Tuesday, October 31, 2017

"the Baffling Difficulty"

I feel like the “Lead Character” in a show they may have done – and if they haven’t they should – about a retired detective who ends up solving contemporary cases.  (And by the way, if you are going to imagine something, you may as well imagine yourself as the “Lead Character.”)  (By the Way “Number Two” – If you ever do this show, send me a dollar for making it up.)

I have previously mentioned the show Bull, which I regularly watch but find naggingly unsatisfying.  Why do I watch it?  Because it’s a courtroom drama and I watch all courtroom dramas.  (Unless they are soap operas masquerading as courtroom dramas, in which case I don’t.)  Though riding comfortably high in the ratings, I sense that, creatively if not commercially,

Bull is in serious trouble.

I know.  My expertise is in half-hour comedy.  But, to me, a concept is a concept, and a story is a story. 

Interlude of Gratuitous Self-Aggrandizement:  The one time I met Steven Spielberg, he sincerely complimented my ability to “crack” the story of a script I’d been assigned for his anthology series, Amazing Stories.  (Which I hear is coming back on some streaming service.)  My honest response to his dizzying praise was, “In half-hour comedy (unlike in movies which can be developed for years), we “crack” stories every week.  That’s, maybe, the biggest part of our job.” 

That’s my “credentials.”  Though I have nary a single credit in one-hour drama.  (And have no idea how to define “nary.”)

For those who have not seen Bull – and for those who have – Being “On the Spectrum” obliges me to include that superfluity – Bull concerns a high-tech jury consulting operation, whose job it is to, first, tailor the juries to their strategic advantage and two, articulate a trial narrative most susceptible to exonerating their clients.

First Conceptual Difficulty in the Series

A team of high-tech jury consultants costs big money to retain.  As the result, the clients are invariably super-rich, and often generically unlikable.  A noteworthy exception was a “First Season” episode, in which Bull evokes the jury’s unconscious prejudice towards a commercial female airline pilot charged with “Negligent Homicide”, winning the case for the pilot, whose bosses wanted her to take the fall rather than incurring adverse publicity for the airline.
That, to me, was the most successful episode of the series – jury consultants, representing the underdog, simultaneously alerting the jury – as well as the audience – to their buried biases against females doing what were once exclusively men’s jobs.  The episode was interesting, suspenseful and factually plausible.

Unfortunately for Bull, it represents the pleasing exception, rather than the discomfiting rule.

Mostly, they do “Don’t hate me because I’m successful” cases, in which the jury – as well as the audience – come to acknowledge their submerged feelings of envy.  Hardly as egregious a personal failing as misjudging half of humanity. 

Consequence of Concept Difficulty Number One:

Primarily super-rich clients, challenging the “Sympathy Factor.”

Then, there’s the storytelling.

In the “Season Two” debut episode, a billionaire’s wife, faced with a less than generous “pre-nup”, stabs herself three times, and then shoots her unlikable husband, later claiming that he stabbed her and she blew him away in self-defense. Also on hand:  The victim’s mega-corporation board members, wishing to avoid an exorbitant “buy-out.”

Talk about the “Sympathy Factor.”

I hated the murder victim, I hated the widow, and the hated the mega-corporation board members.  Who, then, was there left to root for?  (I just sickened myself by sounding like a network executive.  But this time, the “Likability Note” seems correct.)


Any viewer of Law & Order would expect the presiding coroner to readily determine – from the “Angle of Incidence” of the stab wounds – whether said stab wounds were self-inflicted, or otherwise. 

The show never went anywhere near that area. 

The following week’s episode – concerning an accidental death during a fraternity hazing – required so much suspension of disbelief I have now expended my entire allotment until 2037.

You can tell a show feels on shaky terrain when it injects its dubious storylines with personalized “Overlays.”  The “case at hand” becomes suddenly secondary, when Bull “goes to war” against

– A notorious “Dragon Lady” adversary.

– His former girlfriend.

