Growing Up Neopian

ANDREA LEE CHRISTENSEN


I don’t want to brag, but I used to be pretty big on the internet. I had my grubby paws everywhere – Fanfiction.net, Club Penguin, Xanga, you name it. But I had yet to conquer the biggest prize of them all, the crème de la crème: acquiring a Cybunny on Neopets. My Neopets login told you straightaway how aspirational I was – a social climber even at age 11: “Melea_Cybunny.” I knew that eventually, that cyborg rabbit was bound to be mine.

The trouble, you see, is that they only released a few Cybunnies at a time – unlike the plentiful masses of my other, unspecial pets. Shoyrus? A dime a dozen. Meercas? I spit on Meercas. It was harder to get a Cybunny than it was to convince your mom to buy you the same Juicy Couture tracksuit that Anna had gotten for her half birthday. I imagined the day I finally got a Cybunny would be the day my forehead acne cleared, and I would emerge from puberty reborn as a gleaming starlet who could finally stop wearing bangs. I was pretty much the second girl in my fifth grade class to get her period (poor Eunice Chen, forever known to us as the first to shed the shell of girlhood – gone so soon), and it was already awkward enough that I was sprouting boobs and sweating through my burgundy ballet leotard so that everyone laughed at my pit stains from the comfort of their young, unsweating bodies.

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But on the internet, I could be anyone. The only trace of my real-life mediocrity was the fact that my poor pets were so decidedly mundane. I didn’t even have enough Neopoints to buy my stupid Shoyru a faerie paint brush so he could have faerie wings instead of the dumb dragon wings he was born with. I sighed with jealousy at the accounts whose decked out Neopets were not only painted the most exclusive colors (using the much-coveted Christmas paintbrush, for one), but had enough coin to paint their pets’ Petpets. If that wasn’t a status symbol, I don’t know what is.

But my short-lived dream of Neopian fame came crashing down one unanticipated afternoon when my ex-best friend (don’t ask) Kassandra came over and brought with her some dreaded news: it was already too late for me. While I had been lusting after limited edition pets, the world had moved on. Now, apparently, it was “all about Maplestory” – who’s on it, and what level they’ve reached. Little old me, not even level zero, had been left in the dust. Neopets was officially dead to my fifth grade class. On to Maplestory, and with it the elusive freedom of not having to check the dreaded “over 13” box the Neopets forum required. Not that I had even summoned the courage to do that yet, but everyone knew that was where Christina from P.E. had met her boyfriend who lived in another school district. Besides, I just felt like I wasn’t ready to tackle the whole “boy” thing. Enraged, ashamed, I logged off as quickly as I could and downloaded Maplestory. As for my Cybunny dreams? Thrown away in an instant, only surviving in distant memories of a forgotten time, a forgotten place – oh, Neopia, the promised land. I don’t know what to tell you, or the Cybunny I never had. I guess I grew up. I had middle school to think about.

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Blossom: A Very Special Ep

ASHLEY D'ARCY


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Even as Dr. John sang, “Ain't no good reason for getting all depressed,” in my ear while I fired up another episode of Blossom, searching for something to write this review about, I couldn’t shake the feeling. Even when he said, “Buy up your pad and pencil,” my call to action, I was still feeling discouraged. This week, I started watching Season 2 of Blossom for the first time. I fell asleep during the first two episodes but here it was… Episode 3… The Joint!

My interest is piqued. I haven’t smoked weed in a long time. Early last year, I would get stoned every night and watch vintage sitcoms, not coincidentally. I love(d) weed but it was driving me further into my depression. I was even more depressed then than I am now as I fire up this episode of Blossom.

Blossom, played by Mayim Bialik, and her best friend Six have somehow got their hands on a joint. The episode starts with Blossom holding the joint between them outside of her house, then hiding it, preparing to go in and not rouse any suspicion from her family. Really, what would be more interesting to see is how they got the joint. (I guess that’s the plot of Superbad.) Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the writers room for this one. I must’ve been pretty knocked out those first two episodes because I’m totally surprised when Blossom’s grandfather, Buzz, is waiting for her inside the house.

Blossom and Six retreat to her room to decide what to do with the joint. “Not everyone who smokes a joint becomes a drug addict,” thoughtfully says Six. “Sometimes, they become Supreme Court justices.” I don’t get the joke. I don’t get a lot of jokes in this episode. Including when the family ends up watching Midnight Express, which gives Blossom anxiety because she’s the drug smuggler in this episode. (I caught on quickly enough.)

