The Beast Pageant in Boston

About this time last Thursday, I was arriving in Boston. As an actor in The Beast Pageant, I was tagging along with filmmaker Albert and costume designer Vanessa to The Boston Underground Film Festival (BUFF). The Beast Pageant's artistic dream-logic metaphor was just barely appropriate for the horror-and-gore territory covered by the festival.

The opening-night screening was Hobo With a Shotgun at The Kendall Square Cinema (1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge, MA) — where all the rest of the films would be screened. I found "Hobo" fantastic — a 1980's action-exploitation film with Rutger Hauer, no less, in the lead role as a hobo trying to make ends meet but cornered into violent action. The bad guys are played with comic-absurd gusto as all parties are supported by a tongue-in-cheek script.

Afterward, that night's part was at T.T. the Bear's Place (10 Brookline Pl., Cambridge, MA), right around the corner from Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub (472 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA). There were several bands and The Whore Church was performing live video mixing. Unfortunately it wasn't much of a place to chat (nor was there food) so we went to the Middle East for dinner which was pretty good. We weren't particularly impressed by T.T.'s as service was blasé and drinks were expensive ($2.50 for a soda, really? — but I guess that's Boston for you.) We got the last train on the Red Line to get home around 12:15 a.m.

On Friday we headed to The Gallery Diner (11 P St., South Boston, MA) which was fantastic. We made smalltalk with the friendly owners Paul and Colleen and the food was great. Exploring the Harvard Square area, we stopped at a few record and comic stores and I got an excellent fresh, locally-produced shake at the regional fast-food chain b.good (24 Dunster St., Cambridge, MA).

I checked out the "BUFF Family Values" short film program back at the festival and was pleased with all the films — some disturbing, some powerful, some funny, and some just strange. Later that night, we all saw Machete Maidens Unleashed which was a pretty decent documentary about the Philippine exploitation film industry in the 1970's and 1980's. I opted to see the 1973 film The Twilight People which was made in the Philippines during that era — a terrible film by nearly all counts. I recall listening to the dialog and thinking, "I wish they'd stop talking" and a scene later when they were walking through the jungle, "I wish there was more dialog". It was astounding to me that someone put this film together and decided they were done — continuity, plot, editing, and special effects came second to, well, cost, I guess.

Saturday started with an acceptable breakfast at Mul's Diner (75 W. Broadway, South Boston, MA). From there we went straight to the festival to catch "OMFG LMFAO!" and "Psychedelicinema" — a pair of shorts programs. The first offered a few chuckles but we didn't find it all that funny. The second was, in my opinion, a little better, but it was really abstract films and not psychedelic. We stayed for about half the program, skipping out partway through the 30-minute final film.

Between screenings I met Josh MacDonald, writer of The Corridor. I skipped the "Where the Music's At" music-videos short program, to see Josh's film. It was really excellent: evenly paced and gradually asking for suspended disbelief at the increasingly paranormal activity ensuing on screen. Despite its evenness, it delves into some extremely dark and gruesome territory — I found it highly successful.

We had a break and got to hang out (finally!) with other filmmakers at The Friendly Toast (1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge, MA) — and the only event to include free food. [I realize I'm knocking the festival for lackluster treatment of out-of-town guests, but I also know they're running on a shoestring budget and just didn't plan things out very well for us.] We finished the day with a pleasant at-home dinner with friends and family.

Sunday I met with my college friends at The Daily Catch (441 Harvard St., Brookline, MA). In 2002 I went to The Daily Catch (323 Hanover St., Boston, MA) and loved it, so I had to go back. The location in Brookline is bigger so Jan, Griffin, John, Michelle, Rob, Kevin, and myself could comfortably fit. Unfortunately they didn't open until 2 so we dawdled on the street, hanging out at the super cool Irving's Toy and Card Shop (371 Harvard St., Brookline, MA). At lunch I had the pistacio-encrusted swordfish which was fantastic. Everyone had a good meal for sure. We stayed and talked for a couple hours then Kevin and I headed back to the festival.

We got there a bit early and had plenty of time to get into the big event (for us): the screening of The Beast Pageant (and on IMDb). About 40 people showed up to watch it and, as best I can tell, really enjoyed it. It was fun to be part of the question-and-answer panel.

Afterward was the closing night party at Tommy Doyle's Irish Pub and Restaurant (1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge, MA). (The festival runs once during the weekend, and then nearly all the films are repeated during the week, making it possible to actually see every screening.) I had a celebratory shot of 18-year-old Glenlivet scotch — my first alcoholic drink since the beginning of December when I quit (I permit myself a rare taste of something extraordinary, or under truly extraordinary circumstances.) The Beast Pageant won a runner-up "Director's Choice" award for best feature.

