Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday Cheer -- New York Style

Or "How to Make the World Your Personal Soup Kitchen..."


I've been nursing this nasty cold and finally drag myself down to Europa Café for some medicinal chicken soup.

I pay at the register with a $20 and the gal behind the counter bags my soup and gives me change in the dumbass way everyone does these days -- putting the bills flat in my outstretched hand, and dumping the coins on top. I try to tip the coins into her jar, but they spill on the floor.

So I bend over to pick them up, and when I stand up to retrieve my bag o' soup -- IT'S GONE!

"Where's my soup??" I ask counter-girl.

She shrugs.

"That woman took it," a man pipes up from the other side of the counter.

"What?" I blurt, "What woman? Where?"

Some other customers bleat out agreement, "Yeah, her, she took it."

At first it looks like they're pointing a pair of suited execs at the table nearest me, so I'm figuring one of them grabbed my bag by mistake.

"Them??" I ask.

The man shakes his head "no" and guides my eyes with his finger, one table over....

"That homeless woman!"

Almost as though she were emerging from my blind spot, I suddenly see this enormous straw-haired raggedy blob slurping down my soup.

"You??!" I splutter, "You took my soup??"

She looks dead in my face and says, "You gave it to me!"

I turn back to counter-girl.

"You let her take my soup?!?"

She shrugs.

I repeat, "You let her take my soup?!?!"

She shrugs again, implying that it was my fault.

After all, I suppose, once money had changed hands -- even on that very counter -- she no longer had any responsibility where theft was concerned.

Now, maybe it would be another story if she had stealthfully grabbed the bag and run. But she was sitting right there, and had effected the crime in front of multiple witnesses!!

I barrel down on this inept creature: "You have to replace my soup."

"I can't do that."

"Yes you can. You can and will give me another soup."

This goes back and forth for much longer than it should have -- so now our homeless culprit gets both lunch and entertainment -- until counter-girl finally sends me to the soup station just to shut me up.


These jerks should take a lesson from Starbuck's where, every once in a while, some douchebag grabs a paying customer's drink.

And they replace it on the spot.

No questions asked.


Soup in hand, I gather a bag and napkin (apparently guess-who got the last spoon), turn to the homeless woman and say, "Merry Christmas."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Men Behaving Badly

Actually, I think many women behave worse.

But we are not the ones who sit with our legs spread as far apart as possible on the subway.

And I've given a few spreadeagled guys a hard time ("I'm sure your balls are huge, but do I really have to smell them??" Giggles from fellow passengers are usually enough to shame the guy into exercising his noodley inner-thighs).

But today, the problem wasn't a leg-spreader; it was a seat-stealer.

I had to take my cat to the vet this frigid morning. So I carried her in a bulky Sherpa shoulder bag, held close to my body -- a sweater around the cat inside, and a blanket draped over the outside.

And I had a heavy knapsack of stuff for the vet on my back.

So there I am, on the DeKalb platform, train pulling in.

I hobble onto the moderately crowded Q and head towards the remaining empty seat.

About two feet from my Formica Valhalla, a smirking twentysomething shoots me a look and dives into the seat.

I sidle up to the pole in front of him, positioning my foot near his, figuring a good jolt would give me the opportunity to crush his metatarsals.

But no -- too childish, I decide (actually, the train operator didn't drive like a cabbie, for a change... so no convenient jolts).

So I'm standing there wrestling with myself, wishing I'd said something when he first sat down.

But now that the moment is gone, what do I do? Seek petty, childish, eminently satisfying passive-aggressive revenge?

I glower down at him for the full seven minutes across the Manhattan Bridge. He notices this at first, but sniffs a little scoff of victory and feigns sleep behind his tinted glasses.

Canal Street comes and the person sitting next to him gets up.

I plop down next to him, cat carrier on my lap, and turn my head to face him full-on.

"You got a problem?" he sneers.

"Yeah." I sneer back, but still can't bring myself to speak directly.

All the way to Union Square, I turn the words over in my mind. I'm not going to be passive, I decide. He put me through discomfort, and I'll return the favor. And that will be that.

Finally, as we pull into 14th Street, I get up, face him, and say:

"You knew very well I needed this seat more than you did. But you went and plopped your fat, ugly, lazy ass in it anyway." (He actually wasn't fat, but that's always a useful ephithet -- even for men.)

