Thursday, February 21, 2019

"Gimme A Break, Will Ya?"


Boy, can I turn on a dime.

I have written on several occasions about how I read or hear somebody say something I have also written or thought and I feel like, “Hey, I’m on the right track.” 

Well… it appears we have gone “An occasion too far.”

Because it happened again.

And instead, I felt angry.

I would like to have one original thought.  But to date – and time is concerningly running out – I seem unable to pull that off.

I feel like the guy who came up with “E-=MC Squared.”

But he came up with it second.

Or possibly, later than that.

Likewise in my field.  You pitch this sidesplitting joke.  And you hear,

“'Abbott and Costello’ – 1948.”

It’s fine.

But it is not like being first.

And when it happens a lot, your reaction – or at least my reaction – migrates from “flattered” to “Stop!”

So here I am, a couple of weeks ago, and, like “a bolt from the blue”, I come up with this insight.  And I am really excited about it.  Because I am thrilled by how it looks.

It looks like a “Breakthrough Paradigm”

And those ones are special. 

“Breakthrough Paradigm.” 

That’s hookin’ the Big Fish.

Suddenly, your eyes uncloud, and you see things in an entirely new way.

Quite possibly…

Saving the world.

Classic Example:  In medicine.

Where “germs” were once, “There’s ‘germs’?  That’s an entirely new ballgame.”

That “game changer” was huge for its day.  Then came “The New Thing”, supplanting the “Old New Thing.”  With probably a few in the middle, but I don’t know what they are.

The New New Thing” said, “It’s not germs that make you sick.  Germs are everywhere.  Inside, and sneezing on you on the subway.  Normally, our bodies “naturally” fight those germs off.  Unless, according to the ‘New New Thing’, your ‘Inside Switch’ is malfunctioning, because you need that switch working, to fight off the germs.”

This isn’t flying over your heads, I hope.  You are following along, right?

We are talking the “Auto-immune” template.  Your body fights off the bad stuff, unless your “Inside Switch” fails to click on.  Research doctors go “Oooh! and race off in an new – hopefully helpful – medical direction. 

That’s the kind of breakthrough “Paradigm Shift” I believed I was on to.

When it came to mind a couple of weeks ago.

Oh, the embarrassing hubris of it all.

Okay, here’s what occurred to me.

People say – I have even heard President Obama say it, and he’s a big optimist –

“The system is broken.”

Which I have said before many times myself.  

And not just about one system.  About pretty much everything  (Complete List - Available 'On Request.'  Or just look.)

And yet we continue do things, described even by optimists as “broken”, in exactly the same way.

And I subliminally thought to myself – you know, unconsciously –

“Why is that happening?”

Suddenly,

(LIKE A GAME SHOW ANNOUNCER)  “It’s the ‘Paradigm Breakthrough!”

We continue to do things the same way, it abruptly occurred to me, because for some people,

The system is not broken.

For some people, the system actually works great.  And those people are powerful enough to keep that “Great for them” system working exactly the same way.

That’s why, despite all the complaints,

Nothing

Significantly

Ever

Changes.

“Eureka.”

A week or two later, I turn on the TV.  I see Elizabeth Warren, one of the dozens of announced Democratic candidates for president, being interviewed.  And in the course of that interview, after explaining she really believed she was an Indian and profusely apologizing because she’s not, she said,

“The system actually works great a lot of people.  That’s why it’s so difficult to get it to change.”

Imagine a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon.  You stick a big pin in it.

And I’m the balloon.

Oh well.

I like to see myself as “An Original Thinker.”

And except for everyone else

I am.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

"The Unasked-For Sequel To 'How Much Do You Make'?"



Concerning, specifically – so you can skip this if you want to – “You Make Too Much” and its judgmental relation, “How much do you need?”

A financial adviser once bolsteringly told me,

“Earl!  You’re in the ‘One Percent!’”

To which I predictably replied,

“Yeah, but I’m at the bottom.”

Not that I’m counting.

That was ironic, because I am.

When it comes to money, we live in a culture where we are supposed not to notice, or at least inordinately care about, the gaping disparities in “Net worth.”  Which, if you think about it, is strange. 

If we saw incomprehensible behavior in another culture, we’d immediately go “What!?!”  And a confused member of that alien culture would go, “What do you mean?” 

That’s us, about income disparity.  We are functionally oblivious.  Making “You make too much” an “Inoperable statement.”

We seem reluctant to change things, because, you know… “This might work out.”
So we “keep the door open.”  Nobody’s closing down Vegas.  The next slot-machine quarter, and you’re them.

I don’t know why this bothers me.  I did more than okay.  It’s just… you know what? I’m not going to go into it.  See:  One of my less forgivable post entries, “The Super-Rich Are Ruining Things For The Wealthy.”

And when you get down to it… I can’t fault somebody like Lebron.  Magnificent athletes are like,

“You want ‘My money’?  Dominate in your field.”

So I don’t begrudge that.  Or I begrudge it a little less.  “Watching millionaires playing for billionaires”, as they say – it does temper my enthusiasm for the game.  

