Thursday, October 29, 2009

Beating Children (in a Roller Derby Halloween Costume Contest)

People often ask me why I don't drink. I give various answers: that I never quite acquired a taste for it, that I'm cheap, that there was an incident in kindergarden, etc... All true (mostly), but the short answer for my tea-totaling is that there's very little I can imagine doing drunk that I wouldn't also do while sober.

Which brings us to last Saturday night. I went to the Gotham Girls Roller Derby Post-Season Showdown, where both the Brooklyn Bombshells and the Queens of Pain faced off against Seattle's Rat City Rollers. In between bouts they hold their annual Halloween Costume Contest.

In last year's contest, there were only 4 entries. Two with rather run-of-the-mill, store-bought costumes (I think a pirate and a sexy something or other), one person with goth/ren-faire attire and a nice set of prosthetic horns, and then one cute, hipsterish girl dressed as an abstract zebra. (I'll let you guess who won that contest.) I remember at the time kicking myself for not dressing up, as I think it was an easily winnable contest.

Not wanting to miss the opportunity again this year, I suited up as
an oldie, but goodie: the wind-powered, Affirmative Action inspired Samurai from The Superfriends. I even took the time beforehand to tailor the costume so it would seem less diaper-like. I was confident.

And then I saw my fellow contestants. Five-year olds. Nary another adult to be seen. I'd be competing against adorable, little children for gift certificates to a Halloween store.

Fortunately, I'm not a proud man.

There were four of the little buggers. Two were quickly weeded out by show of applause - the first was a kid with a strap on tiger mask, and the second who was wearing the ninja mask that was part of a third kid's costume. So it was down to me, an adorable little witch girl and the even more puckish little half-ninja child, to whom someone had given an inflatable guitar, transforming his off-the-shelf Power Rangers ensemble into a "Guitar Hero" getup.

Guess who came in third. Against 2 kids.

As I said, I'm not a proud man. $50 gift certificate, baby... Kaze no Yō ni Hayaku!!

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Putting Lot

It's your last weekend to combine the inspiring spectacle of public installation art with the joys of Putt-Putt Golfing! It's The Putting Lot, and it's closing Sunday, October 4th!

Head out to Bushwick, where a mere $5 will get you a ball, club and the chance to play on 9 putting holes designed by 9 different artists in a formerly empty lot deep in East Brooklyn. Mostly designed from reclaimed materials, the different installations range from a pink soda bottle forest and lake to a storefront bodega where you have to shoot your ball through an old stand-up video game. The first hole is a clever simple stretch of "green" that is simply a photo poster of the garbage that was in the exact spot where the green sits.

It's easy enough to get to. Just take the L-Train out to the Jefferson stop, get out at the Jefferson/Wycoff exit and walk a block to 12 Wycoff. Done. Afterwards, grab some cheap tacos from the highly rated Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos, a few blocks away at 271 Starr Street (between Wyckoff Ave & St Nicholas Ave). There's a map on the link.

It's a mite chilly this weekend, of course, so take a jacket.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Ignorance from 9/11

So it's the September 11th again, the 9th time that date holds any special significance to me.

The tragedy and events of that day remains firmly etched in my mind; watching the towers fall as we ran towards downtown, walking through the smoke and falling ash, loading water into a police car, desperately wanting to help in any way possible, only to realize there was nothing else to be done.

But this week, I was reminded of the other tragic result of that day: the cultivation of unapologetic ignorance in the United States.

I was reminded of it as I watched Representative Joe Wilson, Republican from South Carolina shouted "You lie" at President Obama as he was giving an address on healthcare reform to a joint session of Congress. Joe Wilson was wrong. The facts prove that he's wrong. Yet for political and, no doubt, financial reasons (he has received about half a million dollars from the health care industry), he clings to his extremely disrespectful, harmful and blatantly untrue accusation.

We as a country have been divided, not in two, but three groups. On one side you have liberals and progressives, who, while often at odds on several issues, generally agree in spite of themselves.

But on the other side, you have two distinct groups. Those who are genuinely ignorant, having been misinformed or not informed at all, who refuse to try to learn more and instead blindly cling to their anger, bigotry and cynicism. And then there are those who DO know better, but purposefully and unabashedly foster ignorance and fear in others, in order to achieve their own financial and political gains. I go back and forth on which ones are worse.

