Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"Crisis Mode"

We just lived an old joke.

We were informed shortly ahead of time that on an upcoming Sunday, they would be turning off the electricity.  When that Sunday arrived and they did, we immediately went “What was that!

We thought we had blown a fuse.  (Warning To The “Heading Towards Old”:  “Short-term memory – Don’t count on it.”  Advises a man known to touch the bristles of his toothbrush to check if he has already brushed.  Helpful Hint:  If they are still wet, you have.)

The information concerning the upcoming “shutdown” explained that our electricity would be off for only an hour.  As it turned out, however, with were without lights, landline telephones and other electrical amenities for an entire day.

Not long enough for the refrigerator food to go bad.  But long enough to drive some people (mentioning no names at this juncture) to the precipice of madness.

Or seemingly close to that locale.

The experience began harmlessly enough.  I was practicing the piano when the lights went out.  No problem there.  Not that I was so conversant with my piano homework that I could play flawlessly in the dark.  The electricity was turned off at twelve noon. 

When I was done, however, I did, out of habit or stupidity – take your pick, though my personal preference is the former – flip off the light switch (to surprisingly no consequence) in the “Piano Room.”  (Which is actually our basement “Family Room.”  I did not want to leave the mistaken impression of “Ooh, they have a ‘Piano Room.’”) 

Okay – one hour with no electricity.  (Or so we originally believed.)  No television.  No Internet.  A dormant Bose FM-radio/CD player, which, for an hour, would be entertaining us with neither.

Okay, I could read.  Courtesy of the afternoon sunlight, imminating in through the windows.  (I figured if there is a word “emanating”, why not a word “imminating”?  That’s stupid?  Hey, “emigrating,” “immigrating”, okay?)

I picked the brightest room in the house, and I lay down – the “brightest room” being a bedroom – for a read.

The book I selected – which I had already started and was thoroughly enjoying – was “‘The Daily Show’ – The Book” – a compilation of “First Person” experiences offered by participants who had at some point worked on that wonderful comic illuminator of duplicity and deceit.  (I would say the book cribbed the template of my “Cowboy Book” but my “Cowboy Book” has never been published, so never mind.  Except that my “Cowboy Book” came before it.  After the SNL book whose template I cribbed, so never mind again.)  

The thing is, with that kind of a book – like reading the phone book from beginning to end, or the dictionary, anything without an actual storyline – you can only read so many “First-person” experiences at one sitting.  (Or, more accurately here, one “lying.”) 

The problem was that, with no electricity, there was little available otherwise to do.  We could have left the house, I suppose, as the blackout was specifically localized, but we were tired from numerous weekday nights out and our Sunday afternoon plan was to stay home, and who was the electric company to alter our itinerary?

Trudging optionlessly ahead, I read way more of “‘The Daily Show’ – The Book” than I wanted to, covering two presidential “election cycles” – 2000 and 2004 – and continuing on to the 2006 “mid-terms”, though with diminishing enthusiasm.  But what could I do?  It was keep reading or take a nap.

I finally gave up and took a nap.  (Or as my three year-old version of daughter Anna once explained, I deliberately “goed” myself to sleep.)

When I awoke, the day’s daylight was rapidly receding.  I returned to my book, keenly aware that time was precipitously running out.  I felt like a pioneer of yore, reading by natural sunlight, and quite soon, I imagined, only by candlelight.  Me and Daniel Boone, reading the same way.  Cool.

Where was Dr. M during this limiting blight to our alternatives?  Playing “Solitaire” on her iPad, electronic devices being immune to blackouts, which is how, via an outgoing cellphone “S.O.S.” we learned that the interruption in our electricity had been extended to eight hours.

Or so they told us.  These were the same people, remember, who had assured us that it would only be one hour.  What if they were lying to us?  What if they had no idea themselves?  What if there was an irreparable difficulty with the “grid” and our relied-on electricity would not ever be coming back?

At least that was my fulminating concern.  Like the hypochondriac presenting recognizable symptoms – and therefore not entirely crazy – I was reacting to a demonstrable happenstance.  Illogically, perhaps, but the eventuality was possible. 

The “Electronic Age” as we knew it might conceivably be over!

And what then?  The end of “civil society”?  Panic in the streets?  Survival of The Fittest?  The Bubonic Plague?

The “Dark Ages” are upon us!  Our Toto electronic toilet seat won’t work.  I know because I stood in front of it and nothing happened!

