THIS IS HOW THE REVOLUTION BEGINS

I’m really looking forward to visiting the Bronx Zoo this summer:

There’s a great moment in the MSNBC video where the reporter says, “thankfully, the chimp dropped the rifle.” I love that he suggests this story had the potential for a killing spree. Given what I know of chimp behavior (EVERYTHING), I would guess that if the chimp hadn’t dropped the rifle, the most likely scenario would have been a licking-and-chewing-on-rifle spree. Quit trying to scare us, MSNBC! Do your homework. You know apes only know how to do a few things:

  1. eat stuff (bananas, rifles)
  2. swing around on stuff
  3. grin and sometimes flap lips to let you know it’s time to laugh
  4. give old ladies the finger
  5. punch bad guys in the face
  6. play dead when you shoot them with a finger gun
  7. be dead when you shoot them with a metal and bullets gun
  8. run a fancy hotel
  9. disappoint film critics and box office expectations

That’s pretty much it, except maybe enslave the human race, too…uh oh! SOMEONE CALL MSNBC!!!

CRAZY PHIL

When I first moved to NYC in the mid-nineties I spent most of my social time with a friend/co-worker named Tyler. While my personality tends to be a bit cautious, Tyler has always been a genuinely warm and open person. A guy. This easygoing nature caused him to attract all sorts of strange and interesting (and sometimes intolerable) characters back then, many of whom I adopted by proxy. One of the more fascinating people who orbited my life back then was a guy Tyler and I very casually referred to as ‘Crazy Phil.’ I honestly don’t remember ever calling him anything else, because his eccentricity was so completely naked it naturally dominated and defined him. When you were out with Crazy Phil, no matter where you went the night was his right from go, and you just became one of his guests. He had a really overwhelming wiry, ADHD kind of energy– super impulsive, always moving, nonstop chatter. I think he’d be very difficult to sketch.

Around the time we met, Crazy Phil had recently been laid off from a job as a mechanical engineer and, instead of pursuing for another engineering gig, he decided he would try to make a living playing in underground and mostly illegal backgammon games. I had no idea such things existed, but Crazy Phil insisted they did. (I must confess there were a lot of things Crazy Phil said that I didn’t believe at first–including the fact that he held an engineering degree–but, miraculously, ever single implausible detail eventually proved completely true.) He spend all night at these clubs, which were filled mostly with older European and Asian men, all playing at pretty serious stakes, in relative backgammon terms. At least once, Crazy Phil flew to Istanbul because he’d been told there would be a very lucrative game there, hosted by some wealthy “pigeon.” (That’s what he’d call guys who loved to play the game and had lots of money, but were also pretty easy to clean out. Also, it should be noted that he referred to backgammon as “Gammon.”)

Eventually, many of those games dried up and Phil turned to poker. His life seemed crazy to me, because he would be up $20,000 one month and down $15,000 the next. He didn’t seem to care, though, and made a point of treating poker like a fulltime job. I remember him even telling me that he made sure to play 40 hours a week, just like a real job.

He was a lot of fun to bring to parties, and did this thing where he’d instantly treat any home as if it were his own. I never got the impression that he was consciously rude or had an offensive sense of entitlement; he just had no social safety valves between his thoughts and his actions. I’ve witnessed him take over someone’s bar at their own party and, at another apartment party, after noticing there was an active fireplace, Phil just started loading it up with logs and recruited all kinds of strangers at the party to help him kindle and maintain the fire. All this without even thinking to ask the host if this was cool. People usually let him run roughshod over their parties or restaurants or bars, though, because I think most of us lack the energy to resist or restrain personalities like Crazy Phil’s.

For a little while, Crazy Phil lived in a very small apartment in Chelsea with this Danish guy who spoke almost no English. He built an elaborate loft bed there, and painted all the walls either wine-red or black, like Dracula’s bedroom or something. When we told him his landlord probably wouldn’t be cool with having all the walls painted black, Crazy Phil just said, “Don’t worry. I already know we’re going to be here for a long time. The landlord just doesn’t know that yet.”

