Monthly Archives: August 2002

8/30/02 Tessa flew to Los


Tessa flew to Los Angeles today to provide the “director’s commentary” to the DVD release of Five Wives, her award-winning documentary about her father. DVD commentary is something I’ve always wanted to do – it’s usually my favorite part of renting movies these days. Even though we could never be fully honest about our travails making The Pink House, just getting to that stage would be an incredible honor. P.T. Anderson once said he learned how to direct by listening to the audio commentary on laserdiscs, so I did the same in the months before we filmed. I didn’t actually glean much about directing, but got addicted to the meta-experience of watching the art with the artist’s commentary superimposed. Sort of like Mystery Science Theater on yourself. Ah, the glories of technical post-modernism!

In Tessa’s absence, Chopes and I puttered around the house before making an ill-timed errand visit to Manhattan around 5pm on Labor Day Friday. Sitting on the Manhattan Bridge for an hour both ways is nerve-wracking even when the country isn’t on high alert for terrorists; frankly, giant trucks hauling fish don’t particularly care which lane they’re in if they’re bigger than you, and frequently try the kind of don’t-bother-checking-your-blind-spot turns that would make the mtatu van drivers in rural Kenya proud.

Another old friend has joined us here in New York; that’s right, boys, Jiffer Bourguignon has come to study at Columbia. Jiff is one of the more colorful Pink House residents to grace us with her presence – she and Zia Zareem gave the place a well-needed jolt of supercharged estrogen. She was (and is) always game for whatever fun has been planned for the evening, and her down-home Wisconsin demeanor belies a fiery mantle inside: she’s the only girl with which I’ve had a full-on fight with two dozen Krispy Kreme donuts. Check her out at the bottom of the ‘about the movie’ page on the Pink House site.

Or just peruse the pictures below. A lot happened between these two shots, spanning five years. I went to LA, then to New York and got engaged – while she served in the Peace Corps in Mauritania, lived in Hamburg for a while, then moved here yesterday for grad school in International Affairs. She went from 22 to 27 years old; I went from 29 to 35 (my birthday is a little earlier in the year). Good to remain friends as long as we can in this wicked world, yes?

top, at the 1920s party in February ’97; bottom, in New York in August ’02

8/29/02 They say that dogs,


They say that dogs, lacking the ability to form abstract thought, don’t really have genuine emotions. Anyone who owns a dog knows that isn’t quite true, but I can go them one better: today, when Chopin the dog saw us for the first time after his Rimadyl overdose, his ecstasy was the purest I’ve ever seen in any living creature. That includes the winning of National Championships, the reuniting of war-torn families, and the impenetrable, soul-encapsulating charge of orgasm. Put simply, I don’t know if any other creature is capable of such happiness. After a two days of vomiting, having blood taken, getting an IV in the throat, and a diet of activated charcoal (whatever that means), Chopes saw us and did eleven airborne pirouettes and a half-gainer. It was so intense that the entire emergency room stopped and emitted the subconscious throaty “awwww” of seventeen pet lovers all wishing their pet could possibly feel the same. Even the bird owners, who are really weird people.

Tonight he sleeps safe and sound at the foot of our bed, even touching us as he snores, something his control issues would not have allowed even last week. Little guy, it’s good to have you back.

8/28/02 Another great “recurring conversation”


Another great “recurring conversation” took place tonight between Tessa, Rick Gradone and myself: basically the Where Can We Find Our Utopia discussion that comes up every month or so. The plain fact is that we’re getting to the age when cultural analysis leaves us all feeling desperate and bankrupt for some other time when the world was filled with artists and intellectuals all striving for some greater truth, whatever that means to you. For Tessa, it’s the West Village in the 1950s; for me, it’s probably Paris from about 1918 to 1928 (although I could have done without the influenza that killed everybody).

