Sing the Body Electric

Imagine you lived your life in a cloud. You think you see clearly, as well as anyone else. But nothing is vivid. Shadows dominate.

Then one day you awaken to clarity. You have never seen a mountain. After several days of driving, one looms on the horizon. “Ahh,” you think. “Now I’ve seen a mountain. I know what a mountain is.” But after another full day’s drive, that mountain seems barely larger and hardly closer. The magnitude of what a mountain actually is begins to dawn. When you finally approach the mountain and it takes hours to drive past it, illusions evaporate.

We experience the world in abstractions, removed from stark reality. Our brains average things into a generalized caricature. Even at our most attentive, we approximate the world. When actual reality slaps us, it is startling.

No one has the acuity of vision to see things as they truly are.

The world teams with bacteria which ubiquitous presence was only recently discovered. What if we could see atomic structure?

I was a materialist. I judged things based on the tangible, the visual and that which exists. What I thought of as ‘the real’. Then, in Science 101 I learned atoms are anything but solid. In fact they are more than 99% empty, airless space. Electromagnetic forces bind the particles together. Solid ‘matter’ and ‘mass’ are an illusion, just terms of equivalence to varied forms of ‘energy’.

I walked out of class expecting to sink into the pavement. My sense of the world was transformed but the world just spun around like always. I was a walking sponge, a materialist with no place to stand.

The tangible is actually an electromagnetic field. My energy field resists the electromagnetic field making up the apple I juggle or the friend I embrace. My chair, or my street, or a tree are no more solid than I am in the conventional sense, as the atoms composing everything are primarily empty space, surrounded by whirling knots of energy. Electromagnetism is your friend.

But from where that energy emanates, or how it sustains itself is a mystery. So that Big Mac I ate for lunch sustains all this whirling energy? That Big Mac, which is also made up of whirling energy, empty space and not much else? Hold the pickle.

And anyway, my lunch sustains my living body chemically but does not serve to preserve the gazillions of atoms, making up the trillions of molecules, making up the innumerable cells in my body. All that spinning makes me dizzy.

And my 2000 Corolla? The gasoline it carries is also a store of chemical energy that propels it forward. But the steel frame? The tires? The windshield? What sustains the integrity of their composition?

Living or dead, everything we call matter, the whole universe is made of an infinite number of perpetual motion devices. How can I get in on that action? Oh, I am.

Within any atom, the strong forces overcome the weak forces, but both are necessary to maintain the structure of each individual atom, keeping its component parts, protons, neutrons, etc. from spinning away.

In short, we are composed of energy. And we are immersed in a ‘soup’ of ebbing and flowing energy. That is the cloud we live in. Different elements have varying frequencies of electromagnetic force.

Who can explain this constant, inexhaustible source of energy? Scientists assure us. ”Trust us. It just is.” And, of course, all this (atoms, the universe, and all the interconnected systems) just randomly organized itself after the big bang. No designer, no programmer here. Move along.

Boy, did we luck out!

Some websites actually point to the mystical, that ineffable reality beyond any language’s ability to describe. Others ignore the pivotal, unanswered question and dazzle us with math. The scientific debate rages, round and round, anything but fixed or settled. One site assures us “energy is not itself stuff; it is something that all stuff has.” Now I get it. Why didn’t you say so?

It is not a case though, of “what’s behind the curtain?” where we are duped. Because it isn’t a conspiracy of silence or misdirection. The real question is “what paradise awaits unveiling?” We merely lack the ability to discern and have only yardsticks with which to measure electrons.

“How do I feel today?” said the particle to the wave. Our part, what we can bring to it, is our attitude.

How do we recapture that sense of being an integral part of the larger scheme, like when a child first grasps marking time with a song?

With all this static and kinetic energy in the air, one must ask, “How should I spend my energy today?” How do I connect? Stay grounded? Close the circuit?

Sins of the Father

Can any son live up to his father’s expectations? Can any father live up to his son’s? We are bound to disappoint in this life.

What compels us to resist, to make our own mistakes, instead of doing as told by those who know best? Is defying authority in our genes? Do we merely take off the training wheels to see what happens? My Dad didn’t believe in training wheels, to become dependent on ‘a crutch’.

However, when I was a kid my Dad gave my dog away, without warning. He had his reasons, I guess. But it was my dog. I came home one day and my dog was gone – “given to a farmer.” I never saw her again. Nothing was said. Ever.

Yet, the unwritten rules within my family did not allow for the open and candid airing of differences. He died, decades later, without my ever confronting him. I never heard one word of explanation, let alone an apology for this assault on me, and my sense of self. He probably never knew how affected I was. And how injured.

I reacted. I stole and did things that, had I been caught, would have deeply embarrassed him. He was a respected business man in our town. Had events played out differently, I wouldn’t have survived to write about them. That would have shown him.

