Saturday, November 28, 2009

Movies I have watched so many times I may now be embarassing myself

Wow, it's been almost six weeks since I've posted here - but I have a good reason, and I'll write about that another time. Right now, I'm thinking about (as I put one of them into the DVD player) 10 movies I have watched so many times I begin to think I am demented.
What is it about certain movies that makes you want to watch them over and over - when there are surely plenty of other movies you've never seen once that are worth seeing? Why would I invest yet another 2 hours in watching one I've already seen when there are both well-known and undiscovered masterpieces unviewed?

I will ponder these questions as I make this list of ten (representative but not comprehensive) and maybe an answer will define itself.

1. O Brother Where Art Thou?
Coen Brothers. George Clooney's funniest role ever. Kickass soundtrack. Who wouldn't want to watch it 17 times? Or 117 times? Enough said.

2. The Wizard of Oz
OK so sure, I watched it a dozen times before I was 18 but so what? I'd watch it again right now. Classic in every way, and even more so because all the actors in it were sure that it was stupid and sure to be a flop when they were making it, and because all the little people were pervy and troublemakers, and because it has so much history. The editing is perfect and the fllying monkeys still scare the crap out of me.

3. Amelie
Could any movie be more perfectly imagined? Could anyone be cuter than Audrey Tatou?

4. Singin' in the Rain
The zenith of the movie musical - all the pieces fall together so easily. All I ever wanted to be was Gene Kelly, so I am still working on the moves.

5. Rock Star
Super-underrated 2001 flick with Mark Wahlberg and a sexy Jennifer Anniston -produced by Clooney - that tells an inside showbiz story so well - combining the passion performers feel with the cynical reality of the business. Heartfelt and real and fun every time.

6. Gladiator
Shouldn't be a guilty pleasure since it's a Ridley Scott film and a Best Picture winner, but bottom line still really commercial so I need to feel bad that I like it right? Perfectly shot, perfectly scored, perfectly edited. Joaquin Phoenix at his best and before he went off his nut. What more could I want?

7. Waiting for Guffman
For theatre nerds this movie creates the possibility of a an aneurysm from laughing too hard. And the danger increases with every viewing. Christopher Guest's best to date IMHO.

8. Duck Soup
Before I wanted to be Gene Kelly (or George Clooney) Iwanted to be Groucho. Even taught myself to smoke cigars in preparation. Duck Soup is the ultimate insanity and anarchy that the Marx Brothers created - they were outside law and convention and hilarious at the same time.

9. Saturday Night Fever
Actually kind of choppy and flawed in a number of ways, like a lot of 1970s movies, but compelling all the same. Unforgettable to me in that it always reminds me that the first time i saw it I knew that something had changed in pop culture and things would never be quite the same again. Also notable in that Travolta was prettier than any of the women in the movie.

10. Battle of the Bulge
Always watch it when it comes on TV because my dad used to say "Maybe I'll see myself" when it was coming on. Took me a few years to figure out that was a joke, and yet I always watch it thinking somehow maybe i will see him after all.

This list could go on and on I think. But what so these over-watched movies have in common? Laughs? Comfort? Great timing? Zeitgeist?

What are your movies you've watched so many times you feel strange about it?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

New pandemic: Inanity. Way worse than that hog fever


AVOID SWINE FLU! DO NOT LICK PIGS!!

Being the kind of guy who needs to feel plugged in all the time, I use Google Alerts to send me news stories about Napa. Back when I was on the radio every day, it seemed essential to have a fairly good idea of what the heck was going on around town, and ever since I started trying to know what's going on, people started expecting me to know what's going on, so now I actually need to know what's going on, or else I will let everyone down and I can't have that on my conscience. Expectation created, expectation pending, expectation must be fulfilled, or else I lose face. Tools like Google Alerts make it a lot easier to stay informed than it used to be (and a lot cheaper than using a clip service.) In my job with the City of Napa, then, I continue to try and have a clue most days.

So my Google Alerts generate these emails that have headlines and a few sentences from online news stories. All of these stories have the word "Napa" or the phrase "Napa Valley" in them. The majority are from the good ol' Napa Valley Register, and I have usually read all those stories, but the Google Alert also catches stories in the Bay Area press and online newspaper content from all over. Typically, it's a travel story about visiting Napa Valley. Always enjoyable to read those and see what restaurants are hot, and which hotel is hip (or really discounting like crazy) at the moment. (I also get a certain number of news stories that have to do with NAPA Auto Parts, and stories about a beach resort called Ayia Napa in Cyprus, and now and then a story about a boxer named Ian Napa. Amazing the things one may learn about without any desire to learn them, isn't it? I suppose if I created Google Alerts for a dozen other keywords - teakettle, rutabaga, oxycontin, hair plugs, Jimmy Durante, for example - I could expand my knowledge in many directions with very little effort. Or I could put all those words into one Alert so I would only get stories that contain every word. I wonder how many times I would get a message that someone has written a story involving teakettles, rutabagas, oxycontin, hair plugs and Jimmy Durante? My old junior high science teacher taught us that maxim about "possible" versus "probable" - that if you had a million monkeys with a million typewriters it was possible that one of them would type out the entire Bible. Possible, but not probable. But today with the internet, I think we do sort of have a million monkeys with a million typewriters, more or less, so there is probably someone out there who is writing regularly about Jimmy Durante and how he considered getting hair plugs but gave up the idea during his oxycontin addiction years - a habit he only kicked by drinking rutabaga tea. But I digress.)

So today my Google Alert merrily popped up in my email box, and there was a story that mentioned Castle Rock Cabernet. I don't know much about Castle Rock other than the fact that they make one of the best cheap everyday grocery store pinot noirs, but the name caught my eye so I clicked on it. What I get to then is something like "Tom and Judy's Wine Blog" (and I wouldn't link to them if I could find it because I wouldn't want Tom and Judy - if that's even the right names - to read what I am about to write because it might hurt their feelings) which turns out to be a very sincere, straightforward, well-presented blog that tells us all about the cheap, grocery-store wines they've been drinking, paired with something like tuna noodle casserole. "This big fruity red wine stands up well to the amazingly oversalted Hamuburger Helper and Rice-A-Roni feast that Tom I enjoyed while watching Wheel of Fortune," it very well might have said, but don't quote me. My brief glance told me that Tom and Judy were steadfastly blogging about their $10 bottles paired with TV dinners just about every single day.

Now it's all well and good for any citizen of the world with rudimentary language skills and at least dial up to write and post any damn thing they want. It's a free country, and thank God Al Gore invented the internet for us, I say! However, while this kind of "citizen journalism" may be self-satisfying, and fun, and sort of a hobby and all that, it is also overpoweringly inane.

(Let's pause a momemt and ponder this wonderful word - "inane" meaning silly, pointless, empty, fatuous, vacuous, complacently and unconsciously foolish, asinine. It's a beautiful word to use with someone who is being it. Usually someone who is being inane will not have the vocabulary to know what inane means, so you can call them inane and they will look somewhat puzzled but not offended.)

This deluge of inanity we're living in today is difficult to escape from. If it's not somebody's inane blog, it's the inane post on Facebook like "Off to the dry cleaners!" or some mouth-breather talking endlessly about sports. I don't care how much you know about sports - more than thirty seconds on any sports topic is about twice too much. And then there's politics - a topic everyone seems to think they need to spout off about. Truth be told, if you don't have an original idea - that being something you thought of yourself - chances are the talk show host you're parroting said it better when you heard it in the first place, so I generally don't want to hear your version, bub. Having survived what I think was a bout of the hog fever, I feel strong but I am not sure my immune system can handle the inanity pandemic.

Before your nostrils flare in disgust and you cleverly decide to post a comment saying "Hello Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle! Your blog, sir, is as inane as they come! How dare you! When you point your finger remember there are three other fingers pointing back at you!" Before you post that, just keep in mind that I already know all that. But at least my fingers just got a good workout.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How I Survived a Chilling Three-Day Ordeal!


