Monday, December 28, 2009

Bank of Some States of America

Generally, I'm pretty happy with my bank,
Bank of America. They are fairly understanding when I occasionally overdraw my account and I can usually get them to remove those pesky $35 overdraft fees. Every time I call, they thank me for being an account holder since 1999. Basically, Bank of America and I go way back.

Living in Boston spoiled me, however, in terms of ease of banking access. Bank of America branches are EVERYWHERE. Paying ATM fees became a thing of the past when I moved to Boston last year, much to my delight. There is nothing that incenses me more than paying money to access my money.

But here in Colorado, I find myself in a quandary. Colorado has 161 Bank of America ATMs, but no banking centers. And none of the ATMs allow check deposit. And that is what I urgently need to do: deposit a check.

Why urgently? Well, those of you who know me know that I have a somewhat precarious financial existence. I have many jobs (4 to be exact) but cash flow is always a problem. Waiting tables is unpredictable (some people tip like bastards); my graduate assistantship pays me in full for an entire semester at the beginning of the semester (which is nice but hard to parse out over time); another job is freelance and sporadic; etc. So I'm constantly working and earning, but often checking my mailbox frantically for checks and living on cereal and pickles when times get tough.

The current situation is dire in that if I can't find a way to deposit the check I have in my possession, automatic payments that come out of my account at the end of the month will make me overdrawn. And I'll be accruing those $35 fees in no time. Which maybe I can get taken off, but maybe not.

I can't believe there are no Bank of America locations in Colorado. They have 161 ATMs, but they are all located in random gas stations and can't accept deposits. Useless. Apparently, Minnesota, Kentucky, Utah, Indiana, Ohio, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Montana, Nebraska, and South Dakota are similarly plighted. And you're really in trouble if you're thinking of traveling to North Dakota, Vermont, Mississippi, or West Virginia; they have no B of A anything, no ATMS or branches.

Which leads me to conclude that the name is kind of a misnomer. Bank of America? More like Bank of 35 States of America. Hmpf.

Also, semi-related: check out this video from 2006 wherein Bank of America, after another merger, rewrote the lyrics to U2's world peace anthem "One" to be cards. Shameless.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Happy!

Happy holidays, everybody! It's Christmas Eve, my mother's favorite day of the year (because Christmas is ALMOST here but not quite...Christmas Day she describes as "bittersweet." And the day after Christmas? Don't even go there.)

I'm in Colorado, with my Christmas-obsessed mom and stepdad. It's snowing and we are listening to festive music (my mom is particularly fond of the holiday albums put out by Josh Groban, Jane Monheit, and Diana Krall) while prepping the stuffing for tomorrow's traditional goose dinner. Yes, we always make a Dickensian feast on Christmas Eve: goose + stuffing + mashed potatoes + green beans + cranberry relish. My mom and I spend most of the day cooking and sipping wine, while our favorite movie,
Gone with the Wind, plays in the background. Yes, I know, GWTW is not technically a Christmas movie, but there is a Christmas scene, ok? (when Ashley comes home for Christmas and impregnates Melanie)

Christmas Day also has several key meals: cinnamon rolls and coffee before gift-opening, mimosas, bagels with cream cheese and lox afterward, prime rib (encrusted in salt, pepper, rosemary, and garlic) for dinner. While the prime rib is in the oven, we watch It's a Wonderful Life. Every family has holiday rituals -- my family's just happen to center around food, wine, and movies. I'm not complaining, but if you see me in early January and I look a little more rotund than usual, you will know why.

If you celebrate Christmas, merry Christmas...otherwise, happy holidays and best wishes for 2010!

my mom's cat, Sparky, modeling his Christmas collar and enjoying his favorite game, Cat in a Box

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Problematic Depictions of African-Americans in a Beloved Holiday Film

The other night, I watched a classic Christmas movie:
Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Though I've seen it a dozen times, this always catches me off-guard:

Yep, that's crooner Bing Crosby, in full-on blackface. He's singing an Irving Berlin song called "Abraham" about Abe Lincoln's birthday that contains lyrics such as "When black folks lived in slavery/ Who was it set the darkie free?/ Abraham, Abraham!"

PROBLEMATIC. And the only actual black people in the movie?

That's Louise Beavers, playing (isn't it obvious?) "Mamie" and her two kids. Mamie is the all-purpose housekeeper/cook at the Holiday Inn. Obviously.

Sigh. I love Holiday Inn -- it features the first ever performance of "White Christmas," one of my favorite Christmas songs. There are lots of great dance numbers, not one but TWO love triangles, and plenty of glamorous 1940s evening wear.

