Archive for January, 2009

Coming to Chicago: Batsheva Dance Company

January 31, 2009

One of my favorite things about the city of Chicago is, as many of you might have guessed, the weather. Now, before you all make frantic conference calls plotting my death (hint: I’m fatally allergic to flannel shirts and Mel Gibson), I strongly urge you to sit down, take a deep breath, cough, blow your nose, pop a Tylenol, drink some yerba matta tea, lay down, and let me explain. While the current weather has reduced many of us, like me, to hapless, miserable lumps of DNA with a running spigot for a nose (before that I was just hapless and miserable), it has also given us an excuse to appreciate indoors happenings that much more, and if anything, allowed us to get that much pickier about the four walls within which we’d rather spend our time.

That said, you would be hard-pressed to find anything better than world-renonwned Bat-Sheva Dance Company performance at the Auditorium Theatre on February 7th and 8th. The company will be making a stop in Chicago for the first time in 35 years, making this a truly memorable occasion. The lovechild of dance icon Martha Graham and Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild, the company will be performing “Deca-Dance”, as choreographed by international superstar Ohad Naharin. Or, of course, you could simply stay in, put on your finest lumberjack attire, and watch “Mad Max”. I’m just sayin.

Special discount ONLY for NBC Chicago Readers: When you go to ticketmaster, be sure to type in “OHAD” in the special promotions field, and you will get a $10 discount (and who doesn’t love those!) off of tickets in levels 2 and 4. See you then!

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New: Uggs for Men, by Someone Who Hates You

January 30, 2009

With the recent softening of stringent borders defining race, political affiliations, and gender characteristics, the clever (and overly optimistic) folks at Uggs thought it was time that their boots made their way over to the men’s shoe department. What’s the word we’re looking for here? Hmmm… how about “no”? That will do–no. While there is much to be said for men embracing their soft, cuddly side, wrapping your feet in a mangled teddy bear will hardly do the trick. It seems that the marketers at Uggs thought that like skinny jeans, form-fitting button-downs, and shorter jackets, their lovechild, with its only-a-mother-could-love appearance, could jump on the gender-bender bandwagon. Not gonna happen.

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Flirting for Disaster, Chicago Style

January 29, 2009

The other day I was in a particularly profound and introspective mood, which got me thinking about the truly important things in life: finding one’s true voice, figuring out the meaning of happiness, and trying to imagine what Ellen would look like if she got a red perm, or, perhaps, a short, spritely Jewfro. With each sip of my Chicagotini (vodka, crushed ice, organic snow flakes, giant ice cubes and natural hail), I could feel myself getting smarter. It was not until Andy came home, turned off the strobe lights, opened a window to let out the smoke, and demanded that I “put on some normal clothes”, that I got off cloud nine and realized that one of the most truly important things in life is finding someone who’ll take you just the way you are.

And a great place to find that special someone is Flirting For Disaster at Hydrate, on Thursday, February 5th. The event benefits the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago , which has been hosting a series of the Flirting events throughout the city since 2001. Advance tickets are $20 and will buy you delicious hors d’oeuvres by HB Home Bistro and Halsted’s, performance by the beautiful divas of Kit Kat , a leather fashion show by Shel-Don, and oh yeah–a room full of potentials! All proceeds from the event will go to facilitating response to disasters in the Chicagoland area, which should be enough reason to get anyone to put on their finest, look their cutest, and start getting their flirt on.

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Must See Pick: Waltz With Bashir

January 21, 2009

One of the great things about being a foreigner is that you are immediately assumed to be the voice of your country. While back home I would simply be your Average Shlomo, here I am nothing short of His Royal Excellence Majesty Ambassador Shlomi Rabi. Now, while normally I am honored and flattered by such deference–and if for no other reason than for assuming that my intelligence level is higher than it actually is–I, too, must admit that the task can be daunting, especially given the activity in the region these days. Surely I could not be asked to explain everything emanating from my home country. After all, I don’t ask Swedes to explain the fascination with meatballs, Mexicans to explain why breakfast has to be spicy, Brits to explain why their toothpaste tubes collect dust, or Americans to explain the insistence on mispronouncing “aluminium”. I’m just sayin.

