June 25, 2017

New Rochelle, NY: The Farewell Tour

It's one thing when you move away from home after college to pursue your dreams and go make something of yourself in the big and scary Real World. However, it's an entirely different emotional experience when your parents make their own move after calling the same place home for the entire duration of your life.

Yes, after much deliberation and time spent in Florida, my snowbird parents have decided to sell my childhood home and permanently remain in the Sunshine State.

Never have the words "end of an era" rung so true.

I've called New Rochelle, New York "home" my entire life, even after 15 years of residing 2,805 miles away in Los Angeles. Virtually every pre-L.A. memory stems from this "Queen City of the Sound." And as I write this, a small part of me still expects to go back to that apartment on Centre Avenue for my annual Christmas visit come December, but it will take some time for the reality to set in and force me to realize that I'll have to book a flight to a different destination for a different kind of holiday celebration.

I was fortunate enough to give my childhood home a proper send-off when I flew back to New York to help with the packing and preparations for the big move, Naturally, I couldn't help but reminisce and review every memory that came flooding back to me.

I didn't just go down Memory Lane; I took my time strolling down a multi-laned Boulevard of Nostalgia. In my mind, these memories manifested like holograms of my past self walking through the spaces of Apartment 3D in the pre-war building that had become the epicenter of nearly every Thanksgiving and Christmas for every cousin, aunt, uncle, grandparent, sibling, and friend of the family. (And let's not forget those weekly meatloaf dinners my mom hosted throughout the late 80s and early 90s.)

I saw my 11-year-old self staying up late to watch scary movies (rented from Blockbuster Video) in the living room with four of my friends during one of several birthday slumber parties. I saw my 10-year-old self sitting at the dining table, passionately writing short stories in a five-subject spiral notebook (my Friday the 13th ripoff, Camp Nightmare, lasted through ten installments, one prequel, and one reboot). I saw my 9-year-old self sitting at the desk in my room, putting the finishing touches on a model train station while getting a little woozy from the superglue.

My childhood and adolescence in a nutshell. And in a heavy-duty Home Depot box.

I saw my 7-year-old self playing with countless Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars on the then-carpeted floor of the living room while the radio played songs like Level 42's "Something About You" and Donna Summer's "She Works Hard for the Money." I saw my 17-year-old self coming home from school with my friend James and opening the mailbox to find my acceptance letter to Boston University...and a rejection from NYU.

And these memories weren't just limited to the enclosed spaces within that apartment...

I flashed back to The Mall at New Rochelle (above), where my 10-year-old bookworm self discovered his first R.L. Stine novel in the Friar Tuck Bookshop (Halloween Party, the eighth book in the Fear Street series) before the entire place fell into decay and was torn down in the mid-90s. Subsequently, I remembered the pre-Y2K opening of the brand-new New Roc City entertainment complex.

I remembered the original Thru-way Diner, where, at the age of 8, I asked my mom about the meaning of "the birds and the bees" and where, at the age of 20, my family gathered for a farewell breakfast before I flew off to Europe for a semester abroad -- with my first cell phone.

I remembered barbecues, beach days, and picnics at Glen Island Park, where I worked in the park office for two summers.

On my last night I took a late-night drive down North Avenue and remembered riding the Bee-Line bus on that same road every morning during my freshman and sophomore years at Iona Preparatory. Coincidentally, as I drove my mom's hatchback down other familiar streets of New Rochelle, 95.5 WPLJ began playing "flashback" tracks that included Mariah Carey's "Always Be My Baby" and Backstreet Boys' "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)," tunes from my teen years. It was as if the city was sending me off in its own way, providing a soundtrack for my nostalgia-heavy trip.

In other words, I became sentimental AF.

More books. And yes, that's a Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego board game on top.

I didn't sleep well on that last night I spent in the bedroom where I grew up. It was hard for me to imagine that, weeks from now, a stranger would occupy this space and begin her own new chapter. If this were the series finale of a TV show, Semisonic's "Closing Time" would start playing.

Saying goodbye to my childhood home was a bittersweet rite of passage I knew was inevitable, but perhaps there was a part of me that still clung onto the hope of having this place as an anchor that would always bring me back to my roots, my "origin story." But then again, it's not like I can't come back; I still have plenty of family and friends to visit in New York (not to mention a high school reunion that's not too far off, because old).

But ultimately, what this is all painfully represents is the true loss of a childhood and adolescence. And it's not just about me. It's also the beginning of different kind of chapter for my parents. And with that comes a certain uncertainty I know I shouldn't dwell on. As much as we share, I can't truly fathom what they must be going through.

Since I've been given the chance -- and plenty of time -- to look back, it is now time to look forward. Forward to my parents starting a new, hopefully easier life. Forward to continuing my own life story in a city I love, a city I've proudly called home for 15 years (of course, that anniversary blog is coming shortly). Forward to visiting Florida and hearing my mother make alligator jokes. Forward to holiday visits that won't require me filling my luggage with winter clothes.

Farewell, Apartment 3D on Centre Avenue. If your walls could talk, I'm sure they'd have a lot more to say that what I've written here. 

Thanks for harboring 31 years of memories.


June 22, 2017

#TBT: J.J. Abrams in 1993's 'Six Degrees of Separation'

Holy crap.

After catching the final performance of John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation on Broadway this month (after which I got a tipsy Allison Janney and a drunk John Benjamin Hickey to sign my playbill), I went into full nostalgia mode, reminiscing about the time I played Dr. Fine in the Boston University Stage Troupe production of the same play during my freshman year.

