Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Dear Rochester: An Intervention

Dear Rochester,

We need to talk. You are really down on yourself for some reason, and I don’t know why. This is the only possible reason why you would, for the 7th time in a row that you chose Wegmans as the City Newspaper’s “Best Place to Take an Out-of-Towner”. Your collective self-esteem is lower than it ever should be, because Wegmans is a supermarket, and there is no reason to think that any out-of-towner would think that this is the best that Rochester has to offer.

I know you know that both Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, two of the most pivotal civil rights activists in US history, are buried here, and you can visit and see their graves. There is no way anyone would think that is less cool than a place to get groceries and menial goods.

On First Friday, the Hungerford is a Shangri-La of artists of all types. The creativity is so diverse that walking through the different exhibitions is like walking through different dimensions of reality. It is better than San Jose’s. But you think that the bulk bin is what will mesmerize people.

You have some of the most fun festivals I have ever seen. I always regret having to travel in the summer, because I’ll miss at least two. For example, Jazz Festival and Fringe Festival are weeks concentrated with pure bliss. Even though there are paid/ticketed events, I don’t think I’ve seen festivals with so many free events that are so extravagant, I sometimes wonder if I missed the ticketing booth when I am watching and dancing to some of the best local and international artists in the middle of Gibbs Street or on the East & Alexander or in MLK Park. There is no way anyone who thinks highly of their hometown would think that the festivals are less impressive than fresh produce (which I believe is the law for them to be fresh).

You have a Museum of Play here, and it has a giant butterfly-shaped room that is full of BUTTERFLIES. If any bugs got into Wegmans, they would exterminate them, and they would definitely not let you play with the merchandise, so how is Wegmans a better place to take an expat than a museum where touching is encouraged?

I have gotten to know a lot of your citizens. I do not think I’ve met such welcoming, caring, community driven people in my life, and I have literally lived all over the world. My friends here are always doing five things at once, and all of their goals are aimed at making you even better, Roc. Whether they’re running their own restaurants or are involved in the Willow Center or the Gay Alliance or B.L.A.C.K. or if they just like to pay it forward in their own way, you have a population that cares about its fellow people a lot more than about where to get sushi and bread in the same place.

High Falls at dawn is dazzling. The old Subway system is an adventure. Cobbs Hill at dusk on that Parthenon-looking thing at the top of the hill is probably one of the most relaxing things you can do with your Sunday. I can give you a myriad of landmarks and events that you can take an out-of-towner that are better than a grocery store, so stop short-selling yourself. Take it from an out-of-towner, Roc: you are better than a supermarket. Don’t take an out-of-towner there and think it’s the best you have to offer. That is what small-towners in B-movies do right before disaster happens. You are much bigger and better than this, Roc, so start thinking it.

A Baltimorean Expat.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ghosts of YouTube Past

Many of you have asked about videos of my standup. Here are two. One is me (kind of) as Nick Fury, and the other is my special Columbus Day set, where all the jokes were dedicated the the most uncomfortable time of the year.

Now stop asking me about my comedy sets, and come to my shows.

Here’s a fun video that my friends put together:

Here is me in a trench coat:

And here is my Columbus Day Set:

Now seriously, come to my damn shows when I invite you.

Almost Tuesday: Halloween Costume Tips

Another week, another live Chronicle of Nonsense. In this, we discuss Halloween Costume Etiquette. Enjoy!