Both eras featured strict societies, homogeneity, and corrupt, big-business governments and yet these seemingly infertile conditions inspired some of the best work of the 20th century (Stravinsky, Dali, Picasso and Hemingway in the ’20s; the beat poets and Pollock in the 1950s). What we have now is a homogenous society fed identical fashions by catalogs (like Tessa says, everyone in college is wearing the same fucking thing); we have a corrupt, scary government; and a society full of unbelievable inequity

8/27/02 This one goes out


This one goes out to our dog Chopin Blake, who chowed down an entire bottle of prescription Rimadyl in biscuit form, and now spends the night at the animal hospital under the long shadows of the Queensboro Bridge. We were getting sushi on Houston St., and the Little Lord Poopypants was in the car, apparently agonizing over the state of the world (or a guy wearing a hat on a bike). Just like him to be broody, Romantic and suicidal, just like Tchaikovsky or something but like all artists with wide swaths of mood, we expect him to be back in fighting form by tomorrow or so. After spending the night barfing and then ingesting activated charcoal, he’ll probably need a nice long rest on a hill up in the Berkshires.

8/26/02 I try to be


I try to be the sensitive artist type, I really do but I kinda want to beat up the guy who is in control of the billboard at the corner of 26th and 10th Avenue:

I have to walk past that damn thing every day on the way to the production office, and it’s always some goofy, artsy, banal aphorism that makes me shudder with Stupid Feeling. This week it is “Cry for beauty, not for sense,” but among the other faux-mouthfuls include “Children are the best artists” and “You Must Sweat for Art.” It’s not so much that the phrases themselves are stupid and goofy (which they fucking are) it’s the self-impressed way they’re presented, on this giant billboard, obviously paid for by a rich dilettante who has long since lost his ability to connect with real artists doing real work in vastly less-expensive hovels outside the viewing distance of his hip Chelsea gallery district. This guy thinks he’s really making Important Statements. Not to be all Holden Caulfield and all, but I feel like taking a paintball gun to it every day, spelling in big gloppy fuchsia letters: “EAT ME”

Whine #348b: Chelsea west of 9th Avenue

In a town that has a lot of ugly places, something about the art district in Chelsea reminds me of the worst parts of the Midwest during winter. Huge, boxy warehouses slumping in brown grids toward the putrescent laps of the Hudson; not old enough to be interesting, but not new enough to have cable modems, there is nothing to do (which is fine, because there’s no parking anyway). Decent food is non-existent, the elevators are slow and seem dangerous, and the buildings trap heat better than a closed car. The nearest subway stop is a half-mile jaunt across avenues clogged with Lincoln Tunnel traffic. Tessa has made the best of things in her office (and she hates it when I talk shit about her building) but there’s still not enough room, no hint of wood or any humanizing factor, and the hallways always reek of paint thinner and industrial solvents.

As she reminds me, it is very inexpensive (her lease started in 1994) but I will do my level best to liberate her, and the rest of our posse, to the promised land: somewhere a tree grows.

8/25/02 I mean, I know


I mean, I know ‘No day is truly wasted’ and all that, but I felt an inalterable sense of time squandered on this, the only day I could work on the Columbia County house until the droves arrive for Labor Day. I drove to Pittsfield, MA on a beautiful but unexpectedly long jaunt up Hwy 7, in order to buy the only lumber available in New England on Sunday: Home Depot, where God wants you to buy cordless sanders on the Sabbath. First off, the map:

is totally wrong. The Home Depot is actually off the map, somewhere in the wilderness to the right. Suffice to say the local girls on Melville Street had no idea what the hell I was talking about (by the way, I know it’s been said before, but rednecks are fucking everywhere).

Anyway, I was buying wood for a little project I’ve got going in the “library” at the farm, a nice bookshelf that could sit on top of Tessa’s pre-war desk. I measured everything to match the other bookshelves, and even pulled out a protractor to get the angles right. But when I finished the damn thing, sometime around midnight, I was horrified to see before me the worst carpentry job I have ever done, worse than some of the things I built with a kiddie hammer in the basement with Sean in 1974. It was so lopsided as to resemble the cartoons of the Crooked Man’s house and cat. The best I can say for this thing is that it is still basically a tetrahedron; I mean, all the angles add up to 360 degrees, I guess.