This, then, is the second, and far more insidious tragedy of 9/11. Being forced to watch as some portion of our family, friends and fellow citizens get dragged down into a quagmire of lies and deceit. Some are, in fact, good, decent people, who have just been lied to about what the real problems and who the real enemies are.

For myself, I lost a lifelong friend to this second tragedy. It was back in 2003; a fellow I've known since I was 3 years old was supposed to come up to NYC with his girlfriend. I had emailed him to see if that was still happening, if he needed a place to stay, etc...

His response was completely out of left field. I had been doing some light campaigning for Wesley Clark at the time and he had received several of my mass emails on behalf of the General. When my friend wrote back, it wasn't to make plans for his NYC visit, it was to berate me about my liberalism. He accused me of forgetting about the attacks on the twin towers, of somehow siding with the terrorists. He then went on to criticize my decision to pursue an acting career in NYC, telling me to "grow up" and stop being a dreamer.

The irony of these various personal attacks baffled me. For one, while I was in New York on September 11th, 2001, he was in Florida, unemployed, probably asleep, possibly hungover, and here he is accusing me of forgetting a catastrophic event I witnessed first hand? As for the attacks on my life choices, here's a guy who dropped out of college and moved to Florida to just hang out and party, whose life decisions and dreams I ALWAYS supported and encouraged, telling me to grow up. Ridiculous.

And the worst part was, it wasn't him. It wasn't the guy I grew up with, who confided in me about his family troubles. Even after we grew apart with age and distance, we had a bond that was supposed to be like one of family. Yet here he was, brainwashed by conservative talk radio, attacking the guy with whom he had spent countless weekends watching TV, playing tennis, exploring in the woods, growing up together. And for what? Ignorance and lies.

And what I find terribly tragic is that, thanks to the corporate propaganda machine that is Fox News Corp, there is nearly half an entire generation of people in this country that are going to grow up with these selfish, racist, and small-minded ideologies pounded into their brains. They are going to grow up afraid of change and without real empathy for either their community or their fellow man. And just plain ignorant.

That's just incredibly sad.

My "Insomnia"

People often refer to themselves as insomniacs. Sometimes it's caused by physical reasons, and in other cases it's anxiety or depression.

For myself, as I write this at 6:21 am, I've never really felt comfortable referring to my night owlishness as "insomnia." It's more just... laziness.

Not that I'm too lazy to fall asleep, though sometimes that's how it feels. It's more like my subconscious mind doesn't feel as though I've accomplished enough during the day, and it's forcing me to stay awake in the hope that I'll be productive before I close my eyes.

Take today for example. Granted, I'm a bit sick, but there's still plenty I could have done. And I did none of it. Intellectually I know that, if I had just accomplished A, B and C on my To Do list, I'd feel much better about myself and be just that many more steps closer towards achieving my various goals in life. And there's no real anxiety about not know what to do with myself - I know the path I need to walk, I just find myself rolling in the poisonous weeds right next to it instead.

So now, I'm wide awake, watching the sunlight slowly illuminate my Western window view, knowing that, because of said sunlight, I'll probably only get four, maybe five, hours of sleep.

Which I'll finally get around to once I hit "Publish Post." Because in my current, pathetic drought of motivation, even just rattling off these few paragraphs will be enough of a fix for my strung out sub-conscious mind to let me go to sleep.

::time passes::

Heh... I just paused for a bit, staring at the screen. That's the other part of my subconscious, the part that likes to keep me from succeeding at pretty much anything constructive. It's rather insidious and, unfortunately, incredibly effective at it's task.

But now, at 6:32 am, I prevail. Knowing, of course, that the cycle will begin all over again tomorrow.

Well, at least tomorrow I have plans to take a salsa lesson...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

So, I'm told I should write a book...

Last week I had drinks with the brother and sister book editor (sister) and Colbert Report writer (brother) who had attended my Godzilla lecture. They had been encouraging me to develop it into a book or some other type of thing.

