Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve, so just a few words

Last Sunday I listened to a wonderful sermon delivered by Rev. Charles Stanley out of the First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. I usually try to use words in more of a tongue-in-cheek style but it is Christmas so allow me a few sentences of a more serious matter - the true meaning of Christmas in the life of a Christian.

Christianity gets so much negative press thanks to actions of narrow-minded fools who think their interpretation of the Bible is the way it should be. I was taught growing up that belief in God is not determined by the denomination of the church down the street. It is a willful act that comes about when the soul reaches out for something one feels is missing in their lives. It happened to me when I was young and I am glad for it every day, well, most days. Some days I completely lose focus on the direction I should be headed and veer off into places where I just create more obstacles that keep me from reaching my full potential. But that's okay, at least I'm not smoking crack or cheating people out of their mortgages when I stumble. I usually tip back a few too many Budweisers and cuss.

Everyone stumbles. It is nobody's right to judge me or anybody else when stumbles happen. I sin, you sin, we all sin. The beauty of Christianity is the unconditional love of God that allows us to be forgiven. We are to love all of humanity in the same way God loves us. That is the number one rule the Bible teaches. If we are to love one another unconditionally then why is there so much hate in the world? The true meaning of Christianity rarely gets any press. What would such a positive message do for the world? Promoting "love thy neighbor as thyself" might create less news. That would be network nightmare in today's society. Imagine an evening broadcast full of heartwarming stories about people doing good things for strangers all over the world. We are lucky if we even hear one. Instead we hear about Jerry Falwell and his horrible comments on why 9/11 happened or Pat Robertson getting more headlines for condemning an SNL skit. It's not our right to condemn anyone for anything; rather, it's our duty to try and promote peace and love toward one another. It's difficult, but it's better than hatred, envy, intolerance, and other ill feelings that keep people from getting along with one another.

Then there are all the religious groups that hold their support ransom during the political season. Listening to the news is so frustrating because again, most of the time these zealots do more harm for Christianity than good. Very few public figures of faith touch on the love the Bible promotes and when they do the message often comes across as judgmental or condemning. That is not how it should be. Lessons should be delivered but the delivery is what makes the words count.

Last Sunday Dr. Stanley stated that the Creator of the world came into the world He created and that is why Christmas should be celebrated. I have never heard a more profound statement in any sermon I have ever listened to before. God sent his Son into the world in order to add humanity to the Holy Trinity. How can one preach about a subject like temptation if one has never been tempted? Bringing Jesus into the world was necessary to add validity to lessons available in the Bible.

The Trinity is often the area that loses people. Christianity is completely based on faith. Having faith is hard; maintaining faith can be downright difficult. I chose to do the best I can to hold onto my faith. Sometimes I am asked to answer some very difficult questions when matters of religion come up. I don't have all the answers. I can't even get a job with any ivy-league degree how am I going to answer all the questions people have concerning religious matters? There is no way I can and that is okay with me because I don't need to be able to answer those questions for myself. I wish I could, but I am not there yet. Sometimes the only answer I can give is: I don't know but I have faith that such is true. All I hope to do is try and be a good example of a Christian. A lot of times I am most definitely not, but that's okay. I do have my moments though.

Interpretation has been dividing humanity since the beginning of time. This is why political parties came about in the early days of America. Our Constitution split politicians when there were the strict constructionists versus the broad constructionists trying to interpret laws meant to govern the country. The same happens with the Bible. For way too many years I used to quote the verse in Genesis that states that the Lord has given "all things, even the green herbs" right before I would light up. Maybe a bit of broad constructionism there but it worked for me, until I went to jail. Oh if we could all reach that middle ground.

All I really want to say is Merry Christmas, even to you heathens that will burn in hell...I kid I kid. You heathens have a Merry Christmas too! Also, we should love one another, even the annoying people. I have work to do because it is football Saturday and it is truly difficult for me to love Bob Costas when he moves his lips.

Peace, you all!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A worthy idea, but is America ready?

The more I think about it the more I wonder if banning cell phone use within the confines of an automobile would actually make the roads safer. We have grown so accustomed to being able to instantly address issues that arise. Within minutes we take care of problems, answer questions, change schedules, check the stock market, and complete Scrabble moves. Implementing preventative measures will not teach us the lessons we need. A cell phone ban in cars is a proposal that would do wonders for our society only if people viewed it from the proper angle - whatever it is, it can wait. Truly it can, no matter what situation might come up. I doubt that patience will be the lesson learned from the ban. Our roads will not be any safer unless people remember how it used to be.

Can you imagine driving from Oxford, Maryland to Key West, Florida without a cell phone? I did it many times. From the time I was 16 until I turned 27 or 28 I drove a few heaps of junk up and down the east coast. More than few times I had to sit on the side of the road and wait for a good samaritan or a police officer to swing by and offer some assistance. I cannot recall exactly how many times this happened but I do know that many a quiet moment was had.

There isn't much to do on the sides of I-95, Route 29, and some off-shoot back roads but watch the world go by. The world has plenty to offer if you just sit back and watch it rotate while waiting for a tow truck. I used to be able to exhibit some patience. Watching a pine tree sway in the wind fascinated me. I also know for a fact that if you stay quiet and look close enough you might see an owl sitting in the nook of a tree. It is better to witness some rarity in the natural world than placing a "j" on a triple letter score isn't it?

When was the last time you stopped on the side of the road and asked someone if they needed assistance? I think it has been over 8 or 9 years for me. Every time I see a car broken down on the side of the road I say to myself - 'it's okay, they probably have a cell phone.' I wonder if I have ever been wrong?

Any voicemail or email with the message 'get back to me right away' should just be erased. I've said it and I've heard it and I hate it. It has barely been a week since I sent an "urgent" message to my friend Lesley. Sorry, Lesley, the dog picture with the Packers' helmet could have waited until Saturday. It is the implication of 'or else' that creates unnecessary drama, tension, and work in the life of the sender and recipient. The ability to wait has become a lost art. Just a reminder, the great epic "Ben Hur" was filmed without cell phones. How it was filmed I haven't a clue but it was.

For years problems were solved, even bigger problems than moving movie extras around, without the use of cell phones. Whatever the issue is it can wait until you drive through a work zone on the highway to be addressed. How ugly is it that we aren't willing to ensure the safety of others when directing our attention to non-pressing matters? Then there are the pressing the health of our loved ones.

This can be solved by re-prioritizing what is most important in our lives. Of course economic pressures often do not allow us to do the things we should. I'm sure most people would rather take care of loved ones who are ill but how will bills get paid and food be put on the table if jobs are lost because family came first? There are still some bosses that allow employees to attend to family matters but those stories are rare and I think they mostly take place in Europe...

When my stepfather passed away unexpectedly in 1992 I was living in New York City. That day I went to work then headed over to a friend's house for dinner. At the friend's house I called home to check in about some travel plans and that is when I found out. It was several hours after he died. I had to get home, pack, go to Brooklyn, and meet up with family. By the time everything was taken care of in New York it was too late to get on the road and drive to Fredericksburg. We finally made it to the house late in the afternoon the next day, almost 24 hours later. It was tough not being able to be home right away. Yes it was sad, but everybody did the best they could and you know what, it was all fine. Friends filled in where family could not. People stepped up to fill the voids and attend to what needed to be done. I am so glad I did not have a cell phone going off the whole time I was en route to the destination I need to get to. There was a calm and a peace within the family that was never interrupted by some stupid ringtone.

I just paid my cell phone bill this morning. Verizon got 63 bucks that I need to use for Christmas presents and that isn't even for an Iphone. 63 bucks for a flip phone that I hate to use because it is such a pain to operate. On Tuesday I was driving home from Assateague and sent four text messages from that phone while on Route 50. On three of them I was fine but on one I swerved over onto the shoulder. I'm definitely not as good at texting and driving as I once was. Not one of those texts dealt with a matter of any urgency. What a stupid idea it was to even pull the phone out of the glove box.

Remember when all you had was a landline? I do. It was fun coming home at the end of the day and retrieving messages. People understood that life did not revolve around the call they were making. There was always a day or two grace period to get back in touch. If someone lost their patience and called you a few too many times in one day that person was considered a stalker. Waiting wasn't always easy but it certainly was good exercise...

I think it might be time for me to downgrade even further. Even though I think a landline would be an upgrade from my present cell phone situation. I would definitely get rid of my cell phone if the ban wasn't just for the inside of an automobile but extended to say city limits. And how about on public transportation, on sidewalks, in lines at the grocery store! People might learn how to be considerate, helpful to others, and patient if we just made phone calls within the confines of our own homes. Imagine that, the way it used to be...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Melodrama Demeans Truth

My grandmother once told me that there is no pain like that of losing a child from an unforeseen ailment. If such is the case then I cannot imagine what it must feel like to lose a child to his or her own doing because that child sought escape from the torment of peers. I doubt there are words to define what Tyler Clementi's parents suffer throughout every minute of each and every day. As they faced the press this morning the pain in their face read as big as a billboard in full sunlight and it was extremely unsettling. Then came a few staged scenes in the pre-shot video leading up to a live interview. In a tragic case so full of despair, vileness, and loss, NBC did Jane and Joe Clementi a disservice by airing actions in their home that were obviously staged and directed by someone outside of the family.

There are enough nauseating elements to Tyler Clementi's story without NBC having to create more. Do viewers across the land really need to see the Clementi's leafing through a photo album of Tyler as a young boy in order to increase the drama and get the point across? No, there is enough sadness surrounding the story to stick with the viewer for days. Such actions only cheapen the situation. One clip of an unapologetic Dharun Ravi was enough to take the level of truth in this tragedy to remarkable levels.

Ravi is the roommate who allegedly set up the webcam that filmed Tyler Clementi when he was involved in business that was nobody else's but his own. The fact that Ravi's trial continues after he rejected a plea bargain tells me he truly thinks he is innocent or his lawyer knows of one of those dark little alleys of justice that lead to good chances of having the case thrown out.