WOODY: Halloween is coming! Are you excited?
CHRIS: Oh yeah, I love Halloween, but it can be a little bit stressful for folks of my ilk. This is also the time of year when you really get to assess who your friends are. Gene Demby of NPR fame calls Halloween “#BlackFaceChristmas”.
WOODY: Oh, right. There’s always a story about an unfortunate incident at a party. Well, what can everyone do to be better costumed citizens?
CHRIS: I’m glad you asked that, Woody! Because today is the day I give my annual Multicultural Halloween Tips to Not Get Punched in the Face™!
WOODY: I love this annual segment…that just started today! What do you have for me this
CHRIS: First tip: Ask yourself if you need to paint your face to be a certain character. If you need brown or black makeup, and you’re not a Hershey’s bar or a hockey puck, then DON’T BE THAT CHARACTER.
WOODY: But what if you want to emulate a certain star or music artist?
CHRIS: You can dress like anyone, and people will get it. Do you like Lil’ Wayne? Put on the locks, paint on the face tattoos, and people will get it. At worst, if you’re really pale, say you’re Ghost of Carter.
WOODY: So OBVIOUSLY going full Al Jolson is out.
CHRIS: CORRECT. In a perfect world, one could do whatever they want and not offend anyone. Sadly, painting your face to be a different race has been ruined by 300 years of slavery, 100 years of Jim Crow, 100 years of lynching, and 200 years of mockery and caricature in theatre and cinema.
WOODY: That is too bad. I wanted to be Michael Jackson for Halloween.
CHRIS: Well good news, Woody! You CAN be Michael Jackson for Halloween! Just make sure you’re 1987-2009 Michael Jackson, not 1958-1986 Michael Jackson. Mr. Jackson, whether he meant to or
not, has bestowed upon us a way for EVERYONE to emulate him for a costume. Thanks to Thriller, you can even be ZOMBIE Michael Jackson!
WOODY: It truly DOESN’T matter if you’re black or white!
CHRIS: Or undead!
WOODY: OK, so here’s a sticky one. My friend said she was putting together a Rachel Dolezal costume…
CHRIS: No bronzer.
WOODY: Fair enough.
CHRIS: Second tip: If England or Spain ever invaded them, DON’T BE THEM.
WOODY: Whoa, that’s a lot. That covers most of Africa, Asia, North America, South America…pretty much everywhere except Antarctica!
CHRIS: True. You can still be a penguin with impunity.  It’s just the Spirit Halloween costumes with every negative stereotype in the costume bag, it looks like a racist Lunchable®, and probably just as unhealthy. There is an exception: characters from movies and video games might work. I’m thinking Prince of Persia, some Altair from Assassin’s Creed, Jafar from Aladdin, even Mulan or that dragon from Mulan…If Hollywood cast a white actor to portray the character, you might be safe.
WOODY: Got it. How about Pocahontas?
CHRIS: How about Nocahontas? That leads to Tip #3: Lay off the Native American costumes, at least for a year. For one thing, haven’t they suffered enough? Ever since Columbus, it’s just been a cavalcade of abuses, from disease to forced relocation to genocide to offensive sports team names. For another, costume kit/racist Lunchables don’t delineate between different TYPES of Natives. There will be a Chocktaw arm band with Sioux headdress with Seneca footwear...It would be like someone going out wear a Viking helmet, a kilt, and lederhosen!
WOODY: Oh, like a Denver Broncos fan!
CHRIS: Exactly! No one wants to see that! Not even Denveroos ("Denvarians"?)!
WOODY: I get it now. Say, what do you think of all of the “sexy” costumes out there?
CHRIS: That is actually my Tip #4: Ladies: Do you. Be Sexy Bert and Ernie. Be Sexy Ninja Turtle. Be Sexy Pizza Rat.
WOODY: What! Sexy Pizza Rat!
CHRIS: It exists, trust me.
WOODY: But aren’t these “sexy” costumes just exploitative ways to get women to show skin?
CHRIS: It depends on who holds the power. This country is so uptight about anything sexual, yet they use sex in advertising EVERYTHING. We fetishize breasts to the point that people get harassed breastfeeding their children, which is WHAT BREASTS ARE FOR. We shame women who date a lot but don’t get married. We act like divorced women are “damaged goods”. All this, while using women (or more specifically, their body parts) to sell everything from yogurt to cars to M&Ms.
WOODY: By the way, Sexy M&M costume?
CHRIS: Yeah. Pretty hot. Anyway, I feel like women should have a day that they can express themselves, and if that means feeling sexy without undue judgement, then let it be. Dan Savage once called Halloween “Straight Pride Weekend”, because that is the only day that straight people can explicitly express themselves without the being judged, so everyone should express themselves!
WOODY: That sounds fair.
CHRIS: I do have a corollary for the ladies: Smart it up a little! Why only be a “sexy” piece of candy or
cartoon character or inanimate object? If you WANT to be a “sexy” character, how about being a Sexy Ida B. Wells or Marie Curie? Be a PhD graduate, or astronomer!
WOODY: Ooh! A Sexy Mae Jemison!
CHRIS: Sexy Ruth Baider Ginsberg!
WOODY: Sexy Ada Lovelace!
CHRIS: Sexy Mary Shelly!
WOODY: So for the Queen of Sheba-
CHRIS: No face paint.
WOODY: Right.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Almost Tuesday: The Feline/Gun Solution

