Archive for July, 2010

Andy Streetball: The Emergence of Asian Vujacic

Friday, July 30th, 2010

I decided to make my grand return to the asphalt today after a two week absence, spurred on by the fact that the temperature was under 90 degrees for once.

As I walked to the court, I didn’t hear the echo of any bouncing basketballs. I was worried for a second that the one day I had any time to play, the court was going to be empty. Doubts were dispelled when I turned the street corner and finally saw the damn place — it was packed. Julius, Marcus, DeWitt, the pack was all there, along with some peeps I hadn’t seen before, to boot. I realized it was dumb of me that I thought even for a second that the courts were going to be empty. For crying out loud, without school, jobs, these people got all the time in the world to play basketball. Nah, don’t call me condescending; I ain’t dissing those guys. They’re hilarious, down-to-earth, and sociable — I genuinely like and respect them. It’s just the blunt truth that most of these guys are unemployed. I’m telling you, the priorities of the general American populace is out of whack-

Whoa. Glad I caught myself there. Almost went on another rant about our culture’s antagonism towards education.

But anyhow, back to basketball.

So I strolled onto the court and said “I got winners” as casually and fly as I possibly could. I have to practice my Black Man Suaveness before I can go back to NU.

“Hey, I got winners before him,” one random braided-long-hair dude I didn’t know shouted. “By the way, who is this kid? I’ve never seen him around here before.”

Apparently, my suaveness had failed.

“He’s Andy,” Marcus answered, before I could introduce myself as Wally. “Andy’s the man.”

Thank you Marcus.

The dude, hereby to be referred to as Braids until I know his actual name, asked me, “Have you ever played basketball before?”

“Hell yeah. He’s gonna fuck you up,” Marcus responded.

Again, thank you Marcus.

“So what do you do? Can you shoot?” Braids asked.

This time, I made sure to answer before Marcus. “I can shoot, but I’m not very good at it. But I am decent at passing. And I’ll play hard D every possession.”

I could’ve cockily misrepresented myself like everyone else does, but I decided to stay honest. No point in saying I could break rims with tomahawks if I couldn’t back it up.

“Alright, we’ll see what you got,” Braids said.

******

However, turned out I wouldn’t get my shot to prove myself until later. I thought I had next game, but the winning team shifted some players around and became too fucking tall.

“Sorry Andy, nothing against you, but you’re a bit…short to defend those guys. Is it okay if you sit this one and Marcus plays this round instead?” Braids pleaded.

Marcus was originally going to get in the game after, but I shared Braids’ concern. I didn’t quite want to get mismatched with a six footer. Not a great way of guaranteeing a good first impression. Also, not a great way to guarantee a win. Mismatches are to lost basketball games as baby mamas are to child support. Fortunately for Braids, I was not overly sensitive or delusional.

Well aware of my physical limitations and not exactly wanting to play exhausting post D for an hour, I went along with Braids’ proposal “I gotcha, you can’t teach height. No worries, I’ll play next one after.”

So I thought I was in next game for sure.

But then B came into town, along with his posse.

I’d last seen the guy several weeks ago when I stepped onto the court for the first time, but I hadn’t forgotten his face. B was a mean-looking dude. He had a gap between his buckteeth. Lots of gruffy facial hair and scars on his face. Eyes like those of a komodo dragon. Built like a tank. He looked a tiny bit like a skinner, less hobo-looking Kimbo Slice.

B announced on behalf of his posse, “We got winners.”

Dammit, I had winners. I made it known. He ignored me. Guess he was one of those ‘you-have-to-earn-my-‘spect-before-I-speak-to-you’ types. Some other folks, including Marcus backed me up. An actual, honest thank you this time, Marcus.

“Well, I got my team already,” B complained.

“He was still here first,” Marcus said.

“Yeah..,” was all I could muster. I admit, I was a little bit intimidated.

“I can’t just kick off a guy on my team. How do I know he can even play?”

“Andy can play. He will fuck you up.”

“Here,” B turned to me. “While y’all are finishing up your game, me and him going to play 50. I gotta check his game first.”

“Alright,” I agreed. I was intimated, but I wasn’t about to turn down a challenge.

