three towns

Venice. Bikes on the boardwalk. The homeless. Waves of marijuana smoke. Sunshine and kites floating in middair. Rollerblading girls in bikinis, dogs panting behind them. A dreadlocked hippie holds up a piece of cardboard: “Lost wallet, need gas money for SF.” I eat the top of my muffin, give him the rest. A police officer arrests a woman for singing loudly and breakdancing in pubic without a helmet. The hippie gets involved. Leads a march across the Boardwalk. Thousands follow him, mostly of the pigeon variety.

Encino. Terra cotta and stucco suburbia. Persians stand in line, awaiting their Starbucks. Older ones move bishops and knights acros the chessboard, sizing up each others’ mustache. The wind picks up and drags a woman and her small chiahuaha away in the air. I pass by a security guard, dozing off while three kids break the lock on my Puegot bike. I yell at them, ready to give chase, but can’t afford lose my place in line. That’ll be one sixty, thank you. The coffee scalds the throat. The mind debate the merits and pitfalls of extreme heat on the esophagus. I’ll probably die. Yes. I’ll die, and it’s not even nine a.m. yet.

North Hollywood. The car quick down Magnolia. It’s Saturday – I’m the Jew in the Jetta, waving hello to heavy girls in long skirts waiting out the Sabbath with kickball and conversations with strangers. They wave, I smile, wave back, say ‘hello’ in Hebrew, confuse them. I pull up to Daniel’s front door. Six foot three, brown stubble, hasn’t slept in years. He holds his baby. She’s two years old now, and clearly the boss. She gives me a pass. I make the sounds of a gorilla and chase her for days on the grass. It’s Animal Planet, I can’t understand a word she says, but suddenly we both want peaches. Her mom arrives with gifts. We eat peacefully and silently, staring.

photo: jonathan barkat

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Skull & Bones

I fly into Atlanta with too much hair on my head. It is time for a cut. My house sits across the street from the city cemetery. MLK was born here. He is buried here. So are hundreds of Confederate soldiers.

All train stations sit underneath dirty alleyways. It smells like piss and first rain asphalt. I run through.

I overshoot the MARTA. I walk a mile through Midtown. The guys here are very, very friendly. I ask one for directions.

Me: Hey. Do you know how to get to Great Clips? Piedmont? I’m lost. I just got here.
Dude: I don’t know where that is. I don’t get my hair cut by white people.
Me: Gotcha. Well, do you know…
Dude: Yeah. (Points) It’s right there. 10 blocks. You gonna cut that? You should shave your chest too.
Me: No. No way. Secret to my powers.
Dude: Yeah. It’s nice.

The city design of Atlanta would make an urban planner’s head explode. The city was designed by monkeys. Roads aren’t straight/ you can’t see street signs/ no left turn lanes/ no sidewalks/ no walking areas. It’s bad.

I walk a mile. Google lies. There is no Great Clips. It’s a barber shop. I see a guy slinking in. You guys cut hair here? Yeah. Is this the place for me? Yeah, man. Yeah.

Twelve heads turn to me. Five more are getting their hair combed, beards trimmed, heads buzzed. Clippers stop clipping. The five barbers stop in the middle of their jokes. All I hear is a TV in the corner of the barbershop.  ‘Skull & Bones.’ Like the people in the room, all the actors in the kung-fu movie are black.

Fuck it. I sit down and start reading the news on my phone. You know how you want your haircut? I don’t even have to look up to realize the young woman, short and birdlike, is talking to me. It’s on already? 90 seconds have passed and I’m in the barber’s chair. She starts buzzing, the other barbers resume swearing. The boss throws out an alcoholic who pesters me. Yeah. I’m white. There’s a sense of brotherhood here, I feel. My skin is white, my nose is big, and my hair is more African than Kofi Annan. It works. She works at my hair with the buzz buzz of her weapon. I get the best haircut of my life.

