‘Mid90s’, middle ground: lacking inspiration.

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Mid90s proves that standard movie tropes are always familiar no matter how you dress them up. And first-time director Jonah Hill has certainly earned kudos for dressing his new film up to fit its epochal title: one only has to glimpse a few grainy frames (purposely shot on 16mm film for added effect), to be transported back into the last days before the millennium: compact discs, baggy clothes, big hair and of course a nostalgic soundtrack by a seminal voice of the era, Trent Reznor.

Although the title references an entire cultural zeitgeist, the film is far from being all-encompassing in scope or subject. Instead, it’s an insular story built on specificity, resting under a rather prosaic and vague title for lack of keener inspiration, which is its biggest flaw.

The story begins in Los Angeles during its titular time period, with a young preadolescent boy named Stevie. Hounded by his boorish older brother from the opposite end of the adolescent spectrum and given free rein by a lais·sez-faire mother suffering from arrested development, Stevie is primed for one of cinema’s biggest clichés: a summer he’ll never forget.

This leads into another hallmark of the period: the skateboarding underworld, when Stevie sets his sights on befriending a group of older boys at the local board shop.

As soon as he unremarkably worms his way into the affections of the boisterous but nonthreatening slackers, his story ticks off the requisite milestones of coming-of-age and its subgenre of films: exhilarating new experiences, wise mentors, chafing against his family, high jinks that just skirt the line of true danger and serious trouble.

Since the plot is standard framework, the question is if the parts make up for the sum. Stevie is competent enough as a protagonist: he fits the bill in looks and temperament, without hitting any false notes. The home life he shares with his threadbare family never truly generates a sense of urgency, which curbs any added weight to his arc. Stevie’s older brother and young mother aren’t guilty of anything beyond typical dysfunctional fare: physical taunts from the former and distractions by the latter. As for Stevie’s newfound entourage: they border on caricatures, with raunchy nicknames and slight characterizations that are as nuanced as a junior high yearbook.

 The film suddenly hits a climax that can only be described as inorganic and again, contrived—but this is in keeping with its steadily innocuous tone. Mid90s doesn’t seek to innovate or make a statement. It’s a light tale that never truly triumphs or fails abysmally either—inhabiting a safe middle ground of familiarity, evident all the more by its usage of epidemic-level nostalgia for a past era that’s bound to pique audience interest. It’s the only true star of the movie; without it, it would lose half of its distinction.

Interpersonal Skills: I can’t deal with people.

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I’ve come to the conclusion: I can’t deal with people.

Although by my mid-thirties I know life is a constant learning experience and that we can traverse the entire continuum of allegiances and viewpoints, I have gleaned from my social experiences thus far that I’m just not good at interpersonal skills.

First off, I’m poor at asserting myself. When faced with a scenario where a simple expression of my needs would suffice, I am often drowned out by the myriad connotations of the situation: who is involved, how much I love/fear/loathe/need them, what words or actions spurred the need to assert myself—and how it affects me emotionally.

Beyond that, I seem to lack the same interests, motives or needs that many people exhibit in socializing: I don’t crave status, dominance, or social gain through who I associate with.

As any experienced person knows, there are tacit “games” that people play with one another—through physical action, comments, rejection—to assert their needs and agenda in regards to others.

I’m not interested.

I’m not interested.

I can’t deal with people judging others based on what they look like, who they hang out with, what job they have.

I can’t deal with people who aggressively label me—thinking they “know me” but they really don’t, and when I inevitably prove them wrong they get mad at me, of course, because they’re upset that the world doesn’t fit their perception of it.

I can’t deal with people who put others down in order to build themselves up. I can’t deal with people who gleefully abuse others for this purpose—who have no qualms making an innocent human being miserable.

I can’t deal with people using others for personal gain, including those they had considered their friends and closest colleagues.

I don’t want to trade barbs with people, because on an instinctual level I don’t want to sink to that level. It disgusts and unnerves me to see myself behave that way. For many people, if I can’t do that—then I am simply a target for their deplorable behavior, and therefore I must avoid them for my own safety and self-respect.

Consequently, even if I possessed the fortitude to assert myself more effectively—my general distaste in our social mores and behaviors could possibly thwart me from ever engaging. I don’t want to correct people’s behavior towards me—not just because I’m incompetent, but because it offends and repulses me that I have to display certain traits to attain it.

