Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What Black Men Think

this is a public service announcement from the cast of "what black men think," an indie movie coming out in spring, '07. enjoy.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Nicole DuFresne, Guns and Self-Defense

i wanted to write something insightful about the nicole dufresne shooting because of the life sentence that was handed down this week to the kid that pulled the trigger. but then i read this article and thought that it summed up my feelings on the subject so perfectly, i'd pass it along -- so here it is.


A New York Shooting -- and What the Victims Did Wrong by Kent Fung

Even if you don't live in New York City, you've likely heard by now of an aspiring actress who was shot and killed during a robbery in Manhattan's Lower East Side last Friday. Much has been made of this killing - particularly, I believe, because the victim, Nicole duFresne, was young, pretty and blonde. (But that's another issue altogether.)

The killing was a tragedy, and I extend my condolences to Nicole's family and friends.

But duFresne's actions, along with her fiancé and their friends the night of their murders, are also a prime example of exactly how NOT to behave on a city street. I'm certainly not saying or implying that these victims deserved what happened to them. But they certainly made it easy for themselves to be victims. I think, therefore, this tragedy gives us the opportunity to review what it means to be safe in a modern urban environment.

For those who haven't read about the incident, here's an abbreviated account of what happened. On early Thursday morning, Nicole duFresne finished working at a popular Manhattan music club - her first night on the job - and had gone bar-hopping with her fiancée, Jeffrey Sparks, and two other friends. Upon leaving a bar around 3:15 a.m., the group was walking down the street when as many as seven teens stepped in front of them and accosted them. One of the men pulled a gun and demanded money. Sparks, drunk (by his own admission) and not thinking clearly, shoved the man aside and tried to walk past him; the man proceeded to pistol-whip Sparks. At some point, the muggers then grabbed the purse of one of duFresne's friends. DuFresne tried to stop him, reportedly saying, "What are you going to do? Shoot us?" At which point the mugger responded by taking Nicole's suggestion, shooting her in the chest. She was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

Once again, while no one is suggesting that Nicole deserved to die, she and her friends certainly didn't do anything to prevent this tragedy. Here's a list of the things they did wrong:

1) They were drunk in public. Now, I'm sure many of you will tell me that just because Nicole and her friends were drunk didn't justify they're being shot. You're right. But you're also missing the point. Anything that impairs your judgment, vision, reflexes and awareness should be consumed in the safety of a private home. I'm all for partying it up - do it myself on a regular basis. But I make it a point to never have more than a drink or two in me if I'm going to be out in public. Especially in a major city (such as New York). Especially late at night. This is probably the biggest mistake Nicole and her friends made, one that led to all the other ones that followed.

2) They were unaware. There's no telling what role alcohol had to do with this. But late at night, walking down the street, vigilance is crucial to staying safe. From what I've read, Nicole and her friends should have noticed a large group of teens walking toward them, noted the hostile aura around them, and tried to avoid them. Obviously, they didn't. Especially in a city, but not matter where you live, you should be constantly scanning ahead while in public, evaluating places where a criminal might be hiding and waiting for a choice victim, and - most importantly - avoiding those places. This might seem like a lot of trouble - but you can quickly make it an automatic habit, one that you do almost subconsciously. A good way to do this is to start by evaluating your usual routes - from work to your parking lot, from your home to the subway stop, etc. - and imagining where you would hide if you wanted to ambush yourself. That gives you a starting point of places you should make a point of scanning every time you go outside.

3) They failed to evaluate the situation correctly. Nicole and her friends were outnumbered. Surrounded. And at least one of the assailants was armed. Yet Sparks apparently thought the right thing to do was to shove one of them away. That's stupid, and akin to poking a rattlesnake for laughs and giggles. Again, I'm not saying he deserved to be beaten. But was it really a surprise that he was?

4) They failed to evaluate the situation correctly - part two. After Sparks had been beaten for his actions - i.e., the assailants had demonstrated their willingness to use violence - and after one of the assailants (reportedly) said, "Look, all we want is some money," they failed to just comply and give up their wallets and purses.

