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When I called 123_box_348x490_originalmy parents earlier this month, there was a sense of jubilation and relief when they answered: “You’re the only one who calls us regularly without having to be reminded.” (Which wasn’t exactly true, since I called in response to an email my mother had sent, asking us, the children, what we wanted to do for my father’s 80th birthday. Shall we meet in Houston or Denver?  I wanted to vote, emphatically, for Denver; Houston, in July, was a non-starter.) “We haven’t heard back from your brother, but he might be working in Malaysia.” my mother said. “And, as for your sister, well, we never know where she is.”

My sister splits her time between Saigon and San Francisco, with the majority of the split in Saigon. She goes incommunicado for long periods of time, and the family’s only knowledge of her whereabouts are what we glean from Facebook posts. Of the siblings, she’s moved the farthest away, both physically and psychically.

It wasn’t always this way. My brother moved away first, after college, to work in Midland, Texas, never to return; I left next, fleeing to the East Coast for college, though I moved back to Colorado periodically, in between jobs. But my sister followed the path that had been set out for her: living at home, teaching for Denver Public Schools, being the obedient daughter. Maybe, in that way, she was like Little Edie. The one who stayed behind. The one who put her life on hold. The one who deferred her dreams until they had congealed into an amalgam of love, guilt and resentment.

At times, I can sometimes understand that resentment. My mother gets stuck on an endless loop of worry—When will the University offer you a full time job? Do you have health insurance? When was the last time you went to the dentist? Despite her best intentions, she can be smothering, oppressive, a presence that demands attention.

Little Edie only left Grey Gardens once her mother had died. She went to New York, had a cabaret act, and, at 60, became the star she had always wanted to be. She burst forth onto the stage of Reno Sweeney for eight shows, enrobed in a crimson gown with a swath of red-painted plastic leaves on draping her shoulder like fire.

My sister, too, escaped. First into her own apartment, then into her soon-to-be husband’s condo. She decided: she’d get her MBA and leave the teaching profession all together. But on the way, she found a second husband, all the way on the East Coast, and, finally, Vietnam, and a possible third husband in San Francisco. And I see her, living the life she thinks she was denied all those years ago: the endless parties, the clothes that exude glamour and youth, the carefully constructed of her make-up and hair. And I see her still: parading in circles for the camera, picking the best costume to wear for the day, trying to keep the line between the past and the present.

122_box_348x490_originalViet Dinh

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CHARISMATIC, GOALS-FOCUSED PROFESSIONAL

Top producer with a distinguished track records in sales, customer service and client management

Best-of-Breed Go-Getter — Outside-Of-Box Strategic Thinker — Value-Added Self-Motivatior — Hard-Working Thought-Leader — Results-Driven Team Player — Detail-Oriented Go-To Person

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

Leveraged acumen to drive consistent increase in sales profits. Extensive experience in client satisfaction, appreciation and retention. Outstanding communication, networking, selling, customer service and negotiation skills. Adept at determining customer requirements and engaging in client-focused problem solving. Proven track record with bottom-line results.

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE

Regional Sales Manager
Aurora Sentinel, Aurora, CO (1988)

Hands-on experience with all aspects of sales process, from initial processing of newspapers (tri-folding, rubber-banding, and wrapping in poly-plastic bags, depending on weather). Used varied and dynamic methods to achieve efficient distribution channels, including pedestrian-focused doorstep dropping, tossing from the handlebars of a wobbly bicycle, or flinging from the back of a Toyota 4-Runner driven by delivery associate. Took initiative when gathering monthly ‘donation,’ since newspaper was considered ‘free.’ Stoic in the face of slammed doors and irate customers insisting they had canceled their ‘subscription’ and no longer wanted product. Saved resources by noting addresses and not delivering product, subsequently recycling stacks of unused product at King Soopers for pennies on the dollar. Penetrated key prospective accounts while receiving payment, taking note of extensive wood-paneling, dun carpeting, wafts of cigarette smoke. Adopted innovative approach to increasing revenue, relying on innocent, doe-eyed look to extract tips more effectively.

Account Executive
World’s Finest Chocolate, Aurora, CO (1984)

Proactively recruited and retained secondary sales force. Spearheaded workplace entrepreneurship, delegating tasks as necessary to maternal and paternal contractors. Mentored members of sales team, insisting that catalog rewards were not the end goal. Instead encouraged civic pride in Parklane Elementary School, in spite of established sales quotas necessary to earn year-end bonus. Generated adequate volume with new accounts despite heavy competition from other independent sales associates accessing the same markets. Expedited sales by eating product, five-inch chocolate bars with the color and texture of a paper bag, a single almond in each segment. Compared product to others on the market to gauge marketing strategy, decided on innovative approach of not mentioning flavor whatsoever. Achieved and exceeded sales goal when contractors pooled resources and announced, ‘Look, it’s just easier for us to buy you whatever you want from the catalog.’ Donated all proceeds to local charitable organization, left on good terms after the 5th grade.