It sounds like a cop-out, and in a way—it is. After all, life is all about doing things we don’t want to but are essential as a means to a healthy life that truly benefits us. Each day, we awake, wash and dress ourselves—that in of itself is a requisite for a healthy existence. The vast majority of us must work at an occupation to earn resources that will acquire us more resources.

Interpersonal skills are not as tangible as our bodies, food, water, and a roof over our heads—but they are just as vital for the social animal that we are.

This is where I clash. My principles seem to be at odds with the rudimentary mechanics of socializing.

It’s a shame, because what I lack in grit I make up for in other virtues: as a friend, I’ve been told that I’m fun, open-minded, tolerant, and unconventional. I challenge the norms of society for the greater good of seeing the world anew. I am loyal, kind, generous, and gracious. I am accepting and thoughtful most of the time. I am engaging, but also capable of great independence. I have clearly defined interests and opinions that define me and can serve others.

Look, I’m also not perfect either and can even be guilty of unsavory behavior towards others, but for the most part I believe in a higher state of coexistence. And this is another hindrance to my interactions with others.

At the risk of sounding hopelessly naïve or oblivious, I believe in a world where we tolerate our differences instead of persecuting each other for them. I believe in treating each other with decency and minimal respect, even if we differ in lifestyle, views or appearances. I believe in equality—that we are all inherently valuable therefore the need for stringent hierarchy or status is irrelevant. I believe that as long as a person is not harming anyone, they should be accepted as they are—not persecuted because of someone else’s expectations or ideology. I know this isn’t plausible in our world, but that is my core approach to life, and informs how I view and interact with others.

This is the reason why I feel separate from most people, and different.

I’ve realized this is the reason why I am often confounded when people invariably end up being… human.

It’s all too common for people, including those we’d entrusted ourselves, to lash out at one another—because of differing temperaments, beliefs, expectations, ideology, and needs.

At this age, I’ve experienced the disappointment of so-called “friends” who display less than stellar traits towards me, and handle me in a way that directly opposes basic decency and humanity.

I’ve only been able to count on a small handful of friends who haven’t eventually turned on me yet—and of that minority, many of them are simply not visible enough in my daily life to risk offending me.

This, I feel must be the resolution to my anomalous condition: to seek out and zero in on the rare peoples who will not see me as a target for their foibles and dire needs.

When I find such a commodity, I must treasure them and keep them in my life—because they will be my principal social outlet, because it appears that I am not capable of much more than that.

Will I ever find such rare exceptions? That’s the question.

City of Broken Dreams

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I volunteer at the local gay center occasionally. It’s located in the heart of Hollywood—on Santa Monica Boulevard, just off of Highland. If you go a bit further north on Highland, you’ll hit Hollywood Boulevard next to the Kodak Theater where they used to hold the Academy Awards.

I don’t live too far away, geographically, but as with everything in L.A. it’s cultural disparity that separates us, not distance. Driving up from my nondescript, low-key neighborhood of West L.A. adjacent to Beverlywood, I’m essentially wading into the gritty, smoggy, unfamiliar waters of Hollywood when I venture there. More discerning people would have ardent reservations even going there, barring an absolute emergency or valid necessity. Geographic prejudice is just one of the many charming traits of Angelenos you’ll discover here. I’m certain many of them take gleeful pride in it, much as they would a fine set of hair or an official job title.

One Monday morning, I gamely made the commute to do some filing for an upcoming event at the Gay Center. It was pleasant—getting out of my routine to help out with a good cause, while brushing shoulders with people I otherwise would never encounter on my own. The free pizza and cookies were just a bonus.

Halfway into my shift, I had to move my car to avoid parking regulations. Walking amidst the nearby adjacent residential neighborhood, I got into my vehicle and circled around onto Highland Avenue and parked, then trekked back to the Center. This unremarkable act evoked volumes to the intensity of this city and its continuing unfamiliarity to me.

Within such close proximity to the Gay Center, several of its constituents were milling about in surplus: an African American transgender woman strutted down Highland Avenue, bemoaning the heat under her breath. A pair of young gay men, stylishly dressed, sauntered northward on the street. A lone gay man in his late thirties to early forties, glanced at me curiously as I reached the crosswalk.

The street glowed under the unseasonable heat for late October—all concrete, metal, and glass—cars and casually dressed denizens moving forward with purpose. Businesses held shelter like virtue.

