Friday, September 28, 2012

Coffee Tribes of Napa: A Report

Yesterday a Starbucks opened at First and Main in downtown Napa. It is across the street from the long-time popular Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company. Reaction to the event falls into one of three categories:

1.  Cool, that's convenient.
2. There was a corner somewhere that didn't already have a Starbucks?

Having shed most all vestiges of brand loyalty long ago, I mercilessly vote with my feet and dollars in the most selfish ways; meaning, I buy stuff wherever it makes sense to me at the moment. My decision might be based on price once in awhile, but more often it's just convenience.

To wit, this morning I wanted a coffee. I proceeded to the ground zero of Napa's new worldview-meets-retail thrill ride, First and Main. Finding that I was on the Coffee Roasting Company side of Main Street and Starbucks was 100 feet further to go, I opted for the immediate solution - but the line inside was a long one. I've been in that line and it looked like 15 minutes of waiting, so I ankled on over to the Starbucks. The line was shorter. I was on my way in 5 minutes.

On the sidewalk there were two urchins (can 20-something dudes with their hats on sideways be urchins?) holding badly made signs. One said "n v coffee roasting" and the other said something like "Fuk Bucks" I think. Being curious, and interested in finding out why they were so committed to this cause as to be silently protesting, I resisted my urge to cross to the other side of the street and walked past them with my boldly-logoed Starbucks cup in hand. As I passed, one of the two said "That will give you reproductive organ cancer you know." So much for a chance to engage in a stimulating discussion about free markets.

I'm not sure how to feel about living in a society where it's come to be an important definer of self to identify with a particular brand of coffee. Folger's was always just fine for mom and dad. Maybe they knew something we've forgotten.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Theatre nerd first-world problems

Ever have a burr under your saddle about something and no one to complain to? Feel like you could Tweet it till Christmas but no one would notice? I did - a complaint about an annoying trend in live theatre. I decided to open my big fat mouth and say something about it, and wrote this piece for Howlround, which is a website for theatre nerds like me.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Beware of Greeks bearing ballots

This was NOT the "Greek" topic I was thinking of.
I was sitting around looking for an excuse for not memorizing the lines I need to memorize, and I started thinking about how I am part of a fairly small subset of American men today - those who were excited about both European Cup soccer and the Tony Awards in the same day - and naturally that led me to furrowing my brow over the prospect of the Greeks voting this week on whether to stick with the euro or not.

My life is complicated and I'm sure you feel sorry for me.

In any case, it seemed like the only option was to pour another large glass of cheap red wine and give this whole mess some thought. Strap in, here we go.

We owe the Greeks a lot. They gave us the foundation for western civilization as we know it, developing essential concepts like democracy, geometry, and theatre, and useful things like maps, plumbing and baklava.

Without the Greeks, we might not have the Olympics, and we might have never discovered columns, let alone having three varieties of them. Thank you, Greeks.

Without the Greeks, maybe the Romans would never have come along, because it seems like the Romans copied the Greeks a lot while adding a lot of fun, bloody stuff. And without the Romans, we might live in a world without all the excellent Italian stuff like Da Vinci and Dean Martin and pizza, and who wants to live in that world, right? So again, thank you, Greeks.

Here's where we get to the problem. While the Italians, over the last century or so, have given us just minor annoyances like Sacco and Vanzetti, Mussolini, the Red Brigades and The Godfather Part 3, the Greeks are on the verge of causing us some serious trouble. Later this week, the Greeks are set to vote on keeping the euro, and if they vote the way they're expected to - which means, who knows what the fuck they're thinking - we're in a world of hurt.

At the core of it we have the problem that the Greeks are leading the world now not in mathematical theorems or philosophy but in the "I want something for nothing" category. In the last couple of years, they have taken to the streets to express their staunch belief in a government-mandated 51 weeks a year of paid vacation and a retirement age of 31. If they vote down the euro, which they might do because they think it will turn back the clock somehow, that virus of entitlement might spread through the rest of Europe (except for Germany where they will turn it away with an efficiently stern look) and before you know it, we will all be taking a hit on our Facebook stock, because all this shit is somehow connected and as soon as I get it figured out I'll be too busy counting my money to worry about who's going to win the Tony for Best Musical tonight.

