Archive for November, 2010

How much is that doggie in the window?

November 27, 2010

How much is that doggie in the window / The one with the waggly tail?/ How much is that doggie in the window? I do hope that doggie’s for sale / I must take a trip to California… I will always smell pancakes when I hear this song. For some reason, it always seemed to play on the radio when my mother made pancakes on Saturdays.

The drugs must have been really, really good back in 1952. That’s all I can say…

I thought of it today because I wound up killing 15 minutes in a pet shop. I should never go in there. I always leave feeling terribly sad – and today was  no exception. They were having their own Black Friday sale at the pet store. They usually have some puppies on sale there actually. As they get older, they get less cute, and cheaper.

Puppies - now 50% off!

It always seems to me that they also get more desperate as they grow – as if they’re aware that nobody is going to want them, soon. As they grow older, they sleep less, and notice more, and take up more space. They tend to get separated and wind up on their own on a cage instead of with other puppies to play with. They come right up to the glass and lick it sometimes. Love me, love me, please won’t you love me? They seem to say.

And if they do get picked, I guess they’ve got it good. They’ll live in luxury. They’ll probably never have to fight for a thing. They’ll be loved. And they may even wind up buried in one of America’s many Pet Cemeteries… which by the way are nothing like the flawed near classic horror movie of the similar name.

All alone. Guarranted for one year.

I am often tempted to pull out my credit card and buy all of them. I can imagine, staring at them through the glass, how good they smell. Nothing smells as good as a puppy. I can never resist Dalmatians, in particular. I also like Boxers. And kittens.

Hey kitty kitty... They're not cheap, but cute things aren't - not in the end.

But I know it’s a terrible idea. A crazy, insane, nutcase idea. The last thing I need now is something tying me down. Freedom may be another word for nothing left to lose, but it’s also painless. If you are unfortunate enough to understand what I just wrote… I’m truly sorry.

The sign on the boxer's window, design to break your heart - says "I am going home today!"

I just hope it doesn't end like this.

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“You don’t celebrate Thanksgiving?”

November 24, 2010

I got that holiday feeling. By which I mean, most of the people I know in town have gone home to their families for Thanksgiving, America’s bloodiest holiday, on which millions of turkeys sacrifice for the cause, and everyone cooks, like crazy.

Fellow writer Daphne Carpel spotted this at the airport. She has an eye for the poignent in life. I almost cried when I read it... talk about the loss of innocence.

Here in So-Cal, there’s a weird vibe in the air. Queues at stores. Rain in California. So I decided to spend most of this time at home, in my new pink fluffy dressing gown, writing while consuming gallons of specially re-labled “festive blend” coffee. I would have thrown a hot water bottle into the mix, but here they are sold in medical stores only, and used to give enemas. They come with attachments. And although I’ve gone native and now get cold when the themometre drops below 60 farenheit, I just couldn’t face owning anything used to wash out the inside of your arse.

If course, there’s no avoiding the world: Every now and then I need to put my clothes on and leave, even if only to get pizza or milk, or a quick enima. This means talking to the extra-happy US clerks, who inevitably ask me, once they hear my accent: “So, you cooking up a storm for Thanksgiving?” I glance in confusion at my collection of items: Milk, toilet paper, chardonnay, an instant dinner and an overly optimistic bag of salad that will leave my fridge in compost form in a week.

Actually, cough… I am celebrating Thanksgiving. A bunch of us students who can’t go home for the holidays are meeting up and each bringing a dish and it’s going to be really cool. But I like to complicate my life, so I often explain no, “I’m South African”. The people I actually know in the USA – my new friends I guess – are mostly quite well educated. But the woman at Trader Jo’s looked at me like I’d just announced I had a bomb strapped to me. “You don’t have Thanksgiving there?” She said, agast. I shook my head. “Why not?” She replied. After thinking over the possibility of explaining why we also didn’t celebrate the 4th of July, I smiled sadly and replied: “No Turkeys”.

Not that keen to touch Activist Lori Lamb's junk. But it's some poor person's job to do so. Pat Downs are the new controversy here. Seems they're becoming more invasive. I'm almost tempted to fly. Image swiped from news24.com.

Actually thanksgiving, for all its dubious historial inaccuracy is a kinda cool holiday. It’s a perfect break before the craziness of finals. It involves food and well, being thankful. I got into the spirit of it and felt like I belonged for maybe the first time when I donated a couple of cans and some instant mac ‘n cheese to a shelter. For liberal-ass me, that’s probably the moment when I know I’ve settled in a bit: the one when I do something for the community that, in it’s friendly, weird American way, has welcomed me in the end.

