Macho Men

We all remember the Village People and their unique portrayal of a number of standard sterotypes and fantasy characters from the swinging gay New York City of the 70’s. My question is: Why should we let them remain the end-all and be-all of kooky stock character types? Why, when there are so many other pigeonholes waiting to be filled and acknowledged!

Here is your chance to “show your Underalls” by identifying your six Personalized Village People for these swinging fin-de-siecle times. What sorts of guys do you usually go all ga-ga over? What does it take to tickle even the mildest and most innocuous fetish you have, or at the very least, what do seem to fall for over and over again, good judgement be damned?

For example, my Personal Village People would have to include:

  • The Architect: Always so fashionably but simply dressed, with a very precise haircut. A workaholic like me, and able to discuss design theory. Has great modernist furniture.
  • The Rudeboy: Such a fun-loving imp, channelling all that physical aggression into jumping around and skanking. Wears cheap suits, but knows how to work ’em with just the right hat and shoes. Appreciates bad band name puns.
  • The Funky Geek: Understands dorky computer junk, but more importantly wears cool glasses and knows where all the good local thrift stores are. Appreciates my finely-tuned pop culture sensibility and is insecure enough to really appreciate a good thing when he finds it.
  • The Hipster Leatherboy: Scruffy or skinhead, often with goatee. Thinks of himself as thoroughly modern and liberal, if not downright revolutionary. Has artistic ambitions, and oozes sexual potency. Could also be identified as the Gen-Y rebel. (Johnathon Schaech in “The Doom Generation” is a good example.)
  • The Inaccessible Foreigner: Smart, creative, and devilishly good-looking, with sharp verbal wit and a creative profession. Seems perfect except for those visa problems and steep airfares. Has accent that could charm a rabid doberman.
  • The Bike Messenger: Maybe he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, but with those legs and that ass who cares? And funky tattoos. Stamina is also a plus, and he probably follows a lot of hip local bands and reads zines.

    Other classic archetypes that one might consider:

    The Randy Farmhand

    The Randy Farmhand

    The Mighty Gladiator

    The Mighty Gladiator

    The Old-Skool Leather Daddy

    The Old-Skool Leather Daddy

    The Curious Sailor

    The Curious Sailor

    The Skinny Hipster

    The Skinny Hipster

    The Deap-Sea Diver

    The Deap-Sea Diver

Every Life Should Have a Soundtrack

that’s the reason I can usually be found walking around with a Walkman on. I am so consumed by my love of music that I want it to surround me as often as possible. When I walk around, listening to music keeps my imagination engaged, and prevents me from becoming a walking vegetable as I commute.

I find it difficult to restrict my listening habits to just one or two genres. Every nuance of my moods can have a different sort of music that suits it best. If you just look at the list on the right, you’ll see that the evidence speaks for itself.

Unfortunately, as I’ve become an overworked old fart, my concert attendance has dropped off considerably. For one thing, I’ve lost my patience for seeing bands in any kind of stadium or other large venue. They lack any kind of intimacy that allows me to feel really involved in the show. At the same time, I have fallen into a vicious cycle where I stopped seeing shows as often because I wasn’t too thrilled with the indie music scene in Boston my last couple of years there, and now I’ve gotten so out of touch with local music both there and here in New York, that I never know what will be a good show to see, so I don’t go.

To top it off, New York seems to have an inexplicably crappy radio market, so I don’t hear much that way. Thes days I depend on recommendations from friends and what exposure I get through TV and my frequent forays to sample the listening booths at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square. (Sending me into Virgin is like waving an open bottle of gin in front of an alcoholic — so dangerous.)

More Than Advanced Life Forms from the Future

Now don’t think that I mean to dis Dexter X. He gets a lot of credit
for being the most Devo member of the Man or Astro-Man? invasion force.
He just swings a little further out of “cute but nerdy looking” territory
than I generally prefer. Again, these guys grabbed me immediately from
the first moment I just sat down and listened to them. Aside from surrounding
themselves with a powerfully intriguing air of mystery, they ooze that sense of dorky boys finally breaking free from the shackles of oppression and showing the world what
moxie they’re really got.

Pictured below are Birdstuff, Dexter X — the Man from Planet Q, Star
Crunch, and Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard.

Man or Astro-Man?