And yet....

It's just hard to get past this, you know? The blackface is a part of the plot -- Bing Crosby adds it to the number at the last minute so that Fred Astaire's character won't be able to recognize Marjorie Reynolds (pictured above), with whom he drunkenly danced on New Year's Eve and wants to steal away from Crosby's Holiday Inn gig.

But still....yeesh. Racism kind of kills my Christmas spirit.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Is anything better than the Muppets?

I know, I know, you've probably seen it already. It has like 10,000,000 hits on YouTube. Still, I couldn't help myself.

Also, can Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem please go tour? I would happily drop out of graduate school to be their roadie.

Monday, December 14, 2009

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

A lovely poem, sent to me by my good friend Benjy. No time for much analysis, since I'm knee-deep in final papers and assignments, but I hope you enjoy it!

My Mother's Funeral
by Ira Sadoff

The rabbi doesn't say she was sly and peevish,
fragile and voracious, disheveled, voiceless and useless,
at the end of her very long rope. He never sat beside her
like a statue while radio voices called to her from God.
He doesn't say how she mamboed with her broom,
staggered, swayed, and sighed afternoons,
till we came from school to feed her. She never frightened him,
or bent to kiss him, sponged him with a fever, never held his hand,
bone-white, bolted doors and shut the blinds. She never sent
roaches in a letter, he never saw her fall down stairs, dead sober.
He never watched her sweep and murmur, he never saw
spider webs she read as signs her life was over, long before
her frightened husband left, long before
they dropped her in a box, before her children turned
shyly from each other, since they never learned to pray.
If I must think of her, if I can spare her moment on the earth,
I'll say she was one of God's small sculptures,
polished to a glaze, one the wind blew off a shelf.

Friday, December 11, 2009

My Christmas List

Dear Santa,

Below please find a short list of things I'd like to receive this Christmas. I have been very good this year...well, excepting the fact that I stopped going to yoga two months ago. Staying in shape is expensive, Santa! Anyway, do your best. I realize some of these things may be more easy to acquire than others.

1. A Zeo Personal Sleep Coach

2. My student loans erased

3. Wine

4. Clive Owen

5. 18.5-inch waist, just like Scarlett O'Hara

6. A maid/personal assistant

7. These Alexander McQueen heels:
8. My ill-conceived bangs to be grown out

9. Sarah Palin's nonexistence

10. Dish towels (my August subletter stole mine for reasons unknown)


Monday, December 7, 2009

To the Rude Guy on the T

Dear Rude Guy on the T (RGOT),

I know you're really excited about your T-Mobile Sidekick's ability to function as an mp3 player. Bu there's this amazing invention that allows you to listen to your music in public without forcing those around you to listen as well. HEADPHONES. Seriously, invest in some. I'm not judging you or your music. I am, however, judging your lack of consideration for your fellow T-riders.

But you know what bothers me the most, RGOT? I think you're enjoying this. The way you smirk at the various people who glare at you, hoping you'll turn your music down, tells me that you like being the center of attention, even if it's negative attention. You're daring someone to say something to you, to challenge you. I came very close to taking one for the team and doing it. I doubt you would have done anything beyond call me a bitch. You might have even just ignored me.

You look about 18, RGOT, so I guess being a self-involved ass is to be expected. I thought I was untouchable hot shit too when I was 18. But being an arrogant prick stops being cute at some point, trust me. Nothing gives you the right to ruin everyone's Monday morning commute. Some people are trying to read, chat or listen to their own music on headphones. You are not entitled to impose your music on us just to so you can feel like a badass rebel.

Also, lose the diamond earring.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Harbingers of death

Friday night I saw an owl in the Boston Common. It dove into a trash can in an attempt to swoop up a rat that had just crawled in. When it failed to catch said rat, it perched on a nearby tree. And stared. Creepily.

Which led me to think about the whole birds-as-pets thing. If you ask me, it's a little weird. You can't really pet them and cuddling is definitely out of the question. They make loud, scary sounds. And many of them are vegetarians, which I just can't condone. You can't trust vegetarians.

A few months ago, a friend of mine told me over gchat that he had considered getting a pet owl. And he learned that owls apparently make hilariously bad pets. The conversation we had is posted below, for your entertainment and owl education. His name has been changed, mainly because I didn't have time to ask him if I could use it.

