Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Good" (with Viggo Mortensen)- Film Review

By Nicholas Allanach

When attempting to understand the atrocities of Nazi Germany, it’s easy to blame the political thugs and propagandists of Nazism; unfortunately, such an understanding is not only limited because it overlooks the “little Eichmanns” but also fails to acknowledge the many “good” people who benefitted from the upbeat and positive aspects of National Socialism. The mind prefers to comprehend difficult subjects as clearly divided into “good” vs. “evil” binaries; however, this is rarely the case in reality. Accordingly (like any historical period), nineteen thirties Germany was made-up of average “good” people who may have not supported the Reich, but nevertheless, benefitted from the opportunity and wealth associated with this prevailing power structure.

Good” (directed by Vicente Amorim and starring Viggo Mortensen) opens December 31st to ask - “Anything that makes people happy can't be bad can it?”

To answer this, “Good” follows the journey of a well-mannered literary professor John Halder (Mortensen), who selflessly and devotedly takes care of his neurotic wife, children, and senile mother. Exploring his personal circumstances, Halder writes a novel about compassionate euthanasia. At first, Halder is resistant to “join the party”, but after Halder’s novel is enlisted by the Nazis to be used as propaganda, he joins and soon becomes a very successful wealthy man. Meanwhile, Halder begins to entertain an affair with one of his students, who asks - “Wouldn’t it be nice to remove all these old dusty books from your shelf and have a fresh start?”

Indeed, Halder gets his “fresh start”: he leaves his wife, sends the kids off to “camp”, hires a caretaker for his mother and shacks-up with his blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Aryan bombshell. But at what costs comes this “fresh start”? Although things are going “good” for Halder, he cannot evade the bad reality that is the increasing persecution of his longtime Jewish friend and psychologist. Halder tries to defend his decision to join the Reich to his friend as along the lines of “one must become a part of power to change power”. Ultimately, Hadler realizes he cannot change anything and that power has already defined who is “bad” and who is “good”.

What I found most compelling about Amorim’s “Good” was this subject of power defining who is “good” and who is “bad”, despite their actions, and what the individual can or cannot do to change it. The elite are often guilty of ignoring their involvement with the same violent and evil system of power they subsequently benefit from. The old adage - “will you bite the hand that feeds you?” comes to mind. Because of its subject, I don’t believe “Good” will do well at the box-office, nor among the critics. After all, it doesn’t take much for us to see that the same blind opportunism embraced by Halder as a Nazi can be comparable to the same blood-stained benefits many Americans benefit from on a daily basis. Just because we don’t see the blood of the slaughterhouse, doesn’t mean it doesn’t occur, but it makes it easier for us to eat the meat.

Some viewers might think “Good” is an awkward movie because it doesn’t let the audience off the hook, which I believe works in favor of the overall narrative. True, there is no catharsis - Halder is a part of the same system he once rejected, but now embraces because it is to his benefit. We leave the theatre still wanting him to reject Nazism or to turn into a total monster so he can be rejected; but there is neither. Thus, Hadler gives the appearance of being a “good” person, but, because his “goodness” is a part of a larger evil he can never be truly “good”. Accordingly, anyone who benefits from larger systems of power should also be able to relate to this story (I know I did) and will hopefully take-away from it an understanding that we’re all part of these systems and that our only hope of changing them (for the “good” of all) is by acknowledging our own involvement with these structures and admiting - the benefits we reap are often stained in other’s blood.

No one is "Good". There are choices that make us who we are.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The NEXT Four Years

By Nicholas Allanach

Obama!” I yelled between claps, “Wooooz!”, and “Awww Yeaz!” I felt like some die-hard sport’s fan, celebrating the win of a team whose victory had truly been - a long time coming.

While walking through New York’s Canyon of Commercialism this past Election Night, I thought about “teams” and what “games” they play. The team I celebrated with in Midtown was just as loud and enthusiastic as the one I later pounded drums with while howling in the streets of East Harlem. However, I tried to push away the comfortable illusion we were all in this together and that all teams were celebrating tonight. No, despite the giddiness of the crowds and love within the hugs and claps from friends, I knew such sentiments were not shared by all and that the President-elect (as well as those who voted for him) had a lot of work ahead to bring any significant “change” to Washington.

Obama brought-up a lot of good points in Chicago’s Grant Park the other night, but the one that resonated the loudest with me was that – “the true genius of America is that America can change. Our union can be perfected. What we've already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.” …Nice. But now that the campaign is done, what will this “change” be and how will our union “be perfected”? After all, one team’s idea of “what we…must achieve tomorrow” will not be the same as others. In fact, some teams will flat-out reject another’s idea of “perfection”. Does this mean one team is more correct than another? ...Definitely, especially if they have the interests of the total human population and planet in mind - but only time can tell for sure.

I realize there’s currently an environment of cynicism and distrust of government, and rightfully so. After all, much of the emotional catharsis witnessed on election night is much because of people feeling a sense of relief that these past eight years are now behind us. Unfortunately, all of the problems that administration created will not go away come January 20th. One of the first concerns of the new administration (arguably caused and left over from the current) will be the economic “crisis” and, of course, there will be opposing teams vying to define how this issue should be resolved.

This past weekend, I got into the middle of a heated debate between one player for the capitalist’s team (i.e. “Obama rules!”) vs. a player for the communist’s team (i.e. “Obama's fake!”) regarding Obama’s recent vote in the Senate to “bailout” failing Wall Street investment banks. The Communist believed government should let the failing firms bottom-out so as to illustrate the failures of laisez-faire capitalism. Whereas the Capitalist, believed a bailout is necessary to bolster investor confidence and prevent any further damage to an already vulnerable economy. I support Obama, but count myself as one who supports him would like to to think "change" is coming to Washington, and it will be a change that finally curbs the capitalist's highly destructive greed. Unfettered Friedmanite capitalism, operates under the foolish assumption it can continue to exploit and consume human and natural resources as if there will not be any reprecussions - this is suicide. We must curb our greedy appetites.