Crazy Phil once had a NYE party that he kept insisting was being professionally catered, and wouldn’t let us leave until the catering arrived. Finally, Tyler and I decided we had to split because the party was a little too weird—most of the guests were non-English-speaking Europeans and old men Phil had met through the ‘gammon scene, and Tyler and I were more interested in girls than hearing a 60 year-old guy strum an acoustic guitar in Crazy Phil’s tiny kitchen. Just as we were leaving, Crazy Phil’s buzzer rang. “That’s the catering!” he shouted, and insisted we stay just a few minutes more. He ran downstairs and returned a minute later holding four or five pizza boxes. To this day I have no idea if Crazy Phil actually considered these pizzas equivalent to a professionally catered affair, or if he was just screwing with us the whole time. With him, it could have very easily gone either way.

When Tyler and I lost touch a few years back I also lost touch with Crazy Phil, and didn’t hear about him again until this past weekend, over a Sunday afternoon drink with my optometrist. (I think my optometrist has always been pretty fascinated with Crazy Phil, which is not surprising to me at all. If you made a venn diagram of their respective personalities, the two circles would overlap so much they would almost appear as one.) Apparently, Phil moved to L.A. where he continued to play poker and, as the game became more of a national phenomenon, Crazy Phil emerged as one of poker’s more colorful celebrities. He’s accrued over $1.2 million in cash tournaments and has earned the nickname, “The Unabomber,” because he usually wears a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses at the poker table and, when a hand gets really stressful, has been known to pull the drawstring of his hood so tight that his face more or less disappears inside it. (You can read all about this on his Wikipedia page.)

My optometrist also told me Crazy Phil has been dating Jennifer Tilly for a while, and these days has his own televison show on some HD cable network, where he and a friend go around betting on everything they see. Honestly, none of this surprises me at all–just as I wasn’t surprised when Crazy Phil dyed his hair an awful blonde on a whim, or when he had his New Year’s Eve party catered by Domino’s. It’s nice to know he’s found his way into the entertainment industry, where insanity is both tolerated and richly rewarded. (Ring a bell, Meryl Streep?)

UGH

This rain is RUINING my 9/11!

I HATE BEING THAT GUY

Do you know much about Movable Type? If so, can you help me save/recover my website? You see, a funny thing happened. I finally snapped, and walked out on my old webhost. Our love was very Ike-Tina, and you can check my neck for fingerprints if you don’t believe me.

But it turns out that moving your site to a new host comes with all sorts of ridiculous baggage. Baggage I am severely mishandling. And, as a result, my archives are crapped out with very little chance of being straightened.

If you know much about MT, and site directories and stuff, and would be willing to volunteer a little poking around time, I would be very grateful. And tremble would be, too. Call me.

LAST-MINUTE SHOPPING

**FOUND ITEM***

“Shopping List for Easter Sunday Mandingo Party”

  • swedish meatballs (IKEA?)
  • condoms, large
  • plastic tarps
  • 3 cs. soda – coke, dc, grape
  • alcohol – gin, scotch, chardonnay (check wikipedia – find out what mandingos drink)
  • chips, pretzels, Jolly Ranchers
  • penis pasta for penis pasta salad
  • Glade® odor neutralizing spray (“Tropical Mist”???)
  • mini DV cassettes
  • cocoa butter
  • Ashford & Simpson CD
  • pith helmets

I CAN’T CONTAIN MYSELF

This is Grindhouse: Aw–
This is me: Shiiiiit!!!

This is Wild Hogs: Yippie Kai—
This is me: what the–?

