Thursday, December 20, 2007

Justice for Christmas

Crack is wack.

But is it decidedly wacker than coke, robbery, arson, sexual abuse or manslaughter?

Mandatory minimums suck.

The US Supreme Court finally seems to agree. With the minimums, not necessarily the crack.

And the US Sentencing Commission is right behind them. With the crack, not necessarily the minimums.

Just in time for the holidays.

Maybe we'll get our inmate count under 2 million in'08.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Answer Gift

I invented something today.

Maybe I didn't invent it, but I am naming it and I am taking full credit for that. At least.

Back in the summer, I sent a 1AMish text message to a bunch of people exclaiming, "TRANS-EFFING-FORMERS!" to let everyone know that I had just emerged satisfied and triumphant from my own neighborhood's premiere of the 2-hour trip back to my childhood. My trainer received that text. And she had a good laugh with me next time I saw her as we traded notes about what we enjoyed most about the movie.

A month later, she laughed when I serenaded her with "The Amazing Spider-Pig" theme from The Simpsons Movie. After both of us saw the flick, we traded notes about that one, too.

A week ago, she came to the gym clutching a small bag. I had not completed my Christmas shopping, so I was embarrassingly empty-handed. I didn't feel quite so bad when I opened the bag to find a t-shirt with the Autobot logo blaring from the chest area. We both laughed. As much at the memory of the first laugh as anything else.

When I resumed digging around for this b-boy movie that I really wanted to get for her, I kept coming up empty. My second choice, The Flight of the Conchords Season One , proved to be equally elusive. Then I saw a big stack of DVDs for The Simpsons Movie at Target. And the Answer Gift was born.

As you might deduce, the Answer Gift represents a dialogic approach to gift-giving. Like it's a thoughtful conversation. Jerome gives a gift to Tamara that corresponds to a shared experience unique to the two of them. As if he were asking her a question. Tamara then gives a gift to Jerome that corresponds to that same experience (or perhaps another thing they share in common). As if she were answering him.

Since I invented the name for the Answer Gift, I'm also going to set a couple of rules:

1) There is no price range or call for price parity. The thought is 1,000X more important than the cost. A good answer gift could cost 1/50th of the gift it is responding to. Or it could cost $375 more than the question gift. Doesn't matter. Long as it is a fitting response.

2) You can't give the answer gift at the same time you receive the question. You can give an answer gift at Christmas or for an anniversary or some other mutually shared holiday, but only after you've received the question gift first.

3) The answer gift doesn't have to be directly linked to the question. Conversational tangents are permitted and encouraged. As long as the answer gift connects in some way to an experience you share with the recipient(s).

And I think that's it. For now. Too many rules really aren't good for anything. trainer did laugh when she saw the box with Homer J.'s face and that porcine webslinger. What comes next I cannot say. Guess it's her turn to answer. Or not. That's kinda the beauty of the concept. It can end at any time. Or continue for as long as it keeps making sense.

Just like a real conversation.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Eulogy for a Gifted Bastard

You're not supposed to speak ill of the recently departed. There's kind of a code we all subscribe to 'cause we're not sure where those people have traveled to. Or how they might be able to exact retribution against us. Some of us truly don't have the stomach to pick on the defenseless. Most of us simply don't like to mess with our kharma.

Sometimes, though, exceptions deserve to be made when discussing the recently departed. Ike Turner is probably one of those exceptions.

You know all about the bastard side of him. There's a whole movie about it.

Maybe you even remember the gifted side of him. Or, probably, you remember how his gifts were most commonly filtered. As they were in the following performance from 1971ish. (Or was it '77ish?)

For most folks, Ike Turner is a supporting character in the story of his own demons. For some, he's the father of rock and/or roll. The truth, as it tends to do, derives from both.

This guy seems to have the whole story of Ike Turner--however condensed it may be--all figured out. I can't say much more about Ike than he did. But I did spend some time today digging around youtube for this. (Watch the first two minutes. Trust me.)

1993 was a very good year for me. That NCAA Tournament was one of my favorites. The most bittersweet of endings. But still in the top 3 of the 20-odd Tournaments I've watched. (1988 and 2003 fill out that list, BTW.)

And everything that was good about that tournament--indeed, that year--could be summed up in the first two minutes of that video.

