Friday, October 20, 2017

"Writer In The Sky -The Return (Home)"

I don’t know why I get such a kick out of this –“Writer in the Sky.”

I just sang it.  (As in “Riders in the Sky.”)

Writer in the sky…” 

“Doo-doo doo-doo doo.”

It feels so “Tomorrowland” to me.  Like playing ping-pong on the moon. 

(Note:  I am not sure that is scientifically accurate.  Perhaps I should add, “… if you can play ping-pong on the moon, which I am not certain you can.”  Yeah, that feels better.  I mean, for me.  I wouldn’t want you going on about playing ping-pong on the moon in front of some astronaut and have them laugh derisively in your face.  Then you think, “Who talked about playing ping-pong on the moon?” and you remember who it was and you blame me for getting you derisively laughed in the face and you track me down and hurt me.  You see the lengths I go to avoid hypothetical beatings?   That’s cautious.)

It also returns us to the subject of blame.  Just like I just defused the possibility of blame for leading you down an erroneous lunar possibility, that’s how – and to what extent – people will go to keep the spinning “Blame Arrow” from pointing accusatorily at them. 

Blame must be terrible. 

People will go to inordinate lengths to avoid it.

Praise?

That was me.”

Blame?

“Somebody else.”

I was talking yesterday about how the application of “blame” must serve some Darwinian purpose, hearkening back to at least biblical times (You think Adam and Eve said, “Let’s not talk ‘responsibility’ and just put on some of these clothes”?)  And arguably before even that.  See:  Blame-related cave paintings, featuring some sideways-looking person pointing a j’accusatory finger, and another whose one visible eye reflects serious concerns about their imminent wellbeing.  (And you can bet the unseen “back” eye feels similarly imperiled.)

What is the enduring value of “blame”, allowing it to remain around when nobody likes it if it’s them?

To begin our inquisitorial journey, consider the dictionarial definition of “blame”, the verb:

“To assign responsibility for a fault or a wrong”

In that way of looking at it, “blame” is a valuable remediative.  Something went faulty or wrong.  Assignment:   Who or what was responsible?  Why does that matter?  Because understanding why it happened will decrease its chances of happening again.

Faulty levees are blamed for increasing the damage during Hurricane Katrina?  Improve the levees.  (As opposed to the “Levys”, a Jewish family from New Orleans who are just dandy the way they are.) 

That’s the practical application of “blame.”   After that, however, it gets tricky.  When considering a tragedy, nobody likes “Uncontrollable Circumstances” for an answer.  “Uncontrolled Circumstances” makes people feel helpless, and keeps them sleeping comfortably in their beds.  

“Uncontrollable Circumstances” could happen again.  And at any time.  Try dropping off to “Slumberland” with that troubling your mind.

“Is it now?”  Or now?”  Or now?  Or now?  Or now?

You want to put the concern – sorry about this – to bed, any way you can.  Which invariably means blaming someone.  Even if was nobody to blame.  Or it means blaming the wrong people, a procedure that satisfactorily “kills two birds with one stone”

“We have determined why that ‘Terrible Thing’ happened.”  (Now we can all sleep comfortably in our beds.  The mystery has been definitively solved.  So “Phew!”) 

“It was the (INSERT NAME OF DESPISED MINORITY OF YOUR CHOICE HERE).”  (We have always suspected them, and now we have proof.  “Terrible People” – “Terrible Thing.”  Case Closed.  With the appropriate punishment.

Problem solved?

(INSINUATINGLY SING-SONGY)  Not if they didn’t do it.

(Yikes!  The passenger sitting in front of me just put his seat back.  My laptop is now embedded into my abdomen.  Please excuse me if my writing feels cramped.  And please blame the passenger sitting in front of me for the constriction.  You see how that works?  Now I am entirely in the clear.)

