Monday, April 25, 2011

Exit Through the MOCA

I don't like modern art.

Modern art doesn't have to be explained, it doesn't have to follow any rules or guidelines; modern art can be formless, shapeless, messy, non-sensical, even ridiculous. If I were to write a blog with no paragraphs, no sentence structure and no standardized spelling it would be unreadable garbage, literate trash not worth the encrypted bits of data it's written on. But splatter some paint on canvas, cover a painting in abstract geometric shapes, take a picture of a soup can, and suddenly it's "art".

I despise modern artists - these new age con-men that hide behind their pseudo scientific etymology that criticizes the viewer for not understanding their post-modern, post-minimalist, conceptual-realist, impressionist via post-impressionist, neo-expressionist movement. The modern artist does not have to be "great", only to have others perceive them as "great"; their art requires no study or great skill - it's meant to be mass produced, copied, emulated. Modern art requires nothing on the part of the artist or the viewer; technique, style, and form are irrelevant, all that matters is how the art makes you "feel".

An eight year old by the name of Autumn de Forest began producing art pieces when she was five - she's already raked in $200,000. Doesn't matter if she's a child prodigy or if she's just lucky - people like her work because buying an 8-year old's art makes them feel "good."

Not even war has managed to escape the touchy-feely modern day art movement. In the early days of operation "Iraq Freedom" bomber crews would write epithet's on the sides of their bombs; "Take that Camel Jockey!" or "Hope you've got 72 virgins waiting on the other side, Mohammad!" Reporters took photographs, there was an uproar, and the Air Force apologized, promising a quick stop to the practice of writing insults on bombs. It was evidently okay to blow someone up, just not to call them a name while doing it.

Better to hit me with sticks and stones and break my bones because y'know, names can really hurt me.

One of the newest movements in modern art is "Street Art", an art movement that started about twenty years ago off the streets of New York and LA. Street artists are modern day surrealists that create guerrilla style art by placing their images on unsanctioned public space. Many don't consider them artists at all, but unlicensed vandals who should be fined and jailed for spraying "graffiti" on public buildings. Growing up with '70's and '80's pop culture, street artists don't appear to be interested in redefining art, but simply questioning its meaning by stating it doesn't have any meaning.

In other words, they delight in thumbing their nose at the establishment, especially the post modern art movement.

Last year, Banksy, the Andy Warhol of the street art movement, made a documentary entitled Exit Through The Giftshop. The movie was supposed to be a documentary about Banksy until he takes over the film and spins the cameras on filmmaker Thierry Guetta. Although Thierry Guetta has no discernible talent, Banksy lends him credibility, transforming Thierry into Mr. Brainwash, a non-talented overhyped genius sensation. A couple testimonials, a write up in the LA Weekly, and Thierry's Brainwash originals transform into priceless gems worth thousands of dollars.

Bat Papi is my favorite.

Starting this weekend the LA museum of contemporary art (MOCA) put on the first major museum "Street Art" exhibition - Art in the Streets. Like a mid-westerner avoiding a vegan restaurant, the MOCA is the kind of museum I would never enter unless I wanted to make myself irrationally angry watching people ogle over puddles of dripping ooze, but for Street Art I'll make an exception.

Street Art doesn't pretend to be anything, it is just as devoid of meaning as any other kind of modern art, except Street Art is both an incessant celebration of pop-culture and never ending mockery of the modern art movement.

My uncle Bernard is in town, so I decide to take him and my cousin Arlie to the exhibit. We park and Arlie pops for the tickets, $10 a piece. After nearly running a couple of pedestrians over, we discover we're at the wrong part of the museum, we'll have to take a shuttle to the exhibit which is being held in another part of the MOCA downtown. Ironically this was the best thing we could have done because the line for tickets outside the actual event looks to be about an hour long.

Inside we are greeted by a mural of dead animals covered in doors that function like a macabre pop up book, when the doors are flipped "open" they reveal the animals interior organs. Brains, guts, the digestive system. People open the doors then scurry away in revulsion.

Looking out over the museum the entire building strikes me as a carnival. The MOCA's interior is covered in graffiti, stencil art, and posters with videos playing in the background. It's packed with Hollywood hipsters wearing ironic T-shirts and coiffed hair, faces masked under thick McNamara glasses, bodies decorated with sleeves of tattoos, wrapped in so many lairs of irony one wonders if there is a person beneath the "look".