When presented with choices, it’s easy to over think the outcome. The mind runs in circles of consequences,walls of impossibilities. Biases and irrational laws of tradition hijack our sense of adventure. We choose the safe road. Anything new and innovative is read dangerously. That’s why, it helps to shut off the left side of the brain sometimes. Logic does not apply in certain cases. Failure to follow can lead to great things. It may lead to loss, but even scars tell a great story.

the man in burning man – photos+words

The more I asked what Burning Man was like, the more evasive my roommates became. Every discussion culminated with Michael bending his head forward exasperatedly. “Just buy your ticket and GO. Then you’ll get it.”

So I did.

First night we spent in an underground earthship in Cedar Edge. The trip took 17 hours. There were four of us: two beekeepers honey magnets from Longmont, a fifty year old software engineer in a tie-dye tank top + John Locke’s hippie twin, and me, a Burner Virgin with no expectations of what the next nine days would bring.  We arrived at the gates at 2.30, watching the sunrise blank out the stars as the line moved along. I met up with my camp early on, running into them at Center Camp. Amazing.

First some definitions:

BRC

<Black Rock City or BRC> The official name of the land area that holds the festival.
<The Playa> The open space of BRC. Where the Man, the Temple, and art installations live and art cars roam.
<Esplanade> Burning Man is composed of rings, like a giant C. Esplanade is the inner most ring, full of theme caps and sound systems.

Playa dust is magnetized with luck and divine occurence. Manifestation is built right into the alkaline sand. Wish for something and it will come your way. Pancakes and chai tea in the morning, goths in steampunk sidecars, talk ofthe paradigm shift in 2012, a ride back to Boulder. Anything. It will happen.

Picture 15

We camped at 4.30 and J. Next to the veggie disco, the suck ‘n fuck saloon, and the hammock hangout. A guy stood at our intersection during morning bathroom runs, yelling at people on a bullhorn to watch out for the invisible children. “Just killed another one! Please look out! The road is littered with the invisible carcasses of all the invisible children you keep running over. Have a great day!”

Burning Man is more than just a party, even if the event is entirely drug inspired. How can I put this? An alien organism of creations, a psychedelic freak show of fire. The Disneyland Main Street parade on a triple dose of acid that grows more chaotic every day. Always circusy, sometimes sinister,  both spiritual and hallucinatory. There are no words equipped to describe what it’s like to stand frozen in the middle of the playa, spinning 360 degrees, overwhelmed by the lights and fury, the sight of gigantic polar bears, two story steampunk haunted mansions, and dubstep magic carpet rides. (These are the art cars, better named mutant vehicles).

Picture 10

It’s impossible and dishonorable to articulate the synthetic pandemonium, exploding brilliance, 30 foot mindfuck sculptures, the crisscrossing of bike lights against the backdrop of firedom. I’m in the middle of the fucking desert, fucking Nevada, fucking NOWHERE, wondering what portal I just stepped into, and how I can stay here forever.

Even with the frenetics there are those moments where you find yourself completely alone and zapped away from the chaos around you. Riding along in the dirt trails left by others, onto to the the next episode. Dust storms and scraping winds stripping replace masks. The lone venture outward (and thus inward) sinks in gently. The playa is mine – to protect, cherish, and explore.

Picture 9

Then the sun goes down. Flamethrowers light up the sky like vintage artillery. Sound systems come alive to celebrate the lull in heat, the heavy bass telling you what’s up as it shakes the cartilage in your knees. Momentum builds as Black Rock residents come together. Thursday night we raged past dawn, and the streets were empty, silent. It’s as everyone operated on the same schedule.

The night of the man. Our crew dressed all in white. I had been wearing the same clothes for about three days by then, living off of body wipes, Bloody Marys and Clif Bars.  The dust storms were brutal that day; I jumped on the Veggie Disco art car, cruising around the playa in a dust mask and goggles, and even WE had to hold still during a blaring white out. You can’t see 6 feet in front of you. It was bad. But U2 and Michael Jackson held it down. Anyways.

Picture 10

Our crew hunkered down in the blue bus. Levi, Joe, Andrew, KJ, Brooke, Lyndsey, Me. Sanjeev was playing drums by then, shedding past lives by the firedancers. It was like being in Baghdad with a bunch of exhausted, wheezing, playful kids, ready for some fun. The dust soon died down. The bombscare was over. Justice was playing on Drew’s iPod. Camelbaks filled, food packed, glowsticks broken. Goggles on. Let’s get walking.