One thing I love about Blossom is the way watching movies factors into the plot. Someone, sometimes the whole family, will start a movie then the show will cut to the last lines of the film, or its closing music. Reactions to the film set off the next chapter in the plot. It’s just funny, mostly... the way they fake the sounds from the movie.

OMG! Blossom loses the joint in the couch while they’re watching the movie. Her dad, Nick, smells it and does something no long-haired musician who lived through the 60’s has ever done when faced with weed–he looks disappointed. Blossom sees that he has found it from the stairs, a major device in the plot of Blossom, as she sees a lot of drama that she shouldn’t be privy to from the stairs. Not unlike my childhood, really. It’s a nice touch. Anyway, it’s clear that Anthony, Blossom’s recovering addict brother, is going to be blamed for this.

Suspicion is cast first onto Anthony, then onto Buzz. This makes for an excruciating scene where Nick comes into his room and realizes he’s walked in on a sexual encounter that Buzz is having with a “67-year-old woman” who is made out to seem completely disgusting. “She looked like a raisin before she got in the bath,” Buzz remarks to a lot of canned laughter and hooting. Next, suspicion is cast onto the middle brother, Joey  he is a dumb high schooler after all and then, finally, onto Blossom. What’s made clear throughout these scenes is that even if a responsible adult once smoked weed, they don’t anymore or they only did it once and hated it.

It’s Anthony who first confronts Blossom about if the joint is hers, who responds, “I have glaucoma,” completely deadpan. I love when she’s like this. Anthony proceeds to give her a lecture about what may have been in the joint. The list includes crack, dust, and also “anything.”

"Your brain on drugs," apparently.

"Your brain on drugs," apparently.

It turns out, for some reason, that Blossom’s brother Joey has also lost a joint in the house which he admits to their father in front of Blossom. They are both *almost* subjected to a speech from Nick which starts, “When I was your age…” But he holds back and asks Anthony, the subject-matter expert in this case, to give the lecture instead. He starts, “When I was your age…”

We’re all left with this heavy-handed assuredness that the episode was not, in fact, a lecture, but a normal episode of Blossom.

And I’m left to do some research on how the Mayim (present day) feels about pot. I find myself back where I started, thinking about weed and depression.

Without ever being exposed to Mayim’s views on weed, I had a hunch that there would be content waiting for me on Gronk, oh, sorry, Gork, err, Grok Nation, the “online community” Mayim founded in 2015. While she’s open about the subject and approaches it candidly, she’s really giving me the same vibe that this Very Special Episode of Blossom did. Weed is okay, she says, it has medicinal purposes, but it shouldn’t be used by young people whose brains are developing. (Remember, Mayim is a real-life neuroscientist.) But like, okay, that’s fair but pedantic. Mayim and Blossom, the show, would both like me to believe that these are not lectures. That they aren’t just telling me “No.”

Grok Nation’s content for 4/20(/2016, a different time) is a video of Mayim interviewing her mother about weed. Mayim’s mom seems to be covering for the fact that she’s actually a stoner. She insists she doesn’t smoke but her knowledge of CBD oil and edibles betrays her. The video ends on an interesting note. Mayim appears to be advocating for the use of marijuana to treat anxiety and depression. Her mom is more cautious. “I don’t want people, especially elderly people, thinking they can just mask their emotional pain and depression by smoking marijuana.” “Don’t be masking it.” “Peace,” she adds as the video wraps.

Mayim’s mother, a counterpoint to the absent mother of Blossom in the series, actually seems pretty interesting. And don’t sue me but I kind of agree with her about not using weed to mask your emotional pain and depression. Mayim seems to have inherited more of her opinions from the trifecta (now quadfecta!) of men who, episode after episode, teach Blossom lessons about how to be a young woman.

I think I’m depressed as I write my review this week because I’m starting to see how Blossom begat Mayim. My theory from last week that there might be some salvation in watching young Mayim work through teenage foils doesn’t hold up. Watching Blossom is more like watching Mayim develop into the adult version of her character, only slightly unconventional, sterilized to appease the TV viewers, appeasing some universal father.

See you next week.