The crowd is an exhibit unto itself, young MILF's with adorable children who function not as kids but as fashion accessories, manicured metrosexuals, 5'1 lesbian couples with matching chain tattoos, unshaven intellectuals wearing leather jackets and sneakers, dolled up Asian girls being towed by their dopey white boy boyfriends, Echo Park Bohemians and vogue Westsiders who look like they rarely cross East of the 110, teenage taggers who drool over the cholo graffiti with wonder and envy.

As they say in LA, it's not an event, it's a "happening."

The art is as varied as it is bizarre; some of it I recognize because I've already seen it decorating the streets of LA for years; Shepard Fairey's Andre the Giant entitled "Obey" (he's also done the blue and red Obama poster), Invader's trademark Space Invader coming down to Earth, Lady Pink's Buff Monster - and of course Banksy.

Banksy's "I Hate Mondays!

There are ceilings hung with paper fighter jets riding skateboards above armored shogun warriors, disembodied arms spray painting buildings, cars pimped out with blue and pink chrome, a 3-D replica of an interior subway car two feet wide, a drum set just sitting out in the open waiting for anyone to play it, murals of cholo's drinking 40's and chola's wielding uzi's dressed as angels. It takes me a moment to realize that much of the art isn't even on canvas, but spray painted or stenciled into the walls of the MOCA itself - someone is going to have a time cleaning this all up.

"I like it," Bernie declares grandly, "I like it because it's an act of free will. I just can't tell if they are doing it to make a statement or make a buck."

"Probably both."

"I normally hate museums," Arlie adds, "but this doesn't feel like a museum at all."

She's right, it doesn't feel like a museum. The exhibit isn't confined to the art on display, but is a part of the walls themselves, even the crowd feels like a part of the show. This is art not for the elite, but for the masses; subversive, irreverent, flippant - it requires no "specialized" training to appreciate; Street Art is both a celebration and inditement of the billboards and advertisements that have become such a part of our architecture we can no longer imagine life without them.

I don't like Modern Art, but for Street Art, I'll make an exception.

Banksy's Police Beating Pinata

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dana's Thirtysomethingish Birthday


For most of us, our birthday is an excuse to get together with family and friends, have a good meal, open a few gifts and blow out some candles on a cake. After turning 21, I became indifferent to birthdays, all I had left to look forward to was may auto insurance dropping at age 25 and I just didn't see any point to celebrating getting older. Sometimes I've woken up and actually forgotten it's my day of birth until I get a call from my mother wishing me a "Happy Birthday."

Dana is my diametrical birthday opposite; my sister will often begin planning her birthday party weeks in advance, sending out evites to hundreds of potential attendees. Her birthday is not commemorated by a single party, but a week long event of exquisite dinners starting usually around the 4th of April which culminates on her "official" birthday in either a swank Hollywood hotel or trendy club on April 10th.

Last year Easter fell on the 4th.
Dana upstaged Jesus.

This year I get an email from Tracina, Dana's co-producer, that they are holding a birthday party for my sister at the Hudson, one of those versatile bars that simultaneously appeals to both men and women. The Hudson may look like a converted train box car on the outside, but on the inside it's a meeting place for the society of good looking white people with great cheek bones; a pit stop for hipsters before they head out to the even trendier and swankier clubs in West Hollywood.

In addition to celebrating Dana's birthday, they'll also be watching a live broadcast of her latest TV show, Marcel's Quantum Kitchen, with both the cast and crew in attendance. Given the last minute invitation, Dana isn't expecting a big crowd, but then this is just the opening birthday event.

Phil's got an invitation, he lives nearby so I stop by his place and we walk over. Like most trendy Hollywood bars, at the Hudson you've got to pay for valet or spend 15 minutes in a vain attempt looking for free parking before finally giving up and paying the $6 for the valet. The Midwesterner in me would rather walk, so we decide to hike the distance, it would be a pleasant stroll except for the deluge of white people walking their dogs.

We pass by a pair of dog owners making small talk about their breeds, and Phil unsuccessfully tries to hide his disgust. "I swear to God the worst part about owning a dog is all the banal questions you have to suffer through. How old is your dog? What breed is your pup? Where do you have him groomed? It's the worst."

I nod in sympathy. Freaking white people and their small talk.

Phil and I have got better things to discuss, like the press release for his new novel, Ass Eyes in a Sea of Spec. As we debate the content of the press release we pass a dog owner walking his poodle; he fires off a withering glare. We're not Weho material walking pampered dogs that spend their days in doggie day care, we're writers.

There goes the neighborhood.