Art cars surrounded the 40 foot man in a ring of sounds. Heavy on the trance, cutting up it up with the glitch. The boost starts to rise up, as torches set the pyre ablaze. The flames are slow and steady, and it looks like it will take some time. No one there is ready for what happens next. Red and blue and orange and yellow sparks of light explode into the sky, straight up out of the sockets of the man. It was the most amazing pyrotechnics show any of us have ever seen.

Picture 17

The cataclysmic energy seeps up into the sky. The passion is tremendous with the breaking open of the heavens and everything we know instantly shatters as the man bursts into an overwhelming ball of fire none of us can take it our hearts explode further and further, smashed into the fabric of the man in all of us. We are growing, we are dying, we are nothing, we are growing, we are growing, and we are everything all at once.

Picture 18

This is now. This is life. This is living. Breathe this all in. THIS IS HAPPENING ALL THE TIME.
You are not dreaming any of this.  None of it. You are the main character and this is your movie. How will yours play out?

Picture 16

Enter the Dragon

How come no one talks about Bruce Lee’s karate instructor? We think he was born with these mythical powers, but at some point, Bruce was getting his ass kicked by the older kids: Frank, that tall kid named Ken Yoo, and John Wong (the one with bad acne). They all beat the crap out of seven-year-old Bruce Lee after school in Hong Kong…and some twisted part of me takes comfort in knowing that.

larusso

My mom had us take karate lessons when were younger. Gil and I never made it past orange belt, but we still had fun dicking around in our shin guards and foot pads, breaking boards with our elbows and sending kids to the mat with a swift kick to the chest. We were likewise destroyed by older kids with mustaches during weekly sparring matches who should’ve never been let into class.

Nicky, one of the older kids – and by older, I mean 12 – would warm us up. Stretching and leaning and punching the air, i.e. wasting time. Pops was the owner and main instructor of Sherman Oaks Karate. He’s short, more heavy than set, and has maniacal Einstein hair. Frizzy and comes out from the sides. He probably has a lot of ear and nose hair too. My dad, the litigator, often runs into him waiting in line at the Encino Washington Mutual. Fuck you Chase. My bank will always be WAMU dammit.

ANYWAYS. My older brother Edahn, actually did make it far. He competed in a Kumite. Yeah, just like in Bloodsport. I was seven, and watching the jujitsu weapons competition was much more interesting. Kids my own age playing with Sais and Daggers and Spears! How fucking cool! Awestruck, I had to be pulled away to watch Edahn fight.

Edahn, under Pops’ tutelage, had quickly advanced up the ladder. Squaring off against kids from other LA studios, my heart filled with pride and acid reflux from all the soda. Meanwhile, Edahn was executing dragon sweeps and axe kicks on kids from Inglewood. The Small boys are famous for their long legs, and kids from all across the city learned their lesson that day.  Edahn was up 3-0 and moved forward. This big Asian kid came up next. No. Not Asian. MONGOL. A descendant of the Khan himself! Eight foot five, 280 lbs. at least. Danny Larusso versus Johnny from the Kobra Kai.

The fight started with points on either end. Minutes later it’s 2-2, first one to 3 wins. Sherman Oaks Karate was lighting the place up. My dad was taking pictures. My mom was putting Iraqi curses on the other team. Edahn was out for blood, cool and convincing. Gil and I were eating popcorn and confused as to what was going on, but excited when our brother dealt or received violence.

The ref started the action, and they went at it. The Mongol heaved forward for a punch. Edahn sidestepped him, then clocked the guy in the back of the neck with a ritch hand.  The ref blew the whistle. My brother was disqualified for an illegal move. Turns out Edahn was Johnny, making US the Kobra Kai.  He went home with a big trophy that came up to his knees. But I swear – when we brought that piece of fake gold and machined marble home, it towered over all of our heads.

Royal Grounds

Cafés are making a comeback.
My second home
an office
a place to sit
alongside desperate Melrose screenwriters
overworked med students
and a crow of Israeli mothers –
a Hebrew gang in pink jumpsuits
absorbing caffeine and the cappuccino gossip.
A blonde sits in a square table to my left,
her face weighted down with eye makeup.
Green gray sludge takes control of her eyelids
and ruins her job interview.