Deleted but Not Forgotten

Jenny Nelson


 
 

Ty Dolla $ign, a $elf-de$cribed "real fucking music nerd pyscho," collaborates. He's worked with Kanye, Lil Wayne, and Charli XCX, to name an extremely select few, and recently with John Mayer, a dream collab he's spoken of for years in interviews you can (2013) still (2015) find (2016) online (2017). I learned of his love for Mayer, however, through one perfect tweet you can't find: an image of Ty with YG (another Ty collaborator) and their daughters, all four dressed in all white, Ty sitting on a white amp, playing a white guitar. But wait for the caption! "Fathers be good to your daughters / Daughters will love like you do..." it reads, quoting John Mayer's Grammy award-winning single "Daughters." Recently, I went to share this tweet and found it survives only through broken-link RTs and fans tweeting the image with their own comments. One can see the caption, it seems, or the image, but not together. Panicked, I rushed to look for Dolla $ign’s Thai ice cream content. Gone, too.

NYC's first Thai-inspired ice cream roll store 10Below opened in 2015. "Bubble tea is so over," Forbes reported the following year. "The cool new trend in Asian sweets is Thai rolled ice cream." Apart from the racially sensitive generalization, I find this report inaccurate, and NYC-style rolled ice cream unremarkable, personally.

What's most intriguing about rolled ice cream is the spectacle of its preparation. After a customer orders, they watch an ice cream artist pour custard onto a frozen slab and use metal spatulas resembling paint scrapers to mix in fruit, candy, or cookies. Then the artist rolls the ice cream, packing those rolls into a cup covered in toppings of the customer’s choice. It's made for Instagram and costs around six to ten USD. Ever the penny pincher, I order myself the cheapest cup, which of course is the least grammable. My cup is worthless.

Dolla $ign can afford the grammable cups. Sometime around October 2017, he began to post them in stories and tweets. The distance between then and now, plus the sheer insignificance of this activity, the food, and the posts about it, clouds my memory. I can’t remember if he went to other spots or just 10Below, nor do I remember how frequently he went. In my mind, it’s all the time. All that's saved on my phone is three screenshots. At the time, I posted at least three on my own Instagram story, updating my followers as if it were breaking news. I RT'd all his rolled ice cream tweets to keep people in the know. At least one friend listened. When his verse in “Work From Home,” his song with Fifth Harmony, played at my friends’ wedding reception, she turned to me and asked, “Is this the ice cream guy?” At the time, I answered yes but now, I feel unsure.

It’s not just the ice cream and John Mayer ephemera he’s deleted, but they’re the ones I remember and miss. While none of his stories (impermanent) or tweets (deleted) remain, their existence is confirmed to me by the weirdest of witnesses, like fan accounts for Fifth Harmony's Lauren Jauregui, Ty Dolla $ign's girlfriend, whom he met on the set of the “Work From Home” video. One tweet I found includes a video of Jauregui from Dolla $ign’s Instagram story. The tweet is interested in Jauregui’s presence on Dolla $ign’s account, and what it might mean. I’m just looking for the rolls.

 
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Jenny Nelson is a writer and comedian whose work has been featured on The Hairpin, Funny or Die, and Splitsider. She is also co-host of a live monthly comedy and lecture series called The Simple Show in Ridgewood, Queens.

 

(Almost) Free Movies

JOHN SURICO


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Gaming the “system” feels especially good in a city built upon what seems like layers and layers of systems. Like when you find an apartment without a broker, or enter in different emails to get that first-time discounted Seamless offer every time. Or win HQ.

MoviePass feels like one of those shortcuts, something too good to be true until it is: $9.95 a month to watch as many movies as your cold, calculating heart desires, at (most of) the great movie theaters New York has to offer: IFC, the Angelika, Nitehawk, any AMC, any Regal… I could go on. And all you have to do is check in on the app when you’re at the theater, and swipe a card, like being on your phone and spending money aren’t things you expected to do anyway. For comparison, that’s at or around the price of a small popcorn and soda pop, and nearly half of what I paid to see Blade Runner 2049 in Union Square a few months back. It was a time before MoviePass—a time when all seemed bleak in my movie-going life.