Today would have been better spent updating the news section of the Pink House website, as there will soon be a shiteload more visitors (thanks to the IFP selection) and that part of the site hasn’t been updated since May. I think that’s snow on the ground outside the window in that picture of the three of us editing.

However, I did find something very important: we need to publicize our movie in any cool way possible, and I discovered the kind of pink highlighting marker that has a removable sticker. It’s the Hi-Liter by Avery and we think it will be a perfectly sneaky way to inject ourselves into the collective unconscious of the festival. Everyone loves highlighters, right?

Backscratchers are pretty cool, too. Or those hats at Flying J Truck Stops that have fake poopy on the brow, and it says “Dang Birds!!!” Hoo-boy! Those hats are pretty darn funny!!!

8/24/02 I know it’s a


I know it’s a bit late in the game to start staring in abject wonder at how impressively small and powerful computers have become, but I have to say this 30 gigabyte hard drive in my computer is the size of half a Pop Tart, and that’s pretty damned unbelievable. I’d also like to give a big shout-out to the SmartMedia card in my digital camera, which holds 128 megabytes of info on a piece of plastic the size of a broken Dorito chip. And I mean the small chips, the kind near the bottom when you drop the bag.

I once asked a particularly ill-at-ease web guy how big the internet really was, and where it could be stored. This was 1995, and his guess was that it was about 4 tetrabytes and could be fit on hard drives contained in a large top-opening freezer (the kind your grandparents had for various hunks of meat). Since then, the internet has enlarged geometrically, but I get the feeling that no matter how big it gets, the memory chips will get smaller, and it’ll still fit into a freezer.

Now the metaphor has taken over, and every time I search the internet, I visualize myself peering from above into that big freezer, removing the slabs of tenderloin and long-picked blueberries, looking for the capital of Botswana and cousin Denny’s recipe for squirrel.

8/23/02 I’m typing this directly


I’m typing this directly into tonight – instead of the usual ritual of writing in Word first – because my beloved Tangerine iBook got a new lymphatic system. Post-surgery, it still doesn’t know who I am, doesn’t respond to my usual sweet nothings, can’t remember any of our secret little sayings. My dear little buddy got rid of his puny 3 gigabyte hard drive and now has a 30 gigabyte drive, almost as much memory as I have, but I have yet to install myself into it. This is a computer that has seen me through a major cross-country move, three job changes, countless jaunts around the country and the last drafts of my first produced script. It was with me mere blocks from Ground Zero when our country was seismically jolted, and deflected the pounding rain of typhoons during an evening where a bolt of lightning nearly killed our movie crew. And now it doesn’t know who I am.

It sits on my floor tonight like an Alzheimer’s patient, a best friend that has to ask your name. I wonder how many rounds we’ll have to go through before it allows me to put Word on it, maybe a smattering of Eudora, or even a truckload of Photoshop. Until then, I’m on Tessa’s computer, a foreign little place where the buttons are like those in Europe: small, curious, and don’t do what you expect them to. The hot water is on the right, here on Tessa’s little machine, and the plugs look alien. I long for the Tangerine-fried goodness of my old iBook. I don’t care what they say: that it looks like a toilet seat, that it makes me less of a man. If keeping my creamsicle-colored gay iBook is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

8/22/02 In one of his


In one of his occasional geek raveboy moves, my brother Kent sent the family a tidbit from the July issue of Physics World, which, between recipes for butterscotch cookies and the lovelorn advice column, had an article called “Can Noise Actually Boost Brain Power?” Basically, a pair of Japanese physicists discovered that “random noise” may help humans process information more efficiently the latest biological system to exhibit “stochastic resonance,” which as far as I can tell, is a theory climatologists have developed to explain the ice ages. Don’t worry, I didn’t quite get that part either.