This is Jon Heder: Remember when Hollywood was all, “Hey, Jon Heder is pretty funny as Napoleon Dynamite. Its success must have everything to do with him!” And then Hollywood was all, “More like Jon HEAT-er, because HEDER’S GOT HEEEET. Line ‘em up. Blam!—Just Like Heaven! Blam!—The Benchwarmers!” “Blam!—School of freakin’ Scoundrels!” and “Blam! How come no one is coming to see any of these films? Can’t you see they all have that magically focus-tested combination of Jon Heder + Blam? What more do we need to do, y’all? American teenaged boys ages 14-23, you are dicks.”

Me: “Yeah, buddy. I do. What happened? I mean, I remember when I first saw the trailers for Blades of Glory you had a lot of screen time. Then, as the movie got closer to its release date, after the first couple rounds of test screenings you were––”

JH: “NOWHERE TO BE SEEN! I know!! That totally sucked a piss lozenge. I’m totally missing from the new TV spots. My name isn’t even in it! Plus, my old college roommate was doing missionary work in NYC and he was on the subway platform and saw a huge poster for the movie. And it was just a big picture of Will Ferrell, alone! In a movie about the first-ever male figure skating pair. PAIR! That’s two males! I mean, come on! My outfit was just as funny, y’all. Stupid idiots!!”

Me: Ha! “Stupid idiots.” Awesome. That is classic Napoleon Dynamite. Don’t worry about a thing, Heder. You still got it.

JH: Heh. You think?

Me: Nope. Sorry.

VAMPIRE SQUID FROM HELL

I cannot stop repeating that phrase, out loud or in my head. Vampire Squid From Hell! I just started watching some of the Discovery Channel’s “Planet Earth” series (in Discovery HD Theaterbrag) and I had many slackjawed moments where I found myself shouting out the kinds of things one typically shouts when watching Discovery stoned. Things like “holy shit no way” and “that totally looks like outer space and those are space monsters, dude” and “shh…did you hear that? I think someone’s trying to break in to my apartment. Hold on let me pause this so we can sit here in 2 minutes of pure silience.”

I taped several episodes and it was hard to know which one to watch first. There were obvious pros and cons to all. For instance:

  • Deep Ocean – High probability of freakout vis a vis strange and wonderful creatures, with low probability of cute things with pretty, big eyes.
  • Rare Desert Creatures – Almost guaranteed to see something furry pop out of a hole in the sand and then do something adorable before being eaten by a hawk or rattlesnake; limited color palette, and probably a lot of blinking lizards doing jackshit.
  • Rare Mountain Creatures – I don’t even know what mountain creatures are common—goats? cougars? mud rats?—so it’s hard to care which ones are rare.
  • Penguins & Polar Bears – What am I, a baby? Sure, they’re cute but they’re also a little trendy, to be frank, and I’m not sure I could take all that sweet without a little bit of savory. (i.e. a polar bear attacking a penguin, which I suspect was not on the filmmakers’ agenda)

Decided to go with “Deep Ocean” because A) squids, B) sharks, C) squid fighting sharks? Also, seeing very deep ocean creatures is like a real-life version of the creature cantina from Star Wars, and it’s the closest I’ll ever come to seeing two prehistoric creatures making love.

After watching a bit I have to confess something: while I’m deeply saddened about the growing number of endangered species in the world (Orangutans, you’re on notice!) I wouldn’t mind putting a few sea creatures on the extinction list.* (I’m talking to you, 12-inch long prehistoric sea lice!) There’s a LOT of ocean, and I just think there are certain (rarely seen) things in it we would not miss so much.

I actually wish there were a barter system, where we could get the fringe fingered lizard off the critically endangered list in exchange for the vomiting turdfish or something. Our deep oceans are loaded with some hideous and lonely sea creatures. Seeing them hanging out, barely moving to conserve energy, without another friendly creature in sight was depressing, but somewhat understandable. They’re like the ocean’s version of J-Date Long-Timers. Also, monk fish. Are you kidding me? I’ve eaten that? Seeing a monk fish messing around on the ocean floor, totally sedentary, and occasionally whipping its filament around to attract smaller fish gave me a very uneasy feeling—especially when considering how much I’d previously enjoyed having that in my belly. Imagine eating a whole chicken and, at the very end, discovering a used condom in its cavity. That’s how I felt after seeing the monk fish uglying up the screen. Yes, I just totally stuck it to the monk fish.