But I’ve been liberated from the despair that accompanied paying more than $15 every time I wanted to see a movie. I live now in a make-believe land free of price tags, where anything is possible—at least until this insane business idea goes the way of cryptocurrency. The new Jumanji with The Rock? That superhero movie you can’t remember the name of right now? The next Fifty Shades of Grey with an even more erotic name and movie poster than the last one? Sure, why not? Who cares? Last month, I spent six hours in the theaters, binge-watching Oscar nominations like I was A.O. Scott, just because I could. Here’s something you don’t hear often: it doesn’t matter.

Sure, you have to actually go to the theater to buy tickets and can only reserve seats for a showing that same day, which means you probably won’t use this magic card to attend midnight premieres (Sorry, Star Wars fans, but you’ve got to put in the work for The Force). And sure, the app’s interface looks like it was designed on Microsoft Paint. And sure, the only way this business might stay afloat is by selling our data en masse to greedy studios who want to know anything and everything you do at all times. But show me someone who doesn’t.

If my calculations are correct (and this is pretty easy math), I’ve watched $75 worth of movies (five so far), but have only paid $20. And tonight I’ll hit $90. Because when I’m done here—and I’m nearly there, I promise—I’m going to see The Post at 7:20 on a weeknight. Without any real price barrier, movies become something you can just do; a nice, easy insertion into your routine, so much so that my girlfriend and I recently carefully smuggled our dinner into a 7:30 showing of Lady Bird.

Put simply, seeing a movie in New York is fucking expensive. And MoviePass isn’t. In fact, seeing just one movie effectively earns you money, if you’re one of the poor schlubs who is still shelling out their hard-earned cash to see a film reel projected on a screen in front of you at least once a month. Think of it as the Amazon Prime of the movies, but an Amazon Prime that isn’t destroying everything in its path—yet.

The City Of: Eyes Wide Shut

STELA XHIKU


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I finally saw Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, which although set in Manhattan was filmed in London due to Kubrick’s fear of flying. According to Vanity Fair, the highly meticulous native New Yorker “sent a designer to New York to measure the exact width of the streets and the distance between newspaper vending machines.” He constructed New York with the control and precision of a man wielding dollhouse-tweezers, but designed it to make you squint – at the Hotel Jason, for instance, which has the same iconic iron canopy as The Washington Square Hotel but is plopped in a different neighborhood, at identical deli awnings, and even at the sidewalks which feel too wide and too lonely. A friend of mine called Kubrick’s New York “a wax museum.”

This is a town where subways don’t exist, sex workers stand along MacDougal, and street toughs shove you with their elbows: “I got dumps that are bigger than you!”

As for the plot, well, the well-to-do Doctor Bill (Tom Cruise) is getting some air, having a real think around the city. It’s the march of the preoccupied – a march that’s marched by hundreds daily, pacing in detachment, alone in the clouds. Bill focuses on his feet and is wholly contained in his peacoat, except when he claps his hands at the passing of an ugly thought. His wife has confessed a sexual fantasy and he’s walking it off, turning corners, meandering repetitive lanes, his mind repeating the facts of her fantasy.

These scenes, many of which were shot using a treadmill, took weeks to film. They present New York as an conspiring backdrop, a false exit and relief, an escalation of a personal crisis. Poor Doctor Bill, adultery on the brain, doesn’t look up except to see a steamy make-out. Traffic lights accommodate his clean, straight walk except to allow the introduction of a sex worker named Domino. This is the treacherous city that panders to singular manias – one that every New Yorker occasionally occupies.

Everything moves together, and towards the same point. Even the newspaper Bill haphazardly purchases has the headline “Lucky to be Alive” and reports the death of the former Miss New York – the death at the center of Bill’s big mess. Everyone seems to be in on something. Maybe it’s Christmas? The same string of rainbow bulbs light every room. Outside, the ground’s wet but I don’t remember it raining.

Between two strolls and before crashing an elite orgy, Bill carries his anonymity as power, invisibility as invincibility, and feels mighty on account of the bills in his wallet. I’ve never seen a Bill so bewitched with what money can do. Cash is his magic trick: he opens up a costume-rental past business hours, pays Domino for services never rendered, insists that everyone “keeps the change,” and rips a hundred dollar bill in half to keep a cab waiting for him. “Let the meter run,” he says.

