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Young Rapscallion

A gentleman's semi-autobiography

Crazy? Stupid? But not smart.
People said "Crazy, Stupid, Love." was smart.

I think it's less smart than self-aware.

It's self-aware of all the romantic-comedy conventions and plays them to a T, while sorta winking at you. But that's not the same as smart. Clever at times, yes. But not smart.

Atypical, yes, but atypical doesn't equal smart.

Complicated, yes, but that doesn't equal smart.

Farcical at times, yes, but that's still not smart.

Oh well.

Life at the mansion
Man, the past few days have been crammed with awesome.

I was off last Thursday and Friday. We spent most of those days at the Hill-Stead Museum, a restored mansion containing a private trove of Impressionist art from Monet, Manet, Degas, Cassatt and Whistler, among others. The house was built in Farmington, CT at the turn of the 20th century for a wealthy industrialist and designed by his daughter, who was one of the first female architects in America. The house is stately and situated on lovely 150 acres of farmland.

I brought Rosemary here a few years ago, and she fell in love with the place. Well, now we're going to spend a lot more time with the place. We are joining a group of youngish professionals called the Hill-Stead Ambassadors. It's an outreach/fund-raising group dedicated to growing the Hill-Stead brand and carrying its fandom to the next generations. Pretty sweet, eh?

Last Thursday we attended Hill-Stead's 20th anniversary dinner auction, held under a big tent next to the house. There's nothing like dressing pretty and mingling with people over drinks while watching wealthy people bid thousands of dollars on awesome things. Or seeing a room full of people instantly shoot tens of thousands of dollars into education.

As usual, my charms got us mixed up in something. We went to Hill-Stead at Christmastime last year to take in the house all decked out and with staff role-playing as historical figures connected with the house. A man was playing carols in the parlor, with Degas ballerinas and Manet haystacks on the walls. The staff asked if I sang, and there I was, singing my head off. A crowd of excited women soon formed, and then Hill-Stead's CEO greeted me, placed a book in my hand and asked me to join the Ambassadors. Talk about an endorsement!

We met some more Ambassadors members at a meeting, and then Thursday we met some more at our table. Was a real hoot, drinking a little too much and sharing good jokes amid the bidding. We told our engagement story a few times, and I still get props for Rosemary's ring.

Oh, and we won some silent-auction items! We got a spa day for Rosemary, and two weekend nights at a Vermont country home! Trying to figure out the dates; may use the weekend I already had off in July for wedding suit-shopping. The house accommodates six, so we're working on whom to invite. Hope I can get it all rigged up by midweek.

Friday we went back to get the formal paperwork and everything for the Ambassadors, so we have to fill all that out. And then back to fantasizing about this house, which sits south of Manchester and has a pasture with horses and cows in the back, and a river nearby.

Rosemary has a new thing to get out of the house. We can make some new friends. And it's the true beginning of us stepping out in the cultural scene here. We did Hartford Stage last year, and we have a membership for the New Britain Museum of American Art now. What's next?

More things coming at Hill-Stead, too: We may attend the start of the summer poetry festival in the garden this week, and next weekend is a classic car show featuring a car that was owned by the woman who owned the Hill-Stead house. Oh yeah!

Date nights
Amid all the wedding plans and such, Rosemary and I have had a recent trend of dates. Not really us going out someplace, getting something to eat, and going home. More like actual dates.

Tonight we saw "The Dictator" (funny as shit!) and walked around Blue Back Square. Great weather as the day turned to dusk, some namby-pamby teen musicians strumming away on the stage. Treated Rosemary to some lovelies at Charming Charlie and, as usual, I further padded my shelves with another item from Barnes & Noble. Went with "Excalibur" this time; possibly the best King Arthur movie ever made.

