I no can buy you banana

26 12 2008

was what the Russian girl, in a thin fuchsia sweater and pink puffy vest, told me after a brief conversation on a cordless with what I guessed was the wife of the ground floor convenience store owner. Ali himself, despite being a half-Costa Rican Muslim, had been Noel AWOL since the day before. In fact, I must have seen him shortly before he left, because I was there when, one solicitous hand behind her back, he’d walked the Russian girl through the lobby to his store, at the last minute turning back to wink at the guard who leaned from behind his desk with a double-barreled thumbs up. She wasn’t actually pretty, but her hair was dyed maroon and her eyes were bright as her rhinestone earrings, and when she first walked in looking for Ali, her face at once blase and quizzical, her sparkly phone in one hand bent her wrist back with its weight, as if she’d just hung up. Now, from behind a countertop set on a freezer case of popsicles, apology struggled to break the surface of her inexpressiveness. Sorry, she said, which sounded either sultry or dragged up from the back of her throat.

Ali had a whole rigmarole devised around the bananas, which involved momentarily unplugging his radio in favor of the scale whose cord lay lovingly draped, a jungle vine, over the silver-insulated power conduit that dropped from the ceiling to cool his deli meats. The bulb inside this display had long since burned out, which failed to show items to their greatest advantage. The turkey looked particularly ashen. Ali would then make sure to plug the radio back in before ringing you up. Having never paid attention to the bananas’ unit price, I doubted I could cajole the Russian girl into the whole routine, and let it drop. Yes, we have no bananas today.





Urology and You

26 12 2008

His name is Khan, cosmopolitan Turk (international urologist of mystery!), and despite imperfect English hosts his own radio show, because everybody, sooner or later, has a question about sex or plumbing. The office is studded, if that is the word, with vased peace lilies, their prominent spadices all long and drooping, like phalluses with hurt feelings. A dog’s tail looking for two legs to hang between could not be more poignantly disappointed. When people say, ya gotta have a sense of humor, what they are really saying is, what choice do you have? Why make it harder on yourself? Or even, Stop whining, schmuck!

I forget the exact anatomical models and cross-sections, each emblazoned with some drug brand, displayed on the shelves of the consultation room, but the skin color on these groins and testicles is invariably a eerily homogeneous even brown, at once unreal and yet very politically neutral, and reminds me of certain blonde students I had at Iowa, who would walk into my afternoon lit class fresh, if that is the word, from the tanning salon. I remember taking one of the models apart, just to see if I could put it back together, and that was when the doctor walked in. He is the kind who grandly and affably addresses you as “young man,” perhaps because your kind is a rarity in his waiting room.

Perhaps this is a relic of his London education. Apparently he also picked up some French there, something I learned in the middle of a cytoscopy, when his Filipino nurse (was there no one in that office with a firm command of English?) decided to pipe up brightly with the information she’d gleaned from me in the sort of casual conversation that naturally occurs while pumping a large syringe of anesthetic gel up someone’s urethra. “The gentleman is a French translator,” were her exact words.

It was a smooth handoff. Dr. Khan grabbed the baton and kept running. “Ah oui? J’aime parler français. C’est une belle langue.” I seemed to be the only one riveted by the pink and dark recesses of my bladder on the small monitor as the inquisitive camera continued its ascent.

After that, it seemed the worse his French got, the more he insisted on using it to narrate the procedure, supplementing his vocabulary with a word or two of what sounded like Spanish whenever he seemed to be grasping about for the mot juste. He conducted the rest of the visit in French, in fact.





Change of Address

18 12 2008

I’m not moving, but the Newark City gov’t. is changing the address of my building. Like I needed more busywork right now. Anyway, write me if you have the old but want the new, since I can’t promise I’ll get around to giving it out. Thanks!

UPDATE: Basically, the property lies in a strange quadrangle between Broad St. and Martin Luther King boulevard, with entrances and direct frontage on neither. The mailing address is shifting from the former to the latter. Building buzz has it that this is so the shifty owners can benefit from lower taxes, implying that MLK Blvd. is objectively a less desirable address.

My initial reaction to learning of the  impending address change had indeed been “Hey, wait, am I getting devalued?” But I dismissed that, thinking it a joke in bad and perhaps even racist taste. Clearly, reality didn’t think so.