Throughout the annals of history (and it is in the annals where all the best history happens) there have been many well-known stories of survival against the odds. The Israelites and their forty days in the wilderness - that soccer team whose plane crashed in the Andes and went cannibal - Dick Cheney toughing it out in his undisclosed-location bunker - all inspiring in their courage, fortitude and sheer will to live on! Nothing, however, can compare with the horrendous crisis from which I have just escaped...

THREE DAYS WITHOUT FACEBOOK!!!

That's right, my friends - three long, anxiety-wracked days and sleepless nights deprived of my social media of choice. A 72-hour soul-searching test of resolve. A gut-wrenching off-line stress-a-lapooza!

How did I do it, you ask? Draw nigh and hear my tale of woe.

It all started with an email. An email that looked fully bogus, in fact, telling me my account was disabled due to my violation of the FB terms of service. I'm sure you, like me, have read, understood and memorized the terms of service, which prohibit harassing people, stealing other people's intellectual property, taking more than nine quizzes in one day, and posting porn, among other offenses. I have never done any of these things. OK, I have harassed a few people, but they have all been close friends - and deserving of harassment for sure. I harass because I love! But in the realm of the online brigands I am as innocent as a babe. Honestly, officer.

So I get this email and just ignore it, in part because I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, and in part because I could still log on. And we all get so many scammy, manipulative emails I was sure this was just another in that vein. Unfortunately, to my dismay, it was all too true. (Dah-dah-daaaahhh!)(That was dramatic music.)

Fast-forward about 18 hours. It's mid-day Monday, and suddenly I can't log on. I CAN'T LOG ON! A message pops up when I try to, and it says my account has been disabled. DISABLED! Imagine the weakness in my knees, the lump rising in my throat, the anguished cry welling up from the deepest crevasse of my being! "Save me!" I wailed, "Don't make me go back to MySpace, there's no one there!"

And so began my journey through the fire, my three days as Job. So began the endless hours during which I had no way to know who had joined Farmville, who was seeking weaponry in Mafia Wars, who had thrown a sheep at me. Endless hours of having no clue who was excelling at Bejewelled Blitz or who had taken the "How much do you know about (random person I hardly remember from high school) quiz?" Endless hours when I lost touch with the extreme political views from both left and right, boiling down complex concepts into single sentences with lots of !!!! Endless hours of just not knowing who was thinking "Time for lunch" and "Off to bed" and other deep thoughts that I wanted to share in. Try to imagine my misery.

So this episode of feeling violated will take its place alongside getting burglarized in the night while we slept upstairs, alongside getting our bank accounts emptied by some identity thief, and alongside two or three occasions of someone stealing my credit card number. (Do I have a big "kick me" sign on my back?)

To make a long story longer, I will simply say the problem was suddenly resolved and my account was restored. I have been exonerated of wrongdoing by the Gods of Facebook (perhaps aided by the intervention of a highly-placed FOAF - thanks Katherine) and yet I have no idea of what prompted the whole kerfuffle in the first place. And so my beloved Facebook is back - and just in the nick of time, because I was right on the verge of actually doing something productive.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Men are scum but Nick Hornby's ok and so is Glee


This just in:

TLC drops Jon and keeps Kate:TLC says the new show, which debuts November 2, will be "Kate Plus 8."


Let me be frank here - I have never grasped the pleasure of watching these people try to manage their lives with 8 freaking kids running around. And the few times I accidentally glimpsed some of this "reality" show, it always seemed like mom and dad were barely tolerating each other. So it came as no surprise that this guy was getting some side action. I mean, even the most devout husband would be looking for any excuse to get out of the house that had 8 freaking kids running around with poopy diapers and snotty noses. Granted, he should have joined a fantasy football league or taken some night classes or something rather than go on the make, but there you go. Men are scum, we all know that.

So now TLC can spin the whole thing into much more of a soap opera that it was before. I bet the ratings go through the roof if we have scenes of them yelling at each other, her throwing his clothes out on the lawn, him trying to turn the kids against her. A beautiful American tableau in the making.

And speaking of dysfunctional men, Nick Hornby's new book is just released and my copy showed up in the mail today. It's called "Juliet Naked" and I have no idea what it's about but I know it will be good, maybe great. Hornby never disappoints. OK, I overstate. "The Long Way Down" was a long letdown, but only because my expectations were so high. When you have written things so touching, like "About a Boy," and so heartfelt and true like "High Fidelity," you can leave your fans with some fairly high expectations. And somehow his good books become good movies, instead of "not as good as the book" movies. The guy has a magic touch. Writes a lot, writes well. Cheers, Nick, and I hope Arsenal has a good season for you.

And now looping back to where I started, I am starting to get the feeling that reality TV could actually be starting to peter out - and from my lips to God's ears! I know, I know, there's a lot to be enjoyed in watching people break each other's hearts, cheat and lie to win money, and suffer through weeks of public weight loss. But just spending a little time watching something like "Mad Men," "Sons of Anarchy," or "Glee," (shows within my reach with the basic cable and hulu.com that are my lot in life today) reminds me that reality is no replacement for fiction. Reality is just not all is stacked up to be. And besides, we all know they're feeding lines and situations to those reality show people anyway. It's just an unsophisticated script performed by amateurs. Reruns of "The Sopranos" never looked better.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Because you never know


"'In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."
-Benjamin Franklin, 1789

Death and taxes. Inevitable. (How about death BY taxes? Some would say that's about to happen, too, but that sounds like the start of a political rant and I've lost all enthusiasm for those.) Funny that these two things we all know are so certain are the things we are so poorly prepared for most of the time. I mean, after all, you know you have to file by April 15 every year, and yet we still file extensions and fuss over it another six months. Human nature, I guess. And no surprise that so many of us shuffle off the mortal coil and leave it to others to pick up the pieces. When the eternal footman holds your coat, by the way, no extensions can be filed. Unless you have a really, really good CPA.

I had my little glance at mortality a few months ago when I joined the melanoma club. Made me take notice of things left undone. And lately it seems like people are just gone all too suddenly, unexpectedly. Napa lost a really good man this week, just 56 years old. (RIP Chris) There are no guarantees of living to your dotage (universal health care or no) - no guarantees of waking up tomorrow for that matter, or even making it to the other side of a busy street. We're all just hanging by a thread. So a person should be prepared.

To that end, I blog my last will and testament. Not a legal document, perhaps, but if it becomes my lot to take the dirt nap on short notice, here's the way I'd like it to play out:

1. Salvage the parts: take anything that's usuable and give to someone who needs it. I believe in recycling.
2. Into the fire: in my view it's an uncalled for trauma to the living to prop up the dead for display in a box. Just burn up the used meat sack and let a nice picture of me - something entertaining - be the remembrance. Apologies to the bottom line of the funeral home and the casket makers. It's pointless, but if you want to scatter my ashes I'll take Shubert Alley.
3. Whistle past the cemetery: graves and headstones are great for genealogy but otherwise just creepy and sad. Who wants to remember the dead by standing in a graveyard? Skip it.
4. Take care of the little ones: Flowers are nice but buy some for yourself, someone who can enjoy them. Money for the grandkids college fund is a lot better, meaningful gift, don't you think?
5. Party on, Garth: A lot of people have "a celebration of life" that is too much like mourning and not a lot like celebration. When I'm having the big sleep I want everybody who knew me - check that - everybody who liked me, let's say - to have a great big raging fucking party. A party with a lot of loud music and loud laughing and very loud drinking. A party where the cops come two or three times, like a fire that just keeps reigniting. That's how to celebrate, I say. So that you have such a bad hangover the next day you feel sorrier for yourself than the poor bastard who kicked off.