Back at the Center, a middle-aged man and woman danced and frolicked to music from a boombox while a small, hairy dog looked onward at their side. Their diligence seemed to equate with rehearsing for an imminent performance in the future. They paid me no mind, and I didn’t with them.

It was at that moment that I tied everything together. I realized that I no longer possessed a sense of wonder that is synonymous with youth. Not too long ago, I would have been tickled with simple amusement at the sight of this quirky couple and their canine cohort. I would have mused over their arbitrary efforts and location—the myriad possibilities of their intentions and origins.

I would have felt joy at watching the nearby city streets emitting their own special music, new to my ears as a visitor. The pedestrians and storefronts would have told stories that I knew would continue on without my witness—the mystery of it all intriguing me.

I would’ve felt this like a child on a Saturday morning: plain reverence at the beauty of life and all it had to offer on one special day. Now? I’d woken up on a new day, and didn’t recognize what I saw in the mirror anymore. Or I did—I looked just like the hardened cynics who had scoffed at me whenever I expressed unmitigated wonder in this city.

I realized: there was no sense of wonder for me anymore, because there was nothing new for me to see in this city. I knew the end of each story now, or rather: I knew where I belonged in the context of each one. I knew what to expect. I’d been trying in vain to make a connection in this fractured city, to no avail. What did that tell me?

Without ambiguity, there is no need to be curious anymore. This is why people settle down and stop exploring. It isn’t necessarily a choice. It’s an acceptance of who you are and how you are received in this world. I was just holding out on it for much longer than most.

Why Was I Even Friends With That Guy?

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Do you ever look back and ask yourself, while gagging: “Why was I even friends with that guy?” AAaaaaaacccckkkkkkk!!

But seriously. Sometimes we lean on people—aww, isn’t that sweet/ romantic/technically unsound?—because we needed them at that particular time in our lives. It’s a natural part of life—like zits, falling down because your foot’s asleep, or… gagging to get that hunk of mucus out of your throat.

You know you’re taking one of these trains to “Meh” Town when:

You never integrate this person with other people in your life, because you know it will have the same effect as heating a popcorn bag inside your gas oven.

You look forward to having dinner—not having it with them.

You spend a lot of time talking about innocuous things like… movies. ‘Cause seriously: it’s the most exciting subject in the history of mankind, that ISN’T personal or revealing. What did people who didn’t like each other—even TALK about, before the invention of celluloid? Oh right—patterns in the universe that emit heat or cold.

You never develop a single inside joke to share intimately with one another, or even tell a joke —in the most extreme cases. It’s all just… well, movies probably. If you’re lucky: there’s a terrible thing that happened in the news that week. That’ll fetch you some fodder for a brief shining moment.

But alas, eventually one day, like a long overdue diagnosis—you realize it’s run its course. If you’re lucky, you came to this realization first—and the other poor sap has to learn through the Rule of Two: he can only attempt to say “hi” or plan your next dubious outing TWICE, before giving up due to your lack of interest. If you’re even luckier: both of you share this brief moment of psychic connection and part ways simultaneously! This moment of cosmic clarity is usually preceded by something telling but unremarkable—the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back: a dinner where he showed up late­— again—for the eighth time; the misguided “mixer” where his friends met you for the first time and hated you; or he keeps spacing out when you talk about movies.

Next thing you know, you’ve decided to block his posts on Facebook ‘cause you can’t stand his face anymore, and those cheesy affirmations he posts ten times a day/ via pictures with quotes, or actual quotes he managed to assemble with words that probably came from his crap factory.

You think back with smug satisfaction at your own astute, albeit delayed action of “cleaning house” in this area of your life. All is right, now.

Fast forward to four months later—you find yourself clicking on his Facebook profile again, out of boredom (hey, you have more free time now, so…). With mild disgust/perverse curiosity (like peering out your car window at a mangled possum corpse on the side of the road) you wonder: ‘What’s this bastard up to these days?’

Then you see that the world order is, indeed, still upheld after all: his cheesy affirmations are still littering this corner of cyberspace, along with posts of his ugly, cheesy friends that you hated too. And you can’t help but smile pitifully (at him, of course), with that familiar feeling rising up from your chest—say it with me:

Why was I even friends with that guy?”

AAaaaaaacccckkkkkkk!!