(A psycho-stratagem that was explained to me earlier.  “Blaming” projects the responsibility you are (consciously or unconsciously) feeling (of, say, possible substandard blog writing) onto, in this case, an innocent bystander who simply wanted to relax.  Does it work?  It’s the “Go-To” escape hatch for most people.  Except the congenitally guilty, who feel bad even thinking about it.  (But, in my case, using it anyway.)

Speaking of the congenitally guilty, “Blame” is also unhelpful (for seeking out ameliorative explanations) when someone reflexively shoulders responsibility, for reasons unrelatedly their own.   

“The town’s well has been poisoned, and we need to learn why?”

A HAND SHOOTS UP

“’Guilty Larry?’”

I did it.”

“‘Yeah, okay…’”

“No.  This time, I’m really guilty.”

“Fine.  How did you poison the well, ‘Guilty Larry’?”

“I threw my gum in it.”

"And you think throwing your gum in is poisoned the well?" 

“Well, the next day people were drinking from it and dying, so, yeah.”

 “Just out of curiosity, ‘Guilty Larry’, why did you throw your gum into the well?”

“I was finished chewing it, and I didn’t want to throw it on the ground.”

“So you instead threw it into the well?”

“I do not litter.  And not because I’d feel guilty.  I believe littering is wrong.”

“Out of curiosity again, ‘Guilty Larry’, why is it less “wrong” to throw your gum into the well than it is to toss your gum onto the ground?”

“When you throw your gum into the well it doesn’t end up on the bottom of anybody’s shoe.  And the birds can’t choke on it.  I am sorry that my gum poisoned the well.  If I’d known, I’d have kept chewing it till I got home.  And if I couldn’t make it all the way, swallow it.”

Okay, so no help blaming the wrong people, and no help with the wrong people blaming themselves. 

Hold on.  I was just advised to put my own seat back, and now I suddenly have more room.  How many of you were screaming for me to do that for some time?  What can I tell you?  I am not a spontaneously “problem solver.”  I just hope the passenger behind me figures that out sooner.  I blame myself for their unnecessary…

Wait.  It just occurred to me.  I may well be the present-day  “Guilty Larry.”  I feel guilty about everything!  Including the length of this post.  I wonder.  Was I simply determined to keep writing till we reached Los Angeles?  I just heard, “Flight attendants, prepare for landing”, and I’m done.   So yeah.  Maybe I was.

And I did it!

With an Exclamation Point, no less.

Boy. 


Do I feel blame-worthy?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

"Writer In The Sky"


This is a first for me – writing in an airplane.  It’s like writing my desk.  Only I am thirty thousand feet in the air.  Making it harder if I drop my pen.  (No it won’t.  I just imagined it landed on Kansas.  And got ink stains on the wheat.) 

Drawn to “Worst Case Scenario” scenarios, – reflected in evocative nicknames I collected over the years, like “The Black Cloud” and “Captain Bring-Down” – and the people who called me that were my friends – the first idea that occurs to me under these circumstances is,

“Discovered amongst the debris…”

wherein this laptop is retrieved from the wreck…age, bearing the parting notation:

“I forgot to turn off my i-Phone and now we’re all going to……………………………………”

It is just like me to fantasize “personal responsibility” for an airline disaster.  It could as easily have been engine failure.  Or, like in Sully, we flew into some birds.

More on the knee-jerk “Guilt Response” shortly.  (Can I “drumroll” enticingly, or what?)

One rewarding element of this airborne excursion is that for the first time, I have joined the crowd of admirable “grinders”, working ceaselessly when they travel.  I have always envied those people, tapping away on their computers from takeoff to landing, while I, typically, fritter away my time, falling asleep, and watching reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond. 

By the way, have you noticed that everything’s funnier when you are trapped in an aluminum tube, hanging unsupportedly in the air? 

My standards seem to noticeably diminish, suspended helplessly in the sky.  I just wolfed down two Lotus Biscoff coffee-flavored cookies.  I wouldn’t go near those things on the ground.