To those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, enjoy. And to those of you who don’t, consider it! I can’t imagine anything better than a celebration with no baggage – no memories of missing family, no complications, just good food, and the people you choose to have with you. Your gay family, if you know what I mean. I think when I go home I might keep the tradition, just for fun. A friend and former colleague blogged about her thanksgiving excuse for cooking cool food here.

And this year I’m celebrating some great things like
The storm of creative collaboration born of slight desperation over our latests project, the first one that forces students to film a narrative – the 789.
The fact that I’m starting to make friends, and the warm and welcoming-ness of Americans so far. Thanks, USA.
The friends back in South Africa who kept me sane online, who held my hand and who I miss like crazy. Who gave me the faith it took to come here.
My mother, who sent me photographs and a card with jasmine flowers and fynbos from home pressed in it. Jasmine for my birthday. Arrived a few months late but I could still smell the flowers in her garden.
My father, who is flying my mother here to visit me.
The first crush I’ve had in ages. It’s not a good feeling exactly. But it’s better than nothing.
The future, which may not be the reason I’m wearing shades. The past that pushed me here. The hope that I’ll overcome the past.

Overshare – why not. People have died for less.

The United States of Alcohol

November 22, 2010

The USA – like every place in the world – has a strange relationship with booze. Sites like Texts From Last Night (one of my favourite websites ever) couldn’t exist without gems like this: (952):Fuck winter. I had to scrape my windshield, shoeless, after the walk of shame so I could go home.”, and (in Cali at least) you can buy Jack Daniels in three sizes at 2am in the Pharmacy. That’s if you don’t prefer to just admit you’re buying booze at 2am and go to a liquor store.

I was in there with a friend, buying tequila. I won't lie.

Yet the people I seem to know don’t seem to drink all that much.

Whoever decorated this bar room bathroom was drinking

Who is drinking all this booze? I swear, it’s not me. A bit of Napa Valley cabernet, a bit of Chilian Sauvignon Blanc, and this one Semillon from Trader Joe’s… and I’m too busy.

More of the same... actually I'm not sure that's booze. Looks more like the painter was high on Zoloft.

I’ll tell you where a lot of it is being drunk: That’s the dive bars, like Paul’s Cocktails, and The Cherry Pit. And there’s one near me that is so divey it doesn’t even really have a name… or a draft beer option apart from Bud Lite. I just see the smokers spilling out when I stop by the Fresh & Easy for an avocado or a microwave meal after class. By 10pm, I can tell you, they don’t look fresh. Easy? I guess. I remember when easy used to be such a nice word.

A picture in the toilet of The Cherry Pit. Gives the term "arty farty" a whole new meaning.

Like standing on one leg while drinking a beer to show you're sober, this is not something anyone will ever do while sober. Ever.

America’s dive bars are wonderful. They’re the best – they’re all about drinking – and talking. But they’re not overdressed, or overly clever. They’re good at what they do. I’ve never had a bad martini. In fact, I wish they weren’t so damn good. If they weren’t so damn good, I wouldn’t always have two of them. And then my life would be so, so much simpler.

This just in
: The latest item of concern on campus is over caffeinated booze. The administration sent out a mail detailing the advantages dangers of mixing stimulants and liquor. Details in this story.

500 feet of LA Street in a few photographs

November 19, 2010

I’m obsessed. I’m writing so much. But I did go to LA today, and I took some photos of graffitti. I think I’ll just post them without comments… I want to live there so badly, every time I visit.

La Woman


Cows... with a bowl of water to drink from.


She Guevarra?

Arty rebellion on W. Third St.


We skipped the mall... another time.


Simple and effective protest, probably done with toxic paint that is almost certainly a by-product of the gasoline industry.


Oddly, McDonalds is running a campaign at the moment. It's called "Monopoly is Back". No irony there... at all.


If you wait just a minute...


... the lights change.

Immigrant songs

November 15, 2010

The future is beautiful and bright*, mostly. But at sunset, the beauty makes me sad. Then I go out walking*. And I feel like a stranger*. And at times like these, I hope my pony knows the way back home*.

Futura.

My production teacher, Gil Bettman, says love is the strongest want. By this, everyone tends to assume “romantic” love. But I can tell you right now that that’s not the only kind you need. In fact, I’m not sure who needs that kind, at all. It’s only really fun in the beginning, and after that you just spend the next few years trying to get back the feeling you had in the first place, don’t you? And destroying each other in the process of course, like drug addicts trying to re-create the original high by upping the dose of poison until it nearly kills them.