The get together was not momentous; I wasn't being offered a book deal or anything. Just a little chat about the current state of books and a bit of a writer's pep talk over a few beers (or water, in my case). Apparently the cute-in-that-incredibly-enticing-nerd-girl-with-those-glasses-you-know-the-ones-way editor gives people she feels are good writers this little shove in the right direction... once. Though she did say she'd prod me again in 6 months, which made me feel special.

However, now I'm left with the rather dangerous thought that I'm a good writer. I've never really thought about it too much; I've always felt I was far too prone to using run-on sentences, semi-colons and ellipses to really consider myself anything more than a hack. Yet here was this obviously-smarter-than-me-about-books person telling me that, no, I actually am a decent writer.

Well, at any rate, it'd be a nice creative option to fall back on when I completely stop exercising or taking care of my physical health in any way, shape or form.

Which starts... oh, 2 years ago.

I guess I should start writing.

Monday, August 17, 2009

An Open Letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. President,

The majority of the American public, and certainly near total majority of the people who VOTED for you, want a PUBLIC OPTION now.

Do not cave to imagined pressure from a bunch of vocal, lying conservative pundits, who are using the same tactics to fight healthcare reform that they used to get us into the quagmire that is Iraq. They are in the minority and, more importantly, in the WRONG.

You have the chance to do something amazing. Live up to your moment in history. Be the man your children, your parents, your grandparents and your supporters hope you to be. Be bigger than the hopes of your country. Be the President of the United States of America, sir.


Sincerely and with greatest hope and optimism,

Shyaporn Theerakulstit
First Generation Asian American Citizen

Write to him yourself at

Let them know that you, the American people, want true healthcare reform, and that it cannot happen without a PUBLIC OPTION.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

ShyaFarm 1.0

For the 18 years I've lived in New York I've longed for an outdoor space. I'd always ask people I'd meet who had outdoor spaces how they found their place, peppering them with questions about their rent, what they were going to plant, how long they'd lived there, etc... I always imagined that should I ever be fortunate to move into a place with a little land attached, that I'd take advantage of the situation.

So, when we found our new apartment in Astoria last fall, aside from it's quirkiness, location and size, one of the big selling points was the presence of a backyard. It's a relatively large backyard, maybe 25' x 30', and, though most of it is covered with a concrete deck, it still has a sizable four foot wide strip of earth along three sides, and other random patches as well.

And so it began last October and November, buying a cheap but decent, workable shovel and trolling for affordable flower bulbs in the clearance section at Home Depot. I settled on tulips, with a side of irises. I turned the soil along the far wall, where the solitary existing bit of greenery lived; a tall Tree of Heaven - essentially a large weed-tree, but quite solid and providing of a modicum of shade. I removed large rocks and a portion of the smaller ones, loosening the soil and raising the bed a touch. I buried the bulbs deeper than normal due to the lateness of the season and built a small stone boarder with some of the rocks I had recovered from the soil. The work spanned two or three days, and November was a bit late to be planting bulbs, but I took satisfaction in the effort nevertheless.

A somewhat delayed and mild winter gave my poor novice bulb planting the chance it needed, and sure enough, come March, I was rewarded with the first signs of life, as the tulips began to push their way through the rocky soil.

At the same time, I was beginning to see progress on a different front; I had begun vegetable seedlings in trays in my bedroom, balanced across the ironing board configuration of a scavenged Jefferson Chair.

A month later began the backbreaking work of sifting the remaining soil of all rocks, stones and foreign debris. (Literally backbreaking - I dislocated 3 ribs... with the help of a crappy fusion yoga class.) I had been given a book on bio-intensive gardening and was very intent on prepping the soil as well as possible.

So I built a soil sifter out of some hardware cloth and a dresser drawer I pulled from a garbage pile and got to work. I worked anywhere from 3 to 8 hours a day (I have a lot of free time) running shovelful after shovelful of dirt through my earth sieve. This went on for about 6 weeks. About half that time consisted of rain, but I still ended up putting hundreds of hours of work into the project. I know that seems like a lot, but consider the math.

