Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
My friends Marty and Glenn both have very impressive t-shirt collections. Now, these t-shirts aren’t your run-of-the-mill Disneyland souvenirs or tattered reminders of Foreigner’s 1987 world tour. And they aren’t novelty t-shirts, like the one I saw Saturday on Cops that said “This is the shirt I wear when I don’t care”. It was being worn by a father who had just pulled a gun on his son, who was threatening him with a knife. Good times.
No, Marty and Glenn only wear shirts that reek of cool (and nothing else, since they are both well-groomed men). They mostly tend toward obscure indie-rock bands (actually you would think most indie-rock bands are obscure) and interesting images – Glenn last week was featuring the Heisman trophy. Go figure.
Seeing this continuing parade of great tees made me want to get in the game myself. I’m not much of a t-shirt wearer anymore, though I once owned a shirt that had the album cover of the Eagles’ Hotel California…uh…well, that was back when Reagan was president, so maybe it doesn’t count. I wanted to get hold of a t-shirt that would shock and awe, that would turn heads (and I mean like what’s-her-name in The Exorcist).
Naturally I thought of Barrier Kult.
To the uninitiated, Barrier Kult is this kind of underground skateboard group that has taken as its oeuvre those white concrete barriers you see in highway construction zones. As in skating up and down on them. They mix this with gothic horror images and heavy metal music. To say that I am outside the target demographic of this group is whatever the next thing beyond understatement is. And before I forget, props to Marty here for introducing me to BaKu (yes, they have their own abbreviation) via a YouTube video that was completely incomprehensible. (Watch at your own risk.)
This is what I need, I thought. A Barrier Kult t-shirt is my ticket to entry. No more solid-color button-downs for me. I’m relevant once again, baby!
So off I go to the BaKu web site where I find just what I’m looking for: the “Culting Knife Ritual” shirt, which has just about the best product description I have ever read (caps are theirs, not mine):
THE DARK VIOLENCE OF BARRIER KNIFE STABBING IS THE ROOT OF THE BA KU ACTIONS AND RITUAL. YOUR ROLLING ‘KNIFE’ STABS AND DRAGS INTO AND UP THE VIOLENT TRANSITIONS. THE CKR T-SHIRT REPRESENTS THIS THROUGH THE PREDATORY RIVER AND DRAINAGE TUNNEL HOODED SKELETON AND IT’S CORPSE RITUALS. PRINTED IN CANADA.
I think “Printed in Canada” is by far the most chilling part, don’t you?
I have my credit card at the ready, when suddenly I am thwarted! BaKu doesn’t offer this little number in a size that a middle-aged guy like me needs! Curse you, Barrier Kult! I will take my rolling knife and stab and drag you into and up the violent transitions. Or at least write a very huffy comment on Yelp.
Alas, the search continues – for both t-shirts and relevance that fit me. Suggestions are welcome.
Later today I’m teeing it up with two good friends – Jeff and Steve – at our local muni. We play together so often I refer to them as The Usual Suspects. Great guys.
What I love about golf with The Usual Suspects is that there is absolutely nothing at stake. We don’t bet or compete with anything except the course itself. We just enjoy each other’s company, on a beautiful day (after all, this is San Diego) in a beautiful place. We have a lot of fun.
I wrote in an earlier post about how, after The Darkness, I am playing golf as poorly as I was pre-Darkness – generally shooting in the mid- to low-90s. But something is different: I’m handling golf’s inherent frustrations much better. And that is great news.
Few things bring out the dark side of my personality more quickly than golf. I have always had a powerful need to prove myself to other people. A golf shot – in terms of distance, accuracy and consistency – was an easy benchmark to use. As anyone who plays golf will tell you, golf is a tremendously difficult game to play well. It takes a lot of practice, and even the best players will play poorly a certain percentage of the time.
So frustration – and how you handle it – is an important part of the game.
To give you an idea of how bad I was at that, consider that a group of guys I used to play with every week chipped in and bought me a cap with the Tasmanian Devil (wielding a golf club, and not in a good way) embroidered on it. I once threw a pitching wedge so high that it got stuck in the top of a tree (it is still there, as far as I know).
I’m happy to say that I don’t do things like that anymore (insert blanket apology to my former playing partners here). I was getting better pre-Darkness (helped immeasurably by taking lessons and practicing – duh!), and now I find that The Darkness has somehow stripped away my need to prove anything to anybody. I have been given the gift of being able to see myself as I really am, without the murky lens of my low self-esteem. Golf is not some battle I have to fight to prove myself to my playing partners. It’s just…well…golf. The Tasmanian Devil cap now resides in the closet.