– The one person who ever bested him in court.

 – His original mentor.

 – His identical twin from a parallel universe.   (Not yet, but stay tuned.)

If you truly believe in the stories you are telling, emanating from the show’s anchoring premise, you do not need extraneous “Overlays.”  Perry Mason never argued in court against his cousin.

The thing is, aside from suggesting a more likable clientele and my thematic “Be true to you school” (the show’s underlying idea) exhortation, I feel frustratingly stuck.  I can easily articulate the problem, but have no constructive plan for ameliorating it.  (From the Latin word, “melior”, meaning better.  At least I can solve etymological mysteries.)

I have imagined lunching with one of Bull’s Executive Producers (whom I know).  But what exactly could I tell him?  What could he learn from a (marginally bitter) retiree, offering criticism but no cure?

Then, a thought floated to mind during meditation this morning.

When you are confounded by what to helpfully say…

…………………..  (For added suspense.  And now, the answer.)

Don’t talk, it occurred to me.


And just maybe,

Something valuable will come up.

Sounds like a sensible strategy to me. 

And if it works,

I will apply it to the issue that is really baffling me, one so paralyzingly confounding, I cannot even write about and am relegated to analogizing alternatives instead:

The confounding difficulty:

Healing the country.

(I apologize for the abrupt “change of direction.”  Few things elicit my being uncharacteristically “at a loss for words.”  But the foregoing conundrum is one of them.)

Monday, October 30, 2017

"What Happened To 'Enough'?"

The recent New Yorker article this extrapolation emanates from was blandly entitled, “How Civilization Started”, though it made a provocative comeback with the subtitle, “Was It Even A Good Idea?” 

On second thought, maybe it wasn’t that wonderful.   I mean, those notorious “Question ‘Billboards’” on the local news, like:

“Big tornado – Is it headed our way?”

They withhold that worrisome tidbit till the end of the broadcast, making us sit through the sports, the weather, the returned puppy story and the inane banter.  Then finally, they answer the question, “Big tornado – Is it headed our way?”:


Of course, “No.”  If there was an actual big tornado heading their way, they wouldn’t pose it as a mere, speculative query, they’d say, “Get in the basement or you’ll wind up in Oz!

Still, in the context of civilization, “Was it even a good idea?” is an admittedly tantalizing enticement, even if the inevitable answer is “Yes.”

Or is it?

Oh, no.  Now, I’m doing it. 

Oh, man!  I am so impressionable.

Anyway (and I hope this is worthwhile)…

The gist of the New Yorker article is that when society morphed from a hunting and gathering society – the latter pursuit relegated to “Second Position” because it’s… “gathering” – anyway, when hunting (and gathering) transformed into “Planting and Cultivating”, we generally saw this as an anthropological “upgrade.”

But is it?  Meaning, “Have we mistakenly gotten it backwards, and the so-called “primitive” society was actually the superior one?”)

There is this song in the musical Oliver! entitled “Reviewing the Situation”, in which the miscreant Fagin contemplates abandoning his nefarious proclivities.  In one verse, considering one change in his larcenous lifestyle, Fagin ponders the possibility of marriage.  Ultimately, however, his connubial ruminations lead to a strategic reversal.

The verse goes like this:

“And a wife would cook and sew for me
  And come for me, and go for me
 And go for me, and nag and me
 The finger she will wag at me
 The money she will take from me
 A misery she’ll make from me…
 I think I’d better think it out again.”

You see what he did there?  Upon further examination, the prospect of “marital bliss” becomes substantially less appealing than it was original considered.

That is, analogously, what happened with society, the New Yorker article asserts, triggering the provocative question about civilization:  “Was it even a good idea?”

To which, their researched reaction, mirroring Fagin’s, is:

“Yes.  But…”

And here’s why.

Hunters (and gatherers) exhibit a tripartite cultural arrangement:

“We find it.  We bring it home.  We eat it.”  