5) They failed to evaluate the situation correctly - part three. After Sparks had been beaten for his actions - i.e., the assailants had demonstrated their willingness to use violence - and after one of the assailants (reportedly) said, "Look, all we want is some money," Nicole evidently thought it was a good idea to challenge - to dare - and to taunt the gun wielder. In general, if someone is pointing a gun at you, it's hard to imagine a more inappropriate thing to say than, "What are you going to do, shoot us?"

The shooting of Nicole duFresne was an unfortunate occurrence. But if anything good can come from it, it's this: learn from her mistakes. Don't do what she and her friends did. Yes, it's true that we should all be able to walk the streets at any time, without risk to our safety, our loved ones, or our possessions. You have the right to walk down the street safely and unaccosted. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, not an idealized one, and precautions and sound judgment must be taken - regardless of rights.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

what does the "S" stand for?

The S train is a one stop midtown situation that runs from east to west and back again on four tracks. Everybody knows that there are other ways to get from point A to point B if you have to get across town and everybody knows that they aren’t as fast or nearly as efficient. That’s why everybody uses this train. And when i say everybody, i mean the unwashed masses, yearning to get to work on time.

If you’re smart, you hit the ground running. God help you if you need this train line and something goes awry, like there's less cars than usual or one track is out. It’s a messier stand-off than any other one. Then again, I can’t ever remember using it when it wasn’t as tightly packed as a clown car. There’s always this desperation involved that heightens the intensity of it all. I look around me as i'm headed towards the S and i feel like I’m running with the bulls in Pamplona because i'm surrounded by people who are moving as fast as i am -- so fast, in fact, that it seems as though none of us are really moving at all. The horde moves as one toward that one train door, a tidal wave of proletariats coming from every direction. The train is already full when we get there. And we get on anyway. That's what the S is like.

Lately, I've noticed that people are quick to mouth off on this line. It's trippy. I don't think that's ever a good idea in a city like this one because you don't know what people will say or do in retaliation. Maybe they'll ignore you. Maybe they'll snap a pistol in your face. (The last thing on earth that you would ever want to do is provoke someone, especially if they have a gun -- right?) Sometimes you don't have to do anything at all. Just standing on the platform is enough to get a complete stranger to attack you with a power saw. That's why i'm always in awe of people who will shoot their mouth off to a stranger. I honestly think it's some new kind of stupid.

The other day I’m on the east side headed west. i wanted to get into the very last car because it meant less people to weed through in my sprint for the next train I'd have to take to get home. That doesn't sound like much, I know -- but when you're in one of the busiest corners of the world, every little thing makes the commute easier. Of course, this meant running the length of the train, a skill in and of itself. The doors could always close before I get all the way to the end.
As I got to the last car, the doorway was a wall of people but i could see that there was room further into the car and evidently so could some Indian man directly behind me because we both began to ask people to move in. Surprisingly, they obliged. One of them didn’t move, and as the crowd shifting around him to accommodate us, he began to complain. As soon as I heard his voice, I knew that he was from the south. He talked like Boomhauer’s would-be cousin – not as fast but just as twangy. He must have been furious to talk at all – and why he directed his venom at me, I’ll never know. I guess as a black girl I must have seemed to be an easy target. Most Southerners I know don’t like to let their accents out of the bag up north. He looked Texas-German: stocky, with dark blonde features and blue eyes. Although he probably wasn’t, he looked severely middle aged. Like some crummy job that kept him well fed had totally worked him over, the wrong way.

He was all wound up and madder than a wet hen, letting me have it about how he waited for ten whole minutes until the train got there and he didn’t see why I should just walk up and get on the train, how supremely unfair it was. To tell you the truth, I was amused that he thought I was some Yankee.

We kept going tit for tat until i finally said, what do you want me to do. He said, i want you to get off the train, is what i want. I said, i can't get off the train, i'm already on it. So he went off on another tear and when he was finished, i said -- slowly, with feeling, in this really high pitched voice, like a little kid, all singsongy and soft -- i love you.

i know you're not going to believe this (because i didn't) but that totally shut him all the way up. of all the things i could have said, that's what got his goat? ha.

maybe when i said that he realized how stupid he sounded.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

it's like a dream...

