Monday, April 26, 2010

Hang It Up

"What you do want from me? I’m a fucking human being!

I was shopping in a vitamin store on 86th Street when I heard someone shouting those very words for the entire neighborhood to hear.

At first I thought someone was auditioning for a local production of The Elephant Man. But then I saw a young woman walking done the street shrieking into a cell phone.

Well, lady, I thought, since you claim to be a human being, perhaps you could act like one?

It wouldn't take much. You could just lower your voice, clean up your mouth, and keep your private business private. That would be a great start.

We’ve all gotten used to hearing bits of one-sided conversations as we pass people on the street and sometimes they can be quite loud. But this woman had reached a decible level so high she could have won a yodeling contest--without leaving Brooklyn.

Her voice faded as she walked down the avenue and I dismissed the Jersey Shore reject from my mind, certain I'd never see--or hear--her again. But I was wrong.

I left the store and had only gone a few feet when I heard those wince-inducing tones once again.

I looked around and there she was, squatting on her haunches in front of jewelry store, still yakking into her cell phone as she waited for the bus.

I slowed down a little...actually I stopped dead in my tracks and started listening. Looking back, I must say it was pretty shameless, but it wasn’t like I was straining my ears. This woman could have been in the middle of the Mojave Desert for all the restraint she was showing.

She was speaking so loudly I wonder if perhaps she really wanted people to know her business--sort of like an emotional karaoke show.

Still, there was nothing keeping me there—except for my desire to eavesdrop. I could have kept walking, but I wanted to know what was going on here. And I got an earful.

From what I could decipher, this young lady was involved in a love triangle and she was reaming out her beau over his two-timing ways.

As she spoke, I peered down 86th, pretending to look for the bus in bogus anticipation, and listened to a tale of ugly threats, domestic abuse and late night booty calls.

And it got weirder. It appeared the two women knew each other. Apparently the other woman—it’s hard to say just who actually is the "other" in this saga—had visited my friend for a tête à tête.

“I despise her,” the girl shouted. “But she’s a part of you!”

That's a good line for a country song. I felt like I was watching a cable reality show. No wonder soap operas are going off the air. You can hear one just walking out of your house.

I wondered what this guy looked like since he had sparked so much passion in two women. I wish now I had taken notes, but that might have been a little bit too obvious.

The woman's voice toned down after a few minutes, I lost interest and started walking home. I got about a block away when I heard loud female voice.

“The car is going to crush you like a fucking pancake!”

Oh, no. Is Snooki II following me? Maybe's she angry at me for listening in on her phone call. But then I turned and saw a woman pushing a baby carriage and speaking to a little girl walking beside her who couldn’t have been more than five years old. The warning had been directed to the child, not me.

I applaud this woman for giving her daughter an important lesson in traffic safety, but I was appalled by her word choice.

I tried to imagine my own mother using the f-bomb as she gave me and my siblings such a warning, but I drew a blank. Mothers just didn’t talk that way back then—or at least not around me.

Then horns started going off and I saw guy stopped at the red light giving the finger to the driver behind him. Some days you wonder if you’re living on the right planet.

Maybe this is how human beings behave. Shout your intimate details at the top of your lungs, flip the bird in lieu of conversation, and talk to your toddler like a longshoreman. Perhaps the Elephant Man was right to put that bag over his head.

As I was walking down Fifth Avenue, I saw two little Mexican girls giggling as they played around a newly planted tree. They were having so much fun that just hearing them laugh cheered me up.

I know it doesn’t sound like much, but what do you want from me? I’m a fucking human being.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dead Heat

You can’t keep a good zombie down. In fact, that’s pretty much what makes them zombies—that and the cannibalism.

Like zombies themselves, the zombie movie refuses to die. There are some slight plot variations, but the basic story usually involves a handful of humans fending off a battalion of flesh-eating corposes.

The humans fight among themselves, get picked off one by one, and then the zombies smash their way into wherever the heroes are hiding and then all hell really does break loose. Roll the credits.