Even after three years of living in West Hartford, I don't believe I live here when I walk through the yuppified splendor of Blue Back Square. Ann Taylor, White House / Black Market, Bose store, a WASPy prep-school clothing store for toddlers, high-end real estate agent, Crate and Barrel, and so on. Walking past tween girls safe in their privilege. What a ride for a boy from West Philly! No wonder when Steve Lambert's "Make Capitalism Work For Me" art installation was placed in the middle of the square last week, in which people hit a button for "true" or "false," the "true" answers had a comfortable lead. Silly rabbit, it's a trick question: Capitalism works for itself, and sometimes we benefit from it.

Last Wednesday, we sat outside at Max Burger as night fell, watching thunderstorm clouds in the distance. A voluminous wall of clouds that sat in the waning light like a mountainscape. The lightning raged within them, so distant that we heard no thunder and saw no rain. Followed dinner with some ice cream from a local coffeeshop. Just a nice, spontaneous night out, smiling at each other all night.

A couple of weeks back, we went to Newington, a town over from us. I wanted to check out a comic book store over there, having remembered hearing about it in an advert for the West Hartford Library. We wandered our way to The Eye Opener, and it was a fun little shop to pick up a few things we didn't procure at our usual spot, Atomic City Comics in Philly. We'd never been in Newington before, so we walked around the town center -- smaller and sleepier than West Hartford, but still nice. We tried a little burger joint called GoldBurgers, and were treated to flavorful fresh-as-hell burgers and chunky hand-cut fries. Heavenly delicious. Topped it off with Carvel ice cream and called it a night.

But the best of our dates so far has to be April 28 in Torrington. We attended a shindig at Studio 59, a beautiful music space on a residential block housed in a converted Baptist chapel, transformed into 18th-century European drawing room, complete with comfortable wing-back and parlor chairs and tons of arcane music books and antiques with a vintage Steinway concert grand piano at the center.

Local musicians/singers Kate Callahan and Andre Balazs teamed up for a lovely night of original music. So lovely, in fact, that I didn't twinge too much when they closed the show with a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." The song is so overdone I hate it, but they did it well. I'd seen Balazs before at another event in town, but it was awesome to see him move from a keyboard to this grand piano. He as if he didn't want to stop using that Steinway, teasing out the ends of each song and getting lost in its tones and visuals.

Great to hang with our friends Keith and Julia, and also to meet local public-radio personality John Dankosky of WNPR's "Where We Live." Funniest part of the night was talking to Dankosky with Balazs, then Balazs left to use the washroom only to storm out of there yelling at Danosky, "I know who you are!!" and explaining how he knew the voice once he was in the restroom and could only hear him, not see him. Hilarious!

But the best part was listening to all that music while Rosemary and I sat in a loveseat, snuggled up on each other, drinking wine and nibbling on treats of both sweet and savory varieties. A woman came over to us and said how cute we were, and how jealous she was seeing us hugged up. Yes, we live to inspire love, adorableness and jealousy! Feast your eyes upon us! But for real, nice to know we look that good, nine years on. We'll look even cuter married.

Obama and gay marriage -- hoopla not necessary, but a win nonetheless
Obama has finally come out in support of legal same-sex marriage.

Um, yay?

Actually, yes. Yay.

Not yay with an exclamation point, but yay with a period. Or an ellipsis, because now it's about what's next.

There's no real word yet on whether Obama's in favor of a federal law ensuring gay marriage, which appears to be the . He already was pro-civil union, which in my opinion would have at least been the historical half-step that this country tends to take on any civil rights issue. Yes, gay marriage is a constitutional, civil rights issue.

We've got the conservatives armed with another reason to hate Obama. And we've got liberals and gay marriage supporters also denouncing him for not coming out sooner. On the former point, ugh. On the latter point, I've got a big come onnnnnn.

Listen up, gay marriage fans: I'm with you. So's Obama. North Carolina's anti-gay marriage vote forced his hand this far, on an incredibly delicate issue. Don't think he got to be president by expressing an opinion -- yes, an opinion, though to we supporters of gay marriage, it is undeniable fact/reality -- an opinion that more than half the country detests, and now he may stake his office on it.

