Friday, March 23, 2012

The Graffiti

How did they even get up there?
           I try to look past the graffiti to the beauty of the nineteenth-century building underneath, but it’s really difficult when that graffiti is a drawing of an ejaculating penis.  Graffiti is just something I don’t understand about Germany.  In the US, you only see graffiti in places where fifteen year olds try to buy alcohol because they accidentally made themselves twenty on their fake IDs.  Here in Germany, there’s graffiti all over the place.  It’s on grocery stores in nice neighborhoods.  It’s on gracious apartment buildings.  It’s on hospitals.  Nobody cleans it up, and nobody seems to notice it.
I live in a quiet, family-oriented neighborhood, but the aforementioned ejaculating penis graffito greets me on my way to the subway.  There are many graffiti penises around town, many just as large, and many ejaculating with great gusto.  What makes my local penis so special is that it is spray painted on the lovely, and surely expensive, marble porte-cochère of a building that houses the offices of a hundred year old charitable trust.  I have lived down the street from this penis for several months, and nobody has made an attempt to power scrub it into a faint penis memory.
My favorite :)
This is not to say that the Germans are slovenly, they certainly are not.  Public parks are beautifully maintained, the streets are free of litter, and pot holes are fixed in under thirty seconds.  All this cleanliness makes the presence of the graffiti all the more perplexing.  Some of it is very funny, though.  Today I saw some graffiti that read, “Bambi ♥’s Goethe.”  Now that was pretty funny.  Near where I used to live, a yellow building sports a wedge of Swiss cheese with the words “Money to eat, and cheese for all!”  (Translated from the original German)  That was more cracked out than funny, but it struck me as something vaguely worthwhile.
Looking out my living room window, I can see the letters POS! on the adjacent building.  I really want to sneak out in the middle of the night and clean it off, but I worry I might end up having to explain myself to a confused German policeman or landlord.  I don’t know if I will really be able to express the sentiment, “AHHHHHHH  - - -   I don’t care if this is a nice street – this POS! crap is making me feel like I live in a 1980s New York City subway car such as the one depicted in the opening scene of My Dinner with Andre!  It must go away now!” adequately in German. 
This is actually a lovely apartment building in a nice neighborhood
             So I continue on my daily walk past the jubilant male member, every day visually reminded that I am in Germany and not in America.  Not only is there a graffiti penis, but it’s uncircumcised.

Friday, March 16, 2012

I am now a "take the train past" person?

       Like many Americans, I’ve always kind of resented the
stranglehold California and New York have on American culture.  Being
the centers of film and TV production, fashion, and finance, they have
grown a little cocky.  This attitude is often expressed in the
shockingly common phrase “Fly Over People” to describe those of us
living outside New York and California.  Having grown up and gone to
college in solidly “fly over” states, I was not one to be easily
impressed by the glamor of Hollywood or Manhattan.
       My skepticism was unfortunately reinforced by the men I met from
these places.  In my home state, male jewelry was confined to a watch,
cufflinks, and a wedding ring, and the only underwear that was ever
allowable was a pair of cotton boxers.  Briefs were only acceptable
when actively playing football.  I went to college in a state
populated by the grandchildren of Vikings, where one was considered a
little eccentric if he or she did not want to sit on a frozen lake for
six hours and fish through a small hole in the ice.  Everybody, men
and women, were supposed to be, well, a little tough and not too
fussy.  In college, I asked my friend from Colorado why our mutual
friend Sam was obsessed with hair care products, wore sparkly
toe-separating socks, and aspired to be a stay at home dad -  all the
while being completely heterosexual.  She merely told me, “All you
need to know about Sam is- he’s from Southern California.”
       After graduating college, I moved to New York City.  The young men I
met and went out with didn’t seem to me to have normal, adult
abilities.  They spent twelve hours a day at work making the rich even
richer, and then they had their laundry sent out because they were too
lazy to do it themselves.  I dated one guy who had his breakfast
delivered every morning.  It wasn’t like he was eating waffles or eggs
and bacon either; he literally had a small carton of milk and a mini
cereal box delivered to his apartment every morning.  My own cousin,
bless him, lived in New York for a few years and picked up some bad
habits.  He actually walked around for an entire winter with his coat
half open because one of the buttons popped off and he somehow forgot
how to sew a button back on.  One man I went out with a few times was a big
fancy/pancy lawyer of something, but he told me he could never go
camping because he really had to have a nice, soft bed.  What the
hell!?  I can understand thinking that, I just can’t understand
actually saying that.
       After New York, I moved back to the Midwest and met the man who is
now my husband.  For our third date he cooked me dinner.  The next
week, he fixed the problem with my television that had been driving me
nuts.  He can drive a stick shift in the snow.  He can fold laundry
better than any person I’ve ever seen.  His frying pan scrubbing skills
are legendary at my parents' house.  He can do normal, competent,
adult human being stuff.  He is also, however, from Southern
California.  I learned that I misjudged the non-flyover people for too
long.  I didn’t know they made men in Southern California.  I thought
it was just breast implants.
       Then we got to Germany.  The German government doesn’t really care
about all the nuances of where I’ve lived over the years, they only
know where I was born – in a state securely in the Appalachian
Mountains where the non-flyover people assume the locals marry their
cousins when they are sixteen, two years after starting full time work
in the coal mine.  When a German government bureaucrat looks at my
husband’s information, she won’t see a Hollywood stereotype of a
pampered man who is too incompetent to put his Ikea furniture together
so instead goes to get a microdermabrasion and a chest wax.  Because
of a small typing mistake, she’ll only see a man born in Calidornia.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Roommate and the Shooter

