Monday, March 21, 2011

From Hallmark To Hair Date

Hair salons are weird.

I'm from New Hampshire. You could say that I'm a small town girl living in a lonely world, except that New York really isn't the loneliest of places to hang around. I'm more like a someone who spent a good portion of their life growing up in a Hallmark card and has now been untimely thrust into the big, bad real world. Surprisingly, this hasn't actually caused as much culture shock as one would imagine. Apart from my complete shock at seeing a mall with three floors, my discovery that no one down here can properly pronounce "syrup" and the brief freak out I had when I hailed my first taxi, I've actually adapted pretty well to the "big, bad world."

That could, of course, simply be because I'm safe on a protected college campus. But who knows?

I consider myself, at this point, to be fairly New York literate. By "literate" I mean I know the difference between uptown and downtown and can properly pronounce "Houston" (it's not like Texas, apparently.) Despite this, I in no way consider myself a New Yorker, nor do I think of myself as someone who knows the city inside and out. I definitely do not.

Case in point; Hair Date, a hair salon on Bowery street in the East Village. I was there to drop off some film at the Pac Lab nearby, and stopped in after realizing I hadn't had a hair cut since summer. The price was reasonable, and the place looked relatively inviting, so in I went.

My god. This was an experience. I'm used to hair salons in New Hampshire. You walk in, grab a magazine, sit down, tell them what you want, pretend to be thrilled when they give you something that barely resembles what you asked for, and then rush to your car before anyone can see you. The process is fairly simple, and I only expected about as much from Hair Date. I was, apparently, wrong.

The first thing the stylist did was take my coat. And my scarf, my earrings, my glasses, my bag, and my gloves. She hung them up in a little room specifically for holding people's things and then proceeded to calmly lead me around the large, pristine styling room. It was a bit like a modern art museum. Everything was clean and white and the actual furnishings, though indeed attractive and stylish, looked like something you would have needed to be high to design.

There is somewhat of a script to getting your hair cut in a legitimate salon. You're expected to know where to go and when to bend your head backwards and when to brace yourself for the sudden splatter of cold water on your neck. For the most part, the stylist I had was pretty forgiving when I failed to recognize that I needed to go to a separate station to get my hair washed. There was this simple, amused grin of "Aw, look, it's her first real haircut" and after a while she just stopped pointing out to me that I had missed my cue and began leading me around like a blind person.

In New Hampshire, getting my hair washed at a salon is basically the same as washing my own hair, just with the awkwardness of someone else in the room. At Hair Date, it was like getting a head massage. It lasted for almost a half an hour, and unlike back home where the stylist tries to have a complete conversation with you about your life and your family, the stylist here was completely silent.

It was bizarre, to say the least. But it was, of course, only the beginning.

After finishing with the wash, I was lead back to the chair I had originally been told to sit in and was offered a cup of tea. I was so perplexed by this, that I said no, despite the fact that I hadn't had anything to eat or drink all day and probably could have used the sustenance. I was also offered a stack of completely up to date magazines, which were actually brought to me by a completely different person while my stylist was busy setting everything up. And then, just to add to bizarrely high class treatment I was getting, just as I assumed the stylist was going to begin actually cutting my hair, she started giving me a legitimate back and shoulder massage. Completely without warning.

I've never been ambushed by a massage before. I now know what it's like to be royalty.

The cut itself was nothing particularly shocking. Well, apart from the fact that it was exactly what I wanted. The only bizarre part was when the stylist inexplicably decided to straighten my hair without telling me. I don't know where the straightener came from, it just seemed to appear in her hands before I could stop her from using it, and within a few minutes, my hair was stick straight.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that my hair is naturally a bit...eccentric. It's curly and frizzy and has been described as both "feral" and "mad scientist hair". To see it stick straight and perfectly styled is, for me, an extremely surreal and slightly unsettling experience. Despite the fact that the actual cut was great, I was so unnerved by the straight hair that I ended up having to buy a hat just cover it up.

After a bit of chastisement for not taking proper care of my hair, and an assurance that the straightening wasn't permanent, I was free to go. My coat, scarf, gloves, and bag were brought to me by the same person who brought me the magazines, and I was actually escorted out the door by the stylist.