These movies will never be mistaken for great cinema, but some of them—a few of them--can be reasonably entertaining as you long as you’ve got nothing else going on.

Now if you’re squeamish…you probably shouldn’t be watching a zombie movie. You know there’s going to be severed limbs and gallons of fake blood spilling all over the place, so why torture yourself? If you expect everyone to hug it out and go vegan, you don't know much about zombies.

Zombies are pretty low on the monster movie food chain. Vampires can be suave and sexy. Werewolves are tortured souls who struggle to contain the best within.

And zombies? They're just walking cadavers. They don't try to seduce people; they just eat them. And they're awfully low on angst. That's probably why you rarely see a movie about one zombie. They're not that interesting on their own. You need a whole herd of the bastards.

According to the Zombie Reporting Center --I couldn't possibly make that up--1932’s White Zombie with Bela Lugosi is credited with being the very first zombie movie.

What’s really scary is that I actually saw that movie many years ago. All I remember was Bela putting the whammy on his enemies and forcing them to work on his sugar plantation all night long. It's not a nice thing to do, but it does cut down on your overhead.

I remember watching Night of the Living Dead years ago on late night TV, back in the pre-DVR days. Back then if you wanted to see a horror movie late at night, you had to stay up late at night and watch the thing in real time. By the next day you pretty much looked like one of the living dead yourself.

28 Days Later added a lot to the genre, even though the monsters actually weren’t zombies, just severely messed up human beings. The film dropped the slow, foot-dragging ghouls in favor of faster, leaner freaks who sprinted after their victims and thus made for some very exciting scenes.

Heil, No!

I recently rented a Norwegian horror movie called Dead Snow which tells the blood-soaked story of a group of young medical students who take off for a weekend in the woods and wind up getting a very personal lesson in gross anatomy.

It turns out they’re staying in an area once occupied by a group of Nazis who were driven off to the frozen woods to die back in the day, but who instead become flesh-eating ghouls. I'm not sure if these guys were due any backpay from the German army but it could make for an interesting court case.

Soon the young people are battling the evil Nazi zombies, or as we call them in America, Tea Baggers. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one.)

Along the way we have mutilation, amputation, and infestation as scores of Third Reich renegades emerge from the snow banks to gnash on anything that gets in the way of their molars. I half-expected to see Sgt. Schulz and Col. Klink goose-stepping across the tundra while munching on human body parts.

You know expression “as pure as the driven snow”? Forget it. The snow in this movie is quickly soaked with blood and strewn with guts.

The filmmakers seemed particularly enthralled with entrails, which are ripped, yanked, and used for a rope ladder during the course of the movie. The monsters did everything but skip rope with somebody’s innards.

The slicing and dicing wore me out toward the end, but I think that’s the point of today’s horror movies. If people aren’t wincing, you’re not doing it right.

I finally caught up with Zombieland last week and I rather enjoyed it. The director said he was inspired to take the comedy route by Shaun of the Dead and while Zombieland isn't in the same league as Shaun—I love that picture—it’s definitely worth renting.

The hero is a neurotic nerd who stays alive thanks to a list of rules designed to keep him out of the hands–and teeth--of the living dead.

These rules keep him alive, but the guy gradually learns that they also prevent him from living. The film's got plenty of action, romance, a surprise guest star and a murderous clown. What else do you need?

I suspect we’ll have more comic zombie pictures, since its so much easier than actually taking the genre seriously. And I'd much prefer these kinds of movies over the crop of teenybopper-in-love-with-a-vampire stories we’re currently suffering through. Talk about horrifying...

If you can’t get enough of the undead, the Chiller network is kicking off a zombie film series on Earth Day as part of what they call their Recycled Bodies series. That's their joke, not mine.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Fringe Movement

I came home late one night last week and saw a small group of men on Fifth Avenue huddling around a silver van.

At first I thought they were all friends, but then I noticed the air was charged in a way that was anything but cordial.