Area Sales Associate
Innisbrook Wrapping Paper, Aurora, CO (1982)

Accountable for all aspects of sales, business development and client management. Effectively prospected clients door-to-door using a hard-copy, glossy catalog. Pursued leads to generate revenue growth. Emphasized the need for foil-embossed wrapping paper and the indispensability of having several rolls on-hand at all times. Generated leads in a four-house radius, cultivated person-to-person contact. Wrote order forms, negotiated delivery dates. Prepared closing documents, eyed prizes in the rewards catalog: Atari 2600, Huffy Bike, Personal Gumball Machine (gumballs not included). Earned erasers in the shape of monsters.

The camera doesn’t record memories as much as it creates them.  These moments can now not be forgotten:  the naked and drug-addled being escorted to the medical tent; a man wearing a sparkly Star-Spangled outfit, puffing from a furry bong the size of a hockey stick; the woman on-stage who says, petulantly, “But I wanna see Mick Jagger, goddammit.”  Throughout Gimme Shelter, the Rolling Stones watch the footage, as if it holds clues to their own memories of their 1969 North American tour, which ended at the infamous Altamont Speedway concert:  what did they see?  What could they have done?  They listen to a radio call-in show recapping the Altamont concert, with Ralph ‘Sonny’ Barger, one of the Hell’s Angels, giving his side of the story, and afterwards, Charlie Watts says, sardonically, “Well done, Sonny.”   When the film reaches the moment when Meredith Hunter gets stabbed in the back.  Jagger asks to see it again.  The Moviola freezes on a knife blade flashing in the air.  Then Maysles winds it backwards, and Hunter pulls a gun, its shape visible against a girl’s crotchet dress.

*

Memorializing one’s life has become ubiquitous.  Video clips, photographs—with these artifacts, we can rifle through our memories, parsing their significance.  What did this moment mean?  Nowadays, you can’t go to a concert without someone hold up his phone for the entirety of the performance.   What will he remember of it?  How does he re-live the experience?  Does he sing along?  Are his eyes dazzled by the strobe lights, the smoke machines, the trembling of his own hand?

*

I saw Skinny Puppy on their Too Dark Park tour.  The stage featured rubberized trees that, in the light, looked wet with slime.  Faces were twisted into the bark.  Behind the band, a back projection showed a loop of atrocities:  war crimes, Lucio Fulci clips, animal experiments, Microsoft Windows 3.0 graphics.  At one point, the lead singer, Ogre, was tied into a chair with medical tubing and and ‘injected’ with neon fluids.  His bandmates strapped metal stilts to his arms and legs, and for the duration of the concert, he loped around the stage, a Goth giraffe.

*

I still have the t-shirt from the concert, a stippled close-up from the album’s cover art:  a demonic, tentacled face.  It’s the only physical reminder I have of the concert, and I’ve stopped wearing it.  The image has started to crack and flake away, and the black of the shirt itself has faded to a dingy gray.  And to be honest:  I can hardly remember much of the concert itself.  Much of what I ‘remember’ was provided by other sources.  But I’m sure it happened that way, anyway.

*

In 1991, Skinny Puppy released their Tormentor single, which featured the track “Harsh Stone White,” recorded live in Denver.  I imagine I can hear myself cheering, clapping, begging for “Worlock,” and I can see myself, the only skinny Asian 16-year old at the concert, skirting the mosh pit, inching my way up to the stage, and my 37-year old self, now sporting a mohawk for the summer, crosses his arms and says, Well done, sonny.

Americans who watched the moon landing talk about it as a moment they’ll never forget.  They remember every detail:  how old they were, the television on which they watched it, the room in the house where it was playing, what their mothers had made for dinner that evening.  Very few moments in American history achieve this mythic status, and most that do revolve around tragedy:  Pearl Harbor, Kennedy’s assassination, 9/11.

But the moon landing heralded something different:  the world had woken from a dream and discovered that it was true.  For All Mankind, with its images of the Earth from space, of astronauts at play, conveys the kind of marvel the idea of space travel must have in the late 60s.

Alas, being born until 1974, I came late to all that.  Much of the awe had been lost to history and progress.  Everyone remembers Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, but who remembers the second team to summit Everest?  Besides, once you’ve watched one countdown, you’ve seen them all.

My sixth-grade teacher tried to re-excite us about space travel.  Halley’s Comet, after all, was returning.  She assigned the whole class to write reports on the comet.  I researched how the comet has been seen, throughout history, as an omen:  Mark Twain, for example, was born on the day it appeared in 1835 and died on the day it next appeared.  On black construction paper, I drew diagrams of ‘Why solar winds matter!’ and renderings of what the comet would look like head-on.