The Good vs. The Bad and the Ugly

Good Lo-Tech

Bad Hi-Tech

Datebooks, Address Books, etc.
Immediate access as long as you have the presence of
mind to keep them with you

Databases and Electronic Calendars
Vulnerable to power outages and and disk crashes; it
takes a long time for your computer to start up just to get a friend’s
number for a thirty-second call to an answering machine

Nice, Solid Wood Furniture
Easily repaired and looks better with age

Any Furniture from Ikea
Sure it looks sleek, but it’s often wobbly after a while,
and that formica-covered pressed wood is awful to the touch

Stationery and a Nice Pen
Nothing says “I care” like a handwritten letter

Word Processors
A note to a friend should never look like a memo from
the boss

A Screwdriver, a Pair of Pliers,
and Gaffer’s Tape

Can be used to fix almost anything with a little imagination

Telephone Tech Support
Punching buttons to get through a complex maze only to wait
and then have someone condescend to second-guess everything you’ve already

Incandescent Lamps and Candles
Warm and soothing

Flourescent Light Fixtures
“My, what an attractive complexion you have;” Flickers just
enough to be annoying

SLR Cameras
The crappiest 35mm camera from the Salvation Army can
still produce a picture with rich color and good detail as long as you
hold it pretty steady

Any Affordable Digital Camera
One-tenth the quality at four times the price. Don’t
even get me started

Leather, Silk, Cotton

Naugahyde, Acetate, Nylon



Touch it, smell it, taste it, do it now

Virtual reality
Wait for it, pay for it

I’m a Bad Geek

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a big nerd. I was a little slow
to give myself over to the world of electronics — I never played video
games very much, and I never used a word processor until I was a sophomore
in college — but I sure as hell made up for lost time. At this point I
can work a computer like it’s an extension of my hands. Technical glitches
are generally little more than a series of logically connected hurdles
to me, and I’ve got good intuition for technical matters that helps me
make a few bold leaps along the way. Software makes sense to me, and I
love the speedy efficiency of digital technology. I have no fear of it.

This level of comfort with modern technology extends far beyond the
workaday world of computers. Let’s be realistic: even though I may take
to computers more easily than others, if I didn’t have some degree of comfort
with them I wouldn’t really be able to hold down a job at this point, would
I? No, I really like almost all things electronic. I like having an alarm
clock that I can set by pushing a couple of buttons while I’m half asleep.
I like having voice-mail and managing it without the use of clunky machines
and crappy Radio Shack
tapes. My six-disk CD player is like having a shrine to music inside my
apartment. I pride myself on having not spoken to a bank teller in six
years except to open an account or purchase foreign currency. And don’t
even get me started on how much e-mail has kept my family
and friends together as we’ve scattered across the globe.

A friend once told me that he thought I’d be happiest if I could manage
my life while strapped to my computer all day being fed Skittles through a pneumatic tube. This is not true, and not just because the Skittles would send my blood sugar level soaring out of control.

I’m very critical of the media trend —spearheaded by technology pundits,
the advertising efforts of hi-tech companies, and everyone connected to
magazine —that would have us believe that a better world awaits us in
which we can fuse the Internet to our television programming, solve problems
at work from the beach, and satisfy all our consumer needs without ever
leaving home. I like leaving home and think people should get out more
often. You don’t have to live in a cramped New York studio to know that
there’s plenty more going on in the outside world to amuse people.

I worry about the death of printed matter that techno-doomsayers keep
threatening. I worry about becoming more isolated from people on a daily
basis than I already am. I worry about homogenization of the things I touch
and the things I see and the things I read. While I support technology
and the convenience, efficiency, and new opportunities it can offer our
culture, I worry about what it’s doing to our critical standards and our

I’m a bad geek, because I also believe in lo-tech.

This attachment to the world of the analog and the physical is not such
a mystery to me. For all my enthusiasm for technology, I’ve still learned
to view the world around me from the perspective of a craftsman. I’ve spent
my whole life trying to understand how things work, how they look, and
how they feel. And I’ve tried to understand how to use my eyes, my head,
and my own two hands to make things. In the process, I’ve learned how to
appreciate the simple efficiency of a sturdy mechanical device, and the
appeal of an object that shows the signs of the wear and tear from its
past, or simply the process of how it was made.

Don’t Be Afraid!

When I was just a tyke, I followed in the footsteps of generations of children
before me and took apart anything I could once I learned how to use a screwdriver.
No appliance, toy, or device was safe from my nimble hand and my inquisitive
eye. Of course, the natural consequence to all this was that I also had
to figure out how to put everything back together before Mom got home.
I grew to love the way things moved and fit together, too, not just the
ways in which I could take them apart. Take a good look at the inner workings
of a mechanical clock sometime: that’s some pretty cool stuff. Yes, it’s
true that these experiences in covering up my tracks taught me certain
means of methodical problem-solving that help me deal with computer problems,
but they also taught me that most stuff isn’t as hard to fix as most people

If you approach it from this angle, you can see that understanding lo-tech
is about self-sufficiency. You don’t need to call a plumber because your
showerhead is leaking. You don’t need to pay for a new bookcase when you
can hang some shelves on the wall. You don’t need to pass up that fabulous
thrift store table because it has a bum leg. Hell, you don’t even need
to hire a contractor to renovate your house or apartment!