I doubt my Dad was an angel in his youth. What process draws us to maturity? What causes ‘youthful indiscretion’? What have my children done only to lay their justifications at my feet?

Dad’s simple, thoughtless act affected everything between us for the rest of his life. As solid and dependable as he was in every other way, I never trusted him after that. Or anyone.

My Mom would suggest I ride with him on errands. We rode in silence.

Decades later, I would call to talk. He would pass the phone to Mom.

Is each parent a falling domino in an endless succession? Everyone knows the Trojan War was caused by the Trojans stealing Helen from Greece. But before that, the Greeks kidnapped… However, they were only reacting to the Trojan’s barbaric… We are told to begin at the beginning. Can someone please point me in that direction?

In the story of the Prodigal Son the title character, a wayward son, returns to his father’s embrace, as returned from the dead, his honor restored. The father insists his elder brother follow suit. But did the prodigal himself entertain doubts of his own worthiness? Did he accept his acceptance? Could he forgive his own flaws and betrayals? We are never told.

He is us. What do you think?

My Dad’s casket was the heaviest thing I ever carried. Do I carry it still? How does one slough off those very burdens by which we define ourselves?

Letting go of old wounds is difficult. After all, I paid a premium for them. I should discard them?

“Rest in peace” is wishful thinking if we haven’t resolved the issues which haunt us. Spoken in hope, it is ultimately ourselves to whom we speak. Incapable of following their own advice, the living command the dead, who neither need nor heed us.

Unfinished business haunts our days. The living must attend to it. The dead have reached their conclusions.

If forgiveness is withheld, how can unhealed wounds not be perpetuated as the sins of fathers visited on their children? Pain echoes down the generations. How to break the cycle? Could history be changed by forgiving not only our young, and our dead, but ourselves?

Does the beginning begin with us?

 

 

A Way with Words

Karl was a writer who took his craft very seriously. He was good at it.

One day he wrote a perfect sentence and it stopped him cold. This had never happened to him before. He had been writing for a long time but this was really something.

He looked at it and was filled with awe. It was exquisite. It accomplished its purpose… perfectly. It was as long as it needed to be. No clutter. The punctuation was balanced and tasteful. It said everything he meant to say.  Succeeding sentences would add words but not meaning.

Karl felt liberated. He had said it all. On re-reading it he felt he might never need write again. It was that perfect.

Then the thought welled up, he was trapped by this perfection. He felt restricted. The freedom he felt moments ago, now confined him. Nothing looked different but this perfect sentence had changed everything.

Karl always saw writing as a sculptor approaches a block of stone; chiseling each sentence, stroke by stroke, shaping the story. Now the jewel was cut and polished. This perfect sentence stole Karl’s words.

Karl threw his pen across the room. He crumpled the paper holding his perfect sentence and threw it into the waste basket. It was a perfect throw.

He went out for a drink. Karl needed distance from this bizarre phenomenon. This absurdity of perfection. His apartment was stuffy, like fifty people populated it, breathing his air.

He sat at the bar and drank in silence. But words streamed through his mind. They were not perfect words though. And they weren’t perfect sentences. He finished his drink and left, telling himself the noisy bar was distracting. But the words followed.

Karl sat at his typewriter. The words stopped.

He told himself the sentence was not so perfect. He could go on. No words came.

Then Karl thought he had imagined it all. It wasn’t even his sentence. It wasn’t important. Just ink on paper. A meaningless scribble.

He retrieved the paper from the basket and smoothed it on his desk. The sentence was undoubtedly written in his handwriting. They were his words. He could not deny his creation.

He couldn’t explain it either. It truly was perfect in every way. It was unambiguous but evocative, and precisely expressed his meaning. The sentence was suggestive and musical. Witty but not precious. Rhythmic, colorful and terse. Clear.

Karl assured himself his ego was not running away. It was beyond him how he wrote it. He didn’t know he had such a good sentence in him. Two? Impossible.

The more he studied it, the more he felt unworthy of its greatness. How could he write another so well? He felt helpless. All sentences flow from this sentence. Having written it, no more were needed.

He feared his future writing would only be derivative. Empty. Flaccid.

Karl always devoted himself to using words as beautifully and effectively as possible. Having reached this pinnacle, was his life now but a long slog down the nether slope? Would he spend his declining years like some old fool on a bench, mumbling about his past greatness? His damned perfect sentence?

Mediocrity stared at him.

He berated himself for spending his life chasing empty words. Waves on a beach.

After all, words are only vague shadows of fleeting abstractions. Fossilized metaphors binding us to archaic objects and deeds, laden with repetition, a gloss of emotion and memorializing some anonymous utterance. Words. Why grope for meaning sifting through shards of the past?

He sat in silence and watched shadows grow.

Karl lurched to his feet and charged out of his room. The door slammed behind him and he staggered into the street. He didn’t know where to go. He needed to move.

