Friday, June 27, 2008

"COPS" vs. Cops

Last week, it happened. They said it never would. They said it'd never---not in a million years---happen. But I waited. Oh, I watched and I waited. And my diligent slothfulness paid off: I saw the episode of "COPS" where the guy got away.

As any robe-wearing layabout without cable can attest, "COPS" is on The Channels You Get With Rabbit Ears roughly four hundred times a day. If it isn't time for news, soap operas, or Putty whoring himself out for the egregious pimp known as "Family Feud," you can rest assured that "COPS" is on. "COPS" is, essentially, the first reality show ever, both in it's obvious realism and in it's equally obvious distortion of reality. See, on "COPS," the police always get their man. Sure, sometimes they have to chase a shirtless hillbilly through a swamp or taze some titanic, bloodlusting goonatic, but in the end, that low-rent, marble-mouthed criminal will be in the back of squad car and we, the viewer, can rest easy, knowing that peace, justice, and the American Way have been saved by Sergeant Overweight and Deputy Assbrain.

Only any thinking person knows it doesn't always---or even usually---happen that way. Despite half of London and San Francisco scouring the streets, Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac Killer, respectively, were never even identified, let alone arrested; John Rigas had to build his own private golf course before the Feds decided that maybe he might be defrauding a few million rubes; and the FBI had to enlist the knowhow of an effete cannibal to catch Buffalo Bill, only to foolishly release him so he could star in "Freejack" with Mick Jagger and Emilio Estevez.

The point? Those criminals were smart. Or smartish. To wit: cops only catch stupid criminals and, fittingly, "COPS" only catch stupid criminals. Your typical "COPS" mastermind has the mental wherewithal of a preoccupied monkey with a grotesque head injury. So when Johnny Law Enforcer begins a high-speed chase during the third act of a "COPS" episode, you assume that the perp will eventually run his '88 Olds Cutlass into a guardrail, make an obese/blotto attempt at a getaway, then get tackled by a cop who will call him "the individual" or "the suspect," all before the sweat Reggae stylings of Inner Circle announce the closing credits. This is why it was so surprising to see the perp run his '88 Olds Cutlass into a guardrail, make an obese/blotto attempt and a getaway, get tackled by a cop...and then proceed to drag aforesaid lawman over the guardrail, off the freeway overpass, and into a forty foot freefall. More surprising was that, after the duo landed, our police officer was on his side, clutching his spine, and calling for backup, while the ubermench criminal, limping slightly, ran into the nearby woods, perhaps to forage for nuts and berries, with no help in sight.

I dialed my friend and told him all about it. He was very proud of me. Not "Congratulations on your new baby girl!" proud, but "Way to sit on your ass and see the COPS where dude escapes" proud. It's a subtle distinction but an important one.

Now, for a little compare and contrast. We here at my house have had some recent unpleasantness with the San Francisco Police Force. Without going into tedious detail just know that if your house gets robbed and you learn from an anonymous note who perpetrated said crime, where they live, and what their names are, do not expect the police to do anything. Instead, be prepared to learn the true meaning of "Kafkaesque" while leaving countless messages for these donuted commandos of public nonservice, getting no reply, filling out seven different kinds of TPS reports, getting no recompense, and eventually just going to the house of the thieves yourself. The whole outlandish calamity will be a frustrating amalgam of "The Wire," Barney Fife, and Chief Clancy Wiggum's immortal line "Can't you people take the law into your own hands? I mean, we can't be policing the entire city!"

What I ended up learning from this is that, sadly, "COPS" are better than cops. Sure, the show is a ludicrous farce, but dealing with "COPS" is an enjoyable undertaking, one that can be done with Tecate in hand, slippers on feet, and a smug sense of your own awesomeness still fully intact. Is it all a little schadenfreude-y? Sure. But I'm down with other people's problems (yeah you know me). They make for good T.V. And the cops on "COPS" always at least try to solve crimes, apprehend suspects, and protect the greater good. Dealing with the non-COPs cops, in contrast, is a harrowing, taxing debacle. I had expectation that the City Police will, you know, police the city, but what I discovered was it was more like the DMV with guns: a joyless, soul-crushing slog through a bureaucracy in which no one wants to help you. Sad indeed, but true as well.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think there's another episode on. I hope it involves a "domestic disturbance."

Friday, June 06, 2008

How to Chose an Album Cover, Part 3 of 2

In case you missed them: parts one and two

On February 14th, 1876, Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell, working independently from one another, filed a notice with United States Patent Office. Bell's patent, famously, was for the telephone, a device which allowed instantaneous verbal communication, thereby supplanting Morse code, spawning the cellphone, and allowing you to be sideswiped by confused geriatrics and LA moms scheduling their next rat-poison lip inflation. Meanwhile, Elisha Gray's patent was for, well, the telephone.

This phenomenon is known as "multiples," the unfancy term science types apply to concurrent discoveries and simultaneous breakthroughs. Malcolm Gladwell, the afroed smartypants responsible for "Blink" and "Tipping Point," just wrote a big ol' New Yorker article chronicling this strange phenomenon; beyond the phone, calculus, fractions, oxygen, evolution, and color photography were discovered by at least two people at nearly, if not the exact same, time.

Of course, what do you call an invention that, for whatever reasons, happens many years after the original discovery? Well, in English class, they called it "plagiarism," a term which now largely applies to that essay you just download from I' It's a cardinal sin in the art world, whether accidental or contrived. Just because everyone who has ever lifted a guitar or bass has accidentally played "Blister in the Sun" doesn't mean they wrote it; it just means it's really that easy.