Obama's open support of gay marriage -- not civil unions, but marriage under the law -- is huge, calculated, a long time coming, and courageous. Obama banked his 2008 campaign on urging the country not to stand in the way of the future. Gay marriage is in our future, and there he is again. Prepare for battle; he's gonna need you.

I know, I know. Why not say this sooner, and why not just get going on a federal law? It's not that simple, either legislatively or politicall. Obama can't jump whole-hog into this issue being a federal amendment, not when there's enough support at any time for a federal amendment against gay marriage -- oh wait, we already have one.

Each year, Obama has taken an inch to get a mile on gay rights, including the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" to having the Justice Department not defend the Defense of Marriage Act. This declaration on gay marriage was on its way, and is in line with Obama's prior actions regarding gay rights. But it's gonna take time.

There's a pretty somple answer for this. Any civil rights struggle in this country is slow. Real slow. The strategy will move from "yes gay marriage, yes states' rights" to "yes gay marriage, yes federal level."

We Americans are really shit on civil rights issues.

For example, it took 270 year of slavery, a war, countless thousands dead from campaigns of terror, and several acts of Congress and presidents, just to say black people are humans and can vote. My mom was 14 when the Voting Act was passed in 1965, effectively putting an end to Jim Crow laws. The anti-miscegenation laws – which obviously affect me – came down as part of that wave. Took from roughly 1604 to 1965. Talk about a freedom struggle.

From Stonewall to now, gay rights have moved from taking sodomy laws off the books to major corporations giving same-sex partner benefits, to allowing gay adoption, adopting and dropping "don't ask, don't tell," the rise of a nationwide campaign to help bullied gay teens, to more than a fifth of the nation's states allowing or recognizing gay marriage/civil unions. That's in 40-something years; that's Flash speed in American civil rights progress.

But it's still slow. I know it is. Sadly, that's how it works in the USA; I'm not defending it, I'm only explaining it.

So yes, Obama saying he supports gay marriage doesn't win us anything, but he just budged a boulder off its mountain perch. He also may have committed political suicide. We don't know yet. Marriage is the BIG one, and this step as the head of the federal government on what's been a state issue so far is huge.

Can't stop now. But it will be slow. I know it's frustrating because, to us supporters of gay marriage, this is a simple rights issue. We know this nation ought to grow up and acknowledge what a nation is and how one operates; that each state is a part of the country and, as such, is obligated to behave according to human (and therefore civil, where such individual choices as marriage and abortion are concerned) rights laws and notions. The federal government trumps all lesser government, including corporate -– at least, it is supposed to.

If you want someone in office that will get to a federal law ensuring gay marriage, it's gonna take time. Elected officials have to roll the ball slowly in the face of this majority bigotry because otherwise they won't be in office long enough to make the change happen.

Obama is part of that slow, slow freedom train, and the Supreme Court justices he'll get to appoint likely will be, too. Wanna bet Mitt Romney and his supporters are?

Avengers assemble

Note: This contains spoilers. If you care about that sort of thing, I've employed cuts around it all. Now enjoy!

Getting back into the groove here in Connecticut. These weekend trips to Philadelphia always discombobulate; the driving, the crashing at my parents' house, the whirlwind trips to pack in as much family, friends and fun as possible. This was easier when I was 27. Hell, that was almost five years ago.

But I'm still a trouper. Thursday night we hit the road and went to a midnight screening of "The Avengers," meeting up with our friends from the comic book store we shop at in Philly.

Rosemary slept in the car for half the trip so she could stay up. I am a night owl anyway, so I knew I'd make it once I finished the drive, but I powered myself with a Robeks acai smoothie and McDonald's frappe for sugar, energy chemicals and caffeine.

"The Avengers" was worth the trouble, and then some! Perfect superhero film. Brilliant. Awesome. Great pace and storytelling, sweet moments for each character. Kudos to Marvel Studios for successfully executing this years-long ride of movies to get to this moment, and delivering a movie as good as or even better than the first "Iron Man." Classic stuff. This is how it's done!