That's all there is to it. Simple last wishes. Party it up and move on. The best remembrance for anyone's passing is to take an even bigger bite out of life the next day and live with joy. Because you never know.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A bunch of things I like

I haven't had any dog bites or bee stings, but for some random reason I feel like making a list of a few of my favorite things, in no particular order, and here she goes:

1. Almonds
2. When people laugh so out of control they snort
3. That first morning it smells like fall, or spring, or summer, or winter
4. Email
5. Manhattan (New York, not Kansas)
6. A long, heavy overcoat
7. When somebody drives one deep and everyone rises to their feet all at once
8. Sleeping with the fan on. And the TV. And hitting the snooze button a lot.
9. Reaching a par 5 in 2 (setting up a 4 putt)
10. Frank Capra movies
11. The sound of a cello
12. The memory of sneaking a look at a Playboy magazine as a kid
13. Fighter jets in formation
14. When little kids laugh so hard they lose all bodily control
15. Manzanita
16. Good pinot noir
17. Sondheim
18. The vegetarian burrito at Soda Canyon Store
19. Making people laugh
20. Buying a gift for someone I love
21. The first pass with a new razor blade
22. High speed trains
23. A perfectly struck bicycle kick
24. Mockingbirds
25. T.S. Eliot
26. That feeling of barely controlled panic when you walk out on stage in front of a live audience
27. Fedoras
28. Turning up the music in the car until the mirrors are vibrating
29. A quality smoke
30. Soft lips
31. French fries in a paper cone
32. Nick Hornby
33. When a blog post is finished

Monday, August 31, 2009

Because you really don't want to take your laptop into the john


It was random but today I got an email (by mistake, I think) and someone sent me this news story with the headline:

Newsstand sales of US magazines drop 12 percent

NEW YORK (AP) -- Consumers are buying fewer magazines at newsstands given the deep recession and the availability of plenty of free reading material online. An industry group said Monday that single-copy sales tumbled 12 percent in the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2008. That followed a year-over-year decline of 11 percent during the second half of last year.

Some group called the Audit Bureau of Circulations (and don't you wish you had THAT job!) gave out these numbers

...Cosmopolitan is still the most popular magazine at newsstands, though sales fell nearly 8 percent to 1.6 million. In overall circulation figures, Playboy and TV Guide Magazine fared the worst, down 9 percent and 10 percent, respectively. People magazine's circulation fell nearly 5 percent and Reader's Digest saw a 3 percent decline.

And so here's the list - what America's reading. It may come as a surprise that we're still reading anything at all, but the magazine survives, more or less. This is a list of our most popular magazines right now, followed by a number of smart ass remarks:

1. AARP the Magazine (Ok, isn't this magazine, like, free? Something they send you when you join AARP, which is something you join so you can get discounts at Arby's? Should this count as a magazine at all? No.)
2. AARP Bulletin (Ok, more of the same shit, This list is really stupid so far.)
3. Reader's Digest (Stupidest magazine ever. Packed with inane advice, predictable humor, and maudlin sentimentality, all written with a third-grade vocabulary. When I have an appointment at Kaiser I devour it, nonetheless. So comforting.)
4. Better Homes and Gardens (They actually are still chopping down trees to print this?)
5. National Geographic (OK, first magazine on the list that is not a total embarassment to have in your home. And yet off the scale in boredom inducement. I mean, you've see one primitive culture, you've seen them all. If I want to see backward, unwashed tribes I can go to a Raiders game.)
6. Good Housekeeping (A magazine for people who find Better Homes and Gardens too challenging. )
7. Woman's Day (About 4 million people are still reading this. Hello? It's 2009.)
8. Family Circle (Are you fucking kidding me?)
9. Ladies' Home Journal (That's it, I'm taking poison. Goodbye, world.)
10. AAA Westways (This one comes free with AAA membership, right? Doesn't count.)
11. People (Utter waste of time with zero cultural or social value. How completely irresistable and brilliant!)
12. Game Informer (First one on the list that stumped me. As you might guess, it's a magazine about video games. Good to know not all people are wasting their time with Reader's Digest and are spending their time more wisely with --- oh, never mind...)
13. Time (former news magazine that is now sort of a preachy and annoying version of People, with "news" about things that happened two weeks ago and about which you already read everything relevant a week ago.)
14. Prevention (A magazine about - preventing things, I guess. I am all for that. Things should be prevented. I think.)
15. Taste of Home (Had to look this one up. It's a recipe/cooking mag. First recipe I saw had Roman Meal bread as a key ingredient. Where's that poison I was taking?)
16. Sports Illustrated (Finally a magazine worth having! Pictures of people playing sports for 51 weeks of the year, and nearly naked women for one week a year. Mirrors the average American male's ratio of sports watching time to sexy time - 51:1.)
17. TV Guide (Consider: This publication is the same thickness today where there are 937 TV channels as it was 30 years ago when there were three TV channels. Still, it's remains an essential tool for those who just can't figure out what's on the goddamn TV without a magazine.)
18. Cosmopolitan (Amazingly, the same magazine printed 12 times a year, just with a different cover and a new name for the quiz each time.)
19. Southern Living (What the hell is published in Southern Living? "Scatching Itchy Tick Bites: Up and Down or Side to Side?" - "Okra vs. Grits: A Redneck Side Dish Throwdown!" - "Getting Your Baptist On")
20. AAA VIA (More free crap.)
21. Newsweek (See Time)
22. Maxim (Originally a sort of Playboy for younger guys, with a painful monthly effort to be edgy and hip and current. What do you mean, "just like this blog?" That's just mean.)
23. AAA Going Places (Stop it with the AAA shit!)
24. AAA Living (I mean it!)
25. Playboy (Thank God this bold defender of the First Amendment survives so we can all just read it for the articles!)

So there you have it. No Atlantic, no New Yorker, no Wired, no Utne Reader, no Harper's, no Vanity Fair. Also, no Popular Mechanics, no Popular Science, no Psychology Today. This list is, with only a couple of exceptions, a direct relic from 1965. The more things change, the more they stay the same. I'd like to write more but there's some compelling reading in the latest issue of the AARP monthly - something about how to stay young through righteous indignation and sarcasm.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Mindless, the Witless, and Jean-Paul Sartre

When I was a senior in college majoring in theatre, my directing class project was a play called "No Exit" by Jean-Paul Sartre. This was a precious choice, a choice fraught with meaning, because I needed so much to do something outrageous and avant garde and non-Midwestern. This was the choice of a pretentious young guy who wore 1940s suit coats from the Goodwill and smoked Gitanes and Russian cigs with gold tips and came within a hair's breadth of donning a beret on several occasions. So for making a statement, "No Exit" filled the bill.

The play is about three people who find themselves in this - place - and gradually discover they are dead. (Kind of seems like a plot you've seen before, right? Like on "Twilight Zone" or something? But I think Sartre may have been first out of the gate with this setup.) There's a man and two women, and the man is tormented by the fact that one woman rejects him heterosexually and one rejects him homosexually, and the women reject each other, too, and it's all so very French because it's all so sexuality based and they all realize they are in Hell and Hell is a place where you are sexually frustrated for eternity, sort of like real life. Fun stuff! Barrel of laughs! Sarte is the not the kind of guy you'd want to have a beer with. Too much thinking, too much angst. Smile, J.P, is it all really that bad? Actually, for him I think it was. His thesis in "No Exit" was essentially that "Hell is other people."

Let's face it - the man was onto something here. Other people can create Hell in the living world in so many ways! By teasing, tormenting, withholding, withdrawing - by embracing, absorbing, assimilating, smothering - by ignoring, neglecting, negating - by judging, condemning, disapproving. And these are just the emotional Hells, not the financial Hell, physical Hell, or the other many and various Hells that we can become caught up in.

But, jeez, such a heavy opening! Am I channeling Sartre? I intend instead to speak of other, more mundane Hell makers in our world - namely, Mindless Pausers and Witless Phoners.

