Friday, March 7, 2008

Retro-Journal: Hepcats and Hong Kong People in Late 1997

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I decided I could no longer even aspire to hipness within a few months after U2’s Las Vegas “Popmart” concert, which took place on April 25, 1997 — getting one of the lowest ratings of any broadcast in the history of the network. I realized I was out of touch with the public, since I still thought of them as the biggest and one of the most important bands in the world (In the present, just last night, I saw the concert film U2 3D — in freaking IMAX — Bono eight stories tall! In 3D!!).

Meanwhile, it was routinely the case that mobs formed around the ABC building where I worked (at Columbus and 67th in NYC) to catch glimpses of visiting “boy bands,” blonde pop girls, and assorted singing Latin Americans — all of them seemingly former Mouseketeers and thus, like ABC News and me, tools of the Disney Corporation. I shuddered years later when I read a New York Times article that referred to these bands as arising from “the Orlando scene,” as though Disney World were the new CBGB’s or something. I often had no idea who the mobs around the ABC building were shouting about and even when told thought the bands in question all sort of blurred together, a sure sign of advancing age (not that I’d seen much difference between most grunge bands a few years earlier). I recall my boss, John Stossel, at one point having a secretary who had never heard of Blondie.

Hong Kong and the Handover

Further evidence of my detachment and decrepitude was my continued tendency to see politics through the lens of the Cold War, when the left hated capitalism enough to point nuclear missiles at it and vice versa. But 1997 was the tragic year that the most bustling, capitalist, and (by most measures) libertarian city on the planet, Hong Kong, was scheduled to be turned over from British rule to Chinese rule, so you can hardly blame me for feeling as if the long struggle between Communism and freedom still mattered — it certainly did to Hong Kong (I can also understand Hong Kong restricting immigration, much as I may have sympathized with the open-borders position while listening to last night’s Debate at Lolita Bar — Hong Kong is tiny and has over a billion needlessly-impoverished but increasingly entrepreneurial cousins sitting on the mainland just across the border, who might be willing to relocate).

Together with my friend Dan Greenberg and a tour group organized by the conservative Claremont Institute, I visited Hong Kong in late June/early July, just as the transition to Beijing rule was occurring, visiting fellow libertarian Bretigne Shaffer while there, buying some commemorative Hong Kong Batman action figures for friends back in the U.S., and drinking at the Foreign Correspondents Club with P.J. O’Rourke and a Marxist New York Times photographer who was friends with DC Comics staffer Janet Harvey. I praised the eighteenth century in conversation with O’Rourke, and he responded that he did at least enjoy hunting turkeys near his home in New Hampshire while wearing knee breeches.

Time Magazine Cover Article Says: “Everybody’s Hip!”

Back in the U.S., I saw my old college roommate Marc Steiner married in San Francisco in a lovely, small, poetry-reading, plant-surrounded ceremony in the backyard of a bed and breakfast that should be a model for warm and uncomplicated weddings everywhere; saw the Breakfast at Tiffany’s-like play As Bees in Honey Drown and was reminded of that conniving but theatrical and self-reinventing ex-friend from 1992 and 1993 who I wrote about in previous Retro-Journal entries; and partied with my fellow New York Press writers at one of their intimidatingly hip annual “Best of Manhattan” parties (unlike the more egalitarian Baird Jones ones mentioned in yesterday’s entry), at which I typically found myself talking most to two people: the cute, tiny, and squeaky-voiced Linda Payson (wife of awesome Press cartoonist Danny Hellman) and the tall, conservative, and slightly mumbly J.R. Taylor — I still adore them both but only heard about half of what they said at those parties, as I strained my neck downward and upward, respectively, trying to hear them over music and talkative writers.

That year, Anne Yoakam accompanied me to the party, but we didn’t really end up dating — just becoming friends — in part because she wanted kids and in part because she’s religious enough (an Oklahoma Republican) to have told me that as an atheist, I’d at least have to talk to a priest with her about how to handle the divide between us before we could date. We were probably not an ideal match. Of course, five years later, I would end up talking to a minister about how to bridge the divide between me and another religious woman, who has herself since become Catholic — but more on that oft-told tale when we get to late 2002.

Communication Problems

On a vaguely-related note, I was rejected that same half-year by a left-wing Catholic woman who said we were simply too different — even though she had previously dated a man who was not only libertarian but, unlike me, a Satanist and s&m fan as well (years later, after I met Michael Malice, I asked him if he had perchance been that guy — there are only so many libertarians here — but it wasn’t, not that I’m saying he’s a Satanist, and I have no evidence he’s an s&m fan).