Any man or woman armed with a few tools, a healthy appreciation of lo-tech,
and a little knack for investigation can take charge of their lives and
take care of common household or automotive problems. It’s not beneath
you. Self-sufficiency doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve built a bunker
and are still waiting for a nuclear winter. It doesn’t mean that you’re
living like a subsistence farmer. It just means that you can have the satisfaction
of knowing why something does what it does, and the satisfaction of knowing
that you can make sure it keeps doing it. No need to find a plumber at
2 a.m. or a mechanic open on Labor Day. You probably have already realized
that it makes sense to cook at home once in a while instead of paying a
fortune in restaurant checks and delivery tips: why not take the same approach
to other areas of your life?

Lo-tech self-sufficiency requires a little common sense, a little more
elbow grease, and usually a few tools. It can
give you a mighty good feeling about yourself, however. (I’m really trying
not to say “it’s empowering,” but it’s hard to ignore.) I can’t impress
upon you enough the satisfaction that can be derived from accomplishing
something with your own two hands. You don’t need to fancy yourself an
ìartistî to take a little pride in what you can create or
fix or assemble.

You Are Not Alone!

A crucial aspect of my penchant for lo-tech is the physicality of so much
of it: the bulk, the noises of the inner workings, the textures, the flaws,
and the fingerprints. You get a sense of idiosyncratic personality from
old appliances and other objects, and you can also get a sense of their

When you buy a used book, for example, you can see all the evidence
of how the people who read it before you moved through it — the cracks
in the spine, the pages folded as bookmarks, maybe some underlined passages
or margin notes — that you’ll never get from a CD-ROM. If you look in
your toolbox, you can find scratches on your hammerhead and chips of paint
on your pliers and assorted nails and tacks from certain old projects that
all remind you of what has been accomplished with those tools in the past.
You leave indelible marks on the lo-tech that you use after a while, marks
that give you or other users a more visceral sense of history than you’ll
get out of a preferences or log file on your computer.

And lo-tech is often beautiful — sculptural, texturally rich, perhaps
sophisticated and elegant or perhaps crude and immediate. There can be
a sense of lost or forgotten magic in an old appliance with a faded wood
finish or opalescent Bakelite dials. Believe it or not, there was a time
when mass-production involved a greater sense of aesthetics than now, when
sleek line and matte black finish alone are supposed to suggest sophistication.
And even with objects that are purely utilitarian — what many might just
dismiss as junk — I often see as miracles of solid workmanship, or great
examples of objects made to last. It’s not such a cliché to say
that they don’t make them like they used to, because frankly — for good
or bad — they really don’t.

So don’t believe the hype. Don’t assume that new and electronic is the
shit. Take a look in your basement, attic, or local thrift store and open
yourself up to the simple pleasures of life, and learn how to be a more
tangible part of it.

He’s Got a Devilish Haircut

There are plenty of places to go for more comprehensive information about Beck, so I won’t bother you with all the biographical information or the discography or anything like that. I’ve only recently had my eyes opened to the real appeal of Beck. Though I have certainly known who he is for a long time, I never went out of my way to listen to him much, and I never really knew much about what he looked like.

A few months back, though, I caught an episode of Sessions at West 54th featuring Beck and the Ben Folds Five and my life changed. Well, maybe that’s a little extreme, but I discovered that Beck is pretty damn amazing. Aside from having the funk, Beck has got an incredible pop culture sensibility and a real flair for collaging sounds together that I really dig both musically and conceptually. And to top it off, he projects this sense of the clever nerd done good, and I always fall for that.

Is That Really Natural Gas?

Odor-ama numbers
Odor-ama art

Oh, the sad and sorry life of Francine Fishpaw! But the
pungently sweet glories of having my very own Odorama card! Carefully preserved
since a 1988 showing of “Polyester” at Cinema Village in New York, I only
take this out once every couple of years or so in order to let someone
or another have their very own sniff of this holy relic.

This card became even more important to me during college, when I went
to a double bill of Hairspray and Polyester at the Somerville Theater,
hoping to get my hands on another card or two. I was anxious because the
show was billed as having the last load of Odorama cards in existence,
and sure enough, I arrived five minutes after the last ones had been dispersed.