Considering all the elements involved in the story, emotional turmoil exists without props and without the direction of some cameraman who just received a Bachelor of Arts in Communications or Film. Such instances are almost as disgusting as the actions of Dharun Ravi. Let the facts tell the story. Tyler Clementi's death and everything associated with his passing does not deserve to be further victimized by melodrama.

Staging emotional triggers should be left to scenes involving the Kardashians and the Teen Moms. I have worked in certain situations and watched some kid holding a camera, under the age of 25, think he knows what is best for the American audience. Sometimes it works and it entertains. Then sometimes consideration for the human element is completely ignored and the result is nauseating. What is the mindset that leads one to think that staging a scene in the tragedy surrounding Tyler Clementi's death is necessary for the piece? Then Ann Curry had to start whispering questions to the mother. Her behavior certainly did not add anything to the piece. She became instantly un-watchable with groundbreaking inquiries such as 'what do you wish you could have done differently.' Jane Clementi has enough of her own demons to face. This morning's broadcast offered many more opportunities to help people facing similar circumstances by covering outlets of assistance rather than re-hashing the past.

Of course the news has been getting away with such nonsense for years. Maybe now is a good time to retire the wanna-be entertainers in favor of journalists who know how to report the truth without melodrama. The more that news leans toward reality television the less amount of truth will be available to the public. Our world is full of enough fiction; we need all the truth we can get. Journalists need not demean the profession they have chosen by turning a news reports into skits. We have enough Alec Baldwins in the world to do the entertaining for us.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Maryland's Quiet Winter Wonderland

In summer's wake comes the stillness. The masses have retreated back to their routines, which do not involve driving to the ocean and tying up traffic all along eastbound Route 50. Colder breezes bringing their chill from the north inspire hibernation. Those that can seek refuge in warmer climates to the south. Those that cannot are left to suffer through winter's bullying until spring returns.

In any weather the beach remains. The sand still soaks up whatever sun might pierce through the cloud cover. Waves still break upon this sand. The natural world does not shut down just because the Boardwalk empties out. There is still much left to observe and it is all quite beautiful.

Get in your car; there are no delays at the Bay Bridge. Ocean City has not completely shut down; she has merely changed her attire in favor of a more serene look. You will not be disappointed if you go. The memories created in winter months can have just as much impact as their summer cousins. There are less distractions so these memories will be clearer, more precise, and full of detail. Do not let the doldrums take hold. Summer will come again. Take a drive and drink in all the beauty of winter. Embrace it, if you can, and winter will embrace you back. As long as you have a thick coat that embrace will be surprisingly warm...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Making your tummy warm since 1958 but now it's trying to kill you!

Fear the noodle!

Instant noodle soups have gained sudden notoriety, because apparently NPR's Planet Money couldn't find any other news fit to report on, because said delicious treats pose a potential threat to hungry people.

When will the sensationalism stop?

Of course ramen, Cup o' Noodles (the former name), and anything else you add boiling water to poses a potential threat. Swiss Miss better watch her pretty little ass because the wolves are looking for any ol' carcass to throw to a lawsuit-hungry audience.

Most of the injuries that happen with the instant noodle brands happen to children. Anything that hurts a child is awful, it really the styrofoam cup's fault? (Insert Seth Meyer's voice here...Really!?) Do companies really need to revamp their whole system in order to adapt to society's lack of practical knowledge and coordination...Really!?

Throughout my lifetime I have spilled countless ounces of dangerous liquids on kitchen floors, car consoles, and boat decks but have never ever lost a drop of delicious broth from an instant meal. Do I have the coordination of a Cirque Du Soleil performer? I should say not. I was just taught to keep hot liquids on a level surface. While many lessons I learned just kind of vanished into nothingness that basic knowledge of be very careful with stuff that can burn the heck out of you sort of stuck with me. Simple right?

Yes, it is simple. Why does something that seems so simple become news? I have an idea...

Poor parenting. If, as reported some years ago, elementary school children are having oral sex parties then I'm led to believe that some practical lessons aren't being taught in the home. Why are the instant noodle companies being called out and not the parents who didn't properly teach their children how to handle hot liquids? Yes, accidents happen even when a parent is around but if Cup o Noodles burns become newsworthy could there be an underlying issue?

Instant noodles have been around since 1958. I guess the lesson of putting dangerous liquids on a level surface, which was routinely taught in the houses and elementary schools I stepped foot in, has been replaced by App Development for the IPhone and Filmmaking. Your sixth grader is a whiz at his or her Iphone and can edit a 10 minute short film but the poor thing cannot pour burning water into a styrofoam cup without needing a skin graph. Why are children the majority of burn victims in this modern epidemic? If instant noodles are the origin of such newsworthy finger pointing why wasn't this reported before? Did Planet Money approach the story from the best angle? How many more questions can I pose to you, my faithful and loving audience?

For most of my life I have enjoyed watching the news. When CNN and The Weather Channel came along I thought they were two of the greatest inventions ever. When I lived in Charleston, S.C. my buddies and I would spend hours in front of the television watching hurricanes move up the coast and planning our surf outings. 9/11 had me glued to CNN. I thought their reporting on everything that was going on was stellar. Unfortunately, something has happened along the way and no news now means need news.

This summer there wasn't an media outlet that didn't do anything it could to instill impending peril in the lives of millions when covering the earthquake on the East Coast and Hurricane Irene a few days later. Wolf Blitzer and Jim Cantore reached Marty Bass level on the annoyance scale when they focused more on an Escape From New York type strategy rather than getting to the real story that was about to occur in New Jersey and Vermont. The best thing to happen throughout the whole coverage was when the guy in Virginia Beach mooned the camera as the reporter was trying to stir up the doom factor. That naked behind was the best message sent to contemporary journalists and the timing was priceless. YouTube it if you haven't seen it!

Now if I want to be informed I go to the newspaper. Network news seems to have lost a lot of its integrity. As a kid I thought Walter Cronkite was one of the most honest men I had ever laid eyes on yet never met. Peter Jennings dying of lung cancer did more to help me quit smoking than watching the suffering of those closer to me. I used to love hearing both the good and the bad from well-informed professional journalists. I find it very interesting that I, like many others, now turn on Comedy Central if I want to watch good reporting. Hopefully NPR doesn't spiral down the same path as many other news agencies.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rahm says you play you stop crying about it

Some residents of Chicago are up in arms over the 'nickel and dime' increases that are to result from Mayor Emanuel's new budget. The Mayor could have taken the easy way out and just raised taxes across the board. What is he supposed to do to try and pull the city out of the mire of debt brought on by past administrations? Paying more for anything right now is the last thing anybody wants to read about in the newspaper or hear about on the evening news but it is the reality. I wish I could come up with a plan that would fix all the economic woes but my theatre arts degree doesn't quite qualify me or aide me to do so.
But I do have some opinions on the matter...

Fines are going up if you don't keep your yard neat and you park illegally. If you don't do what you are supposed to do you will be fined a heftier sum than last year. Obviously you could afford to pay those fines last year because you did those things. You broke laws. You let that abandoned lot you picked up as investment in a dilapidated neighborhood get all overgrown and trash ridden because you were too lazy to go out there and keep your sh*t tight. Now you have to straighten up the property and get rid of the rats that have invaded your yard and the property of the neighbors who might live nearby or you will pay the city a fine. Good show, Mr. Mayor!!

If you don't park according to the way the law is written you will have to pay more. So park the right way and don't worry about it. If you push the issue and maybe duplicate a residential zone parking sticker 4 times in one week, you could get caught. (My record is 3 times in one week!) You get caught; you pay up. Where is the wrong in that?

Here are my two favorites: fines go up for vehicles impounded for arrests and parking in handicap spots. There should be no limits to these fines. If you get caught driving under the influence you should pay at least 5000 dollars to get your car back. So what if it takes you a year to pay it all off in order to get your car back. You don't deserve to drive anyway. You put other peoples' lives in danger. Chicago has a wonderful public transportation system that you should have taken home after you drank 8 pints of stout at the office Christmas party.

If you park in a handicap spot, even if it's for 5 seconds just so you could run in and return that movie to the red box you should be caned as well as fined 500 dollars (or whatever the current fine may be). If you drive your grandmama's car to Game Stop and she stays home but you use her placard to park in a handicap spot then you should be fined, caned, and have your car impounded for an arrest. Don't cheat the system and you do not have a thing to worry about. If you do decide to go for it, well, I hope your wallet is thicker than mine. Are you that lazy that you can't walk from the far end of the parking lot to the store? Liter and parking in handicap spots rub me the wrong way. I don't think there should be any limits to the fines imposed on people who break these two laws. Laziness is a great reason to jack up the fines.

People are also fretting about raising the taxes on alcohol and tobacco. Raise those taxes all you want I say. Neither of those are necessities; they are luxuries. If you want a six pack of Bud then a little pinch of Skoal after that is your choice so don't bitch about paying the price, whatever it is. If you don't like it go have a can of "pop." Oh, "pop" is taxed too. A delicious can of Dr. Pepper is not needed to make it through the day. Water will suffice and it is better for you; but who needs that...

Eli Mongrel and Arthur Brown have to have special licenses if they are to remain in tact and reside in homes within the city limits. That's the law so it has to be followed or I'll get a ticket walking them through the neighborhood. They have their nuts licenses. (Thank God they are Gracie's dogs so she has to pay that stupid fee.)

The election of Mayor Emanuel is by no means akin to the Second Coming. There are the red-light and speed cameras. Those means are just plain totalitarianism. There are some police officers who get so comfortable in their jobs that they gain a tremendous amount of weight and therefore are unable to police the city at 100%. Can these select few effectively patrol the streets and enforce the new curfew rules? Hell no; they can't catch some speedy crumbsnatchers but they can sit behind a hedge and run a radar gun. Dehumanizing law enforcement is flat out wrong. What's wrong with assigning police officers to spend a majority of the time near schools? Is it that much more cost effective to put in cameras rather than have a human element in sight of children, parents, and perps?  The Mayor would do the city a better service by getting rid of machines and improving his methods of communicating with the Chicago Police Department.