There, however, is one creature to which I must tip my hat. Vampire squid from hell, you are a hail-fellow-well-met and I wish we could have spent a bit more time together. When I was watching Planet Earth I honestly thought the narrator appended the “FROM HELL!!!!” part for dramatic effect. An odd choice, I thought, but effective. Turns out this is actually a direct translation of the creature’s true scientific genus and species: vampyroteuthis infernalis. Fantastic. Here is a picture of a vampire squid from hell enjoying a typical morning of acting creepy:

hi, everyone.

The best part about this squid, outside of its name, is its glow-in-the-dark tentacle tips and “eyes.” (I put that in quotes, not for ironic effect, but because those aren’t really it’s eyes; they’re eye decoys so predators will be tempted to attack a more harmless part of its body.) Since Vinnie Vamparino lives so deep undersea, where it’s basically pitch black darkness, it would do no good to emit a cloud of black ink in order to fake out predators. So, instead, Fifi LaVamp illuminates the tips of its tentacles with phosphorescence and then waves them around wildly, creating what marine biologists call “The Razzle Dazzle Effect.” It has the same effect a swinging glowstick has on kids who are all crazy on ecstasy—it makes predators confused and horny. What an excellent design.

*For the record, I love all (most) animals and would never really wish for the extinction of any of them. Especially this one.

FOR EPICURIOUS

I’ve written a new column for Epicurious Magazine’s “Daily Dish.” This was requested for their April Fool’s column, though I guess it ran on March 30th. (Epicures do not do Sundays!)

It would have been nice if the editor hadn’t been required to add a “Happy April Fool’s!” post-script, but I suppose the alternative would have been a little irresponsible. If you’d like to read it, here’s the link.

Oh, I’ve also gone back and updated the “writing” section of toddlevin.com, and now it includes all of my articles for The Morning News, as well as my stuff for Epicurious, McSweeney’s, and others. I was even able to find some old movie reviews I wrote for Film Threat. You can read them all here.

I DIDN’T CHANGE; YOU DID

Notice anything different about me? (points to breasts) The tremble head, which has been a part of this site since 1998(!), is taking a brief-to-permanent vacation. It was surprisingly hard to replace that image, when you consider the fact that I no longer physically resemble it in any way. (Did you even know, at the time of its creation, that head was a self-portrait?) I’m still not sure how I feel about the change and, but I must confess I like the idea of having a “vintage” logo as well as a new one.

About that new one…it was created by a very talented friend, Stephen Lee. Stephen has actually created a bunch of these blockheads, many of them designed to resemble people he knows. (The original, full-color version of mine is here, but I had to rough it up a bit to make it feel at home on this site.)

I’m pretty easy to caricature, which isn’t necessarily the greatest quality a person can have. It’s kind of like saying, “I have many pronounced and exaggerated features. Any three year-old could draw me—I am practically deformed!” And that brings me to a proposition…

Now that I’ve broken the 7+ year tremble head streak, nothing is sacred. If you fancy yourself an artist and would like to take a stab at a new tremble emblem, be my guest. If it doesn’t hurt my feelings I’ll use it on this site, with proper credit attributed. It’s pretty easy to figure out the size—just right-click the head at the top of this page and, from your little shortcut menu, choose “download image as…” That will give you the proper dimensions.

You can name the new file whatever you want. Please just keep it black and white, and about the same size and proportion as the head in the above image. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can even rough it up a bit so you don’t have to worry about me messing around with your pretty picture.

For photographic reference material, visit toddlevin.com or my myspace page.