It was a strange experience. It's probably the best haircut I've ever gotten, and the price was actually really good for what I got. If I lived anywhere near the east village I would probably go back. At least then I would know what I was doing.

And so that was my trip to the hair salon. That random fashion website that invited me to join them because they thought I'd be a good a contributor? Well look at that, I'm actually writing about something beauty related! Hooray!

Sigh. Isn't my life just thrilling?

Well, I'm off to go edit some film now. I have no time to do it, so naturally it's due tomorrow. Good times. Ironically, the film itself is about being trapped by your own stress and responsibilities. It was originally supposed to be about passion or discovery, but then I got sick, and I started feeling trapped by all my responsibilities and stress, so...there you go.

Happy Spring,


Monday, March 14, 2011

Mad Science

Ok, here's something I've oddly never discussed on my blog. Mad scientists.

He he he.

Why haven't I talked about this yet? Seriously, I've had a blog since I was fourteen years old, and I have never once written an entire entry devoted to mad scientists? It's a travesty. It's unforgivable. It's incredibly uncharacteristic of myself. It needs to be remedied immediately.

And so, it shall.

I adore mad scientists, and I really can't tell you why. I've always loved them. Anything I ever wrote as a kid almost always included one, including the play I wrote for a drama camp in second grade wherein not only did I write it, I also played the mad scientist and loved it so much that I wrote the character into a play for a second drama camp I did two weeks later. There is something about the character type that is, to me, inherently fun and interesting. I've always been attracted to eccentric characters, everything from the Phantom to the Doctor, and when it comes down to it, what is more eccentric than a mad scientist? You're looking at a character so preoccupied with their own creativity that they just can't be bothered to put in the effort it takes to act like a normal person. Everything they do is passionate and intense, even if it's just something as simple as pouring water into a beaker. There's an air of theatrics to mad science that I've always loved, and to this day has kept me fascinated with the character type.

So who are some great mad scientists? In real life the most famous example is probably Nikola Tesla, who despite being one of the greatest electrical engineers of the late nineteenth century, had an unbelievably eccentric personality as well as a habit of making bizarre and outrageous claims about the possibilities of scientific advancement. By the end of his life, most of his colleagues had written him off as being insane, and thus he has become one of the main inspirations for the mad scientist archetype in fiction.

But of course, who cares about real life? Clearly most mad scientists don't. My interest in the world of mad science is almost entirely through it's portrayal in fiction. I am not a scientist. As a kid, I toyed with the idea of wanting to be one until I discovered just how different mad science and real science are and decided it would be more fun to send my Polly Pockets on an adventure into space than work on my math homework. Occasionally I wish I was a bit less purely right brained so that I could go make things explode in a chemistry lab or something, but unfortunately, I am and always will be more of a writer than a scientist.

That being said, let's discuss some fictional mad scientists. I'm going to stick mainly to characters from television and film, as a discussion of mad scientists in literature could take up an entry all it's own (though, for what it's worth, everyone should read Frankenstein)

To me, the perfect mad scientist is Gene Wilder. Despite having only technically played a mad scientist once - though I would argue he's done it twice, we'll get to that - I feel like he gets everything right. His ability to be completely calm and normal one second and then suddenly go absolutely psychotic the next is exactly the type of thing a mad scientist should do. A good mad scientist story is one that constantly builds in intensity. It begins somewhat simple, the character has an idea, and as the character becomes more obsessed with it, the story becomes more intense until the character reaches his most maddening point and the action of the story just explodes. Gene Wilder, I feel like, does this alarmingly well. Just look at this clip, specifically at his speech about a minute and a half in.

I consider this to be the greatest mad scientist moment ever. It begins quietly, with Wilder just looking up and musing. After a few seconds he gets louder, and then as the platform rises, he starts shouting until by the time he's up on the roof with the monster he's almost shrieking his "GIVE MY CREATION LIFE!!!" line. It's exactly the way a mad scientist's story operates, beginning quietly, in control, and then letting loose until the character is uncontrollably mad. Although I love Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein in the iconic Universal Frankenstein film, there's something about Gene Wilder's performance here that just cements him in my mind as the image of a mad scientist.