Our latest show. It was a last minute change, but in light of the Thursday tragedy, I Came up with a solution that would finally help this glut of guns and unfettered access.
CHRIS: Well, I wanted to talk about Dr. Ben Carson, but as you know, last Thursday, there was another mass shooting, and 10 people died, and 17 were injured.
WOODY: I know. It’s crazy. The year is not over, and we’re up to 294 people murdered by mass shootings, and it’s only October!
CHRIS: In total, gun deaths this year are up to over 8,500. That is 5,000 more than terrorist deaths in the US since 1970. That’s more than how many soldiers died in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
WOODY: The sad thing is that no one seems to want to do anything about it. Lawmakers are too scared of the NRA to take any action, and citizens polarize themselves into two buckets:  either “ban all guns and melt them down” or “Have so many guns we’ll make Rambo look like a hippie”.
CHRIS: I have an idea that might get EVERYONE on the same page.
WOODY: That’s impossible! Getting all those groups together is like mixing oil and water and anti-matter! The room would look like one of those cartoon fight clouds with the fists and feet flying.
CHRIS: That’s why this plan needs a little bit of easing into. First, we all have to do the obligatory cycle of throwing the mentally ill under the bus.
WOODY: I think we’re in that cycle now. Everyone is talking about mental illness and ignoring that most gun deaths are done by people who have never been diagnosed with anything. It’s usually domestic violence.
CHRIS: Yes. So the first step is in full effect. The next step is to make a lot of dumb statements like, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
WOODY: Ugh…You know the heroes of most of the mass shootings were unarmed? That statement is ridiculous.
CHRIS: The more ridiculous, the better. Here’s another one: “An armed society is a polite society.”
WOODY: THAT’S EVEN DUMBER! An armed society is a SCARED society, because they’re afraid everyone will shoot them for a minor misunderstanding!
CHRIS: STOP MAKING SENSE, WOODY! This is not how it goes! We need to get these dumb phrases out there, or else people will start thinking critically before the end of the plan!
WOODY: It just sounds like these people would prevent forest fires by setting even more fires.
CHRIS: …Pretty much. But don’t worry. The next step is a little bit better. We need to pretend that the word “control” means “prohibition”. That way, any talk of legislation will be met with unreasonably violent resistance.
WOODY: But then we can’t have a rational conversation about gun control. That doesn’t sound like a good idea.
CHRIS: It’s a TERRIBLE idea, but it’s necessary. Everything else is heavily regulated. You need to take a driving class and have hours of road time logged to get a driving license. You go through 3 background checks and usually get monitored for months before you can adopt a kid, but you can go to a convention center and pick up a semi-automatic with 100-round belt clip in five minutes. We need to keep up that trend for a little bit longer.
WOODY: I really don’t see how this will untie people.
CHRIS: That’s because I didn’t get to the last step. It will require about 20% of the population. We send leather jackets, berets, and AR-15 rifles to every law-abiding black and brown person in the country.
WOODY: Wait, what?
CHRIS: Every day for about a year, they dress in the jackets and berets, rifles strapped to our backs, and just walk in formation down large public streets.
CHRIS: One person can carry a flag with a wild cat, maybe a lynx or and ocelot or something.
WOODY: Um…or maybe a panther?
CHRIS: YES! That’s brilliant, Woody! The first time the NRA and most of the government agreed on stricter gun control, a lot of black guys in major cities were taking advantage of the First and Second Amendment by donning leather jackets,  carrying around assault rifles, and carrying flags with panthers on them.
WOODY: I’m not comfortable with this at all…
CHRIS: See! It’s working already! People are really scared of cats!
WOODY: I don’t think it was the cats…
CHRIS: It’s gotta be the cats! Everyone was on the same page! They ALL wanted to take down all those cat posters and keep tight controls on guns, out of their fear of these armed black people, and their love of large cats! It was so bad, there were fights with authorities. Some of the cat-lovers left the country to live in Cuba and Guinea! We need to recreate what happened in the 1960s. I guarantee that people will unite to start passing comprehensive gun control laws, and the nation will be safer for it.
WOODY: You know what? You might be right. But why would people be so afraid of black and brown people’s love of cats? That doesn’t make much sense.
CHRIS: Does any part of the gun debate make any sense right now?

WOODY: …Fair point.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Midnight in the Garden of Goodman and Monroe