Speaking of Malice, a few years before he co-founded the Overheard websites, New York Press was in the habit of noting snippets of odd real-life New York street conversations on its front cover, and that may have contributed to me doing more inadvertent eavesdropping around that time — which is why I heard things like, I swear, two young women on the street, having the following conversation (which is funniest and most easily explicable if read out loud):

Young Woman A: He wanted to include Muslim texts.

Young Woman B: To promote, uh, pleurisy?

My journal notes also suggest that around that time I overheard a middle-aged woman on the street say to her friend, “Oh, I know something else I did this week: I used Title IX against the principal at my school.” She said it as if it were so inconsequential that she’d nearly forgotten about invoking this absurd regulation that mandates equal spending on male and female sports, regardless of audience and participant interest levels (another flagrant reminder that the evil philosophy of feminism tends to thwart market preferences, freedom, and human nature with the brutal power of law). But despite her nonchalant tone about it all, you just know she probably acted traumatized and oppressed when the time came to have hearings or whatever.

Traditions Ended and Reasserted

Speaking of uprooting tradition, no sooner had I steeled myself for the start of my year-long Phillips-Foundation-funded project researching the workings of tradition than I was asked to move out of my own apartment by my roommate Bill, who I’d sort of inherited from my original roommate in that apartment, his girlfriend Dana Bopp. Perhaps I should have simply asked him to move out if he was dissatisfied with the status quo in the place, but I was getting far too old to have a roommate anyway, I didn’t want a fight, and the last time there’d been a blizzard, the landlord had been hospitalized with water on the brain for two weeks and therefore unable to get the heat working, so I wasn’t too attached to the place, whereas Bill, in what should have been a sign, had been slowly remodeling the whole thing.

Around New Year’s, as 1998 began, I relocated to the Upper East Side apartment where I remain to this day, just over ten years later, leaving behind the corner at Third Avenue and 27th where I was diagonally across from the Rodeo Bar (where I often heard the jazz band Flying Neutrinos — and once interviewed them about New Orleans jazz traditions — and where I’ll return this coming Monday, March 10, 2008, as it happens, to see another performance by Western-swing band Western Caravan, fronted by “Thirsty” Dave Hansen, long ago known as Sport Fisher of the hilarious and unjustly obscure band Young Adults, prominently featured in the Providence-centered comedy film A Complex World; incidentally, Flying Neutrinos, like the Upper Crust, is one of the many oddball bands that keep cropping up on the online music station and convincing me that unless the station can somehow read my mind, its creators have tastes virtually identical to my own, even as they range across alternative rock, Dixieland jazz, and earlier today the brassy theme song to the 1960s superhero TV show Green Hornet).

Media Analysis

The new digs would put me much, much closer to Southeby’s, just in case I wanted to bid on something like the massive T. rex skull that I saw auctioned off there in late 1997, the big thing selling to an anonymous bidder over the phone rumored to be Steven Spielberg, needing something appropriate to do with his millions from Jurassic Park.

I was less impressed with a video-conferenced speech by notorious deconstructionist Jacques Derrida that I dragged Margot Weiss to in late 1997 (as noted before, there may be legitimate reasons for Margot never talking to me anymore).

Indeed, I think there was far more political insight about media and the nature of fascism in the movie Starship Troopers, which I saw at an advance screening a short time later with an audience that included several DC Comics staffers. I was made nervous by Starship Troopers‘ strange and ambiguous flirtation with fascism — worried (wrongly) that the film would be an immense hit and lead a generation of young males to declare Ross Perot fuhrer or something. But after the screening, DC editor Dan Raspler noted that at least the movie seemed to have spirit, not like those wussy Klingons on Star Trek who are always whining about honor but never seem to have the courage to just stand up and kill someone who has ostensibly insulted their warrior pride beyond hope of reconciliation.

It was Raspler who would eventually edit my tiny handful of professional comic book stories, featuring the mighty but non-fascistic Justice League of America.


Dylan said...

I can’t think of anyone I’d rather go out drinking with than P.J. O’Rourke.

Koli said...

The eighteenth century rocked.

Janet, vanity-googling again said...

1) The Marxist photographer was Alan Chin;

2) You couldn’t swing a dead cat in NYC in the mid-90s without hitting a libertarian-slash-satanist-S&M enthusiast, and he usually had a Prince Albert;

3) Dan Raspler isa fascist!

Oh, and re: Title XI: Screw you, Seavey! I’m gonna take my ball and go home…