            It is a posthumous photograph, taken after the police killed him, but his eyes were still open.   If you didn’t know he was dead, you would think the man in the picture was just a little dazed.  The photograph is all over the internet now; it accompanies almost every news article about him.  A few days ago, he went on a shooting rampage in a public place, some people are dead and others are wounded.  I hadn’t seen him in over ten years, but I recognized him immediately.
            He was my roommate’s boyfriend.  To be honest, my roommate and I were just assigned to the same room freshman year at college, we weren’t close, and I never knew her boyfriend all that well.  I knew he was very smart, I knew he dressed a little strangely, I knew she eventually broke up with him and didn't want to talk about it much, and it never would have occurred to me that he could do something like this.  His mental illness really seems to have taken hold long after he left the college we both attended. 
            College doesn’t seem that long ago.  My friends from college are still my friends.  Several of my college books are still on the shelf.  Today I am wearing a sweater that I wore in college.  It wasn’t that long ago that he was a young man with a promising future.  Today a photograph of his dead face is on the internet.  Lives were ruined.  The tragedy cannot be undone.  Those of us who knew him long ago are not the important ones in his life or in this story.  We are left with the memories of a bright young man, the sort of person you would never think anybody would have to worry about.  If only he could have been that person forever.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Art that Offends

          I’m not easily offended.  I once saw a play in London where an actor defecated on stage.  I have seen art that depicted scenes of torture or sexual violence.  And they were awful, but they weren’t exactly offensive.  They were heart breaking and disturbing at times, but they were always making the point that something wrong was happening and that we need to acknowledge that it happened and change it in the future.  Sometimes art shines light on something we would rather not see.  And that is hard.  But it’s not offensive.
            The only time I have ever been offended by art, was when I was working for an auction house.  We were called to appraise the works owned by two private collectors.  A wealthy, retired, married couple with many grandchildren, they had spent the last few decades picking up some amazing sculptures and some really horrible paintings of nude women with abnormally large breasts.
            They also owned a bright blue plaster sculpture of an oversized pistol.  They had it displayed so that the gun pointed at a portrait of Robert Kennedy.  “It’s hilarious,” the collector said.  “But most people who come here just don’t get it.  I don’t know why, they just don’t get it.”  Oh they get it, madam, they’re just too weirded out to say anything.  So was I, and I didn’t say a word.  It wasn’t my place after all, I was just there to appraise the ugly breast paintings.  I was but a glint in my father’s eye in 1968, while these two collectors probably actually watched the coverage live on the news, and there was nothing I was going to say to make them snap out of it.
            I’m guessing they weren’t huge fans of RFK, but it doesn’t really matter.  Think he was a great man or think he was a jerk – he was still a real person.  He wasn’t a character in a novel.  When he was a little boy somebody held his hand when he crossed the street.  Somebody made sure he ate his vegetables.  Somebody made sure he learned that three times four is twelve.  And when he was gunned down, a pregnant woman lost her husband, and ten children lost their father.    The gun pointed at his portrait wasn’t funny.  It wasn’t something “to get.”  The collectors thought they were being witty, but they weren’t.  They were degrading the value of a human life.  I have seen art that was disturbing.  I have seen art that portrayed murderous dictators as benevolent leaders and art that portrays good people as maniacs.  I have seen art that upset me.  I have seen art that displayed the artist’s racism, sexism, and hatred.  But I was never really offended until I saw these two collectors trying to depict a real person’s death as something funny.
            As frequently as I’ve told this story over the years, I don’t really care what those two old yahoos are up to.  It’s no skin off my nose how they choose to embarrass themselves in front of their dinner guests.  But it does get a girl thinking.  When I disagree with someone, when another person’s opinion is actively hurtful to myself or others, when I actually hate someone else, what do I think?  I cannot claim that I already do, but definitely should firs think, OK.  This individual is a real person.  And when he was five, somebody made him eat his broccoli.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Urban Chicken Farmers, the Europeans are laughing at you - you know that right?

           In countless times in movies and TV shows, an American finds himself or herself in a developing nation.  Every director has the same device for showing that this red-blooded American is definitely somewhere foreign, somewhere still developing, somewhere you don’t drink the tap water.  The American gets on a bus or a train, and one of the locals is carrying a live chicken.  Mark my words.  Every.  Single. Time.
            I have a feeling some film student is going to write a paper about this “chicken on the bus” motif at the University of Southern California in 2075, and her teacher isn’t going to give her an A because it’s just too obvious.  I am currently in a German immersion class with several people from all over Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.  Only two or three of them have ever been to the United States, and their impression of America is very much shaped by what they see in American movies and what they learned about America in school.  Needless to say, they think America is the kind of place where you don’t have a chicken on a bus.  Little did they know that American hipsters have gone through the looking glass and actually started having chickens at home.
            Last week in class, the instructor asked us what kind of pets we had as children.  People mentioned the typical beloved cats and dogs, the ridiculously good looking gay Spanish hairdresser mentioned his pet iguana, and two of my classmates revealed they had grown up on poultry farms.  Since I hadn’t spoke up in awhile, I mentioned that urban chicken farming was becoming very popular in the United States.  I told them that there were even lots of chickens in New York City.  It was the only time in my life I thought I’d ever see a large, international group of people crap their pants from laughing. 
            A European friend explained to me that many of my classmates come from towns where they only recently convinced the old timers to finally stop having chickens at home.  Now they hear that New York of all places has city chickens – no wonder they thought it was hilarious.  Time to get real, America.  It’s time we let the Europeans know, it’s no longer Sex in the City, it’s chickens in the city.