Is this offer sort of narcissistic? I don’t know. I know I’m essentially asking people to draw me, but I thought it would just be a fun thing to do, made more fun by including you in the design of this site. And, while I’m enjoying having this public wrestling match with my conscience, I will still go to bed tonight wondering if I’m a self-absorbed creep. Just like every night.

In conclusion, here is a tour of the history of “tremble head.” It’s best to look at these links while listening to Extreme’s “More Than Words.”

- tremble.com circa 1999
- tremble.com circa 2001 (aka “the salad days”)
- tremble.com circa 2006 (i barely remember you)

MR. FANCY (URINE-SOAKED) PANTS

This morning, the man sitting next to me on the subway turned to me and asked, “do you have a dollar?” I was pretty startled by his question, not because he was a man on the subway asking for money, but because he was a man sitting next to me——practically on top of me——asking for money. When I said, “I don’t have a dollar for you,” he turned to other people who had just boarded the train and repeated his entreaty, leaning in toward the passenger and even tapping some of the straphangers on the shoulder, but never vacating his comfortable seat.

The whole business struck me as a serious breach of panhandler etiquette. The traditional panhandler-passenger relationship is this: passengers are seated and standing, and a panhandler places himself at the end of the subway car, where he begins his “pitch.” The pitch typically includes some combination of “war veteran,” “mental illness,” “homeless,” “basketball team,” “HIV,” “shame,” and “lake of fire.” The panhandler then proceeds along the car, either passively holding out his or her hand or more aggressively rattling a Pringle’s can filled with change. Sometimes, in extreme situations, a panhandler will stand over a white person who is reading a copy of SURFACE Magazine, listening to an iPod that’s been secreted in the special iPod pouch of his Jack Spade messenger bag, and staring at his Campers, trying very consciously not to make eye contact with the panhandler in hopes that he will just move along. (This is the commuter’s equivalent of a Mexican stand-off.) Then, usually at the next stop, the panhandler will exit the car, move on to next, and repeat this process until, finally, he has made his way through every car on the train. At this point he will usually step off the train and wait for the next one, to start again.

But not this asshole. No, he seemed to be genuinely enjoying his commute, even going as far as sitting spread-legged to commute-block other passengers. At one point he even sat with his legs crossed, as comfortable as can be, while he tugged at the coats of people standing over him (without a seat) and asked each of them, individually, for a dollar. If you’ll forgive me jumping to conclusions, I wonder if his spoiled, decadent and lazy sense of entitlement probably might convince others that their dollar contributions will be not be wisely invested.

I have to confess, though, eventually I came to understand and even admire his unique position. He had a pretty sweet deal, scoring a seat on the subway during the morning rush hour and earning some money in the process. Who wrote the rule saying it’s necesssary to stand or walk around the subway car asking for money? Why not take a more relaxed approach, and let the marks come to you? I guess it can be confusing, though. There is a sort of unspoken desire to know how to separate commuters from panhandlers. When anyone sitting next to you can just turn to you and ask for a dollar, is that a sign that society is beginning to break down? Can anyone panhandle, without sacrificing even the most basic privileges of the normal commuter (a seat)?

If this is true, and seated panhandlers become more fashionable, what (apart from dignity and courtesy) really prevents anyone else from jumping in and making a little extra cash on their commute? I wonder what it would be like if every time this panhandler uncrossed his legs, leaned forward, and asked someone for a dollar, I just cut him off with, “how about 50 cents? We can make this happen right here, right now for only 50 cents. That’s HALF of what he’s asking! You tell me where you’ll find a better deal than that.” An entrepreneurial mind could really benefit from a situation like this. Hop on the subway at the first stop, when the train is still empty, then let it fill up with rush hour commuters, and auction off your seat to the highest bidder. You’re welcome, all the homeless people sitting at their rich, oiled mohagony desks, reading this web site.

Homepage photo: Lindsey Byrnes
Site design & code: Erik Frick