Either way, it sounds good to me, since I have a white noise machine purring on my nightstand every night. This may seem grotesquely yuppie and high maintenance, but my fondness for white noise has humble beginnings. My family suffers from a disease called the “croup,” which is a bronchial condition that closes up the windpipe of anyone unlucky enough to get it. It’s incredibly terrifying, and it seems like we got the croup every six months or so growing up. The only way to survive was to breathe as much hot steam as you could, as quickly as possible. Countless times my dad would bound into the bedroom and take one of the choking children into the shower for a steam bath lemme tellya, it really sucked.

Then we started using humidifiers, and since the croup died down after that, I equated the vaporizer and the sound it made – with blissful safety. I don’t carry a noise machine around because I hate other noises, I do it because it gives me an enormous sense of well-being, something others need drugs and Jim Beam to accomplish.

My own stochastic resonance happens every night, but I feel like I deal with it every day in the movies. The trailers we cut today are immeasurably helped by the random blasts of music in them, giving them excitement and narrative drive. During production, we’d often record “room tone,” which is that unheard sonic “feeling” of a room that can be edited into any scene to give a sense of continuous place.

By the way, for those of you at home just trying out white noise, remember that turning it off in the morning can seem quite uncathectic, like being ripped out of the womb all untimely-like. Also, you don’t need a blindingly expensive Sound Soother from Sharper Image to do it right (in fact, some of those soundmakers are on digital loops that you gradually recognize, making it agonizing). A fan will work fine, as long as it’s pointing away from you, or my thinking-on-your-feet favorite, the radio tuned to 87.9 and turned up a bit. Do not use AM radio – there’s all kinds of shit that can crop up there, especially at night due to the atmospheric skip. You’ll go to sleep nicely, then be jarred 2 hours later by the results of the Ipswich-Chelsea cricket match on BBC Shortwave.

today’s Kooky Stochastic Resonance Korner was brought to you by Ian Williams and Chopin Blake

8/21/02 The brouhaha currently broiling


The brouhaha currently broiling in my ex-hometown of Chapel Hill, NC reached a fever pitch this week, as tongues are awag-wag-waggin’ over the summer reading assignment for all incoming UNC freshmen: Approaching the Qu’ran: The Early Revelations. The situation played out exactly how you thought it might: a conservative think tank somewhere in East Ass, Virginia brainwashed three moron freshmen into suing the University for being un-Constitutional, spewing out platitudes like “why ain’t the Bible on the summer reading program?” Thankfully, their suit was struck down using the same Constitutional logic, but not before everyone named Earl, Jed and Crazy Christian Fucko got their digs in. There was even a CNN piece on the cafuffle tonight with one of my fave newscasters, Aaron Brown, waxing poetic about our alma mater.

Now, the administration of the University of North Carolina has a long history of being full of shit: they invested in South Africa long after it was cricket, they let the CIA do secret recruiting, they repeatedly ignored student input on pretty much any topic, they paid their custodians in bread crusts, they destroyed the Lab theater, and they gave us all really shitty seats at basketball games. They always seemed to us a boardroom full of guffawing old white guys smoking cherry vanilla tobacco in long wooden pipes.

But this Koran issue reminded me why UNC is so important. They stuck to their guns on this one. Despite pressure from the General Assembly and letters from thousands of disgruntled parents, they went ahead and did the right thing, and if only one freshman kid decides not to “hate sandniggers” because of this book, then it was worth it. If you want a “conservative arts” education, get your ass to Hampden-Sydney; if you want a “liberal arts” education, take a stroll to the hill where William Jefferson Davie thrust a poplar twig in the ground in 1789 and marked the spot for the first public state university for the people and of the people. Today I have more than basketball to make me proud to be a Tar Heel.

me and Chip on the upper quad at UNC, July 1989