Next day – they do exactly the same thing.  

By contrast, the “more advanced”, subsequent agricultural societies:

“We plant it.  We grow it.  We form settled communities.  We elect representatives to administer those communities.  They impose taxes – crops and property being more assessingly visible than digested food already in hunter-(gatherers’) tummies – the tax revenues providing for roads, bridges, universal health care if it’s not here, but they also potentially open the door to dictatorial dominance, corruption, exploitation, and an accelerating unequal distribution of wealth.  Among other unwelcome consequences.”

“We find it.  We bring it home.   We eat it.”

You see the difference?

The hunter-(gatherers’) approach is simpler, less corruptible and more inherently equitable, thus, as with the fleeing “Ringo” and “Dallas” in Stagecoach, described by the drunk doctor, sparing them “…from the blessings of civilization.” 

Let’s focus on one element.  (Because otherwise, I have to keep writing and miss lunch and my work inevitably turns grumpy because I’m hungry.)

The Hunter-(Gatherer) Credo:

“We find it.  We bring it home.  We eat it.”

The Result:  Full bellies, and no surplus.  Everyone eats everything, and everything is gone.  Leaving nothing to hoard.  Nothing to brag about.  Nothing to produce rising material inequities.  Nothing to tax, or tax evade.  The hunter-(gatherers) were effectively liberated from those nasty shenanigans.

PREHISTORIC HUNTER:  “Once, I killed three animals, figuring to take a couple of days off from hunting and eat the two other animals the next day and the day after that.  Hey!  Don’t mock me; I’m a Neanderthal with the grip of a gorilla.  But, yeah.  The next day comes, I had to throw the two other dead animals out because they literally stunk up the cave.  That sure showed me: 

“You cannot ‘bank’ dead animals.” 

For obvious practical reasons – which became their societal M.O – every day, the hunter-(gatherers) acquired only what they required. 

And then they stopped.

No dead meat savings accounts.  (Nor dead meat, secreted in mattresses.)  No discretionary dead meat invested in the stock market.  No dead meat, buried in overseas accounts, to avoid taxes.

SWISS BANKER:  “This vault – forgive me – has a detectable aroma.  And I do not mean of Swiss chocolate!

Because they now could, agricultural society – and, subsequently, industrial society – sufficiently provided for their personal needs.  But then, they voraciously kept going, jettisoning the leveling philosophy of “enough.”  People now accumulated for the sake of “accumulating” itself, amassing, as it were, more meat than they could consume in a thousand lifetimes. 

And they kept on amassing.

PREHISTORIC HUNTER:  “I don’t get that.  Why don’t they stop when they have enough and take it easy in their caves?”

An interesting question.

From an ancestor whose brain was purported smaller than our own.

Was “civilization” a good idea?

Yes.  But keep an eye on the bad stuff. 

Because it is really, really bad.

I don’t know,

Maybe, like the musically deliberating Fagin,

We ought to (seriously, wisely and quickly) think it out again.

Friday, October 27, 2017

"The Things I Think About"

Not as in, “The following is a list of the things I think about.”

But as in,

“Really?  With all that’s happening in the world, you’re thinking about that?

I am so ashamed.

Once again.  (And you would not be incorrect in seeing at least a portion of this exercise as “emotional unburdening.”   With humorous interludes.  To conceal the therapeutic intent.) 

What can I tell you?  My “Catastrophic Prioritizing” is egregiously out of whack. 

For example, as of this writing…

Raging wildfires, natural disasters, a  mistake in the White House.  And what serious concern stands foremost in my mind?

Larry David’s physical wellbeing.

I know, I’m an idiot.  Larry David himself would not be this oblivious.  Although he did slough off his turbulence-imperiled wife Cheryl, while wrestling to get his TiVo to work.  (I am referring to the “TV“ Larry David.  I met the “real life” Larry David.  He was disappointingly quite pleasant.)