"But what goes around comes around. And karma is a bitch, and so am I. And with the way you act, I won't be the last bitch who bitches at you. And you'll deserve every bitchy word, you selfish, pathetic douchebag."

I head towards the open door, but turn back one last time: "And Merry Christmas."

He scoffs again, turning to the woman sitting next to him as an ally against the crazy bitch yelling at him.

But she's seen the whole thing and turns away with a little scoff of her own.

And I scoff too ... and, finally, step off.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Rockefeller Center Security Guard -- Drunk on Holiday Power?

They say absolute power corrupts absolutely -- but petty authority is far more dangerous, in that it is pervasive, insidious and wreaks its damage not as the single blow that brings down the house; rather it's the nibbling vermin that shreds the structure from within.

And a verminous mouth nibbled me today.

Now, bear in mind, I'm no fan of security guards.

Often underpaid and desperately underqualified -- especially after the post-9-11security frenzy -- they manage to make me feel safe and threatened at the same time.

In the wake of 9-11, as security in one form or another was ubiquitous, stories of abuses were rampant, as guards made a sport of fondling, bullying and otherwise victimizing air travellers.

In the past few years, thankfully, this has abated.

But every once in a while, in a high-profile, high-volume situation -- like Rockefeller Center at Christmastime -- security gets a tad overzealous. And I start to wonder if we're heading back down that slippery slope.

So today, as I headed back from a lunchtime gig at the United Nations, I trudged through the 4pm crowd around the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink.

I had done a sword routine for the show, and carried the prop in a shoulder bag that is too short, so the hilt sticks out of the top corner.

Bear in mind, I had passed through UN Security without even a nod, and weaved my way through gaggles of NYPD without a second look.

According to my pal in the NYPD, "Legally, under NYC Admin Code, section 10-133, possession of a knife with a blade longer than 4 inches is illegal. No intent, no recklessness, not even not having knowledge that you possessed it. Up to 15 days in jail."

And, if indeed, this item were a "blade" it would have had a sharp edge and a point.

But it doesn't.

This "blade" is a clumsy, blunt, bronze scimitar -- perfect for balancing on my head...

World Exotica 2

... and not much else.

It's less threatening as a golf club -- a fact obvious to the NYPD and UN Security.

(It is refreshing to know that SOME people in authority can recognize a theatrical prop when they see one.)

But not so at Rockefeller Center.

Somewhere along the northern path above the rink I became aware of a tall, wiry, middle-aged black man walking next to me.

"Hey, is that real?" he asked with a hint of a chuckle, in the way that men do when they are hitting on me.

I ignored him.

"Is that real?" he asked again as we walked up the staircase in front of 30 Rock.

"It depends on what you mean by real," I finally answered.

"No, seriously. Is it plastic or something?"

I made a "WTF?" face and turned away.

"It's bronze," I said, flatly.

Then he grabbed the handle of the sword, trying to pull it from my bag.

I snatched it away. "Please don't touch that!" I spat and yanked it and myself back.

He didn't say anything else, but held up a walkie talkie and said, "Person of suspect is heading... "

I moved quickly across 50th Street, heading in a panic towards the Swarowski booth.


Not the most terrifying encounter; but enough to scare me with images of being hauled off to some security desk, made to wait, bullied, harassed, whatever.

And then what do I say when I finally make it back to work?

(OK, they're pretty nice at my job, so it probably wouldn't have been an issue -- but still...!)

Then I thought about the incident, and how completely inappropriate his behavior was, for two striking reasons:

(1) He did not identify himself to me as a guard; indeed if he had touched my person rather than my prop, I would have socked him one in the jaw;

(2) He should never have touched my person or my prop at all!

So. How to handle this?

Well, I fumed about it at first.... posted it in my facebook, gnashed my teeth at a few tolerant friends.

And finally I decided to do something about it.

I found the concierge number on the Rockefeller Center website and asked to speak to security, explaining that I'd had an incident with a security guard.

The receptionist apologized and forwarded my call.

I repeated the story to a guard who seemed genuinely surprised by the offending guard's behavior. "Yeah," he said, "He definitely should not have done that."

He alerted the supervisor of my call and took details -- time, location, events, physical description. "Hmm.." he said as I described the guard, "That doesn't sound like one of our team."

He explained, "It's not just our guys out there... there's Fifth Avenue security, some NYPD..."

The supervisor became available and took the call.

I repeated many of the details and he, too, asked for a more detailed physical description.

