Friday, December 15, 2017

"The Times, They Are A'Changin'... And I Do Not Want Them To"

I have always had trouble with transitions.

And I’m talking about good transitions.

“Your foot fell off.  You’re going to have to learn to hop.”

Nothing like that.  No “New Normals” replacing the old “Normal” you took for granted and would now kill to have back. 
                                       
“I have to breathe through my ear?  What is my nose now, a hat rack?”

I’m talking about “Good News” changes.  Graduations.  Promotions.  Milestones, celebrated with a cake and a party.  (Or for those with more rarefied tastes, “A shmoke and a pancake.”)

All transitions are difficult, explains the man about to list perceived fortuitous opportunities he consistently treated as “trouble”, his demonstrable motto:

“I like it now.”

Homeostasis.

Or as the sea captains who don’t know what homeostasis means –  “A relatively stable equilibrium” – say,

“Steady as she goes.”

I have always been chronically resistant to change.  Camper to counselor.  High school to college.  Writer to show runner.   My voice, bleating the habitual question:

“Couldn’t I stay here?”

“Sorry.  Time to move on.”

“No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!”

Here’s why I’m writing about this.  It came to mind, after recalling (and subsequently recounting) a remembered unpleasantness, working at the venerable CBC Radio Building.  I guess this story was next door to that in the “Brain Library.”  (The way I once told (now Senator) Al Franken his books will always be shelved next to Anne Frank’s.  I know he’s in trouble, but I’m keeping this in.) 

This is a more resonating story.  I feel the CBC Radio Building deserves that.  Why?  Because barring that unfortunate “blip”, I had great fun there.  I am not sure if it’s still standing.  If not, somebody give them a “Head’s up” in “Edifice Heaven.”

I do not know what I was doing there that particular day.  Nor do I recall how I encountered the president of CBC Radio, whom I had barely spoken to before and wound up chatting in his office.  Which is embarrassing.  So many holes in the narrative.  If this tale were a boat, it would go under in two minutes.

“What do you call your boat?”

“The Sieve.”

I do, however, remember the main thing.    And that’s all that matters.  (Claims the man who cannot recall anything else.)

Background:

I am leaving imminently for Los Angeles – my first big time Hollywood assignment.  (A Lily Tomlin special.)  I am terrified.  Because…  SEE: ABOVE… it was different.   Better, but different.  For some of us, this is upsettingly similar to “Worse but different.”  The internal jumpiness is detectably indistinguishable.

So I am sitting in his office, thinking, as I have on many previous paralleling occasions,

“Couldn’t I stay here?”

Which came out, specifically,

“Give me one reason not to go and I’ll stay.”

Do you hear what I’m saying to this guy?  I am urging the president of CBC Radio (whom I had barely spoken to before), “Give me a radio job and I won’t move to Los Angeles and write a TV show that will be seen by more people than are living in Canada.”

… is what I am beseeching a virtual stranger.

Because I was so terrified of change.

Do you know what the president of CBC Radio said to me?

“Of course not.  We weren’t there.”

(Note To Myself:  That one never works.  “You know who I saw today?”  It’s just stupid!)

Confronting this knee-shaking Hollywood neophyte, begging for a rescuing lifeline the sage president of CBC Radio replied,

“You have to go.  You’ve done everything you can in Canada.  It is time to move on, and see what you can do.”

The man shakes my hand, and I leave, feeling like last-minute Christopher Columbus saying to Isabella, “Are you sure you don’t need the ‘expedition money’ for anything else?” and hearing back, “Set sail, Christopher Columbus.  And we shall see what befalls you.”

Well, it worked out.  (For both of us.)

Though there were no guarantees. 

Sometimes, you just have to go.

When every cell in you body cries,


“Couldn’t I stay here?”

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

"A Frivolous Post Of Meaningless Consequence"

And aren’t we all ready for that?

Alternate Title:  (In case you happen to lose the first one): 

“Super-Identity.”

I am thinking about Superman.

“Strange visitor from another planet who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men…”

As went the preamble in the eponymous fifties TV show (with the words “Adventures of…” in front of it.)  Not my favorite superhero, but we shall get to that shortly. 