Curb Your Enthusiasm is back for its ninth season after a six-year hiatus.  Although we were happy about its return, a friend adjudged that Curb had become a parody of its former inspired and incomparable self. 

The show is doing the same style of comedy, but having already expended the best versions of their idiosyncratic approach in earlier seasons – e.g,, Larry is booked to co-star in The Producers on Broadway (credible) – they are now relegated to delivering the ninth-best incarnation – Larry writes a musical called Fatwa (less credible) – and it’s, like, the same magician, but now you can see where he’s hiding the chicken. 

Still, we agreed that, unlike the similarly resurrected Will & Grace, Curb Your Enthusiasm is at least a parody of a show we like.

What concerned me for Larry’s personal safety was something I saw in one of the “promos” for the current season. 

In a brief clip, I saw Larry David being violently booted off of a bus. 

No laugh from me. 


He looked like he could have really hurt himself. 

I mean, the man is 70 years old.  And they’re tossing him off a bus like he’s… 57.  There’s a reason old people avoid physical comedy.  A medium-hard handshake can wind you up in the Emergency Room.  (Noteworthy Exception:  Jackie Chan.  But that aging “Kung Fu King’s” got an ambulance following him around.)

I wondered, because, at the “Moment of Impact”, Larry’s back was facing the camera, if they had actually slipped in a Larry David “Look-Alike” stuntman and booted him off of the bus.  Many movie stars have ”Look-Alikes” who’ve had extended careers, serving as the “Leading Man’s” risk-taking “Stunt Double.” 

The question is, where would they find a capable stunt man, matching the appearance of Larry David?

And wouldn’t that venerable “Stand-In” be equally imperiled, were he to be thrown off of a bus?  With – since he is not the super-rich Larry David, and this is America – less comprehensive medical coverage?

It was while watching this year’s “Episode Two”, that the mystery was suddenly solved.

After Mary Steenburgen rejects Larry as not being her type “physically”, Larry David discovers her, strolling along the boulevard, with a man who looks exactly like him!

I thought, “There he is!  That’s Larry’s ‘Stunt Double!’”

Who’da thunk it?  A Larry David “Identical Twin.”  I immediately wondered if you could rent the guy out for birthday parties, like my grandson Milo got “Spiderman.”  He shows up, makes a big nuisance of himself – offending the guests and “double-dipping” at the “Snacks Table” – they pay him his money, and he goes home and takes a nap.

That’s harmless

Throwing a septuagenarian off a bus?

That’s “Elder Abuse.”

I guess I am sensitive to that now.  I know how easy it is to compromise your body.  I wrenched my back carrying a stepladder. 

That's not even a whole ladder.

There’s this terrible joke.  The mother implores her diffident offspring.

“Eat!  Eat!  Millions of children are starving in China.”

To which the diffident offspring replies,

“Oh, yeah?  Name two.”

When it’s not you, it’s a distant calamity.

But when it is – or when you personally identify with the victim –

It scales the summit of imminent importance. 

I know there are terrible problems in the world.  But the bus-ousted Larry David?  (Or maybe possibly his “Double”?)

I saw Aleve and visits to a chiropractor in the gentleman’s future.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

"The Car Of The Future Is Here Today - Please, Don't Make Me Drive It"

My ’92 Lexus shook like a 50’s test plane breaking the “Sound Barrier”, made  earsplitting ratcheting noises, smelled like something inside it was burning and drove like it was stuck draggingly in “Neutral.”

I figured it was time to take it in.  (Like its aging owner, my 25 year-old Lexus is in increasing need of restorative maintenance.)

When it’s in the shop, the Lexus dealership provides customers with “Loaner Cars”.  Or as they call them “Courtesy Cars”, so you’ll think they are doing you a “courtesy” rather than sneakily getting you to “test drive” a new Lexus.

“Hey, this car is better!  Maybe I should ‘trade up’.”

Then, instead of paying hundreds for the repairs, you are shelling out tens of thousands for a car you had no previous interest in purchasing.  If there were no subterfuge involved, they’d have provided me a 25 year-old “Courtesy Car.” 