Of course, I’m not surprised by Obama’s vote for the bailout; after all, he plays on the team of the capitalists and has a history with investment banks. Accordingly, it may have been political suicide for Obama to vote no. Unlike my more idealistic friends, I suppose I can imagine the limitations placed on anyone in his position of power. I do not pretend to be privy on much of the esoteric rhetoric of the economy; which is why I hope we will begin to not only deconstruct it but redefine it.

Sure, like many ignorant Americans, I “hope” our elected officials make prudent decisions for us all. I realize this is naïve. A diet of “hope” will not satiate the challenges we face. For now, "hope" is all we got.

What I find exciting about such debates, and the current political climate, is that these discussions are happening. It's refreshing to hear discourse emboldened by strong ideas. I am relieved to see the potential for a pragmatic discourse, energized by a new President, concerned with solving more problems in Washington, instead of creating more.

Obama’s campaign stirred-up a lot of emotions and passions; accordingly, such an environment can be exciting, but also dangerous. Debate is how we establish greater and more evolved understandings. Obama’s election talk of “change” was intentionally left open-ended. "Yes We Can!" can mean anything and also makes the speaker feel good. The electorate can project their own ideas of "change" onto a much broader campaign. Now that this campaign is over, there'll inevitably be a lot of disappointed people. But heh, are we really so naize to think this new opportunity to change history is going to be easy?

I voted for Obama and, like many, am extremely inspired by the idea and possibility of beneficial and peaceful “change” coming to Washington. Nevertheless, I will still try to be as critical of this administration as I would any other.

A former professor used to say, “politics is like sex: either jump in bed with who you want, or jerk-off!” An admittedly crude way to suggest - “pick a side”. I suppose I'm in bed with Obama. Does this mean I do not have criticisms of my partner’s performance? Or that I will blindly support any and all decisions this new administration makes? No. That’s not how my team plays the game.

Although I’m excited, inspired, and relieved by the upcoming Obama presidency, I realize he's just as involved in the larger machinery as any other politician. But I look forward now to the future with less fear, (which is more than I can say for the future I might have had had this election gone to the McCain/Palin ticket). I’m also looking forward to the debates, because I realize this discourse is essential to a true democratic society and integral to our evolving consciousness of this world and the role we play in it.

I welcome the evolution of not only our nation’s identity, but my own as it is challenged and redefined with each new day and new debate.

Friday, September 05, 2008

American voters will make a choice in November, they will either pick the same xenophobic, environmentally destructive, religiously guided policies of the Republican Party, or, they will vote “Change” and vote Obama/Biden ’08.

“Country First”? What a foolish and ridiculous way to approach a global economy.

I’m not alone and trust others out there, like me, hope the intelligent people of this “free” nation will not be fooled by the same nationalistic war-mongering policies of the Republican Party. I trust we will stop fighting and begin creating real solutions to our many complex global problems.

The Republicans have insulted and raped our best values and principles for eight long years, we cannot allow them any more. When will we understand we do not need to “fight” for anything? Fighting is so ignorant and harmful. When will we evolve? When will we learn war gets us nowhere but a “dank dirty cell”?

The Republican campaign for the presidency wants more war and further racist aggressions on the people and lands of this planet. If America wants these principles to define us, then we will vote McCain/Palin ‘08. If America wants to optimistically and realistically affect the future for the better, it will vote Obama/Biden ‘08

McCain claims he wants a “lasting peace.” I trust his sincerity, and am well aware of his history, but I don’t believe he can ever achieve peace through his hunger for more war. His administration will only make this world more violent, impoverished, and extreme so that the Republican Party may continue consolidating its power through Disaster Capitalism. The only way to achieve peace is by acknowledging our problems do not come from outside our borders – they come from within – from our anger, ignorance, and fear.

America cannot continue its path of isolation. The world has changed. We must accept we are not all guided by “one God.” We’re guided by many (or in the case of this writer – none at all). These many many voices share one similarity –we’re all human and all rely on one fragile planet.

America must listen and work with the world so that we can start solving our problems together fast – before it’s too late.

Get out the vote! Obama/Biden ‘08!

Monday, August 25, 2008

I am the Great Destroyer

By Nicholas Allanach

A virus takes hold and fills us with bitterness, anxiety, and doubt. The first symptom is boredom, then our inspiration goes, and finally – depression. Of course, an inundation of war, poverty, and irritating bureaucratic procedures is enough to squash any spirit into submission - or not. “I am the great destroyer” and the only way to liberate myself from this horribly bland reality is to CREATE! CREATE! CREATE!

We come into this world curious and inspired. Beautiful children full of energy and potential, the future is open to infinite possibilities. Everything fascinates. But eventually, life wears us down. Our smiles become snarls. Sparkling eyes turn into scowls. What once amused becomes mundane. We stop laughing as much as we used to. We avoid risks and opt for hesitation. Keep busy and find comfort in the routine.

I would like to say I’ve not succumbed to such poisonous thought patterns, but I have. Sometimes, I find relief from the symptoms of this sickness through a cynical sense of humor, speckled with sighs of exasperation. I try to stay optimistic, but this reality has a way of perpetuating pessimism – so I run with it.

This week, I was promoted to “Assistant Director of Academic Affairs” at The New School; subsequently, I’m now more entrenched in this administrative office environment. But I suppose this isn’t all bad? In fact, it’s pretty damn good. After all, I have health insurance, retirement and –most importantly— work in a setting that encourages creativity, learning, and thinking. Nevertheless, success can become a habitual addiction that slowly eats away at one’s creativity and future ambitions. I will continue to ensure my view of success is not defined by how much money I make, but through how much time I can spend being creative and actually living an adventurous life, which admittedly (and unfortunately) requires money to do. What a dilemma!