I wish all this self-knowledge could somehow cure my slice. But with my ex-radio deejay voice, at least I can yell “Fore!” louder than anybody.
Obscure Reference Du Jour: Robin Williams’ famous rant about the invention of golf is not nearly obscure enough for this space. Instead of a literary or musical reference, I’ll offer this story from my childhood. When I was ten, our family moved to a new house whose backyard was adjacent to a municipal course. Naturally, I got interested in the game, and in the summers I used to walk right out of our yard and onto the 11th tee box – the course offered a junior all-you-can-play card for five dollars a month. This would be 1966-67.
My father was not a golfer. But one day he was walking the course with me and one of my cousins. The cousin hit a bad shot and slammed his club into the ground. My father then proceeded to offer him advice on his stance and his backswing.
“I don’t play golf,” he said. “But I know how to teach it.”
Yep. That’s my Dad.
I read today that signs warning about the presence of certain types of playground equipment must now be posted in parks and recreation areas in California. Like this one, alerting the public that a seesaw is near:
I’m sure a person (like say, a personal injury attorney person) could imagine a scenario where a parent, unaware of the seesaw threat level, would let loose their innocent child onto a seemingly bucolic and risk-free playground. Only to have that child be horribly injured (bonked on the head? held cruelly in the “up” position by a bully?) moments later.
“Oh, if only I’d known there was a seesaw!” the distraught parents would tell the judge. “If only there’d been a sign! I mean, who knew that there could be a seesaw on a playground?”
Judgment for the plaintiff.
I have two questions. First, how bad is this seesaw awareness problem? Is there really a large segment of the parental population that needs a sign to help them understand their responsibility for the safety of their children? (and, if so, how do I contact them about a large Nigerian inheritance to which they are surprisingly entitled?)
And second, what are those two kids in the sign thinking?
Kid 1 (up): “Do you think this is dangerous?”
Kid 2 (down): “I asked the crack dealer over at the picnic table, and he said no.”
It reminds me of a sign I see sometimes in airplane toilets. This example shows just a hand, but I’ve seen them where that international symbol man is dropping soap, cutlery and razor blades into a helpless toilet. What can he be thinking? Is he having a really bad day? Or has he simply been driven over the edge by the claustrophobic confines of the toilet itself?
Here in California, signs were put up a few years back along I-5 north of San Diego warning of illegal immigrants running across the freeway to avoid detection at a large checkpoint. The signs became kind of a joke, of course, but I can’t look at one without imagining the scene before the image in the sign takes place:
Mom: “Okay, mi hija, we must fix your hair in pretty pigtails before we dash across the freeway.”
Daughter: “Mama, what happens if I don’t run fast enough?”
Mom: “Then I will pull your arm until you become airborne.”
Obscure Reference Du Jour: My making up stories about street sign characters probably started six or seven years ago with a series of Pearls Before Swine comics. If you’re not familiar with this comic strip, find it. It’s fantastic.
Anyway, this series is about a bar whose patrons are all road signs. Signs with distinctly human characteristics:
I could go on. But I’m off to the park to sound the warning about seesaws.
A friend of mine, who by any estimate has an above-average number of tattoos, said this to me when I asked him about all his “ink”: “Sometimes the pain on the outside had to match the pain on the inside.”
A recent survey showed that 36% of Americans between 18 and 25 had at least one tattoo. More than a third. Wow. Any stigma about getting a tattoo (which, when I was in the 18-25 demographic was pretty much still limited to sailors) is gone. Great. Nothing wrong with that.
It got me thinking about the why of something like a tattoo. Leaving out the tattoos done in a fit of passion (see Angelina Jolie), or those done in a drunken stupor (see Helen Mirren, for crying out loud), most tattoos are the result of carefully considered decisions made by people who understand what getting a tattoo means (i.e., it pretty much ain’t coming off).
So whatever the tattoo actually is (words, symbols, pictures), it reflects some facet of its owner. In other words, it tells a story. No surprise there. I mean, tattoo parlors often call what they do “body art.” And the essence of art is one person reaching out to others through the use of some medium. This is who I am, what I’ve seen, what I’ve done. Me trying to make sense of the world. Writing, painting, singing, the same idea.
The obvious difference, of course, is the “forever” factor. Unlike a short story or a novel, which I can write and change hundreds of times or discard altogether and start over again, tattoos are removed or changed only at great cost (both physically and monetarily).