He passed people and yelled greetings. He could only gesture, grunt and shout. No one returned his wild gaze but furtively glanced as he passed. A policeman eyed him.

Karl paid no mind. He walked too quickly to notice. He didn’t know where he was going but couldn’t wait to get there. He raged toward the river.

Then Karl stopped. Passing under a stone bridge he noticed a shoeless man sitting in the gloom. Karl had thought he was walking past discarded rags. The beggar moved his feet when Karl passed. He looked as if he had not moved in days.

The man’s sign caught his eye. Scrawled on tattered cardboard, it read, “Please help.”

Karl emptied his pockets and offered what he had to the man who took it meekly. Karl fell to his knees and weeping, he embraced the poor soul.

“Thank you, sir. Thank you.” Karl said.

Eulogy

My mother passed away just before Christmas. The following is the eulogy I gave at her Memorial Mass at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Sarasota, Florida on March 24th, 2018. time restrictions forced my brevity. Mom was one of the great ones, with an irrepressible spirit. She touched many lives.

Thank you all for joining my family and me in honoring my mother, Marti Adams. I am John, Marti and Gordon’s third son.

There is an unreal quality in the loss of a loved one. Ninety years of memories, suddenly gone. Especially my mother, who knew me before I knew myself, and who nurtured me to the end.

The last time we spoke, a day before she passed, she assured me she was fine. She didn’t want me to worry. She was strong.

After all, in her nineties, while planning a trip, she had a personal trainer at the gym.

I can’t sum up Mom’s life, but let me give you my sense of her.

An early memory is Mom playing Beethoven’s, Moonlight Sonata on her piano. Her attempts at private time were always interrupted by us kids.

I don’t think I ever heard her complete it, but that pensive, opening movement has always been a favorite. Mom perfected her private time doing her art.

Mom’s signature phrase with us was “Fair is fair.” She used it to settle any dispute. But she also applied it in her spending habits, like when she bought each of us three boys, a giant, stuffed poodle dog for Christmas. Or the annual, festively wrapped socks and underwear under the tree.

We never pinned down exactly what ‘fair is fair’ meant, but it almost always stopped an argument. If things continued out of hand, Mom aimed her famous and dreaded ‘raised eyebrow’ at the perps, and that would be that.

Marti and Gordon met during WWII, at the University of Michigan while Gordon was there for Marine officer training.

I recently found a letter Dad wrote to his Commanding officer, requesting permission to marry ‘Miss Daligga,’ our future Mom.

Dad declared he knew “Miss Daligga and her family for over two years.” I shared it with Mom and laughing, she said “more like two weeks!”

Mom and Dad made marriage look easy. As easy as clearing the floor and dancing the ‘Lindy’ to Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.” They were a great team. I never saw them argue.

Friday night was date night for Mom and Dad and that meant fish sticks or tuna fish over rice for us four kids.

On our many road trips, Mom always brought hard boiled eggs for snacks, saving Dad from stopping every twenty minutes. Six weeks on the road and she always had hard boiled eggs. How did she do that?

Mom got much of her spirit and spunk from her mother, another strong and beautiful woman.

For a year in the late fifties, Mom basically raised us four kids solo. Dad was starting his business in Wilmar – two hours west of us. Although he came home on weekends, it must have been lonely for them both. But we never knew about that.

Mom kept us busy with projects, like gathering berries from our garden to make jams and jellies.

We moved to a rental house in Wilmar, near Dad’s office. On cold nights, the furnace would go out. It was below zero outside and no heat inside. Mom just got us dressed for school in front of the oven.

One Saturday, we kids discovered Rocky and Bullwinkle on TV. Our laughter drew Mom in, to see what mischief we were up to. She joined us on the couch and ended up laughing harder than the rest of us.

Mom was always practical when faced with a challenge. She told us, ‘Never, ever give up.’ One night we needed to pick up my darling sister Jan, from her piano lessons. Mom had poor night vision. And it was foggy.

While Mom attempted to drive the winding two-lane highway, I was hanging out the rear, driver’s side window while Jeff watched out the passenger side.

I called out “Mom! Mom! Go to the right. You’re gonna hit the curb” – (which would be the curb on the left side of the road).

Mom pulled over to the right and stopped. She decided it was safer for Jeff to drive, even though he was unlicensed. He could see. We all got home safely.

Mom was a fighter. Mom petitioned the court for us to keep our dog, Sam after Sam scared some bicyclists. The judge wouldn’t listen. Mom persisted. He threatened her with contempt of court. Mom wouldn’t give up.

He didn’t reckon on her using ‘fair is fair’ followed by ‘the eyebrow’.

We got to keep Sam.

Maryann and Lori Ann from St. Patrick’s rectory tell me Mom’s parishioner number was #1. They are now retiring her number, so Mom will always be #1.

Though we are all here today to celebrate Mom’s life, I have it on excellent authority that this separation we feel is only temporary. We’ll see you again Mom. Thank you.