Accordingly, this weekend, I had a conversation with my girlfriend about accepting that we are all “paradoxes”. Subsequently, I am a paradox. In one moment, I want to escape from the limitations and requirements of this American/capitalist existence; whereas in the other, I want to “enjoy my symptom” and enjoy all of the really cool stuff this materialist lifestyle manufactures off the blood of the earth. I suppose The Faint said it best, “Every time I move I’m in another dimension”; thus, we’re constantly growing and changing ("forever growing centipedes") and thus always wrestling with the conflicting aspects of our individual and collective experience.

I suppose some things remain consistent about my perspective. Despite my paradoxical nature, I accept uncertainty. I value love, creativity, and happiness. I do not believe in chance or coincidence. I do not believe in God. I believe humans are innately “good” and that it is the systems of power and ideology that turn us into cruel, ruthless, and sorry sacks of shit. Accordingly, since we are humans who are innately “good” it is our responsibility to become more conscious, and more evolved, so that the systems of power we create are used for beneficial purposes not destructive.

Wilhelm Reich was right, we need to regain our childlike nature.

To be cont…

“Blah! Blah! Blah! Ramble on! All talk no solutions.” – the cynic

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


It’s been difficult to focus on any serious projects this summer. In fact, the only thing I’ve been able to do (and do successfully) is have a good time. “All I want to do is get off” sang the Dandy Warhols, and why not? After all, we’ve been calling this “the best summer ever” or, “B.S.E.”, for short. So it’s natural to want to have fun and forget about projects and plans. Nevertheless, as I approach this final week of July, I look back on a calendar of scrawls and scribbles –plans made, plans cancelled, new plans scheduled—and I cannot help but feel frustrated by the expensive cost of all this activity –my focus. Deadlines are gone. So many distractions so little time. I guess once you start getting real serious about actually living life, you find no time for introspective reassessments of your actions –oh well, leave that work to the biographers.

Time to focus. No sense in updating this page. For now, there's nothing to say that hasn't been said better before by others.


Saturday, July 05, 2008

Enjoying Our Symptom

By Nicholas Allanach

Scratch the surface of any cynic and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”
– George Carlin

As our train sped back to Penn Station, Ena and I listened to Kayne West on my Ipod, and watched as fireworks burst in the sky over Long Island’s suburban landscape. We had spent the afternoon at my brother’s taking part in the proverbial customs of any backyard 4th of July barbeque: burgers, beer, splashing in the pool, and tossing a football over green grass. It was a good day to be with family and friends, eating copious amounts of food, and being an American.

Although I’m certainly critical of “our American way of life” - I am what I am and cannot ignore the system of power that created and creates me. I acknowledge my privilege, limitations, and perhaps, still idealistically believe this two-hundred and thirty-two year old experiment has not failed and can (like any human organization) be improved upon. Or maybe that’s not true? For although I believe my idealism is not unfound, since it is inspired by the experiences and conversations I’ve had with the people in this country, I still think my idealism is a cop-out. Although I’ve always been angered by injustice, I have also simultaneously supported the same system of production that causes these crimes.

I am both a fatalist and an idealist. I try to be always honest, yet cannot shake my very vocal cynicism. I suppose I am, like America, diseased. But instead of getting all bent-out-of-shape about my sickness I’ve decided to –as Slavoj Zizek prescribes –“Love your symptom.”

Like my country; I’m in debt, unhealthy, and pushing away any and all rationale suggestions to slow down, take it easy, or behave. My disease wants new shoes, fast cars, and beautiful people. There are not enough drugs, alcohol, or non-renewable energy resources for this insatiable appetite to consume. This disease will get what it wants, even if it must infect everything to get it. One can see the infected, because they smile as they kill and make lots of money doing it.

Other countries, such as our neighbors to the north, are beginning to clearly see the symptoms of our sickness. Although I do not know the cure, I can see the disease, and hope we shake it before it shakes us. We can become an America that is weird and wonderful in its idealism, creatively expressive, and concerned with pursuing happiness instead of a restless greedy and maniacal hate. But that is all up to us, assuming the infection hasn’t already infected our will.

Well, just some thoughts I’m having on this post Independence Day. The month has been fast, far more than the last. In fact, as I was jumping and jostling around in a sweaty crowd at last month’s Mindless Self Indulgence concert with my good friend, Ian, from Maine, I couldn’t help but think this frenetic energy just keeps building and will not slow down. Good.

Well, that’s enough rambling with the net for now, wanted to ensure I made at least one report this month. Now, time to get to some of these other projects before the next distraction; or, maybe I’ll go check out a movie?

Enjoying the symptom.
Self-creation through destruction.