I’ve heard that New Line Cinema
manufactured more cards to be packaged with the laserdisc of the movie,
but apparently they were not able to perfectly duplicate all the original

What Made Me into the Nerd I Am Today

One of my primary reasons for starting the print version of Rumpus
back in 1994 was that I had a burning, frustrated passion for graphic design.

I had gotten it stuck in my head at an early age that I wanted to be a "graphic artist" (I term I now use in reference to printmakers and draughtsmen) — at the time I suppose I thought of it as a more practical goal than my original desire to draw comic books for a living. As time went on, my interest in traditional forms of art never wavered, but I was thinking of graphic design as my vocation.

Working as the graphics editor for The Owl, the school paper at Regis, had whetted my appetite for working with type and illustration, and offered me some of the tools needed to produce Kumquat Popsicle, the one-shot zine that my friend Neil Butterfield and I produced our senior
year. I really loved the kind of visual assemblage that was required to put a zine together, and also got a real charge from having the final creative say in the end product. I bucked the running trend of my college-prep high school and headed off to art school at B.U. on a full scholarship, and put my design work on hold for the first two years while I studied painting, drawing, sculpture, and art history.

I really flowered, though, once I started the design program as a junior. I had already started hanging around the department the year before, since my enthusiasm was too big for me to keep in check, and was anxious to get started. Once I started dealing with honest-to-goodness graphic design issues, I realized that the "secondary" career choice of my youth was probably the best thing I ever pursued. To me, solving the problems and issues involved in graphic design seemed to be the perfect synthesis of my desire and aptitude for art, math, writing, and being anal-retentive.
I came to realize that graphic design could be as much a vehicle for self-expression as any traditional forms of art, it just involved different processes and problems. And I could get paid to do it for a living, to boot.

I took it very seriously &mdash I was a total nerd. By the time I graduated, I didn’t think that I had learned all I really felt I ought to, especially about typography, but I was happily free-lancing at a design studio in Chestnut Hill, and figured I would learn along the way. After that gig petered out, I snapped at a chance to take a job as a typesetter for the B.U. Office of Publications, thinking of it as an opportunity to do an apprenticeship of sorts and just focus on the minutiae of type for a while.

Well, that "while" turned into two-and-a-half years of the best education that I ever got in my life, but it was leaving me feeling pretty creatively stifled. All day long fine-tuned my typographic and technological skills, but was usually unable to exercise much creative judgement at all, expected to assist other designers in their work.

I made a brief attempt to take advantage of B.U.’s employee tuition remission program and I started the Graduate Graphic Design program. Big mistake. I was basically wasting time in a class of foreign students with little to no design background, and I spent the whole time repeating work I had
done during my last two years as an undergrad. I lasted a semester-and-a-half. By the time I quit grad school, I was incredibly frustrated with my lack of outlets for real design work — especially work that would allow me some degree of expression — so I decided to pursue a self-education. I basically had a good idea of what I wanted to learn, and I would be better off seeking the answers myself. I figured grad school might be a good idea in the future if I felt like I’d hit a roadblock and need some external guidance, but I was to be my own "sensei" for a little while.

So on my return from a trip to visit my oldest pal Eddie in California, I decided to muster whatever motivation I could and turn my experiences from the trip into a zine. Finally, I had some material that I felt strongly about, a creative focus, a particular set of design problems I wanted to tackle, and the available cash to pull it off. It went well and was extremely satisfying, and the mood carried me through to a second issue, which also went well, and for which I set myself a different set of design problems to tackle.

I was sidetracked for a while after that by a few very long-overdue romantic involvements and various other occupations, and then the urge hit me again to take a big step forward with my creative self-improvement program. So I quit the job I then had as a typesetter/techie for Candlewick Press,
a children’s book publisher in Cambridge, and free-lanced back at B.U. long enough to save up the money to move back to New York (money which I actually blew on a trip to China, but that’s another story altogether). The point of that was to team up with my other best pal Mark to devote ourselves to an ongoing lifestyle of constructive creative ambition. We’re doing okay with all the side projects, but I’m very happy to report that my career as a designer has finally blossomed now that I’m out of Boston. After a couple of lean weeks down here, I landed a free-lance gig at Thirteen/WNET, New York’s PBS television station, which which lasted for eight moths and still rears its ugly head now and then. I’m also staring down the mouth of a lucrative and intriguing position with the American
Society of Mechanical Engineers, which holds some promise for interesting challenges and good perks. I’m finally able to channel all that creative energy into my professional life, which has helped me to become a MUCH better designer than I once was, and that has also given me a renewed vigor once it comes to my personal work.

So wish me luck on a continuing life as a stuck-up, pretentious, arty bastard who’s able to do for a living exactly what he would do for fun if he had to pay the rent by working as a short-order fry cook.