When my academic rival, John, used appliqué letters to make his report look like a newspaper, she held up his report and exhorted us all to do the same.  Further proof:  once something has been done, the second time just isn’t as special.

But in the grand scheme, Halley’s passing seemed inconsequential.  I stared into the night sky, searching for where it should have been.  But the ambient lights in Aurora were too much for such a distant light.  If I saw streaks in the night, they were more likely to be planes flying into nearby Stapleton airport than a comet that I wouldn’t see again until I was 86 (if I was lucky).

In any case, Halley’s Comet paled in comparison to just a month earlier — I was sitting in class, doing busy work designed to keep students quiet for minutes at a time.  Our principal came over the Intercom.  Solemn and gravelly, he announced that the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded.  The silence in the classroom extended outward over the whole school.  No one knew what to say.  We looked each other, and then at our teacher, who was never in the running to be the first teacher in space, but we could imagine her, in that moment, as Christa McAuliffe.

Later in the week, I asked my father, who was teaching for Denver Public Schools at that time, if he would have gone on the Challenger, even knowing that it was going to explode; space travel would never again seem safe, filled with wonder.  But without hesitating, my father answered, Yes.  In a heartbeat.

Abbas Kiarostami, in Taste of Cherry, follows middle-aged Mr. Badii as he drives from the heart of Tehran into hills outside of town.  Tehran’s periphery seems like a wasteland — populated mainly by construction cranes, heavy-duty excavators, and a scraggly tree by which Mr. Badii has dug his own grave.  He drives without a particular destination, as if driving is its own form of meditation.

The summer after high school, I worked for Mann Theaters.  The chain is best known for its Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, but less well-known was the White Suburbanite Aurora Mall Theater.  I ripped tickets, slung sodas and developed a lifelong antipathy to popcorn.  One woman, I recall, kept asking for more and more ‘butter.’  (We weren’t supposed to call it ‘butter’ — “Would you like butter-flavor on your popcorn?”)  I pumped the dispenser until I reeked of grease,  until my clothes became transparent from stains — and she still wanted more.  She left with an inch of hot liquid in her bag, a lawsuit waiting to happen.

On nights when I had a closing shift, I left at 11:30 but didn’t go home right away.  Instead, I drove to the outskirts of Aurora, curious to see where major thoroughfares ended:  Alameda, Mississippi, Colfax.  As I traveled, the city devolved.  Sodium lights and strip malls gave way to residential neighborhoods, and from there, the clusters of houses thinned, giving way to farmland.  Agricultural machinery as architecture:  long arches of industrial irrigators, thick walls of vegetation.

In one scene from Taste of Cherry, Mr. Badii exits his car to watch a cement-making operation.  As bulldozers push red dirt and rocks from the top of a hill into a metal grate at the bottom, dust settles onto Mr. Badii’s hair and shoulders until he looks like he’s doubled in age.  I only left my car when the roads turned into gravel.  You’d think that farm land would be devoid of light, but you’d be wrong:  there are lights on the silos, lights on towers, lights on the occasional passing vehicle.  But it wasn’t the constant glow of the city.  I could see stars.

Near the end of the film, Mr. Badii stares into the stormy Iranian sky.  His face is impassive, with no indication of what he’s thinking.  I can’t rightly say that on those quiet summer nights before college, I knew what I was thinking either.  Maybe typical teenage meditations on Life and Death.  I didn’t have passengers off which I could bounce my ideas:  no soldiers, no seminarians, no taxidermists.  But for a moment, I, like Mr. Badii, could feel alive.  The black, fresh air; the solitude; my parents’ Honda humming quietly as the engine ran itself down.

The actual end of Taste of Cherry, of course, features a ‘making of’ video embedded in the film itself as Kiarostami shoots a scene.  It reminds the audience of the difference between the movies and ‘real life.’  Kiarostami speaks into a walkie-talkie, instructing a platoon of ‘soldiers’ to stop marching.  The soldiers relax on the side of a hill, picking flowers, throwing dirt clods at one another.  But the closest equivalent for a ‘making of’ reel in real life is, perhaps, its re-creation in writing.  Look:  there’s me, sitting at a keyboard, moist with June sweat, remembering another summer almost twenty years past.

Two words:  Inuit porn.

That’s not a knock on Nanook of the North.  Or pornography, for that matter.  I’m admittedly a  conflicted admirer of porn — with the caveats that it be consensual and non-exploitative.  (Also, it helps when the performers actually look as if they’re enjoying themselves.  Nanook, for instance, stares directly into the camera, grinning as he chomps down on raw walrus meat.)