But of course, this isn't the only time Gene Wilder has played a mad scientist. Take a good look at Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. No, he's not really a scientist in that one, he's a candy maker, but the elements of mad science are still clearly there, and Gene Wilder, once again, does a fantastic job at building intensity in his performance. Remember the tunnel scene?

Just look at his expression at the beginning of this. It's calm, but diabolical as all hell. He's totally cool and collected, singing softly, and then verging into poetry. Just like in the previous clip, he starts picking up the volume about halfway in, then he starts yelling, and then finally just shrieks at everyone. The effect is terrifying and awesome, and despite Willy Wonka not technically being a scientist, I think deserves to be thought of as another great mad scientist moment.

Also, as a side note, apparently the poetry that he recited in the scene wasn't scripted, and most of the cast thought Gene Wilder was actually going insane when they shot it. He wasn't, but just look at their faces.

But what about some other mad scientists? The ones not played by Gene Wilder. Going for a more modern route, most people are aware of my love for Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog, the story of one mad scientist and his quest to take over the world while simultaneously going after the girl of his dreams. The scientist in question is played by Neil Patrick Harris, and what's interesting about this one is that he never really seems too out of control. Yes, Dr. Horrible is an awkward nerd who can't speak to the cute girl at the laundry mat, and yes, he does fantasize about becoming enormous and squashing his archenemy with his foot. But until the end, he never really engages in anything particularly insane, and with the exception of the freeze ray he keeps in his living room and the lab he has hidden behind a wall, he comes across as a basically normal person.

Well, until this scene:

It's here we finally get to see him go full out mad scientist, evil laugh and all. The song starts out quiet, almost hypnotic, until it builds to a crescendo and he pulls out a death ray. Then it gets crazy. He doesn't totally loose it like Willy Wonka or Dr. Frankenstein (pronounced Frankenteen) but things do suddenly get really chaotic and intense. Neil Patrick Harris does a great job at presenting a far more realistic character while still being able to dip into the theatrics that define a mad scientist.

Anime also provides a great look at mad scientists, probably due to how exaggerated and ridiculous anime is naturally. This is, after all, a genre that tries to make card games the most epic thing the world has ever known. There are a lot to choose from here, but my favorite is probably Professor Tomoe from Sailor Moon.

Yes. Tell us again, Professor, about how you haven't kissed anyone in years. I'm sure the laughter of utter doom is intrinsically required in enlightening us to this little anecdote about your life. This guy was, understandably, one of my favorite villains from the show, though it turns out by the end that the only reason he's insane is because he's possessed by some sort of space demon or something. I feel like it would have been much more effective if he was just crazy. But then, that's Sailor Moon for you.

Animation in general can provide a lot for a mad scientist. Because there's no limit to what you can do in animation, an incredible level of ridiculous, insane drama is allowed to the scientist. Unlike in live action where no matter crazy something is you still expect the tiniest bit of realism, in animation no one is expecting anything to be realistic at all. Thus, the uncontrolled, theatrical side to the character type is more likely to come out. Take Professor Membrane from Invader Zim, for example.

I've made toast before. There was no lightning. Professor Membrane is the father of one of the show's protagonists, and is about as ridiculous and insane as you can get. Literally everything that comes out of this man's mouth is epic. Unlike Dr. Horrible who was, by default, a real person who would occasionally dive into craziness, Professor Membrane is naturally ridiculous. His son, Dib, as well as the title character of Zim have also been known to take up a bit of mad science, particularly Zim. But it's Membrane that, I think, exemplifies the character type in animation.

