Monday, September 22, 2014

"The Worst Day Of My Life Shopping"

I like to drain the suspense from a story, so it can stand on its own, minus the artificial crutch of dramatic excitement.

Some people take pleasure in the generic activity of shopping, regardless of the outcome.  I like to buy things I need, and then take them home and use them.

Shopping without the consequence of actual acquisition?

It’s like going to a restaurant and not ordering any food.

“I enjoy the clatter of cutlery.”

Going to a bowling alley and not bowling.

“I like the camaraderie and the smell.”

You go to a ballgame and sit with your back to the field.

“The faces are more interesting than the action.”

You visit a hair salon, but you don’t get your hair cut.

“I am irresistibly intrigued by falling follicles.”

Do you buy any of those?  Or considerably funnier examples that did not come to mind?

I shop to acquire.  Anything else is… what happened to me recently.

We had a checklist.  Five items that we needed to procure.  And we did not get a one of them.  (So if you somehow missed the original “spoilers”, there goes another one.) 

The need for four of these items relate to our upcoming trip to Turkey.  The fifth one, well, it’s a little embarrassing so let me get it out of the way first, so I can sail through the rest of the blog post humiliation-free.  At least of the self-inflicted variety.

I have a CD-clock radio (that wakes me up to a CD-burned version of the sixties opening theme song to Hockey Night In Canada.  I’ll say it straight out:  I do not know how to alter the “alarm setting” on my CD-clock radio.  (It appears that I knew once but I forgot.)  I have also misplaced the Instruction Manual, so my only alternative is to get a new CD-clock radio that will, I would expect, include an Instruction Manual so I can learn to handle the “alarm setting” on that one.  (Note:  I have subsequently downloaded the “alarm setting” instructions for my current model of CD-clock radio.

Our first stop is at a Santa Monica travel store.  We are interested in three items we are hoping they carry – a collapsible “walking stick” (as our tour includes a three-hour “hike” and my right arch is already pre-emptively complaining), a battery-operated travel toothbrush, and a battery-operated electric shaver.  (We have already purchased a compatible Turkish plug, but there are iPhones, there are Kindles, there is, I don’t know, an electric tablet.  It would be good to have one less thing to have to plug in, rather than rotating four implements on a single plug.  Or take along one of those heavy multiple plug-strippy thingees.)

From her tone and attitude, it is evident that our saleswoman clearly despises the store she is working in.  (Which she subsequently reports is going out of business.)  Rather than promoting its diminishing – admittedly inadequate – inventory, she directs us instead – for every one of the three items we are looking for – to other stores where we can, in her opinion, “do better.” 

For “walking sticks”, try REI.  For travel toothbrushes, there’s Rite Aid, and for electric shavers, Target.  All of them, she assures us, are superior to this place.  That we are already standing in.  Though to no positive advantage to our shopping.

We drive to REI to look at walking sticks.  Too athletic and too expensive.  (They carry those tall poles Swedish refugees used to escape from the Nazis during the winter.  One thirty-nine, and not collapsible.  I doubt if you can even take them on the plane – a preventative against poking a pilot.)

We walk to a nearby Brookstone outlet – no battery-operated toothbrushes (“Try CVS.”), no battery-operated electric shavers.  (Again, “Try Target, of which there are none in our vicinity.)  And, adding insult to injury, we are dutifully informed – as you may already know – that they do not make CD-clock radios anymore.  People now wake up to their telephones. 

We are at this point, in baseball parlance, 0 for 4 with our shopping.  The final item on our as yet “unmarred by success” checklist:

Reading matter for the trip.

We head up to Barnes and Noble, a never-disappointing “reliable” for such purposes on our earlier vacations.

The truth is, I do not intend to buy any books at Barnes and Noble.  I am committed to using Kindle.  I just thought I would check out the books, writing the interesting titles down for subsequent ordering.

Somehow they knew.  And for the first time ever, there was not a single book of personal interest.  It’s like they read it in my face.

He’s not going to buy anything.”

And they deliberately hid everything I’d like.

We throw up our hands, surrendering to our failure.  (There was an outside possibility of a CD-clock radio at Radio Shack, but we passed, unable to endure any further disappointment.)

We get back in the car.


Five items on our checklist. 


Five items still on our checklist.