We get to the Hudson early to enjoy the last vestiges of happy hour. Fifteen minutes and two drinks later, both of us are in a better mood. I ask Phil if he were a drink, what kind of drink would he be?

"Probably a beer. Hoppy. Takes some getting used to, but after a while you'll love it."

"Rum and coke." I reply. "Sweet, easy going, piratey."

Marcel and the cast from his show arrive but Dana's nowhere in site. It's after seven but Dana will never be on time for her own party - in LA that's simply not done. I walk over and say hello to the cast, it's the third time I've met Marcel, the first being my 39th birthday where I made a request to my sister to have him cook me a dinner at Bazaar. (

Calling Marcel a "cook" is like naming Einstein a "mathematician"; Marcel is a gastronomic force of nature, his kitchen a culinary laboratory. Marcel's Quantum Kitchen (MQK) is a reality TV show ostensibly about a Hollywood catering business, but the heart of the program is observing Marcel in his kitchen concoct dishes that defy the laws of culinary physics; noodles created out of blended wine, foie gras wrapped around cotton candy, desserts cooked with liquid nitrogen that cause smoke to billow forth from the mouth and nose - it's not cooking but science, or what Marcel refers to as "molecular gastronomy".

Originally a contestant on Top Chef, Marcel had developed a reputation for having an "attitude"; for being a vicious perfectionist with no empathy or pity for "lesser" cooks.

But I've tasted his cooking; its like eating a Picasso. I shake his hand, Marcel beams.

Chef, buddy, and fellow cast member Jarrid is sitting next to him. Covered in tattoos and wearing a leather jacket, Jarrid looks like he belongs in the Hell's Angels. He exudes almost manic energy, I bet he was pegged with ADHD as a kid.

I sidle up next to him. "I heard that while you were working as a bus boy at Bazaar you stole a prep chef uniform and showed up the next day pretending to be one of the cooks, is that true?"

Jarrid laughs. "Yeah, I wanted to learn how to cook, and it wasn't happening fast enough, so I just took one of the uniforms that had gotten back from the cleaners and showed up early the next day. I started prepping and it was like a month before anyone figured out that I wasn't a cook, I just wanted to learn. Marcel knew, but he didn't care. After the boss found out Marcel just took me in and now I work for him."

"That's amazing."

Jarrid shrugs. "Anytime I've wanted to do something, I just went out and did it. That's how I learned how to be a circus performer, fire eater, and trapeze artist."

I try not to gape. He was a circus performer? "Isn't that scary?"

"Anytime you do something new it's scary, everything's scary. But you just go out and do it."

My sister arrives, she's just had her hair and make up done and she looks like a movie star. "Would you believe that the guy who was doing my make-up was a former contestant on NEXT?" she exclaims. "I remember producing him and he was quite the prize, I mean they all wanted him. I was just afraid he was going to make me look like a drag queen."

"You look great, Dana," I reply. I'm a little surprised she isn't wearing a tiara, but then it is early. "Where's Christos?"

"He's up in San Francisco, but he had me bring wine." Dana withdraws a couple of bottles from a small winery located in Napa valley. We uncork it and it's delicious.

"If you were a drink, what kind of drink would you be?" I ask.

"Champagne," my sister answers.

I nod, my sister probably would be a bottle of champagne, sophisticated and sparkly. We order food and I devour a burger and sweet potato fries. It's one of the best burgers I've ever had, but then I'm really hungry and I am a burger whore.

A willowy woman with great cheek bones arrives, she looks like a model. Phil asks who it is, I'm not sure but I think its Marcel's super hot model girlfriend. I ask Dana.

"Oh, that's Shannon. She's Marcel's girlfriend, they met while she was modeling for the show."

I love it when I'm right. To get a woman like Shannon you'd have to be some kind of culinary genius with his own TV show. My sister didn't settle for anything less than 007; I'd date Christos and I'm not even gay.

"I was expecting a blog about the last party, but instead you wrote about your car!" Dana exclaims. "I still think you should name it "Teacher's Pet!"

"I'll write about this party next, I just need a couple of photos as proof I was here."

You need proof?" Marcel calls out, waving me over. "C'mon then, let's take a photo." We pose and I give my patented "thumbs up and wink" - Arrggh! Marcel picks up on it immediately and mimics it.

Dana begins opening gifts. I haven't gotten her anything yet because I've learned its better just to ask what she wants. Phil has brought her a Buddha board, a stylus that you paint with water that creates images, then over time disappear allowing you to use it over and over again. Dana claps her hands in excitement. "Where's your gift, brother unit?"

