Visiting Adam in Arlington, Virginia

I got back today off the Amtrak (320 Central Ave.) after visiting with my brother Adam in Arlington, VA. For the most part, our visit was more to see where he lives — in fact, he sent me a link to a humorous video about Arlington. We visited only one landmark: The Pentagon Memorial which is very tasteful and pleasant.

We stopped at a number of restaurants and bars. I particularly liked the salami/Gorgonzola pizza at Piola Restaurant (1550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA); their drinks and desserts were also excellent. We also visited Galaxy Hut (2711 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA) which is a really cool bar — much like Lux LoungeMySpace link (666 South Ave.) in its casual atmosphere, outdoor patio, interesting clientele, and absence of advertising and televisions (well, except for one).

On both sides of the trip, the train stops in Manhattan and it's an hour and a half before the Rochester train leaves, so I had a chance to get lunch. I stopped at New Pizza Town II (360 7th Ave., New York) which was pretty good — nothing like a slice of ziti-topped pizza with big glops of ricotta. On the way home, I learned that Amtrak's Business Class is not worth much: the seats are a little bigger with curtains on the windows, free soft drinks, and most importantly, the car is located at one end of the train so foot traffic is minimal.

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Not Quite Dead Yet

I was walking back home from Ali's and I saw a car stopped in South Avenue in front of Al Sigl Center (1000 Elmwood Ave.). The driver was tooting his horn and yelling to someone. I thought he was being nutty, but once he drove through the parking lot to the bus stop, the headlights of the car revealed a figure slumped over inside.

He and I tried to rouse the person (it looked like a man, but appeared to have a purse, so I didn't know) but they didn't wake up, although still clearly breathing. Neither of us were sure what to do so we left. The driver of the car mentioned the smell of alcohol and commented something to the extent that drunks are on their own, apparently clearing his conscience … or just assuaging his guilt.

I decided to call 911 and they said they'd send someone. I felt bad, on the one hand, because I knew the care this person would receive would likely not be adequate to set them on a path to a healthy life. Then again, I really know nothing about the situation. They could have been like me some particular Saturday night, stumbling into a bus stop to "rest" after carrying a curbside string trimmer that held some valuable parts — only to pass out stone drunk as I have been known to do. They could have fit my stereotype of a homeless person — someone who is probably mentally challenged (or at best ill equipped to scratch out modest success in this modern world) and this was the best they could do for the night. They could have chosen that life and actually been prepared for the conditions — after all, they were bundled in what appeared to be no fewer than 3 layers of clothes, and seemed possibly adequately warm to survive.

So I don't know whether I even should have interfered. In my defense, I was unable to get any response, much less a satisfactory one — even if it was just to leave them alone. I don't much care for disrupting someone else's freedom to live as they choose, but I also feel that once in a position where you can't respond, you leave yourself vulnerable to such disruptions.

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Dogtown, Oh My God

After Ali and I had lunch at Dogtown Hots (691 Monroe Ave.), I headed to The Rochester Contemporary Art Gallery (137 East Ave.) to check out the installation there: Sam van Aken's Audition. Ali and I went to the opening reception last week, but both Thumper and Oh My God were works based on sound, and it was pretty much impossible to fully experience them with all the crowd noise.

I have to admit I was enamored of the idea of Oh My God: a 60-foot-long, 10-foot-high wall of mismatched speakers, impossibly arranged to form a perfect rectangle. I knew from the opening that it sporadically played voices and sounds. I sat in front of it for (what turned out to be) nearly the entirety of its 7-minute loop. The phrase "oh my God" — versions thereof collected from famous and not-so-famous media sources — emanates sporadically from one randomly-selected speaker. And then from another, and another, and so on — gradually playing more and more frequently until building to a cacophonous and overwhelming climax.

As I was letting myself get lost in the experience, I recognized a few of the voices and their sources from popular movies and television. Sometimes I'd recognize a voice that was played earlier being played in a new location. I was also aware of the digital distortion from the variety of low sampling rates and MPEG-styled compression artifacts — a specific kind of harmonic whine that tended to distract me. But certain voices I didn't recognize (save for their intonation), and they brought me specifically to the events of September 11.

In reading the information binder for Oh My God, it turns out that was, in fact, Aken's inspiration. In unavoidably viewing the terrible footage that day over-and-over until he became numb to it, the one thing that rang out was a woman's voice saying, "oh my God" in one of the clips. [In case you don't recall, the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists piloting hijacked commercial airplanes on September 11, 2001.]