I’m not a Talking Bomb, but I Played One on TV

One of the most interesting aspects of working in post-production in Hollywood was the time I spent on the ADR stage. ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement) is the process by which actors are brought onto a sound stage to recreate their original performance that was marred by noisy ambience or other technical issues. I had the opportunity to work with many talented actors, most of whom were cooperative and agreeable under stressful circumstances.

The task is a unique blend of technical ability and art. Ideally, in the original performance, the actor inhabits the character while submerged in the ambiance of the location and interacting with the other characters.

On the ADR stage, the actor must re-create that original sense and emotion of the scene, while standing alone on a dark stage which lacks any of the physical cues that supported the original performance. And he must also watch him or herself on the screen and perfectly lip-sync his new performance to the original. It is that combination of re-creating an emotional performance, while also objectively observing it, which throws some actors.

Imagine yourself playing a character helping a wounded friend while dodging bullets from a sniper. All your exertions and dialogue provide the viewer with a sense of the immediacy and danger of your plight.

Now, imagine trying to re-create that same tension, without the noise, the dust, the struggle, or your co-player, all while standing on a cool, dark stage, watching yourself perform on a giant screen.

Some actors just cannot do it. Their process of acting is so integrated into the moment that doing justice to their performance, after the fact, in such artificial circumstances defeats them. And many are wonderful actors. Ultimately, if the performance is good, a little judicious editorial surgery will improve on the sync.

One such case was with the actor Robert DeNiro. Considered one of the greatest actors of his generation, the process of ADR is completely counter-intuitive for him and his style of acting. We scheduled multiple sessions, only for him to balk or cancel each in turn. He was agreeable, but intimidated by the technical process. I finally got him to do his lines ‘wild,’ with four or five interpretations of each line. With minimal editing, I was able to make one of these performances fit.

I worked with the actor Jackie Chan on one of his films. He is the most focused and exacting actor I ever worked with. Except for lunch, he never took a break. A week was scheduled for the recording and he finished re-voicing the complete film in three days.

Jackie’s film was shot in Chinese. Our task was to replace Jackie’s whole Chinese language performance with English lines. We needed to write Jackie’s lines so they would make sense to the story and also closely match the onscreen lip movements.

This task was daunting enough. But as we were starting, Jackie asked how he could get rid of his Chinese accent. Since we were preparing his film for an American release, he didn’t want his Chinese accent to distract or make the audience struggle to understand.

Having never been asked this, or thought about it, I needed to think fast. How could I solve this? Hardly missing a beat, a solution popped into my head. The ADR gods were smiling down on me.

One factor for any non-native speaker of English (or, I suspect, any second language) is the natural tendency to pronounce each word discreetly. This exaggerates the accent and creates a stilted hesitation, rather than a natural flow of expression. The speaker sounds like they are struggling over a pile of rocks, rather than floating down a stream.

I asked Jackie to say the phrase ‘American accent’ but to slur the final ‘n’ to the beginning of ‘accent’ to sound like ‘America-naccent’. By tying the two words together, much of that odd emphasis and hesitation is lost and it sounds much more natural.

Jackie tried it and immediately grasped my intent. We started work and he was pleased with the improvement in his ‘American’ accent. Whew!

Another aspect of ADR is the recording of background ‘walla’ for crowd scenes, restaurant scenes etc. Some ‘loop groups’ are very talented and will create a texture of background that adds a sense of reality to a scene.

Long ago, loop groups were told to murmur ‘peanut butter’ over and over to create a non-descript background buzz that would not compete with the foreground dialogue. Modern loop groups bring vocabulary lists and even foreign language phrases for the talent to use in order to give the walla the flavor of a specific time and place. A Moroccan street market sounds different than a corporate board room. Really!

Many actors, practice their craft and can make a decent living working in a loop group while seeking on-camera work. The downside can be that novice actors are so hungry to be ‘discovered,’ their performances must be reined in so they remain in the background.

Working with inexperienced actors provided me with the opportunity to perform as a ‘talking bomb’. Twice. Occasionally, some absurd gimmick becomes popular with multiple script writers. In this case, a time bomb which not only had a clock, but also a voice which announced, to anyone who happened to be standing around, how many seconds they had before being blown to bits.

“Siri, should I cut the red wire or the blue wire?”

On two different shows, I ran the sessions where we needed a voice counting down from ‘ten,’ presumably to inject further tension into an already anxious scene. But the actors seemed unable to grasp the ‘motivation’ of the ‘talking bomb.’ Alternatively gleefully evil or mother-hover anxious, their bomb was over-acting.

Every Shakespearean attempt by each member of the loop group would be rejected by the director. When they ran out of actors, I offered to try.

The tension in the scene was in the characters, and hopefully, with the audience. But the bomb couldn’t care less about the pending explosion. It wasn’t a character. It had no character. It didn’t ‘know’ what was about to happen.