That said, one thing that I will always gladly discuss (well, there are two things, really, but only one that would be suitable for the dinner table) is the importance of art that openly adresses political dilemmas. Such is the case with this year’s Golden Globe Foreign Language Winner and the National Society of Film Critics pick for Best Film, Israel’s Waltz with Bashir. Ari Folman’s masterpiece, easily one of the most visually arresting movies to come out in years, interweaves memories–real and fabricated alike–with dream sequences and real-life happenings to create a candid (perhaps even uncomfortably so) retrospect of Israel’s 1982 Lebanon War, and specifically, the Sabra and Shatila massacre that haunted politics in the region for years to come. The movie does not point fingers and does not demand explanation–or revenge–from either side. Rather, it is a cultural artifact that examines the maddening effects of war from the eyes of a distraught soldier, raising questions regarding personal and social responsibilities alike.

The movie will be showing at Piper’s Alley this Friday, January 23rd
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Inauguration, Chicago Style

January 16, 2009

Okay, so let’s face it, you and I have much more in common than we realize. For one thing, we both go to NBCChicago to get our news and learn of the latest happenings around the city of Chicago. Secondly, we both wake up every January morning wondering why we’re not tuning in to NBCMiami instead. We both agree that when people tell each other “go to Hell”, Chicago Winter is what they have in mind. Like me, you are a strong believer that winter is the invention of an ugly angel who did not want people looking cute. And both you and I agree that if we hear one more sadist say “It’s not that bad” the population count in Chicago will have just decreased by one.

Oh, and neither one of us has a ticket for the Obama inauguration. Face it. And don’t lie about it, saying that you could have scored one but had a very important meeting with a client that day. Like me, you have no clients. So there.

Which is fine. Because a great place to catch the inauguration is Wild Pug. The new gay bar in the up-and-coming Uptown is hosting a fiesta to benefit the Illinois Safe School Alliance. The Alliance is dedicated to providing a safe and welcoming environment for LGBT youth around the city. Given the historic nature of the event, it only makes sense that the place to be that night is an event that celebrates difference and acceptance, both of which have propelled Chicago’s very own Barack Obama to presidency. So put on your favorite pair of snow boots, your most cherished parka, your most flattering pair of long underwear, and join in on the fun!

Review: Work/Place at MOCP

January 15, 2009

While the first floor at the MoCP is dedicated to Michael Wolf’s co-existing multiple realities and the sense of interpersonal isolation that typifies urban life, the upper floors of the museum are dedicated to a closer inspection of all that transpires behind close doors and away from possible public viewing. Nonetheless, it would be inaccurate to think of the upper tiers, featuring works by Thomas Demand, Lars Tunbjörk, Karen Yama, and Ann Carlson & Mary Ellen Strom, as focusing on the environments that Wolf deftly captured with his lens. After all, said artists works involves an insider–not a voyeur’s–perspective on the lives of office workers.

The slash between the two title words “Work/Place” drives an immediate wedge within the term and calls for a closer inspection of the seemingly banal corporate life. Demand‘s work depicts an office space entirely created from colored paper, thereby evoking notions of fragility, ephemerality and artifice–a far cry from the rigid, emotionless and systematic connotations one normally confers upon the office environment. Demand’s office is as reliable as a work space as a house of cards is as a shelter. Tunbjörk‘s work purports itself to be closer to the documentarian pretend-like-I’m-not-there approach that Wolf’s work has, but following Demand’s work it is difficult to see his works as devoid of personal input. Humorous as they are critical, his works at times appear as ludicrous as a sitcom script (think, appropriately, The Office), where exaggeration gives way to detailed subtlety that precludes the work from turning into a melodramatic caricature and instead gently tickles the mind. Likewise, Karen Yama‘s work zooms in on those subtle details that make a seemingly monotonous working environment livable if not enjoyable. Snapping close-ups of desks, file cabinets and bookshelves personalized with pictures of loved ones, reminders, post-it notes and other quirky ephemera, the importance of injecting personality into the humdrum of a working environment is highlighted. Yama digitally flattens the color on all non-personal items (including the walls, the furniture and the electronic equipment) to let the personal idiosyncracies stand strong. While the move could be considered as slightly didactic, visually it’s pleasing. And rounding off the exhibit is a video by Ann Carlson & Mary Ellen Strom. A group of four practicing attorneys in New York are seen at the lobby of a building, contorting their bodies, jumping, screaming, playing and mimicking one another in a playful and almost puerile state. The emphasis on the physical transforms the hot-shot lawyers into mere men, not unlike the way Yama’s flattening of the background in her images transforms the personalized details into the relatable denominator for the viewers. Given the current economic turmoil, it is nice to see that underneath it all, we are all the same.