I was kind-of saddened that the point was so … simple: that this impressive-scaled work, reminiscent of the ideally-packed order of Manhattan's maps and its skylines, was just a reflection of the numbness achieved by repetitive playback of an event by the media by creating numbness to a phrase by parroting its own frequent use in media.

I still want to like it so bad, but I'm at a loss to find any more depth in it. But hey: maybe that's the point too.

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Vito [Friscia] After [being a 9/11 first responder]

My first film at The Rochester High Falls International Film Festival (RHFIFF) was Vito After — the documentary about Vito Friscia and his battle with health issues following being a first-responder at the 9/11 attacks. It was a very nice film about the man and increased awareness of the scope of the problem: both in the cops' unwillingness to answer surveys honestly from their self-sufficient tough-guy personae (Friscia is shown marking "no affect on quality of life" despite a nagging cough), and in the mystified medical professionals who have been unable to decipher solid answers from the deluge of illness and conditions. During the question-and-answer, Friscia was there along with filmmaker Maria Pusateri. She said that the group shown doing the research was running out of money and the federal government was not supplying more — in fact, this was the only mention in the film or the Q-and-A of the government; the movie refreshingly doesn't target blame on any group as it's simply not really knowable who is "to blame".

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Happy Birthday, Wanda June at the Dryden

The Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) showed Happy Birthday, Wanda June and Ali and I got to see it, despite the terrible road conditions getting there. It was a film based on a play by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. with a very theatrical feel, giving it a bizarre edge. It was funny and poignant, making the point that war is really quite pointless and that there really isn't any value in the "heroism" of fighting and killing. Oh, and how incredibly silly and dangerous the idea of "heaven" is.

The plot of the film follows a woman and her son. Her husband has been out-of-contact for 8 years on some kind of heroic journey — wars, killing animals and the like. She gets a college degree and begins to piece her own life together by courting two men: a pacifist doctor and a hero-worshiping vacuum cleaner salesman. Her husband makes a surprise return and tries to retain his brazen, hero's status.

The point, in a way, is to ask, "what the fuck is so heroic about killing?" It really resonated with me. I had been asking more-or-less the same question for a while. For instance, it's common knowledge that you thank soldiers for defending the country. But given our eternal conflict in Iraq, it's become … unsatisfying … for me to do so. When you fundamentally disagree with the idea of war in the first place, and then add on that further fighting is only inciting existing enemies and creating more then how can you thank someone for making America less safe? It gets to the point of patronizing — like thanking the neighborhood cat-murdering idiot for keeping your house safe from cat infestation.

In fact, it's more about fear. I feel compelled to thank a soldier for the sake of not getting in trouble, yet my opinion of the situation is so bad that I want to tell them, "stop fucking volunteering!!!!" [With extra exclamation points, even.] Please.

And what scares me more is people who believe in an afterlife — especially those who think it's the promised land of 57 varieties of virgins. And before you think I'm bashing Islam alone, ask a Christian how much they're looking forward to meeting Jesus and how lucky people are whose miserable earthly existence is cut short. It's really quite scary. I really would like it if people believed like I did: that we get one shot at life and that we should make the best of it and help everyone else to make the best of theirs too.

But that makes me some kind of Godless monster, right? I mean, true evil in the world comes from the Others — the people who don't read the Bible and don't go to church and don't hate gays and don't believe women are just baby incubators.

Sorry … I digress …

The response from war hawks is always the same: "your pacifist beliefs are all well and good, but what happens when someone sticks a gun in your face?" Well then the rules change, don't they? If you believe in the value of life — especially that you only get one go around — then you'd better believe I'm going to try and avoid kisses from bullets rushing to show me the love.

The trick is this: "peace first". Or, if you must, "war last".

In other words, if you come upon people who say, "we hate America," figure out why first. At present, the only reaction is to blow the fuck out of them. You see, we can talk and understand and resolve for a long time — even have an ebb and flow about the whole thing — but you can't un-blow the fuck out of someone. So save that for last.

Then the response from the hawks and jingoists is, "what about 9/11?" Oh yeah — what about that? We need to get "them", right? And who are "they"? Why Osama bin Laden of course. Haven't heard that name in a while, have you? Of course not: if you watch 9/11 Press for Truth or read The Complete 911 Timeline or the related book, The Terror Timeline: Year by Year, Day by Day, Minute by Minute: A Comprehensive Chronicle of the Road to 9/11—and America's Response, you'll find that the Bushies carefully herded bin Laden to safety in Pakistan.

You've been had, America.  Wake up!

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