Cities and states are in turmoil. There is no way around having to suffer the consequences other than expatriating. For the most part I am a fan of Mayor Emanuel. While not perfect, and what politician is, he is looking at alternative resources to collect money for the city. He is going to penalize people for trying to beat the system. Good! That is where the money should come from. I have broken many a law in my time EXCEPT for parking in a handicap spot. The thought has never crossed my mind. Each time I pushed the envelope, well most every time, I knew that if I got caught I, and my parents, would have to suffer some consequences. (Sorry again, Mom.) Mayor Emanuel and the city of Chicago sure missed out on me not growing up in Cook County. I'm sure a few roads in Virginia and Maryland were re-paved due to my indiscretions. I am confident that all the rule breakers in Chicago will rise to the occasion and some of those potholes on North Avenue will be paved in the very near future...or Mayor Emanuel will take his family to Barbados for Christmas.

Monday, November 28, 2011

I'd do it all over again tomorrow...or maybe the day after

Before the game even started I was threatened. I was threatened with a four-hour tailgate, unlimited chicken tenders, a case of Victoria beer on ice, and plates of chocolate-iced brownies. In my past I have never been known for my stamina when it comes to staying awake past the tailgate. I have missed many a game-winning drive due to the fact that I just can't hang. While revelers run through the streets celebrating a victory by the home team I have slept soundly in the back of a Buick or a Tahoe with Sharpie graffiti all over my face. These days it's different; there are kids around. One must act one's age. For most of Saturday into Saturday night I did pretty well. I maintained my composure during the tailgate and enjoyed meeting some new people and catching up with old friends. Then it came time to go inside the stadium. I felt the possible effect of the Victoria's as I weaved through the other thousands of people heading in the same direction.

The threats did not stop once everyone was settled into the skybox overlooking Williams-Brice Stadium. Plates of wings, mac n cheese, and cookies stood next to handles of Mt. Gay rum and Glenlivet scotch. Trying to maintain my wits grew even more difficult. At least there weren't any kids around. The young ones were with their Grandfather allowing the group a few minutes to cut loose. I took advantage of the situation and went with the Glenlivet. A younger and dumber version of me would have gone with the rum. That always proved to be disaster in the past. My big-boy pants hadn't fallen off yet.

As I stared out over the stands watching the pre-game festivities my buddy Daniel's wife Laura came over and stood next to me. I thought she was going to ask how I was doing or catch me up on some fun stories about Carlysle and Ellie but the look on her face told me something completely different. I wondered what I had done wrong. Before I could speak up Laura pointed a finger at me and narrowed her eyes in an almost threatening manner. "Whatever you do do not take your eyes of that {cart}." I looked over and somebody was pushing a cart out on the field. The cart was not as appealing as the cheerleaders being tossed in the air but as a guest in her home, needless to say, I obeyed.

Amidst all the electricity in the air before a South Carolina vs. Clemson football game it was hard to remain focused on the rickety old cart being dragged around by a couple guys who looked like they had taken part in the larger end of a Makers Mark bottle the night before. When Laura wasn't looking I let my gaze travel all over the stadium because what I was witnessing was incredible. There is nothing like an SEC football game. The enthusiasm of the fans draws you in and the talent of the players seals the deal. When the cart reached the middle of the field, out of my periphery, I saw Laura point at me again. I watched as smoke poured out of the top of the cart and the intensity of the music increased. Everyone in the stadium, including me, waved a white towel over their head. After the crowd reached "frenzy" level the curtains surrounding the cart dropped and out of nowhere appeared Cocky, the Gamecocks mascot. "Frenzy" went up a notch to "berserk." And it was awesome...

There cannot be a better experience in the world than putting on Cocky's outfit then running around the field and through the stands at Williams-Brice Stadium. Cocky points a wing and people go crazy. Taylor Swift has to spend hours writing a song to do what Cocky does with the lift of one furry spur. I was ready to do cartwheels in the skybox.

When I arrived in Columbia I didn't have much energy. Such was no longer the case once the game started. I felt like I could keep on tailgating and enjoyed a nice scotch or two during the first half. Being a much wiser par-taker these days I switched to beer for the second half. However, things might have caught up with me a little bit since no one else dropped a beer during the 4th quarter and broke glass all over the floor by the buffet. Then there was the part where my navigation skills faltered and nine-year-old Ellie Bug had to lead me by hand out of the stadium. It was near midnight and I was still doing fairly well but maybe the F-bomb in front of the kids and Doc on the drive home wasn't a very good idea. I think Daniel and Laura understood my excitement not being used to such an experience and were able to cut me some slack. They did say I brought South Carolina some luck and would be invited back. I think they were serious...

So it's Monday and it's time to get back to the grind. Getting the equilibrium back proves to be quite difficult this morning. Most of last week was spent in the car so I feel like it is only now that I can sit back and reflect on all that I have to be thankful for. There is a lot. All the people that have put up with me are at the top of the list. One day I will buy you all some sandwiches but for know let me just say an honest and most heart-felt thank you for all that you all have done. I could say more but I think it might be time for a nap. Go Cocks!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Downward Spiral Continues

Traffic has come to a standstill on one of the busiest streets in Chicago. Southbound Michigan Avenue has been shut down by those who wish to Occupy Wall Street. People sit in their cars and tap their steering wheels in frustration. They clench their jaws and grind their teeth unaware of the root canal that will take away their vacation money in a few years. Children wait at home for their mother or father to return from work. Meals need to be made, medicines need to be administered, and help is required for homework to be completed. Not everybody who went to work today holds a membership card to the 1% Club. Some of those people on their way home sit on some form of public transportation because they cannot afford a car. At 6:35 pm they sit and they wait. Their day has been long. Their hands hurt. Hope for a better existence died out long ago yet they continue to trudge back and forth to work because they have to. People we don't even know exist depend upon the employed member of society to work the 40 hour work week. Every penny in that paycheck has already been spoken for. These are the people suffering tonight.

Those lucky few of the 1% left the office around lunchtime if they even showed up at all. Ivanka Trump recently posted a picture from the Bahamas to her Twitter account. Tough day at the office for that entrepreneur. If you are rich enough to be in the 1% you can afford to work from home. If you are a 1%-er you aren't anywhere near the occupied streets tonight.

Today's Inner  Monologue of the 1%-er:
Streets are blocked by angry people who didn't go to work today...I guess I'll go out to the mailbox get the Wall Street Journal send out a few emails then go to the club for lunch. Oh well. But damn...I did want to stop by Macy's and pick up a few cashmere items. I guess I'll do it next week after the streets have cleared. (pause to watch a few minutes of Fox news) Wow, it looks cold outside but I need to find out what trends might affect the market today.
(Press intercom button here) "Rochester"
(voice filtered through intercom) "Yes, sir?"
(Press intercom button again) "I'm ready for my paper and some coffee."
(voice filtered through intercom) "Yes, sir. Right away, sir."

What is this protest doing for America? Voices have been heard but what is getting accomplished? In my humble unemployed opinion the wrong people are being affected by the rabble. Those that wish for their voices to be heard might want to pull out the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. one more time and re-read his essay on nonviolent resistance. Take his words to heart, put them into action, then see what reaction results. Every action has its consequences and how far these consequences extend reach further that most of these protestors have the ability to foresee.

I feel terrible for the hard working people just trying to get home tonight. Those occupying the middle of Michigan Avenue obviously have no concern for others. There is a greater good that has become lost upon those marching down the street. Greed has ruined this country but it is not an excuse to ruin the evening of the undeserved. Show me the video of the person struck in traffic raising their fists in solidarity or beeping their horn with glee and I will erase every word of this opinion. For now though, it feels good to pop off...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Am I Barrel Aging Too?

Over the years my friends and acquaintances have chided me for having no palette when it comes to choosing beer for any and all occasions. While packing for a NASCAR race in Charlotte, NC my boss handed me a hundred dollar bill with the one condition being that I couldn't spend it all on Budweiser. He and others who were accompanying me on the excursion had been spending evenings and an awful lot of their per diem on beers with words in their titles such as: Lambic, Dogfish Head, Dopplebock, and Lagunitas. To thirty-eight-year-old me this was a terrible waste of money. At 42 I might be starting to see the light as my tastes have expanded and now include some of those fancy labels that require a steady paycheck (or should) to enjoy.

A few weeks ago a rep from Chicago Beverage came to the Old Town Ale House and dropped off a six pack of tasters from the Argus brewery, which is located on the south side of Chicago. The names on the bottles were all weird and those of us doing the tasting had a hard time keeping track of what was in the yay and nay column. Four of the beers were under consideration. One wasn't bad but the final candidate, which was some wheat mess that tasted like spit, was immediately discarded. The winner was the Argus Pegasus IPA. This fine beverage now has its place in the cooler at the Ale House and sells for a bargain price of five dollars. The people who try it love it. I tried it and loved it. That is when I started to notice a change or as my friends have put it - a long overdue maturity. Ever since the Argus tasting, I have been turning my nose up at traditional flavors that have so dutifully quenched my thirst for quite a few years.

The first time I ever tried beer I loved it. The first time I remember trying it was at Pope's Tavern circa 1977. One afternoon my parents took me along to see a musician friend of theirs named Drew who attended our church. My step father ordered a bottle of Budweiser. It came with one of those hourglass pilsner glasses that you hardly ever see in bars anymore. When my step father poured the Budweiser into the glass my mouth started to water. This small ordinary act had a big effect on an eight year old boy from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Tiny bubbles rose through amber colored liquid that seemed to glow as bright as the sun. To put it simply I was captivated. I asked if I could taste the beer. Thinking like most parents would my stepfather agreed and pushed the glass my way. I stood up in my chair and grabbed that fine hourglass shape with both hands then gently put the rim to my lips. The carbonation sensation mixed with the smell of barely and hops hit me in all the right places. I tipped that glass up as high as I could and tried to drink the whole thing down as if it were a sippy cup full of apple juice. This caused quite a commotion because the next thing I remember was the glass being yanked out of my hands and beer spilling on the table and my Garanimals. The waitress rushed over some towels and my step father said: "I didn't think he'd like it." Even Drew, in the middle of a song, laughed at the scene I had just caused. Ooops.