"I decided to wait."

"Phil got it right. Good job Phil."

I try not to glare. "Yeah, good job Phil."

More people arrive, many of them people Dana has worked with on other shows. My sister has a vast network of reality TV show contacts, its one of the reasons she is so successful at both finding work and getting shows produced. The Tonight Show, Howie Mandel, Beyond Chance, The Best Damn Sports Show, Christopher Lowell, NEXT, Ace of Cakes - there's more but I can't remember them all. Dana's birthday's are more than just a celebration, they provide her an opportunity to network, it's one of the reasons why it takes a week for her to get through her birthday.

Other than Facebook how else is she supposed to keep up with all these people?

The staff changes the channel on a big screen TV over to MQK but there's a Laker game on and the bar is packed, I can't hear a thing. As soon as the show starts the cast and crew cheers; I try listening for half a minute before giving up.

Dana arches an eyebrow in my direction, annoyed I'm not watching the show, but then hardly anyone is. The Lakers are playing the Utah Jazz and are on the verge of making a come back; the bar is filled with jubilant cries of exultation that drowns out any conversation more than two feet away.

At least until Kobe drops the ball with two seconds left and loses the game (I love it when the Lakers lose) but by this time MQK is almost over. I find my attention diverted between watching Marcel on screen, then switching back to glance at him in the bar; which one do I watch? TV Marcel, or flesh and blood Marcel? The same goes for the rest of the cast: Jarrid, Robyn, and Kevin; watching someone on TV while being able to simultaneously talk to them creates dissonance in the brain, how do I know which one is real?

We sing Dana happy birthday, there are cupcakes and she blows out a pair of candles. She's completely in her element, laughing, working the room as her friends and co-workers pay homage to the young woman who has become a celebrity in the nebulous world of production. The only thing better than being a star is being a star maker; and my sister has the contacts, experience, and creativity to make it happen.

If most people in Hollywood are talk, Dana is one of those rare few who can actually make it happen. Breast cancer didn't stop her, it wasn't even a yield sign, just a speed bump that barely slowed her down, she managed to produce MQK while going through chemotherapy. Like a gambler rolling straight 7's at the craps table, people surround my sister in the hopes that some of her luck will rub off on them.

Beautiful, fearless, exuberant, Dana is a phenomenon, a Hollywood singularity that continues to beat the odds because successful people like my sister generate their own luck.

If I had a motto it would be something like, "It's kind of crappy, but it's free," or "Send those squabs to Davy Jones' locker!"

But my sister only has one motto: Make it happen!

Before I head out I kiss her on the cheek. "I better still get a call on my birthday," Dana warns.

I nod. Woe unto those who forget my sister's birthday. D-day is not June 6th.

D-day is April 10th.

Happy Birthday, Dana.
Make it happen!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Death of Orifice

It took three seconds.

I'm pulling out of school, feeling good about heading home, when a 1999 Chevy Cavalier emerges like a white demon from behind a eighteen wheeler, colliding into my 2002 Honda Civic, ripping off the front of my car in an instant.

This is the same 2002 Honda Civic into which I had just poured a total of $3500 in a vain attempt to fix a continuously overheating engine; first a new radiator, but six weeks later almost a completely new cooling system: valve covers, thermostat, water pump hoses and starter after the car overheated on the highway. Three days later, the engine began to overheat again; a second mechanic informs me the first mechanic neglected to test for leaky valves; it's another $1500 just to fix what should have been fixed the first time.

A week after my Honda Civic is up and running I wake up to find "Orifice" missing; stolen out of my apartment car port by a pair of junkies who shatter a window and proceed to rip out the radio and collect a handful of change. The police find Orifice three blocks away with a valet key still in the ignition; I'm embarrassed but grateful my car has been found.

But truthfully, I no longer trust Orifice, she can break down for any reason and will open up her doors for anyone who wishes to take her for a spin.


Three seconds, three lousy seconds of delay and I would never have been hit. After the accident I find myself wishing over and over how I wish I could replay the same three seconds, just set back the reality clock and take back what has just happened. The only good news is that I'm only a block away from the school, and teachers stop to help.

Owens offers me the use of her AAA membership to pay for a tow, I'm grateful because with all the mechanical problems I've had in the past four months I've used up my AAA membership limit for the year.

I have the car towed back to Orozco's. The head mechanic comes out and shakes his head, sad for my loss but happy for my business. I place a call to Seabourne and ask again if I can borrow her Toyota Corolla for a week until the insurance can come out and give me an estimate on the Honda.