I performed my count-down as devoid of emotion as possible, a counter-point to the humans in the scene. This bomb had not a care in the world. Rain or shine, this bomb was indifferent to its future or the lack thereof. It was what no actor wants to be described as – mechanical and flat. My performance, with just a suggestion of boredom, was perfect.

I was the bomb. They loved it.

Hits and Misses from Storyography – 2017

Each year at this time I re-publish a selection of some of my blogs that may have slipped through the cracks, or I hope will find readers who might have missed them on the first pass.

And I include some of my personal favorites.

I am Woman, Hear Me “Wahhh!” is a little more political than usual for me but, like it or not, I felt my take on the recent sex scandals had to be said: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/11/26/i-am-woman-hear-me-wahhh/  

Gumshoe, Meet Banana Peel is a rant from a different place that I hope gives you a smile: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/11/04/gumshoe-meet-banana-peel/

Shakespeare, On the Rocks is a whimsical re-imagining of some of the Bard’s more famous plays: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/10/24/shakespeare-on-the-rocks/

Eclipsed by a Fidget Spinner is an exploration of our need for diversion and the cyclical nature of our lives. This was printed in a recent edition of the Tolucan Times: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/09/05/eclipsed-by-a-fidget-spinner/

You Kiss With That Mouth? was my most read blog this year. I’m told my misadventures with dentists is very entertaining and funny. Don’t forget to floss: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/09/01/kicking-when-im-crowned/

Liberals and the Seven Stages of Grief examines the Kubler-Ross model of grief through the prism of the 2016 election: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/05/31/liberals-and-the-seven-stages-of-grief/

Another Brick in the Wall recounts my brief tenure as a middle school teacher: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/06/22/another-brick-in-the-wall/

Love and Scar Tissue is a reprint of a review I did for the Tolucan Times of the amazing Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. I wish everyone could have seen this riveting performance: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/love-and-scar-tissue-on-display-in-danny-and-the-deep-blue-sea-and-poison/

Thank you for reading my blog this year. I very much appreciate your comments and attention. I hope 2018 is wonderful for all.

I am Woman, Hear Me “Wahhh!”

Once upon a time, women were independent and strong. The struggles they endured and triumphed over give one pause.

My grandmother was one of these women. Divorced with four children, during the Great Depression, she was laid off from her salaried job selling advertising because “a man needed the job.” There was no time to debate ‘fairness’ or justice or oppression. She had mouths to feed. She did not fold. She didn’t collapse. She negotiated a commission-only deal and outsold her replacement. She was tough.

I never heard her complain about her lot. To suggest she was a victim would have made her laugh. The past was not kept alive in the present. She prevailed. She would relax by going to her social club and sing for her friends.

Had any wanker presumed to expose himself to her, I think she would have laughed in his face and told him to cover himself. She raised three boys to be men. Little boys didn’t scare her.

I never discussed this with her but I think she would scoff at a wolf whistle being equated with rape. Obviously, anyone confused about the difference has never actually been raped. Such ignorance diminishes the severity of rape and the injury suffered by victims of rapists.

Recently feminists have been demonstrating against ‘the patriarchy,’ the mainly white males who ‘run the world,’ oppress women and are generally seen as a ‘bunch of meanies.’

Who raised these petty tyrants?

Recently, women (and men) are emerging to speak of their abuse at the hands of the powerful. Whither the self-empowerment we hear so much about? Would that we all lived where self-defense was not necessary. Where is that again?

Little hard evidence has been offered to prove accusations that in some cases exceed the statute of limitations. It is so easy to point a finger. Easier even than saying ‘No!’

Some of these accusations have been stored for decades with nary a peep. Imagine opening a window revealing decades of your life to the public. Could anyone emerge unscathed from such public scrutiny? Who knows the countless micro-aggressions I have strewn over the decades? Thank God, I am no celebrity.

In college I made the mistake of saying something impolitic to a handful of women outside a bar. Not a victim among them, they violently impressed me with their opinions until the bouncer pulled them off of me. It was a lesson I never forgot. If only #metoo had existed then, I would not have had to explain my black eye to everyone.

I am not sure why these recent accusations are being referred to as ‘scandals’ when for decades, the popular message has been “If it feels good, do it. It’s just sex.” Isn’t this what ‘liberation’ is all about?

Please understand I am not defending the creeps who act this way. They deserve whatever they get. But outside of rape, most of the ‘revelations’ sound tamer than a typical HBO episode.

In the past, some women came forward to report assaults against them and they were disbelieved, dismissed and shamed (see: Clinton, Bill). These days, apparently all one needs do is click #metoo and they have an army of true believers behind them. Evidence be damned (see: Clinton, Hillary).

What does clicking #metoo actually accomplish, though? Does claiming some vague, amorphous victim status empower one somehow? Is there a bar to entry? Can anyone join? I was offended a few years ago, how about me?