My affinity for America's best-selling lager stuck. It is one of the longest lasting relationships I have ever endured. However, tastes have changed and Budweiser just doesn't do it for me anymore. Maybe when the warm weather returns things will go back to normal but for now sitting back on the couch when all the items on the to-do list have been crossed off requires something with a little more attitude, something a little more distinct.

Yesterday I went up to Binny's Beverage Depot and had some fun in the craft beer aisle.

My afternoon was spent enjoying the fruits of my labor. After a recent conversation with the Chicago Beverage rep I followed his recommendation and opened up a bottle of Southern Tier Imperial Mokah. I like a flavorful cup of coffee in the afternoons but after an incredibly productive day I went with a coffee-flavored stout instead. The Mokah tasted like hedonism and set the stage for an incredible siesta with one bottle at 1 pint 6ounces having 11.2% alcohol by volume. I wish I had let it sit in the fridge a little bit longer because I drank it a few degrees too warm. The first sips were delicious but has time went on (this heavy beer was probably meant to last from a kickoff to a halftime) I had to drink faster than I would have liked as the beer started to get closer to room temperature. My gaffe at the chilling process did not make for a bad experience at all with the Mokah. I look forward to putting another bottle in the fridge quite soon.

In the evening I opened a bottle of Dogfish Head My Antonia which is labeled as "a continually hopped imperial pils." This beer is more my speed. If it was more of a bargain price I would keep a steady supply in my fridge. This beer was light yet packed a fine-tuned hoppy flavor and boasted a bouquet that made me breath deeply before every sip. This 1 pint 9.4 ounce bottle disappeared before the first commercial break of Mad Fashion and I was sad to have made it disappear so quickly, but at least it made Gracie's choice of nighttime television palatable. Never again will I go into a store and walk out with only one bottle of My Antonia unless I only have ten bucks in my pocket.

Another tasty choice I tried recently is Hinterland's Luna Coffee Stout. I found the best flavor was achieved exactly the opposite way of the Imperial Mokah. The first sips right out of the cooler had a little too much bite but as time went on, after one episode during a marathon of House Hunters International, the flavors settled down and tasted more authentic to the brew master's intention. The beer was much lighter and I could still maintain my charming personality after three pints and six episodes of HHI.

All three beers will have a return engagement to my refrigerator but the clear winner is Dogfish Head's My Antonia. Those folks over there in Delaware have really done some spectacular brewing. I look forward to trying more of their wares. For now I need to close and hit that to-do list because there is a whole shelf full of craft beers left over from yesterday that need taste testing. Who's going to come finish up the bottles of Budweiser way in the back?

Friday, November 11, 2011

That Was Close...

Everyone has those kind of moments, the ones that make you stop in your tracks and take a deep breath and say a little prayer of thanks that harm did not come to you. I am not talking about the car almost sideswiping your Ford Taurus station wagon on the interstate where you think you might have gotten hurt moments; I'm talking about the did that just really happen moments.

Up until Wednesday of this week I have had two moments in life where I thought I was going to die. Then Wednesday happened and I have a hard head so I probably would have escaped death but there could have been serious injury.

When I was in high school I did not always make the best decisions. On one particular afternoon I decided to partake in all kinds of fun. A large group of us had gathered at a spot in downtown Lynchburg, VA that people from school called Nam. It was an old concrete truss over railroad tracks near a popular pizza joint. Nam was very convenient. It offered plenty of free parking and a wild variety of overgrown vegetation to keep our illegal activities from the local police.

Late in the day my head wasn't too clear and I probably wasn't following OSHA rules for hanging out on a ledge with paraphernalia. Someone told a story that made me break into hysterical laughter and when I did I took a step backward. My right foot landed on a pocket of air and my leg followed. I turned to my left and saw the wide eyes of the one person who saw what almost happened just before I felt a sensation under my foot and against my back. Believe you me, even as high as I was, I felt the downward force of stepping off into 30 feet of air. However, the downward force was halted. My shoulders lifted up and my right foot found purchase on the ledge. Immediately I felt sober and embarrassed. I put a finger to my lips so Bobbi wouldn't say anything. The look on her face went back to normal and I took a seat against the wall as if nothing had happened. I will never forget the look on Bobbi's face or the subtle (but not so subtle) sensation as Someone pressed the "up" button instead of "down" and all the momentum in life changed.

Instance Number 2 occurred in Costa Rica. In 1994 I traveled there to learn how to surf. The first day in I went out amidst chest-high surf. Anyone who surfs and might be reading this is already thinking 'what an idiot' and they are exactly right. I got caught inside a set of waves without really knowing how to duck dive too well. The surf worked me over as if I had never swam across the Tred Avon River, ran a 4.8 40 yard dash, or picked an obnoxious fraternity a#%hole up over my head and slammed him on the ground when visiting the Univeristy of Richmond. Wave after wave pushed me under water. Breaths were hard to come by but I was doing all right for a while. 'A while' was too much time. I grew weary quickly. One time I popped my head out of the Pacific Ocean and saw one of the other campers looking at me horrified and he started turning his board around to come back and save me. Then came another wave and under I went.

I'm not afraid to admit that in certain situations I can panic with the best of them. This was not one of them. The last time I went underwater I resigned myself to let the ocean have me. I had no business being out there so I had some heavy dues to pay. I kicked with my feet to try and reach the surface but I had no idea which way was up. No matter how many times I tugged on my leash I could not grasp my surfboard. I shrugged my shoulders and thought 'oh well.' My chest was tight with a desire for air and I had to let go. I opened my mouth and took a deep breath of that disgusting Pacific Ocean swill. It didn't hurt. Nothing in that moment hurt. It was a long and peaceful time underwater. The sunlight was gone and so were the bubbles. Then came sand hitting the bottom of my feet. It felt as if someone had unraveled a flying carpet of earth at just the right moment. I pushed off and broke through the surface as the other camper came over and yelled at me to get back to shore.

Getting back to shore was a chore. My arms could barely hold on to the surfboard. I was too tired to paddle so I went back underwater to try and push off the ocean floor and propel myself back in. My flying carpet of earth had vanished. Where had it gone? My foot found no traction. Once again I was floating in deep water but at least I had my surfboard under me and I wanted to paddle in the direction the waves were traveling. Back on the beach I sat and looked out over the ocean, my eyes focused on the distant horizon and my lips moved in a constant prayer of thanks.

So for years things had been good. The wild days are behind me. Now I tend to think through adventurous situations and I almost always wear a helmet. Who would have thought walking a mongrel through Lincoln Park would hold me in my tracks and make me consider my place in life for several silent minutes.

The wind gusts were reaching 30 knots on Wednesday. Eli looked so handsome with his fur all blown out by the wind. We walked along a freshly paved path over by the zoo and I thought about going to the lake to see if there were any waves but it was getting near time to open the Ale House so we stayed close to home. I was admiring Eli and thinking about getting my camera out of its dusty bag to start making photographs once again. Suddenly I felt a sting on my wrist then something smashed into my right thigh. What followed was the sound of one solid bit of matter hitting another solid bit of matter. I don't know any other way to describe it. I turned around and saw an eight-foot-long branch that was about six inches thick lying on the path just behind me. The fungi from the bark left a stain on my thigh. The wind was so loud I didn't hear it snap from the top of the aged tree we passed under. I stood there for quite some time looking around to see if anybody else had witnessed what just happened.

Ninety seconds later an elderly couple came up over a small berm, smiled at Eli, then kept walking. From the north came some person bundled up in a medium-puffy coat who kept on their way as if I didn't almost just get seriously injured. No one was around this urban space to share my experience. Eli kept looking at me wagging his tail as if saying 'let's go!' I was almost maimed and no one can verify it! Much of my prayer of thanks was for the fact that Eli's leash was tightly wrapped around my wrist so if I had been knocked out he wouldn't have been able to escape unless he chewed my arm off!

Fortunately, favorable Eyes were upon me. I firmly believe such. I like to think it was my father who caught me and propped me back up on the ledge at Nam. Only one Higher Power could have unraveled the ocean floor to help a foolish young man make it back to New York to graduate from Columbia and make his mother happy after years of thorough and complete disappointment. Everything happens for a reason; at least it sure does so in my life. In a few years I might be able to look back on Wednesday and understand why I was only a little bit bruised. I cannot dwell on the "why."One must move forward from the kind of moments I described but one must move on with proper perspective. I think I am doing so. Today I am still giving thanks. Things are as they are and that is just great because as things are they are really quite wonderful!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Turn Out the Lights the Party's Over All Good Things...

The novelty has worn off.

There hasn't been a sighting in quite sometime and everyone seems to be quite okay with it.

Street Jimmy has been absent from Wieland Street.

Early in the summer he was told by members of the 18th District to scram out of Old Town or be arrested. Residents of the area had grown weary of Street Jimmy's rather aggressive demeanor as he would seek handouts from all who passed by. And it was the right thing to do. Even those with a high tolerance level for his antics were having their giving spirits numbed by his lack of appreciation and sense of entitlement. Eventually, Street Jimmy decided not to listen to the cops who were trying to keep him out of jail. He did a few months. The out of sight out of mind period changed a lot of attitudes toward Street Jimmy. It was rather pleasant not having to deal with him on the street and especially inside the bar.