Justin: I tried to get a pet owl so illegal apparently
you have to have a "falconry" license
me: oh my god, I can't think of a worse pet idea for you
10:31 AM Justin: yeah, apparently there are so many things wrong with that idea
but I thought it'd be pretty badass
but among the list of things wrong with that idea -
they live for like 50 years
me: oh god
10:32 AM Justin: and they're exceptionally human imprinted when they get a "keeper"
like they'll just destroy shit every time you leave
and if you try to let them go, they'll just sit at your window hooting and clawing shit until they die unless you let them back in
but they don't like to be petted
they just want to know you care
AND they need whole live animals
or dead
10:33 AM but whole
every day
but they don't eat stomachs or internal organs
so you have to remove them
because if you don't, they hide them because they don't want to make a mess
and then you'd find it like a week later
10:34 AM oh, and also, they stay up all fucking night long hooting during mating season
which is 9 months out of the year!
so, let's just say, thank god they didn't let me have the owl
well actually, I didn't even find an owl, I was just scoping it out
10:35 AM can you imagine that though? how abstractly awesome would it be? "ok guys, I have to go home and slaughter a rabbit for my owl"
You need to either be a licensed "owl rehabilitation center", or have your falconry licenses even though they apparently make for terrible falconry birds, or have an educational facility that the owl is used for to teach classes
and even then, the Owl Society, or whatever reserves the right to recall your owl at any time for any reason
me: this is so fascinating
10:43 AM Justin: like, if you can't prove that your owl has been meeting it's minimum hours of lessons per month
or if they just decide that after 30 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of dead animals and ruined furniture and you're dying old and alone except for your owl that they want to put it in a zoo
10:44 AM I really want one again
or a giant sea turtle

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

This week's selection is by Peter Jay Shippy, an Emerson alum who now teaches writing at the college. Yay Emerson!


I unbelieve I was born and wore
A sailor's suit until I was seven.

There are no pictures of puppies licking

My face or albums of vacation snaps.

Yosemite? Niagara Falls? I unbelieve

There's someone somewhere who likes the same things

I do. Reading the dictionary?

The Buffalo Bills? See? I unbelieve a priest

Would fuck anyone, certainly not me.

The woman who pushes the baby carriage

Up and down the block all day all week

Screaming and singing lullabies is not

Doing so well, I unbelieve, no.

Someone should lift a finger and give her

A helping hand, because charity

I unbelieve, begins in the home.

Who said that? Who said that? I unbelieve if

I can't recall then it must have been me.

A stitch in time saves nine? I shall return?

That's all folks? I have wasted my life?

That was me--the man who is the measure

Of all things. My sister told me about

The birds and the bees and I unbelieved

Every word she said, because she was older

Wiser, stronger, meaner, an early bloomer--

A girl who the world would soon get to know.

I still can't unbelieve that she's dead. I do.
I unbelieve the earth is flat or that man
Walked on the moon or that I came down

From African apes or that Jesus

Walked on water that he turned into wine

Or that life begins when I imagine

Doing it with you. I unbelieve fairies

Live in the television set--really

Think about it? Isn't it just common sense?

The sun was warm? The cherry blossoms

Were in bloom? We paddled a wooden canoe

Down the canal? I thought the port was sweet?
I pretended not to see the worm

In the Cobb salad? The inn had a surprise
Vacancy? I felt dizzy? I awoke

With a sack over my head, tied to the bed

And I was bleeding and I unbelieve

I told the police I couldn't remember, yes
I couldn't be sure of a thing. Bambi?

Jules and Jim? The Sound of Music? Red Desert?

I unbelieve that was the first movie

I ever saw, although really, it was a film.

I unbelieve the President means

Exactly what he says--don't you? The night
My son was born I was driving my truck

Across the U.P. trying to finish

My deliveries and then make the delivery,

If you know what I mean and I was just

Twenty miles out of Sault Ste. Marie

When I saw the most beautiful shooting star
And it was awesome, too, like blue like

Propane gas and scary, too, I pulled
Over to the side of the road and I'm sure

My mouth was a black hole and I wish

I would have thought to take a picture

And I unbelieve that that was my son's soul

Soaring back to heaven, I do, because

That was the very moment he passed.

If you unbelieve me go and check

With the hospital. I want you to.

I unbelieve that sometimes life forces you
To grow up before your time. Who said that?

I unbelieve that Lois Lane didn't know
That Clark was Superman. Think about it?

She just didn't want to spoil the good times.

I unbelieve that most people are fine, yet

I wouldn't open my front door

For just anyone. I pretty much un-

Believe in the war and yet I absolutely
Unbelieve that I am un-American.