A welcoming frog, a spoiled dog, a rusted American flag and a white picket fence. It's all real, folks.


I don’t know. I may be a little cynical. Just maybe.

The love I miss most is the love of a place where people really know me. And I always feel a bit of guilt saying this, but it’s inescapable: I get really homesick. I am making some friends now, and people have been kind and welcoming, and there are lots of intelligent people to meet. I am finding a niche. I am even bonding enough to occasionally drop the facade of politeness behind which I’ve lived for three months. But still, I miss South Africa terribly. And listening to my iPod, the songs playing on random made me realise that the human need for this kind of love is just as strong, and that its absence, though a quieter pain than heartbreak, is a powerful force. From Tom Waits, to Traffic, from Karma to Paul Simon – all the classic singer songwriters wrote about it.

Durban is my second home. This paw-paw tree, growing in front of a house - brought the smell of the place rushing back over me.


Oddly, at these times, the things that comfort me and the things that make me want to cry are the same. These are the weeds. The flowers that grow all over the world. The aliens. The stars may not be the same. The roads run in opposite directions. The houses are decorated with stars and stripes. The sprinklers go on at 2am, drenching me as I cycle home through the dessert.

But those funny yellow flowers in the big spiky bushes still smell like they did when I was just a kid, playing crazy games with my brother. I walk through the suburbs of Orange, seeing everyone going about their lives, their lives so familiar, with the comfort learned through years of repetition.

This cat was not an early evening person.

In the unfamiliarity of the place, every memory feels fresher than before. I touch a wall, still warm from the sun, and remember a moment in Italy. I see a colour that triggers a flash of recollection of the colours of the sheets Jinty put down in France. A house reminds me of the little one I grew up in, in Kirstenhof, Cape Town. A cat glares at me from a window in the almost dark. I remember waking up one morning and feeling warm stickiness at my feet when I was six years old. The warm stickiness was wriggling. When lifted the blanket to see what was going on I found my cat, Kanga, had given birth to her litter of kittens under the blankets of my bed, at my feet.

I think that must be the most anyone’s ever trusted me.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I’m not. I am living my dreams. I am building my future. I am alive and I wouldn’t be anywhere else right now. But I’m allowed to be blue, now and then, when I think back to my homeland. It does sometimes feel like it’s slipping away. Like life has gone on without me. And so it should. But I don’t have to like it.

*Lyrics. I’m sure you picked that up, but just in case you didn’t, they’re all from great songs.

Speed, freaks and the thrill of the chase

November 11, 2010

Lights! Camera! Action! Kink! Hot rods! Babes! Elephants! Oscars! Five out of seven ain’t bad.

Shopping for this shit was a mission. Then I still had to sit and sew stuff. The result? Relatively convincing, for a student production. Mrs Bleach, I finally found a use for all the stuff you taught me, although I have to inform you that your washing of my mouth out with soap for swearing was a 100% fucking failure.

It’s the same, every week. I arrive in production class sure that this time I’ve gotten this damn film-making thing right. Usually a couple of people have had a look and given me feedback, which I’ve then implemented in the edit. I’ve tried to avoid the mistakes I made in the past, like making my own puppets, zooming, appearing naked in my own videos or taking instructions literally.

For the chase sequence assignment, I even got real people to act. Vanessa Wolf (a theatre student at Chapman) has quite a lot of experience on films. Whatever’s wrong with my work is nothing to do with her.

Jennifer Wolf is great to work with. I hope she'll let me use her for something again. For the final shot, I said I wanted it to be funny and porno, and asked her to play it straight. And she did it perfectly - without losing dignity.


Ed Moore, a second year director who has helped me more than once before, put me on to her. Then Josh Sheets (yes, his real name) has done some acting and modeling here and there. I met him at the sort-of-wrap-party for Wilt. I thank the power of tequila for the fact that I thought he needed to star in one of my films and asked for his number. Remind me: Who said drugs were bad?

Anyhow, it’s short, but we had under two hours to shoot it and chases are heavy on set-ups, particularly at night when you need to light stuff. Those who’ve wanted to see my car: it is in the movie.

Twisted – Jean Barker
Fixed version – updated 5.28pm on Nov 12.