Street Jimmy thought he deserved more than he received. Crack can have that affect on the mind. His thinking, while being rather askew to begin with when I met him, became intolerable. I started losing patience with him when he decided to pick and choose which jobs he would do for people. He certainly was ready to run to the store and fetch a Coke Zero or duck into Starbucks for a Grande Dirty Chai with two shots but when it came to shoveling a foot and a half of snow off the sidewalk Street Jimmy was nowhere to be found. He would show up to help move furniture only after the bulk of the work was done. The words he would use to describe himself as being "tired of being tired" were those of your typical addict - they were fiction. Winter offered him limitless opportunities to make money. Twenty bucks was too much when five would do.

People would listen to him talk. His monologue was delivered with emotion but truth wasn't part of the foundation. Street Jimmy's delivery was need based. Words words words always words and never any evidence to back up those words. His actions always moved him toward the dealers on Sedgwick Street rather than toward rehab or the shelter. This summer many people commented on how pleasant it was not having him around. When Gracie said it, it held the most weight with me. Her tolerance level of Street Jimmy was on "Mother Theresa" level. However, one can only take so much.

A few weeks ago he got out of jail. That was a fun day. We celebrated with him as he strode around the bar all smiles and health after amassing many days of 3 hots and a cot. He had just had his picture taken with former Chicago Bear Richard Dent and was rather pleasant to be around. I got him a few articles of clothing and  Grace sent him on a run to grab us some lunch. He even confessed to hitting the pipe that same day, which we all shook our heads at and laughed about. Unfortunately, the good times were short lived. By day two the snarl was back when he wouldn't get the handouts he thought he should receive. That did it for me and maybe for some of the folks who wear blue and carry silver badges because he has not been seen in a few days. Nobody is at all upset about it...except for one person.

There is one person left who he can still get over on. This particular lady constantly stops by the bar and asks whomever is behind the bar to relay messages to Street Jimmy. She is worried about him because she thinks people set him up. Other miscreants ask Street Jimmy to hold their drugs for him and that is why he gets arrested. She did say that she thinks he "might" smoke a little marijuana and drink every once in a while. Yesterday she came him and asked me to tell Street Jimmy to come see her. I said I would, but I also had had my fill of this nonsense. I told her that said could probably find him on Sedgwick Street trying to purchase some crack. "Oh no, he doesn't do that!" she said storming out of the bar. That poor woman...

Nobody wishes any harm to come to Street Jimmy. Actually, some people do and it is hard to argue against that. He had a real good thing going around Wieland Street but his crack-addled mind lost him that territory. He was a watchdog, a wheelbarrow, and at times a worthy companion. Now he is a crack addict and nothing else. I hope there might be some humanity left in him and a Higher Power can yank it out of the fog in his soul because once upon a time there was a diminutive boy who had trouble saying certain words, in fact a lot of words. Said boy went trick or treating through a South Side neighborhood with his mother who held a gun in her hand to keep them safe. Now that boy is a machine who's level of survival rivals anything our Armed Forces can produce, but his existence is for a sole purpose in this life. How much more can he take? I have no idea and I don't care to think about it for another minute today.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Branching Out to Dine on Words

I readily admit that my cultural tastes are rather narrow. As a child, for me to dine on anything that did not come out of mother's kitchen Americana was usually the result of a grave threat. Foreign movies were sleeping pills and foreign literature just wasn't Hemingway. My parents did their best to expand my horizons, but early on I knew what I liked and saw no need to go beyond tuna fish for lunch, Miami Vice on Friday nights, Star Wars on Betamax, and Beverly Cleary for a good weekend read. At 42 I am much improved as my horizons have greatly expanded to include a love of many cuisines, subtitles, Neruda, and Katy Perry. I know Ms. Perry is an Americana but she is amazing isn't she?

I have many people to thank for kicking me in the seat to venture out of my comfort zone. In Fredericksburg, VA, Craig Lovett introduced me to sushi for the first time and I immediately went nuts for the stuff. Japanese food led me to Thai food, Thai food led me to try Indian food and a few cases of hospitalization-worthy food poisoning later I am starting to tolerate Indian food again. These days I hardly ever eat full on American food unless I am stuck in Yemassee, SC for two and one half weeks.

Forgive me for rambling as I am fighting the flu after paddling on a cold-a** Lake Michigan without wetsuit booties and can barely think straight but let me get to my orginal intent: Haruki Murakami (There is a study that says cold feet have a direct correlation to the functions of the nose and the nose is the cradle of all that is not well with my world.)

Despite all Grace's trips to Walgreens for Diet Canada Dry Ginger Ale, orange juice, and strawberry ice cream, my suffering lingers. The garbage on television offered no relief to the tightness in my face and head. I turned to the written word when a package arrived on my doorstep from Barnes and Noble. Inside was "1Q84" by Murakami and another Inspector Rebus paperback by Ian Rankin. I knew I had ordered a Murakami novel but I wasn't sure which one. For almost a year I have been trying to decided which one to try first. One bad novel and I will put an author back on the shelf forever. Last night I opened "1Q84" and 3 pages in felt a sensation I had not felt since "The Captain's Verses," "Cold Mountain," and "The Stones of Summer." Let it be said that without Pablo Neruda I may have never sought out any author who did not copy his or her original words down in the King's English.

In contemporary literature there are few works that reach deeply and touch a person's soul. I mean this literally. A fine read is the mixture of all the words into the mind, which are then ingested into one's emotional capacity and spread warmth throughout the body like tomato soup on New Year's Day morning. This latest work by Murakami does so and I am only a few pages in. I have not been excited about continuing a read for some time. This isn't just entertainment like so many books being downloaded today (I am reading the hardback, no Kindle for me!), this is an example of the craft of writing. The work that must have been put into this novel is evidenced early on. Strength of syntax rivals any work I have read in the last five years. Each word is placed in it's proper order as if no other word could take it's place. This is a novel executed with care. There are too many Stuart Woods' on the best sellers list belittling the capabilities of our minds.

I hope I am not jinxing myself. A little research has shown me that Murakami can get heavy into the outlandish and that is what turned me off of Garcia Marquez. But what the future holds for this novel and my tastes will be determined shortly. The point is I am truly thrilled to be touched by literature once again. Maybe the flu has tightened my head to the point of delirium? That's okay. For now I am going to enjoy the ride. "1Q84" holds a tremendous amount of promise.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Iphone Gone...Life Updated

Not too long ago I got rid of my Iphone. I traded the sucker in for an old flip phone that is best used for conversation...of the verbal kind. Hold on a second -

I hadn't planned on using the word "sucker" until I was composing that previous sentence. "Sucker" is such an appropriate term for the Iphone that the whole premise for this piece just changed.

Hello, my name is Basil Tydings and I was addicted to Iphone apps.

But I do have an addictive personality. I was not strong enough to set my Iphone aside in order to pick up and book and read it. I was too weak to address all kinds of creative projects that were hopeful jumpstarts to a career because I had too many Words with Friends games going on. I was becoming a technological recluse, hiding in any dark corner where I could still see a touch screen yet avoid a conversation. Now I am free and re-entering a society that has its collective head down with its ear buds in. I feel so all alone.

Oh well.

There are perks to being old and outdated. Silence and plenty of free time make for a productive day. I am enjoying being a new member of Barnes and Noble. Books arrive at my door and I don't have to pay for shipping. The newspapers aren't piling up as high without being read. I cooked four out of five nights last week and the apartment is clean. There isn't any reason to check my new phone because texting with that thing is one complete pain in the ass. I am getting a lot done that might help me improve my situation, one would hope.

My local environment is brighter because I actually take the time to look around and see what is going on. The female Downy Woodpecker that came to my feeder...I saw her because I was not engrossed in an application that was draining my lifeblood and furthering the pain caused by TMJ. The local news at 6pm is exciting to watch because I haven't received 14 updates about Kim Kardashian's wedded bliss. It feels like back in the day when the family would gather around the table for dinner and the evening news at my Grandfather's house and it feels good. Now if only the paper would be delivered in the evenings!!

By by 100 dollar waste of money every month. Some of the apps I purchased  were supposed to help further my career. So what if I knew the exact position of the sun on any given day; that $5.99 didn't get my any more work on movie sets. Nobody bought any of the comic strips I created with the photos I took on my phone. All the home movies I took of Boo eating blueberries look like crap on a larger screen. I wish I had a nice film still of Boo taken with my medium-format camera instead of wasting all that time with the Iphone. I am going to have so much money this winter I might be able to buy groceries!

We will see about that.

Don't be fooled by my new found happiness; I still go through periods of withdraw. It took me ten minutes to text Gracie asking her to bring home a certain bottle of wine from Treasure Island. In my old age where dizziness comes quickly, I hate not knowing where magnetic north is. Creating voice memos is a thing of the past. I may have gotten rid of the Iphone but now I might need to buy a man purse in order to carry my compass, notebook, camera, voice recorder, pencils, sharpies, laptop, and sextant. Lewis and Clark did it; I guess I can too.

But I hear the Iphone 5 is going to be amazing...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Technology Makes Me Want to Puke, Especially in Modern Times

Remember when you had a travel agent take care of all your vacation plans instead of the Travelocity gnome?

Maybe many of you don't, but I do. That person was a living breathing human being who had a job and earned an income. When I turned sixteen I used to pull into the Shell station on Route 3 and ask the guy who was attending to all the pumps different questions about the way my car was running. He told me a lot of stuff that I don't remember at all, but we developed a good relationship. I knew my car was in good hands when I left it with the really cool Shell guy.

Now I put my card in the slot, pump my gas and get the change rounded up to the nearest dollar in my Bank of America account. I would trade in my "keep the change" account to interact with a neighborhood gas station attendant that would take good care of the Sapphire Hornet at ANY point in time. Hell, at this point in time I'll take on the job of the gas station attendant!!

Where did the checkout girl go at Walgreens? Why do I have to drive several miles, in a city mind you, to get film developed with care? Is there such thing as an independent bookseller who caters to customer's tastes? The only good customer service left is the pot dealer who delivers right to your front door in 30 minutes or less.