Still, “Unique talent”?  I say, “Go for it!”  (Explainable by my having once been considered a unique talent.)

But then, by troubling contrast, there are times when the rubber inexorably hits the road.  By which I mean – risking mis-choosing a metaphor – it matters.

Okay.

My daughter Anna.  Looking for a Primary Care Physician.  (Or, as we called them in Canada, a “G.P.”)  She gets a recommendation from her pediatrician.  She makes the call for an appointment.

They tell her, off the top, they are not taking insurance. 

An “Introductory Consultation”?

The fee is seven hundred dollars.

Seven hundred dollars for “Hello.”

Check out the office décor and the magazines –    

People and Us.  What is this, a ‘Nails’ salon?”

Seven hundred dollars to find out.

She decided to pass. 

But the question remains – at least for me –

“Hey, doctor.  How much do you need to make?”

This is not a basketball player; it’s a doctor.  Hopefully, both excel at their jobs.  But one of them dribbles and dunks.   The other helps you not die. 

The thing is, it’s the same culture.  And both of them are “goin’ for the downs.”  (Baseball terminology for “hitting it as far as you can.”  In this case, contractually.)

Is a doctor inherently more valuable than an NBA superstar?  Is Mark Zuckerberg worth billions of dollars?  An app for "grading" Harvard coeds - "Ding, Ding, Ding"?

Forget about that or your head will blows up.  This is America.  That’s what we do. 

Which leads, possibly, to this.

Two doctors in the same “Specialty” meet at a party.  The two inevitably “Talk shop.”  One doctor still takes insurance.  The other doctor takes nada.

And he’s driving a fancier car and he’s flying First Class.

Posing the question:

How long can the nice doctor hold out?

My “Primary Care” doctor still takes insurance.

I better get sick fast before he doesn’t.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

"Goodbye, Dolly"



Cheesy but appropriate.

I will not be seeing the touring company production of Hello, Dolly, currently playing in Los Angeles. 

But I will – and am at this actual moment – be thinking about it.

(Note:  I am writing this in a hotel room in New York.  It is too complicated to get on the Internet.  Therefore, this post will be uncharacteristically light – actually totally deficient – on research.  Full Disclosure:  I am not “a hundred percent” that there’s a comma in Hello, Dolly.)

I saw the original production of Hello, Dolly in – probably – 1964.  (Is there an “app” for Googling your own brain?”)  Dolly was the ‘hot show” of that particular Broadway season.  I felt lucky to get in.  (How?  I had a rich friend, with “connections.”)

I recall this vividly about the show. 

I went in with enthusiasm.

And came out with de-thusiasm. 

Which is not a word but it should be.

You ready for one snarky sentence?

The show is in 1912.

And so is the comedy.

Hello, Dolly:  “Fine.  But we’re running, and you’re not.”

Touche.  (“Accent egue”, but not on this laptop)

Still, that was my reaction.  Musty story.  Groanworthy jokes.

And yet… a truly frustrating “And yet”…

You see, I’m a devout “Content Person.” 

Hello, Dolly scored “D” for “Content.”

But “A+” for box-office.

You can see how that would disturb a “Content Person.”  You can’t?  Well it does, okay?  People like me work our butts off on “Content.”  And when the audience says, “We don’t care about ‘Content’”, we reflexively hear, “We don’t care about you.”

What made Hello Dolly a hit? 

A star.  (Originally, Carol Channing.)  And a part, written specifically for that star.

Some hummable tunes,

And, most importantly,

“Infused spectacle.”

I remember reading about that before seeing the show.  In the beginning, Hello, Dolly was floundering.  “Geriatric”, in every regards.  Then “Dolly’s” director Gower Champion ingeniously “pumped it up”, turning it into a dazzling Thanksgiving Day balloon. 

Elegant costumes.  (Featuring broad-plus brimmed hats – try saying that three times fast; or once, even – with outsized plumage.)

A massive spiraling staircase for the star’s show-stopping “Number.”

And a breathtaking “effect”, which I shall save for the end.

Let me be clear.  Resenting an “approach” does not mean not succumbing to “Wow!”

I definitely succame.

For a moment.

And then I went “Wait.”

I truly appreciate “stagecraft.”

But where’s the show? 

FLASH FORWARD TO 1967.

I am living in London.  Hello, Dolly’s playing to rapturous acclaim at the venerable Drury Lane Theater.

One matinee afternoon, I am attending an English musical called Man of Magic, a “tuner” – as Variety calls it – biography of Harry Houdini. 

Written entirely by English people.

A reality exposed by telltale “inflected dialogue”, like,

“You look tired, Harry.  Why don’t you go have a ‘lie-down'."

I am sitting at Man of Magic awaiting the curtain to go up, when I overhear behind me two Londoner audience members, chronicling the theatrical terrain.

“Anything good you can recommend?”

Hello, Dolly is lovely!

“You enjoyed that, did you?’

“Oh, yes.  It’s magnificent!”