So #metoo is the newly evolved way of dealing with creeps who make annoying and threatening comments? I don’t think so. What power is gained by claiming victim status, en masse? Is this truly the way to win the ’war on women’? At what point does the strength in numbers devolve into a mob mentality?

We are told things will be kinder and gentler when women run things. The evidence is not compelling.

Curiously, it is the purveyors of the whole ‘war on women’ concept; the news, entertainment and political class, who are the recipients of most of the accusations these days.

Not long ago, these same pundits ruthlessly attacked the religious community for their hypocrisy when a similar scandal arose. Now that the truth is emerging, would it be unfair to say the entertainment industry “Got religion”?

Ironically, before the avalanche of accusations started, V.P. Mike Pence was savaged by the media for declaring he never had private dinners with women besides his wife. What a rube. What a primitive. How unenlightened. Integrity and $1.50 will buy you a cup of coffee (and perhaps a happy marriage).

Conservative politicians are on their own. Numerous progressive politicians receive cover from newscasters. MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle, feels it would be a “slippery slope to get rid of everyone who is accused. There would be no one left.” Optimist.

Senior Rep. John Conyers (D) used public funds to pay off an accuser. Sen. Al Franken (D) is defended for his ‘benign abuse’ and after all, “he’s funny, he’s popular and votes the right way.” He describes himself as “warm”. So, to be fair, let’s just get rid of the conservatives.

I am curious, if you identify as a victim and want government protection, but the abuser is from the government, to whom do you turn?

****

Of course, celebrity ‘abusers’ have money with which to buy silence (although throwing money at an actor is the best way to get them to talk). Their riches are ‘proof of their blessedness’ and so we must listen. They can buy bigger megaphones with which to tout their superior knowledge (beware the authority who tells you how to live).

‘Dues paying’ is an all-purpose term, adaptable to many circumstances. I heard about the ‘casting couch’ when I was a kid. The term ‘cattle call’ didn’t get invented in a vacuum. Titillating movies (‘The Apartment’ and others) made in the ‘60s about sexual favors and the abuse of authority became a sub-genre. When seeking Hollywood stardom, is anyone truly innocent of the compromising possibilities? As my Grandma would say, ‘Lie down with dogs…’

For most of us, there is a presumption of mutual professional behavior, whether in Congress, the newsroom, the office, or on a set. When those norms are discarded by those for whom ‘the rules don’t apply’ (or by the rule makers), it can be a shattering experience.

In Hollywood, it seems the ‘rules’ that actually apply may be the very ones young starlets want suspended because, being so beautiful and talented, they deserve a pass.

I once witnessed a director promise a beautiful young starlet he would authorize her SAG card if she disrobed for the camera. Did she get that promise in writing? What do you think?

When the attitude is “anything for my art,” is anyone surprised at what ‘anything’ might lead to? Cries of foul, years after the fact, strain to pass the smell test. Many of these accusations may be true. But anyone can sign on to “#me too”. How about “#not me!”

Click  to see the Storyography Video Memoir website:  http://www.lifestoryography.com/

Why Movies About Movie Making Flop

It seems most movies tanked this summer. But why do movies about the film business do especially badly at the box office? I don’t mean films that use Hollywood as a backdrop, great films like ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ or ‘Sunset Boulevard’.

I mean movies that present the film business as interesting in and of itself. You know, shows like ‘An Alan Smithee Film’, ‘Map to the Stars’, ‘The Player’ ‘Won Ton Ton…’ and others. Did you see any of them? Exactly my point. These films didn’t sell enough pop corn to pay the ushers.

Why audiences don’t ‘get’ Hollywood-centric stories is a question I’ve never heard answered. I think it has to do with Hollywood’s self-promotion as a land of limitless glamour and glimmering success. There must be conflict to successfully engage the audience. How can the audience identify with anyone from that fanciful place untouched by darkness?

Comedies about the film business fail because they are filled with self-aware ‘in’ jokes, funny to those in the movie and few others. Alternately, the character’s problems may seem contrived. Can I truly sympathize with Red when she actively solicits the attentions of the Big Bad Wolf?

A case in point is a TV series I recently endured. The premise of it is absurd and I don’t recommend it. A secondary character, a writer is complaining about his sorry lot as the lead writer of a hit show. He is so put upon by his producer boss, that he has to work during ‘hiatus week’ while everyone else is vacationing or sitting by the pool. Any working schmo can identify with that. Who wants to work while everyone else is out playing? Not me.

But when you consider how much this ‘poor’ guy gets paid to put words on paper (six figures easily, plus golden time, residuals, etc.), our sympathy starts to fade. Perhaps his kids will respect him when they learn their Harvard tuition is completely funded. Meanwhile, he kvetches about his horrible job while riding around in a bit-coin powered limo and attending exclusive parties to schmooze flavor-of-the-week glitterati. Poor guy.