Mindless Pausers are a special subcategory of Slow Walkers (previously chastised here.) MPs are most often found offending me at the top or bottom of an escalator, staircase, or elevator ride. The MP gives no thought to the other people behind them on these conveyances - he/she just stops flat at the top of escalator, or one step from the elevator door, and stands and rubberbnecks around, and hasn't a care for the dozen(s) of others behind trying to get somewhere. Advice to the Mindless Pauser? Get your lame, thoughtless ass out of my way! I KNOW where I'm going, and if I don't, I KNOW I am going to act like I do and keep striding on somewhere. If you are truly confused, move off to the side and figure it the hell out. The Mindless Pause in the midst of a flowing crowd is comparable to stopping your car in the fast lane on the freeway to read your map. Pull off on the shoulder, you inconsiderate goofball! Seasoned travellers prefer to keep moving - ala "I'm lost but I'm making good time."

The Witless Phoner is a newly developed species of human who loses 98% of their bodily functions when their cell phone rings. Sometimes a Witless Phoner becomes a Mindless Pauser as a result of the "my phone is ringing!" paralysis - legs stop moving, body becomes rigid, WP digs in the pocket or the purse, traffic stacking up in every direction, phone finally comes out, call gets answered, WP stares off into the distance as if they're alone on the moon. This sequence of events seems to occur often in doorways. "Here's a good place for me to stand - right here in this doorway," muses the WP. Studies show it actually is possible to move while talking - it IS possible to explore one's pockets and maintain leg function - it IS feasible to be at least semi-aware of one's surroundings during periods of consciousness!

Alas, perhaps I ask too much of my fellow man.

Monday, August 3, 2009

How the snooze button brings joy into my life and other thoughts on sleeping alone


One of the most profound changes that occurs when you end a long term relationship is the sudden discovery that you are alone in the bed. This is assuming, naturally, that you slept in the same bed in the first place, and didn't have separate rooms, Rob and Laura Petrie twin beds, bunk beds, hammocks, or some other crazy arrangement (because married or otherwise partnered people who don't sleep together is just really weird to me.) And it assumes that you or your partner wasn't always on the road, passed out on the couch downstairs, or in jail most of the time. In other words, that you are used to having your SO (male, female, canine, feline, amphibian, whatever) in the bed with you a lot. And then suddenly you don't.

Early in a relationship there's nothing better than slipping between the sheets with that wonderful person of apparently questionable judgement who wants to share the bed with you. Nothing better than whispering under the covers, a little tickling, throwing a leg across, spooning. (Mental imagery note: at this stage we're focusing on human-on-human interaction and have eliminated the canine, feline, amphibian, and whatever from the picture - but then again, whatever floats your boat, you won't get any judgementalness from me.)

As time passes things change. Maybe it's not a turn on just to get into the bed anymore, maybe there's some snoring going on and some showering not going on, maybe somebody greases up their face every night or wears a mask, or starts having recurring dreams where you are the pinata. But there's still some comfort level to it. A familiar smell, rhythm of breathing, someone to cling to when you need it. As a character I played recently put it "...in the winter there was always someone there in the bed to warm up my cold feet on." (Wonder why she left him?)

And at an even later stage, you may discover (and your partner may discover it too) that what you do together in the bed is not sleeping at all anymore, but just an ongoing pursuit of sleeping, because the other person is tossing and turning or grinding their teeth or stealing the covers or is relentlessly gassy, and on some occasion you are along on a trip and have the best night's sleep in years and you wonder "maybe I could sleep again if I had the bed all to myself...?"

So then one day your LTR is over and you have no SO. Maybe you are now SOL or AOK or even LOL over this turn of events, but in any case you are AITB (Alone In The Bed. I made that one up myself.) This condition may result in depression, crying jags, self medication and other consequences, but one thing you cannot deny - you now have lordly control over the temperature, sound, the covers, the mattress real estate, and lo and behold, the alarm clock. I discovered this joy most recently, when I indulged in a full hour of snooze alarming. I always seem to get the very best sleep, and sometimes the coolest dreams, in the nine minutes of snooze alarm bonus time - but if you have a bed partner who doesn't share your POV on that one, it's trouble right here in pillowtop city.

When I tote up the balance sheet, it comes out this way - in my new solo world I am sometimes alone, sometimes frustrated (ever try to put a bandaid on your own back?) , always poor, but by God, I can hit that freaking snooze button as many times as I want! Little victories are important.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My two cents on the topic of online dating

There's something really "special" about putting yourself out there for scrutiny in a public way. I do it in my job, I do it in this blog, I do it on Facebook, I do it as a performer - and in all those formats I am completely comfortable. Online dating, on the other hand, is different. You present yourself - not a character, not the "you" of your job, but your very own real self - and implicitly ask "Do you like me?" It is appallingly direct. When you pursue dates in more traditional ways, like hanging out in bars or clubs, you can always pretend you're not there for that reason, if you need to. "I'm just here with my friends, and I am not interested in dancing with you, thanks" - that's plausible in a bar. But once you show your face on a dating website, you're undeniably in the game, and you are undeniably seeking approval. I hate it. But crap, how the hell do you meet people otherwise? It seems like the thing to do these days.

So as with all subjects, once I have become involved with something new it only takes a few weeks for me to be an expert on it, and begin to bloviate and pontificate and just generally be an ass about it, because that's how I roll. Now at the risk of alienating every woman who might otherwise respond to me in the online dating world (those who have not already been alienated, of which there is a large and growing number), there are just a few small observations I feel compelled to make from a man's perspective.

1. If I send you a fricking email, have the common courtesy to reply in some way. Any way. Acceptable replies include "I like you, let's meet up" or "You seem like a delightful individual but I don't want to meet up, even though I fear this bad decision will haunt me the rest of my life" or "Blow it out your ass, your pontificating douchebag." No reply of any kind? Weak at best. You lack typing skills? You lack reliable internet connectivity? You lack manners? Weak.

2. If you want a guy to ask you out, I'm not sure if best to start out your online profile by saying you're looking for your "life partner" or "the last relationship of your life" or "soulmate." I mean, if you want to smother me, just grab a sheet of plastic and get to it. Otherwise lighten up just a bit and let's have coffee or something to start - the "soulmate" action can wait until the second date at least, can't it? How many guys do you think are logging on to look for the "last relationship of their lives"? They mostly just want to get laid.

3. If you're posting a bunch of pictures of yourself in groups of other people, figure out a way to identify which one of them is you, for crying out loud! You may have said you're a 37 year old blond with blue eyes, but if you post a picture with five blue eyed blondes, which one are you? Like, I see there are several people standing a hundred yards from the camera, and you're all wearing ski goggles and stuff, so all I know from this is that you ski. And then there are 10 people posing at some party - which one are you, the one with the 20 year-old hairstyle or the one who looks really drunk? Never mind, I don't care anymore.

4. Speaking of pictures, you might want to evaluate how many shots of your dog or cat that you are posting. I know, I know, you love your cat. I'm sure your cat is just swell. But 4 or 5 photos of your cat tells me you have too much time to take pictures of your cat, ok? It tells me you've already found your "life partner" but you just don't realize it.

5. Ditto the extreme travel photos. I see you on top of a mountain, skydiving, scuba diving, heli-skiiing, running a marathon, swinging on a vine in the jungle, dancing with Masai warriors, carrying exhausted Sherpas AND their packs - let's face it, I am intimidated, ok? And more exhausted than those Sherpas. Do you ever just have a pizza and some beer?

6. Be brutally honest in the selection of your "body type." This one is tricky. I described myself as "about average" because I could afford to lose a few pounds and I think this describes the average American guy. I'd be better if I lost 15-20 pounds. Maybe "a few extra pounds" would be my better description. I would never call myself "athletic" even though I go to the gym and play some sports sometime, and I wouldn't even consider going for "toned." So if you describe yourself as "a few extra pounds" but your pictures say you're traveling about a buck eighty-five, and you'd be better off 50 lbs lighter, we're off on a bad foot on the honesty scale.