Didn't I serve my country? Didn't I die
For you and unbelieve that you'd die, too?
I unbelieve in reincarnation.

I unbelieve that everyone has a twin--

Someone somewhere who looks or acts just like

You and me I mean, we're unique, unless

We're clones. I unbelieve that on the day

That I was born my grandfather cried

And this was a man who never shed a tear.

Even when they took his voice, or so I hear.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tramps like us

It's pretty unbelievable that I've been writing this blog for nearly a year and a half and not yet posted anything about karaoke. Karaoke is one of my dearest pastimes; I've done it everywhere from Tokyo and New Orleans to the rural town of Sedalia, MO. Trust me, there's no better way to sample local flavor than to watch locals get drunk and sing. Just last night, I got on stage at Kennedy's Lamp Post Lounge in Cape Canaveral, FL:

When I lived in NYC, rarely a weekend went by that didn't include a late night stop at Sing Sing, Planet Rose, or any of the other dozens of places to do karaoke in Manhattan. Fortunately, many of my friends share my passion for belting out power ballads and watching nonsensical Japanese music videos.

Then I moved to Boston. And lo and behold, whenever I suggested karaoke as an evening activity, I was met with uncomprehending stares. No one knew where to go. No one felt inclined to investigate. Why drink and sing when you can...just drink?

I feel like it's high time I respond to the most common objections raised about karaoke.

1. "I can't sing."
Um, LOTS of people can't sing, including some with record contracts (see Spears, Britney). Singing well is not what karaoke is about. Karaoke is about entertaining yourself and others through the power of pop music. I have seen many "terrible" singers bring down the house.

2. "It's too expensive."
Yes, renting a private room can add up. But lots of places let you sing for free, like the Hong Kong near Faneuil Hall and Sissy K's. And actually, you can MAKE money doing karaoke, as I did the night I won a contest at Sissy K's. Every Thursday night, they give away $100 to not the best singer, but the best performance of the night.

3. "I can sing so why would I sing karaoke?"
Technically, I can sing too, but that doesn't mean I should sing every song I want to. But karaoke allows me to do just that! While I know that Whitney Houston and I have very different ranges and timbres, after a few vodka tonics, I want my "One Moment in Time." For real singers, karaoke isn't about showing off, it's about goofing off and singing completely inappropriate songs.

So there you have it. I'm lucky enough to live within spitting distance of Do Re Mi, which has probably the best song selection I've ever encountered. Worst song selection award goes to Maluken, where I was reduced to singing "The Little Mermaid" for lack of better options.

The title of this post, "Tramps like us," exemplifies another good thing about karaoke -- you get to learn the actual lyrics to songs that you might have been mishearing. I always sort of sing along with "Born to Run," but somehow the "tramps like us" line in the chorus escaped me. Until last night.

However, singing the right words isn't always essential. If you don't believe me, watch the video below. One Korean man's creative rendition of Mariah Carey is another man's comedy goldmine.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Seafood feast!

In lieu of the traditional turkey, my family decided to mix it up this year. We went to Florida to celebrate Thanksgiving and created a seafood-themed meal very different from what the pilgrims probably ate. The menu included:

Lobster tails
Crab stuffing
Corn casserole with mussels
Lemon garlic shrimp with peppers
Green beans (the one classic side we couldn't abandon)

No mashed potatoes! No pecan pie! It was very revolutionary. We also instituted the first ever Vagnino Family Book Exchange. I made out like a bandit with a new collection of Russian poetry and How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely, which looks hilarious.

I'm trying not to think about the terrifying amount of school work I have awaiting me in Boston as the semester winds down. I'm looking at the ocean and making plans to play mini-golf tomorrow. For these few days in the sun, I am thankful.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Napkins = my nemesis

The hardest part of a new restaurant job for me is not learning table numbers or the names of the kitchen staff. I have a great short-term memory and can recite daily specials till I'm blue in the face. No, the thing I absolutely dread every time I get hired by a restaurant is.....

napkin folding.

Every restaurant has their own way of doing it. And it always takes me much longer than it should to master it. It's like there's a gap in my brain -- things start misfiring and I just can't make the napkin look the way it's supposed to. I'm earning a master's degree and yet the simple task of folding a napkin becomes Herculean when under the watchful eye of whatever server is training me. It doesn't matter how deftly I can refill butter ramekins or polish water glasses. She will lose all respect for me as soon as she sees me try to fold napkins.