Technology is killing the job market, or at least any job I am qualified for. Yeah yeah yeah, it makes everything easier, but it also makes you dumber and the gift of patience is becoming lost upon us as human beings. Nobody can spell anymore except for the 25 kids who end up in Putnam County. We are becoming too reliant on the ease of things and that is hurting America, socially and economically.

Somebody please tell me what the space program ever done for the greater good of our country...besides heighten the arms race? Get rid of NASA then those folks can go teach math somewhere...but who the hell wants to teach anymore? Very few people I know would be hurt by NASA closing because they couldn't work there anyway! I couldn't. Take that spaceship fuel and convert it to unleaded gasoline and fill up a few dozen cars.

It's nearing election time and I cannot take listening to anyone's solutions to our problems. There are a few easy solutions like take away age limits for some jobs. I could beat out more than half of any group trying out for the military, the police department, or the fire department in both physical and mental challenges, but I am over 40 so I can't even put my genius and somewhat in shape shoulders to work. There are a lot of people over 40 who want steady income who could perform a number of services as an "elderly" civil servant. Make credit cards harder to get. If you want a 2000 dollar limit for a credit card then you better show that you have 2000 dollars cash in an account. It's as simple as that. Less available credit that is killing this economy would force people to pay cash for necessary items and maybe bring about a higher demand for people in necessity Walgreens. Also, take some of the money from the now-defunct NASA program and fix the infrastructure of this country!! In Chicago they started at the wrong end of North Ave fixing potholes and there is plenty more that needs to be done. Local governments can't afford to maintain, I said maintain not improve, their facilities and roadways.

Hey politicians...come up with viable solutions and create some damn jobs!! And tax the rich so more money can be doled out at the state level for contracts that will make public transportation safer, roads smoother, and classrooms less crowded.

Wendell Pierce, an actor from the Wire and Treme, tweeted that he is part of the very small percentile that makes over 200,000 dollars per year and feels very little demand from the federal government. I applauded his honesty:

WendellPierce Wendell Pierce
Only 3% of Americans make more than $200,000. I'm one of them. For 10 years I have had a tax break. 10 Years. A 3% increase in tax nothing

The solutions seem simple but I have no idea what I am talking about. Hell, I was a theatre arts major. But our county is getting ridiculous and there doesn't seem to be anybody on the horizon who appears to be able to fix things unless you are talking about the distant hoirzon and the Rapture!!:) I will say this: take away age restrictions and I will put out some fires.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Wasted Opportunity Wasted

Since Spanish class at VES with Senor Sullivan I dreamt of donning a pair of white slacks, a nice soft Egyptian cotton button down, a red kerchief, a pair of track shoes, and hitting the streets of Pamplona for a little jog...a very fast-paced jog. Throughout the years when news stations broadcasted highlights of the Running with/of the Bulls I always thought to myself - I could do that and I could probably do it faster than anybody else. I used to be quick, very quick and I used to be acrobatic. If there was a ledge I could do a back flip off it and land on concrete or grass or whatever. I used to have the clearest picture of doing a back flip off of some part of a bull to the cheers of thousands of adoring strangers in some plaza de toros, but then I turned 40. Some of my dreams have changed. This morning I watched some footage from San Fermin and my thinking was very different. I thought to myself, damn I wish I had done that when I could have. Maybe I have become older and somewhat wiser or maybe older should just be capitalized.

I used to follow up on all kinds of whims because they were part of my dreams. I used to tell close friends and family that I never wanted to look back and say what if. The locales for these experiences were never very exotic. Usually I had to stay within a gas tank or two, when gas was affordable, of Oxford and all I could take with me was whatever I could fit into the back of my car. Following up on whims left very little time for settling into well-paying careers so the existence was often bare bones and simple. Jobs were diverse but very low-paying. I worked as the shoe guy at the Rock-n-Bowl in New Orleans, mated on a charter boat in Key West, helped build a boat in Charleston, answered phones for a fashion designer in New York, washed dishes at a bistro, fetched coffee for the Treasurer of the National Gallery of Art, moved stuff for a world-reknowned sculptor in Canada, stocked shelves at an independent bookstore, and taught school. Now, my resume is too expensive to fax anywhere and nobody wants to hire a "flight risk" as I was once called. The whim pursuit has slowed down to anywhere I can walk or bike to.

One might say I already lived my retirement, which is great, but now I am going to have to work until I am 107, and I am fine with that. At one point I sold a bunch of bank stock that was at an all-time high to pursue some of my impulses. That was supposed to put my kids through college and be a down payment on a house. My family was furious and told me how foolish I was. Guess what...some very rich people who started running that small-town bank have made that stock almost worthless and there is very little hope that it will ever recover. Look who's the financial genius now! I satisfied a lot of urges and got out while the getting was good. Yeah, I have a fair payment plan with the IRS to take care of the capital gains but it's all good! I don't have to wonder anymore if I can play in the NHL. I can't nor ever could, but at least I found that out first hand and in a very hard way.

Seeing the Running of the Bulls this morning made me upset but it was only for the briefest moment. It is very rare that I ask myself - what if? A lot of what I tried to accomplish did not happen but I tried. I went after numerous goals and achieved very few if any at all. Are those failures, no, those are answered questions that don't bother me in my adult life. I am free to just get through life with a big old smile on my face while I try to pay off all that I owe.

These days I try to put my experiences down on paper. Literature was a bad influence on me. When I became too old to dream of making a living as a pirate I then dreamed of becoming a novelist, thus began the whims and thus began the infectious wanderlust. What my favorite authors wrote about I wanted to taste, touch, see, hear, and smell. Blame James Lee Burke, Pat Conroy, Hemingway, Faulkner, and a few others for my whims. More often than not, when I look back, I thank them.

I hope I can fine tune my syntax because I am not going to be able to throw cable down in gutters for very much longer. The retirement age of 107 is a long way off so I better get some good words down on paper and pray that someone wants to load my experiences into a kindle. The thought of having to go work on a tv show this Tuesday makes my back hurt already. I don't want to sound like a broken record or anything but I think that this will be my last show...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Remembering When...

I got bullied.

Reading news reports about bullying makes me want to become an advocate for the death penalty. Legalize marijuana but put bullies to death. The effects of drug use can heal over time as I suppose the effects of bullying can too, but, unfortunately, the scenes of being shoved into a bathroom and beaten with fists by more than one person are a lot more vivid today than sneaking a joint and a couple smooches with a raven-haired beauty at camp. I wish it was the other way around.

The other day I was walking the Mongrel and saw a young boy walking down the street with his mother. Joy and innocence of being a pre-teen in the summer time was covered by a mask of sadness over his face. The mother attended to her son with an expression that was a mix of concern and strength. These two were on their way away from a playground. As the Mongrel and I approached the playground I saw more kids than ever playing various games all across the blacktop lot. I don't know the story but I couldn't help but wonder - why can't everyone just get along?

I know it is hard for anyone to believe that such a bad-ass warrior as myself, who turned into one of the most incredible human beings ever, was ever bullied but it is true. The pain both physically and emotionally was exceptionally hard to deal with. I was new at Sts. Peter and Paul so I was attacked in the boys bathroom by two guys who didn't like the fact that I was there. They punched me continuously in the arms and chest so nothing would show and alert the Sisters. I was also attacked by a group of girls who pulled my shorts down outside of the locker room. Today I wouldn't mind that so much, as long as it wasn't too cold outside, but back then it was horrific. Later in my teens, a knife was pulled on me in a  restroom at Easton High School. These are just a few of the incidents.

Maybe it was because my parents made me dress like a geek or I always said out loud that I wanted to be a pirate when asked what profession would you choose. Something made people want to f#*k with me and most of that was the result of my own undoing. I could be a little weird. A lot of other kids had it much worse than I did. There were a few times that someone I knew just didn't show up to school the next day, or any other day after that. You would hear about sightings of that person around town, but they just weren't there anymore. School was awful; no wonder I liked going to church so much.

In Chicago, bullying can happen with guns or big sticks and death can be the result. Times are harsher. I contemplate getting back into teaching so I can be a part of suppressing intimidation. But the thought of doing so also scares me. School grounds in Chicago are no joke!

My trauma happened way before technology made it easier to be crueler. (Even though it is hard for me to imagine anything crueler than a fifth grader having his shorts pulled down on an exceptionally brisk fall day!) I don't know how one deals with bullying in today's society. One of the reasons I stopped teaching high school was the fact that there is hardly any discipline left in the modern school system. Whenever I saw even the slightest acts of bullying by a student I wanted to pulverize him or her into the macadam. Most of what I saw was verbal that had to deal with family income, athletic prowess, weight, or mental capabilities. If there was an incident usually a scholarship student had to deal with harsher penalties more so than a full-tuition student, no matter who was at fault. Witnessing bullying in any form would ruin my day. I took my job home with me and that was not a good thing. I am older now so maybe things are different.

Much respect goes out to the families who have to encourage a child to persevere through the time of their youth, despite the cruelty of others. I don't know why I wanted to write about this...the subject of bullying has been on my mind as of late. A lot of my time is spent quietly sitting back in observation of the world around me. Too many young sad faces pass through my field of vision. I want to stop them and tell them it gets better.

I want to say "look at me; look how great I turned out!"

But then they might say: "you are always broke and looking for work."

Then I will tell them: "I'm an artist these things take time!"

And they will say: "Whatever, old man."

Which is fine. Some people like to be advised and some people just need to get through it and work it out their own way. But it's out there and if there is an opportunity to make some one smile we need to grasp that moment and make it work. Eli Mongrel is good at making kids smile, he is much better at it than I am!