On Monday things got amusing. We got up for breakfast and I headed out around 11:05 to get the train back home. We had been averaging 15 minutes to get to the South Station where I was to get the train, but today buses were running on a half-hour schedule rather than every 10 minutes. I called for a taxi around 11:30 and was promised one immediately; I passed on boarding a bus that arrived shortly after. Alas, the cab didn't show up in time. I took the next bus and got to the Amtrak station (Summer St. and Atlantic Ave., Boston, MA) about 20 minutes late — if only I'd have hopped on that 11:30 bus. Alas, I traded my unclaimed ticket for one tomorrow. At least I got to see "Future Imperfect" — the science fiction short film program. It was okay but not great. Kevin was kind enough to let me stay at his place.

That night he and I went out and got dinner at Punjab Palace (109 Brighton Ave., Allston, MA) which really had great Indian cuisine. After that we went to see bands play at Charlie's Kitchen (10 Elliot St., Cambridge, MA). We were disappointed in the first act and headed to The Lizard Lounge (1667 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA) for an open-mic. That was a blast and we stayed quite late. We got back to his house and I slept on the futon couch.

I left when Kevin went to work, taking the T into the city packed with all the commuters. I found the Banksy graffiti art that Kevin mentioned off Essex Street then went to The South Street Diner (178 Kneeland St., Boston, MA) for breakfast. The staff was friendly and the breakfast burrito was quite good. I hung around and chatted for quite some time, arriving at the train station with plenty of time to spare.

I was happy to be on the train home. I arrived in Albany a little late but had about an hour before it left again, so my parents stopped by and we had a quick and decent Italian dinner at (if I remember right) Rudy's V & R Ristorante (483 Broadway, Rensselaer) across the tracks from the station. I was worried for a bit but got back in time to get back on the train home.

Camping at Stony Brook State Park

After the parade, Ali and I got lunch at Mac's Philly Steaks (76 South Main St., Canandaigua). It's a decent place and — with my only slightly trained taste — felt that their cheese-steak sandwiches were quite authentic. It was definitely a good start before we headed out to Stony Brook State Park (10820 State Route 36, Dansville) to go camping.

The first thing we noted was there were several signs declaring that no alcohol was permitted in the park. This was not mentioned earlier and we intended on having a *ahem* good time, so our cooler was filled with quite a bit of beer and wine coolers. As such, we said nothing and quietly circumvented the rule by using cups and keeping it inside the tent. It was only because the park was minimally staffed that we — and some significant percentage of other campers (10% to 75% would be my guess) — were able to imbibe.

I imagine the rule was created to allow rangers to eject "rowdy" campers. However, it's really just a way to circumvent the inherent unfairness of a subjectively applied rule like "no alcohol abuse". The personal prejudices of a park ranger would directly come into play — perhaps as innocent as permitting attractive young women to "keep it quiet" or as sinister as searching the camps of black people for illegal contraband.

I end up stuck at a crossroads about it all. On the one hand, I think it's important to allow a certain subjective leeway in interpreting the law — after all, it's part of the checks and balances devised in the Constitution. But on the other hand, I want law itself to be, well, law — such that it defines the boundaries of permissible behavior.

As it stands now, it appears that determining which laws are "Law" and which are "suggestions" is a collectively agreed-upon and largely arbitrary process — molesting children?: no way; talking on your cell phone while driving?: only if you won't get caught. It goes back to what I said before: laws are entirely voluntary. Personal behavior is not defined by law, but it often correlates because laws — in my opinion — should codify only universally unacceptable behaviors. A tall order indeed — and in all likelihood, too tall to actually accomplish.

All I'm saying is that laws should either be all absolute or all suggestions but not an arbitrary mix.

Anyway … where was I. Oh yeah, camping.

So Ali and I got set up pretty well and spent the first day kind of lounging around. Well, that's what we did most of the rest of the time too. We did go on a hike around the rim of the gorge … a long, tiring hike indeed.

We also swam in the man-made, stream-fed pool. It was a clever dam structure in the gorge to offer a swimming area that included a kiddie section and another section that went as deep as 8 feet. It was very cold — around 60°F. I had been in the water already so I was prepared but Ali was quite shocked by it. I found that I could get used to it, though. It was also quite nice that, despite the silt in the water, there was no chlorine so it left you feeling nice and fresh.

We also spent a lot of time exploring the gorge — another illegal activity that a large contingent of park visitors freely violated [thank goodness for funding cuts so there were no rangers to kick us out!]. I particularly liked the larger waterfalls, one of which included a deep section you could jump into from a short rock ledge, and another had a blast of cool water that you could let pound on your back like a friggin' 200 gallon-per-minute massage. The stream varied in width and flow-rate, depending on whether it had cut through depths of the slate bed. Some of the deeper troughs had enough flow and were smooth enough that you could use them like a water slide. The rough patches in the slate bottoms were enough to rub holes in my 20-year-old swimsuit, though.

We left the campground once to get ice cream at The Stony Brook Farm Market (10895 State Route 36, Dansville) — a nice excursion in the middle of the weekend. Ali had accidentally booked through Monday so we got to stay late on Sunday. The place cleared out right at 11 a.m. — check-out time — leaving us with just a half-dozen other camps in sight; much different from the fully-booked state over the weekend. We got back in the afternoon on Sunday and tried getting back into the swing of things with limited success.