked), Chicago, New Orleans and Detroit, it's one of the harshest urban living environments out there. For them to film the scenes involving poor families and drug dealers on location there truly gives those scenes a sense of desperation and desolation.

In addition to the setting and the vibe of the show, the cast is what truly makes it great. There are no saints in The Wire, but there are plenty of sinners. There are no heroes, but there are those who do heroic things. Everyone feels real, because everyone is flawed. If you like them, you like them in the way that you like your alcoholic uncle. Sure, he's funny and he tells a great story, but you also know that when you leave his house, he's going to drink himself into oblivion... and possibly do much worse. The show is rife with alcohol and drug abuse, people cheat on their significant others, the good guys lie and cheat, and sometimes the bad guys will show remarkable compassion. All of these things can be found in other shows. But the reasons they do it is rarely explored as fully as they are here. There is a sense of despair that permeates the show... even the most noble character feels it, and as a result, even the most noble character succumbs to the temptation that can come with it. The cops are jaded, they cut corners, and they plant evidence. Some of them are simply burnouts that are running out the clock until retirement or death - whichever comes first. The police administration is filled with back-stabbers and political animals that will gladly sacrifice a subordinate, regardless of talent and ability, in order to progress through the ranks. The crooks are dangerous and volatile. But they're also, at times, vulnerable and scared. But while the vulnerability that will be shown in a scene that makes you tear up and sympathetic, will also be the reason that they shoot someone in the back. Their loyalty is admirable, until you realize that it's just as selfish and tenuous as the lives they lead. The humor, while clever and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, is harsh - from the sharp, slang-filled dialogue of the drug dealers to the gallows humor of the cops and politicians, it feels real and unburdened by the wisecracking pseudo-jargon of many of its contemporaries.

The cast is brilliant and pretty much completely unknown. Some of them have become known since the shows inception, but mostly they are still relatively obscure. The presence of a number of character actors, as well as the fact that many of the smaller parts are played by non-actors, and in some cases, actual Baltimore residents, gives it even more legitimacy. They are rarely beautiful people, but instead the cast looks like they bear the scars of the wear and tear of a difficult, harsh city life. What's interesting is that each group in the show, be they cops, dealers, or politicians has a group of seasoned, grizzled veterans that are trying to play the game to survive, and a group of hungry young bloods who are trying to change the game altogether.

There are, so far, three main groups who have been shown throughout the series. I'll give you a brief rundown, as well as a quick example of the fan favorite character:

The Cops.
The cops are, in many ways, the heart of the show. But these aren't your glamorous CSI cops, or even the much grittier NYPD: Blue cops. Never before have I seen cops portrayed as realistically as these. The scene that always springs to mind is when one of their own dies in the line of fire, they gather together at the local cop bar to mourn him... except that they bring the body with, which is the tradition. He's placed on a pool table with a glass of whiskey in his hand, and everyone toasts him and drinks with the kind of hopelessness that is usually reserved for third world countries. At one point, two detectives are sitting outside on the curb, leaning on each other in a private moment of lament. Another one comes staggering out the door, vomits into the gutter, and then hands them each a shot glass. It's this kind of scene that shows the grim realities of the show. Most of the cops pile drunkenly into cars and careen off, only to get up the next morning with heads full of hornets and hearts full of sadness, and get back to it.

The fan favorite has always been Jimmy McNulty, played by Dominic West (most well known as the traitorous Theron in 300). He's renowned as one of the best cops in Baltimore, except that he's got problems with women, alcohol and authority, and not in that order. As a result, he spends the seasons getting busted down to uniform, then back up, depending on the political climate and the case. My personal favorites have always been Herc and Carver, a pair of young detectives who, while not the brightest knives on the Christmas tree, in some ways understand the streets far better than their subordinates.

The Dealers:
There are several different factions of dealers, and each season deals with a different group that must confront another, be it for "corners" which they deal their product on, or for bragging rights, or simple revenge. Heavily regimented into Leaders and Soldiers, the dealers wage a constant struggle with each other, as well as within, for survival. One of the great things about The Wire is that the gang wars are rarely the stylized, drawn out gunfights you see in movies. They're fast, and clumsy (most drug dealers are hardly practiced marksman), with bystanders going down and even the bravest of tough guys running when it gets too hot. The fan fave here was always Stringer Bell, the educated businessman of the Barksdale gang, who went to night school and tried to apply the business practices he learned to drug dealing (is your product weak from being stepped on too much? Simply change the name to get people interested again). The other favorite (and my favorite) is Omar, the lone gunman of the series, a scarred, dangerous stick-up man who specializes in robbing drug dealers. Omar, while perhaps the most unrealistic character on the show (when he leaves his house to go to the grocery store, people start yelling that he's coming and everyone goes into hiding), his character is so remarkable that you can't help but be riveted by him. He's perhaps the most honorable character on the show, although it's common knowledge that he'll help you if it serves his purpose, but if you cross him later, or get in his way, all bets are off.

The Politicians: Perhaps my favorite group in the show, if only because it's an element of city life that is rarely explored seriously in either film or television. As someone who's had some experience working with (or around) politicians in large urban areas, I can only say that they are startlingly well realized. They scheme, they form and break alliances. You can tell that many of them probably started out as well meaning and with good intentions, but they just can't let go of the power they've come to have. And they will do anything to protect it. The main power players are the mayor and the city councilors, as well as their competition in the elections. I'm not sure if there is a fan favorite politician, but mine is Tommy Carcetti, the new blood city councilor who wants to be mayor. It's no small feat for him to run, since he's an upper class white man running for mayor in a predominately black city with a popular (though crooked) black mayor. He's written incredibly well, somehow managing to be young and idealistic, while simultaneously scheming, smarmy and willing to make almost any deal to get what he wants.

The truth is, there are so many characters that it would take up pages to list them and adequately describe them. On of the many standout things about the show is its ability to richly detail even the most inconsequential of characters. Just watch a scene where detectives question the mother of a missing drug dealer - you'll probably never see the mother again, but in those five minutes, you'll know everything you need to know about life as the mother of a child who, in reality, you lost years ago. There are many other groups you'll come to know and love (and mourn, in some cases) - the kids who live in the city, on the knifes edge between school and the drug trade, the dockworkers who are trying to compensate for a failing shipping trade by smuggling, the teachers who want to teach the kids, but instead have to settle for attempting to maintain a semblance of order instead. All of these groups are realistically and brilliantly rendered.

The Wire has always been special to me, in particular because I have some experience with the subject matter. Having worked in public housing for the last eight years, it's refreshing and surprising to see it rendered so impressively on screen. And while life in the low-income housing isn't always the desolate wasteland that The Wire depicts it as, it's important because it breathes life into a frequently neglected part of the American urban landscape. And to be honest, anything that makes us aware of the people and issues in these places is inherently valuable, even without its other (substantial) merits.

So, that's my case for it. I hope it worked. The Wire is currently in its fifth and final season, and along with Firefly and Veronica Mars, I'll miss it more than any other television show. It's the only show worth watching, and if you're missing it, then stop reading, don't even comment. Just go get season one, because you might be missing the best show you'll ever see.

Trust me.