The permanence of the tattoo is part of its appeal. In effect, it solidifies some particular moment in the life of its owner – no matter how far they go in time and place from that moment, it’s still there with them. Like my friend who talked about the relationship of his many tattoos to his frightening inner demons. Somehow, he needed to reach out and make visible his struggles. Tattoos were the medium he found for that expression. Bright, colorful and complex, they remain with him long after the struggle has ended (he is now one of the finest men I know). He wouldn’t have it any other way.
Not every tattoo is so dramatic, but I think that in a time where things rush by so fast and we are overwhelmed by fleeting messages, bits of data, and advertising images, having something so personal and permanent on your body is a kind of comfort. Something that is stopped, unchanging, and which helps you tell the story of who you are to others. Regardless of the medium, we all need some of that.
Of course, I can’t end this post without an off-the-wall reference. Today, with all the talk of tattoos, it is the short story collection The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (one of my all-time writing heroes). A man meets a vagrant who is covered by beautiful tattoos. The vagrant tells the story of how he was tattooed by a mysterious woman from the future. And as he talks, each of his tattoos in turn begin to move and tell their own story.
I read this book when I was around 13 and already obsessed with Bradbury’s work. I could not believe that someone could use words to create something so beautiful, compelling and emotionally powerful. At the time, the first cheap cassette recorders were available, and I remember recording the introductory passage of The Illustrated Man and listening back to it over and over, feeling the impact of Bradbury’s words. I think this was when I first knew I wanted to be a writer.
I love the story of how Bradbury himself decided to be a writer. You’ll find it here.
I know this is going to sound like piling on, but can we just review this Weiner thing for a minute? (Weiner thing? Oh God, the double entendres are starting already.)
I mean, this guy who was elected seven times to the United States Congress was sending pictures of his tackle to anonymous young women he met on Twitter? And he thought that these anonymous women, knowing who he was, would keep these photos secret? Really? Really? Then, after those pictures were made public he tried to say that his account had been hacked – like no one could check on that?
At his press conference yesterday (at which his wife was conspicuously absent), Weiner said sending naked pictures of Mr. Happy to strangers on Twitter was “a very dumb thing to do,” “a hugely regrettable mistake” and “destructive.” As the Tweeters say, OMG! WTF! If stupid were a felony, Weiner would be serving life.
I guess being stupid isn’t limited to the private sector, but wouldn’t you think that by the time you get elected for the seventh time to Congress you would have developed some kind of, oh, I don’t know, maturity? Gravitas? A sense of the importance of your job? A clue about how to treat women with respect? Ah, would that it be so. Sorry ladies. In the case of Weiner we must inevitably conclude that, once again, the Little Head was doing the thinking. In Congress, in corporations, at the IMF, around the world and in your neighborhood, the Little Head will have its way.
John Hiatt put it thusly:
Baby in my heart I’m faithful
This two headed monster is distasteful
Forgive me when my instincts start stinkin’
I’m just so easily led when the little head does the thinkin’
Oh Little Head, why do you seem to make so much sense? Do you send some powerful stupid hormone to the Big Head? And is that hormone carried to the Big Head by beer? Is there some kind of ego event horizon that, once crossed, suspends the laws of physics (and common decency)? I’ll leave those questions to the philosophers (and the cable news commentators). But the thing that interests me is my first thought upon seeing Weiner’s mea culpa (damn those double entendres!): It’s freakin’ 2011! Are we still this dumb? Well, duh!
Speaking for my gender, I can only say that the Little Head has been around for a long time. It’s very good at what it does. And I’m closing my Twitter account.
After getting better for about a month, I’ve been feeling pretty rotten the past couple of weeks. Still tapering off the prednisone. But now something new has cropped up. Some kind of inflammation in my joints that is making it hard to walk, stand up, put my arms above my head, etc. Painful. So far the doctors don’t have any answers.
I try very hard to be philosophical about periods like this. I mean, no one wants to hear me complain about something that neither one of us can do anything about. What’s going on with me today reminds me of The Darkness – the period from January to April of this year when I was deeply in the throes of prednisone side effects. In those days of not being able to do much except lay on the couch watching TV, it was very dangerous for me to think about the future, because the future was filled with questions like “Will I feel this bad tomorrow? Next week? Six months from now?”And the past was all about “Will I ever again be the person I used to be?”