******

50 is like 21. It’s a free-for-all in which any number of people can play. Scoring also works the same, with baskets scored outside the three-line worth two points, baskets scored inside worth one, and free throws worth one. The thing is, how you win is different. The winner is not decided by seeing who gets to 50 first. Instead, you have to knock out your opponent with some specialized “personal challenge rules.” After you get to 50, you challenge someone by passing the ball to him. The person checks the ball back, and the court clears of all the other players, so that the game temporarily becomes a one-on-one duel. If you score, the person gets ‘iced’ (eliminated), and you get the chance to pass the ball and challenge another player. If the other person gets possession of the ball, the waiting players come back in, and you’ll have to wait until you score again to attempt another icing.

A couple of other little kids joined in my and B’s 50 game, but they were basically non-factors. Essentially, I was playing one-on-one against B. Frankly, I thought I was going to get massacred. But B went easy enough. He played at half-speed. I didn’t really score against him, but I was able to comfortably keep with him defensively. He displayed some flashy And1 style handles, but wasn’t able to embarrass me. Apparently, that was enough for him. We stopped the game before 10 points were even scored. He complimented my D and told me to get ready for the next game. Looks like I was in. I was happy that I was at least decent enough to earn his respect.

******

There is nothing especially worth mentioning about the couple of games that I played. B rarely ever passed. And when he did, it was rarer still that I was at the receiving end. (Luckily, when I did get the ball, I usually was able to score, or get a decent assist off. And even if I didn’t, I was still contributing by hustling to set picks and sealing my man on D.) Still, we somehow won both of those games, and won them quite handily, despite not having had much team play and ball movement. All things considered, I played fairly well.

Well enough to get compared to Sasha Vujacic #$&(*#!.

After we won the second game, B acknowledged my defense.

“Man, that kid plays some good D,” B grunted.

“Yeah, he hustles and distracts you. I like him. Pesky…like Vujacic!” DeWitt exclaimed.

I wasn’t too delighted with the comparison. Vujacic has never been a marquee player in the NBA. But I supposed, a compliment is a compliment.

Anyway, as you can see, nothing too momentous about the basketball that was played.

But what was noteworthy was the fact that I seem to have gotten close to getting a glimpse of a gang conflict.

******

In the middle of the second game, the action abruptly stopped. Without a word, a large part of the guys present began marching out of the courts. For a split second, I wondered whether an alien telepathic signal was responsible for this mass exodus. The few peeps left behind shrugged when I asked them about what was going on. They didn’t know what the hell was transpiring either. I then looked at where the cats were headed and saw that they were walking towards two cars parked outside of the courts. The passengers inside the cars rolled down their windows. Shouting commenced. There was some talk about bluffing, guns being drawn, don’t fuck with me, this is our house, blah blah blah. This went on for about twenty minutes.

“Damn, let’s just shut up and get back to the game. Y’all gonna make the po po come,” Julius muttered in exasperation.

I wondered whether I should quietly leave, lest I be drawn into a world I don’t necessarily want to participate in.

Eventually, the cars drove off. No one had been shanked or filled with holes. The dudes returned to the court to resume and complete the game.

I asked them what the confrontation was all about, and they wouldn’t say.

I left it at that.

******

******

I realize that I’ve kinda left my Whartscape recap hanging. I’ll be sure to plug more about tomorrow.

Whartscape 2010 Part I

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Originally, I was going to go to Whartscape and write a post detailing my thoughts about each set that I watched in classical concert-blogger fashion.

But then I decided that a straightforward concert review simply wouldn’t do my experience enough justice. I wanted to revoke, not catalog.

So I figure, I might as well just talk about the craziness of the weekend.

******

I’d hoped that Whartscape would turn out to be a fun music festival. Me being stuck here in Baltimore and all, I wanted something that could substitute for Lollapalooza. Indeed, my expectations proved to be horribly inaccurate. Fun was not something that Whartscape always was. There was more visceral, musical enjoyment to be found in that Sunday I went to Lollapalooza last summer than in all four days of Whartscape that I stood through (though the first day of Whartscape was a theater day).

