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October 2000

Halloweentown

I may be a Halloween slacker, but apparently my unconscious manipulation of the cosmic luck plane appears to be doing better than the rest of me. Namely, the movies which arrived in my mailbox in the last few days, after lingering on my NetFlix waiting list for months were Gothic, Edward Scissorhands, and Sleepy Hollow. Spoooooky, right? Right?

By the way, Gothic sucked. I wish I could have seen it during high school and college like all the other black-wearing kids. I might have enjoyed it more if I could still be impressed by that level of pretense. It's nowhere near as much fun as Ken Russell's much campier Lair of the White Worm.

No Holiday Spirit

I’m such a Halloween slacker. Just about every year, I fold under the pressure to think of something fun to do and fun to wear, and usually wind up just dicking around, all bored. Last year was a notable exception (well, my use of my authentic cop uniform was a little half-assed as a costume, but I went to a great party in the 'Burg, where everyone inside and out was in costume), but I usually feel this inordinate pressure to be creative and whip together some clever, high-concept outfit and my energy and organizational skills are never up to the task. I’m thinking this year I'll head over to the Lure for their Halloween ball, where I won't need a costume per se, but I'll still get a chance to dress up and watch the freak flag fly high if all goes well.

The big thing to avoid at Halloween, as far as I’m concerned, is the freakin' Parade. It's great in concept, but few things are more horrifying than trying to wade through thousands of people swarming the narrow streets of the West Village, all drunk and stooopid and carrying on because they're in from Queens or the Jersey suburbs and they're all hyper because they're in the Village(!) and they can go totally crazy, and you can tell because they've got on crazy hats! It's worse than Gay Pride, I swear. so, if all else fails, I'll try to stay over in Brooklyn and boycott the whole affair with Proven and Andy.

Chicken Soup for the Stomach

Mmmmmmm, a quart of take-out wonton soup mixed with two cans of Campbell's Chunky Classic Chicken Noodle. Now that’s nutrition for you, at least two or three meal's worth.

Pleasures of the Big Screen

Damn, I just noticed how badly I’ve been neglecting this. Oh well, shit happens. Not that my media-/pop-culture consumption has trailed off at all. If anything, a brief burst of solvency found me treating myself to the occasional CD binge and an extra movie night or two.

I love going to the movies, I really do. As much as I hate when guys in personal ads say lame, boring, unoriginal things about what they like to do for fun, I have to admit that my first suggestion for a relaxing social activity with a pal is always to go to the movies. I love the immersive experience. And now that stadium seating is becoming de rigeur, I don't even have to wince in anticipation of the physical discomfort — even for a li'l peanut like me — of sitting in one of those awful old seats.

Aside from the way heavy-duty sound and a large screen (and don't give me any of that wussy crap about sitting too far to the front — you're never too far up front until the the perspective becomes too weird to compensate for, in the first couple rows or so) completely envelop you and bombard you with the sensory input from the flick/movie/film (what I consider to be the three levels of cinematic quality), the most wonderful part about going to the movies is the social aspect. For better or worse, and it usually helps, you feed off the energy of the rest of the crowd when you go see a movie in a theater. It's a vital part of the experience, and makes up for the added impediments to putting your feet up on the seat in front of you. I can't tell you how many summer blockbusters have been salvaged for me by going to see them in a crowded theater on a Friday night (in Times Square, if possible, where the audiences are always the rowdiest) where the crowd shouts along with or at the movie, in a giant orgy of audience participation. I still remember when I realized that Godzilla 2000 was gonna be a hoot the moment that we heard a crash of glass in the back of the theater and the smell of malt liquor filled the air. Even if it's as simple as the audience rooting for a real clunker like the sheep they are, the energy helps make the most of what might otherwise be a bad situation.

When I found out that The Nightmafe Before Christmas was being re-released for Halloween this year, you know I was all for it. As much as I already loved the film, the added effect of enjoying it with all the trimmings of the movie-theater and audience experience just made it that much sweeter. I also started playing around with the interesting effects I get with my digital camera in low-light situations:

A Plea to the Nerds

Do you have a math or science background? If so, maybe you can give your old pal Sparky a hand. I'll gladly barter trinkets or prominently featured links to your web site You see, in a little while I’m going to be a doing a week-long consulting gig for Princeton University Press, configuring certain features of their typesetting system and showing them how to set equations, formulas, and other kinds of mathematical notation. I’m trying to collect examples of as many kinds of mathematical typesetting as I can find to use as examples and reference materials for them, but most of what I’m familiar with is specific to the needs of mechanical engineers. Do you have any textbooks or academic publications you could browse through for me? Any photocopies or scans would be totally fantastic. I’d really appreciate it. Also, any pointers toward a chart on the Web listing the names of various math characters would be cool.