But of course, no discussion of mad scientists is complete without mention of Doctor Who. This show is full of mad scientists, and, to be honest, it can be argued that main character has a bit of this going on himself. I mean, he was UNIT's scientific advisor for a while, and he is a bit, you know, crazy every once in a while. As of late, the eleventh Doctor's been pretty good about this:

It should go without saying that this is a perfect example of an eccentric mad scientist. The Doctor is, for most part, a force for good, but doesn't exactly have the greatest people skills. In all honesty, it's hard to analyse the Doctor as I have with a few of the other characters I've mentioned, mainly because there's been so many of them. Each Doctor is wildly eccentric and obviously scientifically inclined, but none of them are the same about it. The fifth Doctor, for example, was a bit more like Dr. Horrible in that he basically acted like a normal person except for when something crazy was happening. The fourth and tenth Doctors though, were a lot more like Gene Wilder's Dr. Frankenstein in their ability to seem calm and collected one second, and completely psychopathic the next. The mad scientist angle is definitely one of the reasons I latched onto the show so easily back when I was sneaking downstairs to watch PBS reruns of it with my mom as a kid, and remains one of the many things that keeps me coming back to it.

But, beyond all of this, what should be kept in mind about mad scientists is that they are inherently fun. Weird, eccentric people are always fun to watch, and if that weird, eccentric person happens to harness the power of electricity to breath life into a monster, doesn't that just make it even more awesome? There are about a thousand other mad scientists I could talk about, and million more things I could say about how that type of character should be done, but I think, for the moment, I'll leave it at that. Mad scientists are awesome. They always have been, and they always will be. I don't think there will ever come a day when I'm not fascinated by these types of characters, and if indeed the day comes, you can expect the apocalypse to ensue soon.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a death ray to work on.

Happy Pi Day,


Friday, March 11, 2011

College Idiots

I've come to the conclusion, that at some point during college, everyone feels like an irresponsible idiot.

This has nothing to do with whether you actually are an irresponsible idiot, though in some way or another, at that particular moment, you probably are. College students do stupid things. We skip class, get drunk, smoke various illegal substances and apparently like to disrupt things by removing our clothes and doing random things in public. We're given our first real taste of freedom in college, and it's kind of like gaining superpowers. Some choose to use their freedom for good and become responsible overachievers, while others use it lay waste to their childhood.

It's a hard balance to find, and it seems like a lot of college students lead double lives as both the focused academic and the young adult trying to enjoy their youth. There are moments when you feel like you really have everything in your life together, when you're sitting in class participating in a discussion and you know what you're talking about and you're passionate about it. You feel smart, you feel like you deserve to be in college, and you're not just some unambitious idiot here to get laid.

But then you do something stupid. You wake up and discover you've slept through the class you've already missed three sessions of because you were sick. You go to the mall and realize you should have been working on a project that was due the day before. You have to drop a class because you're not doing well. You fail to get to your advisor on time. You spend the week hanging around your friend's place instead of writing a paper. You lose paperwork. You accept a mysterious, unlabeled brownie from somebody and there goes your productivity.

None of these seem like particularly terrible offenses, but when it happens, it can make you feel horrific. You desperately want to prove to the world that you are a responsible, intelligent human being, but you can't seem to stop yourself from being stupid.

We live in a very contradictory environment. We constantly point out that academics don't mean everything. How many times have you heard that Einstein did poorly in school? And yet, we put so much emphasis on them. It's like it doesn't matter how responsible and overachieving you are...except that it defines the rest of your life. You can't sit there after doing something stupid and try to comfort yourself with "Einstein did poorly in school" because, you know, you're not Einstein. The sheer amount of people who seem to balance being stupid and intelligent at the same time would seem to negate the idea that it can't be done, and it makes like you feel like you don't deserve to be considered intelligent because you can't.

Of course, none of these observations are particularly unique. We all know that college students are stupid, and that the ones that succeed are the ones that manage to rise above the typical stupid college kid cliche.

It's lent right now. I don't observe it, I'm not a Catholic. But I do live with one, and I know that, on a basic level, it's about resisting temptation.

College is like lent.

You're suppose to give up being stupid, being irresponsible, and being immature. You're supposed to devote the energies you would use to pursue these vices towards focusing on your schoolwork and being a responsible student. Some people, the faithful and the focused, pull this off beautifully and manage to avoid the things they're supposed to, and find ways to enjoy themselves in the process. Others fail miserably.

The question, like the question of accidentally eating meat on Friday, is whether or not giving into the temptation to be irresponsible makes you a bad person.

I don't think so, but that's just me. I'm in college, I'm an irresponsible idiot. Who knows if I'm right?

This bit of college angst brought to you by,