Having previously mentioned taking responsibility for triggering a potential “Breaking News” event not about someone assuring us he did not think the president was a moron, my mind returns to the phenomenon of “blame.”  Which is a gigantically big thing, since nobody ever seems willing to take responsibility for anything, except guilty people, who do it reflexively, although it is arguable that people who reflexively deny responsibility feel, unconsciously, even guiltier.  (Claims the congenitally guilty person, so there are grounds for skepticism.)

You know the language of “Blame Denial”:

“It fell.” 

(Rather than the more Newtonianly accurate, “I dropped it.”)

“It got lost.”

(Suddenly, inanimate objects acquire the power to relocate from where you left them to where you can’t find them anymore.  Just once, I’d like to watch that happen.  “Oh, look!  My car keys are moving to a different place.”)

“Mistakes were made.” 

(Sidestepping the sleuthingly suspicious:  “And I happed to be there every time they were.”)
   
I knew this Scandinavian guy named Thor who insistently denied responsibility for anything that happened, no matter how remote he was from possible culpability.

“There was an earthquake in Pakistan.”

Thor not do it.

What’s wrong with blame?  We all mess up sometimes.  Why not fess up and admit, “I did it”? 

No way.

“It broke.” 

(One moment it was whole.  Next thing, it’s in pieces on the ground.  Just like that.  They can’t come up with a perpetual motion machine.  But a porcelain teacup can become “shards” all by itself.  “Who exploded that bomb?”  “Nobody.  It just blew up.”)

When I consider a lasting phenomenon, I think about the Darwinian necessity for that phenomenon’s endurance.  (A sure sign that someone has too much time on his hands.) 

For a phenomenon to continue, there must be, to my way of thinking, some “survival purpose” keeping it around. The “bad stuff” inevitably disappears.  People ate glass for a while.  (Let’s pretend.)  They stopped.  Because it didn’t work out.  I mean, you can’t be stubborn about it.  It was smooth to suck on.  But chewing and swallowing?  That one “Naturally Selected” out in a hurry.  Although we still have gargling.

“Blame”, on the other hand, is a “stayer.”   Going back to the beginning of people

ADAM:  “It’s your fault I ate that apple.”

EVE:  “Don’t blame me.  Blame the snake.”

SNAKE:  “No way!  It was, uh…

LOOKING AROUND…

ADAM:  “There is nobody else here.”

SNAKE:  “Okay, it was me.  Although you guys were pretty stupid, listening to a snake.”

EVE:  “Don’t blame us.  We were forbidden to eat from the Tree of Knowledge.’”

SNAKE:  “Then wait.  Don’t blame me.  Blame God.  (LOOKING SKYWARD)  Nothing personal.  It’s just the logical outcome of this discussion.”

“Blame” is so big it – at least logically – goes right to the top.  Whom – no offense, and please do not unjustly punish the other people on this plane  – I have never known to cop to a mistake in either Testament.  I mean, “Free will.  Was that really a “Genius Idea”?

I’m going to continue this later, possibly on the ride back. (He said, confidently.)

They’re showing an episode of Last Man Standing, and it’s just cracking up the Main Cabin.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

"How Much Do You Make?"

Once, at camp, I ate ten hotdogs at one sitting.

“With the buns?”

A majority of them with the buns.  Did you ever eat ten dogs?

“No.”

It’s a lot of hot dogs, okay?

“I know.”

Almost a dozen hotdogs.  And I ate them at one sitting. 

“You said.”

So don’t start talking about, “with the buns.”

“Sorry.  I was just trying to accurately gauge your accomplishment.”

May I continue?

“It’s your blog.”

Yes.  Though it appears to have an adversarial “virus.” 

Anyway…

I ate ten hotdogs at one sitting – I got attention and accolades.  Veiled envy from people who could only eat seven hotdogs, but that envy was merely a mirror of my magnificent accomplishment.  I mean, what I’d achieved was not close to the success of those three physicists who won the Nobel Prize I read about this morning.  Although let them try to eat ten hotdogs at one sitting.