I think the "body type" description has some inevitable truth in it. At least for women, that is. Guys may be describing themselves with utter frankness. I don't know, I'm not reading their profiles. But body image issues are mostly women issues anyway, because most guys think they look great no matter how many lbs they're packing. (Maybe women are just not good enough at self-delusion.) But anyway, here's what I think the labels really mean - this is the actual truth:

If you say you are
"About Average" then that probably means, that you, like me, need to lose a few pounds, which is just a way of saying you're kind of fat. So "About Average" = kind of fat

If you say you have
"A few extra pounds" then you see that you are fatter than the average fat American, so in reality you are really fat. Therefore, "A few extra pounds = really fat.

If you say you are
"Curvy" you are probably really fat. The male equivalent choice here is "stocky" which also means you are really fat.

The reality is that there are probably people who describe themselves as "athletic and toned" or "slender" who also are really fat or at least kind of fat. These may be the same people I've heard about who post pictures of themselves from 20 years ago - as if that ruse won't become apparent in the first 20 seconds of the first date. No doubt, a great way to start a new relationship - demonstrate that you are either delusional or a liar. Go get 'em, tiger.

Allow me to weinie out enough here to say there's nothing wrong with being a little fat or a lot fat. God knows I have been in both those categories most of my life. The point is, why do you want to lie to people who you are asking to like you?

So there - some of my verbose tips on online dating. I mean after all, if your relationships were all working out great you wouldn't be there in the first place, right? So why not make a fresh start and picture yourself as a person in touch with reality. Who knows, maybe it will work?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Our appalling progeny

Taking note lately of how mortified young parents are of their children's behavior, and feeling compelled to say "it's ok, young parents."

We've all had the opportunity to witness the fits thats little kids throw. In the line at Target, at a restaurant, parking lot, nursery school, or just in the living room when friends are visiting - there is no physical place that is off limits to the toddler. It's one of the blessings - and curses - of being that age. There are no limits, no dissembling, no "acceptable behaviors" - you might say the only time in our lives when we are truly, completely real and honest and expressive of our true self? The id in charge? "Looks like a good place and time for a tantrum!" they say to themselves, and the next thing you know it's a full-blown case of the crazies. I guess there are some people who continue to get all id as adults, but hell, you're supposed to have some self control when you're all grown up. Unless you want to end up on "Cops."

But when it comes to the kid throwing a fit, is it a little like "Rashomon"? Each person's experience of the same event would be described very differently? Lord knows we've all had that thought "Would somebody please just shut that kid up!" While someone else might be thinking "Oh, that poor kid, she's just exhausted." And another person might say "Why is it that some parents just don't know how to control their children?"

I have been on several sides of this equation - I've been the parent of the spazzy child, I've been the grandparent of the spazzy child, I've been the uninvolved observer - a long time ago, I was the spazzy child myself - weren't you? And wasn't that painfully judgemental person who's shooting daggers at the young parents, wasn't he/she the spazzy child once too? Fascinating how your perspective changes as you fill each of these roles.

My latest conclusion is that we are all way, way, WAY too bothered by the kid throwing the fit, especially those young, inexperienced parents. Those young parents get that embarrassed face on, that "just shoot me now" look - as if this kid that's all red in the face and shrieking is from some other planet or possessed by the devil and can't possibly be the fruit of MY loins. And you know they're thinking sometimes that they must be the worst parent in the world, and "where did I go wrong?" and "this kid is in for a long life full of detention and juvenile hall" and "for God's sake, this CAN'T be MY kid!"

The truth is, that IS your kid, and you were just like that once, and just about every other upright citizen around us was just like that kid once, and whatever judgmental person around you who makes you feel bad about was just like that kid once, and you should just smile and say "I love that child."

As the saying goes, "we'll all laugh about this someday."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I hope I annoy you as much as you annoy me

Many people are recipients of transient hateful juju from me in the course of daily life. There's the twit in the grocery line who waits until the clerk announces a total before they even begin to look for their wallet, surprised (again!) by the need to pay for the stuff. There are the hosers who can't figure out how a 4-way stop is supposed to work. And dimwits who talk in a movie theater like they're sitting in their living room. All these primitive forms of life get just a fleeting moment of being despicable to me. But there is a special category of annoyer for whom I generate hour upon hour of fresh brewed hatefulness - the person sitting next to me in an airplane.

There must be no common life situation that creates more consistent dissatisfaction than air travel. Let's face it, every aspect of it sucks hard. Having to ride shuttle buses or return rental cars, schlepping bags around, worrying about your 3 ounce fluids, standing in the ticket line, standing in the security check line, fighting through piles of baggage to get a spot in the airport bar, weather delays, no room in the overhead bins - it's just a cornucopia of irritation, and all that before you even get to your seat. And then when you finally do make it to your seat, there's that person (or if you're in the dreaded middle seat, two persons) who have been assigned by God to be my nemesis - the Person Sitting Next To Me. The PSNTM. I hate you.

There have been rare exceptions to the "I hate the PSNTM" rule. Family, mostly, but a few times a person who was actually thoughtful, friendly, and smelled okay, as well as capable of conversation. Otherwise, the PSNTM is a universal cipher, a person just taking up space (especially on the arm rest) and being one of several annoying things:
  • (a) too fussy, ringing the flight attendant constantly
  • (b) too fidgety, some kind of tweaker who can't sit still
  • (c) too out of it, verging on comatose, sleeping with their head on my shoulder
  • (d) too friendly, trying to talk to me when I don't care
  • (e) not friendly enough, acting like they don't care when I try to talk to them
OK, PSNTM, some part of me knows you are an actual human being who has a family, who has wants and needs, a life outside the airplane, in fact a person who may be delightful to know, a charmer, a mensch, a person I would love to have as a cherished friend. But as long as you are the PSNTM I hate you. The best you can ever be to me is a minor annoyance. It could be Ghandi next to me - just another irritating PSNTM. And hey, Mahatma, your newspaper is infringing into my tray table space, shape up. (Note: if I have met you in the airport bar before boarding, and if you flirted with me (females only, thanks), you may be something better than a minor annoyance. No other exceptions will be made.)

I understand and accept that for the PSNTM I am the PSNTM. I understand and accept that on any given flight I may be (a) (b) (c) and/or (d) and maybe (e) and other letters for the PSNTM. Someday, when I become enlightened, I may not intrinsically hate the PSNTM. And I hope everyone else becomes enlightened and no longer hates me for being the PSNTM. I will keep that hope alive, but I will not hold my proverbial breath.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The King is dead, long live the King


OK, I just turned on the TV and Larry King is getting reactions to Michael Jackson's death by interviewing Jesse Jackson and Donna Summer. I mean, that puts it all in context, you know? I can't wait to hear who's next. Can I?

OK, take two. This week, three celebs have passed on - Ed MacMahon, Farrah Fawcett and now Jacko. It's snarky to be rude to the dead, but if we're honest here, we're talking about three iconic pop culture figures who were sharing about 1.3 person's worth of talent. Ed McMahon was a lovable guy who's only real talent was being in the right place at the right time - that is, connected to Johnny Carson when Johnny hit the big time. And Farrah's biggest talent was the ability to grow a nice head of hair. Ok, she was a hottie in her time, and I had her poster on my wall like 92% of the rest of male America at that time, but she couldn't act, or sing, or dance her way out of the proverbial paper bag. She may have been, the least talented of the original "Charlie's Angels"and that's no mean feat. She may also have been one of the first truly talentless celebrities, a category that is now filled to the brim with the empty suits of reality TV, one trick ponies, and random nimrods having their fifteen minutes of fame.

OK, take three. Michael Jackson did have that special something that makes someone a star. He was magnetic from the age of 11. You wanted to watch him dance and hear him sing. And he took that gift and over 10 years turned it into something kind of sick and perverted and weird. And then over the next 20 years he went from kinda weird to seriously weird and then spun off out of normal earth orbit into the realm of Howard Hughes and Elvis and Elizabeth Taylor and the other elitely freakishly rich and famous, (Note to self: Quit wishing to be freakishly rich and famous.) You lost me, Michael, about 1975, but I hope you RIP. Perhaps you had too much talent to ever be really meaningful, really good, really happy. Anything that comes too easy is not worth having.