I understand the Greeks. They're saying, "Hey, I am descended from Euripides and Demosthenes and Pericles and we invented ALL THOSE COLUMNS so you owe me, mister! If I wanted to work hard I'd be an 8 year-old Chinese girl, ok?" And I get that. I can imagine what it feels like to know your best days were 2,000 years ago when you kicked some Trojan ass.

All the same, the whole inter-connected planetary economic system is in need of some confidence right now. Maybe for just a week the Greeks could be as apathetic about voting as Americans?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

White male speaks out about bias

As an old, white, hetero male ("Four strikes and you're still not out, cracker?") I have no place taking part in any discussion about bias. But I will anyway, because, as history shows, the world needs old, white, hetero males to wander into problematic situations and quickly assemble solutions before toddling off to the club for a tot of gin.

The problematic topic is gender bias in the theatre. Yesterday I attended a breakout session on this topic at the Theatre Bay Area annual conference. The very engaging moderator, Valerie Weak, is an actor who has started keeping track of who has a penis and who has a vagina in various productions, from the author to all the production staff to the actors on stage. She does this tracking on her blog here, and while the stats don't paint a picture of complete insanity, it shines a light on some odd things that are going on. In general, women have less opportunity to take part in theatre than men, and that seems to apply at all levels, and it gets worse with the larger, more influential professional theatres in the country.

Most anybody would say that fits somewhere on the scale of wrong/bad/illogical/stupid/frustrating/crazy. Women are a heck-of-a-lot more likely to like, think about going to, and actually buy a ticket to see live theatre. So it makes sense that plays should be a heck-of-a-lot more likely to be written, directed and acted by women, right? That just makes business sense. And women are half the people in the world, right? So at least half the stories told on the stage ought to be written, directed and acted by women, right? That just makes every kind of sense.

What gets interesting is picking at that easily-cheered-for crust to see if there's some juicy bits of fruit underneath. For example, examine the question, "Why do women go to live theatre?" Do they go to see something that would be defined as "a woman's story?" (Some attendees in this breakout session seemed to have a clear idea of what this means but I don't.) Or do they go to see a human story? Or do they, like the two women next to me at a recent production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, go to the theatre to say oooh and aaaah at the bare chest of a particularly hot version of Brick. Broad classifications of people and their desires, motivations and natures, based on their ethnicity, sexual preference, age, or gender, always make me nervous. That's what happens when you're an old, white, hetero male that watches Glee. Pigeonholing feels uncomfortable.

Another juicy hunk of fruit there: one of the attendees in the session made a statement to the effect of "I have nothing against male writers - I love Tennessee Williams as much as the next person." This was said without irony, as far as I could detect. And yet Williams wrote some of the most compelling female roles in the American theatrical canon. In selecting plays, would a theatre be doing a disservice to women to choose a Williams play versus a play written by a woman? Granted, most of his plays have more male characters than female characters, but is that simple math the best calculation of value?

The same conference attendee spoke up on speaking out to theatre companies when they survey patrons for what they want to see. "Don't do Red!" she suggested as a survey response. "Don't do Art!" I'm keeping in mind that people don't always say what they mean in spontaneous conversations, but did she really think there's no place for a play like Red only because it's written by a man and has two male roles? Did she really believe Art should not be produced because it has three male roles, even though it is the kind of play about relationships that women allegedly come to the theatre to see? And would she want to diminish the achievement of the woman who wrote it?

Bottom line: I read and see plays because I want to feel something. I want to mainline a bit of distilled human condition. I want the joys and failures and pathos and agony and perfections of life to be played out for me with the kind of truth that's missing in "real life." I don't care if the play is written, directed and acted by women, men, women who identify as men, men who identify as women, hermaphrodites, trained fleas, or Catholics. I just want to feel something. If, along the way, I laugh, learn something, am compelled to raise my eyebrow or flare my nostrils in disgust, all the better. But at no point, whether the play moves me or not, will I be thinking about which people in the production chain have a penis and which have a vagina.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Five utterly random items of an entertaining nature, just because I love you