I did my best: taller than me (about 6'3"?), late 40s to 50s, caramel skin, glasses, dark jacket and pants, dark hat, walkie talkie.

He had some kind of badge on his left side, but he had grabbed me with his right hand, so the left side was away from me. And I wanted to get away from him.

The supervisor expressed his apologies and said he would do his best to address the issue.

I thanked him for his time and hung up feeling not entirely resolved.

Perhaps I should have asked the supervisor the best way to have handled that situation.

Should I have stopped and faced him dead-on? Would that have left me more vulnerable?

Probably. Yes, I think so.

And that is the biggest problem here.

The petty authoritarians have their tiny taste of power, and are chomping at the bit to use it. And if you are on the receiving end of their unwanted attentions, it will rarely turn out well for you.

If you decide to stand your ground and fight back, then occasionally you can help ferret some bad ones out (if, indeed, the higher-ups are even interested in doing any ferreting -- and making such an assumption is in itself extremely risky).

And if I had been not been running late, I might have done that.

But in this case -- and in the case of many of us who are confronted with petty authority bullshit -- we just want to get on with our lives, make whatever obeisance these assholes want to let us be on our way.

And perhaps that is precisely what gets them off.....

My guess was that this scumbag knew very well that the sword was not a problem, and that he was, indeed, using its presence as an excuse to hit on me.


To be continued.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Some More About Jerry....

Years ago, when I had just begun to take bellydance as a means of healing from an agonizing back injury, my teacher at that time, Darshan, invited me to see her perform at Mezzo Mezzo.

When I arrived, I saw a poster in the window with this astonishing image of my teacher:

Headshot 1

I'd thought she was quite lovely in class, but this was a whole 'nuther level of radiant gorgeousness.

At that time, my only interest in bellydance was for exercise.

The very concept of my pursuing it seriously as a professional art, given my size, age, lack of serious dance training, and more disqualifiers than I could list ... it was, well, inconceivable for me ... even more so as I gaped at this poster, thinking, "That could never, ever, ever be me."

The image stuck with me, though, as did Darshan's performance that night.

On a superficial level... yes, she was beautiful and graceful, as well as an engaging performer.

But there was something else, something about the dance itself that struck and engaged my cement-cold aching viscera.

There was something about this dance ... the way it honors and celebrates the body -- a woman's body -- in its natural state, that brought out inarticulable levels of beauty in this already very beautiful woman.

And it occured to me that the image was not merely the working of a skillful artist making his subject into some hairy-fairy image of conventional gorgeousness.

Rather, he brought out the very depth of loveliness I saw in her dance.

"Usually my images are not of dancers dancing," the photographer, Jerry Bezdikian, told me years later, "They are of dancers dreaming of the dance."

Over those years, I did dream of dancing; and I dreamed of growing enough as a person, a dancer, and a woman, to embody that very essence.

As luck had it, Jerry happened to attend one of my performances earlier this year.

I spoke to him afterwards and, to my shock, he liked my work.

And we got to talking... and I told him that I'd enjoyed his work for years, but didn't think I was "good enough" to pose for him.

And he told me I was out of my f**king mind.

We scheduled a shoot the next day.

Below are some of the extraordinary images he created from that threefold session: One outdoor, in plainclothes (for acting and comedy), and one for bellydance.

And so, without further ado... Enjoy!!

From the indoor session...

A headshot:

Headshot 1

And these stunning works of art:

Portrait 2

Portrait 1

From the outdoor session:

Headshot 2

Mid-Length Headshot !

Note the sharpened foreground and gently blurred background -- not an easy effect!

This design was inspired by a Portuguese song, "Beijo de Saudade" -- "Kiss of Longing":

Beijo de Saudade

And, of course, there is this stunner, which he used for the breathtaking design for PURE Pandemonium:

Bellydance Portriat

(My make-up, incidentally, was done by the incomparable Jade ElHaddad.)

To see more of Jerry's work, please go to his website, or check out his galleries on Facebook.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Jerry & Dickey & Jehan at the Sullivan Room

This past Thursday, I had the transcendent delight to see Jehan perform with musical prestidigitators Jerry Bezdikian and Dick Barsamian at The Sullivan Room.

Jehan at the Sullivan Room Thurs Dec 3

For those who have perhaps only heard of Jehan from her appearance on last year's season finale of Wife Swap, know this: She is a big deal in the bellydance world.