The internet tells me a cubic foot of dirt, presumably with rocks and such, weighs anywhere from 40-80 lbs. Let's be conservative and estimate that my dirt only weighed 40 lb per cubic foot. I moved/sifted approximately 200 (?)* cubic feet of dirt. And I moved it twice (once out and through the sifter into a big pile and then back. More than twice really, as there were a lot of intermediate moves, but to once again be conservative, let's say it only went back and forth once each way. That means that, over the course of 6 weeks, I moved, by myself, 16 metric TONS of dirt. With a SHOVEL.

(*Note: These numbers need to be double checked.)

After the dirt was sifted, I created additional boarders with the large rocks, created a rock path to the water hose by our patio stairs with the remaining small rocks, and then washed all the medium sized rocks and built a small water garden/fish pond out of an old plastic storage bin.

Allow me, for a moment, to pat my own, mostly healed, back.

Around about this time, my seedlings had gotten to plantable size and the last frost date for this area had past, so in went the plants. Mesclun lettuce mixes, collard greens, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, and more. I seeded other things such as squash, peas, carrots, beets and beans directly into the ground and began another round of seedlings for radishes and the like. Herbs went along the edges of the plots.

All that remained was to water and weed. And weed. And weed. They're relentless. It's astonishing how many weeds have managed to take root in such a seemingly small space. And the occasional slug.

The mesclun hit the soil running. After what seemed like only a few weeks I was chewing on my first bits of mixed greens. Fresh, buttery lettuces, lightly sprinkled with balsamic and olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Fantastic.

And then, at varying rates, the other veggies began coming in. The peas took to their scaffolding like a champion, producing handfuls of lovely snap peas. The beans produced a nice harvest, but seems to be done after just one round. The nasturtiums have brightened up my salads with their edible flowers, collard greens have found themselves steamed and soupified, and the first squash died well to my pasta sauce.

And then there are the tomatoes.

At first they seemed obedient, wending their way up nicely through the bamboo and string pyramids I'd built for them from scratch. They looked promising; green and flowering. Then came the July rains and the tomatoes cried freedom. Crawling across the concrete, tearing down their bamboo tripods like caged animals powered by gravity and the sun, the tomatoes, both heirloom and cherry, began questioning my authority. I responded with a spiders web of cotton twine, trying to maintain some semblance of vertical stability. The maneuver worked to some degree, which only has left me with... harvesting.

It's a race against ripening with these tomatoes. Almost as fast as I can pick them, new ones ripen. The ones I've picked explode into over-ripeness in a day or two, splitting and rotting faster than I can pop them into salads or my mouth. I have a plan to enter a tomato jam making frenzy; hopefully that will help stem the tide.

So that's where I am thus far. We'll see what the rest of the summer and fall brings.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Super Secret Science Club

I was invited by a new friend to keep the nerd lecture ball rolling by attending the Super Secret Science Club, a scientific lecture series that meets on the second Tuesday of every month at the Bellhouse. Last Tuesday's speaker was paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson, discoverer of the Lucy skeleton, a 3.2-million-year-old early hominid, in Ethiopia.

It was AWESOME. Johanson made the material accessible without seeming watered down. He was funny, charming, flirty and appropriately bitter against religion and ignorance. He was lightly political as it pertained to the current state of science in our culture, and helped put the hard facts of his and others' discoveries into the context of the greater world at large.

He had discovered the bones in 1974, so as we watched pictures of he and his team working some 35 years ago, it was a fascinating juxtaposition of images of the younger, ambitious man and the seasoned, wiser, yet no less exuberant older man before us.

His lecture seldom dragged, and he handled the questions afterward with great aplomb, including one from a self-agrandizing moron who had clearly Wikipedia'd a catch word to use for that very night: "Could you speak regarding the TOPHOLOGY involved...," punching the word tophology (sp?) like an eager school boy auditioning for the role of teacher's pet.

The good Professor took this opportunity to PWN the punk, responding, "Actually, I was just hiking in the Rocky Mountains two days ago with a colleague when we came across a perfectly lovely deer pelvis and I pointed to it and said, 'That will never become a fossil,' and when she asked why, I said, 'Well, it's all a question of tophology, my dear.'

That's right punk, he knew the word AND had used it in context.

And then... he ended playing us a SONG about Australopithecus that someone had written for him. And said they were making a YouTube video of it. I was like, "Wha wha WHAAT?!? Ending paleontology lectures with a summary song?! That's MY bit!!!"