I used to have a VHS of that game. And I used to watch the first two minutes. On the afternoons before the nights when I used to dash up and down a basketball court in front of 3,000 people. All blue and white and hairless. Arms and legs flying through the air. First name: Tremendous. Last name: Potential.

My fingertips glowed from being so close to such brilliant possibility. And I used to watch that video to see and hear a facsimile of what it was that was waiting for me to snatch it and make it mine.

I haven't watched it in years. Today, on the occasion of the death of Ike Turner, I needed to see it again.

It gave me goosebumps. Just like it used to. And it made me wonder where things had gone wrong. Maybe not all the way wrong. Some dreams came true. Some dreams died viciously. Others have been deferred altogether.

Life, much like that game, didn't turn out quite like I envisioned it.

As eulogies for Ike Turner slowly pile up, I can't help but feel that Ike would have related to that. He was clearly a hungry man. And he was an amazing musician. Yet, he will mostly be remembered for the worst that he was capable of.

Hardly what he would have envisioned for himself.

Rest, Bad Man. Peace may not be yours to have. But, if it means anything, your gifts still give.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Street Teams Are Made of Me

Numerous Cats Productions has four moving parts. Me, of course. Chris, the web developer, internet guru and father of arguably the most adorable 2-year-old alive. Dom, who runs a record label, sells tickets and redefines the hustle everyday of his life. And Lamont, who is currently chasing his own vision of the American dream.

That does not count Leslye, who shoots, edits, designs, codes, produces, directs, writes and performs minor miracles when called upon.

Of our five, I was the only one who traveled to attend Black Soil. It doesn’t matter why. It only matters that it is. Or was.

And that I was the lone hand, voice, set of feet and eyes available to street team for the okaymentary.

Which is how I occupied the last four days of my time in the Netherlands.

A Pre-Screening Party at Jimmy Wu’s. IDFA. The Flying Pig Hostels. Black Soil, itself. And every nook and cranny of a 25-round-mile-radius of Amsterdam proper. Or not so proper. As it were.

I wandered. Purposely. Accidentally. Endlessly. (Seriously. You should see the callouses on my feet.)

In those wanderings, I...well...I wish I could tell you that I was inspired. But inspiration is not the byproduct of the street teaming process. No matter where it takes place. It is exhausting. And, in the best of times, it is hopeful.

Hopeful that the people whose hands you shook were genuinely interested in your project and will remember when it is that you want them to attend your screening. Hopeful that none of the flyers you placed so thoughtfully and artfully will be carelessly discarded. Hopeful that you'll get a 10% return on all of the work you put in.

Fast forward to 7 pm on Sunday, Dec. 2. An hour before the Amsterdam screening of the okaymentary.

The venue hosting the Amsterdam installation of Black Soil was dope. Similar to the one in Rotterdam as Bitterzoet served multiple purposes. Theatre plus cafe plus bar. The gorgeous soda bottle of a Dutch-Israeli bartender who worked in the café arrived early. Her sunny brown eyes and extra large dimples sharply contrasted the dark, cold, rainy outside where most of my last desperate afternoon had taken place. Hope hung on. For just a few minutes longer.

Minutes before the screening, though, practicality entered the building.

The Bitterzoet Theatre contained about 150 seats. It was about a third full. I would have preferred that it be about a third empty. I made a quick visit to the bartender to keep my spirits up. And the screening commenced.

The post-show Q&A—as is becoming customary—featured an intriguing array of inquiries and comments about the internet and its cultural impact. We may not have made a widely seen (yet) or easy to sell film, but our story certainly is a thought-provoking one.

If only my credit card company accepted thoughts as payment.

Clinging to the last bits of hope, I asked the bartender to help me out with that.

By pouring several Jamesons, of course.

How else did you expect this story to end?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"Dude, We Have a Problem."

After my walking-talking meeting with the BFI cat, I saw London with new eyes. Gone was the wonder of walking through the world's largest (and dirtiest) outdoor museum. In came the feeling that it was just another place on earth for me to be. Doing whatever it is that I do. Clearly a different place than others I have lived in or visited. But nothing that was fundamentally larger than me.

That, of course, is when the mouth of the city gaped open and took a big, humbling bite out of me. In the form of one gawdawful day.

These days happen when you travel for long periods of time. They're unavoidable. How you deal with them proves your road mettle. Without doubt. One way or the other.