And I do mean a very Big Deal.

This is not simply because of her artistry and longevity as one of America's best bellydancers, but her power -- as a performer and as a person.

This was apparent even in the episode of what could have been a very cheesy show (bear in mind, I didn't know her much when I saw it), in which she was switched with straightlaced pig farmer Brandi Carmichael.

In the beginning -- most likely to create the strongest contrast with Brandi -- they attempted to portray Jehan as, frankly, a bit of a loon.

They went nuts with the bellydance scene... glitter, veils and candles everywhere (and, frankly, it is a bit like that).

But as the show progressed, and she impressed upon her adopted family the values of creativity, joy and relatedness, it was clear that she was no caricature to be trivialized and exploited; she was an extraordinary woman with an extraordinary message.

Now, before Thursday, I'd never seen her dance a full set. And from the beginning, she was nothing short of mesmerizing... beyond mesmerizing.

She was at times playful, seductive and serene -- but always powerfully compelling.

Imagine my surprise to learn afterwards that she'd been completely exhausted and dealing with a dastardly wardrobe-malfunction-waiting-to-happen.

She wrote to me the following day when I told her how she had enchanted the audience: "..this was a valiant effort, but a mere shadow of what I wanted to give... it was the best I could do that day but I am happy it reached people..."

So. That's Jehan.

Now. About Jerry and Dickey.

Those in the Middle Eastern Dance & Music community know Dickey for his music, and Jerry mostly from his photography, which has been his focus these past many years.

But earlier this year -- in fact, shortly after my photo session with him -- Jerry came out to see me dance at The Grisly Pear and ran into Dickey.

And they decided it was time for Jerry to break out his kanun once again; and what better person to break with than Dickey?

So, months later, and after a few false starts at other venues, their bi-weekly gig has found a beautiful home at The Sullivan Room in the Village.

And I'm so, so thrilled to have been there when it was first conceived... I was about to say I sort of felt like a midwife... but I think it's something else when you are there at conception... hmmmmm.... :-D

Hope to see you there (at The Sullivan Room, not at conception... well, maybe some of you... we'll tawk....)!!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Friends With Benefits -- Part Three

Been busier than ever, getting ready for my double-header this Sunday, 12/6 (acting at the Barrow Group at 3pm, and dancing in Ranya's Holiday Gala at Lafayette Grill at 7pm) ...

... AND ...

...another double-header on Thursday, 12/10 (doing stand-up at Broadway Comedy at 6:30pm and dancing in Dalia Carella's Holiday Party at Je'Bon at 7:30pm).

See my Schedule Module on the right for detials... But here is Dalia's gorgeous flyer:

Flyer for Dalia Carella's Holiday Party & Benefit

I will also probably be performing in yet another Artistic New Directions benefit in February... but more on that later!

In the meantime, I know what you really want is PHOTOS, PHOTOS, PHOTOS.... (Special thanks, once again, to the lovely Cynthia Boucher for sharing her photographic talents).

When last we saw our valiant Pandemoniators (Pandemoniatricies??), the stunning Thalia....

Thalia 4

...fluttered her belly and shook her booty.... (she is a goddess of the bellyroll, by the way)


Next up, the ever-glamorous Jaida...

Jaida 1

... and her divine double-veil...

Jaida 3

Jaida 10

Next, Lourdes got super-serious with a Chinese veil-and-fan dance...

Lourdes 3

And a little Kung-Fu Fighting!

Lourdes 5

One Dangerous Dancer followed another... as the fire-spinning burlesque goddess Masae ...

Masae 4

... shook a tail feather...

Masae 9

.. and raised the roof! (Roof! Roof! Roof!)

Masae 11

Balinese Diva Natasha graced the stage in full Leogong ...

Natasha 1

... and magic fingers ...

Natasha 9

Mime legend Richmond Shepard got silly...

Richmond Shepard 1

... with a touch of old-school debonair ...

Richmond Shepard 4

This was one of my favorite moments in the evening.

As part of his Stand-Up Mime routine (yes, stand-up ... as in verbal), he recites Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky, and enacts the absurd text with even more absurd and brilliant movement.

When he does this routine in his own show, he has the poem printed on the back of the program and the audience recites it with him.

When there is no program, he asks anyone who happens to know it to recite it with him.

"In a crowd of fifty," he told me after the show, "maybe there will be one or two."

In Pandemonium -- over a dozen!!

Yeah baby!