Monday, June 02, 2008

nuestro noche en viejo San Juan

by Nicholas Allanach

I wake from a much-needed nap and squint at sunlight beaming-in through the plane window. Six thousand feet below, a light-blue ocean laps-up against a bright shore. In the distance, low hanging clouds dump sheets of rain onto the plush island of Puerto Rico. As our plane descends over palms, thin roads, and small houses with rusted roofs; a two-year-old girl hanging over the seat in front of me screams and then giggles, sending a mouthful of soggy cookie crumbs out onto my face. I laugh and smile at her youthful mischief as La laguna San Juan, covered by a long bridge lined with Puerto Rican and American flags flying side-by-side, appears on the right side of the plane, to the left, the towering white hotels and large cruise ships of San Juan.
By the time Fail and I get off the plane to collect our luggage, all I want is to check-in to the hotel, shower, change clothes and, hopefully, (assuming there’s enough time) eat food alongside some cold drinks. After all, we hadn’t showered since yesterday and our dark colored thick clothing was an uncomfortable contrast to the light shades of the local’s loose fitting la ropa. Unfortunately, it’d be sometime before we’d be able to change inside any air-conditioning. For now, we’d have to sweat-it-out in this thick humidity while waiting for the rental company’s shuttle.
“Where the fuck is the shuttle?” I gripe to Fail. “The other companies have sent five already. These bastards at Enterprise should buy more buses!”
“Call them. See what’s taking so long.” Fail suggests.
My impatience was mostly from exhaustion. We’d been out the entire night before celebrating Jesse’s graduation with our colleagues, Rachel and Jeff, from the University, where we'd spent most of the unseasonably cool, rainy and windy Brooklyn night warm inside the crowded and energetic Black Betty’s Bar. After many hours of drinking and dancing, we settle our tab and have a final night cap at another place across the street. After a round, our conversation sputters down to a few final laughs. We say farewell to our friends and crash at Fail’s friend’s place for a brief nap before catching our morning flight.
“No answer, just a recording with too many options.” I say hanging-up the phone.
Despite my impatience and crankiness from hunger, I find it easy to push my frustration aside; of course, this would be pretty difficult not to do, since I was standing at the start of a seven-day vacation. I had a whole week to spend away from my full-time job, my part time job, and the monotony of my keyboard confined routine. I breathe in the air and take solace in the fact I’m somewhere other than New York.
The beginning of an adventure in any new place can be disorientating (especially, hung-over). But I was confident I’d be able to regain my balance and adapt to these new surroundings once changed into fresh clothes and after eating some food. Of course a large part of this adaptation required tossing aside any impatience and accepting that things here moved at a different pace. Eventually, the shuttle arrives.
On our drive to the company lot, we stand in the aisle of the crowded bus as it bounces and swerves its way onto an express ramp and highway. Suddenly, I feel my cell phone rumble in my pocket. It’s a text from mi cuento de hadas. “What time do you arrive?”
I respond, “Aqui ahora.” And that “I’ll call once checked-in to the hotel.”

As soon as I pull the full-size white rental car out of the lot and onto the highway, I turn on the radio and hit scan. Channels blast-out a welcome assortment of Raggaeton, Salsa, and Hip-Hop. I drive fast while Fail navigates (a partnership that would sustain throughout our trip’s entirety) to Isla Verde.
We drop the car off with the valet parking attendant and then check-in to the borderline “boutique”, slash, Miami trash San Juan Water Beach Club, located right on a beach filled with locals and tourists sunbathing, swimming, and drinking under umbrellas. We drag our luggage through the garishly blue-hued lobby and onto an elevator that feels more like a fish tank (complete with transparent glass ceiling and wall with built-in fountain). The eighth floor hallway is also blue. We enter our room and the same garish tone welcomes us again, along with a radio blasting Reggaeton. A pair of 3D glasses on the bed -strange. The interior designers of this establishment were obviously on cocaine when dreaming-up such sterile postmodern surroundings. I chuckle then change the synthetic lighting by opening-up the curtains to reveal the sun and busy waterfront of Isla Verde.

I strip out of the sweaty clothes I’d been wearing since starting my night of revelry in Brooklyn. I claim the shower first, then put on a fresh pair of kakis, a light button-up shirt, a pair of white Kenneth Cole’s and top it all off with my new vacation hat. My outfit makes me feel like a drug cartel or some character from a Humphrey Bogart flick.
While Fail showers, I call mi cuento de hadas, who talks with me through her translator. She’s nervous to meet; perhaps because she thinks it’s strange I’m here with three other girls who only speak English? Maybe she’s bored with our long distance game? Or is it something more? Whatever the case, I want to see her and eventually assure her we’ll be able to communicate fine (as we have back in el barrio). She agrees to meet me later that night.
I ecstatically jump up-and-down in the room. I realize I should be cautious about such exuberance, but it’s difficult to curb such emotions.
Fail and I retrieve the car from the valet. Unfortunately, there’s no time to grab a proper bite since we must race back to the airport to retrieve our friends, Donna and Kristi, who arrive on a later flight from JFK. We do manage to choke down some fast food while waiting outside the baggage claim. Once our friends arrive, we return to the hotel so they can freshen-up and we can finally head down to a bar on the beach to eat and toast the start of what was already shaping-up to be a tremendous vacation.