More than two hours of shopping.  And we had bought…


For some, hell is lapping flames and eternal damnation.

For me, it’s shopping for things I need and finding none of them.

With the looming prospect

Of having to go out and do it again.
Inquiry:  Do you have any reading suggestions?  I prefer historical non-fiction, but I shall accept anything you think I might enjoy.

Friday, September 19, 2014

"A More Respectable Appeal"

It’s interesting.  I am not going to write about it today, or perhaps ever.  But I have made cursory notes concerning a future blog post concerning baseball announcer “homers.” 

Baseball announcer “homers” are baseball announcers who are transparently biased, ruining their broadcasts – for outsiders at least – by rooting overwhelmingly disproportionately for the team that they work for. 

“The opposition should be worried today, folks.  Our boys have lost nine in a row, and are definitely due for a comeback.”

I have trouble coming up with appropriate examples, as I am equipped neither nature nor inclination to produce even a parody of optimism.  These “homers”, on the other hand, have a gift for finding ways to pump up the faithful via manipulative distortion and evidentiary omission.

And with this preambling analogy he segues seamlessly into cable news.

Which I had promised not to watch, my steely resolve having deteriorated into “not watching anywhere nearly as much as I used to.”  Which is a qualitative upgrade from “I don’t know what happened, but I am back watching it ‘wall to wall.’”  Still, I am not at all proud of my occasional backsliding.

So I’m checking out MSNBC, and it’s Chris Hayes, a hyper-smart, super-articulate arguer for the positions of the Left, his unmistakable “home team.”  Which is fine.  We pretty much agree on most issues, so there is less tearing out my hair than when I peek in over at Fox, a good thing since I am rapidly running out of hair.  (A product of age-related rather than frustrational concerns.)

Here’s where I stand.  It is natural for me be exasperated by conscienceless hucksters for the “other side.”  That’s “dog bites man.”  No news there.  Nothing earthshattering to report. 

What upsets me considerably more…

Wait.  Lemme approach this another way.
When (now Senator) Al Franken (who I know from having worked on his TV series Lateline) had his radio show on Air America, I received permission to sit in the control booth and audit his three-hour broadcast.  
After it was over, I went to his office and, apropos of nothing except perhaps what I had heard him do on the air, I said something like this: 
“Anytime you exaggerate of your position or disparage the position of the other side, you are showing, it seems to me, a visible disrespect for your argument.  If that argument is strong enough, and right enough, and persuasive enough, and sufficiently resonating, it can stand comfortably on its own, without exaggeration and without distortion.”
Those were not exactly the words I used, but the idea is in there.  My point – which was greeted with the characteristic dismissal of all my comments unrelated to comedy writing – was that if you believe in your argument, leave it alone, allowing the veracity of that position to speak successfully for itself.  By applying this strategy, you also gain the enhancing advantage of not sounding like just another prejudiced partisan.
Now back to Chris Hayes. 
Chris Hayes is doing a segment on bias against Muslims in America.  And he has as his guest a representative of the Muslim community, a woman dressed in traditional female Muslim attire. 
The presented argument is correct.  It is wrong to be prejudiced against an entire group (this one comprising billions of people around the world.)  I myself try never to hate entire groups, greatly preferring to dislike people one at a time.  Group hatred is invariably discombobulated by encountering members of that group that you turn out to like.  If you don’t like an individual, it is more likely that you will continue not to like them because, unlike an entire group, individuals are less likely to provide evidence of contrarial likability.
Okay, I agree that blind prejudice against an entire major religion is, for want of a more articulate word… bad.  In fact, very bad.  In fact, in fact, totally unacceptable.  Why do I believe that?  Because it’s “Duh!”
The thing is – and here’s the problem – in the course of a perhaps seven or eight minute segment about some Americans’ irrational hatred of Muslims, there is no mention whatsoever of either the attack on September 11th  2001, or jihad.
I don’t get it.  Why did they allow that to happen?
You are holding the winning argumentarial hand.  What need then do you have to exclude commonly known information that, for some Americans, is cause, not for hatred certainly, but for, for them at least, understandable suspicion and concern?
Why didn’t they talk about September 11th and jihad, in the context of an entirely justified, opposition to Muslim bashing in general?  Their “anti-prejudice” position is rock solid.  Could it not have withstood an honest, factual examination?  Parenthetically, how do they look by avoiding one?
My side, embarrassingly, in my view, let me down.  In favor, it would appear, of an unfettered pep rally (in this case supporting a long-ago-won argument against prejudice.)  That’s why I have drastically slashed my cable news viewing time, with the goal of ultimate complete disengagement.
I have no enthusiasm for “homers.”
Not in baseball.
And not anywhere else.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Revisiting 'Frank'"

When a movie you thought was all right but nothing special stays with you days after you saw it – in contrast to movies you can barely remember exiting the lobby – f it behooves the conscientious observer to go back and determine what exactly is going on.

