Secret Pop

Dec 19, 2004

In a Vacuum

Last week, a jogger passed me on the sidewalk and called back over his shoulder, "Paris?" I said, "Yes." And he smiled and waved and said, "Hi." And I felt good. That's my perfume. Paris. By Yves Saint Laurent. I've been wearing it since I was fifteen years-old. Once, in high school, I strayed from my usual scent and tried Opium, also by Yves Saint Laurent. And my chemistry teacher sniffed the air and said, "Who smells like bug spray?" I kept silent, but I knew not to make that mistake again. I think Opium is a very pretty scent, too, and I like it on other people. But I think I was traumatized by that comment. He also said I should never cut my hair short again because it made my head look like a bowling ball. I think I have transcended that part at least. Because when I look at pictures of me with my long hair now, I screw up my face and think, "Gross. How in the world could I have worn it like that for so long?" I mean, I guess it wasn't super ugly. But I get bored just thinking about it. I'm happy to have shorter hair. And I'm happy to not always have to exist in the superlative.
There are many people in the world who know me by my scent now. Friends from high school used to say they knew I'd been in the hallway before they passed through because that Paris scent lingered. People who may still have a shirt or a pillowcase or a barrette that never managed to rid itself of my fancy residue. People who haven't even known me for so very long but know what to expect in their noses when I show up. I never really tried to make it my signature. But there you have it. The signature I put on my checks and tax forms is a weird scrawl of nearly unintelligible peaks and squiggles, and I don't know how that came about either.
Fish, for instance
I'm in the habit of commenting on the movie trailers more than on the movies. Today, I will try to do both.
When I went to see The Life Aquatic last week, I saw a teaser for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and I felt all giddy. I actually inhaled sharply and clapped my hands over my gaping mouth. And I was surprised that I was the only one. In that theater filled with hipsters who were cool enough to be seeing a Wes Anderson film before nearly everyone else, you'd think the words "Don't Panic" would have more of an audible effect. I miss my old Infocom game. I miss my youth. I miss the certainty of immortality that infuses the cellular structure of a fifteen year-old whose bra size is not yet fixed. Maybe we start dying as soon as we figure out what size jeans we will wear. For the rest of our lives.
Then there was a trailer for a new movie with Lawrence Fishburne and Ethan Hawke, playing some version of the roles played by Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke in the previous movie by the same filmmaker. From the bits pulled from the movie, my guess is it's just Con-Air in a building. And Gabriel Byrne is too short to be scary. Ethan even gets to wear the same costume as he did in Training Day. Which is good, because he always looked to me like a guy who preferred to wear his clothes until they rotted off his body. Like the Mongols did.
"Oh, good. There's a movie with Will Smith AND Kevin James in it. And there will be a chance for Kevin James to try to dance in some form of hiphoppery, and Will Smith will correct him." That's what I thought to myself when I saw the trailer for Hitch. And then I thought, "Oh, please." And I wished I could have thought something more vitriolic, but that's the best I could muster. I'm sure many lessons in love will be learned in that movie. And I'm sure white people will feel very good about how accessible Will Smith is to them. And that everyone will forget that slavery ever happened. Because we're all friends now.
"Oh, good. John Travolta is back. And as Chili Palmer, no less. What a relief." That's what I thought to myself when the trailer for Be Cool began. But I was being sarcastic. I don't like John Travolta anymore. However, Vince Vaughn looks like he might be amusing in it. He hasn't quite Ben Stillered yet. I can still tolerate the one note he plays. But then there's Cedric the Entertainer. And then Uma Thurman. And then The Rock. And then James Woods. And then Danny DeVito. It's like a roller coaster of disappointment interrupted by the occasional Oscar nominee. Anyway, I probably won't see it until it happens to be on and I'm too lazy to reach for the remote.
Without spoiling any of the movie for you, I can give you a cryptic synopsis of what I thought of The Life Aquatic.
