Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Little Sidebar, If I May Be So Shameless

Last night, in the subway station, I saw an unusually large crowd gathered to watch some performance or other. This was unusual not only because the crowd was really really big by Times Square standards---most performers get a polite ring; this one was three or four deep, crowded together---but also because it was in an unusual place: the hallway to the S train, where buskers rarely go. All I knew was, there was this huge crowd of people all standing in my way, craning their necks to see something, and "Thriller" was playing on some nearby boom box.

So I approached and discovered---how can I express this?---a midget dressed like Michael Jackson (from the early-white period of '91 or so; glove, hat, loose hair dangling on one side of his face). He was breakdancing, moonwalking, the whole shebang. And alas, the song ended as I got there, so he said, "Thank you, everybody, it's been an honor performing for you"---and then he started passing around a hat. (Not the dress-up hat; a crappy money container.) So I never got to see if he was also lip-synching.

And although I had my camera phone, I actually resisted taking the picture. It was a surprising reaction. Apparently, there are some freak shows even I feel guilty about watching.

Now I realize that the term "midget" is considered offensive, and they prefer the term "little people." Or so I am told. But of course the problem with "little person"---aside from the fact that it's a helluva lot less funny to say, which I'm sure is the point---is that it's maddeningly unspecific. When you say "A little person kicked this other guy's ass," you have to stop and think, "Do you mean a little-person little person, or just a smallish guy?" Polite is polite, but doggone it, all short people are not midgets, and they don't have a right to claim such a sweeping term.

So from now on I'm going with "dwarf." It seems to strike the proper balance between absurdity and technical accuracy. And of course you'd want to use the term "little person" for people with dwarfism whose difference you'd rather not call undue attention to (like the people on A&E's "Little People, Big World," which is a really fascinating show if y'all ain't watching). But goddamn it---if you're going to dress like a tiny Michael Jackson, aren't you kind of playing to the "midget" type? Wouldn't it be just as insulting to use "little person" to describe the dwarf minstrels on The Man Show or Mind of Mencia or---god help us---the movie Little Man, which opens this weekend and bids fair to ruin what remains of our standing in the world? In fact, hell with it, here's the way I'm gonna break down my usage:

Midget: a little person who's selling out for laughs
Dwarf: a general descriptor to emphasize the oddity of an encounter with a little person, or to avoid the awkwardness of "little person"'s general-sounding unhelpfulness
Little person: a dwarf I actually know, or whose dwarfism isn't the current point of discussion.

A dwarf Michael Jackson. Only in Vegas, I thought. But I guess I was wrong.

P.S. On another surprisingly current dwarf-related matter, this past weekend I saw a brief documentary on The Wizard of Oz, and was surprised to discover that---at least as of 2001, when the doc was made---at least five of the Munchkins were still around (and that's how they apparently like to be identified). They include (or included) the coroner who pronounces death on the witch ("she isn't only merely dead/ she's really quite sincerely dead") and one of the original Lollipop Guild members. And here's a fun fact: For most of the Munchkin's voices, what they did was record the dialogue in real time, but speaking very slowly, and then they sped up the tape to make their voices high-pitched and (to my ear) really, really grating. But there is one line of Munchkin dialog where the actor actually got to use his own voice: the fellow who says "We thank you very sweetly/You killed her so completely" and hands Dorothy the flowers. He's still alive too! And, if I remember the documentary correctly, has an incredibly thick German accent.


Anonymous sherod said...

....but did he look like the guy who played willow?

7/11/2006 11:32 AM  
Anonymous Mark Newhouse said...

Google video here:

Midget Michael Jackson

7/11/2006 2:00 PM  

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