This kind of day pokes you in the eye, kicks you in the balls, then hovers over you--deciding whether to add a third, fourth or more kind of pain--while you writhe about. These days happen when you're away from home for more than just a week at the beach or a 3-day conference in Atlanta. They’re completely pitiless. And nothing makes you more sick. Not so much for home. But for something that feels comfortable. Knowable. Familiar.

Something that doesn’t involve dragging 70 lbs of clothes, flyers and equipment all over London.

My cell phone gets no service in Europe. I do not wear a watch. Which means that keeping time had been a daily challenge. A confusing one at that as I’d been in two different European time zones.

If there had been time to do some serious watch shopping, I may have avoided that gawdawful day in London. Alas, the watches I’d seen were either expensive arm jewelery or didn’t meet my immediate needs. Or both. Consequently, I had to be creative about how to trigger the end of each night’s sleep.

Which places us on the morning of Wed the 28th. The homie Adam--who graciously provided shelter in his brand new, yet to be furnished apartment in Hackney--and I both made mistakes in the way we set alarms on Tues night. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I do know that...well, let me just tell you.

A knock on my door woke me up and one sentence set the tone for the day.

“Dude, we have a problem.”

He informed me that it was 8:30 am. My flight departed at 9:40. That’s not much time to travel halfway across London and check in to Gatwick, but I crammed all of my things into my bags anyway and gave it a go.

We had no car. A taxi was not an option. Nor was a double-decker. Best bet was the Tube.

Sardines are the obvious metaphor that might describe the scene on the Underground during rush hour. That’s really not the whole story, though. And it’s not all the way accurate either.

An assembly line of human goings supplies densely packed train cars that depart every two minutes with a steady stream of passengers. You fight your way up, down and around the station. Fight your way onto the train. Fight your way off. Passively, of course. And without much sound. There are no loud conversations among the British. There is no echo of trains moving elsewhere on the subway system, either. There is just you—plus whatever crap you carry—quietly struggling to squeeze into half as much space as you really need. Oh, and 15 jillion other people trying to do the same thing at the same time. With 15 jillion more people coming right behind you.

We transferred trains once. Then again. Time quickly slipped away from me. We both realized there was no way I was going to board Easy Jet Flight 0942.

Bummer. With a capital B. For real. ‘Cause I was supposed to return to Amsterdam to do a radio interview that afternoon to promote my movie.

After we extracted ourselves from the moving metal amoeba, we found an internet connection. I checked flights. Called Philip and Sasha from Black Soil to see what my options were for arriving in time to do the interview. There was no flight available that would get me back to Amsterdam to do it.


Missed flight. Missed interview. Several new bruises from wrestling a me and a half through the Tube during rush. Oh...and I think the dollar lost 5 more cents to the pound while I endured all of that. Putting my money halfway to worthless.

Suddenly, London didn’t seem like just another place on earth for me to be. It felt like someplace I had to escape before the bank notified me that all of my accounts had been overdrawn. And I still had 70 lbs of my crap to lug around. Somewhere, a voice inside of me couldn’t figure out whether to whine or scream my disgust.

I logged onto the internet and checked all the choices for planes, trains and automobiles and found one semi-affordable option: book a new flight on Thurs. It cost me two pairs of sneakers and a couple CDs. Or a third of one month’s rent.

Adam, kind soul that he is, bought breakfast for both of us. A proper English breakfast with sausage, eggs, beans, toast, tea, tomatoes and mushrooms.

Since I was stuck in London for another day, Adam and I figured we’d try to make the best of it. He had only moved back to the country two weeks earlier and was still setting himself up. He had an apartment. Was still looking for a job. Had just opened a bank account. And still needed to buy a cell phone.

It seemed like a simple enough chore.

We hit up the cell phone store. Adam copped a mobile. We found a Starbucks and he got online to launch the service for his new phone. The sun even made an appearance. Maybe the day wouldn’t be so bad after all.

An hour and a half later, the battery on my laptop died. With him still stuck on step 26 of the 4,968-step process.

We found another Starbucks that had an electrical outlet. I had to ask a couple of blokes in business suits to give up their table so we could plug into the only one in the store. Adam got back online to resume the process. He got bumped off. Back online again. Bumped off again. Back online. Advanced to step 37. Bumped off. Back on. Was told to go back to step one.