As far as I can tell. the skill involved with napkin folding has something to do with spatial reasoning, which I apparently was born without. Spatial reasoning is "the ability to visualize spatial patterns
and mentally manipulate them" and is pretty essential for engineers and architects. The Wikipedia entry also states that it is "important for generating and conceptualizing solutions for multi-step problems that arise in everyday life." Great.

This has all been on my mind lately because I finally got hired by a legitimate, well-run, upscale restaurant:
Lineage. I'm incredibly happy now that "Dos" didn't hire me. I've done two training shifts at Lineage and no one seems to have noticed my napkin-folding disability yet....but it's only a matter of time. I can only hope that by the time they catch wise, I will have won them over with my charm. The napkins at Lineage appear to be rather simply folded -- if I had shown up for training and seen something like this--

-- I probably would have turned in my bistro apron then and there. Just looking at that picture stresses me out.

Curious about your own spatial reasoning aptitude? Take this free online test to find out your spatial ID.

Monday, November 16, 2009


It was bound to happen eventually: I lost my cell phone. Well, actually I know where it is, but I can't get to it. I left it at a friend's apartment Saturday night and while said friend was supposed to leave it with his doorman, he forgot. And sadly, my phone went back with him on a bus today to New York.

Fortunately, I kept my old, outdated phone from the last time I upgraded and Verizon was able to restore service to it. But I was sans phone for almost 48 hours and friends, it was tough. I use my phone as an alarm clock and thus had to download some weird alarm clock application and install it in order to make it to work on time. Which I didn't, because the alarm app didn't work for some reason. I also got semi-stood up for a coffee date with a friend because I didn't receive her text message cancellation.

But those were the biggest catastrophes. And now I'm somewhat restored to the world of communicative technology. However, since I got my new phone before moving to Boston, the old phone I'm using temporarily (until my real phone is Fedexed back to me) has no numbers of new friends. It's like I've been blasted back to before I moved here....looking through the contact list is a walk down memory lane. I can't call anyone in Boston, but I can call my favorite Thai take-out place in Brooklyn.

So if you are a friend made in the last year or so, I won't recognize the number if you call. Feel free to prank me!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

First, an announcement: For various reasons, I'm taking down the links to my own poems on this site. This is mainly because it has come to my attention that putting them here on this blog might make some editors decide they are already "published" and hence, not desirable. I know that's a long shot, but the good people at
Duotrope's Digest recommend not making your work too widely available before it's been published. Another reason is that some of the poems I put up are still works-in-progress and I'm too lazy to update the links every time I tweak a word or two.

I suspect that I can count on one hand the people who will care/be affected by this change (sorry, Dad). Instead, I'm going to put up links to the publications that have been so kind as to publish my poems. If you desperately want to read my other poetry, well, just write me a note and I'll send you some.

Now on to today's poem, which is by May Swenson, my new poet crush. Swenson writes mostly about love and sex (she famously wrote a poem describing the act of cunnilingus with lines like "Pink lips the serrate/ folds taste smooth"). Her poetry is very erotic and some of it makes me blush, but I have to give props to anyone who dares to title a poem "Daffodildo."
Hello, that's awesome.

Today's poem is not about sex, though. Sorry. It is, however, very romantic in that it captures that sensation you have when you're in love and convinced that no one else on the planet exists.

Early Morning: Cape Cod

We wake to double blue:
an ocean without a sail,
sky without a clue
of white.
Morning is a veil
sewn of only two
threads, one pale,
one bright.

We bathe as if in ink,
but peacock-eyed and clear;
a roof of periwink
goes steep
into a bell of air
vacant to the brink.
Far as we can peer
is deep

royal blue and shy
iris, queen and king
colors of low
and high.
Then dips
a sickle wing,
we hear a hinged cry:
taut as from a sling

a taunting gull.
And now across our gaze
a snowy hull
along its stays
break out to windpulls.

With creaking shears
the bright
gulls cut the veil
in two,
and many a clue
on scalloped sail
dots with white
our double blue.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Me + Cobra Starship in the Fall issue of nthWORD!

A poem I wrote last semester, "Ode to Virtues," is in the online publication
nthWORD. Click here to read it!

The issue also contains an interview with hipster band Cobra Starship, who wrote the hilarious theme song for "Snakes on a Plane." Remember this?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Scary Movie Smackdown

Disclosure: I'm a scary movie junkie. Last weekend, in honor of Halloween, I saw two new horror movies: Paranormal Activity and The House of the Devil. Maybe there's no way the former could have lived up to its hype, but suffice it to say that I was very underwhelmed. Admittedly, the Blair Witch-style hand-held cinematography made me very nauseated and I had to stare at the floor of the theater for at least a third of the movie so as to not vomit. So maybe that affected my opinion of the film's merit.