As a nice gesture, I’d like to at least give the pretense of liking every song that I hear at a concert. While I’m not a musician, I imagine it’s a horrid sight to see a contingent of people blankly standing still with aimless eyes while looking down from the stage. Yeah, I get that honest reception is necessary for the benefit of the musician to know whether or not he’s found his appropriate audience (or is plain stinking it up), but if the musician made the energy of coming out to play, I’d like to at least give the slightest amount of energy to be a small confidence booster. Nah, I don’t thrash my head, dagger my ass to everything I hear, but even if I don’t like something, I’ll at least lightly and politely nod my head to the rhythm (if there is one). Plus, something about movement can make some songs more palatable. Nah, I don’t constantly dance out of a sense of altruism. The motivation is selfish, as well — I can move as a last desperate attempt to inject some enjoyment into the song.

But yeah, throughout all of Whartscape, I think I only found myself instinctively dancing to five of the sets that I heard out of tens. It was more a matter of taste than anything. I went in I less “enjoyed” the music at the festival, for the most part, rather than “appreciated.” Going back to what Jason Willett (who played as the bassist for Little Howlin’ Wolf  at Whart, by the way) told me at True Vine, I still need several bridges before my brain programming can rewire itself to wholly accept noise (by which I mean the genre of music).  As open-minded as I’d like to fathom myself, I still innately reject music at this point that lacks standard rhythms, progressions, and scales.

That was one reason I’m glad I came to Whartscape. I crossed one more bridge, came one island closer to being able to comprehend noise. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find out that some of the bands that I listened to and considered to be noise, were actually defined as noise rock by the hipsters, which is apparently different and more “mainstream” than true noise, and/or post-punk rock whatever the fuck that is supposed to mean among the medley of musical genres, by some of the noise enthusiasts present. But hey, progress is progress. The ability to be able to appreciate any bit more of the Different, to confine myself slightly less to conventions, is a victory.

But I digress. Less about hipster definitions. More about hipsters themselves. And just what the heck happened this weekend.

******

I’m going to go ahead and skip Thursday. It was interesting. The meaning of the word interesting has worn down over time due to the over-usage of the word. But I mean it, Thursday, the “theater day” was interesting. Ian MacKaye flipping people off. Short films that would give some Northwestern film professors diarrhea. A naked woman, man, and presumably, their baby. Spontaneous cutting of hair on stage. Tasteless jokes about rape at a gas station and farting.

What transpired on Thursday escapes description.

******

But, ah yes, Friday.

With my high expectations about the bands, I’d invited my friend Charles from his humble abode in Virginia to come up to Baltimore hell to check out this event that I’d hyped up so much. We rushed to Whartscape after he came in on Friday. Amtrak delays had held back his arrival by a good two hours, and I was wondering about the treasure trove of music we’d be missing out on already. Every hipster I’d talked to in Baltimore had told me about the impeccability, infallibility of every single band on the lineup. In retrospect, I was setting us up for disappointment.

The first full act we saw was So Percussion. So Percussion jammed on an unexpected array of instruments, which included the likes of blocks of wood, plant stems, paper, and cacti (apparently, cacti needles can be plucked to make some nasty noises). As a collection of spontaneous sounds, this was music distilled down to its root definition as a medium of strung-together sound. The band members compared themselves to John Cage. For sure, the avant-garde-ness was there. So Percussion was interesting, but something I’d prefer to have observed as a museum exhibit, rather than an outdoor musical festival performance. It was a bit too hot and muggy to apply the concentration necessary to perceive their pieces. Following So Percussion was Club Lyfestyle, which wasn’t even a band, but a neon-green-clad dance troupe that skipped to techno. The techno they danced to was hideously catchy, but the spazz-dancing itself was somewhat harder to digest. And after Club Lyfestyle was a few other bands that eventually led to Needle Gun. Needle Gun was the last straw we could handle that afternoon in terms of the rampant experimentalism, combined with the overbearing heat. Charles and I actually left the festival for a while to find some food. Doubt was creeping in. I was a bit stressed, wondering if I bet off a bit more than I could chew, whether there was anything on the lineup at this festival, with the exception of guaranteed Dan Deacon, that Charles and I could perhaps absorb.

