October 24, 2006

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Love, PSA-Style: Part I Today begins a multi-part series of entries about How Can I Tell If I'm Really In Love, a Public Service Announcement that dates back to 1986. After finding this gem hidden deep within the $3 bin at the hole-in-the-wall video store at which I worked throughout high school, life began to look different, smell different, feel different. At first I thought it was Lupus, but it totally wasn't. How Can I Tell taught me to be grateful for attending high school in a time when, unlike in the video, adults had more or less given up on the concept that reaching kids meant putting a spin on the stale, black and white verbiage of yesteryear and preaching in a "funky, cool" way that included graphics! and TV stars! and other kids talkin' about kids! How Can I Tell If I'm Really In Love hearkens to a time when, as far as I can tell (I was but three years old at the time), irony was entirely absent. Otherwise, how would one explain the cast members introduced in this opening clip? Justine and Jason Bateman, both undeniably adorable, are seated in the first of many "laid back" positions in what appears to be the waiting room of their family orthodontist. If you find their proximity to one another while prepared to discuss sex slightly skeevy, you won't believe the pregnant pauses and momentarily elongated eye contact to come. To be honest, it almost steers off road into Arrested Development territory. Some of my favorite cast members include: Elizabeth: Foreign exchange student? Substitute teacher? Retarded? Dina: Man-hating closet case, ready to stain the first vulnerable vagina with her fire engine red lipstick. Also, Vice President of Drama Club (she was the breakout in Pippin). Alysa: Dear, sweet Alysa. I'm not sure if you had recently moved to LA from Staten Island or if you merely suffer from a severe speech impediment. Maybe a quarter of your brain is made of blueberry jam and styrofoam, I really don't know. But that of which I'm sure is that you, Alysa, are a gem. In a clip that repeats over and over and over throughout How Can I Tell (repetition, you will learn through this video, is a great tool of proselytizing), Alyse's come-ons never get old. With hair and make-up that says "$150 for two hours or the butt," Alyse might be my favorite part of the video. Whoops, I spoke too soon. Ted Danson is the resident "Cool Adult" here, illustrated by his unusual sitting position, legs dangled over the side of an armchair. Wanna talk sex? Start with Sam Malone. Karen and Cassandra: Who split Loretta Devine in two and sent her back in time?? Don't bet on seeing Marshall again. He's one of a few Black guys who show up in the opening credits, never to be seen again. Whether or not The Disappearing Black Male Students actually attended University High School (or "Uni High," as spray-painted on screen) remains a mystery. Even if they did, they were probably too busy stealing or rapping for the shoot, another reason we're thankful to have Alyse in their place ("'Scuse me, could I have your num-buh?"). John and Steve: These fellas are How Can I Tell's resident douchebags, guys who equate love to "fun sex" and "ecstacy" when it's clear that the closest they've come to either involved stained tube socks and reruns of Logan's Run. I understand that it's completely inappropriate to say so, but is it just me or does Sharon somehow encapsulate every mediated representation of an Asian girl in high school between 1970 and 1990, be it in a textbook, TV show, or film? Yes, I'm admittedly crazy and, indeed, my psyche is comprised almost exclusively of barnyard imagery and Talbots catalogs, but I really can't back down from this one. Perhaps it's the haircut or the vaguely resentful sneer, but, to me, it looks like Sharon knows she swaps her "L's" with her "R's" and doesn't need you to tell her! Vu: Now that Williamsburg is riding the Ironic Mustache bandwagon into the ground, Vu could quite possibly be crowned King of MisShapes. Seriously, Vu would get so much hipster ass, it's ridic. One of How Can I Tell's more perfect moments comes in this lightning-quick introduction of Christina, who not only can't hear the clear question of what love means to her (why would they include that?), but upon understanding, shoots back with, "Oh, happiness" like there's no possible alternative. The gal's a pistol. Donovan: The producers had to correct him after his first answer to what love means was "Going to a Thompson Twins concert with my boy-toy, Henrik (he totally pays, of course) before scoring some sweetass blow and getting reamed in the back of my dad's pick-up. Then shaving Henrik's neck so that no one at his office gets 'offended.' And then doing some more sweet blow. That's love." Barely five minutes in, and we've already covered Staten Island whores, Ted Danson, and incest. By the time you're done seeing the whole video, I'll have written a fucking encyclopedia. And it will have been completely appropriate.
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Hobo Italiano! Weeks ago, the annual San Gennaro took over Little Italy and, naturally, locals made sure to avoid the area at all costs. I, on the other hand, fully embraced the horribly claustrophobic side streets downtown with my friend Adam. We lunked across town with borrowed equipment from the Soho film/TV production house at which we work, eager to reach our destination. Pushing through the slow-moving crowds of guidos and princesses from the outer boroughs and suburbs, we were repeatedly bumped into by the loud and obese (who unapologetically continued to chow down on pepperoni rolls and zeppoles). Finally, we arrived at Puglia's, a charming eatery that blends in perfectly against the backdrop of Hester Street. Long tables line the walls, prepared to be occupied by the kind of families that appear in commercials for The Olive Garden ("When you're here, you're an Italian stereotype! Ayyyy!"). The pizzaman works in the back left corner of the restaurant, twirling dough in front of a brick oven. The staff of raven-haired boys attentively wait on customers, running back and forth from the kitchen with hot dishes and cocktails. We were there to shoot a segment about the restaurant's resident "entertainer," Jorge Buccio. In doing so, we gathered enough footage to edit into a video segment to be broadcast in the near future. However, during Jorge's performance outside the restaurant, the party became quite wild. Patrons young and old, trashy and trashier, really enjoyed Jorge's standards and originals, as well as the Frank Sinatra lookalike who, to Jorge's clear disapproval, performed on the same bill. In the true nature of the San Gennaro festival, there lies an invisible line between the public and private. When restaurants lining the blocks add tented outdoor tables, the streets become so narrow and overpopulated that it's difficult to tell if one is dining in or just loitering (and most likely speaking very loudly with friends, as the roar from nearby radio DJ booths, carnival games, and ubiquitous Italian ballads seem to come from everywhere). However, it didn't take long to realize during Jorge's outdoor performance that one man in particular was not dining in: I realize that it may, indeed, be a bit much to focus on kooky New York hobos just weeks apart, but sometimes the homeless are just too wacky to ignore. This hobo is one of those people. Let's cut the dude some slack: he's obviously proud of either his Italian heritage or his Italian tee shirt, and - really - that's all that matters here. He just kind of...showed up...to have a good time, and what's wrong with that? Nothing. Except that he smelled like ketchup a little. The management at Puglia's didn't seem to mind, though, as he provided some solid entertainment. One group of adults, all of whom exclusively wore shades of navy, black, and gray, looked as though they'd cabbed it downtown from their pharmaceutical sales office in Midtown, prepared to "let loose at San Gennaro, baby!" One of the women, whose name I would guess to be Pamela, Denise, or Tami, really got into the act, shimmying up to the hobo and sharing in the awkward, Caucasian dance moves! He, however, may have not even realized it, as the group of co-workers proceeded to buy him cocktails. Notice his facial expression after taking a swig, one that says, "Lady Luck has got my back tonight, yo!" As if he knew he was about to be escorted away by management, the hobo provided some dance moves for a finale that would make Baryshnikov cream his tights: Air bongos? The Running Man? Someone get this guy a TV show! (Or a bedpan. A bedpan will suffice. Or maybe some Triscuits?)

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