Later that night, I sit at the wet bar on the Water Beach Club’s roof, eating sushi, sipping mojitos, and enjoying the warm breeze that rolls-in off the ocean. The moon grows full in the sky above. I feel like a gangster and must honestly ask myself – how did I get so lucky?
Eventually, mi cuento de hadas calls from downstairs. I take the elevator down to meet her across the street, where she sits in her car. As she rolls down her window, my heart leaps in my chest. What is it about her that so inspires me? I’m not sure, and likely never will. We drop her car off with the valet and then return to the roof. I’m so happy she’s here. It’s nice to feel excited about someone. For a while, I do a good job of speaking Spanish, but my limited vocabulary doesn’t allow me to get to the deeper and heavier conversations I want. Unfortunately, I can’t form the words, so we smoke cigarettes while looking-out onto the ocean. Despite how glad I am to be beside her, I’m still frustrated by the unavoidable and awkward distance between us. Is it just our language or something more? For now, I don’t dwell; instead, I just enjoy her presence.
After a few more rounds, Fail puts my hefty wet bar bill on our room tab. I give a quick smile and farewell to the ultra-hot little black dress wearing waitress and head downstairs to Bianca’s car. We drive through heavy traffic to Old San Juan where the Friday night revelry is just gearing-up.
The thin cobble-stoned streets are alive with energy. Cars blasting music move slow past packed clubs, bars, and chic restaurants. Puerto Rican women wear tight-fitting brightly colored summer dresses with open-toed high-heeled shoes. Men stand inside doorways smoking cigarettes. As Bianca leads us through the streets, I hear everyone speaking Spanish. I wish I had had more time and discipline this past year to focus on Spanish so I could understand what was being said. Of course, I wasn’t missing much; after all, the conversation of these late-night revelers was likely similar to the subject matter of conversations the world over. Nevertheless, I wanted to know more so as to speak this language (her language) fluently. All is a work in progress I suppose.
Bianca leads us up a thin cobble-stoned alley full of people smoking and drinking outside three thumping clubs. We go into one where a band plays salsa on stage as people dance and gyrate on a wooden floor. I press my way through the moving crowd to the bar and buy us a round of Medalla. After a few songs and a beer, Bianca and I step outside to buy a pack of smokes from a small walk-up bar across the street. Inside this “bar” (which is about the size of two minivans) stands a raucous crowd of Puerto Ricans taking shots, listening to loud Reggeaton and smoking. This “bar” is aggressive and gets right to the point. One bartender rapidly pours drinks into plastic cups (so as to be consumed on the street). Occasionally, he stops to take a shot with his clientele. After he pours a drink, he tosses the bottles and beer cans down into a corner already overflowing with broken glass and aluminum. Then, he immediately serves-up the next round.
After we get our cigarettes, we step outside to smoke. I stumble through some brief questions, then Bianca’s phone rings; it’s her friend Luis, who walks up the alley toward us. Luis is a stylish, gay, Puerto Rican filmmaker who speaks both English and Spanish. He shakes my hand and follows Bianca and me into the club where Fail sits listening to music while sipping beer. Now that Luis is here, Bianca talks with him in Spanish, while Fail and I talk in English. After a bit, Bianca starts talking to Fail and Luis, in turn, asks me if “I need anything while I’m here?” I inform him there are some supplies I’ll need for my journey to Isla de Culebra and the El Yunque Rainforest. I tell him that it’d be nice to get them by tonight. He tells me he knows where we can go to get what I’m after and then tells Bianca our plans to score in la perla.
I don’t realize it yet, but la perla is –what Hunter S. Thompson would describe in his The Rum Diary as “a slum so foul it appears on maps of San Juan as a blank spot.” Although much had changed in San Juan since Thompson was here in the late fifties, much had also stayed the same –la perla was one such consistency.
Bianca becomes worried when hearing about my plans to go with Luis, which I think is nice; after all, it not only feels good to be excited about someone, but it’s good to know someone gives a damn about my well-being. Rightfully, Bianca was concerned that this gringo would get pegged a NARC inside a part of town intentionally kept out of tourism brochures. I assure her I’ll be fine and that I will see her soon.
With that, Luis and I leave the bar and walk to la perla. On our way he begins to give me the rundown of “let me do the talking.” I agree. As we approach calle de Norzagaray, we're approached by two men on scooters. They ask us questions in Spanish and then in English. They want to know who I am and how I know Luis.
Soy Americano.” I state the obvious. “Estoy el vacaciones. El es mi amigo, yo le conoce.” I can’t tell if it’s my terrible Spanish or if they just think I’m a cop, but they give me a strange look.
“Come on, let’s go.” Luis says ignoring the guys on the bikes who let us pass.
I follow my new friend across the street. Although it’s dark, I can hear the ocean on the other side of the large wall that surrounds the old part of the city. The path we’re on begins to slant downward toward a tunnel. On the other side I see colored lights, shadowy figures, and can hear loud thumping music.
When we come-out on the other side, ten young men quickly approach us with open briefcases full of an assortment of drugs. Luis speaks with them and comes away with what we need. I’m amazed by the directness of the purchase and only wish a neighborhood in New York was designated for such activity as it is here. Instead of the immediate accessibility of San Juan, New York filters its drugs through fleets of bike messengers, “corner boys”, and gypsy cabs. All play a pointless game of cat and mouse to get their product to the customer. Of course, when looking at the dramatic difference in the cost of the product in San Juan when compared to the same purchase in New York, one begins to see the “point” of the game – profit.
Luis and I grab some cans of Medalla and take a seat in a small square in the center of the slum decorated with graffiti, murals, and stickers. Groups of people sit around on cement blocks smoking blunts, snorting cocaine, and drinking. Prostitutes stroll the street for johns. I feel like I’m in some scene from the movie “City of God” and wonder how many people here are armed? Luis and I begin to make conversation with the locals. While talking with a few Puerto Ricans, I try to imagine what some of the prudish and high-strung people back in the states would think about such a depraved scene.
Sure, la perla is about escape, addiction, and drugs. And admittedly, the shit-stained walls and overflowing toilet of the “bathroom” in the alley totally illustrates the wretched aspects of this empty lifestyle; but nevertheless, I found something endearing about la perla. I suppose the reason this place was so intriguing to me was because it was still seedy, sketchy, and real. Tourists spend millions every year to vacation in fake sterile and secure spots – Disney, cruises, Las Vegas. But, as The Kills say “I’m tired of cheap and cheerful.” I admit, I wanted the real grit and I found it in one of the few places left in the world where one could still keep it real.
As Luis and I walk back to the bars and clubs of Old San Juan, a few men guarding the other side of the district ask us “Where ya' all going so soon?”
Ir vea mi cuento de hadas.” I reply. After all, one must have their priorities, even when on vacation.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Hard Knock Life?

By Nicholas Allanach

“There’s a thin line between heaven and here.”Bubbles (The Wire)

One hour earlier, I was drinking pitchers of beer and eating raw fish with some friends in the East Village. Now, I was face down on the sidewalk in el barrio, pathetically trying to block strong kicks from three pairs of Nike sneakers. “Motherfucker!” was all I could scream-up at the three teenagers who had decided my stupid grin couldn’t talk its way out of this with smart-ass comments or “yo-man-settle-down” pleas. Any attempt at communication had already failed. Their minds were made-up when they targeted me walking down First Avenue between 117th and 116th Street. They were going to get my money, whether I wanted to give it to them or not.
I suppose the tables had turned? Now, these young bucks had all the power and I was the wretch pummeled by their kicks. Sure, I’ve never attacked anyone and I had certainly never seen these boys in my life. But, in one-way or another – I deserved this beat down.