Our hopes were answered when we came back to see Javelin. I’d argue that, upon retrospect, Javelin’s set remains the best part of the weekend. Starved for something that had something resembling a melody and structured beats, Javelin was a mid-day catharsis. I’d been waiting to dance all afternoon. The synthesize handclaps and 8-bit loops began hitting with full force. I bounced up and down with the rest of the brightly-dressed crowd in appreciation. Hell, they even got Charles dancing and throwing his arms up during “Soda Popinski,” the sickest track they played out of their sick setlist, and the dude barely even moves his chin hairs to stuff that he likes! The setlist totaled only five or six songs, I think, clocking in at under 25 minutes. Wickedly short, and wickedly effective. Javelin is now on my radar.

While plenty of off-putting and discordant acts still did take the stage in the hours and days after them, Javelin deserves massive props for empowering me to make it through the rest of the festival, come experimentalism, come noise, come shine, or come rain…

Getting Chased by a Pimp — A Defining Moment of My Life

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Whatever you do, keep your life interesting. That’s a motto I strive to live by.

Glad that this summer has made things relatively easy for me in that regard. The past two days has especially been action-packed.

Last night, I had the so-called “privilege” of hearing my roommate and estranged lesbian lover come to a passionate reconciliation of sighs and moans. In this case, the magic, for them, lasted past midnight. Congratulations Cinderellas, I just wanted to sleep. Goddamn you thin walls. No, really, I actually wanted to sleep and not hear the loud noises.

And tonight, on the way back from the first day of Whartscape, I had the pleasure of being chased by a drugged-up pimp for a couple of blocks. You see, I was turning this street corner when this brightly-dressed guy greeted me with two girls flanking him. I didn’t instantaneously recognize that this was a case of a pee-ai-em-pee with his hos. Thanks to Hollywood, I always pictured prostitutes as being down-and-out and jaded women in their 30’s with raspy smoker voices. Pimps I imagined as big dudes in their 40s  with pink suits, diamond chains, gold grills, top hats and canes. The people I actually saw looked way younger. The guy looked to be 18 at the most. He was wearing a plaid flannel shirt with skinny jeans and skater shoes, pretty standard high-school/college fare. The girls looked even younger, 16 maybe. They were both wearing some alien-looking stringy metallic leotards. One of them was wearing a gigantic sparkling chain with the word ‘LOVE’ on it. Ironic. The hipsters at Whartscape would’ve eaten that up.

Still, despite how entrenched by preconceptions were, it didn’t take too long to figure out. I said ‘Hi’ to the guy (big mistake), and he immediately started talking about some two-for-one recession deal. I got the idea. I’d encountered a real-life pimp in the wild. Unfortunately for him, I wasn’t feeling the stimulus package, so I quickly declined. Both threesomes and herpes frighten me. Plus, the fact that the pimp had these crazy bloodshot eyes and seemed to be under the influence of something didn’t help his cause. As I passed them by, I made some passing comment establishing my lack of interest. I forgot what it was. May have said something about not wanting to go to the dark side tonight, or something else stupid like that, but at this point, it’s all conjecture. Whatever I said, it pissed him off. I heard some shuffling and saw him scampering towards me. I began sprinting.

I lost him after only a couple of blocks. There was no way he was going to catch up to me, but that small chase still got me a pleasant rush of adrenaline through my body. Fear in limited amounts is an awesome feeling. I almost wish he could’ve chased me for a little bit longer.

People always ask me how and why I always manage to find myself involved in these goofy encounters with nutty people. How could I be so unlucky/lucky? I guess it’s because honestly, on a certain level, I seek and search out this craziness. I’m exposing myself more to the possibility of these events happening to me more than they would to the average sheltered suburban-raised college student by going to sketch areas of cities at godless hours. Why do I do it? Yeah, I could get mugged, killed, raped, all of that good stuff and blah blah blah. But seriously, it’s exhilarating, that spark of adrenaline ignited by the slightest shock of fear.

Silly bus ride

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

These moments, these silly moments, are the ones most worth cherishing.