“Superman… who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel with his bare hands…”

This may be nitpicky, but if a guy changes the course of mighty rivers, how hard would it be for him to bend steel with his bare hands?  That’s opening a pickle jar.  Shouldn’t the second example be better than the first one?  “Faster than a speeding bullet.  More powerful than a locomotive.”  They got that gradation in the right order.  Why not the other one?

I’m just sayin’….

“And who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper…”

Okay, here we go.

A man has two identities, one of which he is trying to conceal.  Otherwise, it’s nonstop

“Hey, Superman, could you help me move this credenza?”

He adopts the public persona of his diametrical opposite.  A coward.  A weakling.  The proverbial milquetoast, whatever that means.  The man wants no one to know his secret identity.  The clever disguise he assiduously adopts? –

Glasses.

That’s it.  That’s his whole disguise – he wears glasses.  And a suit instead of his Superman costume, but I mean, so what?  It’s like the same physical description and body type.  He just changed outfits.

“Last time, I saw you in a suit.  I didn’t recognize you in a sweater.”

Bank robbers make the strategic effort.  They do not crash the bank barefaced but clothed in decorative sportswear, then go home, change to suits and go, “Who could identify us now?” 

They wear masks!

This guy dons a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and thinks, “I’m in the clear.”

So here’s this Superman comic book story I remember, which was so ridiculous, I stopped reading Superman comics.  Or at least, substantially cut down.  What else am I going to read?  Books?

Here’s the scenario.  Get ready to guffaw.

A nearby town wants to honor Superman with a commemorative postage stamp.  (I am glad this came out before they don’t make them anymore.)  The problem is, the nearby town’s name is something like “Toonerville.”  (Nothing innuendous, like “Hooterville” – this being the fifties – but something with adjoining “O’s.”) 

You can see the immediate difficulty, right?  Me neither.  But for Superman this acknowledging “honorarium” is a perilous crisis.

Why?

As it is explained in the story, you write a letter, it arrives in “Toonerville”, they “cancel” the appended “Superman stamp”, Toonerville’s neighboring “O’s” inadvertently surround Superman’s eyeballs, simulating a man wearing a pair of glasses, and suddenly it’s…

“Holy Moley!  Superman’s Clark Kent!

That’s the story.  Just like that, the “Man of Steel” is irreparably “outed.”

I know it’s fiction.  But how much disbelief are they asking me to suspend?  That one, crossed the line.  And, for me, I’m like,

Over.  And out.  I am done with Superman comics forever.  (Pretty much.)

I mean – more reasonably – Clark Kent goes swimming.  He takes off his glasses –

“Oooh!  It’s Superman!

Clark Kent gets something in his eye.  He removes his glasses to daub it with a Kleenex

“Hey, that’s Superman!  With something in his eye!”

There are a myriad of credible possibilities.  Did they really have to “Jump the Shark” to “Toonerville Stamps”?  (Go inexcusably too far, for non-Happy Days aficionados.)

I wash my hands of these farfetched anomalies – a high schooler bitten by a spider, a costumed crime fighter allergic to yellow.  My by far “Superhero of Choice” was someone whose behavior and backstory were much easier to accept. 

Tarzan.

An infant, raised by gorillas after his parents perish in an African plane crash.


Now that’s believable!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

"Origins Of A Specific Sensitivity"

We – meaning my older brother and I – are sitting on the floor in our den, watching TV.  I’m, like, six.  Or possibly ten.  I would like to think six because it’s less embarrassing. 

“It’s” being what I am about to tell you.  

Television.  It was amazing.  Hopalong Cassidy.  Kate Smith – less amazing, but still pretty good.  Large woman.  Sang “When The Moon Comes Over The Mountain.”  But you could actually see her doing it.  Not like on radio, where you could hear her but you did not know how big she was.  Not that that matters.  But now you had the choice whether to care. 

Time matzas on.  Inevitable upgrades in technology.  RCA, who manufactured televisions owned NBC, which broadcast television programs.  Inducing people to buy televisions from RCA.  You see how that works?  You wanna see “Uncle Miltie” – you have to go out and purchase a set.  Or run down to the Appliance Store and watch it through the window.  A guy gets whacked with a gigantic powder puff, you don’t need to hear words.

Anyway, RCA was now selling color televisions.  (Colour televisions in Canada – same product, but with a “u.”)  To promote the arrival of color television, NBC began broadcasting color television programming. 