On a less geeky topic, I’m trying to track down this incredible punk cover I once heard of the song "Find It," sung by the Carrie Nations in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Does ay one know who did the cover? Know where to find it? Lemme know!

Pals

I’ve got a lot of pals, for whom I’m eternally grateful. I’ve had them organized here by regular friends and friends I had primarily over the Internet, but as time has gone by and I’ve gotten to know some of the Internet folk much better, I’ve realized that’s just a dumb-ass distinction to make.

The Eagle Eye

Adam HH wins the prize for doing the best job of identifying the geek accessories around my desk. Granted, no ne else even tried, but I doubt they could have done better:

Sayeth Adam, "I spy with my little eye:"

Other correct answers might have included an entire shelf filled with different kinds of printer paper, a PMs swatchbook, a ridiculous amount of power strips, reference manuals, or a CD-label-making kit.

Now that someone's called my bluff, I guess I have to think of a prize. And it should probably besomething more than just paying for Adam's ticket and snacks when we go hang out at the movies tonight. A feat of observation like this demand an appropriately sparkified reward. (And sorry, guys, but Adam's not eligible for whatever you're thinking.)

Hair Angst

Homo Hair Angst. I combed and parted my hair this morning for the first time in about 5 years, just because this is the first time in 5 years I’ve had long enough hair to do so. I look like an idiot, and no there won't be pictures. It's back to the unruly, cowlicked spikes for me. To make things worse, someone just left me a message saying that I look like Al Gore. Maybe it's time to just shave my head again so my morning hair care can go back to 30 seconds without any options.

Not Just a Butt Pirate

God help me, but I’ve finally been sucked into Napster. Well, Macster to be more specific, because the iMac actually has decent speakers. (Mmmmm, right now I’m listeing to Pulp's This Is Hardcore, which brings back happy, freaky memories of Kiki & Herb's version.) It's exactly the addiction I was warned it would be. Thank you, Covad, Verizon, and Internet Channel for finally connecting my DSL line after 8 months of dim-witted attempts. Thank you for making this possible. I started out small, just looking for that rare version of You Can't Hurry Love by the Stray Cats, and then realized I ought to try and find good versions of the songs from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls to replace my 10th generation bootleg. And then I remembered that this weekend's houseguests (I’m becoming a regular Bohemian B&B, so make a reservation), Wendy and William from D.C., told me I needed to get the Icelandic version of Birthday by the Sugarcubes, which led me to the songs Björk did with the Brodsky Quartet. While I was at it, I realized I desperately needed to have all the old-school hip-hop and freestyle that my friend Michael and I were listening to at the Boiler Room Saturday night, so it was off to find the Funky Four Plus One and Grand Master Flash, among others. While I was it, I grabbed Rapper's Delight and part of UTFO's Roxanne series. One thing led to another, and I was chasing down Christmas songs by Brave Combo and some live songs by David Byrne, including the unbelievable cover of Kraftwerk's Model that he performed with the Balanescu Quartet on Sessions at West 54th. (By the way, if you ever catch that episode in reruns on your local PBS station, watch for my head bobbing up and down over David Byrne's rear monitor, bopping to the mucis and grinning like an idiot.) Yes, and I also went looking for stuff by all the other people I’ve seen at sessions, like Cesaria Evora, Lyle Lovett, the Afro-Cuban All-stars, Moby (the theme from Cecil B. Demented), and so on and so on and so on. Ah, if only I had thought to ask about the Indian pop that sounded like C & C Music Factory they were playing at dinner saturday.

So if it seems like I’ve dropped out of site or I’m talking about music more than usual, just look for UltraSparky and see what I’ve been collecting. Hey, does anyone out there have squeeze's fast live version of Goodby Girl from their six on Ten EP?

Geekiness Ain't All Glamor

This may come as a shock but I’m pretty damn sick of being a geek right now. For most of the last two weeks, just about all my time has been spent cabling, networking, installing software, troubleshooting, settling preferences, handling tech emergencies my clients were having — basically playing one-man IT department. You know what? It sucks like a Hoover. Sure, maybe I was able to pull the new iMac out of its box and connect it to the Internet three minutes later, but I swear to god that every other thing you want to add or change after that simple action makes the whole set-up much more prone to catastrophe.

Actually, that’s not too big a swipe at Apple. It's always been like this, and it's like this for every type of computer I’ve ever used. When you make a more complex system out of disparate pieces, the chances for conflict increase. At least I’ve been geek enough to fix everything as it came along, although not always right away, and not without lots of swearing and pounding of the desk with my fists. (that’s a little secret for the people who know me. Although I’ve never lost my temper in front of anyone but one ex-boyfriend, I throw plenty of tantrums when I’m alone and pissed off.) But, when all is said and done, I love the new computer, I love all the new USB thingamajigs, I love the high-speed DSL (yes, finally connected after 8 months of failed attempts!), I love the digital camera, and I’m a happy boy with my new toys.