I was walking to the bus stop today after work when the clouds suddenly began to puke rain. Completely drenched within seconds. I was wearing white shorts and bright red boxers. Bad idea. The white quickly soaked through to reveal the brilliant red underneath (which sorta looked pink).

I bowled through the wall of water. Kinda exhilarating, that feeling of cold splashing onto your face. This was a nice break from the heat.

Still, as much as I like precipitation, I’m glad a bus was waiting right at the stop — fortunate, because there was no cover in the proximity.

There were a handful of seats left on the bus. I just happened to choose the one right next to an air-conditioning vent. Brrrr.

And then a leak erupted in the roof of the ghetto bus over my seat. I got a nice waterfall that flattened my hair.

The people around me were obviously stifling their smiles. Twitching cheek muscles do not lie. As a result, I tried making eye contact with a couple of them to see if I could make them break into giggles, but everybody avoided eye contact except for this one older Chinese lady, who did manage to crack a slight grin, before turning back to her daughter to talk about something serious, presumably about medical school. Smile, people, smile!

As the water started evaporating off of me, I felt frigid for the first time here in Baltimore. I hadn’t expected to go from sweaty to shivering in minutes.

The A/C and waterfalling were freezing me. I had to move. I asked this one black guy if I could take the seat next to him because of the leak. He snickered, which I took to be an affirmative. Yes, congratulations for smiling!

******

So ends that conundrum. But expectedly, one arose to take its place. As the bus shut its doors and departed the stop, one last straggler caught up and forced her way in.

The bus driver exploded in rage. She stopped the bus in the middle of the road and began violently gesturing her arms.

I’d like to point out that the straggler was a white college chick. The bus driver was black, middle-aged woman. No, I’m not just randomly mentioning these bits of information. They actually have bearing on the situation.

Ms. Busdriver delivered a lecture about her, er, love and compassion for white folks. She screamed at Ms. Straggler, first describing how today’s youth, especially prissy white youth, needed to be put into place with an organized nationwide round of vicious spanking. Ms. Busdriver proceeded to shriek about her conspiring white male bosses before going on tangents about her treacherous coworkers. Us passengers on the bus kept in silence, struck in a mixture of incredulity, fear, and amusement…but mostly amusement. Ms. Busdriver still had yet to start the bus back up. I did start to feel slightly bad, when the rant petered out into an exhausted lamentation about her monotonous hours on the wheel. I can only imagine how wearing her job would be. Research would probably demonstrate a correlation between driving back and forth along the same thirty-minute route for ten hours everyday and going insane. Ms. Busdriver ultimately concluded her statement with an ear-splitting wail.

Duly noted, I will not fuck with you, woman.

Ms. Straggler seemed to agree with that sentiment. For the duration of the diatribe, she cowered in her seat and nervously stroked her iPhone.

******

The bus ground to a halt at 29th and St. Paul, my stop. After the wail, the bus driver hadn’t spoken again for the rest of my trip. For that matter, the entire bus had stayed relatively quiet.

As I got off, I made sure to thank her for the ride. “Huh,” Ms. Busdriver grumbled.

Man, people are crazy.

Addendum on Inception

Monday, July 19th, 2010

You know what? The more I think about it, the more I am absolutely convinced that the movie was only about dreams on a superficial plot-based level. At its core essence, Inception has to be a treatise about film, it simply has to be. The writing was too deliberate. The word deliberate and its whole family of synonyms was invented to describe the scripting.

The depiction of dreams in the film is spectacular, breathtaking. But let’s be honest, it’s not actually how dreams are. Real dreams, oxymoron not intended, are even more fantastic, with “fantastic” meaning more weird, sexual, nonsensical, and random, in this case. If you want to see an accurate portrayal and exploration of dreams, you’re going to the wrong film.

But while dreams don’t work like that, movies do. The whole spiel about architectures, projections, creation of illusions, and whatnot. It’s all facets of filmmaking. Hell, even the cast could be seen as a loose parallel to a film crew. You got the director, the architect who creates the dimension, the lead that operates in this dimension, and the producers, other guys who support the machine.

Christopher Nolan is a fucking genius.

P.S: How mindfuckalicious would it have been if you saw a woman’s hand grab the spinning top at the end of the film?