So what I was forced to do (because I’m not that good at it otherwise) was focus on the moment. Try to simply be with whatever I was feeling. Because (a) there was nothing I could do about it, and (b) I had to learn to live with it. Just for that day, that hour, that moment. My brain, my instincts told me that I needed to run away from what I was experiencing. What I actually needed to do was face it.
My way of focusing on the moment is to try and name what I’m feeling. My shoulders hurt. My stomach is upset. My back aches. Then I think about anything I can do to mitigate those individual symptoms. If laying on the couch makes my shoulders and back feel better, then that’s what I do. I found that eating a carton of yogurt made my stomach feel better, so I do that. And so on. Until I could get to the end of the day.
In other words, I had to stop fighting. I had to accept what I was feeling as being OK just the way it was. I had to try and integrate my condition into who I am, instead of seeing it as an enemy that was attacking me. After all, it was the treatment for my FSGS that was causing all the pain – not the FSGS itself.
Chronic pain changes the way I think. After awhile, the pain is all I can think about. And when I focus on that, what follows is fear, anger, desperation and depression. I was there. That’s why I call the darkness The Darkness. Because on some days I can be philosophical, and on other days I’m stuck in the fear of the future. I can’t remember what it feels like to be 100%pain free, and that scares me. Today I go to the doctor again to try and figure out a diagnosis. And even though the pain of this inflammation is not even in the ballpark of The Darkness, I think about having some other problem on top of the FSGS and I wonder what that will mean.
Late Update: Apparently this joint crap is being caused by the Pravastatin I’ve been taking for my heart,
interacting with my immuno-suppressants. Doctor told me to stop taking it. One less pill. We’ll see what happens. Also, my FSGS is officially in remission. A day of good news.
Last Thursday the Unabomber’s typewriter was auctioned off, along with a lot of his other stuff. The typewriter fetched $22,003, and all the money went to his victims. Great idea, though you gotta wonder about those last three bucks. Someone had a strict limit of 22K and some other person trumped him at the last minute like on eBay? It’s enough to make you want to mail that person a…a…well, never mind.
Americans collect a lot of strange stuff, so it’s not surprising that there is a market for Unabomber memorabilia. (Ask me sometime to show you my collection of snow globes.) I got to looking at the picture of the typewriter. This thing is an antique.
Kaczynski’s “manifesto” was over 30,000 words. Just thinking about hunching over and hacking out something that long makes my back hurt. No wonder he had such a bad attitude.
But what really got me going was the brand name at the bottom: L.C. Smith and Corona. Two companies that pioneered the design of typewriters in the 20s and 30s, and then merged. Later models were known as Smith-Corona. I learned how to type by banging on one at the LSU School of Journalism in the early 70s.
Which leads me to the song “Carmelita” by Warren Zevon (circa 1976). This song is about a couple who is addicted to heroin. At the end of the song comes this lyric:
Well I pawned my Smith-Corona
And I went to meet my man.
He hangs out down on Alvarado Street
By the Pioneer Chicken stand.
A year or so later, Linda Rondstadt covered this song, and it was a minor hit. But in her version the lyric was:
Well I pawned my Smith and Wesson
And I went to meet my man.
I’ve always thought that the image of a guy (apparently a writer) pawning his typewriter to buy heroin is much more hopeless than someone pawning a gun. Feels to me like he has reached the end and he knows it. It’s amazing to me how Zevon could communicate so much information in the compact space of a song. All the great ones can do that.
I don’t miss the Unabomber. But man, I miss Zevon.
I’m currently re-reading Lynne Truss’ wonderful punctuation book “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”. Who knew that someone could write a laugh-out-loud funny book about commas, apostrophes and full-stops (periods, to we Americans). If you’re a stickler for punctuation and grammar, it’s a must. (Note the appropriately-used apostrophes).
Which got me to thinking how much I love the British (original) version of the English language. It seems they have a much more subtle and kinder-sounding way of getting things across. When you are in the London subway (the Tube, of course), you will find painted on the platform the words “Mind the Gap”, which warn you about catching your foot in the space between the platform and the car. Makes you think of some kindly aunt looking out for your well-being.
What we call a “semi truck” is known in England as an “articulated lorry”. A freeway overpass is a “flyover”. Elevators are “lifts” and sweaters are “pullovers”. An alley is called a “close” or a “mews”. Much more poetic.