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Karen Yama, Untitled

A Tale of Two Kitties

January 14, 2009

The other day I was flipping through the channels when the I came across “Best In Show: Cats” on the Animal Planet. I did what any dad would do: I immediately called the cats, gave them spare change, and sent them to the liquor store to buy me some beer so I could at least enjoy the second half of the show while intoxicated. Truth be told, I also didn’t want to have my cats watch the show by accident and live under the false impression that some cats have it better than they do. True, so some cats may not be subjected to dressing up as court jesters and paraded around the neighborhood, or even have their tails used to tickle the nose of a sleeping boyfriend with extremely violent tendencies, but still, that’s just semantics. You say “tomatoe” and I say “the cat already had that when I got her”.

But back to the show. So I summoned the cats and told them that I was not feeling too well and needed my afternoon booze nap. They asked me if everything was okay so I lied and said “no”. I may have also said something to the extent of “if I die from nap-deprivation no one will hear your cries” but I forget now. Anyhow, they pointed out the fact that it would be nice to have their efforts rewarded with a treat so I did what I always do when my two little precious munchkins ask for a much-deserved treat, I pretended to be asleep. And it worked. Within seconds I heard them pulling out their hoodies and then I heard the front door close. Coast was clear.

I turned the volume up just in time to hear the story of “Pinky”, a 6 months old kitten who has won over twelve titles for being super cute. Pinky had long, fluffy hair, booger-free eyes, and not a single dreaded lock of fur on his back. “Big deal,” I thought to myself, “to award a cat for having fluffy hair is like awarding a building for having pretty windows.” Cats should be rewarded for their skills, if you ask me, not for their parents’ hard labor. Why slap those ribbons and medals on the cat? Why should they get their ego stroked? Why are we to take pride in the fact that their hair is not a big clump? Not fair. If anything, watching Pinky’s story made me proud that my cats and the two functional eyes they share between the two of them are much more worthy of that award. I mean, time and time again they prove their skills through hard labor and exceptional singing skills.

I decided Pinky is a spoiled sponge that knows nothing about life and was eager to see who the next cat would be. Then came the story of “Celeste”, a beautiful orange and white Persian, just like my Gizmo. And the best part was that just like my Gizmo, Celeste produces enough gunk out of her eyes to fill up a keg. I was immediately in love. True, so maybe her Mom devoted her life to following Celeste and wiping out the brown sugar from her eyes every second of the day, but still, if left to her own devices, Celeste’s looks would quickly fade and she would look like a homeless cat that haunts the public train at night, just like my Gizmo. “She’s not fooling anyone”, I thought to myself, “send her Mom to Shady Pines and let Ginger Spice here do her own grooming, for a change.” I immediately felt a great sense of pride in my Gizmo and his vagabond face. I mean, knowing that he could never rely on me to clean out his eyes on a daily or even monthly basis, Gizmo has learned to rub his eyes against sharp corners as a DIY method. Besides, having partial eyesight means that his other senses–like opening cans of beer, giving foot massages, and cleaning the toilet–have sharpened.

I liked where the show was going, it made me feel much better about my hard working cats, who were no doubt haggling with the salesperson and trying to score a deal. “If they really love me”, I thought to myself, “they’d try to smuggle a kitkat inside one of Gizmo’s ratty hair mats.” But I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high.