I realized – or at least the sane part of me did - that I was like a kid placed in a closet for a necessary “Time out” but the closet was not locked and I could walk out whenever I wanted to.  Still, the anxiety felt palpable.  Like I was actually locked in that closet!

We had tickets to a play.  (We decided to leave early – because there was nothing to do at home – arriving at the theater an hour-and-a-half before “Curtain.”) 

I went upstairs to change my clothes, unsure if they actually matched, as I was dressing in the dark.  As I imagined they did in “Cave Times.”  Though with fewer haberdashial alternatives.

Before driving out, a 72 year-old man climbed a ladder to reach the elevated switch enabling us to open our electric garage door “manually”, mirroring a similar procedure employed in “Cave Times” if they had had cars.  I am telling you, it was a nightmare!

Driving back to our neighborhood after the play, we kept our eyes peeled for telltale signs that the electricity was back on, dreading the alternative of going to bed without television.  Fortunately, we discovered it was.

I began to breathe normally again.  Life as we knew it had thankfully returned.  But it hadn’t been easy.

Even though it actually was.

Monday, March 27, 2017

"The Road Taken"

Today, I am taking the road not taken – or at least less frequently taken – by examining “The Road Taken”, a less musical appellation, which, to the ear, sounds like a car with a suddenly flat tire.

“The Road Taken” –

“Ba-dum bum-bum.”

I read an article recently about a scientific study whose conclusion – as many scientific studies do because there is no controlling their exploratorial outcomes – falls into the unwelcome category of  “I don’t want to hear this.”

The study reveals that “strivers” – however that designation was measured – especially minority “strivers” – had statistically significant more health problems and a lower mortality rate than their non-striving counterparts.

 (I was vaguely familiar with this phenomenon anecdotally from childhood.  Jewish male “strivers” – friends of my father’s – driven to outwork the goyim (Gentiles) in their selected lines of endeavor were, with startling frequency, struck down by heart attacks during their early to mid-forties.  It turns out, science has now determined, that you don’t have to be Jewish to bite the dust trying to overachieve.)

As Jimmy Durante used to observe, these men who pushed themselves mercilessly willingly accepted that “These are the conditions that prevail”, never complaining because, as they say in The Godfather, “This was the business we’ve chosen”, not once, as James Taylor wistfully warbled, “Wondering if where I’ve been was worth the things I’ve been through…”

(Why waste words when you can borrow them from others?)

(Note:  Watch how I deftly maneuver the conversation over to myself.  It’s like I’m “Rome”, wherein all issues in question lead inevitably to me.  Today, it’s “Two Degrees of Separation.”  One stop, before arriving at our final destination.)

I think of Neil Simon, whose Memoirs I read and recently wrote about.  During a forty-year period (after writing award-winning television), Neil Simon wrote more than thirty stage plays and almost an equal number of screenplays.

That’s a lot of writing.  (A lot of good writing, as many were nominated for or won prestigious prizes.)

As I considered his memoirs, I could not help noticing that, among other personal revelations, after the tragically untimely death of his beloved wife Joan, Neil Simon was married four subsequent times.  (Simon married – and divorced – one woman twice, so the marital tally could stand more generously at three more times.  Although there were four subsequent weddings.  Once a nitpicker…)      

With this noteworthy statistic in mind, one can’t help wondering if there might be some a causal connection between Simon’s gargantuan output and his fingers-on-the-hand number of marriage certificates.

Making me wonder further, a la James Taylor, if where he’d been was worth the things he’d been through.

While simultaneously wondering – when I start wondering I apparently can’t stop – did Neil Simon simply love to write – which is highly admirable – or was he chronically unable to stop – which is less so.

I am reminded a propos of a negative review Simon received for one of his less successful theatrical outings entitled The Star-Spangled Girl, which said, “Neil Simon hasn’t had an idea for a play this season but he’s gone ahead and written one anyway.”  “This”, proclaims Dr. Pomerantz – the one without the psychology degree – “speaks more to ‘unstoppable obsession’ than to ‘creative enthusiasm.’  Well doesn’t it?)

And then there’s me.  (“End of the line, folks.  All passengers must exit onto the platform.”)

Me, who confessed to Bill Cosby on the initial day of our collaboration,

“I do not want to die.”  (In the manner of my Dad’s overzealous, Jewish compatriots.)

Along with issues of drug addiction and severe mental impairment, I have always been interested in the relationship between rampant obsession and creative genius.  Thinking about this post, the example of the famously overdriven Bob Fosse came to mind, an award-winning theatrical and film director, dead after numerous cardiacical “near misses” at 60.) 

