Monday, October 31, 2011

"Reasons and Remedies"

I am on to something big in the “Ideas Department”, but I’m not quite ready to call a press conference, and blow people’s minds. For the moment, I remain content to nibble around the edges, monitoring the situation carefully. Stay tuned, however. It could be a earth-shaking.

My general thesis is that the things we believe – and I mean pretty much everything – relate less to fact than to a visceral need for reassurance. Little to nothing is verifiably provable as “right”. Instead, we simply agree as a culture that it’s right, so we don’t have to think about it anymore, and we can move on with our lives.

In that way – I will someday propose – the secular person’s reliance upon reason for acceptable answers is not significantly different – and maybe not different at all –from religious people who receive their acceptable answers through the avenue of faith. They may both, I am suggesting, be made up, differently generated but equally comforting fairy tales that we unquestioningly accept, so we can sleep more easily in our beds.

Okay, back down to earth.

“SPOILER ALERT”: If you don’t want to know what it’s like to get old, please skip the following sentence.

Getting old is incredibly stupid.

When you get old, without any warning or red flag whatsoever, parts of your body, out of nowhere, begin to malfunction, and you have no idea why, though, due of our, by now, reflexive reliance on reason, that does not stop us from trying to figure it out. (The religious alternate track explanation is, “It’s God’s will.”)

Former, now over fifty, SNL regular Dana Carvey, did a bit about this on his HBO comedy special:

“Ow! I hurt my back!”

“What happened?”

“I took a nap!”

Now most likely – and don’t press me about what I mean by that, because the entire area of probability is beginning to unravel on me – Carvey’s taking a nap had nothing to do with the newly discovered problem with his back. The two occurrences were simply time-connected. Carvey took a nap and when he woke up, his back was hurting. This seems to be a situation in which the perceived-to-be reliable logic process breaks down.

“I ate a radish.”

“My cold went away.”

“Radishes make colds go away.”

(Unless radishes, in fact, do make colds go away, the limitations of logic are herein glaringly exposed.)

Two things happening one directly after the other does not necessarily mean the first thing caused the second one. But how else to explain Carvey’s back problem? It happened during the nap!

Okay, forget Carvey. Let’s talk about me.

Recently, I experienced a debilitating cramp in my right calf. I was walking back from a very pleasant lunch with a rising, young commercials director, originally from Toronto. (Our families had known each other for years.) Though indisputably retired, I nonetheless – arguably because I was indisputably retired – wanted to appear still vital and not at all falling apart. That plan came crashing to the ground, however, when I almost did, my cramping calf suddenly giving out, requiring me to lower my now inadequately supported body onto a convenient resting spot, before continuing our journey back home.

What happened to my calf? I have no idea. Being unwilling – or unable – to exist without an explanation, however, I concluded that I had overdone my exercise regimen, having, the day before, walked a mile to meet a friend for dinner, after having treadmilled rather vigorously for two-and-a-half miles earlier that same morning. As explanations go, it was pretty weak tea, but that’s all I had, and I – maybe we all do, you might let me know about that – seemed to need to believe something.


Remedies are “reasons” at the other end. If “reasons” posits the cause of a malady, “remedies” posits the cure. However, often, especially as you get older, that cause is frustratingly frequently unknown. Equally frustratingly frequently unknown, quite often also, is the remedy.

At least it was with my calf problem. And here’s why.

In properly administered science experiments, the researchers isolate one specific and clearly delineated factor, and they study it intensely. This is a yucky example, but when I was in college, I recall hearing cat screams emanating from the laboratory adjacent to our lecture hall. When I inquired about the yowling, I was informed that brain scientists were studying which parts of the cats’ brains related to which motor functions by systematically removing tiny sections of their brains, and seeing if the cats could still perform the function. If they couldn’t, they concluded that the sliver of brain they had just removed was responsible for that function.

Disgusting, but that’s how you do things scientifically (or at least that’s how they did them back then.) On the other hand, there ‘s me, doing whatever I can think of to relieve the throbbing agony in my calf.