The thing is, like me, those Nobel laureates enthusiastically accepted their recognition, providing accompanying “Head Shots” for the adulatory media coverage, their behavior reflecting a pride of accomplishment, which is both natural and normal.

It is the same with voted award winners, recognized heroes, Olympic champions – a guy “cleans-and-jerks” 475 pounds (if that’s possible, I just pulled a number out of the air) – he releases the barbell to the floor, strutting victoriously around the venue.

In every field of endeavor, you hit the designated bull’s eye, you go, “I did it!”  Possibly humbly.  Possibly something a little less Canadian.  No one denies the recognition.  They are certified winners.  And they act like it.

Now, by contrast…

Ask someone in some massively remunerative enterprise,

“How much do you make?”

And – if they are not the National Embarrassment in the White House – they’ll act like you asked them, “Didn’t I see you on America’s Most Wanted”?

Just consider the conversational chill:

I’m just asking you how much you make.

“That is not something I talk about.”

You are obviously very successful.  I’m trying to determine how successful.

“Why?”

So I can accurately gauge your accomplishment.

Do you see what I’m talking about?

I eat ten hotdogs at one sitting – I dance exuberantly around the Mess Hall.  Someone earns astronomical dollars, they go,

“No comment.”

And then blame me for bringing it up. 

I don’t get it.  The Nobel Prize geniuses comport themselves like certified winners.  And they’re probably socially awkward.   What’s up with the spectacularly wealthy? 

They won big the game they were playing, and they don’t want to talk about it.  I don’t know, is it possible, they are secretly uncomfortable with their accumulate incomes?  Why would I say that? 

Because they behave uncomfortably.

Everyone else exults in their successful accomplishments.  But when it comes to lavishly accrued compensation, they pull their coats over their heads and they  furtively slink out of the exit.  Like they made their money in a drug deal.

“How much do you make?” 

They answer,

“That’s personal.” 

“It’s not talked about?”

“It’s none of your damn business.”

I got it.  But why the cultural sensitivity?  Larry David never mentions his money.  And he talks about everything.

Is the problem that some jobs are exponentially more remunerative than others, and there’s some visceral guilt abo`ut the gaping disparity?  (There is the belief that these amassed fortunes economically “trickle down”, a belief confidently espoused, despite the troubling drawback of reliable evidence.)

I know I am selecting “extremes” here.  But just for comparison…

A minimum wage earner, works hard, makes a federally mandated seven dollars and twenty-five cents an hour.  Times forty hours, times fifty weeks – that’s an income of fourteen thousand five hundred dollars a year. 

Wall Street banker? – Four hundred and fifty million dollars a year. 

I mean, I get the math here.  Wall Street banker, works all year brokering a merger, earning, let’s say, a three percent commission for their involvement.  The arranged merger’s worth fifteen billion dollars? –  Voila! – four hundred and fifty million dollars.

It’s just three percent.  What’s to be uncomfortable about?

Weigh in about this, will ya?  Nobody wants to talk about what they make.
Including me… when I made money.

Isn’t making your fortune what this country is all about?


Then why the “hush-hush” when you successfully pull it off?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"Asian Factory Workers Doing Their Part"

Two Asian factory workers sit side-by-side at their worktable, toiling away.

ASIAN FACTORY WORKER NUMBER ONE:  “Do you think the people we are making these for know we’re eleven?”

ASIAN FACTORY WORKER NUMBER TWO:  “I doubt they think about the employees manufacturing these products at all.  Which is hardly historic.  Do you think the American North in the 1850’s had stores, advertising, ‘These shirts were made from cotton picked by people who were actually paid something’?”  They’d have gone out of business – ‘We can’t compete with unpaid ‘pickers.’  The purchasers, maybe, had momentary qualms, but, you know, if you like a shirt, and you appreciate the low price because of the unpaid ‘pickers’, you think, ‘Let Lincoln worry about the slaves.  I can’t wait to wear this to the Abolitionist Fundraiser.’”