What. A. Weekend.
There is usually a nice viewing of debauchery when driving up Monroe Avenue at around 1:00 in the morning that makes the drive home from downtown somewhat of an urban safari, so as I drove my friend Mary toward her home, we took in the sights.
Oh look! There’s Bromo Sapien Nauseous, singing the solid song of his people onto the street.
There is a Britnee of barefoot Woo Girls. After midnight, they shed their 4-inch hind hoofs and carry them in their hands.
To the right is a herd of luminous wailing SquadCarus Enforcia; It seems they have cornered a…oh thank goodness. It’s not a brother*.
What is that idiot doing in the middle of the road up the block? That is a terrible way to hail a cab. That’s not even a cab he’s trying to hail! And why is his friend kicking that red bag?...Wait…that’s not a red bag. That’s a human! Those people are getting beat up! That “idiot” was trying to flag down people for help! Why the hell didn’t anyone stop?
So much for the safari; We must do something. In the 5 seconds it took me to park the car and put on hazard lights, the people doing the beating ran down the road into the night. The kid in red got up, slightly shaken, but it took more than 5 seconds for the blond woman to get up. Even when we helped her up, she was barely standing on her own.
Two of us called 911, and explained what happened, and also explained that a block up, there were three squad cars literally 100 feet from us administering a traffic stop, and any one of them could just drive down here and possibly chase down the assailants. Two cars pulled up, and after about five minutes of them trying to determine from our descriptions if the robbers were the same ones they were called about earlier, one decided he should patrol the street where they ran.
This left the officer to ask personal details, (we thought) for a report: names, age, what was taken, have they been drinking…The whole time, the woman (we’ll call her Lu Anne) was barely standing and swaying. She explicitly did not want to go to the hospital, so no one could force her to go. When the officer learned that the four victims were 19 and had been drinking, he found an opportunity to admonish them for breaking the law, especially Lu Anne. How dare they be college age kids and imbibe? You would think that the Long Island iced teas jumped them, knocked them out and left them on the street and ran off with their wallets and purses. Yes, Lu Anne and her friends were drunk, but why punish them instead of the people who took advantage of their hindered state of sobriety. He probably could have caught the assailants in the time it took to admonish them.
We volunteered to take them back to their campus since they were taking a bus. I now know that my car can fit 6 small people, if need be. The ride was only a little bit awkward. The first time was when Lu Anne squeezed my hand in pain, and the other when I noticed she hadn’t moved her other arm the entire time.
Oh, and there was also the fact that every few minutes, she would keep asking who I was, and she did not recognize any of her friends in the back seat. She also thought it was Thursday. We decided she should probably go to the ER. We’d figure out how to convince her of that when we got there, which is difficult, since she couldn’t remember much beyond a few minutes.
She got admitted easily, and Mary accompanied her in the examination area. Later, Mary told me that the doctor asked her a few standard questions: name, age, source of pain, and visible bruises, what does she think her mother would say to her right now about her drinking?
I’m pretty sure her mother would say, “Stop lecturing a child that is not yours and do your fucking job, doctor”, but I’m no expert. She was not in the ER for an overdose or alcohol poisoning. She was in the ER because someone knocked her out while she was minding her business, and she had an extremely short term memory and an immobile arm. Unless she deliberately smashed a glass of Bacardi over her head and robbed herself, there is no need for the victim blaming.
A few hours later, I taxied the people who were well enough to go home back to their campus and then picked up Mary and the other kid who got badly beaten from the ER. Lu Anne had to stay until 10:00am, and she got a ride. We will likely never hear from any of these people again.
I am quite certain that everyone will be fine, save for a little bit of bruised pride and some lost sentimental items in the stolen purse. What bothers me about this night are these things:
1.       Perhaps sometimes it is necessary, but does it always take 3 squad cars to stop one unarmed man? Had the other two been driving around, perhaps the assault and robbery would have never happened.
2.       What kind of asshole doesn’t stop when people obviously need help? The kid in the street flagging down cars was from Manchester, UK. Its nickname is Gunchester. He was as incredulous as I was that no one would stop and help people in distress. That is some serious apathy. This means that people in this town are worse than people in a town called Gunchester…GUNCHESTER.
3.       At what point of a crime report is it okay to admonish the victim of it? Women, gay people, trans people, and black people, and pretty much anyone who isn’t a straight white male will ALWAYS get blamed for crimes that are committed against them, but it was a bit surreal to watch it happen live, especially to a person who was just knocked out and in a lot of pain and likely wasn’t comprehending everything, since she was JUST KNOCKED OUT AND IN A LOT OF PAIN. Perhaps victim blaming is a new obligatory procedure, like you read the accused the Miranda Rights, and you read the victim the “This is partially your fault” rights.
4.       When did ER doctors get into the practice of victim blaming? She had a mother, and she didn’t need another. The time wasted trying to shame her for drinking could have been used prepping the CT Scan, the X-Ray machine, and whatever other equipment one might need to determine the a patient doesn’t have traumatic injuries from being slammed to concrete and out cold for several minutes. I had no idea the Hippocratic oath including a section where you say not only “Do no harm”, but also “You harmed yourself”.
All in all, at least everyone is safe. Best of luck, wherever you are, Lu Anne and friends. Hopefully the world will treat you a little bit better.
…Seriously guys. GUNCHESTER. You’re worse than people from GUNCHESTER. Get your shit together.
*I am quite certain that every time a brown person sees a herd of cop cars stopped on the street, they make a sigh of relief if the person being stopped is a white male.

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