Likely, my assailants had lived in the neighborhood their whole lives; I’ve only lived here five. Perhaps they were pissed at their crappy schools? Maybe their out-of-work parents beat the fuck out of them? Maybe they were tired of applying for jobs at Wendy’s? Who knows? I didn’t have much time to get to know them since it all happened so fast and aggressively. But I did know this beat-down had something to do with me. But what?
Perhaps, everything; after all, I could not jump out of my fortunate (now targeted) skin. I popped into this world a white boy and it’s how I’ll go out of it. Why shy and lie away from the very real power and privilege of this pigmentation? There’s no such thing as a “white man’s burden” in America. (Unless one considers it a burden to be privileged?) I admit it –I’m the bad guy. My face represents all those new condos sprouting-up in East Harlem as gentrification seeps its way into a neighborhood of predominantly poor people of color.

It only took a couple minutes to unfold. But the pain and ache of the experience lingered all week. It was difficult to focus on work, hard to eat, and I found myself feeling something I’ve always disciplined myself to reject – fear. Fortunately, my friends and family helped heal my bruises with barbeque ribs, cool margaritas, and much-needed love.

Four days later, I stood at the back of the Kauffman Concert Hall of the 92nd Street Y monitoring an audience of rich, white, Republicans (who had actually chosen to suffer through a reading of Laura and Jenna Bush’s new children’s book - “Read all about it”.) Fortunately one of the “ushers gone wild” (UGW) was trying to make me laugh by pinching my ass through the reading, while the other UGW smiled and leaned against my shoulder. But I couldn’t smile. I was still sore from the beat-down and irritated to be stuck standing inside this swarm of Secret Service agents.

As the first lady and her daughter prattled-on about “eating fancy dinners in New Orleans” and the “great public school programs available in New York”, I couldn’t help but think back to the young men who kicked me in the face and snatched my cash. I knew the attack was nothing personal. In fact, if they would have approached me differently, we’d likely have been sipping Hennessy and smoking blunts. Perhaps one day we will? But for now, I had to accept the fact this attack was directed at my privilege. They knew I had money on me - clothes, sneakers, Ipod, and arrogant gate. Admittedly, this doesn’t mean I should resent the many hours I’ve spent working and studying to get what I have; but, I shouldn’t overlook the very real benefits I’ve taken for granted to get here.

Walking through my neighborhood now, I resist the urge to profile everyone around me a potential attacker. Some of my friends and associates have suggested I purchase mace or some other weapon. But I still trust people and can only hope that they can trust me – otherwise this whole fucking ship is sunk.

I only hope those who attacked me recognize there are far more successful ways to “play the game.” The world I’ve come from is one of privilege. Never once should I forget – I’m lucky. (So lucky, that one week later, a woman from el barrio actually found my stolen wallet and returned it to my favorite watering hole.) Despite my challenges in life, I can never compare them to growing-up in someone else’s hood. Despite my struggle, it’s nothing like what many face every day they continue to be silenced by unfair economics, poor fiscal planning, and racist ideologies.

No hate’n 08! …Lest we forget?

Sure, I’m part of the game – we all are. But how we play determines who the winners and losers are. Sure, every game is also tainted with a little luck. Thus, I feel pretty lucky that my loss was only a quick beat down and $35 in the hole. Others lose much more.

I can only wish my attackers won’t lose more by misdirecting their anger and hope they instead focus this energy at the game; instead, of being played by it.

WE AIN’T BORN TYPICAL: This month New World goes “on vacation” starting tonight at The Kills in Webster Hall, the celebration continues the next night at Jay-Z and Mary-J’s sold out show in the Garden. The after party will continue on at my first NYC art showing in el barrio’s resurrected thedramaloft.
After this spring of little sleep and long hours in front of this screen and on my feet trucking up and down this island. It will feel very nice to kick off my kicks and feel some warm sand and sunshine while “centering” myself in Puerto Rico.

Friday, March 21, 2008

God Damn America...

By Nicholas Allanach

I woke up one day this week to the BBC telling me “the U.S. is not only in a recession, but that it’s not going away and will likely get worse.” As I brushed my teeth, I heard a report about Tibetan monks clashing with Chinese shock troops in Lhasa. Later, while on the 5 train, commuters flipped through newspapers full of stories about Governor Spitzer’s unfortunate resignation because of hiring a prostitute; others, read about a large crane that fell crashing-down from a construction site on East 51st Street; subsequently, crushing a building and killing 4 people. Meanwhile, I sat reading an article in The Nation connecting the current US recession with the amount of capital being wasted on the ruinous occupation of Iraq; unfortunately, I couldn’t get through a paragraph because I kept being interrupted by a woman with a severe case of Tourette’s sitting beside me.
“Tick…tick…You know what I could do to that baby you stupid bitch? ….That’s right, yeah you don’t want to hear about that, do you? NO…You already know….What?! I’ll fucking kill you!” She went on-and-on like this as the train slowly lurched its way through the tunnel (there was a lot of “train traffic” today because of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade); occasionally, she would stop and then start-in again singing a rather amusing and butchered rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
When I find myself trapped in such situations, I usually reach for my I-Pod and sooth my inner growling savage beast of irritation with a little Jay-Z; but this morning, I decided to sit, listen, and observe the reactions of those on the train. Predictably, everyone ignored the blabbering woman. As I sat and thought about cranes falling on buildings, politicians resigning, and a five-year war that showed no signs of slowing down, I felt the urge to give my own schizophrenic sermon. After all, there is something very sobering about insanity. Why not belt-out our inner frustrations to a world that so often panders to the stifled hypocrisy of polite social graces? I grow tired of being, as Emerson warned, “Timid and apologetic.” Thus, I shout-out my below rant “to the rooftops of the world” and anyone still reading.