“You read too much.”

“Reading’s my life, outside of the factory.  Depressing work, depressing reading.  A fully integrated existence.”

“You ought to be grateful for this job.  Remember where we came from.  They don’t call it ‘subsistence farming’ for nothing.” 

“‘Subsistence’ was a good year.  Generally, it was plowing and starving.”

“Today – overworked, living in cubicles – it’s ‘heaven.” 

“Okay, so we are ‘Lucky Duck’ factory workers, making … what is this?  You know, half the stuff we manufacture, I have no idea what it’s for.”

What do you mean – Pez dispensers, shaped like Popeye?

“Okay, that one, I ‘get.’  And the  ‘Action Figures’ they sell at fast food restaurants – makes them forgot about what they’re eating.  But it’s the just same ‘form’ with different painted decorations.  ‘I’m a Ninja!’  ‘I’m an astronaut.’  It’s exactly the same toy!  Made from material we’re not supposed to use but they don’t check so we do.”

“Well, this time it’s different.”

“What, this thing?”

“Yes.  This time, it’s meaningful.”

“Are you seeing what I’m seeing – a rectangular piece of cloth, dyed blue?  It’s not exactly the cure for botulism.”

“It’s a washcloth.  People use them to dry off their faces.  This is exciting.  We are in ‘Bathroom Accessories.’”

“That’s ‘exciting’ to you?”

“It’s better than dolls that immediately break when you take them out of the box.  We’ll be around fine towels, soaps and emollients.”

“Where’d you get that word?”

“My sister sells cosmetics at the ‘Flea Market’.”

“What do you think these letters mean on this blue rectangle – “L. A.”?

“’Lovely Accessories.’  I’m proud to make washcloths.  I’ll know, every time someone daubs their faces, I’ve made an important contribution to personal hygiene.”

I don’t know.  They look like washcloths.  But I’m not certain they are.”

THE FACTORY FOREMAN WALKS BY.

FACTORY FOREMAN:  “Less talk.  More ‘rectangles’.”

“Excuse me.  What are we making, please?”

“Those are going to Los Angeles.”

“Oh.  (TURNING TO FACTORY WORKER NUMBER ONE)   ‘L. A.’”

“They are promotional items for baseball games.  The fans wave them over their heads to encourage their players.”

“That’s what we’re making?  Something you wave over your head?” 

“Are you sure they’re not washcloths?”

THE FACTORY FOREMAN SNORTS DERISIVELY.

“Like we’d ever make anything useful.  It’s a ‘Promotional Giveaway.’  When you are done stitching them, they move down the ‘line’ and one of your co-workers stamps Stubhub on them.  And by the way, I am docking you for this conversation.”

THE FACTORY FOREMAN HEADS AWAY.

“(DEJECTED)  I thought they were washcloths.”

“Sorry.  They’re landfill.”

“Well, at least they’ll get exercise, waving them over their heads.” 
   
“Always the optimist.’”

“Actually, I was thinking about going back to the country.”

DISSOLVE TO:

INT. DODGER STADIUM – SUNDAY OCTOBER 15, 2017.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner breaks a 1-1 tie with a towering homerun over the centerfield wall, bringing them a dramatic 4-1 playoff victory over the Cubs.

Fifty-six thousand rabid, Dodgers fans (including this chronicler) roar like maniacs, wildly waving their Dodger-Blue, Stubhub "Rally Towels: over their heads.

Hopefully, watching secretly over the Internet, an invigorated Asian factory worker is thinking,


Better than washcloths.  Wait’ll I tell them at work!”



Key To The Process:  I read “Made in China” on the tag of the “Rally Towel, and I was off to the races.