As for myself, there was no question I wanted to be as good at what I did as I possibly could. 

But I also wanted, with equal passion and enthusiasm, to go home.  (To my freedom and to my family.)

I additionally observed that I had minimum difficulty “putting down the pen”, never feeling the nagging urgency to write during series hiatuses, extended vacations, numerous months-long writers strikes or, in the current blog-writing context, on weekends.

I can do it. 

But I don’t have to.

Causationally or otherwise – and if there’s a causation in one direction why would there not be in the other – my personal existence has been mercifully unrocky.

Which brought me not long ago to a new and shocking consideration.

In a world where strivers of all stripes are pushed to shoot for the stars whatever the consequences, whereas I, although committed always to doing my best, sought simultaneously the closest available approximation of a “balanced and reasonable life”…

When you add it all up, and “marking on the curve”, and giving myself the benefit of the doubt, could it in any way be possible, by some unprejudiced standard of measurement, that I, who never once thought of himself that way, was, in fact, at least by comparison, dare I say the word…

… “Normal?”

That’s unimaginable, is it?

To quote Fagin, singing “Reviewing the Situation” in Oliver!...

I think I better think it out again.

Friday, March 24, 2017

"Saddle Up! (The Final Sample... For Now) (Although If There's A Clamoring For More...)"

Veteran performers talk about their classic roles in old-time westerns.


“I made fifty-two westerns.  Not once did I ever get ‘The Good Guy.’”

“It’s crazy!  I was better looking than ‘The Rancher’s Daughter.’  My figure – there was no comparison.  But no matter how ‘The Good Guy’ felt about me – and standing beside him you knew he was interested – he always wound up with that skinny little ‘Blondie.’  Sometimes, if there was a Mexican sidekick, maybe I end up with him.  But it wasn’t the same.  He wasn’t the hero.  And his horse was much smaller."

“To get the job as ‘Mexican Spitfire’, or like they make me say, ‘Mexican Speetfire’, you had to look very pretty and be able to go ‘ch’ – it comes from the back of your throat – so you could say, ‘Chwhy?’  You’d say, ‘Chwhy you come back?’  Like an idiot.  Not ‘Why did you come back?’  Oh, no.  That’s not ‘Mexican Speetfire.’  Nobody talks like they want me talk.  I go home to my family, they say, “Why do you say ‘Chwhy’?”

“Sometimes, I’d get mad – ooy, do you see how I am identifying?  I mean, sometimes my character gets mad because ‘The Good Guy’ prefers that skinny little nothing and not me – I mean, my character – and I’d run quick to the saloon and tell ‘The Bad Guy’ where ‘The Good Guy’ is going to be later so they can kill him.  I know that was wrong, but a woman has feelings, you know?

“Anyway, later, I feel bad about that, and at the last second I find ‘The Good Guy’ and I tell you to look out.  What happens after that, and I mean every frickin’ time?

“I get shot!

“I mean, my character, but still.  You do the right thing and you get shot?  What kind of a lesson is that?”

“I understand why they do that.  To get rid of the ‘competition.’  Because, in the end, I know ‘The Good Guy’ would have finally chosen me – I mean, who wouldn’t? – but now he can’t do that because I’m dead.”

“I know the script says it was ‘The Bad Guy’ who got me killed.   But in my mind, it was always ‘The Good Girl.’”

“Chwhy did she have to do that? 

“And I am joking about the ‘Chwhy.’” 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

(Even More) "Saddle Up!"

Veteran performers talk about their classic roles in old-time westerns.                                                            

                                                          THE STOREKEEPER

“I never wore a gun.  And yet – and I never understood this – outlaws came in, picked up their provisions, and they always paid me.  They didn’t have to.  They could have taken what they wanted.  And if I’d said ‘Wait!’, they could have taken out their guns and filled me full of holes.  But they never did that.  It’s like there’s some unwritten Outlaw Rule: ‘It’s okay to rob, kill, cheat at cards.  But you always pay the storekeeper.’  I never read that anywhere, but it seemed to apply.”
“You know who never paid me?  Everyone else.  Ranchers, sodbusters.  They’d load their wagons with seed grain, bolts of cloth, penny candy for the young ‘uns, and it was always, ‘Put it on my account.’  Honest people, never paid a dime.  If it wasn’t for the outlaws, I’d have been completely out of business.”

“Once, I ran out with an ancient rifle to stop some fleeing bank robbers.  Then, they shot me.  But that was different.  I was intervening with their business.  I know I sound like I’m taking their side, but what can I tell you?  They were very nice to me.”