Then, it was time to look up clips of the 1993 film adaptation starring Stockard Channing, Donald Sutherland, and a baby-faced Will Smith. And little did I know who else makes an appearance in one of the movie's best scenes...

Who is it? Future creator of two of my favorite TV shows (Felicity and Alias) and mega producer-director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams. He plays one of the Ivy League brats, the son of the character I played in a small underground blackbox theater so many years ago.

Soooo...does this make me one degree of separation away from my writing-producing idol?

Check out the clip below. You can't miss him.

To repeat, holy crap.


June 13, 2017

Katy Perry's 'Witness' and the Rise of Dystopian Pop in the Trump Era

Before Witness even dropped, it seemed like there were dozens and dozens of thinkpieces dedicated to dissecting the current state of Katy Perry's career. Pop music pundits had good reason to assume the 32-year-old singer's political activism would inform the sounds of her next project after seeing her stand on the celebrity frontlines of Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. However, there were immediate criticisms ready to call bull on her intentions to create "purposeful pop" after releasing the album's first social-PSA single, "Chained to the Rhythm," and following it up with the blatant, food-as-sex-metaphor bop "Bon Appetit."

And while fans may be confused by the theme of this particular "era" after the release of those two songs (not to mention "Swish Swish," which I'll get to later), listening to Witness in its entirety may help clarify some things.

One thing's for certain: Gone are the easy-breezy flourishes of 2010's Teenage Dream and some of 2013's Prism, which may upset many, especially those looking for some radio-friendly summer jams. Several years later, there's a particular gloom and melancholy that hangs over Witness, and that is arguably a result of a few things: 1) Katy's no longer a cupcake-bra-wearing 25-year-old in blue wigs and skin-tight jeans getting her boy toy's heart racing. (She's now older, perhaps wiser.) 2) Katy is troubled by the machinations of our current administration and worried about our future (and dammit, she's got something to say about it).

Look, every artist goes through creative stages. Every musician experiments with new sounds. And every pop diva should be allowed to express her mood du jour, even if it results in a less-than-stellar album (a moment of silence for Kelly Clarkson's My December and Britney's Britney Jean).

Unfortunately, we have reached a Katy Perry nadir with Witness. This gloom and melancholy, when paired with some awkward lyrics -- don't get me started on the laughable "Save As Draft" -- simply come off as self-indulgent and terribly misguided.

The album opens with the titular track, a mission statement with a lonely chorus that sees our gal pining for a connection. (Don't we all?) This is Katy basically telling us, "Get ready for me to sing about some big and important themes!" What follows is a mostly forgettable collection of tunes that fails to soar. Rather, it just glides...

For more of my commentary, check out my latest piece on HuffPost.


June 02, 2017

The Radical Empathy of 'Master of None'

During a recent episode of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, music journalist Stephen Thompson had written down two words to associate with the second season of Aziz Ansari's Emmy-winning Netflix series Master of None: "radical empathy."

His commentary was part of a glowing review of a television show that feels so very necessary right now. Why necessary? Because Master of None, which is about the comedic misadventures and romantic entanglements of New York actor Dev Shah (Ansari), is doing something no other TV show has done in recent memory. It is providing a much-needed stage for characters (and actors) that are not often found on screen, big or small. And by doing so, it is giving these names and faces a chance to share their perspectives, tell their stories, during a time when spotlights in film and television are usually hogged by individuals who are seen as bankable or "audience-friendly." (Translation: able to guarantee big box office receipts or big ratings.) 

And what's so beautiful about this is that none of it feels forced or contrived. None of it reeks of a major studio feeling obligated to fulfill a diversity quota. None of it feels like it's being written, produced, or created by people who have no legitimate understanding of the experiences of The Other. Master of None is refreshingly, genuinely woke, a show about living in the Biggest Melting Pot on Earth that actually looks like the Biggest Melting Pot on Earth.

Last season's flashback-filled episode, "Parents," won a well-deserved writing Emmy for its casually groundbreaking and nuanced portrait of the immigrant experience as well as heavily Americanized first-generation children. (Full disclosure: as the child of an immigrant, it was personally one of the most resonating pieces of television I've ever watched.) After all, when was the last time you watched an Indian-American man and his Chinese-American friend make a conscious effort to appreciate their respective heritages on TV?

This season, there are several contenders vying for that aforementioned award. There's the delicate juggling act on display in "First Date," seamlessly edited to brilliantly demonstrate the assembly-line mechanics and politics of online app dating. The women Dev meets range in ethnicities. While some flash by in brief moments, others stick around, and they're given more room to breathe, share their experiences, and give viewers a more developed image of a person who may not look like the type they usually date. Meanwhile, the color-blind casting never seems deliberate...

To read more, check out my latest piece on HuffPo.

June 01, 2017

The 'Murder on the Orient Express' Trailer is My Nerdgasm of the Week (VIDEO)

I was raised by an Agatha Christie fan (my mother's bookcase was loaded with her novels the way mine was loaded with R.L. Stine's), so I was on board this train ever since I heard Kenneth Branagh was behind this remake of the star-studded 1974 adaptation.

The trailer for this new edition just dropped, and my initial thoughts? The way the characters are introduced here is kind of awesome (love that slow, single take through the train car).

But...an Imagine Dragons song? Really?

PS - I know who did it.


Catfights, Cleavage and Carrie-Anne Moss: 'Models Inc.' Turns 25

In the early 90s, as anyone familiar with the oeuvre of uber-producer Aaron Spelling knows, the successful  Beverly Hills, 90210 begat ...