The thing is, most people still had black-and-white televisions, because A) color televisions were expensive and B) for a long time – in my opinion, until Sony got into the game – color television was terrible.    

Last paragraph of boring introduction.

In order for people to watch television both ways, the programming was transmitted in what was called “compatible color”, meaning, if you had a black-and-white TV you saw the program in black-and-white and if you had a color TV you saw the program in washed-out color.  (That is not sour grapes; color television totally sucked.)  To clarify this dichotomy, before every show, the network’s “Voice Over” announcer would intone,

“The following program is broadcast in compatible color.”

We were watching in black-and-white.  Probably a western.  Where the show’s wide-open spaces could “colorfully” showcase the new product.  Leave It To Beaver in color?  Who cares?

So we’re watching this western after the announcement about “compatible color” when suddenly, my older brother goes nuts.

“Look at that!” he shouts excitedly.

“What?” I respond confusedly.

“It’s in color!”

“No, it isn’t.”

“Are you crazy?  Look at those greens!  Look at those blues!

“I don’t see anything.”

“It’s right there!  In compatible color!”

“Compatible color’s only for color TVs.”

“I see color!

“But our TV’s just…

“Holy catfish!  The rancher’s daughter has red hair!

“She does?”

“Can’t you see it?”

“I only see black-and-white.”

“Aw, gee.  Maybe it’s your eyes.”

And on it went.  I cannot do justice to my older brother’s persuasive abilities, as I have minimal talent in that direction, while my brother has natural “Br’er Rabbit” propensities.  I only know that somewhat later, I am standing in the bathroom, washing my bifocals with soap, so I can see television in color.

That’s how I grew up.  Being convinced that what was demonstrably false was actually really the case, and it was my mistake rather than their brutalizing deception.  Can you sense I am not entirely over this?

Okay.  That’s where I come from.

So…

When I hear, for example, that “The American people love this president” when I know that more than sixty percent of them think he’s an idiot

When I’m told that the Supreme Court is a non-political branch of government, when I know that every landmark decision of the last sixty-five years has been decided on the basis not of judicial impartiality but by the court’s political composition

When, even though I know the south turned Democratic after Republican Lincoln freed the slaves and then flipped back to Republican when Democrat Johnson got the slaves’ descendants civil rights and voting rights – I am assured that the south is not racist

To take three examples…

How do you think I am going to react?

Not calmly… is the answer.

You have your opinion?  Fine.  But don’t tell me stuff that’s not true.

People generally accept deceitful “certainties” as part of “business as usual.”  That’s understandable.  They never experienced

“Look at those greens!  Look at those blues!”


Nor found themselves scrubbing their bifocals in the bathroom.

Monday, December 11, 2017

"The (Arguably Unverified) Doggie Doo-Doo Predicament - A Minor Incident With (Possible) Legal Implications"

“It does not take much to send a guilty person over the precipice.”

– A Recognized Unnamed Guilty Person

Okay.

Rachel and family went away for the weekend.  What that means for us is that we babysit their little dog Bean, the travelers reluctant to include him, as he insistently whimpers on long car drives.  By that standard, they would not be taking their youngest son along either.  But no complaints.  Bean and I are compadres.

Although physically diminutive, Bean is a born and bred “Guard Dog.”  Anyone comes to the house – friend or foe – Bean barks incessantly at their arrival.  And for several minutes thereafter.  Nobody really likes that.  It is noisy and annoying.  Taking Bean’s side, however, I cannot imagine how it feels to perform your encoded duties and all you receive for your efforts is,

“Bean!  Stop!

It’s like,

“What?  You don’t want to be protected?  Fine, I’ll stop.  No, wait.  I can’t stop.”

Nothing is sadder than outdated genetics.

I enjoy dogsitting Bean.  But here’s the problem.

I put the leash on the dog and I take him outside.  At that point, I am fully responsible for his safety.  I swear to you, not once have I exited the house without thoughts of a rebuking step-grandchild, staring at me with mournful eyes and mumbling, “Pappy…” – they call me Pappy –

“Did you kill my dog?”      

That’s the “guilt bundle” I carry… as I take Bean for a walk.

And not entirely without reason. 