Next came the judging segment. Drumroll, please. In walked a woman with a very large belly and an extra chin would hold each cat and give her little speech about the importance of the cat and why everyone should be oohing and aahing and clapping. She held up “Rainbow”, a white Persian that looked like fuzz that had fallen off a cloud. Rainbow looked very, very regal and far too important to be on the show. You could tell he had to plan being away from his beloved sofa months in advance to make the cameo on the show. I think I may have even caught an eyeroll at some point, when the lady was holding up Rainbow and showing his belly and his little love bits to the whole world. What a rude, classless lady. And poor Rainbow. How embarrassing to have your biscuit put on display for the whole world to see. All of a sudden I had a mild flashback to my college days, and the whole scenario got a little too uncomfortable.

Then came the words that I will never forget. As the lady and her gaggle of chins held up Rainbow and his little biscuit, she rubbed her hand on his belly and uttered the most hateful, biting words anyone has ever directed at me. Looking straight at the camera she opened her mouth and said

“See, people, a cat that’s been brushed both on its back and its front. No knots!”

Each word was a dagger to my heart. When the people in the audience began clapping as if Rainbow had done all the work, I could feel my heart sinking. “How could she?” I mumbled to myself. I began tearing up with shock and humiliation that the rooster lady would be so cutting and heartless with me. It was then that I heard Gizmo on the other side of the front door yelling at Lulu and telling her that she needed to stand still if he was going to use her as a jumping board to help him get the key in the lock. I thought about just getting up and letting them in but I knew that they would resent me if I ever made their lives easier. I kept on hearing “And…go!” every couple of minutes, which was then followed by a crashing sound and a downward key scratch on the door. “Idiot! My turn!”. This went on for about an hour.

By the time they came in most of my tears had dried up but my puffy eyes said it all. As soon as the cats and I made eye contact they asked me if that meant they’d have to cut up a cold cucumber and help me restore my looks. Not wanting to disappoint them by refusing their help, I said yes, laid down, and chose to think happy thoughts.img_2803

Moments after cleaning the house, Gizzy and Lu take a brief nap.

The Answer to All Marriage Problems!

January 7, 2009

Okay, so the morning started off like crap, truth be told. First, I was just waking up from my dream about an amazing world, where everyone was beautiful, kind, rich, and had cat paws for key holders and good luck charms. Then came the what-to-wear dilemma, or in my case, figuring what what pair of pants my cats have yet to mutilate in the wee-hours of the morning in revenge for my dressing them up as poodles for Halloween. And then came the thick, tangled web of miscommunications among CTA employees, who know as much about city happenings as I know about clothing-optional parties in Korea. “Yeah, there was an emergency at Jackson”, “I think some lady gave birth on the tracks”, “Oh, the trains are running backwards today”. Really? Because I heard your mother gave birth backwards at Jackson. So there.

Anyway.

Eventually I just hopped on the first available cab, already twenty minutes late and four excuses deep for work.

The cab driver was the size of a tree and looked like he was capable of pushing his head through the roof of the cab if he had just straightened up his back a bit more. He had a shaved head, like mine, which made me think immediately that he was person of exquisite taste, sophistication, and glamour. A person with an eye for avant-garde haircuts who would hold his head out his bedroom window and let the morning dew water caress his scalp as he–

“Mind if I turn up the radio. It’s a good show.”

Sure, so he may not let me finish my thoughts, but still, there was something to be said for–

“It’s about this guy who has a girlfriend. The girlfriend is now knocked up and he doesn’t want to marry her.” Okay, strike two.

While I was willing to entertain the idea of chatting about life, love, flowers, and cats with Prenatal Obesity Syndrome, he was cutting off my thoughts just as I was willing to let my guard down and feel that the world was a safe place again. But then again, it was only going to be a five minute ride, so why build up these expectations. Maybe because he seemed so atypical, I guess. I could tell he was young. He was dressed in jeans and a dress shirt. I already mentioned his unsurpassed eye for haircuts. Or in other words, he looked, well, like me, and by “me” I mean “a ‘mo”.

“I won’t mind, turn it up.”

And then the man’s voice on the radio said “See, I love my girlfriend, man, but I also love my wife, and just ‘coz she pregnant, it don’t mean I have to leave my wife.” I looked over at the pine tree operating the cab and his big, joyous grin made him look like the Holiday Spirits incarnate. Throw a couple of ornaments and he’d pass for a hanukkah bush. He held on to his steering wheel with both hands and great anticipation, as if I had told him we were going to the annual Bunny Treasure Hunt at the Playboy mansion. And he was definitely not gay.