Understand that writing in Hollywood is a difficult and often thankless job. Writers often don’t get the appreciation they deserve. That is not my point. But Joe Blough, working two jobs just to keep up, and mowing his own lawn has a hard time feeling this character’s pain.

I never met a Hollywood writer who complained about his job. Whatever his private life, Hollywood people know they are blessed by whatever gods they grovel to. They would never be tempted to bite that beast’s gracious hand.

But that is only part of the problem. You have actors whose job is to give a gloss of authenticity to what is an inherently artificial process. It is hard enough to succeed at playing a cop, a housewife, or a lawyer. But an actor portraying an ‘authentic actor’ is beyond the best skills of most talented thespians. How exactly does an actor act, in the wild, when he’s not acting? What are they ‘really’ like? Just like you and me? Really?

Also, creating sympathetic portrayals of producers, directors and others in the business can be a task fraught with many pitfalls. Some of us ‘civilians’ may have to deal with out-sized egos and immense pressures in our hum-drum lives, but in Hollywood? Recent headlines only hint at what some of these powerful people are about.

But there is something un-real about how Hollywood elite deal with even mundane tasks. I heard Frank Sinatra had toilet paper in his house bearing his own image. Is your guest bathroom stocked with toilet paper with your smiling face printed on each two-ply sheet?

Asking an actor (read: someone truly fake and insincere) to honestly portray someone who is fake and insincere, creates a feedback loop of artifice. When it fails, it just looks like bad acting. But it is an honest attempt (by an inherently dishonest person) to portray as genuine, someone they know is dishonest. And that last bit is the problem. They try to make them genuine.

Some actors just play themselves and really only play one role, regardless how many shows they are in. Others never play themselves and completely transform once that camera starts rolling. When is either genuine though?

Not to say ‘genuine’ is impossible to do. In the recent mini-series ‘Feud,’ the story of the legendary competition between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (played wonderfully by Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lang) all the elements combine to form a veritable work of genius. Centered on their one movie together, ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’ the series does everything right that most movies about movies fail miserably at. The characters are well known and bigger than life. The supporting roles are deliciously consistent with our expectations of who these people were. The writing is superb.

We see the characters on and off camera and they behave just as we expect they behaved, cat claws and all. Despite their bigger than life personas, the actors and writers succeeded in bringing out these character’s genuine humanity and the poignancy of their loneliness while embracing their prodigious flaws. They bring out their third dimension.

And the filmmakers never try to convince us these stars were normal or ‘just like us’. Hell, no! We don’t need to believe the ‘rich Hollywood actors, being paid millions of dollars to portray people just like you and me’ actually are just like you and me.

They succeed by highlighting our lives and allowing us to see things more clearly through their depiction on the big screen.

But they are not like us. And that is alright. I don’t want their flaws. I have my own. Watching them is entertaining. Watching me, not so much. (That is why they are known as ‘stars’!) If they were like me, I certainly wouldn’t be buying tickets to watch them.

Click  to see the Storyography Video Memoir website:  http://www.lifestoryography.com/

Gumshoe, Meet Banana Peel

What is it with all the gum on the sidewalks? Everywhere I walk, all I see is gum, gum, gum. Random black splotches everywhere. I know I should set my sights higher. But really? Gum? I didn’t even know people chew gum any more. I never see people chewing gum.

And yet they’re all slobs? Can’t they spit their gum into the street? Or onto the grass? How about a trash can? Must it land where people walk? It takes only a few days before a freshly poured sidewalk gets a stray wad of gum stuck on its pristine concrete surface. And then it’s downhill from there. What’s the point? It’s a damned shame. It is.

I personally gave up chewing gum shortly after accidentally sticking my gum all over the rear passenger door of my Dad’s new 1962 Mercury station wagon. Trying to get it off just made it worse as the strings got stuck too.

Tip: never try to remove gum from a car while it is moving sixty mph. No future in it.

So my Dad confiscated my brand new jumbo pack of 24 Bazooka Bubble Gums (less one). (not that I blame him anymore, but it seemed Draconian at the time.)

In a cruel irony, later that trip we ate at a Chinese restaurant in Seattle. I could not believe how much gum was stuck to the bottom of that table. It was astounding! Later, the owner of the restaurant invited us to return the next morning to see chickens running around like they’d lost their minds. But I digress.

Now the latest thing is banana peels. Curiously, they seem to show up right by my car door – regardless of where I park. Everywhere I park. And they aren’t mine. Is this a conspiracy against me?

Do I look like Daffy Duck to you? (Admittedly, I have borne an unfortunate resemblance to Wiley Coyote, especially when I’m wearing water skis.)

But banana peels? Oh, ho, ho! He slipped on a banana peel! That’s a new one.

Get some new material, Sonny.

Bananas are supposed to be healthy for you. Are vegan saboteurs stalking me because I have an occasional hamburger? Not a very peaceful way to attract me to your cause, vegan punk.