He feels too smooth, our guy, and New York City, the great vindicator, notices his hubris and punishes him spectacularly. Still feeling very clever for conning his way into a mansion-sex-party, Bill is publicly shamed, unmasked, and sent away. The next day, his investigation into the orgy is fumbling, actually stupid. He rushes through town, this time with real purpose, but finds his every move anticipated, worthless. Bill – in a stew, unzipped and at large, confusion and fear ascendant where arrogance once reigned – finally returns home, wakes his wife (Nicole Kidman), and sobs a confession into her lap. The cardboard New York streets are happy for a break.

In the Digital Desert

HALEY WEISS


Photo: Kyle Knodell. Courtesy of Times Square Space.

Photo: Kyle Knodell. Courtesy of Times Square Space.

In the constant battle for your visual attention, the screens of Times Square have few equals. Featuring ever-shifting vivid advertisements and streaming breaking news, they contribute to the creation of a frenetic environment—one where a naked cowboy or a demanding Elmo, seeking money in exchange for a photo, is somehow normal. The bright lights of Times Square might even be what give the transit hub and tourist trap its unique… character? (If you’re cringing right now, you’re not alone.) But floors above the hubbub, in the corner of a gallery tucked in an office building, a work of art is giving those screens a worthy competitor.

The piece in question, by Marguerite Humeau, is on view in the group show “STRAY” at Times Square Space, an exhibition area built into one of 1500 Broadway’s vacant offices. Titled Digital Desert II, the sculptural triptych stands like an altar with protective barbs at its top suggesting its defensive positioning. A pale, pixelated pattern swirls on its three semi-transparent screens, based on a camouflage print the U.S. military designed to cloak soldiers from the eyes of drones in the desert. But it can’t disguise the consumerist messages that filter through the piece, as massive advertisements just beyond the windows shine through it. The artwork elicits a feeling of both reverence and concern: is it possible today to be truly shielded from advertising?

Humeau, who’s based in London, didn’t originally conceive of Digital Desert II for this location. It’s part of “RIDDLES,” a series she began last year and showed at Brooklyn’s CLEARING gallery and Haus Konstruktiv in Zurich. She conducted extensive research on the history of the Sphinx and current security technologies, weaving a surprising narrative between the two that likens drones to “a sort of contemporary figure of the Sphinx.” The ancient mythological figure both protected and consumed people, suggesting the territory that surveillance occupies is just as treacherous: it’s equally liable to defend and attack.  

To see Humeau’s Digital Desert II for yourself, alongside works by Kelly Akashi, Ivana Bašić, Hayden Dunham, and Pamela Rosenkranz, visit Times Square Space before “STRAY” closes this Wednesday, February 7. It’s open Friday and Saturday from 12 P.M. to 7 P.M. or by appointment (contact stray.timessquare@gmail.com).

 

Before, Blossom

 ASHLEY D'ARCY


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Before a flower blooms, eventually dies, and rots, there is a Blossom. And before there was Blossom, there was the pilot of Blossom.

I’ll be reviewing episodes of Blossom throughout the month. So, let’s start at the beginning of the beginning: the opening sequence of the pilot, which aired in July 5, 1990, months before January 3, 1991, when it would be picked up mid-season for its run.

The show, if you’re not familiar, starred Mayim Bialik as Blossom, the young, strong-willed daughter of a single father and sister to two older brothers.

This pilot is the show before the show happened. Blossom is Mayim Bialik before Mayim Bialik happened.

And Young Mayim Bialik is a feminist icon. According to Wikipedia, she had a hand in deciding who was cast as her father and as her brother on the show. Plus, Blossom was originally pitched as show about her character’s brother before it became a show about her. Young Mayim saved America from a show centered on a “young Holden Caulfield” character.

The show’s original iconic opening sequence, where Blossom can be seen dancing in her bedroom, was first filmed to the the tune of Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” before the song was changed to Dr. John’s “My Opinionation,” in time for the pilot.

In the opening credits of the pilot, the new song, “My Opinionation,” is overlaid on the dance number Bialik recorded to “My Prerogative.” Her dance is out of sync, as are a lot of things in this pilot. Later in the show’s run, the original nuclear family cast would be replaced by a single father and absent mother, portrayed by different actors.

The act of watching Blossom is an attempt at recovering an innocent past. An antediluvian Mayim. A time before the PhD in Neuroscience, the NYT opinion pieces, the vlogs, The Big Bang Theory. And watching the pilot is like dipping into a primordial black hole, the kind of black hole formed during the inhomogeneous phase of the Big Bang.

Ashley D'Arcy is a contributing editor at Newest York.