The radio lothario continued his musings. “So, you know, man, I’m like totally stuck. Totally, man. I mean, I don’t even know how she got all knocked up and shit. And I love her, man, I do, but shit.” The sheer strength of poetry.

Both the cab tree and I were shaking our head in disbelief, but I would soon come to realize, for totally different reasons. I began my big schpeel by lowering my voice by two octaves and then stating “What a douche, bro. I mean, common, he can’t keep it in his pants? And he loves them both? Dude, please.” I was very conscious of my tone and made sure I sounded as supremely straight as possible. It was all very Brokeback as far I was concerned. I thought I passed with stellar marks. Well, maybe not stellar, but a solid B. My cab tree was still shaking his head, which made me think that maybe it was the wind coming in from his cracked window that was causing his head to sway back and forth like a reed.

So I continued. “And…” I cleared my throat in aim to channel something butch–but not too butch; something between my dad and Joni Mitchell. “And, I mean, what the hell, dude? Like, what the hell?” Apparently my arsenal of straight words is limited to monosyllabic words. I definitely passed now. I sighed in relief.

“You know what I think” he began. “I think that all of this man’s problems would change if he converted. Seriously, man, think about it! If this guy became a Muslim, he could marry both of them, and then they would know about each other and everybody would be on the same page, and he could be with both of them and there would be no jealously. That’s all he would have to do, and it would solve everything. Trust me!”

I sat and thought about it a little longer. Sure, I don’t know that I, exactly agreed with his viewpoint. That said, at the end of the day, he made no apologies for who he was or what he believed in. The longer I considered it, the more I actually began admiring him, even if I disagreed with the content of his speech. In fact, he made me realize how silly my original response was. Why should I try to disguise my being when he took so much pride in his? Where was my self-pride? And where was my self-respect? Did I really think that if I sounded all-too-obvious then my response would somehow be diminished? That I would count a little less? That’s insane.

In fact, therefore, he has since inspired me to adopt his own strategy and no-apologies attitude, and formulate my own solution to the problem. After thinking long and hard, I think that all of this man’s problems would change if he converted. To Homoism. Seriously, people, think about it. If this guy came out, he could never marry anyone, and then he and ladies would all be on the same page–attracted to men. He could be with anybody he wanted, and, if anything, it would be expected of him. In fact, both of his ladies would probably forgive him and believe him when he said “It’s me, gurl, not you. I just feel different these days, like I need tighter shirts.” There would be no jealousy. That’s all he would have to do, and it would solve everything. Trust me.

Review: Michael Wolf at MOCP

January 7, 2009

Michael Wolf‘s photographs of urban life challenge the seemingly balanced dynamic within such dyads as private/public, collective/individual, and real/artificial. The photographs, all taken in 2007, are devoid of a horizon line, and feature closeups of tightly compressed apartment and office buildings in Chicago. The city’s architecture, after all, is famous for its experimental history, which includes–but by no means limited to–the introduction of the world’s first skyscraper. The dressing of steel bodies with sheets of glass allowed buildings to multiply their vertebrae and reach the heavens as much as it engendered a voyeuristic fascination by the newly transparent structures. So it comes as no surprise, therefore, that Wolf has chosen Chicago, with its history of what could be described, perhaps, as the world’s first urban peep show, as the site of his latest project.

The elimination of the horizon line removes associations of architectural photography with postcard-perfect harmony. Furthermore, the gradual physical proximity towards the images turns each one from a meticulous Agnes Martin grid to a claustrophobic if seductive stacking of realities a la Barry Frydlender. Like the former, the images initially allude to a sense of universal perfection that transcends humanity; and like the latter, they convey a too-close-for-comfort jittery and cluttered existence. Together, the effect is as mesmerizing as it is unnerving. The simultaneous peering into multiple lives within a single frame is decadent and perverse, but nonetheless perfectly symbolic of the obsessive truckling to reality television that has come to define us. Wolf’s vision is a supra-technological nightmarish extension of Robert Frank‘s The Americans, perhaps the first exhibition to challenge Rockwellian visions of national utopia. More than ever, Wolf seems to say, we have become disjointed on an interpersonal level, occupying insulated, self-referential pods within which a personalized version of reality is constructed, and unified solely by an unspoken agreement that to each his own. The collective, it appears, is no longer greater than the sum of its parts. And reality, as such, is no longer universal.