From "News of the Weird":
... in Tacoma, Wash., in March, corrections officer Alan O'Neill, 41, was charged with bigamy after his long-estranged first wife found out about the second one when Facebook suggested the two be "friends." - KOMO News (Seattle), 3-9-2012
From The Telegraph:
Forced to choose between her man and her scaly reptile's health, Lizzie Griffiths chose the latter. The 25-year-old schoolteacher from the London area paid approximately $4,700 so George, her bearded dragon, could get chemotherapy for tumors in his face.
"George will always come first." Griffiths told the Sun. "I fell in love with George the minute I saw him and knew I'd do anything to look after him properly."
Chris Fisher, who's been in a relationship with Griffiths for 10 years, understood the warm affection that Griffiths has for a cold-blooded creature."They have a special bond." 
From USA Today:
A Denver woman has been charged with perjury after a judge heard her admit on a local talk show that she had worn offbeat clothes and pretended to be mentally ill to get out of jury duty in the judge's court last summer, KUSA-TV reports.
From the Uncyclopedia:
James Brown's Chicken Soup for the Soul is a collection of short stories, poems, and passages designed to inspire and uplift readers the world over. Specifically, the collection is geared towards readers seeking "soul," and also those who wish to become "super bad." Unfortunately, the works herein were compiled late in James Brown's life, long after his days of intelligible speech.
From the personals in the London Review of Books:
Woman, 35. Large untapped reserves of buttock and frontal lobe.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

We'll be right back after this

If you'd like people to actually pay attention to your blog,
and possibly even read it, I suggest the gratuitous use of this type of photo. 
I was in the radio business for a long time. I usually say I was in commercial radio, to distinguish that form from public broadcasting. "Commercial" was the key word. Back then, public stations didn't air advertising like they do now - they just mentioned grants and foundations now and then in thankful, well-modulated tones. Over in commercial radio, we were all about the advertising. Ads paid our tiny salaries, and if you had good ratings and people liked you, maybe you could make a few bucks on the side endorsing someone's pizza place or auto shop.

Commercials were important. We debated the proper length of commercial breaks for different programming formats, how the breaks should begin and end, whether we could make more selling two 30-second ads or one 60-second ad. We set rules for the maximum number of commercial minutes per hour you could get away with and still have an audience - and then immediately broke those rules when the commercial log was full but another car dealer wanted to get on the air to push their big weekend sale (which often came with yet another exciting (?) live radio broadcast from the car lot, during which we would entice customers with the irresistible offer of "free hot dogs and balloons for the kids." It was a fundamental belief that the American consumer will do just about anything for a free hot dog, even subject themselves to the charms of a used car salesman.) I remember a peak period when we were cramming in 22 minutes of commercials each hour on the morning drive show. That was great, because it told us we had a show that was so popular that businesses just HAD to have their ads on the air - but it made me wonder how it could be popular, or even tolerable, with more than a third of every hour made up of sales pitches.

This concern seems rather quaint by today's standards.

Somewhere along the line, we were introduced to the concept of the "program length commercial." This was, in the beginning, a special thing that was ordered by an ad agency to run in some low-profile place in your program schedule, like after midnight or really early on a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon. A reel-to-reel tape would arrive, and if it was scheduled during your shift on the control board, you'd string it up and take a nice 30-minute break to raid the break room fridge, or talk to your girlfriend on the phone, or slip into another studio to record yet another commercial. These program-length commercials were sometimes like lectures, sometimes a type of fake interview, and usually tried to masquerade as an actual radio program that just happened to mention some specific product over and over because it truly was "amazing" or "miraculous" or "a hidden secret." They were generally unlistenable, and it was embarrassing to have them airing on a station you were programming, because it meant you were so desperate for money you were willing to whore out your airtime to just about anyone for any purpose.

This concern seems rather quaint by today's standards.

Today, due to the rapid advances in the sophistication of our culture (ahem), the program-length commercial - renamed the infomercial - is as common as dirt. They air at all hours of the day and night, on just about every channel of radio and TV. What was once whorish is now acceptable and standard practice, even desirable, sort of like women's fashion. As a result of my habit of sleeping with the television on and waking up at odd hours to ruminate on the meaning of strange dreams and prowl for just the wrong thing to eat at three in the morning, I have discovered there are endless hours of infomercials now populating scads of bandwidth - even entire television channels devoted to them entirely.

Just last night (or was it early this morning?) I found so many viewing choices!