Which I’d have preferred because I’d have known how to drive it.

My 2017 “Courtesy Car” came equipped with the advanced – compared to my “classic” – “Bells and Whistles”, including a now-standard “Back-Up” camera, with its accompanying “Beeps”, alerting me to proximate objects.  (Or people.  Or beloved pets.)


I’m at home.  I have to go someplace.  Time to “fire up” the “Courtesy Car.”

No more key.  I put my foot on one of the pedals – I do not currently recall which – and press “Power.”  The car’s engine – if they still have engines – roars immediately to life.  I put the car into “Reverse”, preparing to back out of the garage.

The car “Beeps.” 

“Watch out on the ‘Front-Left.’”  (Hitting the side of the garage.)

I make a slight steering-wheel adjustment.

The car “Beeps.”

“Watch out on the ‘Front-Right.’” (Hitting a metal bookshelf, slated for Salvation Army reclamation.)

Having apparently “over-shot” my slight steering-wheel correction to the “right”, I make a slight steering wheel “counter-correction.”


“Watch out on the Front-Left.”

I make a “counter-counter correction”?


“Watch out on the Front-Right.” 

The frustration increases.  Whatever I do, I get “Beeped” from another direction.

I roll back warily towards the garage-door opening. 


“Watch out on the ‘Rear-Left.”

I correct my trajectory.


“Watch out on the Rear-Right.”

I finally give up, backing out of the garage as carefully as I can.  The car hates what I’m doing, its intense “Beeping” simultaneously alerting,

“Watch out on the Back-Left! – “Watch out on the Back-Right!” 

“Watch out on the Back-Left!” – Watch out on the Back-Right!” 



By the time I am – safely, no thanks to them – out of the garage, I am entirely drenched in sweat.

And I still have to back into the street!

“Driverless” cars.  (Moving on seamlessly.)

This one, I might actually like.  

One of my nightmarish dreads is the inevitable “Driver’s Test.” 

“Driverless” cars? 

No more “Driver’s Test.” 

“You don’t see well enough to drive.”

“So what?  My car does.”

There are still going to have “Driver’s Tests”? 

For what?  Sitting in the seat?

“GPS”?  (He then segues, with consummate Borscht Belt comedian savoir-faire.)  Or, as it’s been soothingly rebranded, 

“Route Guidance”?

That one’s been around a while.  Although its effectiveness has been thankfully improved.

The first time we tried “GPS”, it took us accurately from Santa Monica to Carmel (the “sweaters-knotted-around-their-shoulders” capital of the world), a distance of  346.1 miles.  But when the device climactically announced,

“You have arrived at your destination”,

We looked out the window,

And it was a field.

(We had booked an actual hotel.) 

“Route Guidance” is now, apparently, more reliable.  Though the “Rebellious Driver” in the family regularly ignores it. 

On a recent trip to Chicago – her original “Stomping Ground” – the “Route Guidance” Voice – Can you imagine the auditions for that job?  “That was great, Marcy.  This time, keep it ‘authoritative’ but dial back the ‘imperious.’”

The disembodied “Marcy” reports,

“In one thousand feet, turn right at Ogden Avenue.”

Our “Rebellious Driver” with other ideas, hearing, a thousand feet later, the repeated,

“Turn right at Ogden Avenue",

Instead shoots right past Ogden Avenue.

This blatant “Driver Disobedience” elicits a stony silence from the machine.  But you can sense “Route Guidance’s” ruffled reaction:

“Oh, really?”

I can imagine confrontational “fireworks” in this arena, unbending “Tests of Will”, screaming for commentarial attention. 

As for now…

You have arrived at your blogatorial destination.

We hope you have enjoyed your trip.

(Lingering “Equal Opportunity” Question:  How come they only select women for “Route Guidance” employment?  And in fancy cars, women with cultivated English accents?)