Wolf’s body of work is can be viewed at the Museum of Contemporary Photography through January 31st.

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Homage to Bethelina

January 6, 2009

So here is how the message began: “Hey honey, it’s me, Beth. Okay, so I know that this is a message so I will make this short.” Beth–or Bethelina, as I have been calling her for the past twelve years or so, is one of those amazing people you meet once in a lifetime: a natural blonde. Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking–“But what about you? And your luscious blonde ringlets?!?!” and you would be right, I love you for thinking of me as a natural anything, but Bethelina is the real deal. And it goes without saying that I love her back, immensely, and if for no other reason then for always leaving me the best phone messages.

“So I just talked to my niece Allie, who is, like, in eight grade, and she was telling me about this boy” (Note: Bethelina is a romantic, so the last bit should be read as “boooooooooy”), “and she was telling me that she really likes him, so I was all ‘Are you gonna ask him out’ and she was all ‘Oh, I don’t know. He’s bi.”

Naturally, when I heard this I nearly choked on my lunch (crushed ice-cubes with a side of laxatives), put on my Blanche Devereaux wig, practiced my “Oh My” look in front the mirror just to make sure I still had it–which I totally do!–and pressed the “1” button to return a few seconds earlier.

“‘Oh, I don’t know. He’s bi.'” Oh yeah, in eight grade.

But the message continued. “So I asked her ‘So, do people, like, make fun of him?'” which was a very Bethelina question, truth be told. She is one of the original crusaders of mo’ rights, and has been known to throw down some kids back in her day for disrespecting any of the gays at school, most of whom, incidentally, she dated prior to their coming out. Girl has the kind of draw that most unicorns can only dream of. I’m just sayin’. Anyway, I could imagine Bethelina clinching her fists and calculating how many times she’d have to swing them to take down any of the potential tormentors.

“And then she just looked at me like I was crazy, and she was like ‘Why would anyone make fun of him?'”, at which point Beth–and mothers’ of said potential troublemakers–let out a long sigh of relief. Of course, Orbitz lost out on a client because my Bethelina always has a suitcase packed up and ready to go if tales of homophobia dare to crawl up her ears.

I, too, was relieved. I went back to my vanity and continued brushing my wig with my other hand. The message, let the record show, was not over. “Can you believe it, Shaboogie?” she said using her nickname for me. “In eight grade! In Jeffersonville, Indiana. Who knew? And you know what the best part is? Allie was all ‘And it’s not like he’s the only one. There are, like, five other boys who are out and no one cares.’ Isn’t that crazy?” Again, I pressed the “1” button to rewind by a few seconds.

“‘Five other boys who are out.'” Hot damn. Five boys who are out? In eight grade? I wonder how that worked. When I was thirteen I had pimples the size of light bulbs and a stunning set of metal bars inside my mouth that made it look like I was holding my words hostage behind my teeth. Oh, and my head was about four-fifths of my body weight. And oh yeah, I sounded like Mom on the phone. And it didn’t help that I would wear her sweaters–and it was the early nineties! Which means that they had shoulder pads and featured clowns with little yarn balls for eyes. Oh, and how I could forget, my most stunning feature of all–I had the world’s hairiest legs, but being as thin as they were, it looked like I had yanked the back legs off a moose and glued them on instead.

“Anyway, Shaboogie, I love you and I really want to hear your voice.” I pressed “1” twice to take me back to the beginning of the message, and listened to it continuously. It is moments like this that make me realize that we have come a long way from days where prepubescent awkward gays were mocked, pointed at, pushed around, ridiculed, bullied and belittled for their sexuality. Then again, maybe it was just for wearing their moms’ sweaters.

And the message wasn’t quite over yet. “So call me already, I know you’re just probably brushing your wigs, so put that stuff down already and call me. You know I have the suitcase ready.”