Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Beginning my Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing

I have been busy and, I think, this has been the longest amount of time in between blog posts since I began blogging nine years ago. My latest video suggests why. You can watch it below (if your browser allows) or directly on YouTube.

Leia Mais…

Monday, December 28, 2015

My Stanford Prison Experiment While Waiting in Line for 'Star Wars'

As published in The Huffington Post

The scene reminded me of the 1971 experiment on authority which suggested why Nazis conformed, only instead of cells with prisoners there was an IMAX movie theater full of Star Wars nerds.

My numbered wristband revealed when I could enter the IMAX theater at the National Air and Space Museum the night Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened. I would be the 362nd nerd in the theater because I arrived only 90 minutes before the showing instead of 630 minutes like the luckiest nerd, Number 1.

Screw this. I cut through the pack, weaving between ropes, to stand with my friend Griffin who had arrived 150 minutes early.

"Do not cut in line or stand out of order!" a uniformed man who was standing outside the roped area screamed to the moviegoers. "You will enter the theater single-file! We will check your wristband! If you are out of order we will remove you! There will be no saving seats!"

Nerds began chattering, asking other nerds "What number are you?" to ensure they lined properly. When nerds asked about my number, I said, "I'm just standing with my friend," and pocketed my right hand.

"Good luck, I hope you make it," nerds said patting me on the back.

The line began moving and solemn nerds shuffled towards the leader, the man checking wristbands, in front of the theater. I quickly considered what to say to that man justifying my disorder in as few words as possible. Keep reading My Stanford Prison Experiment While Waiting in Line for 'Star Wars'.

Leia Mais…

Friday, December 4, 2015

Rocky VII

Creed snuck up on us like a left hook from 27-year-old Rocky Balboa. Creed is the latest film in the Rocky franchise and hit us all in the face for doubting Sylvester Stallone (yes, I know he didn’t write the screenplay this time, but come on). It has a 93 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.7 on IMDB. “Five star movie of the year best actor best supporting actor top 25 movies I've ever seen,” I emailed JD when it ended.

I still smiled hours after seeing the movie in the theater on Thanksgiving, thinking of the character I grew up with, loved, and considered my last line of defense against cancer; of the music that inspired my stem cells to flourish during my transplant; and of hitting something. Thankfully I have an 80-pound heavy bag for that.

The original Rocky released in November 1976 and won three Oscars including Best Picture. In 1982, when Stallone was 36, Philly placed a statue of Rocky at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the site of the “Rocky Steps.” Not even Tom Brady, 38, has a statue (yet). Rocky will remain part of Philadelphia's, and America’s, culture. I celebrate, instead of tease (yes, Rocky V stunk but they can’t all be winners), the people who have made Rocky special for 39 years.

Small Spoiler Below Related to Rocky’s Health, Hinted at in the Trailer. Stop Reading If You Wish.

Benjamin Rubenstein with Rocky statue and Rocky steps at Philadelphia Museum of Art
Climbing the Rocky Steps and seeing Rocky's statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in September 2012
Some critics criticized the film for forcing drama by having Rocky develop cancer. By the end of this year, there will be an estimated 1,658,370 new cancer cases diagnosed in the U.S. Most of those people can’t afford to pause life so they continue working, parenting, attending school, and living. They contribute as best they can.

It is not cheap or forced for Rocky to develop cancer and continue training Creed as best he can. It is reasonable that he could be one of the 1.6 million diagnosed who continue living and striving to succeed. I commend Creed for sharing a small piece of the cancer world in a way that doesn’t dominate the plot and isn’t over the top.

Leia Mais…

Thursday, November 26, 2015

'I Like the Shawties': Cruising the Caribbean

Listerine ‒ the oral cancer-causing mouthwash ‒ meant something else two weeks ago when I cruised to celebrate my friend Infinicuralier’s wedding, which took place mid-cruise in Grand Cayman. Cruises are expensive to begin with. And they are extravagant if you don’t smuggle “Listerine” on board.

Smuggling whiskey on board cruise in empty Listerine bottle
Infinicuralier and me carefully pouring lowest-shelf Colonel's Pride whiskey ($10 for a liter) into an empty Listerine bottle, which I placed in my checked bag and smuggled onto the cruise ship
My stateroom mate, Crabcakes, and I sat on our balcony many evenings searching for sharks with cool glasses of Colonel’s Pride Colonel’s Pride in my hand and anything but Colonel's Pride in his.
Sunset from cruise ship balcony in Florida
Crabcakes and I could watch this from our stateroom balcony for hours every day. We had no mobile or internet service and, at this point an hour into our cruise, guessed we were still off the coast of Miami, Florida, which seemed to stretch for dozens of miles. Few other experiences throughout my life have made me feel both so small and at peace than looking out at the endless water and stars in the sky, and the curvature of the Earth.
“Search for sharks” meant something else last week, too.

Twenty, from the wedding party, had told me she was scared of sharks and wanted to walk around the cruise ship deck, so to isolate Twenty away from the group one night I said to her, “Let’s go search for sharks,” and we left. I was just being witty and awesome. When I later returned to my stateroom and joined Crabcakes on the balcony I realized the amazing trend I had started.