Ways of Seeing CB2

10 12 2008

Mumbai morning. Artist Parvez Taj’s momentary glimpse of an Indian boy on his way to school at Chowpatty Beach in Mumbai. Impressionist digital montage of film, software and UV ink on stretched unframed canvas trends muted indigo, browns. Artist’s signature and bio on the back. Collectors take note: this one-time-only limited edition of prints will not be re-issued, so don’t miss out.” ~ CB2 2008 Holiday Catalogue

$100

$100

“These people belong to the poor. The poor can be seen in the street outside or in the countryside. Pictures of the poor inside the house, however, are reassuring. Here the painted poor smile as they offer what they have for sale.

$19.95

$19.95

Reg. $24.95

Reg. $24.95

“(They smile showing their teeth, which the rich in pictures never do.) They smile at the better-off — to ingratiate themselves, but also at the prospect of a sale or a job. Such pictures assert two things: that the poor are happy, and that the better-off are a source of hope for the world.” ~ John Berger, Ways of Seeing

Above Your Television

The Little Indian Boy Above Your Television

“With an MBA, Parvez is both artist and entrepreneur… With Parvez Michel, Parvez plans to do to the world of wall art and home decorating what the Gap did to fashion. By emphasizing the brand-name status and playing up his first-to-market position, Parvez Michel plans to make ‘fashionable’ art affordable.” ~ Parvez Taj, Wikibio





The Water Cooler of the Chinese Century

4 12 2008

“As a Chinese-American, may I officially assert that the only way we can beat ‘the China’ is by waging cultural war on them. We need to hedonize their lifestyle by showing them our slacker own. Imagine, if you will, a montage of the next decade in the style of mid-80s anti-Soviet propaganda films wherein formerly straitlaced Chinese wander dazed and bedazzled through a wonderland of undreamt freedoms: not, as in the 80s movies, of capitalist luxury and decadence, but more a wasted postcapitalist pothead dystopia, like Richard Linklater’s Austin. The Chinese need to be told they can sneak out back and get totally baked at work. Every office in China needs to become The Office. Harold and Kumar need to infiltrate and subvert society. I mean, face it, folks: the Wall fell to rock music. The new Berlin is a city built on rock and roll. We need to blitz China with a barrage of what we do best: images of people having the low-rent good times you, the viewer, will never have. We need to undermine the Chinese national spirit through the careful deployment of disillusion in movies, advertising, and individual examples of expatriate lifestyle, showing them convincingly how apathy, sloth, and disenfranchisement are the only genuine reactions to contemporary global society. Oh yeah, and irony, of course. Let’s not forget irony.” ~ Sheldon Chang





Vendredi noir

2 12 2008

On vient sur ces côtes de passer Thanksgiving, fête politiquement problématique dû à ses origines coloniales, donc devenue prétexte anodin pour se réunir en famille. Rien de plus simple pour une fête ; on ne doit pas l’examiner de près, et l’on peut facilement imaginer de pire. À en juger par mes amis, les américains ne prennent plus au sérieux les fêtes, peu nombreuses, qui leur restent. Ou bien se peut-il que je ne sache plus m’enthousiasmer pour ces repères qui m’importent de moins en moins avec le temps. Il y a dix ans déjà David Mamet disait que les vraies fêtes américaines n’était que deux: le Superbowl et le jour du scrutin. Soit, cette année ce dernier nous avait donner de quoi nous réjouir, mais le rituel du football américain m’a exclu depuis enfance. La jeune nation est dynamique, se dit-on ; à force de s’inventer à plusieurs reprises, on court toujours après de nouveaux rituels, en quête de quelque chose de durable et de nourrissante, qui s’évide moins vite de son stock de sentiment (“We in America need ceremonies, is I suppose, sailor, the point of what I have written.”). On a l’impression, je ne sais comment, d’avoir épuisé les nôtres ; vu sous cet angle pessimiste le Thanksgiving n’est que la voie ouverte au délire de dépenses qu’entraine Noël commercial. Les magasins nous guettent, prêts à nous gober (pauvre con d’interimaire piétiné à Walmart!); dans leurs interminables galeries ornées de ceci et de cela on s’efforce de s’afficher un peu de gaieté, tout en se doutant de l’inanité du seul impératif qui semble nous rester, la consommation. Mais trève de marxisme simplet.