Apart from directing my own chase, in which I only kind of appear (as the driver of my own Mustang, Sally) I also agreed to act in quite a few. I starred as a Concerned Citizen, A Thief, and a Large Breasted Woman. In the two where I have to run, it’s kinda scary just how much bouncing goes on. This has made me realise I need to lose a few pounds. Not for health reasons – my BMI is fine – but because I’m vain. Why lie about it?

The assignment was different from class to class. In most classes only directing and cine students needed to do the chase, and shot it on 16mm. But in ours we were all made to do it, though the writers, producers and other floozies of film were only required to shoot on digital. This means I’ll probably post another story with the directors’ and cine’s work, as their stuff’s mostly still at Kodak. The videos I appear in have not been posted online… yet.

But here’s OTHER COOL STUFF FROM MY CLASSMATES

Andrew Kappel – Jerkins
A cute, sweet, sad, cringe-inducing film about a pre-teen looking for somewhere private to get intimate with a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. John Nodorft – a cine, and someone I hope I get to work with more – shot this one for him. The kid is pretty much a professional actor.

John Nodorft – Mondays are Hell
John shot this awesome battle between the devil and Jesus in both digital and on film. I’ll post the film cut next week. My favourite bit is the last shot… A little behind the scenes info: both actors were extremely hung over. I know this because we were all at the same pre-halloween Halloween party the night before.

Why are these signs on this lawn?

November 10, 2010

What happened – did someone decide to erect this late at night after a bottle of pinot? Do they feel strongly about the alienation of mass pop culture? What is this all about? I am used to stuff like this popping up around Cape Town – I archived about three years’ worth on my old letterdash blog that’s unfortunately fallen prey to a squatter. And seemingly random hearts are the latest trend there.

A few thousand students must walk past every day. Every one of them stopped to read this.

Close-ups

"Why in the world do strangers feel the need to talk to each other at airports? I will never understand this." Well I don't know. I do. I talk to strangers all the time. Why not? I also sometimes don't talk much to friends. But most of all I don't understand why you put this sign on your lawn. I mean, I like it, but I don't get it. I love it. I don't get it.

And then on the other side, of the same sign… this!

"Life before google - a short story" BUNNY1: I just thought of something I'd like to know more about. BUNNY2: That's a damn shame.

Google THIS, fucking rabbit cartoon people. On a road near Chapman University. If anyone can explain it, I’d love to know what it’s all about.

Bowling. Not for Columbine*. Just for fun.

November 9, 2010

… in which an alien goes bowling, breaks her In & Out cherry, and hears the sound of music.

This Japanese poster for The Big Lebowski is just... I don't even want to know what the title became.

Considering The Big Lebowski is one of the top 10 reasons I am becoming a screenwriter, and considering the fact that Cape Town is in truth very, very close to Parow, it’s surprising that I do not know how to bowl. I think I went, once, as part of someone’s birthday party, but all I remember about it was how much the birthday girl’s brother complained about driving to Parow the whole way through. I was dating the annoying, self-centred brother. Apologies for stating the obvious.

I got a ride with a girl in my class, Sarah, who has been nice to me. She’s also cool in an odd way my friends back home would like – the kind of person who could make driving a motorised tricycle seem stylish, but isn’t pretentious enough to do it. We we went cruising down the boulevard through 23.5 identical suburbs, past 789 identical 8-store markets, passing Disneyland’s nightly fireworks display and on. I’m not surprised onse babe Charlize Theron feels at home in California. It’s really very much like her native Benoni – just with fewer guns and better Mexican food. The GPS didn’t know which side of the road the bowling alley was on, but as it turned out, that wasn’t really a problem.

This sign is one of only 56,000,8998,99766 signs in the U.S.A. that is visible to the naked eye from space. The alien schools already hold compulsory early morning bowling classes in the belief that it will "help them blend in". Now you know.

We were out in Anaheim because one of the students who came from New York wound up living out there, thinking “eight miles from school isn’t far.” And because the beer was supposedly cheaper.

Americans have a newspaper for everything. For instance, Adult Daipers Monthly, which is printed on recycled disposible adult daipers. (Not really, but that'd be cool.)

It’s B.Y.O. socks for the next bit, where you hire a pair of shoes for $3.25 and pay 5 bucks to bowl. Or you order a pint of Newcastle and watch other people. That’s what I did. I have been having one of those weeks where stuff lands on your head all the time, and you fall all the time. If I wasn’t driving, I sure as hell wasn’t going to be handling balls that weigh more than my head.