There is a certain cynicism with regard to love in Wes Anderson movies. It is hollow and sad, but it appeals to me for some reason. And this film was more of everything the other films were. The relationships were tenser. The emotions were falser. The colors garisher. And there were so many beautiful, bizarre little moments. Little secrets happening in the background. Labels I wanted to write down. I was even touched to see them using one of those retractable multi-color ballpoint pens I remember from my youth. I didn't really love the animated sea creatures all that much, although they did have a certain Harryhausen appeal to them. And I didn't really like Cate Blanchett's elocution choices. But you can forgive Owen Wilson's shoddy southern drawl without much ado, because he's thoroughly likable in so many other respects.
Visions of Italy are lovely. I used to drink Campari sodas all the time. This movie made me want to order them again. I won't. But I remember what it was like to down that sweet, bitter fizziness. And I remember how pretty it looked in a glass.
There were a lot of wonderful lines that I wanted to write down and remember. I scribbled some of them in my notebook. Some of what I scribbled is illegible to me now. But, "Please don't make fun of me. I just want to flirt with you," was quite easy to read.
There is an admirable amount of branding in the film. And that typical self-awareness that the characters always have in Wes Anderson pictures. That calm straightforwardness. That imperviousness to shame or awkwardness. The poker face. Maybe you assume it masks some fragile vulnerability, but you really don't see it. Even the vulnerability is only ever verbalized. Maybe this is part of what I like about Wes Anderson's style. I never really mastered the "show don't tell" approach. I've always been better at saying it. And in his movies, everything that is experienced is announced. No matter the level of sincerity. The dialogue captions everything that is implied. I can't decide whether that elevates subtext or shamelessly outs it. But I know that it feels different than watching anything with the Wayans Brothers in it. And I'm grateful for that.
Maybe I'm going to write you a letter right now.
I was just thinking about that song with the line about blue skies smiling at me. There's a line in it. Nothing but blue skies from now on. That line bothers me. I guess the idea of the song is that I've met this special someone and now everything will be wonderful and perfect forever. And I'm not opposed to that idea, but I think if the sky was never anything but blue, I would murder someone. I really enjoy a good bit of rain every now and then. And an ominous cloud or two. And you really can't overestimate the beauty of the diffuse light that happens on an overcast day. Take black and white pictures in that haze and you'll wish the sun would never again show its smug face. Well, I'm using the word "never" where I shouldn't. The whole point is that nothing is so great if it's always the same. Who wants to live in a wax museum? Well, me, but only for like a month. Then I would get bored and want to live in an apple cider factory.
So, I've been in San Diego all week. I've been performing in Christmas pageants and comedy shows. I've been doing my Christmas shopping and catching a cold. I've been settling for TBS and Spike TV. And I've been going out for drinks and good times as often as my less enthusiastic friends will humor me. And I've been feeling a little bright and a little bleary. I've been feeling a little soft and sentimental. I don't know what it is to feel Minnesota, but maybe I've been feeling that, too. I'm going home later tonight. That will either alleviate or exacerbate my sense of displacement. There isn't enough time to do all the things I have to do. Certainly not enough time to do all the things I want to. And there's no surety in any of my plan-making. I'm up in the air. And, much as I like that weightless feeling, I fear the inevitable thud that will happen when the ground comes looking for me.
At the beginning of the year, when I was sad and adrift and had no work and no money, I started sending mail art to people whose addresses I happened to have. I have a great deal of stationery and clippings and half-done projects and the benign desire to put them out into the continuum. I have letters I still mean to write. And plenty that I've written but never sent. All in my customarily tiny print. There is a sort of romance attached to the notion that someday, long after my tragic death, some interested party will carefully pore over them and weep for all the unsaid words. I might worry a bit that they would mistake my "h"s for "n"s, but not so much that I would be motivated to type out a companion manual. Where's the romance in that.
I would send more letters. I just wish they didn't have to mean so much. And at the same time, I am saddened that they wouldn't mean more. Don't you get tired of how I turn things over like that? It's not like a conundrum is a kind of cookie or something.
The year is coming to a close. Another year. Another series of ups and downs. More things are different than ever before. And that's a better thing than I would have expected it to be.
Looking at happiness, keeping my flavor fresh. Nobody knows, I guess, how far I'll go.

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