I'm not even a Joss Whedon fan, and I saw his narrative tricks and fanboy humor build and build. But what makes him the top fanboy director is that he pays attention to character, knows a good story, gets at the root of what a character is and how he works, and he is funny. Puts him head and shoulders above the Kevin Smiths and Zack Snyders of the world.SPOILERCollapse )

Great job making Hawkeye cool; focus on his 8 billion skills as a world-class assassin before getting all crazy with the arrows. (Though the arrows were great; and a boss move of putting all the gadgets in the high-tech quiver rather than the arrows themselves.) Scarlett Johanssen was watchable and enjoyable, for once. I call her Cool Whip because, like the dessert topping, she's nice to look at but has no flavor. But she packed it in this time, even though she's still not my pick for Black Widow. Captain America got to flex his soldiering muscles as well as his brawn, Thor is at his pained-god best, and even Iron Man realizes what it takes to be a hero.

But the film belongs to the Hulk. Mark Ruffalo did the best acting; like a Clint Eastwood, he conveys a whole character's life in a minute of screen time. And making the Hulk both a frightening, unstoppable freak-show behemoth, and comic relief, was a fantastic touch that led to an interaction with Loki that had me hooting and hollering in my seat.

Seriously, this movie had everything: action, comedy, pathos, wit. There also was loads of sex appeal, though it was all from the steroid-armed male actors.

So, well done, everyone. Not since the new "Star Trek" in 2008 have I left a film feeling so juiced, so happy to experience something so amazing and masterful on screen. And this year is shaping up to be as good as that summer of a thousand movies.

"Dark Knight Rises" and "Prometheus," you're next.

Intellectual rekindling
cobra commander
I went back to Harvard for a couple of days April 20-21. As usual, it was a great time hanging out with Brian and Tara, and then we went to the Kuumba Singers concert.

When I am back in Cambridge, I swear I can feel myself getting smarter. I can feel my old Ivy League intelligence returning as I spend hours in deep discussions that range from film to sports to world politics and race issues.

Ever since I left Harvard, I had a feeling that it would be tough at times to get along in the normal world. Harvard isn't normal. That level of intellectualism, and life in a house of ideas, is uncommon. It's not particular to only Harvard, but to many high-level colleges and universities. Harvard is the one I know, and living that way and getting along in that world, you stick out when you leave.

At work recently I got to mention Duschammp's "Nude Descending A Staircase." I'm the guy who knows that painting. I used to talk about stuff like that on a regular basis. Not that my co-workers aren't intellectually curious, because they are. But my workplace isn't the environment for intellectualism on the whole. Few places are.

I've been 10 years away from Harvard, and there's a lot of it I don't miss. The constant grind, the over-productiveness and obsession with it, the way that many kids were crushed under people's expectations rather than living out their own dreams, or working so damn hard to join the same old system of money and power.

But I miss the thinking. I miss the work of maintaining a house of ideas. I miss studying subjects deeply and devleoping a language with which to analyze and illustrate any issue and attempt to find solutions.

Sometimes I feel as if I've been intellectually adrift the past few years. I've enjoyed all my fun stuff, my burlesque and superheroes and sexy times and wine bars and such. But now I need a little more from the other pile.

I'm hungry. I need more talks, more thinking, more reading, more everything. I want it all back again. I want to spend half my night reading, one quarter writing, another quarter watching TV/movies. A night out in some other culture, too.

I've got stacks of unread books to plow through, some museum memberships to enact, and I may even be joining a supporters' group for a local museum. I'm tapping into my Harvard and Syracuse networks, and we'll see what my next steps in my life will be.

And I'm working out. Oh yes.

I'm getting my serious fun back. Who's coming with me?

Days off, accomplished
Beyonce and Terence
Pretty good days off.

Every time I get to my days off, I think that I'm gonna get a bunch of stuff done. I'll finish some chores, read my backlog of comic books and novels, burn through the DVR, get in some workouts and maybe even go out at night. Two days pass, and maybe I've made a small dent in any of that.