Crabcakes: When you said “Let’s go search for sharks,” nobody thought much of it. Then Infinicuralier said, “Does that pickup line actually work?” I said, “Hell no it doesn’t work!” Then Infinicuralier’s dad got on the dance floor and placed his hand perpendicular on his forehead and waved it from side to side, like a shark fin. I thought I was going to die laughing. Then a random woman from North Carolina came over to Infinicuralier’s dad and asked about “the shark fin” dance move, and she started doing it! Soon enough, everybody on the dance floor started doing “the shark fin.”

The next time you go clubbing and see “the shark fin,” now you know.
Shark fin hat from Margaritaville
Shark fin foam hat from Margaritaville that Infinicuralier's dad bought me.
I had never been on a cruise before and didn’t know that Holland America caters to the plus-90-year-old crowd. The only three single girls on the ship of 2,100 people approached me, not because I am irresistible but because there were even fewer single men. I’ll cruise with the geriatrics any time.
Holland America Eurodam ship docked at Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
Our Holland America ship, the Eurodam, docked at its own private island, Half Moon Cay, in Bahamas.
On most cruises the ship docks at exotic locations in the morning and departs the same afternoon. Though I prefer to experience new locations completely, including after sundown, we made the most of our time in Key West, Florida; Grand Cayman; the Bahamas; and Falmouth, Jamaica.
Bunny Towel Creature
Our stateroom attendant ruled and made us towel creatures. He made this lazy bunny (left), and Crabcakes and I transformed it into this degenerate bunny (right).
I anticipated that Jamaican vendors would push their products on tourists. That is how they make a living and I appreciate how they must always be jovial and high performing. They can’t afford lethargic days on the job like many office workers.

Some from our group hadn’t expected aggressive sellers and were caught off guard. While walking around Falmouth, their urge to return to the port complex – along with dwindling tourists and increasing drug sellers as we got further from the port – led us to the real treasure of the trip: Jamaican rum. (Besides my close friend from childhood’s wedding, obviously, in case he or his new wife reads this.)

Crabcakes, BakedAlaska and I drank Jamaica’s own Appleton Estate rum at a small bar near the ship. Our bartender, a guy in his early-to-mid twenties who moonlights as a DJ, talked with us all afternoon about his culture and lifestyle, and in exchange we convinced passersby to buy his drinks. I later bumped into several others from the cruise who had apparently joined us at the bar and knew my name. I remembered the pretty German’s name. The rest, I didn’t recall ever having met.

“This is a good job, mon. Better than being out there [outside the port complex]. It’s tough getting this job. Very competitive. You have to know someone. Once you get it, you don’t give it up. Plus I can drink rum every day.

“How many people on your ship? You have lots of old people. I like the Carnival ships. They’re big and full of pretty young women. Last week these girls were doing body shots off the bar. First from their belly buttons and then from their. . .”

I tired of delicious fruity drinks and switched to drinking rum neat. “You want to try ‘white lightning’?” our bartender said.

“That’s white rum,” BakedAlaska said. “It doesn’t even list its proof. It’s considered ‘overproof.’ I bet it is 80 percent alcohol.”

“Pour it!” I said.

Ever since I developed an obsession with reaching and maintaining ultra-low body fat I have sacrificed sugar- and calorie-dense substances in favor of plainer ones, including alcoholic beverages. I switched from beer to vodka sodas to whiskey on the rocks to whiskey neat. I now tolerate drinking anything straight.

Everyone tried some of my white lightning. “It tastes like rubbing alcohol!” the pretty German said.

When I finished white lightning I slammed the empty cup down, proud in my accomplishment and thrilled to never have to drink another white lightning.

It was almost time for us to return to the ship. BakedAlaska explained which type of Appleton rum I wouldn’t find in the States and should buy from the duty-free shop across the complex. I entered the shop, forgot the reason I was there and grabbed the less expensive type that U.S. stores also sell.

I brought my rum to the cashier, a Jamaican woman in her forties. “Do you like Jamaicans?” she said. “I’m looking for a husband. I like the shawties.”

The other cashier said, “Yes she does. You’re built strong and shawt and perfect for her. Have you been with a larger Jamaican woman? She’ll do things nobody else will.”

My first marriage proposal: the highlight of my trip including the wedding, even if Infinicuralier or his wife reads this.

I returned to the small bar. “You didn’t get the 12-year-aged rum like I told you!” BakedAlaska said.

Fucking white lightning.

I returned to the duty-free shop and explained that BakedAlaska told me I purchased the wrong one. The store manager wanted to meet my advisor, so she followed me back to BakedAlaska who explained what I never would have remembered. “He wants to exchange this for your 12-year-aged rum.”

I succeeded and returned to my friends, and we said goodbye to our bartender. We were the last ones back on the ship. We later learned that the captain announced, “We’re just waiting for the last few to arrive,” as Mrs. BakedAlaska flipped us off for many consecutive minutes.

I bet she didn’t want to search for sharks that night.

I made a video from my trip, which you can view on YouTube or below if your Web browser allows. Enjoy it, mon!

Leia Mais…