But let me explain my analogy of Nanook and porn:  long before the short-attention-span-friendly fragments of disembodied body parts littering the Internet, full-length ‘adult’ videos oftentimes were preceded with the ridiculous disclaimer that the film was for education purposes.  And while I’ve learned certain things from porn (for instance:  how to react when the pool boy approaches, the proper way to tip the pizza delivery man, what really happens in automotive garages), the educational gloss is merely an excuse to make entertainment seem respectable.

And so, one could approach Nanook of the North as an ethnographic examination — look at how much I’ve learned about igloo construction — or as entertainment.  Or even both simultaneously.  Whereas most porn producers know their work is only nominally educational, Robert Flaherty did intend Nanook to be instructive.  The fact it’s also entertaining speaks to its value beyond the appearance of two sets of Eskimo boobs.

My Nanook-porn association continues into Flaherty’s method.  Though he’s acknowledged as a progenitor of documentary film, Flaherty filmed Nanook in a way that doesn’t necessarily fall under the category as we understand it today.  Flaherty, after a previous failed attempt to make a movie of Eskimos in their natural habitat, returned to Hudson Bay to re-stage the film.  So while it has the appearance of ‘real life,’ there’s an admitted artificiality to Nanook.  (Its subtitle, A story of life and love in the actual Arctic, emphasizes the constructed, narrative dimension.)  Compare this to subcategory of “gonzo” pornography — a form that purports to be ‘real life’ but is as artificial as, uh, the other kind.

One aspect of the film bothered me, however (and this reveals a personal squeamishness more than an inherent flaw in the film):  the butchering of animals on-screen.  And this comes from someone who’s watched both Cannibal Ferox and Cannibal Holocaust (albeit with my fingers laced in front of my eyes during the animal-death scenes).  With Nanook, the animals are pre-deceased when they’re flayed, though that doesn’t make it easier to watch.  This is why I’m not a hunter.  This is also why I’d classify the two Cannibal films exploitative, and Nanook not.

I admit, analogizing Nanook to the North to pornography probably reaches too far, so here, I reformulate my critique in a more family-friendly way:  Nanook of the North shows man’s indomitable spirit against the forces of nature.  (This, of course, could also describe my attempts to watch a midnight showing of Birdemic:  Shock and Terror, as I wandered the streets of Center City Philadelphia, dodging the ladies in short skirts and knee-high boots — blubbery seals waiting to be harpooned.)

As I watch (or re-watch, as the case may be) the movies for this project, I usually only make it through half of any given commentary, since the time starts getting out of hand.  But I re-watched This is Spinal Tap, then listened to the entire commentary with the lead actors.  It’s a testament to the film, as well as the pure entertainment value of hearing Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer riff of one another.  And this is coming from someone who’s never cared for heavy metal — or rock ‘n’ roll — much at all.

(Currently on the headphones, Battles, Mirrored.)

I had most of my exposure to heavy metal at an early age, in middle school and high school.  I listened mainly to the radio, and every now and then, a track slipped onto the airwaves.  Quiet Riot, Ratt, Twisted Sister, Whitesnake, Guns ‘n Roses, Skid Row — ambassadors from a louder and shreddier world.  I viewed them then as I view nipple clamps today:  sure, I know people like it, and, sure, I know it’s a different lifestyle.  I can also understand why it’d be popular, but I, myself, would simply prefer not to be exposed to it.  My eardrums, like my nipples, just can’t take much punishment.

But during middle school, one of my best friends was a metal head.  Her name was Jenny, and she had frizzy brown hair that only semi-poofed away from her head.  They were like a pair of wings that hadn’t yet fully deployed.  We weren’t friends that hung out after school or went to movies together; instead, we were the “in school” friends who’d sit near each other during class and pass notes back and forth.

My own musical tastes had not yet ossified:  at the time, I still took piano lessons, and classical music made up the majority of my listening repertoire.  I had made tentative steps in other directions — my brother, for instance, had years before to pop-soul — but I never pursued these avenues.  (True story:  a few months ago I woke up with Maxine Nightingale’s “Lead Me On” stuck in my head.  I had to look it up the next day.)  What heavy metal knowledge I lacked, Jenny filled in for me.

On the cover of her spiral notebooks, she faithfully reproduced, in pen, with appropriate shading and thunderbolts (if necessary), various band logos.  “Who’s Stryper?” I asked.

“Stryper.  You know Stryper,” she said.  Her fingers formed the metal salute:  the thumb and forefinger in an L, the pinkie extended.  “To hellllll with the devil!” she sang.

She wore concert black t-shirts with iron-on decals of Poison album covers, the colors so bright they might have been radioactive.  She told me about the episodes of Headbangers’ Ball that I had missed on MTV:  “Last night, it was ‘Rockin’ with Dokken.'”

This was the first time, perhaps, that I realized that music was not merely something you listened to — it was an identity.

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