Now it's officially summer! Summer should be a time of carefree activity and growth in a young person's life. I hope all the kids out there get to regroup and enjoy themselves during the time off from school. As an adult who gets to visit home in the summer I sometimes run into or hear stories about the two guys who initiated me into the brotherhood of being bullied. They never look happy and you never hear their names in any of the "good ol' stories" from back in the day that old friends like to tell. Happiness and laughter don't appear to be in their dictionaries. It's almost like the cliche you see in many teen movies and somehow I can't help but smile...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

day lilies and yesterday

A day lily now sits on the front stoop. This plant is more than just a decorative thingy to try and make the place presentable for Art Fair weekend; the day lily represents my childhood. Every time I see a palmetto tree I think of South Carolina. Every time I see a day lily I think of home.

Home for me, meaning subjects of memory, began on Waverly Island Road when there were very few houses around. For those of you who know the area, Woodland Farms was in the planning stages and the Easton Club was a good place to look for beer cans. The footsteps of my childhood fell upon some very special parts of this Earth and day lilies covered quite a bit of that ground.

My incredible work ethic derived from being told to go weed the day lily beds. I remember being drug out of the house, plopped in front of the gardens, and directed to pull out all the unnecessary weeds. There were many times when the distinction between what was necessary and unnecessary became too hard of a decision for me to make so I erred on the side of pulling it...whatever it was. Often, my mother vehemently disapproved of these decisions. I am sorry, but to me there are still no such things as "decorative grasses." If you were all green amongst the battalions of blooming day lilies you were gone from that bed.

Here is probably a good time for me to confess something so I do not lead anybody astray in their opinion of me as blossoming young man - I was not always so diligent at doing what I was told to do...

There might have been a time or two when my mother would lead me to location then go off to work on chores of her own. I would remain in a crouch as if ready to rid the mulch of invaders but as soon as I would see that red hair disappear from sight I was gone. Depending on what bed I was working on there was always Utopia just beyond my mother's line of sight. To the south was the mouth of Playtors Creek, to the north were the Segers' barnes, wonderful lush marshland full of wildlife bordered the east and west sides of the property. It was a win win situation wherever I ran to. That is until my mother came to check on me. My how her voice could carry across the whole neighborhood. I could not stand pulling weeds. The day lily soon became associated with misery.

After my hatred of all things associated with gardening developed, the day lily then initiated me into the world of culinary exploration.

One night at dinner a salad with all kinds of weird ingredients was placed in front of me. Me being me at the time immediately began to protest. I am not a fan of trying new things. When my mother told me what the ingredients were I asked if she was trying to poison me. Tiny oranges and flowers were not safe (these being mandarin oranges and day lily petals). And I hated nuts in everything. This salad was filled with walnuts. The woman was obviously unhappy with what God had provided her with a tried to off me through natural means. I refused to eat any of it and was adamant. Somehow I won that battle and only had to eat my broccoli and crabcakes.

Then one day I was sulking as I fell in behind my mother for another day of torture. Before we started working I remember she grabbed some day lily petals right off the plant and started eating them. I was amazed. I was also scared she was going to die. Seeing raw petals on a plate is one thing but having someone just eat them off the plant was another. Who knew what dreaded plague had spread across the wilds of Waverly Island overnight? However, when she didn't die I became intrigued. I thought my mom was pretty bad-ass to do something so cool as to forage outside of the doors to the Acme.

So I tried the day lily petals and they were absolutely horrible. They were as gross as I predicted they would be. nauseating as they were I did not abandon the practice of eating them right out of the garden. Such an act often provoked spirited reactions from people my age. There were some fine looking young ladies growing up in the area and I would do whatever it took to try and look cool in front of them, even if it meant eating disgusting plants and having to keep from throwing up. Anything for a reaction...

When my family left the Eastern Shore and moved to Virginia the day lily beds were left in the hands of strangers. I was heartbroken. However, the house in Fredericksburg was soon surrounded with them as my parents completely refurbished a property that had been neglected for some time. I was happy to see the day lilies placed around the house. Even at a young age they helped take me away to better times and  places when being in a new area was a hard adjustment. They were a bigger help to me than that dipshit therapist I had to see.

In a new area meeting new people what was one to do to try and make his mark? You guessed it - eat the day lilies. In Fredericksburg when my friends and I got the munchies we ate day lily petals instead of potato chips but only if there were hot girls around. In my youth I rank day lilies just under marijuana and just above Virginia Gentleman bourbon in what helped me get through the tough times.

The day lilies were always there for me where ever my family lived. I cannot think about my childhood and not see them. Today they have faded from my mom's garden schemes. For some reason her tastes have changed and there are more things that I would have yanked out as an amateur landscaper. Now I have my own day lily as homage to a species that played such a pivotal role in my upbringing. I hope the damn thing blooms before the weekend. And don't think for a second that I won't pull off a petal and munch on it should the proper occasion arise...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A little this and a little that...

I don't trust onions that don't make me cry. White onions are too mild. Vidalias however, Niagara falls over the cutting board. A squirrel that will not run from me when I go to chase it away from my bird feeder deserves a good ping in the butt from a pellet gun. Too many peace love and happiness types in the city to make my squirrel problem go away on the hush-hush. You can't even smack a kid for breaking into a car without some overweight hippie in a tie dye threatening to call the cops. Imagine if I made a squirrel assume room temperature? This is how my morning train of thought has gone so far.

But church was right on was all about not letting opportunities pass you by without making the most of them. I have some possible career decisions to make over the next few days. Pretty good timing I would say. Anybody have any life-changing questions they need answered? I'll be in pretty tip-top shape, mentally, for the next several minutes or so.

The onions are now in a quiche which is about 20 minutes away from being done. I threw some mushrooms, ham and provolone in as well. Fresh chives will garnish the top. The gym work starts again tomorrow so I might pull out the Clamato and make a red-cup Bloody Mary then watch the rain soak fresh Basil and Parsley plants that patiently wait for a good dose of sunshine in our living-room window box.

Eli and I went on a nice walk so he could relieve the excitement he contained for about 20 minutes while watching the squirrel eat my dang sunflowers. I wish the Mongrel could climb trees so he could seize the opportunity to rid St. Paul Avenue of a pesky squirrel or two. Hippies won't yell at dogs will they?

Also on my agenda for the day is picking a new John D. MacDonald to read. I ordered a couple non Travis McGee novels online. He is a brilliant writer. My boys from the Irish Brigade turned me on to him and I will be forever grateful.

Now it's time to go eat some quiche and meditate on some opportunities...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

This is Getting Ridiculous

How long will it be before everything we own has a tracking device inside it? If only stalking was an accepted is so easy now. In days gone by one had to put in a lot of legwork and be very discreet in order to discover the routine of an object of affection. Today, you don't even have to leave the house!

During my first year of college I saw a girl in a play and instantly became enamored with her. The program told me her name but her bio gave me very little information to work with. I waited around after the show to see what she looked like up close. I tried to think of things to say that would make a good impression but I was only eighteen. That was a long time ago. I was no where near as smooth then as I am now, which I know is very hard for some of you readers to believe. 

When Lady K came out of the theatre building my heart started pounding even more than it did when she first stepped out on stage. I had to meet her, but I couldn't muster up the gumption to say hello or congratulations or anything. Rather, I leaned back against some doric column and watched her head off into the night with a small entourage. But then a few months later I saw her walking down the street....

During those few months I had not forgotten about her at all. My inept ways had kept me pretty much dateless so Lady K was still the one I dreamed about at night and during Geography class. Seeing her walking down College Avenue had to be serendipitous; I was not to let this good fortune pass by without putting in some effort to meet the lady who had consumed my thoughts for countless hours. So I pulled over into the nearest open parking spot and waited. Just before she passed by I slid down in my seat and made it look like I was trying to pull a Whitesnake cassette tape out of my player. Luckily she did not notice me before turning down some forgotten avenue a few blocks away. Being the Sam Spade of stalkers I pulled out into traffic and followed after her. It was not long before she stepped off the sidewalk and onto the walkway that lead to a quaint brick bungalow. With the number of the house solidly memorized I whipped the car around and headed to the nearest flower shop. I returned, an hour later with a bouquet of white daisies and babies breath and a beautifully penned card that included my phone number. It took a whole lot of deep breaths for me to park in front of that house and walk to the door. After I knocked an elderly couple opened the door and smiled at me. I told them I had a delivery for Lady K. They said she lived in their basement apartment and they would make sure she got the flowers. I turned and hurried back to my car before my face exploded from the heat that was filling my cheeks.

Two hours later Lady K called me and agreed to go on a date. Over dinner at the Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington D.C. she asked me how I knew her address. I told her the whole story. I told her how I saw her in "Little Shop of Horrors," was dying to meet her, then saw her, then stalked her, then got her flowers. Instead of getting up and hitting me with a big shot of pepper spray she actually folded her hands and put them under her chin and smiled. She said she was absolutely flattered by the effort I put into tracking her down. Our first date was great and we went on several more. In fact, we almost became boyfriend/girlfriend but then I found her in bed with the Head of the Theatre department at MWC. 

At one point in time stalking was not such a bad thing then like everything good somebody had to ruin it by taking things too far. Nowadays it seems that technology isn't helping keep people's privacy safe. The news has been reporting a lot of unnerving stories about everything from Google saving every search you have ever typed into your computer, Iphones tracking your whereabouts, and now the New York Times reports that packages of electronic cigarettes will now alert users when someone else who smokes electronic cigarettes is within 50 feet. Isn't this a form of electronic stalking? Something does not seem right about this.

Are these electronic cigarette devices necessary? E-smokers don't exactly blend in to the woodwork. Personally, I find these particular brand of folks, when in bars and coffee shops, to be the most annoying people in the room. Just go outside and have a Camel Light! Now their cigarette packs are going to light up and buzz? These things cost 80 dollars and they also report information back to Blu, the company who makes them. When is enough going to be enough?  

The evolution of technology has me a little on edge. I don't want Apple to know that I went to Home Depot, Tipre's Hardware, and Walgreens to buy birdseed. AND...I don't want two e-smokers in the same bar I am drinking in. Go away choppers! If you are going to smoke man up and smoke some real Carolina tobacco. I think it's almost time to get rid of all these confounded devices and go back to typewriters, rotary phones, Pall Malls, stationary and intelligible customer service agents to answer our questions about consumer products. My old days weren't so bad...but back then there was no

Monday, May 2, 2011

How We Project Ourselves Effects Many...