First, regarding the “rooftop of the world”, or, more specifically, Tibet – it is deplorable, but not shocking, that a peaceful group of people must rise up against their brutal oppressors and that their pleas for help have not been met and thus, must use violent means to be heard. Unfortunately, the Chinese government, which continues its cultural genocide of the Tibetan people, will not be stopped, and is far more powerful than the unarmed monks and families with no military training that have for so many years watched their culture be erased by Chinese influence. It would be nice to think that Nancy Pelosi or Condoleezza Rice’s call for “restraint” would abate the Chinese aggressors, but they’re requests will not be granted. As I write this, the Chinese government has ordered a news blackout and demands all “protesters” throughout the Tibetan territories “turn themselves in” or face “greater punishment.” According to the BBC, Tibetans are currently being rounded-up and placed into overcrowded prisons. The only way to stop this brutal regime is if the governments of the West ceases trade on all Chinese imports/exports – not going to happen. So, say goodbye Tibet and enjoy the Olympics as your holy city of Lhasa continues to be turned into a resort. Maybe one day, Western tourists will be able to experience your culture through a theme park ride.

Now, the Eliot Spitzer “scandal”; okay, as someone who voted for Spitzer, I admit I’m a bit biased about the whole thing. Moreover, as someone who does not believe a politician’s sex life should play any role in determining how we vote or treat public officials (especially when such acts are consensual), again, I’m biased. Ultimately, what I find most interesting though about this whole ordeal is that it illustrates how a man who fought so aggressively to monitor bank accounts and busting-up prostitution rings would also harbor the same desires he once so vehemently rejected as "criminal". Also interesting, is the fact that the same monitoring procedures he implemented were ironically the cause of his downfall. Finally, Spitzer pissed-off a lot of powerful people; thus, it was only a matter of time before this gangster got “whacked” by the same gangsters he crossed and ultimately created.

What also (as Peter Griffin from "Family Guy” says) “grinds my gears” is the pathetic smearing campaign of Barack Obama in connection to his Pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s “inflammatory anti-American” comments. First, I think it’s completely ridiculous for anyone to ask Obama to take-back the comments of another man from three years ago. True, Obama knows and is, likely, very close to Rev. Wright; but he is not responsible for an other's comments – only his own (which have been candid concerning this matter). Of course, when looking at the comments themselves, I don't see what the big fuss is about. In fact, this column may –for once- actually agrees with a Reverend. He’s right, “God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human.” I also don’t think it’s such a stretch to blame America for 9/11 since it is what he said it is, “The chickens coming home to roost.” In fact, I’m so annoyed with anyone who still believes the United States is some perfect never-do-wrong Superman, when, in fact, we are (like the Chinese government) an aggressive, brutal, and extremely powerful empire that exerts its influence at gun point.

America is my home. I am an American and despite my country’s crimes –proud of what my country could be. But I also loathe that so many in my country are unable to recognize we’re not always the good guy. In fact, more often than not, the United States is the bad guy! What I love about my country and what I hate about it is a rant I’ll reserve for another day; for now, I’d like to close on the debacle in Iraq.

Five years ago, the United States began its occupation. Back then, I marched in the streets in opposition to the Administration's decision that I still feel was not only a terrible mistake, but one the United States will continue to pay for in human lives and capital. This year, the American people have a choice to make – who will be our next President? I sincerely believe the best way to begin repairing the damages caused by the Bush administration is to elect Barack Obama. I also urge anyone who has their doubts to please read Obama's five-year plan for Iraq before cynically renouncing his plans for change.

Okay, I feel a little better now that I let that all out. Back to the grind.

Friday, February 08, 2008

This is Evolution…

By Nicholas Allanach

If January is any indication of the direction 2008 is heading, than it will be an amazing year: dreams will come true, happiness will be found, and great change will take place -fast. Of course, such dreams will only come true for those ready to sacrifice sleep, refuse to give-in to failure, and who’re willing to work tirelessly through fleeting hours to achieve them. Personal evolution isn’t easy and a path rife with discouragement. Those patient and brave enough to consciously transmutate their behavior to become better people will make it through these battles. Pero, infinitivo paciencia!

To be brief, January has been a month of positive intensity. My heart and mind have been racing ever since New Year’s Eve when some colleagues and I emptied a bottle of champagne in the street while screaming “FREEDOM!” at the Statue of Liberty from atop a hill in Park Slope at the stroke of midnight. Since then, this frenetic existence shows no signs of slowing down; admittedly, it’s difficult to keep my bearings when the world around me appears to be moving so damn fast. Yes, life is an adventure that should be filled with as many interesting and exciting experiences as possible; nevertheless, part of me longs for a moment to reflect back on my experiences to reassess what I’ve learned from them. Of course, working two jobs, taking two classes, maintaining a healthy social life, and struggling to complete a host of creative projects does tend to consume what little time I have for such narcissistic musings. So, some quick highlights…

I have a dream…I’d been looking forward to the long Martin Luther King holiday weekend for months. I know, silly; especially since the reason for my excitement was based on my long-distance infatuation from Puerto Rico. She is my fairy tale: beautiful, smart, caring, and seemingly impossible to ever be close to. Accordingly, as with all great fairy tales there is a tragic flaw, unfeasible goal, and romance in the desire of the chase; accordingly, we speak different languages, live in different countries, and have been bruised by different people. Nevertheless, something about the glimmer in her eyes compels me to think about her and not look at these things separating us as permanent barriers, but instead, obstacles to overcome that will make us into stronger (and yes, more evolved) people.