The new, sexed-up iMacAnd I’ve got to give Apple credit for fixing just about everything I ever hated about the design of the iMac, especially since they never even asked me for my input. I actually loathed the whole product line when it first came out — the garish colors, the flimsy access panels, the microscopic keyboard, the worst mouse ever made, the whole semi-transparent-shell concept that suggested that it would show the innards without actually doing so. These new babies are really, really pretty. I’m officially a convert. The colors are richer and more subdued, the flimsy access panels have either been removed altogether (The new CD/DVD player has a much sexier way of just sucking in a disc without use of an external tray. It's almost dirty.), the full-size keyboard is a million times more comfortable (and prettier), the transparent optical mouse is truly beautiful, and all the plastic casings are now fully transparent, showing off the real guts for nerds and gadget freaks like me to see.

Cable-icious!
What the Public sees

So how many computer-/design-nerd details can you see in that picture, huh? Tell me how many you see and I'll send the viewer with the sharpest eye a prize.

Vittles for the Vultures

But you don't want to read about my computers anymore. I know you people, I know you just want to feast on the juicy details of my personal life. Vultures! Voyeurs! All of you! It's OK, I understand, and I realize that things have been a little tame (lame) around here lately. It seems to be a regular problem for the weblog/diary set. At some point, we must come to grips with the amount of self-censorship we do knowing that we're writing about our personal thoughts, but in a public forum. Although I try to be accurate about what I address, I’m actually not nearly as forthcoming as the existence of this site would suggest. Oh relax, I’m not eating babies or kidnapping Cub scouts or go-go dancing or knocking off diplomats for the CIA or anything (not that all of that doesn't sound pretty damn fun), but I find myself often choosing not to mention something I’ve done or said because I’m anticipating that it may provoke a reaction from one or more people that I just don't want to deal with. (Then there are also all the times that I’m just tired to write about something so I decide to skip it, but that’s another problem altogether.) It's vexing, because I enjoy working things out in my head by writing them down in a somewhat lucid fashion, and it's nice to get shit off my chest once in a while, but I can't ignore the fact that maintaining the site has become more of a conversation with a bunch of friends and strangers than a private vehicle for catharsis (with a self-conscious wink toward a small handful of readers). Ah, the perils of success.

So here is my pledge: I’m going to try and stop pulling punches. I’m going to try and resume getting to the meat of things, instead of just carefully dashing off pithy asides and generating my own spin. I don't intend to put my whole life on display here, since nothing helps out a story a like a lot of judicious editing. I’m not trying to play the exhbitionist, and I always want to leave more levels and facets unrevealed so that there's a differnece between me and the public face I maintain on the site. But I want to get back to the spirit with which I began UltraSparky — the spirit of shameless self-indulgence, coy confession, and light-hearted insight.

In the meantime, if you think you've been missing anything, feel free to write me with your theories and specific questions. If you make a convincing plea, I'll spill any of the beans you request.

We're Not Worthy

A big ol' bag of mixed feelings: Like Richard, I’m occasionally hit by an attack of conscience (that flares briefly then goes away) when I think about the sissy boys I who went to school with me, the ones who gave the rest of us a bad name and made us cringe with shame, thinking, "Well, at least I’m not like THAT." Now that I’m an adult, no longer fending for myself within the treacherous social arena of an all-boys Catholic high school, it's a little easier to think back and feel bad about acting the part of saint Peter (I’m talking about Catholic school here, so you'll have to pardon the Bible/Jesus-Christ-superstar reference) and denying that I had anything in common with abuse magnets like Dennis, Jose, or the inimitable Fish. That flash usually fades, though, when I remember that as much as I felt bad about the harassment these guys got for not being able to hide their light under a bushel the way I was to do for a few years more, I still just didn't like any of them that much. Dennis was haughty, Jose (who I really tried to be nice to, even when we went to college together) was kinda spacey, and Fish was just a totally annoying pest. I often got the urge to apologize on behalf of everyone else, but I usually squashed it because these particular guys (and a handful of others) drew so much attention because they were living out some of the worst qualities of bad stereotypes, and they were just not fun to hang out with.

But here's something I also came to realize later on: The rest of us who had the luxury of coming out at our own pace (and I know you guys are out there — I’ve seen you on your dates, I’ve seen you in the West Village and Chelsea, I’ve met you at parties) ought to get down on our fucking knees and not only apologize for being part of the problem with our complicit silence, but also to thank them for drawing all the attention away from the rest of us and letting us deal with other adolescent problems. Dennis and Jose and Fish got all the abuse. They were the ones who were called fags. They were the ones everyone snickered about. They weighted the curve so much toward one side that those of us that could hide it escaped notice. In effect, we used them as human shields.