When he finally made it to step 40, he was told that his mailing address was not being recognized and that he’d have to contact the Royal Post to get it verified. At no point was he invited to contact a live person. ‘Cause, um, there are no live people left working for his new cell phone provider, O2.

Obviously, this was not my battle. But when you watch someone struggle to restrain themselves from throwing a tantrum in a coffee shop, your energy can’t help but sour. Just a little bit. And that’s not a good thing. ‘Specially not when the day has already shit on you in about 8 different ways.

Mid-afternoon had crept upon us. We’d already drug all of my stuff through the morning rush hour on the tube. And were about to get stuck dragging it through the evening rush, too.

So...we jumped back on the train. Rather, we elbowed our way back through the Underground. Again, it was the best of a bad lot of travel options.

We arrived back at Adam’s place and made one more feeble attempt to salvage the day. Adam went to the Royal Post. And I tried to do laundry.

Seemed like two easy enough chores.

The apartment was fitted with a single machine which washed and dried. I fumbled through the instruction booklet, dumped some detergent into the receptacle and hit start on a very small load of jeans and boxers. Half hour later, the buzzer rang. I fumbled again through the instruction booklet, pressed a couple buttons and left the machine alone to do some drying.

Adam returned from the Post with bad news. He was going to have to wait 2-3 business days to have his address verified before his phone service could be activated.

More than an hour had passed since I started the dryer cycle so I figured I’d check my jeans and boxers. Surprisingly, they were very hot and very damp.

After an hour?

Perhaps I’d pressed the wrong combination of buttons. Or maybe I was proving Adam’s theory that I was mildly retarded. He had yet to learn how to properly use the machine, so he was little help. I re-read the instructions. Pressed some buttons. And we went out to get some dinner.

We wandered around. Heads down. Bellies growling. Every menu seemingly more expensive than the last. Finally, we saw a pizza place. Grabbed a table. Ordered a couple of drinks. And sighed a bit when the pretty Italian waitress returned with pints and pizza.

The day was pretty much over. There was only night to survive. And since Elie Wiesel was no where to be found, we chose the next best--and presumably cheapest—-entertainment option appropriate for such a day. We bought tickets for Rescue Dawn. A movie about prisoners of war trying to survive a Vietnamese concentration camp.

Given the day I’d endured, I found it to be a very cheerful film. Someone somewhere had it much worse off than me. And no matter how exhausted, frustrated or broke I was, my situation could have been much, much, much worse.

When we got back to the apartment, I optimistically checked the dryer.

Still damp.


Such is life.

In London.

On the road.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

H-U-S-T-L-E-R, Hustler

Before I ever booked a Trans-Atlantic flight, I targeted Giles Peterson as someone I needed to track down whilst on the other side of the pond. I put out a bunch of feelers to my circle and came up empty. Didn't seem like a problem, though. At this point in life, I've heard "No" so many times that "Yes" is a three-letter surprise to me.

Giles, as you may know, is a massive British DJ who has a show on BBC radio. Giles is also a long-time supporter of the Roots. The Roots are an integral part of my flick. A friend of the Roots should also be a friend of mine I figured. Hence, the ?uest to link up with Giles.

The new homies from the fest gave me two handfuls of leads who might be able to get me to him. I arrived in England late on Mon and figured I'd have Tues to make chase.

When I woke up on Tues, it occurred to me that I might actually be on a fool's mission. I mean, I could have handed Giles a DVD, but--whether he liked it or not--what exactly was he gonna do with it?

The new homie Kevin had put me onto this cat from the British Film Institute (BFI). I thought he'd be a most appropriate--and logical--target, so I rang him. He was on the grind himself but agreed to link up near a tube stop to do a little hand-off.

I met him. Handed him a DVD, flyer and business card. We were headed in the same direction, so we walked and talked for about 7 minutes total. He said he'd been hearing about the okaymentary and that he'd be interested in screening it at the BFI. I'd hardly call this an official meeting. Nor a firm commitment. Yet, it seemed as if this is the way things really get done in the entertainment industry.

Find someone to vouch for you. Make a call. Shake a hand. Fill that hand with something. Keep it moving. Cross your fingers.

Sometimes there's an office involved. Sometimes it happens in the street. As long as it happens.

And, when it does, I presume that I'll be able to make a new friend called Giles.