Which brings us---tragically---to "Gettin' Physical." See, I was sure we'd hit on something brilliant, something that, if you've been reading along was patently and absolutely "Fucking Awesome." Turns out we suck:

Yes, Tony Tee, that Stephen-Jackson-looking peddler of Spandexed hoes and disinterested spotters beat us to it.

Now, you may not know Tony Tee. You are forgiven. Google barely knows who Tony Tee is, the moniker now apparently hijacked by a New Jersey-based disc jockey who looks far less like the greatest and best basketball player ever. Tony Tee albums, furthermore, are few and far between, the province of eBay grab bags, Amazon used cassette clearances, and garage sales at the house of that old man with the green Impala.

What I'm saying is we could get away with it. Tony Tee is unlikely to emerge from whatever gym in which he's currently getting physical and sue us. He's no doubt quit the old school rap game and now works as a regional sales manager for a salted meat concern. But just because no one would know we sort of accidentally kind of ripped him off doesn't mean we wouldn't know that. The knowledge would eat us up inside like some sort of parasitic worm or Burger King entree.

I simply couldn't live with that.

So we went back to the drawing board. Or rather, we disallowed Peter the access to his trusty green pen and went to a professional. What we ended up with was something classy, arresting, and about as far from an extreme-sports loving fishman as possible.

We hope you enjoy:

Monday, June 02, 2008

In Praise of a Great American Pastime

I'd never been to Coney Island before. Sure, I'd concocted a blurry mental tableau based mainly on "The Warriors," that early '90s Van Morrison song, and "He Got Game," a Coney Island of futuristic lesbian gangbangers and Jesus Shuttleworths and Van after he got all weird and fat, but it was a Coney Island based solely on fiction. Still I was hopeful. If a place filled with super tough lesbian street punks, Irish Soul music, and precocious roundballers actually did exist, I'd seriously consider moving. These, as the song goes, are a few of my favorite things. So when the band up and decided to spend our Thursday at Coney Island, doing the promo photo thing coupled with the frugal tourism thing, I was overjoyed. I braced myself for a day of scuzzy majesty in a place mythologized as majestically scuzzy. Except for the total lack of Ray Allen or Denzel, I was not disappointed.

Coney Island, to me, seemed like one of those traveling carnivals employed by the toothless, catering to the jobless, that, having arrived on a particularly lucrative patch of New York beach-front, decided never to leave. It boasts a wide selection of food ranging from "sugared dough" to "anonymous meat tubes" and horrible carny rides with names like "The Zipper," "The Regurgitator," and "The Concussion Giver." There's a boardwalk, a year-round freak show, and a beach with more trash cans than humans. But that's not why we're here today. We're here today for "Shoot the Freak."

To fully describe "Shoot the Freak"'s low-rent awesomeness would be impossible. That said, we shall try. "Shoot the Freak" is situated between a daiquiri bar and a place named "Cha Cha's," which sold booze and ice cream on the boardwalk. It is, for all intents and purposes, a vacant lot overgrown with knee-high weeds and has only two employees: The Barker and The Freak. The Barker, like any good carny, heckles folks into trying their luck at shooting the freak, only here, instead of playing some patently impossible game of "chance," you pay a nominal fee to shoot paintballs at a real live human being. The Freak is a well-tanned New Yorker with a BMX helmet, hockey pants, an athletic supporter (read: testicle preservation device), and a wooden shield, all bespeckled with fluorescent paintball explosions, and his job is to hide behind various barrels and fences while taunting you into firing shot after shot at his face and crotch.

It is deeply satisfying in a way I'm not fully comfortable with.

And it got me thinking: why the hell don't we have one in San Francisco? After all, all you need is a vacant lot, two employees, five paintball guns, and, voila: instant profit. I envisioned taking over a spot near Fisherman's Wharf, far enough from it to catch locals but close enough to it to ensnare tourists. It would be my great stroke of entrepreneurship. I'd buy a split-level Victorian with Shoot the Freak money, send my children to college with Shoot the Freak money. I would never work again, choosing instead to take treasure baths in a clawfoot tub filled with Shoot the Freak doubloons. By God, this was the best idea I'd ever had. I was beside myself. Then, I remembered one small thing: I lived in San Francisco.

See, Shoot the Freak could never exist here. First off, the name itself with be derided as insulting to all the great and noble bearded women, conjoined twins, and torso-less heads who fought valiantly against that derogatory title. So I'd have to name it something else. Say, "Shoot the Fully Actualized Gender-Neutral Person." Then, since Shoot the Freak is inherently violent, we'd have to replace the paintballs and the guns with something less fearsome like, say, aloe-soaked sponges. And you wouldn't be able to throw them overhand (still obviously too violent), so I'd have to mandate slow-pitch softball style tosses only. Lastly, the surly carnival barker would be classified as a noise polluter, so I'd have to find a far more polite version, one who spouted affirmations of our patrons' personhood before, during, and after the whole transaction. What I'd be left with the wife of an amateur Napa vintner not-pressuring passersby into a leisurely game of "Underhand Lob the Aloe-Soaked Sponge at the Fully Actualized, Gender Neutral Person." And that, my friends, is just lame.

Which is to say: hooray for Coney Island. Hooray for any place where "Shoot the Freak" exists in this day and age of kid gloves and seat belt laws. Coney Island may not have been teeming with Sebastian Telfairs, Baseball Furies, or even Requiem For A Dream era Wayanseseses, but with that one attraction, it earned a lifetime of repeat visits. At least until Nickelodeon buys it and turns the whole place into Sponge Bob Square Pants Beach.

Shoot the Freak while you still can.