Long weekend made short: we had a great four days. Now that she’s returned to Puerto Rico, I miss her. But am also perplexed (and, admittedly, concerned) by the way I can’t stop thinking about her. What is it about my mind that compels me to get involved with someone? Why not remain single? Why imagine a future with anyone when I’ve been hurt before? Moreover, why imagine a future that seems so impossible? Why ask why? Fuck questions, I shall follow my instincts; besides, she probably doesn’t even feel the same. I guess for now, I’ll wait and continue a practicar mi espanol, asi un dia nosostros will have the ability to communicate our dreams. It’s strange, even though I’m surrounded by attractive and talented women everyday, the one that inspires me the most is a thousand miles away. Such are the mysteries of romance and life.
To be cont…

The Dope Show… The night of January 29th marked the fifth time I saw my favorite musician/celbratarian, Marilyn Manson. This time, the Antichrist Superstar performed alongside old school Manson bassist, Twiggy Ramirez, at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom. Although the “Eat Me, Drink Me” tour wasn’t as much of a blowout spectacle as past performances (i.e. “Mechanical Animals” and “Golden Age of Grotesque”), the group did play as aggressively and energetically as their shock-rock reputation demands. The set was made-up of a smattering of songs from various albums. Some of the best moments were Manson’s covering of Patti Smith’s “Rock n’ Roll Nigger”, “The Dope Show” and (my personal favorite) “The Reflecting God”.

Now, 39-years-old, some might think it due time for Marilyn Manson to wipe-off the eyeliner and get rid of his audacious gothic garb; but instead, he presses on, with his music, painting, and upcoming film “Phantasmagoria: the Dreams of Lewis Carroll”. Ultimately, it was refreshing to see an artist I respect and admire still living each moment like his last and still sticking his middle finger into the faces of those who thought he’d be tossed aside onto that pile of relics that were the angst-ridden 90’s. Surprise, surprise –the angst ridden “Beautiful People” are still here in ’08! And many are beginning to recognize the best way to live one’s life is as a work of art.

“Atheist Unite!”… Fittingly, the very next day, I ate lunch with my friends at Gotham Bar and Grill before going to work at the 92nd Street Y, where Christopher Hitchens was debating Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on the subject: “Does God Exist?” The sold out event was well attended by both believers/deceivers and atheists alike. Ultimately, it was (as is usually the case) the devout who left the room feeling ignorant and misguided. I will not go into the details of the debate itself, since Hitchens was only reiterating the same arguments he’s made in numerous appearances and throughout his bestselling book “God Is Not Great” (previously reviewed on this page); furthermore, the good folks at Hitchen’s Watch have already covered this ground for us.

What Hitchen’s Watch didn’t observe my position as Asst. House Manager did while working the book signing line at the end of the event; accordingly, both Hitchens and Rabbi Boteach were sitting at a large table to sign copies of their books. As the line of fans snaked around the room and into the lobby, I was instructed to “Keep the line moving.” (Which proved near impossible since Hitchens was so busy rambling and posing for pictures.) Regardless, I tried to see if there was anyone in the long line who wanted to meet with the Rabbi. A few of the Rabbi’s fans brusquely moved forward. After they were on their way, I again asked the room “Is there anyone here to meet with the Rabbi? …Anyone? …Anyone for the Rabbi?” I almost felt bad for Rabbi Boteach, not only did he look like a fool out front of the sold-out crowd and those watching from the simulcast, but seeing him there at the end –defeated, sipping on wine and gripping to his assistants –a cruel spectacle indeed. Thus, if the line at the end of the night was any indication of who won the debate then the trophy definitely went to Hitchens. Before the Rabbi left the room (holding his personalized boggle head doll and books) he sarcastically announced to the room… “Atheist Unite!”
Of which I replied -“Damn right.”

New York Giants #1!… Super Sunday was amazing. The Giants defensive line sacked Tom Brady again and again and proved that underdogs can come out on top. Of course the game was close throughout the first three quarters; in fact, after the Patriots scored their second touchdown, many Giant’s fans were likely biting their nails and counting totally on Eli Manning’s pass-n-rush game plays that ultimately brought the trophy home by the close of the fourth. Manning proved himself a great quarterback. The Giants put up an amazing fight and now have a ring to prove it. Here was a team that was sloppy in the start of the season but, ultimately, came back in the very end to knock the formerly un-defeated Tom Brady and New England Patriots off their pedestal. Congratulations New York! I’m not a sports writer and nor do I think I’ll ever have the time to entertain such musings. But I just wanted to give a shout to the #1 team in the NFL.

Super Tuesday… Finally, this month started with John McCain coming out ahead as the likely Republican candidate for the presidential election. This should make us worry. I care not waste any more time writing about Mr. McCain since I’ve already stated my opinions about the man and will likely have to restate them again and again throughout this election season. Admittedly, I believe John McCain would make a better president then “W”, but this, of course, is self-evident. Who wouldn’t make a better president than “W”? The reason I do not support John McCain is because I believe the “conservative agenda” of the Republican Party has proven to be completely destructive to the real values of the United States. Unless, of course, by “good” and “values” one means a xenophobic, bigoted, and backward thinking United States, then McCain will be perfect.

Across the aisle, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are vying for their party’s nomination. Both are infinitely better than the current administration and would definitely be a step (no matter how small) in the right direction. Although it’s still too close to say who’ll gain the Democratic nomination, much of me believes Clinton (and her many powerful supporters) have already sealed the deal. Regardless, this page hopes Mr. Obama will beat-out the Clinton juggernaut so that the senator’s message of “change” will not only gain more stamina (as well as a more cogent explanation of what this “change” will look like), but will give the United States the opportunity to prove to the world what kind of “values” it really represents.