When I first heard the news last night I too wanted to celebrate. I wanted to run out in the streets with a 40 wrapped in a paper bag and dance a jig with my fellow Americans. But then there was the whole thing about celebrating death that made rethink my reaction to Bin Laden assuming room temperature. I thought about my own reactions to other people's reaction to death so I decided to just sit back and quietly sip a glass of red wine with Grace and the mongrels. I said a silent prayer of thanks that justice had been served for all those affected by Al Qaeda then I slipped in a quick request to please let NeNe survive another week on Celebrity Apprentice...

While contemplating the news last night I remembered watching television 10 years ago and seeing people dancing in the streets after thousands of people had been killed on 9/11. The anger that grew within me was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Thoughts of retribution against those revelers raced through my mind. I thought of driving right over to the recruiters office and signing up to be a sniper. I dreamed of mixing the flying powers of Superman with the wardrobe choices of Batman and morphing into SuperChip (my nickname at one point in my adolescent years) and singlehandedly executing swift justice on all Islam with Toby Keith playing in the background...and that is why I would have made a poor harbinger of justice.

I got caught up in the incendiary newscasts and declared war on the masses that were different than myself.  At the time I had a very good friend who was Muslim and often visited me in Oxford and I pretty much figured our friendship was done. Thankfully, my wits returned to me as soon as I stopped watching television and went back to trying to love my neighbor as myself. Seeing people celebrate death on television was tough to endure and made it hard to live and think as I should.

What we project from this country might have the same effect on people overseas. Yes I am glad justice was served for all who died in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia and I am enjoying the success of our President and the brave ones in the armed forces. If I had any money I would send cases of tenners to the heroes who risked their lives in Pakistan. But when it comes to the reality at home I have to turn the channel when I see impromptu festivals in the streets. Such behavior is as negatively effective as the reveling on 9/11. Ideally I would want America to take the higher road and set an example as the world watches from all points on the compass. I am down with the enjoying the victory of this particular battle but let's save the keggers for when the Bulls win the NBA championship this year!  

Saturday, April 16, 2011

It's All About Saving Money and Trying to Get Smarter in the AM

I feel so grown up. I also feel like an advocate for the newspaper industry.

Save the Pages! Save the Pages! Now don't you yell at me because I am supporting newsprint on paper. If you drop a newspaper it doesn't crack.

Just a few minutes ago I ordered home delivery of the New York Times...7 days a's going to happen. There will be a party on my doorstep every morning as all the news from around the world arrives in a cute little bundle.

Whenever money gets tight the first thing I have always done is cut out my walk to the corner for a copy of the paper. A NYT costs just over 2 bucks in Chicago and that adds up each week. Buying the Sunday edition often felt like a guilty pleasure. That all changes now. Seven days a week costs about as much as 1 Sunday edition and 1 weekday purchase. By changing my habits, I am saving money and doing more to halt the ever-dwindling remnants of gray matter. Reading words on paper is much more pleasing to me than staring at monitor.

Ordering home delivery does feel a bit like a luxury purchase. I guess I can write it off on my taxes because I am still entertaining thoughts of trying to add the term "writer" to my job description. Hell, I'll take the term "laborer" on my job description right now! However, today I am a newspaper advocate. I'll do what I can to help the industry. Newspapers can be beneficial. Computer monitors that can lead to Facebook or Farmville or Ebay can be harmful. The thought of seeing a library full of Kindles or Ipads is disconcerting, but if everyone has some kind of "pad" will there even be a need for libraries? I'd hate to be an encyclopedia salesman right now...

Monday, April 11, 2011

They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

Several years ago I was walking around the rainy set of a big-budget feature with a Rigging Gaffer out of New York. We both walked in silence. I was quiet because I didn't want to bother Richie; Richie was quiet because he was trying to find a new way to run power around a little park by the Memorial Bridge. The original rig was already laid out, but since the directors had changed their minds and camera angle...again, there was more double work yet to be done. The movie was "Burn After Reading" and the Coen brothers were at the helm. Now I have always liked the Coen brothers work but I sure did witness some indecisiveness while lugging cable around their set.

The Coen brothers were quite tame, compared to other directors I have worked for and heard about, when it came to changing everything around. They were no Ridley Scott or Michael Bay who seemingly care nothing about the work the below-the-line crew put forth as directed in order to achieve the shot(s) scheduled for that particular day and time. The lack of efficiency one can experience employed on a movie set can be maddening. I have bitched myself out of working for several crews because I cannot stand to be penalized due to a lack of preparation. It's like being asked to help someone move and you show up and they have not even finished packing the boxes. To me it is frustrating as hell. Yes, on movie sets you get well paid when a bad director is at the helm; however, to me it is not worth the money. Chaos may mean cash, but I cannot let go of my anger toward some idiot getting paid a few million bucks to not know what he or she wants when they arrive on set. I often wonder how many positive results directors put in the finished version of a film after those frenetic shoots? On several occasions I have heard a DP mutter "they will never be able to use that" after film or HD cameras (which is a whole other blog to be tackled at a later date) have rolled in the 15th or 16th hour...

Sidney Lumet was well known for sticking to the notes he gave out on his scout. I learned this from Richie on "Burn After Reading." He told me stories about how he would go on scouts with Mr. Lumet and he would point at a spot and say the camera will go "there" and we will shoot "that way" and "that way." Eight months later Mr. Lumet shows up on set and the camera went "there" and he shot "that way" and "that way." Richie said it was incredible to watch him work because he knew exactly what he wanted. There was no indecisiveness on one of Sidney Lumet's sets. And I think that is really cool.

How could you not know exactly what you wanted to shoot on a film? I have dreamt about making storyboards with an artist so the crew shows up on one of my sets and the day is done within 10-12 hours. On my set everybody knew exactly what their job was and there were barbecues at the end of every shooting day because people had plenty of time to handle their other responsibilities. One of the first bits of advice I got on the first film I ever worked on was: "remember, Basil, you're not curing cancer here; you are just making a motion picture so don't go thinking you are doing something that great." Keeping people from walking through a scene on Morris Street in Oxford was definitely not some cock-of-the-walk task, but it was a hell of a lot of fun.

Working on good sets with good people is one of the most wonderful experiences in the world. Too bad there are not enough of those to go around to the masses that work in production. I don't know who the first producer was to cave in and start letting directors get away with not being prepared, but I guess that person did not care much for cost effectiveness. Said producer started a plague within the industry. ON my set things will be different! There will be preparedness, efficiency, and plenty of 10oz Budweisers for everyone!! RIP Mr. Lumet, your style, although I never knew thee, will be greatly missed.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

To Thank a Mockingbird

Growing up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland was both a challenge and a privilege. As an only child I thought my existence full of many more challenges than privileges and now as an aged character in my own story I see the foolishness of my thinking. I have a mockingbird to thank for helping me look back fondly on a past I likened to incarceration.

For much of my youth my walls were untouched forested acres and low-lying marshes that bled into tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. I was on a "tight leash" that extended only as far as my legs would carry me before tiring out. Occasionally I remained close to home to play but this required an agile and broad imagination. If I wanted to turn the yard into the hockey rink from Lake Placid and recreate Team USA's gold medal win I had to play all 6 positions by myself.  This Olympic even was just not very exciting... Solo expeditions out into the natural world were how I begrudgingly passed much of my spare time.

As a kid I was able to roam about before real estate development was based on greed. I was able to spy on nature without some newbie from the Western Shore telling me to stop trespassing. There was no trespassing back then. There was a freedom that offered up so much. I didn't take advantage of as much as I should have but I loved watching spiders spin their webs between trees, or foxes bury their food at the base of a log I sat atop, but the best moment (and I can only say this now) was watching a blue crab shed its shell. My tree fort was built in an old oak that extended out over the shallows of Playtors Creek. From overhead I watched the slow process of a crab sliding out of its shell. This took quite a bit of time but I was still and I was fascinated. Methinks I would go crazy trying to do that today.

Very few times since have I been able to be still and fascinated by occurrences in the natural world around me, outside of watching the Nat Geo channel. At one point in my mid 30s I sat on my mother's porch still enough to watch bugs fly through the air then watch robins catch them for breakfast. Seeing the whole process seemed to reawaken some long-dormant senses. I had not been able to sit quietly without the aid of few pints for longer than I could remember. Of course this was short lived but then I returned home last week and was able to do so once again.

A mockingbird that lives in the holly tree next to my mother's balcony has almost become a member of the family. My mother has been feeding Boo (the name she gave him) apples and blueberries for quite a while. I decided to see how close I could get to Boo and started trying to hand feed him. The difficulty of having to sit still for the required amount of time before Boo trusted me enough to eat out of my hand was almost too much to endure. I think even I started shaking at times. The end result was worth it tho. Never before had I ever thought a mockingbird to be beautiful but up close they are remarkably handsome, like movie stars in grey-flannel suits.

I enjoyed my week interacting with Boo even though the view that was once waterfront farmland now boasts new monstrosities. Sitting still and observing him was a wonderful way to pass the time while healing after some major dental work. Interacting with nature used to be a major part of my existence but now there are many factors that have lessened the opportunities. However, there are remedies. In the next few days I want to get a couple bird feeders to put outside the windows and bring whatever I can (besides squirrels) into view. I want to enjoy times of sitting still that don't require a barstool and experience the natural world that Chicago has to offer. Maybe I'll even venture out and try for a coyote sighting.

I cannot believe that I used to complain about being bored as a kid. There was so much to see and do! The adventures were right outside my windows the same as they are now. Maybe one day, and I hope it is soon, I'll get clued in to just how wonderful things actually are and how lucky I still am today...the same as I was way back then.