I'm not sure I understand the need for the giant rear view mirror. I for one do not want to see my own ass on the way out.

At about midnight, we ended up at In and Out Burger. I’ve been trying to avoid this discovery, as their food is clearly addictive. Now I have tried it, I think about it three times a day. When I grow up, I want to be an In and Out Burger Dealer, although I’m not sure whether or not I’d be keen to sleep with In an Out Burger ‘ho’s. It’s not delicious because it’s packed with healthy goodness. In and Out is basically everything McDonalds wants to be, but isn’t. It’s like McDonalds that doesn’t have McD’s signature “faint whiff of garbage truck”.

Then it was back to the Bowling Alley, and the bar had closed.

The sign on the right says "Popcorn only in the bar". I guess the popcorn must be the free bar snack.

See now, in South Africa, when the bar closes, everyone bails. Often drunk drives, but if not, shares taxis, or whatever. In America… they start singing the songs from Musicals, apparently. Or maybe it’s just the film school students I hang out with.

Sarah wouldn't let me take a picture where she wasn't pulling a face.

I don’t know any songs from Musicals. They’re kinda big here. I guess a lot of them are from here.

Anyhow, they sang for hours, and then when everyone was sober, and only then, we left. Not that anyone got particularly drunk in the first place. I was impressed, and amused.

Driving back to American and British rock ‘n roll classics on the radio, I realised one of the very powerful things about American culture: That musicals and rock ‘n roll and pop radio hits are part of shared folk culture here. I suspect would be unimaginable, in America, to grow up with parents who couldn’t sing you a Doors song, or were vague about who Billy Holiday or Fleetwood Mac or Nina Simone might be.

I wonder what the South African equivalent is. Miriam Makeba, perhaps, or oh no, no. Not Shosholoza? I love being from a place with many questions, with no clear answers, that could still become anything it wants to. But sometimes, from far away, it’s hard to grasp and impossible to hold onto.

* Wiki says: The film title originates from the story of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – the two students responsible for the Columbine High School massacre – attended a school bowling class early that morning, at 6:00 a.m., before they committed the attacks at school starting at 11:19 a.m. Later investigation showed that this was based on mistaken recollections, and Glenn Moore of the Golden Police Department concluded that they were absent from school on the day of the attack.[4]

I haven't seen The Sound of Music. But I've heard the whole thing now.

My Californian “going native” checklist for November

November 6, 2010

I have been here three months today. I realised this yesterday when a cop pulled me over in my new car. Turns out, driving a Silver Mustang means you can’t do stuff like stop at green lights, or cross solid lines. My passenger said “Play the South African card!” Which I did. Which led to 1. The cop asking me why I was studying NOW. And 2. giving me about 50 reasons why I shouldn’t get a California ID card, the best reason being that when he was finished lecturing me like a five year old, he let me go without a fine. So I revised my to-do list, which is taped to my front door.

So far this is the only art in my apartment. I need to work on that - it looks like a guy lives here.

You’d think I’d have done more of this stuff by now. But I’m busy doing what I came here to do – study film – that I’ve slotted straight into acting like I live here. Still, I think we all agree I need to try harder. I was busy trying to sift through the porno results on Google to find a genuine massage place on Friday after class, when my teacher James Dutcher, who was also fiddling with his laptop, asked me how I was settling. I said I felt I needed to travel more – that I still feel like I was just dropped here by the space ship, without any operating instructions.

“Well”, he replied, displaying the signature sense of humour that keeps him in plenty of work as a writer of German romantic comedies: “You were.”

News24 Column: What Americans Know about SA

November 5, 2010

“Contrary to popular belief, Americans do not think we have lions roaming our streets in South Africa.”
Read it here

The first one is up. I’ll be doing this once a month, to keep my name out there, and as part of their new “Beyond Borders” series. Seems half the people responding think I don’t like America or Americans (which is rubbish, I love it, and I am meeting many awesome people) and others think I like America or Americans too much. Of course, this means the column was a success.

Writing columns is the art of complaining in a way that gets people to complain about you complaining. That’s how I see it, anyhow. And being funny and entertaining is way, way more important than being fair to everyone involved.


Update on November 13th 2010:
The column resulted in this response from a News24 reader, who seems to have suffered some sense of humour loss, and a few serious lapses in logical thought. Read What South Africans Don’t Know about South Africa. I agree with her about some stuff, but why attack me – I agree with her about whining expats who diss my country. And if you’re going to diss racists, don’t be one yourself while you do it. That’s just lame.