We recently saw the movie Frank at the Nuart theater, a place famous for its Midnight Screenings of The Rocky Horror Show, and the unidentifiable detritus on the floor.  The theater’s ownership has recently changed hands, and it is now less problematic in its personal grooming.  The place still, however, showcases recognizably “out there” entertainment.

For those of you who are unaware of Frank – which a random sampling of acquaintances suggests is virtually everyone – what we are dealing with is the story of an aspiring, young songwriter/musician hooking up with a band, fronted by a singer/songwriter who wears an oversized, fiberglass painted head.  And he never takes it off.

That’s kind of “offbeat”, right?

The thing is, I am invariably drawn to “offbeat”, unless there are decapitations or dismemberments involved, in which case I assiduously steer clear.  I prefer my “offbeat” whimsical, and without bloody entrails. 

This, to a substantial degree, defines Frank.

We witness the enthusiastic young musician/songwriter energetically tearing into self-written confections inspired by whatever’s happening around him – e.g. a peppy, up tempo “I’m writing this song…” – only to creatively falter by the second line, and exasperatedly give up.  The kid happens to be on hand to see the band called “Soronprfbs’s” keyboard player being dragged out of the ocean following a failed suicide attempt. 

After hearing he can play keyboard, “Soronprfbs’s” manager asks him if he knows (the chords) “C, F and G.”  And when the answer comes back “Yes”, the kid is hired to replace the failed suicide keyboardist on the spot.

Hiring a piano player for a band because he can play “C, F and G” is like hiring an accountant because he can count up to three.  Between the self-penned ditties that he never completes and the truncated job interview, I am already smiling, and cannot wait to see where this loony adventure will proceed.

Where it proceeds it to a remote Irish retreat in the woods where the cult-like band with its substantially more commercially minded recruit in tow ensconces itself for months to work on an album, the snippets from all of whose songs we hear are repellently and atonally unlistenable.  (Though the band members of the band – with the exception of the newcomer – think they’re sublime.)

The movie’s structure is carefully follows that philosophy paradigm.  How does it go again?  Oh, yeah:

“Thesis – Antithesis – Synthesis.”

“Thesis” is represented by the mainstream aspirations of the neophyte keyboardist.  “Antithesis” is the band, spiritually piloted by Frank, who will only do music “our way”, commercial consequences by damned.  And “synthesis”, which is delivered in Act Three, is a compromising amalgam of the two.

This “synthesis” is exemplified when Frank, now shorn of his ubiquitous bubble-head, offers an uncharacteristically tunefully accessible anthem, although its lyrics remain insistently impenetrable.  You cannot tell for a certainty – or at least I couldn’t – whether this creative compromise is killing Frank, or if he has acceptably come to terms with meeting the audience’s requirements half way.  A detectable melancholy in his performance of the song may be a clue.  Though I may be confusing “melancholy” with “heartfelt.”

Can you see how someone of my nature and inclination might identify with such a struggle?  Well, I did.  Though my more “feet-on-the-ground” companion contrarily did not.  Caveat:  This companion, consistent with her selected line of endeavor is highly sensitive to filmic romanticizations of the mentally unhinged, a category this film quite arguably falls into. 

I, on the other hand, found Frank’s trajectory to be less a glamorization of mental aberration than a “a whack-job coming to terms with reality”, which I ultimately evaluate as “half-a-loaf-acceptingly” healthy.  Though I am admittedly not the  “professional” in this regard.

The problem now is, days later, I find myself breaking into Frank’s infectious, climactic anthem at random moments, and have been unequivocally instructed to “Stop it!”

What are you going to do?  The song’s gotten under my skin.  I mean, listen to it!  It is impossible to resist! 