The House of the Devil
, on the other hand, is being added to my Favorite Scary Movies of All Time list. Like Paranormal Activity, 90% of the movie is buildup -- nothing truly horrifying happens until the last 20 minutes. But I was on the edge of my seat the whole time and duly impressed with the whole look/concept of the film. I'm not a film critic so I won't go into more detail about that, but if you're interested, check out the trailer here.

What are my other favorite scary movies, you ask? In no particular order:

The Descent (2005)
I have never screamed louder in a movie theater. I also love that before the supernatural element is introduced, the premise (being trapped and lost in a claustrophobic cave) is already scary as hell.

Ginger Snaps
In 2004, I went on two dates with this guy and on date #2, we watched Ginger Snaps, which he owned on DVD. Though the relationship went nowhere, I will always be indebted to him for introducing me to this Canadian werewolf flick. I could write an amazing women's studies paper on this movie; it conflates the fear of female sexuality with the werewolf myth. It's smart, funny, gory, and very suspenseful.

I've seen it probably a dozen times and it never gets old. I love how Ridley Scott uses silence and minimalist sound design to create an eerie, lonely atmosphere. And Sigourney Weaver kicks ass.

The best adaptation of a Stephen King book, in my opinion. And the unexpected last scare? Classic and oft-imitated, but not yet surpassed.

Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Say what you want about Roman Polanski, but this film is a masterpiece. Period. Somehow, a ridiculous-sounding premise (a woman is impregnated by the Devil) seems completely plausible.

28 Days Later
Zombies don't really scare me that much -- they are slow-moving and kind of stupid. But
28 Days Later uses a disease/plague metaphor (the zombies are "the infected") and makes the idea of a zombie apocalypse seem all too real. Also, the infected are NOT slow-moving.

Fright Night (1985)
Ok, ok, this movie is pretty dated and not that scary...but it terrified me when I saw it as a kid and I still find it tremendously entertaining. Plus, Chris Sarandon makes a sexy vamp.

The clown, the tree, the swimming pool filled with skeletons....

The Exorcist
Saw this fairly recently and was pretty shocked by how explicit it was. I totally get why Linda Blair grew up with serious psychological problems.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
This movie is not kidding around. It's balls-out violent, not to mention weird and truly disturbing.

Feel free to weigh in on any classics you feel I've missed....

Monday, November 2, 2009

To Catch a Predator, with Predator

Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator" is a creepy, guilty pleasure. It's very controversial, due to its obvious trial-by-public-opinion approach; I would wager that most men "caught" on the show soliciting sex from minors lose their jobs and/or wives, partners, girlfriends, friends, whatever dignity they might have had. However, a lot of the men featured on the show have successfully gotten their charges dropped and/or sued NBC.

I have mixed feelings about the show. Is it a trashy but effective deterrent for would-be sex offenders? Or just trashy and socially irresponsible? On the one hand, Chris Hansen and the camera crew intervene before anything super illegal happens, but the guys do show up expecting to meet a 13-year-old and usually arrive armed with beer and condoms. GROSS.

The format of the show is simple. First, we are shown excerpts from the online chat between the suspected predator and a decoy.

Huh, I never thought of Family Guy + weed as foreplay....thanks, icetruckkiller103!

Next, the decoy arranges a meeting. The guy shows up and is greeted not by the Taylor Swift-esque hottie he thought he was chatting with, but by Chris Hansen. Typically, the dialogue between Hansen and the suspected pedophile goes something like this:

Chris Hansen: Who did you think you were going to meet here?

Suspected Pedophile: Um...this girl Kristy that I met online.

CH: And how old is Kristy?

SP: Uh, I don't know. 17? 18?

CH: She told you she was 13. I have the transcript from your online chat.

SP: (color draining from his face) Well, I was just coming to hang out with her and, you know, talk...about stuff.

CH: You didn't come here to have sex?

SP: No.

CH: But you asked Kristy if she was a virgin and said you could (reading from the transcript) "sex her all night long." Isn't that right?

SP: (looking for the exit)....I don't remember?

Then the poor dude (again, I'm not excusing guys who try to pick up underage girls online, but you have to feel somewhat sorry for their televised humiliation) usually tries to leave, only to be cuffed and led to the police station.