I have a Treo and suddenly my life is a dream made real.

No more, the snippets of paper with illegible scribblings. No more, the post-its with phone numbers and notes to remind me of whatever and what not. No more business cards. If I have to find an upright bass player, I don’t have to scramble through a Rolodex. I have a dozen or so at my fingertips – literally. actually, a Rolodex is unthinkable at this point. i can't even imagine that i bought one once upon a time and thought that i was actually making progress...

i feel like everyone i know with one of these things has been zipping around in cars and i've been walking everywhere.

If I meet you at a party, or on the street or at a gig, I can get your phone number and then I can take your picture to go with it, to remember you – so months later, I’m not looking at your information and wondering, who in the wide wide world of sports is this? When I say I’m going to stay in touch, I can do it effortlessly. I can email you from anywhere, not just from my desk or my laptop. Everything dovetails. Everything fits. I can make videos. I can watch television. All those radio stations that love me in Colorado? I got ‘em right here. I could drop all of them a line as I walk through the park.

How could I run a business without this thing?

Everytime I turn it on, I figure out something else it can do. Scary but true -- I’ve discarded a whole world of endless clutter and paperwork. Everything has been recalibrated. My life is realigned. It’s like a dream.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

my new york city

When I was little, I would daydream about living in New York City. I knew that I would live in Harlem and that I would live alone. I also knew that I would have an unconventional creative life. I didn’t know what I would do to make money exactly, but I imagined that I would wear gowns for a living. I didn’t know if I would ever get married and have children but I knew that I would have lifelong friends, and that we would have grand adventures. I would eat things like lobster thermidor and collect bakelite jewelry – and although my mother and father would be around, no one would ever tell me when to go to bed. While other girls were thinking about what their wedding day would be like, I was standing on a box in the bathroom, pretending to accept some award, wondering what I’d say, what I’d wear.

Somehow, every famous anybody that had a modicum of talent had a story to tell about what happened to them when they lived there and what they did and how they pulled it off and when they left or why they stayed. Because back in the day (and I think this still holds true), if you wanted to be an actor, you went to New York City and did theater and then you went to California.

The question remains: What is "my New York City story"? Maybe what I should ask is: Where is "my New York City" in the first place?

This place is not the Emerald City that I dreamed of. That was a fantasy. It’s not the toilet filled with human excrement that overwhelmed me in the early 90s when I got here, either. That was reality then. The city is basically becoming a Jersey strip mall, filled with long-term tourists and short-term students. Something in me wants to get it overwith, go to graduate school and leave when I’m done. But I live in a wonderful section of Harlem, one that most people have never heard of. (Thank God.) My neighborhood doesn’t seem to be going down as quickly as the rest of the city. Things are getting pricey up here, though. Everyone is already running for the Bronx.

I want to leave but where would I go? How do you leave New York City? Once you’ve spent a certain amount of time here, I’m not sure that it’s entirely possible. I like Harlem, though. It's easy to understand why it was (and to some, it still is) the cultural capital of Black America.

Everything here is easier to stomach when you have a cool place to live. The reason why living alone in a Harlem apartment is such a luxury is because most of them have everything that a proper home should, besides a room to sleep in: a living room, a dining room, a foyer. A kitchen to sit and eat in. Closet space. Space, period. No small wonder – it was created for people with money and class. You can see the opulent remnants everywhere. The way most of the buildings have elevators and marble lobbies and chandeliers. The beautiful parks. The wide walkways that let you stroll. The lower east side, on the other hand, was built for the steady stream of immigrants who lived like lemmings in walk-ups with everything in one room.

Someone had the genius idea to turn my place into a two bedroom set-up, so I’m basically sleeping in what was the dining room. I’m rearranging everything, cleaning everything, throwing things away. It's spring cleaning in December. It's also a New Year's Eve tradition but why wait until the last minute? Time to make those end-of-the-year tax write-off donations to charitable organizations like The Salvation Army and Furnish-A-Future.

My little bachelorette pad, filled with Super 8 equipment and art books and framed lobby cards and mah jong bakelite jewelry, is somewhere underneath it all.