Do me a favor.  Could you tell her for me?

Caveat Number Two (a personal record in caveats):  To experience the song’s fullest effect, you may have to have experience the entire movie.  Though it is still infectiously catchy; I am not backing way from that! 

Thank you.  And enjoy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"A Highly Interesting Quasi-Encounter"

I once almost met Hillary Clinton.

There’s an opening line for you – interesting, with an inherent capacity to disappoint.  Preannounced, it should be noted, so there is no possibility of a letdown.  This is an acknowledged “almost” story, with no illusions or claims of being anything loftier.

Still, on the scale of exciting stories, what kind of a story is “I once almost met Hillary Clinton”?  It seems to rank with the likes of “I once almost won the lottery.”  Which is the equivalent of  “I bought a lottery ticket and I lost.”  Which, unless you came within one number of the announced “winner”, is really not much of a story at all.

At yet, for me at least, “I once almost met Hillary Clinton” remains memorable.  (Exemplified by the fact that I remember it.  What more tangible proof do you need?)

This recollection came to mind, as a result of having recently seen this broadcast on television – C-SPAN I, to be precise – showing Hillary and her former president husband Bill attending a “steak fry” in Iowa (traditionally the first primary state, so they were not dropping by because they enjoy frying steaks, which, I believe Bill doesn’t even eat anymore.)  There is a picture of them at the event is this morning’s paper.  What stands out for me are their professional smiles.

(NOTE {for which I have no concrete evidence whatsoever}:  I have it stuck in my brain that when Bill Clinton misbehaved with an intern, he implored Hillary not to depart, offering the solemn promise that if she didn’t, one day he would make her President of the United States.  This notion sits right beside my equally unsubstantiated belief that Michael Jordan was once suspended from the NBA for gambling, but was permitted to instead claim that he was taking a hiatus from the game he dominated to play baseball, which he absolutely stunk at.)

Hillary’s and my near-miss encounter occurred during the 2008 Democratic primary.  A part of this is hazy.  We were apparently guests at some political fundraising event for Hillary (who came alone) that would cost a substantial amount of money to attend.  And yet, we have never in our lives spent a substantial amount of money to attend any political fundraising event.

So what were we doing at this one? 

I mean, it’s not like we are never invited to such gatherings.  We are apparently on a list that we should not be included on because we are nowhere near as wealthy as the other people on the list, and, although the “Attendance Fee” may have not been entirely beyond our means, we are disinclined to fork over the equivalent of a grandchild’s year of college tuition to shake hands with a potential candidate for political office. 

(And that’s literally just for shaking hands with them.  The charges escalate with increased access.  At similar events, you can occupy an adjacent urinal with the president –  “Pee with the President” is the penultimate “Level of Access” – but it would cost you an arm and a leg.)   (The highest level, I do not even want to talk about.)


Here’s what happened at the event.

There we are, standing in a beautifully manicured Beverly Hills backyard on a balmy Sunday afternoon, sipping club soda, our glasses wrapped strategically in napkins, so that if there were any handshaking to be done, it could be accomplished with dry hands. 

We know nobody there, including our hosts.  We are like paid “Extras” at a fundraiser – make that paying “Extras”, killing time in our carefully selected “Casual Attire”, visited exclusively by white-coated serving people offering trays of hors d’oeuvres penetrated by toothpicks.  Waiting for the hopefully mercifully brief speeches, so we can politely applaud, and then immediately head for our car.

And that’s when it happened.

I am passing a bored glance across the opulent garden, and there, standing alone, is Hillary Clinton, her face and subdued body language reflecting all that standing alone at a gathering of people implies.  And that gathering was for her.

The former First Lady appeared wallflowerishly forlorn.  It was uncomfortable to look at her.  She seemed like she needed a hug.

It was then that I fantasized (but never carried out) my “Rescue Mission.” 

I walked over to Hillary Clinton, standing inobtrusively beside her, and I said,

“You don’t have to say anything.  I’m just going to stand here, so that you don’t look so pathetic.” 

I did not actually do that, because I am cowardly, socially inept, uncomfortable with power, and not as nice nice as my inner intentions.  Shortly thereafter, others, perhaps noticing what I’d noticed, arrived to the rescue.

And it was over.

I once almost met Hillary Clinton.

Though I may have learned more about her than if I actually had.