Everyone was speaking Arabic, a sign of the neighborhood’s shifting demographics, and the tones were getting increasingly unfriendly.

I know--I should have kept walking. You never know what can happen in these situations. Someone might not appreciate being eyeballed and decide to punch your teeth out. If things get really hostile and people start shooting, a bullet isn’t going to say “please” before it tears through your skull.

But I wanted to know what was going on. I’m a journalist and I’ve been hanging on the edge of mayhem for years, waiting for the cops or fire fighters to give me the official story. I’m also nosy and this scene was like reality TV without the commercials.

I moved through the crowd that had gathered to watch this incident, but I wouldn’t allow myself to be a part of it. A crowd is always somebody else. These people around me were gawkers; I was an observer.

I heard some shouting and saw an older man in a white polo shirt aggressively push his way out from behind the wheel of the van and yell at the men around him.

Half the people in the group were talking into cell phones and at least one of them must have called 911 because a police car soon came rolling down the avenue.

It must be tough wading into the middle of these fiascos. Throw in the language and cultural hurdles and I was very glad to be on the sidelines.

The cops separated the crowd into two groups and pulled the old guy over to my side of the street to get his story.

"He cursed me," the old man declared in heavily accented English, "he cursed my father, he cursed my mother, he cursed my whole family!"

The old man got so excited that some of his companions began patting his shoulders to calm him down.

He wanted somebody arrested, but one of the cops explained that the other man would probably want to press charges, too, and everybody would wind up in the police station.

"I don't think anybody wants that," the cop said.

I looked at the faces in the crowd, watching them as they viewed the confrontation. I almost envied these people’s ability to just stand there and stare at the goings-on, like they were in zoning out in front of their widescreens at home instead of looking at real human beings.

One man looked at me with a kind of casual comraderie that often sprouts up at these situations. He smirked and rolled his eyes, as if saying what idiots these people were. But it’s easy to be superior when the bad news isn’t happening to you. When you're in the middle of it all, it's a different story. Then you're the injured party.

Nothing to See Here

I asked a heavyset woman in a warm-up suit what had happened and she told me the two men were fighting over a parking spot--a New York classic. She said that another guy had started all the trouble.

"He was calling this man an old fart," she said and then paused for a moment before speaking again.

"That's why I don't have friends in this neighborhood," she said.

I broke free of the crowd a few minutes later after things seemed to be calming down.

I know what it's like to be the main attraction. When my mother’s health was failing, ambulances often came to our house and they attracted a lot attention. I remember calling for help one particular morning when she was having great difficulty breathing.

As I watched the EMTs carry her out to the ambulance on a stretcher, some loser, some bum, who was crossing the street poked his head into the back of the vehicle to stare at my mother like she was an animal in the zoo.

He was not in the least bit subtle about it and I'm wishing now that I had hit him a brick.

The next night I was running down the steps of the City Hall subway station in a losing bid to catch an uptown R train when I heard somebody yelling.

I was on the platform and I turned to see a guy in a hoodie with his hands cuffed behind his back standing near the token booth. Three cops hovered around him and he was getting more and more agitated.

“I didn’t do nothing!” he shouted.

“Take it easy,” one cop said, “take it easy.”

I watched this drama through the metal bars that divided the station. I had missed my train so there wasn't much else to do. I was low key, though. I didn’t just stare blindly at the guy like the elderly woman next to me, who kept sliding almonds into her mouth.

“I didn’t do nothing,” the guy said yet again and actually started to walk away.

One of the cops didn’t appreciate this and grabbed the guy's hood, yanking him back like a fish on a hook.

“Don’t move!

Dude, I thought you’re handcuffed. Even if you got away, then what? I pictured the guy opening his apartment door, making his dinner, and wielding the remote all with his hands cuffed behind his back.

I saw a young woman speaking to one of the cops. The train noise drowned out her words, but I believe she was the victim of whatever this guy had done and she was now telling her story.

I watched for a little while longer and then my train pulled into the station and the show--at least for me--was over.