Ok, take four. All these people were just doing the best they could. They gave us some pleasure and to some degree suffered, along with prospered, as a result of the personalities they became. Being famous is not an easy gig. Making a lot of money does not offset the psychological damage.

OK. Take five. I have mourned this. Let's move on. How do you think Shaq will fit on with LeBron on the Cavs?...


Sunday, June 14, 2009

How my vanity may have saved my life, or at least made it a lot better

Resolved: I am vain. I readily admit to being "excessively concerned of (my) own appearance." I have, for as long as I can remember, wanted to look good. Maybe being a kid who got called "fatty" when I was little contributes to placing an importance on looking good. Or maybe it's my general and ongoing need for approval. In any case, I am vain and I try to make myself look as good as I can.

Resolved: I have a lot of moles. The brown spots on your skin, not the little varmints under the lawn. You can't choose the distribution of your pigment, so what are you going to do? But moles are more than just blips on the radar, they can be annoying to shave around, and as time passes they can get bigger or hairier or just sort of more noticeable in a negative way.

All that said, a few weeks back I started noticing a small mole up near my left eye. It seemed to look different than it once did, and maybe a little inflamed. So being vain, I called up the dermatologist at my HMO and asked if they would snip it off for me.

The doctor checked out this thing (not a mole actually but some other kind of skin thing) and said sure, I'll get rid of it, and no, it's not anything to worry about. But he also wanted to give me the once over, and when I took off my shirt he spotted a couple of moles that looked suspicious. Out came the tools and a few minutes later he's cut one off my abdomen and one off my back. He tells me they are probably nothing but he will call if there's any trouble.

I didn't think much of it. I have never been a big sunbather, and having a couple of funny looking moles out of my crop of dozens, maybe hundreds - well, odds are there are going to be some that look funny. That doesn't mean I've got anything wrong with me. Does it?

Phone rings while I am vacationing in New York. Doctor tells me the biopsy says the mole on my abdomen is a melanoma. He tells me it should be ok, it's been caught early, no chemo needed, but he needs to take a pound of flesh to make sure it's all gone. (Ok, he didn't say a pound of flesh but I have to use my drama major knowledge for obscure references now and then.) So just like that, I have cancer. I am reading things about "survival rates" and whatnot. As the song says, what a difference a day makes.

Melanoma is caused by UVA and UVB rays - they think. But it's also possible to get it in places that never get any sun. Some people say even one really bad sunburn as a kid can set you up for this cancer later. I definitely had a few sunburns over the years - maybe you did too.

Melanoma is the worst type of skin cancer. If you don't get it early, it can burrow down and get you into all kinds of trouble. Odds are I will be fine and this will not be the thing that kills me. But it does feel like the Grim Reaper sort of waved at me from across the room.

Moral of the story #1: Check yourself.
Moral of the story #2:
If I had not been vain and wanted to get a blip off my face, this cancer could have gone unnoticed for a long time - maybe too long. So maybe being vain is not the worst thing in the world?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A-hole of the year nominee right here in Napa

This story by Mike Treleven appeared in the May 28, 2009 edition of the Napa Valley Regster...
"Napa County jail is a far cry from the honeymoon suite at a tony wine country inn and spa.

On Tuesday around  5 p.m., Napa County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a call of a fight behind the Villagio Inn & Spa in Yountville.
A woman told deputies that she suffered a cut lip and bruising on her face in a fight with Sean Morris, 27, of Sarasota, Fla. Morris was booked into the Napa jail on suspicion of felony domestic battery. The couple was visiting the Napa Valley on their honeymoon and had gotten married here on Saturday, according to the sheriff’s department."
OK. Let's first clarify that there's nothing humorous about male on female violence. Or female on male violence. Or violence, period. That said...
WTF? Dude, you have JUST been married. You have spent a fair piece of coin to have your honeymoon in Napa Valley. You have probably been enjoying some of the best scenery, food, wine, and (logically) sex you've ever had, because you are on your HONEYMOON. And now it seems like a good time to smack your woman in the face?? Wow, wow, wow. What happened, did she flirt with the spa attendant? Did she question your manhood in some way? Or did she really do nothing at all, but you are just an angry drunk and you like to intimidate women? Unbelievable. You hit your newlywed wife in the face on your HONEYMOON! I am sure I am the first the bring this up, but this may not be a relationship that is built to last. OK, I am sure there have been more than a few couples who have actually had a fight during their honeymooon. But by "fight" I mean an argument, not a punch out. 
I am at the "just got to shake my head in disbelief" stage on this one. 

Saturday, May 9, 2009

How I have neglected my blog and the sadness that results

So jeez, I am feeling a little contrite because I have neglected this blog. Feeling a little like I have let an old friend fall by the wayside while I have been spending all my time with someone new.I even got needled by one of my (few) readers today - "Wow, no blog post since April 2!"  Feeling a little frivolous and superficial because my good old reliable Blogger blog here has fallen victim to my other time sucks - namely, Facebook, and of course, what I like to call "real life."

Maintaining a blog is no simple task, my friend. Just mouse up there to the top of the screen, left of center, and start clicking on "Next blog." You will soon soon discover there are lots and lots people who start a blog, make two or three posts, and discover it's kind of demanding. (You'll also discover that about two-thirds of all the random blogs you'll see in the "next blog" mode are in Spanish, which I find strangely fascinating. ) Maybe those whose blogs wither realize they don't have any spare time, or their computer crashes, or (horrors) they realize they don't have that much to say after all. Depressing.

So what have I been doing with all my time when I am obviously not being devoted to this here blog? Well, my good old friend Frank in Iowa wrapped it up nicely (on Facebook, wouldn't you know?) when he wrote:

How in the world do you find the time? Work, politics, blogging, city government, golf, baseball, wine tasting, and now more acting..............what's is your secret to vitality? Must have something to do with clean air and all that quality vino you rave about...??
But of course, the answer is deeper, and less fun, and kind of sad. Somehow it's really all about the relentless, fruitless search for some kind of satisfaction that has always eluded me. Some sense of adequacy, of being good enough, that is like the classic carrot on the stick - always in sight but always out of reach.  Maybe I can be  notable golfer - or a blogger - or really know something about wine. Maybe I can lead the old broken-down men's hardball league in some statistical category. Maybe I can, in fact, act my way out of a paper bag - an underrated skill in today's world. Maybe I can do something that means enough to me that I will accept that I am adequate - God forbid, even good - at something that's meaningful to me. Time will tell. But I think the complete inability to "get no satisfaction" -  that's what gives me "vitality." Got to keep trying.  

I envy people who are satisfied.  How do I get a little of what you've got?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Straight Dope should get a Nobel or a Pulitzer or whatnot

I know it's kind of a cop out to make a blog entry that is just entirely referential like this, but it just struck me that "The Straight Dope" deserves some props. I get an email once in awhile with some SD teasers, and I almost always take a look. I mean, he/they have been at it for decades, answering the dumbest and cleverest of questions, and never losing the wit. Example:

Dear Cecil:

You may not think the following question is too cosmic, but let's face it, the topics you address in your column seldom are. How come some belly-buttons are "innies" and some are "outies"?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What's the deal with hair, anyway?...

Ever consider how much of your time and/or money you spend on hair? Hardly a day goes by you're not doing something to it, for it, about it, or with it - except on those days you can't do a thing with it. You got to trim it, comb it, brush it, shave it, shape it, smear something into it, wash something out of it, cover up the gray in it, curl it, straighten it, apply a chemical to make it grow, apply a chemical to make it fall out, or pluck it out by the roots. Ever stop to consider why we even have the stuff all over us in the first place?