It's a very formulaic show and after watching this happen to a few guys, it gets old. The show needs an update, a makeover, something to spice things up. Which is why I think they should replace Chris Hansen with Predator:

No offense, Chris, but I suspect that Predator's interview style would be more direct. He would just rip the guys' arms off and that would be the end of it. I mean, these guys' lives are basically ruined anyway so they might as well get a violent, memorable send-off. And the merchandising possibilities? Endless. Just look at what happened when Predator and Alien teamed up -- it was all kinds of awesome.

You're welcome, NBC.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Here's a spooky little poem for today by Paisley Rekdal:


unveil themselves in dark.
They hang, each a jagged,

silken sleeve, from moonlit rafters bright
as polished knives. They swim

the muddled air and keen
like supersonic babies, the sound

we imagine empty wombs might make
in women who can’t fill them up.

A clasp, a scratch, a sigh.
They drink fruit dry.

And wheel, against feverish light flung hard
upon their faces,

in circles that nauseate.
Imagine one at breast or neck,

Patterning a name in driblets of iodine
that spatter your skin stars.

They flutter, shake like mystics.
They materialize. Revelatory

as a stranger’s underthings found tossed
upon the marital bed, you tremble

even at the thought. Asleep,
you tear your fingers

and search the sheets all night.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

John Cage: crazy bastard or crazy genius?

I'll let you be the judge.

Oh, and if you think this is bizarre, you should read up on his piece entitled "As Slow as Possible"
that's currently being performed in a church in Germany. It's slated to take 639 years to play. The performance began in 2001, so it will end in 2640. I wish I were kidding. Cage enthusiasts are some crazy motherfuckers.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The help

Yesterday, I went to my first bat mitzvah. Despite the numerous Jews I now count among my closest friends, I used to be a raging anti-Semite. Just kidding! The truth is that I switched schools in 7th grade and missed my window of opportunity. Also, St. Louis, MO is pretty WASP-dominated.

Yesterday was a milestone, in more ways than one. Sadly, I was not a relative or friend of the young lady celebrating her transition (in stylish black Minolos) into adulthood. I was the help.

It was my first gig with Event Temps, a company that provides food service staff for catered events (parties, weddings, mitzvahs et al). As many of you know, I returned to Boston in September hell-bent on getting a job at a certain Chicago-style pizza chain. In case I ever do get hired by this establishment, I'll refer to it here as "Dos."

It was my dream to work for "Dos": After getting groped by stuck-up Cantabs at the Hong Kong and slinging sushi at a place that never quite mastered its payroll procedures, I figured "Dos" would be a well-oiled machine. There's a location just 5 minutes from my house and it's always crowded. And yet, after applying online, following up in person and on the phone, nada. I even tried the Fenway location and interviewed, but was told they were fully staffed for the time being and to check back in a few months. So my dream to work at "Dos" is now, as Langston Hughes would say, a dream deferred.

So now I am an Event Temp. Saturday morning, I carpooled out to a synagogue in Wayland, MA to pass appetizers, fold napkins and man the soda table. In the car ride over, the other temps on my shift assured me that this sort of work was easier than waiting tables. But what I have concluded after working my first shift is that it's also less rewarding. Partly because you're supposed to be somewhat invisible -- no one is ordering off a menu and consulting you. You're just paid labor, keeping water glasses full and clearing plates. And hovering-- there was a great deal of hovering.

The event was a success; I didn't spill anything on anyone and the people seemed very nice. The kids were hyper, but partly because of my zealousness in refilling their sodas. But I did notice a few of the tweens watching us as we went about our work and I know what they were thinking. They were looking at their well-dressed parents sipping wine and looking at me, in my ill-fitting black polyester vest, pouring said wine and I'd bet they were thinking, That will never be me. Maybe not consciously, but let's face it, we were the life losers in the scenario. They were probably wondering what we had done, how we had screwed up to deserve the fate of refilling butter ramekins on a Saturday afternoon.

And I'm not gonna lie, this was a less-than-steller feeling. Waiting tables, I commanded more respect. I could talk and smile with people, do my best to make sure they had a good meal. Event Temps are supposed to be courteous but not engage much with the guests. Engaging with people is my favorite part of waitressing, so this was disappointing to discover.