Insanity Workout. Brazil Butt Lift. Best Vacuum Ever! Cindy Crawford's Secret. Sexy Faces 2012. Best Pillow Ever! (I am attracted to programs that have exclamation points in their title!) Malibu Pilates. Healthy Powers of Juicing. Amazing Cookware! Instant Tummy Tuck. And lots of shows about the abdominal muscles, like Rock Hard Abs Fast, Hip Hop Abs, and, my personal favorite, Carve Abs in Bed. I've been waiting for a surefire workout plan that doesn't require me to get out of bed. Finally!

A man by the name of Newton Minnow was once the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. He made a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters which contained a phrase that became famous:
"When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland."
That was in 1961.

He was concerned that this phenomenally powerful new media was not being put to it's best and highest use. This concern seems rather quaint by today's standards.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Reflections on the pending zombiepocalypse

Based on the recent alignment of Mars, Venus and the crescent moon, a series of revelatory dreams I have experienced, and the news that Adam Sandler has a net worth of $300 million, it is apparent that the long-awaited and overdue end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it is about to commence in the form of a chaotic zombiepocalypse.

Evidence abounds that the brain-devouring undead are increasingly emboldened and unafraid to walk among us in the light of day. The most recent examples include the brazenly destructive and pathological behavior exhibited by Courtney of the current season of The Bachelor; the inexplicable rise to fame of singer Lana del Ray; and, of course, Mitt Romney.

Further evidence of the aggressive new zombie behavior and invasion into the world of the living came to me during the writing of this essay, in the form of an email that reads:

"I'm walking around wi t h a hu ge ;hear!t that won't stop beating wildly. That's because y.ou're with me. I ha_ve given you an eC'ard to let you realize how I feel. read your not;e"

As is widely accepted among zombiepocalypse academics such as myself, the misuse of semicolons, exclamation points and underscoring is a hallmark of the type of keyboarding errors that occur as a result of shredded, rotting fingertips. And besides, who send e-cards these days?

Addition research reveals a heightened level of organization among the Z population, including attempts to socialize and perhaps even propagate through such means as ZombieHarmony, where one will find among the disclaimer text:
"ZombieHarmony is for zombies only. We advise signing up for ZombieHarmony only if you lack a pulse, have limited motor skills, or feel an intense desire to feast on human beings. We are not responsible for lost or ingested loved ones. If you go on a date with a zombie, we cannot be held liable for contributing to the apocalypse."  
As always, awareness is the key. Stay alert, and periodically test yourself for zombification by attempting to turn off the TV. If you can, stand by for further instructions. If you cannot, it may be too late.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Earworms and biological clocks

It's a play on words, see?
I am pondering the condition known as "too much time on my hands."

I am pondering this sitting in a room next to at least 75 books I have not read. A few feet away is a guitar that I play so rarely I have no calluses. I have an infinite number of browser tabs at my disposal to explore this new internet thing, a couple hundred satellite channels. And I haven't even opened my "Paparazzi" action figures playset that I got for Christmas. How is it, then, that there's a voice in my head - the voice of a whiny 12 year-old, it sounds like - that's saying "I have nothing to do."

This fits into the category of First World Problems - a category of conundrums we all "suffer" with - and by "all" I mean people like me, of course. Examples from this perspective-correcting site include:
  • “I’ve run out of obscure ethnic cuisines to impress my friends with.”
  • “My internet-capable fridge only connects to Twitter, and not Facebook.”
  • “The distance we are traveling is not far enough to heat up the seat heaters.”
Sadly, being part of the 99% and yet still ridiculously privileged on a relative scale does not solve the problem of "too much time on my hands." (I hope you are now enjoying the earworm I have given you and will be bouncing your head for hours to the strains of that wonderful melody from Styx's triple-platinum album "Paradise Theatre" which reached #9 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and #2 on the Top Rock Tracks chart for one week in 1981. No need to thank me.)

I seem to have lost the ability to "kick back," as the kids say. There was a time I could waste a day, or a year, and just enjoy it. This is not to say that reading a book, making some music, or creating clever scenarios for Paparazzi action figures are not examples of time well spent. But lately I feel this annoying need to "get something done" all the time. Something of impact, something meaningful. I cringe every time the thought of "killing some time" crosses my mind. (If there is an afterlife, my dad - who would have testified I was the laziest person ever born - must be laughing ruefully.)