Years ago, a couple I knew, going on vacation, left their pet goldfish in my care while they were away.  It succumbed in two days.  I was mortified.  I got two episodes out of it – one on Taxi, one on The Cosby Show – but I’ve felt terrible about it ever since.  

I had killed a pet, entrusted to my care.

Like goldfish – like Bean.

That’s a guilty person talking.

Who will now experience this.

Introducing the most recent installment.

We are heading for a nearby park, the one my daughter Anna and her husband were married in, and also, more recently, the one where an alleged murderer was wounded by the police.

On our way to the park, Bean has peed four times in ten minutes, a feat I could not fathom earlier in life but have less difficulty with today.  It is now time for “the other thing”, for which the appropriate “collection bags” have been provided.  I cannot take Bean home till he is fully evacuated, fearing he will complete the “Daily Double” inside our house.  The thing is…

As we enter the park, I spot a police car parked ominously by the adjacent curb. 

I am not thinking about the earlier shooting in that park.  Okay, I am thinking about it a little.  What I am really thinking about is the police officer inside that patrol car, likely of Junior Grade, deployed by their superiors to insure that dog walkers responsibly pick up the poo-poo. 

Or else.

I immediately imagine an obsessed Javert-like “Pooper Trooper”, scanning the perimeter for malevolent miscreants.  For them, it’s

Not a job. 

Not a duty. 

It’s a crusade.   

“I shall not rest…” 

That’s who is sitting in that patrol car.

And I know…

They are watching me walking my dog.

After foraging around for… I don’t know, do dogs eat grubs? – and while I’m hyphening, what are grubs? – Bean abruptly curtains his activities, hunkering down beside a large tree.  From these giveaway signals, I know,

“It’s ‘Go’ time.”

And he goes.

Then – this is the testimony I imagine delivering in court – I reach for a bag, ready to fulfill my custodial duties in the park.  But as I do so, Bean, fronting the excrement, rapidly churns his back legs, effectively “covering the evidence.”

Now I’m in trouble.

The dirt he had kicked up is brown.  The twigs on the ground are brown.  The surrounding dead leaves are brown.  Because of that camouflage – and my less than optimal eyesight – it’s like a “perfect storm”…

I cannot see…

What I am expected to pick up.

And I know…

Someone is watching me.

What exactly am I supposed to do?

It turns out I have practice in this regard.  There is a family member who bristles at discarded cracker crumbs in the bedclothes.  I myself cannot see them.  But, to dutifully accommodate – and retain peace in the valley – I climb out of the bed, scoop up the invisible (to me) food crumbs into my hand, walk over and dump what I have meticulously “collected” into an accommodating trash bin.

That’s what I do.

And that is exactly my M.O. in the park.

I open my plastic-bag protected hand wide, stoop down, and gather… a bunch of stuff, which hopefully includes Bean’s diminutive “Number Two”…  But, seeing and – with apologies – feeling nothing demonstratively determinative, I can not exactly be certain I have completed the assignment.  I then walk over… directly in front of the patrol car… and make a show of dropping “the entire package” into a provided receptacle. 

I then go back… to “make sure”, or at least pretend to make sure, for the benefit of the hovering police officer… and possible surveilling security cameras, positioned strategically up in the treetops.

And then we go home.  Five retraceable houses away.  And I’m thinking,

“I know I tried.  But what if I missed?”

Me – and I am sure this will be brought up at trial – who has left an incriminating  “paper trail” in this very venue, complaining of people carelessly leaving their pets’ solid wastes on the sidewalks in the great, surprisingly poopy city of Rome.

I was not in Rome.  But there was the possibility

I had done like the Romans.

I am on record.  And therefore culpable.  As a shameful poop-abandoning hypocrite.

Maybe I’m crazy.

“Maybe?”

Maybe I did my duty without knowing it.  Maybe it’s enough to make an honorable effort.  Maybe he didn’t actually go.  I am probably in the clear.  Likelier than not, the “Long Arm of the Law” will not be coming for…

Hold on a second.


Was that the doorbell?
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Joyful Addendum:  A little girl, scheduled to arrive on January the 20th arrived instead yesterday morning, small but full of fight.  We have a new grandchild, named after my Mom, Gertrude.  And the beat goes happily onward.