Most of your basic animals that have hair have it all over. If hair is there to keep your body warm enough, it makes sense to have it all over the place. Take a look at your dog. Unless he's got the mange, or he's neurotic and chewing himself raw, he's got hair all over the place. Wouldn't Rover look silly if all he had was a patch of hair on the top of his head and some tufts between his legs? And maybe a little strip of hair under his nose? What a buffoon.  But that look is perfectly acceptable for your Uncle Melvin. Is there some evolutionary logic that explains the "little bit here, little bit there, whole bunch in this spot" condition of hair on the modern home sapien?

I've read somewhere that some specific crops of body hair serve to capture phermones or something. This is essential to attraction, so you might want to think twice about shaving yourself totally and looking like an alien. But riddle me this, Batman - what possible virtue can be derived from the hair that sprouts out of men's ears? If having a mass of hair inside your ear is a good thing, why don't kids and women have it?  You can make a case for nose hair having a purpose - to trap chunks of stuff you don't want to suck into your lungs - but what's with the hair in the ears? If you believe in "intelligent design" over evolution, then is ear hair just one of God's little jollies? Are you having a laugh, Yahweh?

(For those readers who would like to exit here and avoid the rant that is in the roadway just ahead, check out Why Mammal Body Hair Is an Evolutionary Enigma which is actually on a creationist website. I am a Darwinite but always like to read what the other team is saying, even if they're nimrods.)

Now to get more to a practical point on this all-important topic, I invite all of you of the male persuasion to take a good hard look at some specific hair locations and consider your options. Namely, the ear, the nose, and the eyebrow. We all have our opinions about the hair on the head and beards and whatnot, and I will not venture to pass judgement on what any individual prefers in these areas of personal fashion statement (although I will suggest that the dude working at the shoe store last week sporting the full-on Wolverine hair and mutton chops might want to just dial it back a notch unless you are getting paid to appear at some comic book convention) but at the same time, I think there are some hard and fast rules that need to be laid out in regard to the ear, the nose and the eyebrow. (The Ear, The Nose and the Eyebrow - wasn't that C.S. Lewis?) 

Rules on ear hair, nose hair and bushy eyebrows:
Rule #1: Cut it
Rule #2: Cut it some more.
Rule #3: See Rule #2.

Let's face it, while you might be able to make a feeble case that there's something commanding (Stalin) or whimsical (Mark Twain) or mystical (Gandalf) about bushy eyebrows, you've also got Andy Rooney as the offset. Do you really want to look like Andy Rooney? And the monobrow? Please. You don't want to pull them out one-by-one or get waxed - ok, I understand that. How about just lather up between the eyes and take the razor to it? Something must be done. And as far as the ears and the nose go, well, boys, you've just got to get in there with whatever implements are handy and just slash and burn, and you've got to do it just about everyday. The ear hair is like kudzu, it grows about four inches a day in some specimens. Just because you can't see the side of your head and that rain forest of vegetation filling your ear canal, that doesn't mean the rest of us can't see it. 

 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Acting gay


If someone told you to act like a gay man, what would you do? Chances are your first thought - if you are not, in fact, a gay man - has something to do with a limp wrist. Maybe you conjur up an image from a movie - Nathan Lane or Hank Azaria in Birdcage, perhaps, or some cabana boy character. Pretty easy to act like a gay man, right?

I am cast as a gay man in a Neil Simon play called The Gingerbread Lady. (Start shameless self promotion) Opens April 3, 2009 at Dreamweavers Theatre, Napa CA. Call 255-LIVE for tickets. (End shameless self promotion.) This play was written in the early 1970s, almost 10 years before Harvey Milk started making history in San Francisco. There were not a lot of openly gay people portrayed in theater and films then, so I imagine it was a little bit outrageous at the time. The character even calls himself "a flaming queen" in one scene, and the dialogue certainly confirms that description. 

So an easy part, right? Just "gay it up" real good. Pour on the affectations. Hmmmm. I'm having something of a conundrum over it. The problem is, the director has updated the script to the modern day. Today we see a lot of gay men portrayed so there is no novelty in it. And more troubling, none of the gay men I have ever known behave in the exaggerated way that fits with "acting gay." (Well, maybe a couple.) But is it right to play the stereotype, even if that's what the writer created and what the audience expects? Can you play someone who calls himself "a flaming queen" with some subtlety, and avoid turning the character into a cartoon? 

If you will forgive me for making a comparison that involves a really good actor, it's a little like Robert Downey, Jr.'s character in Tropic Thunder ("the dude disguised as a dude playin' another dude!") in which he is a white actor playing a black man. The white actor's concept of a black man is full of cliches and stereotypes that are offensive to the real black character in the story. I keep thinking about that as I do my "acting gay."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Capitol of the World


In about 24 hours I will get on a plane and shoot through the night and when morning comes I will be in the most exciting city in the world for me - New York, New York.

A trip to New York means theater to me. My first two visits in the late 70s gave me the unquenchable memories of seeing an unknown young actor named Kevin Kline on stage with a Broadway legend John Cullum and an understudy, Judy Kaye, who would become a substantial presence in her own right. The show was "On the 20th Century," and I still remember the chill that ran through me when the orchestra kicked off the overture. I said to myself "I am seeing a Broadway musical!" Not bad for a hick kid from the sticks with a bad case of the theater bug.

My mental scrapbook from that far-removed time includes recollections of being in the audience for Frank Langella's star turn as "Dracula," Blythe Danner (when she was known for more than being Gwyneth Paltrow's mom) in Pinter's "Betrayal," the original cast of "Deathtrap" in a late-night benefit for Actor's Equity where the crowd was made up mostly of people who didn't get to see the popular shows because they were in one of the popular shows, and, the penultimate experience for me, the original cast of "Sweeney Todd." I saw a little-noticed musical called "Timbuktu", a re-working of "Kismet" directed by Geoffrey Holder, who made a piece of change and became forever stereotyped as the "Cola nut" guy from some silly TV ad, and a musical called "Strider" that seemed really good to my young eyes but played to a half-empty house and closed a few nights later. More recently, the viewing experiences have included "Rent" and "The Producers" performed by the third, fourth, fifth-string casts, and the compelling Pulitzer Prize-winning "August: Osage County." In the next 96 hours I will spectate and absorb three more New York theater experiences, and my life will be a little better for it. When you're a junkie, you just got to have your fix.

And yet New York is so much to so many - so much more than the legitimate stage. There's Lady Liberty, and Central Park, and bialys in the delis, and the Public Library, and St. Patrick's Catherdral, and Bleeker Street, and the Guggenheim, and - well, where to begin, where to stop? An endless feast for all of the senses, 24/7.

You may not have noticed my restraint in writing about Manhattan and not using the phrase "the Big Apple" even once. That's only because that nickname is only one of so many that deserve a mention. Even a simple Googling reveals no less than 98 Nicknames for this wonderful place, a few of which are worth repeating here.

  • Gotham (name given to New York City by Washington Irving in the Salmagundi Papers, 1807)
  • The Bagdad of the Subway
  • The Bagdad on the Hudson
  • The Big Burg
  • The Big City
  • The Big Town
  • The Center of the World
  • The City of Cities
  • The City of Golden Dreams
  • The City of Light
  • The City that Belongs to the World
  • The City that Never Sleeps
  • The Cleanest Big City in the World
  • The Crossroads of the World
  • The Cultural Capital of America
  • The Empire City
  • The Entertainment Capital of the World
  • The Fashion Capital of the World
  • The Fear City
  • The First City of the World
  • The Frog and Toe (?)
  • The Fun City on the Hudson
  • The Hong Kong of the Hudson
  • The Information City
  • The Land of Surprising Contrasts
  • The Melting Pot
  • The Metropolis
  • The Modern Gomorrah
  • The Money Town
  • The Super City
Let the fun begin. I will bring you a T-shirt if you're good while I'm gone.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Foul language" makes me laugh


Note: The "dirty" words used in this post are only suitable for an "adult" audience. This, of course, is really silly, because anyone who was actually an adult wouldn't get nearly as many laughs out of the subject matter, so I don't know who this post is suitable for. Maybe you? Maybe no one.