When my wife and I were on our honeymoon years ago we stayed in a village called Ambleside in the Lake District. What a great name. You just amble in and make yourself at home. No need to rush. Among Ambleside’s restaurants was a place called The Apple Pie Eating House, which struck the copywriter in me as an astounding feat of creating a name that accurately informs potential customers what happens within. We don’t just serve apple pie – you eat it. And don’t bother asking for blueberry. (Actually, they serve a wide range of stuff, including their specialty, “Bath Buns”.)
Now that I think about it, this place would have been a great setting for one of the Three Stooges’ pie fights. Moe, Larry and Curly would be flinging their hearts out, while a kindly British lady (most likely the aunt who says “Mind the Gap”) helplessly protests, “No dears, you’re supposed to eat them.”
The Stooges and Ambleside. Talk about your cultural differences.
I’m thinking today about a wonderful song lyric I first heard a long time ago. It’s from the song “Rocky Mountain Time” by John Prine:
I used to travel a lot for business (back in the day when you could walk into an airport without undressing). And I liked being a road warrior – the energy of swooping in and out of places, the feeling of being on the move. It made me feel involved, a part of something. That was my thirst.
But going back further, I dreamed of getting away from the place I was from and having a different kind of life than the one that I seemed predestined for. I wanted to be anywhere but where I was. The idea of picking up and moving was frightening, though, even after I became an adult. But the thirst was still there.
Then I lost my job, couldn’t find another one, and was forced to relocate. Despite my fears, I started my life over in Southern California 25 years ago. And I found the place where I belong.
I still like to travel (hopefully someday I’ll have a whirlwind book promotion tour), but I no longer have the thirst for finding what’s over the next hill.
The water tastes pretty good here.
P.S. You’ll find “Rocky Mountain Time” on iTunes. I recommend it, along with all Prine’s work.
I’m currently reading a book called “The Box: An Oral History of Television 1920-1961″. It tells the story of TV using transcripts of interviews with the actual people who were there – from Philo T. Farnsworth’s widow to Walter Cronkite’s producer. It’s a great read.
So here’s a story from the book: in 1947 a TV station was just getting up and running in Chicago. There were probably less than 1,000 TV sets in the city at that time (mostly in bars, not homes), so the audience was tiny. There was no such thing as a television network, so whatever this station put on the air it had to produce itself.
A pioneering young director named Greg Garrison got the idea of televising a circus. He read in the paper that a circus was passing through town and convinced the owner (who had never heard of television) to give a performance (for free) at a local arena.
Think about this: Nobody involved had ever done anything like this before. They just set up their cameras (which weighed about 1,000 pounds apiece) and got ready to capture whatever happened.
Garrison needed an announcer, so he asked a friend who was working on local radio to help him. It was Mike Wallace – his first TV job. And he even rounded up a sponsor: Skippy Peanut Butter.
Early on the morning of the performance Garrison met with the circus owner to discuss the show. The circus included six performing elephants, and Garrison asked if there would be a problem with the elephants crapping during the show. No problem, the owner said. I always take care of that before the show.
Well, you know what happened. Six elephants get in front of the cameras, and they all take a dump in unison. The floor of the arena gets covered in crap, to the point where the circus performers are slipping and falling in it. Chaos ensues.
Desperate, Garrison calls for a commercial – which of course is also done live. The commercial consists of Mike Wallace making a peanut butter sandwich and giving it to a kid selected from the audience – who will presumably eat it with gusto. But by now the arena air is heavy with the smell of pachyderm poop, and when Wallace presents the kid with a slice of bread smeared with brown stuff, the kid takes one look, starts to cry and runs away.
Now that’s a disaster any way you look at it, but the important thing was that Greg Garrison did it – something that had never been tried before. The imagination and vision of Garrison (and hundreds of men and women like him) helped shepherd TV through its infancy. Those elephants accidentally crapping on live TV were a small step forward. Toward bigger and better programs and technologies guys like Garrison couldn’t fathom.
Which leads me to the stuff that’s on TV now. “Elephants” of all shapes and sizes put before the camera to figuratively take a crap. “Jersey Shore”. “The Real Housewives”. “Hell’s Kitchen”. Hundreds of hours of manufactured conflict filmed “as it happens,” edited and presented as “reality.” Their collective message seems to be “You think you’ve got it tough? That the people around you behave badly? Just watch what these people do. You’ll be pleasantly horrified. Then we’ll show you a commercial.” Some step forward. I wonder what Greg Garrison would think.
As a guy rocketing toward Late Middle Age, I can only sigh and acknowledge that we Boomers are just not in TV’s target demographic anymore.
Maybe that circus show is available on DVD.