I need a job, so for now, Event Temps will have to do. But "Dos," if you ever need me...I'm there. Call me!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Puerto Rico, you lovely island

This song was stuck in my head during my entire trip:

I have to disagree with Anita; I think I prefer San Juan to Manhattan in most respects. I hiked in the El Yunque rainforest, swam in a waterfall, went kayaking by moonlight, drank numerous cocktails garnished with umbrellas, ate mofongo at a street kiosk on the beach, listened to live music at La Placita, played exactly one hand of Blackjack in the hotel casino (and lost $5), and swam in jellyfish-infested waters, resulting in the red blisters described in my last post. I was not stung, but I have an allergy wherein if I swim in the vicinity of jellyfish, I break out in hives.

One of the trip's highlights was walking around historic Old San Juan, which is populated by tons of stray cats. Noah and I created a game called "Spot the Gato" to amuse ourselves while wandering the streets. Behold:

And my favorite, Maude's Puerto Rican doppelganger, Maudefongo (or TeleMaudo):

Sadly, we did not spot any chupacabras. Unless you count this:

So to sum it up, I would highly recommend PR as a vacation spot. The locals are incredibly nice, renting a car is comically cheap ($22.80 for an entire day), and there is a lot to see and do on the island and plenty of beautiful beaches to relax on, if that's more your style. And thanks to the economy being in the shitter, we got a great deal on Cheap Caribbean . Gracias, financial collapse!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sorry for the unannounced 2-week hiatus


I have not forsaken you, despite the evidence to the contrary. I've been traveling....and there's a big post coming soon about my trip to Puerto Rico, a.k.a The Enchanted Isle (or "Echanted Isle" as one poorly edited website called it).

For a little teaser, I will say that it was a great trip, with just the right balance of physical activity (hiking, kayaking, salsa dancing) and lounging around by the pool and on the beach. And of course, it wouldn't be a Vagnino vacation without a Mysterious Medical Ailment! In addition to my tan, I have come home with approximately 117 itchy red bumps, mostly on my forearms. Can you guess which of the following is to blame? (Answer to be revealed in the next post)

A. Mosquito
B. Jellyfish
C. Poison Ivy
D. Chupacabra
Tune in soon for photos and more details....

Monday, October 5, 2009

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry: Emily Dickinson edition

I'm not gonna lie: Emily D. can be a real downer. Check out these choice first lines of her poems:

I am alive I guess
I am ashamed - I hide

I can wade grief

I cannot live with you
I cautious scanned my little life
I do not care - why should I care

I held it so tight that I lost it

I like a look of agony

I lived on dread

You get the idea.
Cheer up, Em! Granted, it is a gross simplification to say all her poems are depressing. But a lot of them, tonally at least, are melancholy. According to most accounts, she was a lonely odd lady. Yet she was undeniably prolific: She wrote just under 1,800 poems, only ten of which were published in her lifetime. And her influence on contemporary women poets like Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Adrienne Rich (just to name a few) is immeasurable. She broke a lot of new ground in terms of syntax and imagery, and as a Romantic, she infiltrated what was previously an all-boys club (Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth et al.).

The poem I'm including here has to do with autumn, which is in full swing here in New England. Like many of Dickinson's poems, reading it aloud will enhance your appreciation and understanding of it.

The name - of it - is "Autumn"-
The hue - of it - is Blood -

An Artery - upon the Hill -

A Vein - along the Road -

Great Globules - in the Alleys -

And Oh, the Shower of Stain -

When Winds - upset the Basin -

And spill the Scarlet Rain -

It sprinkles Bonnets - far below -

It gathers ruddy Pools -

Then - eddies like a Rose - away -
Upon Vermillion Wheels -

Friday, October 2, 2009

Vote for the People's Design Award!

Before I embarked on what's sure to be a wildly lucrative career in creative writing, I worked a 9-5 desk job in the PR/marketing department at
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. I justified this with my artistic soul by reminding myself that I was working for a cool museum alongside other artistically-minded, highly cultured individuals, and that in order to write, I needed to stay alive and in order to do that, I needed to be able to afford food and rent. Full-time job = steady paycheck, which was basically essential for me to afford to live in The City That Never Sleeps.

During my two years at CHNDM, we added a category to our annual National Design Awards: The People's Design Award.

Basically, you can vote or nominate anything that you think is well-designed (whatever that may mean to you). It can be something pretty or something functional or both. Past winners have included the
Katrina Cottage and Tom's Shoes.

To vote, nominate, or just learn more about it,
click here. Also, admission to the museum is FREE during National Design Week (Oct. 18-24).

Below are some of this year's nominees, but feel free to add more! Anyone can nominate. One year, I anonymously nominated the thong. Seriously.

aluminum coke bottles


Envirofit Stove


Happy voting! The winning design will be announced on Oct. 22 at the National Design Awards gala in NYC.