At least I can scratch two things off the list, and they're both about the wedding. Yesterday we picked up the rings, and today we made a deal on the invitations.

The rings are quite cool. I'm happy about Rosemary's, and I really like mine. It fits my personality. It looks proud of marriage, weighty and powerful. It dares you to try breaking it, knowing you'll fail. It's that bad-ass.

And today we went to a local stationery place in town to figure out invitations. Very no-muss, no-fuss. The guy there asked how much we wanted to spend, he pulled out a binder, we figured out the design and wording, and that's it. The man had all the questions, and all the answers; he's seen it all.

I also made a big dent in my stack of comics, banged out a new Blerd Vision column, had delish dinner at Treva in the town center, and did a pair of Insanity workouts. Soooooo looking forward to cardio recovery Friday. Oh yeah.

Burning knees
Oh, my knees.

I thought I was doing OK. Been doing the Insanity workout, and tonight I guess I didn't hit the plyometric jumps just right. Or maybe it's how I always have problems with the plank lunges. Oh well.

Gonna put Tiger Balm on them tonight, see how things shape up tomorrow.

I hate Insanity, so far. Cardio and I never have been good friends. I grew to tolerate Tae Bo; all the kicking and punching mitigated the sucking-wind nauseous. Elliptical machines, dancing, hiking, brisk walking ... I like all those cardio efforts.

But none of them are Insanity, an hour of super-intense interval training.

Gonna go slower tomorrow. Time for Tiger Balm.

High times with low people
Beyonce and Terence
I enjoy a life of high and low culture, don't you? Often I find a way to mix the two: Artwork in the apartment features both Dali and a portrait of Conan O'Brien. And in our post-post-post-postmodern world, you can't escape the mixture.

But other times, it's high culture one night, and low the next.

Last Friday was a bit of the low. We headed to Torrington, our of our favorite towns, to catch an anniversary concert for our friend Keith's Desultory Theatre Club featuring Circus Delecti, Damn Broads and Theater Zombies. What better way to usher in April than with punk bands and sideshow circus acts?

It was a pretty fun night that began with some of the best Thai food I've eaten, at this new place in Torrington named Vientiane. Rosemary and I got two entrees each just to try more of the menu, everything looked so good. On a Friday night, all 30-something tables were full.

After dinner we headed up the street to Snapper Magee's. Was nice seeing Keith, Julia, Chip, Kevin, Max.

Circus Delecti was pretty cool. I got a T-shirt with their logo, a nail driven through a light bulb. And yes, we saw a man drive nails up his nose, a woman eat light bulbs, a belly dancer walk on a pile of broken glass, and a super-funny magician perform card tricks with the help of a very, very drunk birthday girl. What a mess she was, full of dirty double entendres and cuss words. I love drunkies.

We didn't get to hear Damn Broads because it was past 12:30 a.m. and I had to get to bed. Theatre Zombies were pretty good, their songs all about horrorshow creatures and the end of the world. All set to straight-ahead, 1-2-3-4 punk. Not bad at all.

I had a Maker's Mark and Coke that night, and it'll be my last for a while. Doing the Insanity workout, and that junk didn't feel good in my body. Never thought I'd call Maker's Mark junk, but don't need that alcohol in my system right now.

More about the workouts to come.

'Hunger Games' is really this awesome?
power girl
I'm about halfway through "The Hunger Games."

Why didn't anyone tell me the book is THIS GOOD?!?

I'd heard about the book being awesome for a while, but that was in the pop-culture ether. It's very well paced and plotted. You can see its tricks coming around the bend, but it blends action and suspense so well that you don't care.

I do love utopian/dystopian fiction, though. Did my heftiest piece of academic writing about it back in college.

In fact, if I had one quibble with the book, it's only that I don't believe the quality of first-person narration. I just don't think an Appalachian 16-year-old girl from an disadvantaged family/school system would sound that literate. But Katniss Everdeen is that special, otherwise there wouldn't be a book about her, would there?