Self-analysis tells me this need for perpetual action is fed by the ticking of my biological clock. In women, the biological clock refers to the eventual discovery "I am too old to have a baby." In men, it refers to the sudden realization "I am now dead." In both cases, one would hope to achieve one's goals before one's alarm sounds.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Love, touchdowns and good writing

A big, strong man dissolved in tears of joy...the climax of an aria...someone you love in a cap and gown...a new high score in Angry Birds - all of these things are just like the others. I speak of the moment of catharsis.

Warning: Pedantry follows.

Catharsis derives from the Greek word kathairein, meaning to purge, purify or clean. Aristotle used it first in a clinical sense, to describe effects of certain actions on the human body, and then later applied it metaphorically to drama and poetry. Being a $64 word, chances are more people have experienced it than have accessed the word to define the experience.

Warning: Tortured metaphor follows.
Catharsis is like a cheeseburger - it comes in many varieties, and you can have it your way. It's found in your direct, personal experience - when you are the one touching something universal - and vicariously, even in seeing that moment re-enacted in fiction -  and your heart leaps up.

We seek it out on stages, on playing fields, in temples, in therapy. A moment of transcendence when you believe - not just know, but believe - "I am not alone." "Love conquers." "Life is terribly beautiful/painful/silly and we all know it." "There is justice." "There is meaning." It's oxygen for the soul.

Have some, it's good.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Blog failure, part 2

When things go wrong, there is only one thing on my mind - find someone to blame.

Being the self-centered yet sensitive sociopath that I am, I rarely find my satisfactory scapegoat to be
(a) me, or
(b) another specific person

So I am happy to report that the deficiency of blog posts on my part of late is not the fault of

(a) me, or
(b) another specific person

But my good friend blame can be placed squarely on a faceless, heartless, brainless Corporation. (A timely scapegoat indeed, given the tenor of the times. All you one-percenter-shareholders-in-faceless-heartless-brainless corporations, take heed. I'm watching you.)

The FHB Corporation in question is an alleged supplier of bandwidth, a commodity of importance to He Who Blogs - particularly he who blogs only in privacy and mostly late at night when the hour and the wine facilitates. There is a certain solitude required - a solitude the FHB Corp has refused to provide me for most of the last six months.

I moved, you see, from a small abode with reliable interweb access to a more comfortable, quieter, scenic abode with the kind of connectivity that would be devised to torture Steve Jobs in Hell. (Note: the author defers from suggesting Steve Jobs is, in fact, in Hell. This is a metaphorical construct. Do not consult an attorney.)

Granted, a portion of the connectivity issue is allegedly related to the alleged non-payment of certain alleged bills from the FHB Corp, but I allegedly digress from the issue at hand, which is to indicate, while not specifically fingering the nincompoopery and competence-free practices of said Corporation (which shall not be named but whose initials begin with "A" and end with "T&T") and to place blame, while being completely deserved, accurate and fitting, is just not my style.

It's my fault for a loveless blog marriage of late, in truth. I could have blogged from some devastatingly unhip corporate location that rhymes with Charflucks, or from some tragically hip non-corporate location where the coffee is twice the price and takes four times longer to get because the barista is clearly on 'shrooms, or I could have blogged from my phone which is physically possible but fails to stimulate the kind of quick, free-flowing wit (ahem) that you're reading right now, due to the fact that I can't write three words in a row correctly on my iPhone, thanks to Steve Jobs (who, once again, is most likely NOT in Hell) , or I could have blogged from my workplace BUT THAT WOULD BE WRONG. So the result of all this has been that I have not blogged. I have failed. I am (cue tears #1) so SO sorry...

Avid readers of this blog (oh ye of questionable judgment) may recall that this post is of the same theme as the last whiny post of November 16, 2011. For this I am, once again (cue tears #2) so SO sorry. But honestly, if I can be sincere for just a moment...ok, the moment's been a nightmare of web deprivation. Scientists studying penguins in Antarctica have better bandwidth capability than I have had the last six months.

Today, I am happy to report I have green lights on my modem, a wireless network so robust I can feel my DNA mutating, and a semi-functional brain full of blog topics. 2012 looks to be a fecund year.