Seabourne says I can borrow it for two. Give it up for Seabourne!

A few days later a State Farm Insurance agent contacts me, and given the age of my car and the damage it's a toss up - I can either pay the $1000 deductible, or they'll buy me out and total the vehicle.

"Just fix it." I respond, resigned.

"You haven't even heard our offer yet!"

Great. I've already looked up the blue book value of a 2002 Honda Civic, it's about $5000 in excellent condition. Given Orifice's history and with the deductible, I'm looking at possibly 3, hopefully 4 grand. "How much to total?" I ask.

"Minus your deductible, we're looking at $8,100."

What? 8,100, how is that possible?

I thank him and call my sister for a second opinion. She's just as shocked as I am, but tells me to take the money. Her husband seconds the motion.

I call back five minutes later and accept the offer to total the car. The next day an envelope arrives from Fed Ex with the necessary paper work. I fill it out and include the car title. Two days later I receive a check for $8,100.

For years I've thought about canceling with State Farm and going with different, less expensive insurance. Geico, Mercury, Progressive. Now I'm glad I've stuck with them.

The only question is what am I going to buy to replace Orifice? Normally, I'd just buy another Honda, for your money you won't find a better used car on the market, but they're also more expensive. Truthfully, I'm starting to think they're cursed.

I begin looking into alternatives. Something practical and inexpensive. I'd like a BMW mini, because it looks cool, but it's also tiny, practically a girly car. The Jetta, too gay. The Mazda 3, it's got some zip and power, but if it breaks the parts are more expensive. A friend out in Phoenix who buys and fixes up used cars for a living offers to sell me a Toyota Prius with 120,000 miles for eight grand, but the mileage makes me hesitate.

I consult with Parrish at work. "You got to be careful with the Prius," she argues, "that's a lesbian's car. Remember that cop movie, the one with Wil Ferrell and Mark Wahlburg?"

"The Other Guys."

"Right. The Other Guys. When they have to drive around in Ferrell's Prius Wahlburg keeps complaining it's like cruising in a vagina. What color is the Prius out in Phoenix?"

"Deep red. Scarlet."

"Brian," Parrish exclaims, leveling a stare at me. "Do not buy that car!"

The Ford Focus? Sorry, I know it makes me dangerously un-American but I'm not buying an American car, mostly because I believe them to be crap. The Nissan Sentra? Maybe...

Varga suggests I take a look at Hyundai's. "They're good cars."

"I always thought they were crap."

"They used to be crap, but over the past ten years I don't think that's true anymore. Plus they come with that crazy 10 year 100,000 mile warranty. Other than Kia no one offers that kind of warranty. No one. Take a look at the Hyundai Sonata, they're a sweet ride." The next day I drive up to Keyes on Van Nuys, it's that LA dealership that advertises like mad on the radio. "Keyes, Keyes, Keyes - Keyes on Van Nuys." The fact that they have ten different automaker dealerships within a half mile of one another cements my decision; I can test drive a bunch of different cars without having to drive half way around the city.

I go to the Hyundai dealership first, introduce myself to a young salesman and tell him I'm not thinking about buying, but I do want to test drive a Sonota. He asks how much I'm looking to spend. I tell him 14k and he offers up a black Elantra for 15,999.

I pull out my iPhone and do some quick research. The Elantra gets a 4.7 out of 5 on Edmunds. Consumer reports has picked the Elantra as one of the top six cars three years in a row. I check out Carfax - the Elantra has had one previous owner, who is returning it on a lease. No accidents.

Two hours later I'm buying a 2010 Elantra with 25,000 miles for 14k with the crazy 10 year 100,000 mile warranty at 4.9% financing. I get the low jack for an extra $500 - I've already had two car's stolen, if nothing else I want the piece of mind.

Piece of mind. I can't remember the last time I've driven in a vehicle and not been nagged by the ever present worry of having a mechanical failure or a break in. I've put in my time driving beaters and nags past their prime; I'm out of that game, I'm done. In the past I've always attempted to get away with driving cheaper cars, looking for a bargain, but in the end I always lose.

No more. Goodbye Orifice. Goodbye Pandora. It's only a matter of time before I get hit or have my car broken into or suffer a mechanical failure, but this time, I'll be ready. I've had the Hyundai a week now, and it's ride is smooth. It looks and feels like a modern, luxury vehicle.

Now it just needs a name? Suggestions?