Most of my most crisp foul language just comes blurting out without any thought at all. In fact, if I ever stopped to think I probably would choose other, non-"dirty" words. But there is that moment where someone is just driving so stupidly, meandering all over their lane, or going 55 when every else is going 80 (ok, maybe it's just me that's going 80) and suddenly the word "dickwad" just comes flying out of my mouth.

That happened the other day, and I got to thinking about the word "dickwad." An odd concoction, when you consider it. What exactly is a wad of dick? Likewise, "fuckwad." Hmmm.

Urban Dictionary provides 3 definitions for "dickwad."
  • An idiot. More powerfully insulting than its predecessor 'dickhead'
  • A worthless piece of shit. Also known as a wad-of-dick.
  • Commonplace reference to George W. Bush
Ha! Pretty funny for a dictionary!

Both "dickwad" and "fuckwad" have a certain quality of humor that is hard for me to pin down. And like a lot of other insulting terms I enjoy, they have no clear basis from which to become insults. Not sure why, but both strike me as funny, as do some very specific other naughty terms, to wit:
  • douchebag: an actual functional item which a human person does not want to be.
  • dipshit: who the hells knows where this originated?
  • asswipe: compares the inflictee to toilet paper?
  • tool: clearly defines one who is clueless, perhaps having the mental activity level of a screwdriver?
I would like to add some new, crisp, funny bad words to my vocabulary so if you know some, please shout them at me when you are driving.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Money can't buy me love


Somehow, somewhere in my ramblings on this blog, or maybe on some Facebook note, I gave someone the wrong impression.

I hate it when I mis-communicate. I mean, that's what I do - I communicate for a living. So when I get it wrong, I feel bad. Or badly. A person who communicates for a living should know the grammar. Oh well.

The problem, I am told by a friend, is that I wrote something about money. I think I may have said that I "needed more money." Unfortunately, someone has interpreted that as meaning that I don't think my job pays me enough money. Truth is, my job with the City of Napa is a very good job and I am lucky to have it. Truth is, my living situation has changed recently because I am now a separated person and because of choices I have made it now costs more money to continue living and cover all my obligations. Truth is, I need to find a way to make a little more money to cover all those obligations. That's all.

So I am hoping to find some kind of weekend job or something where I can make a little more money, so I can continue to live my life and pay all the bills and everyone can be happy. Or maybe a sack of cash will fall out of a Brinks truck and try as I might they won't take it back. Or maybe I will learn how to cook meth. That's all. I don't know.

I hate poor communications, and I hate misunderstandings, so I hope this clears up my situation. For more information, call 1-800-Barry'spersonallife and press 2#.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

When plenty is never enough


I've been thinking a lot lately about the need for approval - why some people seem to have zero need and others have an unquenchable thirst for it. I admit I am closer the the latter description than the former.

It's easy for a person to say that they don't care what other people think, and I've known a few who really walk that talk. People who wear outrageous clothes they find in dumpsters, and take part in role-playing games in the park, on one extreme - or who are complete sociopaths who have no conscience whatsover. But I think most people who say they don't care what other people think really do care - maybe more than the average person. That act of being defiantly bold and unique and living by some unspoken personal creed is in itself a seeking of approval for being defiantly bold and unique.

For those of us who are somewhere in the "mainstream" (whatever that means anymore) there's no denying that we are seeking approval constantly. To get the approval of your friends by wearing the current fashion, listening to the current music, seeing the hot new movie - to get the approval of your family by graduating, ascending, achieving, marrying, reproducing - to get the approval of your circle by espousing the political maxim of the week and jumping on popular bandwagons , to get the better grade, the sleeker car, the tres chic shoes, the latest set of irons, the promotion - all, to some degree, attempts at validation by someone other than yourself.

For me the approval I seek is almost always about making people laugh. If you've ever seen a two or three year old child do something that makes a group of people laugh, and see the child's reaction - typically to try and make them laugh again and again - then you can agree that the desire to entertain is innate in at least some of us. There must have been some time when I was a child when I got a good laugh, and that became my drug of choice. Fairly obvious I guess, for someone who fell in love with theater and made a living on the radio.

But the need for approval runs much deeper and becomes its own problem. Some part of me still seeks to know that my long gone father approved of me - a man who did not know how to give his only son a hug or say "I love you." Is that a gap that can ever be filled? Some part of me seeks constant approval that I am not too fat, that I am at least an above average golfer, that I am an insatiable tiger in bed, that my thoughts are deep enough and my circle of friends is wide enough.

It's not as if I don't get enough pats on the back. In fact, I often feel I get more than I deserve. But plenty is never enough. If I cannot achieve approval on my own terms - to approve of myself - can there be relief from this need?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I'll stimulate you if you stimulate me


So Barry Obama (I like to call him "The Big O" now) is talking up his economic stimulus plan. Looks like we're going to get stimulated to the tune of $820 billion. Or is that $820 trillion? $820 octillion? Is that dollars or pesos? Well, who's counting? Wait - maybe that's how we got into this mess...

Anyway, this whole stimulus thing is way too complicated for a simple guy like me, but the way I understand it there are several methods my government can use to stimulate me:
1. Give me some of somebody else's money. Democrats favor this approach generally, and most everybody likes to get some of somebody else's money. Except the "somebody else" who has their money taken.
2. Give me back some of my own money. Republicans favor this approach generally, and I like this but I would just as soon have some of somebody else's money. Either way works, just as long as I get some more money.
3. Print some more money and set it out on the streets in big buckets. Neither party has really suggested this but I think it's a good idea. Have trucks with bullhorns and a guy on a mic saying "Fresh new hundreds! Bucket of money here! Come and get it! First come first served!" That's a real picker-upper.
4. Attach an electrical device to my nether regions and pass a little 110 through me. This probably won't do much for the economy. This kind of stimulus is mostly reserved for use when we capture evildoers, like terrorists, jihadists, and Dodger fans.

Not so many years ago when I was a radio talk show host, there used to be a lot of people bemoaning the loss of industrial jobs in the economy - bothered that we weren't making stuff like steel and T-shirts and cars and crockpots and soap dishes and electrical devices made to attach to the nether regions, and selling all this good stuff to other people in the world. They used to say "pretty soon we'll all just be selling each other hamburgers."

I'm not sure if there's a big difference between the two concepts. Let's say I sell you some steel or some crockpots, and I use that money to buy some of your minivans and soap dishes. Is that really a more significant economic exhange than if I sell you a cheeseburger on Tuesday and buy one from you on Wednesday? Isn't it all the same paper trading game, the same passing around of money for things or services? Does it really matter if our primary product is coal or cuff links or pop singers or toaster pastries? There isn't much of what we buy and sell that has any real intrinsic value anymore - it's all value we place on things . And so the whole paper passing game is just peachy - until all of a sudden some a-hole decides that something on which we had placed a lot of imaginary value now does not really have that much imaginary value. Then that a-hole's bad attitude spread to some other a-holes, and lots of people start doubting the real hard value of their crockpots and hot lather shaving dispensers and - well, shit, that's a problem. The emperor has no clothes! The jig is up!

So that's where we are right now - a massive collective freak out because we stopped buying each other's cheeseburgers. So you want to fix the economy? Buy something! Now, for Pete's sake! It's just that simple. What do you mean you're being cautious? You're lacking consumer confidence? That means you are the problem! You are the root cause of this recession! What are you, some kind of communist? Get up off your wussy ass and go to the mall right now!! There's bargains to be had on ice cube trays and particle-board furniture and posters of movie stars and chewy dog treats and Magic: The Gathering card sets and six packs of crew socks and Chex Mix and bundles of toilet paper too big to fit in your trunk and extension cords and - well, you get the idea. Doesn't really matter what you buy, just buy. Buy a lot. Ask not what your country can buy for you, ask what you can buy for your country!