The manager has just given me the look:
‘You gonna buy something or what?”
I reach inside my pockets and jingle keys
My eyes scan the coffee menu
For a well-deserved minute
Until they give up
Now I’ll sit back down
to steal more wi-fi
and eavesdrop
on your conversation.

Caffeine, you kill me.

Congratulations to my friend Jacob Shwirtz for getting engaged to Nicole, a girl I never met but I’m sure is dandy like candy! Lots of mazal. I hope you buy a new, bigger Television! And big ups on launching his company’s website: DEFINITELY SOMETHING

I went hiking last Sunday with Ryan C. and Kevin Freeman. We left with high spirits and plenty of sun in our eyes, and returned with new covalent bonds and POISON IVY on my right leg. Hydrocortisone is working it’s magic, and it’s looking a lot better now that the pus has stopped oozing out.

I highly recommend Satin Floss for all your flossing needs.

My portfolio for school is online. Have you seen the other website? www.digitalyogurt.com Bookmark that shit like, hella quick / cause I’m updating that shit / and I spare no wit.

It’s becoming more and more likely that I’m leaving this city in the next two months, and samsoniting it away to another city for school. Miami ad school has a quarter away program, and I’m shooting for the Congo.

But the best news? A few weeks ago I wrote and produced a :50 radio spot for Chipotle burritos. A letter arrived today, courtesy of the mail service person, containing not one, not two, but FOUR GIFT CERTIFICATES to Chipotle! 12 hours of work, and I’m eating again.

I’m quitting coffee. The poisons on my leg, the scratching, the suffering – were pacified by a Double D Dose of OTC Benadryl. I didn’t feel that groggy waking up, but counteracted any hesitation with a medium Peet’s coffee. There I was, sitting on the brown leather couch, when my hands were convulsing. I started focusing on them, then letting go, watching them quiver like a 5 year old who needs to make pee pee at Disneyland. I took an Advil and somehow that made everything worse – judging by my partner’s reactions, I needed to get out: so I booked it outside and ran to a supermarket. I called Varda Small, licensed mother and psychoanalyst, thinking it would help. It did. Sort of. What actually did help? Pretending I was living in slow motion. SLOW. DOWN. Caffeine, you kill me. And now, I’ve decided, to cut down down down on the coffee coffee coffee. Who needs it?

I came back with Plaid shirts, too.

My dad shaved his mustache. It’s been there as long as I’ve known him, and now when I see him open the refrigerator he’s someone else. An alien in Russel Sweats and a crumpled long sleeve denim shirt. The defining set piece of his face cut away. What will make you Hungarian now? He’s dieting again, seems serious about it, much like the last one. We had a talk in Santa Monica, with the mother, about confrontation.  One of those rare talks where the roles of parent and child are suddenly reversed. Quite jarring how seamless a transition it can be; time away does that.

My brother, on the other end, didn’t shave for 2 weeks. A real Grizzly Man.  He landed an internship with the census bureau and will be living in the same city as President Obama. Making history. Isn’t is wonderful when people around you win? It’s infectious, that energy of accomplishment. Gil and I sat in my, his, our Honda Accord outside Aroma Cafe doing nothing but living urban in the night, discussing life and growth and listening. Sometimes that can be dificult. I have an attention span of a retarded seal.

Now I give another 10 seconds before I open my mouth.

The tough thing about advertising is… (wait for it). Wrestling.

Wrestling with yourself sometimes. The concept of comedy and comedic timing, cleverness and subversiveness, is innate in most of us, but we are bogged down by, by what? By self assigned filters, second guessing, and a chemical blockage of some point. It’s like the pipes in my head are all there, but shit is blocked up if I’m not in the zone. That’s what I realized over the break, after writing and writing – stories + songs + music + ideas + advice + listening – to not care. One secret is to acknowledge that the voice is there, but then to tell myself that authority should have no bearing on creative thought.  No one is gonna look at this but me. And always write by hand.

It’s on motherfuckers!