So in the end, I'd have to conclude that SSSC is a bit more nerdcore than Nerd Nite in the scientific branch of the Nerd world, but NN extends across the whole of Nerdery so still maintains it's street cred.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Godzilla Lecture Recap

As you may know, this past Friday I presented a short lecture at Nerd Nite entitled "Godzilla: History, Biology and Behavior of Hyper-evolved Theropod Kaiju." The event took place at Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn, a beautiful new performance lounge in the heart of DUMBO.

I had begun my work on the presentation nearly a month beforehand (more even), but was quickly delayed by a crashed logic board on my computer, which took the Apple store 12 days to replace. So I ended up having two weeks to put together my lecture, which might seem like a lot, but I also had to reconstruct both the backing beats and video from my "Up From the Depths" Godzilla video, as all my original work had been stolen with my old Macbook Pro. So I was a bit crunched for time.

Fortunately for me, many wonderful bloggers, scientists and fans, have posted a lot of material regarding the speculative zoology of Godzilla. Using all of that available material, with a few ideas of my own, I slowly began figuring out a structure for my lecture. Headed into my final week, I had, more or less, a rough draft of about 80% of the presentation text, and started to build the Powerpoint slideshow from that. Ah Powerpoint, I've never found you useful before. Ever.

I find deadlines both overwhelming and empowering, so as Friday approached, I grew simultaneously anxious and excited. By Thursday, I could see the end in sight, which is a good sign, but I could also see how much work I had over the remaining 24-hours. Still, with a few hours to spare, everything came together and I was even able to rehearse my presentation in front of my TV as it ran my slides and felt semi-confident as I headed out to Brooklyn.

8pm, and all is fine. Gay Nerd Speed Dating is in full, if perhaps sparsely attended, swing, and the Nerd Nite host is on stage presiding over the festivities. That wraps up and shortly thereafter I find myself on stage doing tech and sound check for my impending talk/rap. There was a little scare for about 15 minutes when the video projector simply stopped working, but other than that the only hiccup was that in the end, due to various compatibility issues and missing cables, the other two lecturers ended up having to use my computer for their presentations. Macbook: 3, Thinkpad: 0.

The first two presentations go well - we learned a nice bit about both the evolution of Korean Pop Music and the Harp. Then, after a brief break and setup, it was my turn.

What followed was the most satisfying live performance of my entire career.

And what followed that was the realization that I had failed to hit record on my camera.

So I'm only left with my memories. Our host Matt provided me with an easy opening joke when he accidentally referred to the Japanese as "Japan people," and it from there I immediately relaxed. The audience was fantastic, responding to both my lecture and the accompanying slides incredibly well. The lecture may have run nearly twice as long as intended due to laugh breaks. I haven't performed live in quite some time, so the connection with the audience was intoxicating, and a hundred times so as it was my own material AND they were responding to it all.

Then I performed "Up From the Depths" live and it went pretty perfectly. End. Applause. Yay.

Following that, I had a great time during the Question and Answer section, fielding questions about Zombies vs Godzilla (Godzilla, of course), the origins of the Godzilla movie franchise and Global Warming vs Godzilla. I told the long-haired hippy who asked the climate change question that we should be more concerned about Godzilla, who is a real and present danger, than some imaginery threat of the ice caps melting in the future. I'd forgotten how much I love improvising on the spot, and this particular format was ideal for tickling this bit of my fancy.

Anyway, I'm sort of cringing sitting here tooting my own horn, even in the relatively anonymous world of internet blogging. So suffice it to say I had a great time and I think the audience did as well. A few positive blog posts about the evening:

(Yes, that's right. I Googled myself. Shut up.)

People were incredibly nice afterwards, coming up to me and giving very positive feedback. One kind fellow handed me the card to his online store and told me to pick out anything I liked and he'd send it to me. Another fellow had come down all the way from Vermont expressly for the Godzilla lecture and, I was glad to hear, wasn't disappointed.

One of the nicest compliments of the night was when a writer from The Colbert Report told me that the lecture was on the same level as that show (at which I tittered like a little school girl on the inside).

When I asked him if they were hiring, he responded, "We're never hiring."

C'est la vie =)