The Public Speaks

The public reacts to the tattoo:

Tattoo U

The new tattoo. Another in my ongoing series of tattoos based on letterforms I think are beautiful. From a visual standpoint, I’ve been wanting something big, black, and smooth-edged that would peek outside of most clothing, but that I could cover up when I wanted to look respectable. As I was walking home from CBGB's last night (this month's Homo Corps, where I looked like an ass because I was wearing a suit and carrying a box of Jordan almonds since I’d been at a wedding earlier in the evening), I had this flash of inspiration that a letter with an umlaut on my back would be a nice touch, so that the dots would be visible above the neck of a t-shirt.

So I started looking at old-style serif typefaces, thinking that an "o", with its off-axis center, would be very lovely. Just for kicks I started looking at some bolder sans serifs and other letters, and the Meta Bold "u" really looked outstanding. I decided to move the dots of the umlaut out to the sides a bit more than where they would sit if the letter were used in text, since it looks better that way on its own. Once I did, I noticed this lovely effect where the letter began to look like two simplified figures standing side-by-side, one reaching out to the other. A little precious perhaps, but that little bit of added conceptual value was the clincher. (see how a nerd like me can turn an otherwise kick-ass tattoo into a tedious exercise of over-analysis?)

This one hurt like a motherfucker. It was so much bigger and darker than either of my last two, and went right over the bony parts of my spine. The sensation of the needle in the soft parts of my neck was also extremely unsettling. It was so uncomfortable that this time I give myself at least two or three days before I start thinking about another.

Good Gadget Grief

In the ongoing saga of my acquisition of new computer equipment, all my new peripherals arrived at my home today while I was at work haggling with Apple and my credit card companies trying to sort out why it's so difficult for me to get them to accept the thousands of dollars I’m trying to spend. Luckily, I think we've got it all sorted out and the computer will go out tomorrow, so soon there'll be something to connect to all these new peripherals.

But let me rant for a bit about some distressing things I’ve noticed about this new wave of computer equipment design (bullets, P.J., it's all about the bullets):

Meat Market

Forget all that queer counter-culture posturing you keep encountering on the Internet. Every homo blog I’ve looked at today has confessed to watching The Sexiest Bachelor in America last night, just like I did. We're all ashamed. We were all horrified (if that eerie picture on Fox's page for the show isn't ominous, I don't know what is). But we all made sure we didn't have to pee during the swimsuit competition. (Which was lame, by the way. You know guys, there's a reason the rest of the world makes fun of Americans for swaddling themselves with so much fabric on the beach. We look silly in all that fabric. And not as sexy as people are obviously hoping for.)

Despite the trashiness of this particular televised meat market — and for once it's good to see men being the meat and not the shoppers, I might add — leave it to American televison to make sure that the winner was the most wholesome of all when it came right down to it. As if the only way to excuse such a tawdry (yet fun, in its way) celebration of beefcake was to show that in the end, it's just good manners that matter the most.

But maybe that’s being a little too cynical of me. After all, this was on Fox, a fine, upstanding network if there ever was one. I’m not crazy about the lucky Mr. Virginia, but I was surpised and pleased that the judges (by coercion or actual fairness) would grant the prize to a guy who was all hairy and beefy, but not cut like a gym rat, the way the other guys were. Watch the swimsuit competition: he's puffing up his chest so much to hold in his gut that he might pop a lung. Good for him, even if he was the blandest of them all.

I Would Like a Boy

Just to throw you all a bone, I contributed my own list to Lori's really fun and sweet I Would Like a Girl/Boy... project. It was surprisingly hard for me to put the list together, because when I sat down and thought about it, I realized that there are very few things that I actively seek, just a vast array of things I respond to. Recently, David at (the totally excellent site) PlanetSOMA managed to articulate some of the key points better than I ever could:

I love cute little geeky guys. They're only one of many types which can get me going sexually, but they're probably the only type which will ever have a real shot at me romantically.

By the way, I’m not using geek as a synonym for "computer nerd" here. The two types merge sometimes but not always. My definition of geekiness is based more on an active intellect combined with an almost childlike enthusiasm for a few really esoteric subjects (one of which may or may not be digital in nature). The "childlike" part is very important; a good geek is first and foremost a big kid.

Also, now that I’ve just gotten a reasonably swanky new digital camera, I’d wanted to do something for Behind the Curtain, until I realized that it was a one-time thing, not an ongoing project. Well, screw that: I'll just go ahead and do it anyway. Watch for an unveiling, here or at UltraSparky. If my ISP ever manages to get my freakin' DSL hooked up (and increase my hosting allotment in the process) I'll also get around to filling this place up with a bunch of new pictures and content and stuff. I mean, don't hold your breath or anything, but it could happen.

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