Summarizing its “magnificence” in a singular highlight:

“They had a train go straight across the stage.  An actual train!

For that theatergoer, that “train” – standing for “Great giftwrapping, weak gift” –

Was all it took.

Monday, February 18, 2019

"A Shot In The Arm"


Sometimes, an unfortunate thing can remind me of a silly thing. 

I saw a segment about parents unwilling to vaccinate their children.  That’s the unfortunate thing.  The silly thing it reminded me of was that I may have been one of the first “Vaccination Refusers”­­­ of my era.  Not because I was against them.

Because they hurt.

Nobody enjoys “getting their shots.”  But my body seems overly sensitive to those unwelcome violations.  Or was it my mind?  What does it matter?  Imagined horrible pain is still horrible pain.  It’s self-induced, but it’s horrible.

Every summer, after my annual tetanus shot before going to camp, my upper left arm would be red and swollen for days.  I recall standing in line to see Davy Crockett at the Eglinton Theater, a waiting pal’d drop by for a chat, accidentally jostle my shoulder, and I’d call out in pain,

“Ow!  My ‘Needle’!

You can therefore imagine my chagrin, in school, age about nine, hearing that the next day, there would be polio shots.

The first of a series of three.

Though I instantly knew, “I miss the first one, I’m in the clear.”  You needed all three for the treatment to work.  I figured they’d go, “You missed the first one?  Forget about it.”

Hey, I was nine! 

And even today, extreme stress befuddles my brain.  (And even not so extreme.)

Somehow, I got away with it.  I “played sick” – “A-huk, a-huk” – and I stayed home from school.

The next day, I show up.

“How did it go?”

“You’re lucky you missed it.”

I’d look sad, and go,

“Yeah.  But the polio.

Cackling maniacally inside at beating the grownups.

Because I’m an idiot.

Later that day, I get called to the principal’s office.  Mrs. Snider.  A woman so chillingly punitive that, in my mid-twenties, during a chance encounter, I slipped a lit cigar into my pocket.

Mrs. Snider informs me, with the caring compassion of a meat slicer, that since I had missed yesterday’s polio shot, I would be taxied to a nearby school, to which the “Polio Caravan” had rolled on, and I would receive my “make-up” polio shot today.

So much for “Maniacal Genius.”

I am transported to a pre-school.  Everything is small.  The hallway water fountain comes up to my belt buckle.

And I’m nine!

The school principal – disorientingly friendly – greets me with a hug.  (I feel continuing surprise just writing that sentence.)  She then lays out the itinerary

“We have very young children at this school, and they are a little worried about getting their polio shots.  Now, if you go first, and you show them “It’s a snap!”…

And there you have it.  The school principal has tapped me – the miscast “Big Boy” in this scenario – as an example of courage and forbearance.

Me!

Who’d ditched school to avoid the shot.

Somebody hear the word, “Uh-oh”?

I am escorted to the Assembly Hall, the first guillotine victim of the French Revolution, tapped to show the aristocrats, “It is only a lopping.”

The children march in, class by class, sitting in disciplined cohorts in front of the stage.  The school principal approaches the microphone.  Lab-coated assassins huddle behind her, ready to puncture.  Oh yeah.  I’m onstage too, sitting in a chair, looking like it’s the Electric Chair.”

“Children,” the principal soothingly begins, “we have a Special Visitor today.  His name is Earl.”

THE PRESCHOOLERS DUTIFULLY APPLAUD.  SHE GOES ON.

“Earl is going to go first, so you children can see how easy it is to get your polio shots.  (TURNING TO ME)  All right, Earl.  Show everyone how it’s done.”

The next thing I know, somebody’s rolling up my sleeve.  They then pour drops of alcohol onto a medium-sized wadding of cotton.  And as they apply that cool wadding to my awaiting bare shoulder,   

I let out a geschrei!”  

It’s not even the shot!  Only a “conditioning  preview.”  A “conditioning preview” that says, “Look out, cowboy.  The needle is next!

Making me anticipatorily scream.

And the moment I do…

The room goes absolutely bananas.

It is Bedlam. 

A mad scramble!  (I originally typed “screamble.”  And it was.)

Imagine an infantile jailbreak!  Preschoolers, leaping from their designated positions, racing madly around the room.  Sidestepping their pursuing teachers.  Streaking desperately for the exits.  Climbing the walls, trying to escape through the windows, sliding tearfully back to the floor.

It’s an “Ant Farm”, and somebody’s tossed in a match.

The school principal is apoplectic.

“Children!  Children!

No one is listening. 

Chaos and cacophony, throughout the room.   

Because of little ol’ me.

Though I blame the school principal.

I never promised I’d be brave.

Anyway…

Order is finally restored.  I get my belated polio shot, and that’s that.

Next day, I am back at my school.

“What was it like?”

I say, “The kids learned a lot from me.”

I did not say they learned ‘panic’.”

But with “Round Two” of the polio shots,

They probably figured that out for themselves.
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Thanks for the fiction suggestions.  Any thoughts about "The Classics"?