Or maybe they are being left by little old ladies getting their daily dose of potassium. They feel so jazzed from that, a pratfall is the next big charge.

You might be thinking, “With everything happening in the world, you are ranting about this?” Firstly, this is not a rant. This is a heartfelt plea, a cry for sanity in an insane world.

Secondly, I know you’ve heard of the ‘broken window principle’ that says a broken window left unrepaired, leads to other broken windows and then to a further general decline of the neighborhood? Do you think broken windows just fall out of thin air?

I know, rocks don’t break windows, people break windows. But my point is, gum on sidewalks could very well be the overlooked precursor to that epidemic of broken windows that keep you awake at night.

The devil is in the details, my friend. If we turn this around, who knows what problems will disappear of their own accord? Perhaps the world will stop spinning out of control.

How do banana peels fit into this? I don’t know. It slips my mind.

 

Click above to see the Storyography Video Memoir website:  http://www.lifestoryography.com/

Lord of the Condom

Everyone carries maps in their heads. The best route from here to there might be about traversing difficult terrain, by-passing traffic, or navigating emotional shoals.

I can detail the floor plan of each house I lived in growing up. But the emotional map of my childhood homes was always the same. There were common rooms with smells of good food and rooms for privacy, concentration and sleep. Basements were damp and often forbidding.

And there were those boundaries beyond which one dare not pass, like my parent’s room. Their room wasn’t scary. It was just a place I had no business being. Which makes sense. Parents need space to be together without intrusion.

Imagine my surprise then, when my mother gave me a very private gift from my Dad.

I was at the age where my curiosity about girls raged, driven by a flood tide of hormones. This gift was given to me after I digested the book about ‘The Creation of a Life,’ also handed to me by my parents. They said to read it and come to them with any questions I might have. (Yeah, right.)

The book contained many diagrams designed to dampen my instinctive enthusiasm for the wild act of procreation. It was all so theoretical. I knew what I wanted.

But I received this gift before I had the epiphany that the captivating (and sexy!) figures all the girls were developing, actually contained very real persons. Can you say ‘superficial’?

I think I was in the ninth grade.

Mini-skirts were very popular. How can I describe the exquisite daily torture I suffered watching the girl next to me in home room repairing yet another run in her panty-hose, half-way up her thigh? (Anything I can do to help?)

Trust me when I say my interests ran to the purely physical. Of course, emotions were important too. My emotions!

It was a crazy time.

One day, after school, Mom handed me a rolled-up pair of socks and said, “Dad doesn’t need these anymore. He said to give them to you.” Huh? Socks? What was that about?

Putting them away, something crinkled and inside one sock I discovered a condom, still wrapped in its clear plastic wrapping! Hot damn! Now I had some questions.

Did Mom know what she was giving me? Was I supposed to use it? Or, if not, what was the point? Did I receive it accidentally? Was it left over from one of Dad’s business trips and she didn’t know about it? Or had Mom discovered it and was sending a message to Dad?  If I asked Mom, was I busting Dad? If I asked Dad, would he answer me honestly? How would I know? If it was safe to ask questions, why the secrecy? Was this the same mother who disapproved of her child watching Betty Boop cartoons because Betty was too provocative? I was perplexed and had no one to talk to.

With great power comes great responsibility.

Huzzah! What an opportunity! I couldn’t wait to use it. I felt free! I was ready. Knowing it was secure in my wallet, I didn’t walk, I swaggered. I saw things differently. People saw me differently. That little plastic package was going to make me a man!

Now I just needed a girlfriend!

Of course, my friends gave me plenty of advice. They assured me they could use it better than me.  Their envy was palpable. I wanted very badly to share it, but not with them.

I knew the theoretical mechanics of the situation but there were too many missing elements for successful implementation; mainly a willing female. This appeared to be an insurmountable problem. It was excruciating, but I had to come to terms with the fact that, though granted great power, I lacked opportunity, or the sophistication to recognize it should it knock.

How to broach the subject with a likely young lady? I was clueless! Finesse? You must be joking.

My condom was going to waste. It was a tragedy!

Eventually I realized, if desperate, I could find some girl with whom to use my precious condom. But then what of the ensuing complications? Would she want attention? Dates? Affection? If expected to invest all that time and trouble, I wanted to be with someone I actually liked and wanted to be seen with. This was getting complicated.

This great power I possessed began to possess me.

Finally, the precious condom became an absurd reminder of my inexperience. Reality called me out from the dark corners of my imagination. I hid it in my sock drawer. Family tradition.

****

A few years ago, I visited my parents in Florida. I had kids of my own. We were all adults. Decades had passed. While recalling old times I thought to ask them. It was so long ago. I could finally put the mystery to rest. It would be a funny story to share.

I got blank stares. No one knew anything. Nope. Nothing. Wasn’t me. Move along, nothing to see.

I couldn’t believe it.

There are some boundaries that one simply cannot cross.