I try ice. I try heat. I try Vicodin (a pain reliever and, hopefully, though it is not listed as such, a muscle relaxant.) I try the Thera-cane, a curved, wooden contraption with numerous knobs on it recommended by my gym trainer for releasing spasmy “trigger points.” I try rubber “bongers”, to “bong” my knotted calf into submission. I press my leg down on a shiatsu-endorsed little pink ball. And then, after Googling “leg cramps”, Dr. M encourages me to try…

Pickle juice.

Which I drank, rejecting, however, the also suggested teaspoonful of mustard.

I subsequently purchased an “Active Sports Massager” from Brookstone, and resumed taking magnesium, which I had stopped because I’d gotten tired of taking it, and went back to because I was informed that magnesium was helpful with leg cramps in old people.

Shortly thereafter…

My calf spasm started to recede.


Because of one of those nine remedies.

Or the, simultaneous, staying off my leg.

Or the rehabilitating passage of time.

Some combination of some or all of them.


None of the above. It got better by itself.

Did I have any inclination to conduct a carefully controlled experiment, methodically trying one remedy after the other, until I discovered which, or which combination, of the nine definitively solved the problem?

Stop it! I was in excruciating pain.

The outcome?

I began feeling better

And I had no idea why.

Just like I have no idea why I got the cramp in the first place.

Logical explanations?

They are reassuring and comforting.

But it’s possible, I’m beginning to think,

That they have nothing to do with anything.

("He's losing it, Margaret. It's just a matter of time.")

Friday, October 28, 2011

"The Right Answer" *

* Maybe hardest in the area of fear and trepidation. (Though, in fact, not easy to ascertain anywhere. And there’s always the possibility of, in some areas at least, that no “right” answer exists. Whoo. Scary. Especially to someone who finds comfort in certainty. Not the fake kind, the kind that’s verifiably real.)

When my daughter Anna was young, she had a lot of colds and nasal related discomfitures, and she and her mother sought out the wisdom a number of doctors and specialists. The first three agreed that Anna needed to have her tonsils out. The last doctor they consulted – and you will see momentarily why it was the last doctor – opined that with diligent maintenance, Anna would not need to have her tonsils out. Anna concluded that that last doctor was correct. And she never had her tonsils out.

A lifelong tussle with colds, a raw throat and sinus infections points to the questionability of that last doctor’s determination, but Anna, wishing to retain her tonsils, and avoid the unpleasantness (read: pain) that their removal entails, anointed that last doctor, despite being medically outnumbered – by a multiple of three to one –


Where were her parents in this process? Entirely on Anna’s side. Dr. M had never had her tonsils out. And the following anecdote will illuminate the position of the parent chronicling this account.

I was recently having my teeth cleaned, when Jane, who tries not to hurt me but only partially succeeds, reports noticing that a piece of a filling on one of my bottom back teeth has broken off. Jane encourages me to schedule a follow-up visit with the dentist to check the situation out, suggesting I may need a replacement filling. Or possibly a crown.

The moment I was apprised of this unwelcome discovery, I could feel the muscles in my chronically spasmy upper back tightening into pretzel-resembling knots. The three herbal tranquilizer capsules of Valerian which I precautionarily take in anticipation of the torture of teeth cleaning worked to minimal advantage. They simply made me spasmodically goofy.

My dental office currently includes two dentists, a woman who recently bought the practice, and my semi-retired original dentist who sold it to her but still works there half a day a week. I decided to consult the dentist with whom I had an extended relationship. I had met the new dentist, but only in passing, usually with me racing out the door after the cleaning, an avoidance response to any further possible unhappiness.

My retiring dentist has become a psychologist. But, in truth, he was always a psychologist. He has the (unfortunately rare) talent for relaxing his patients. Especially patients like me, who, despite serious, pre self-medication, enter the dentist’s office, terminally clenched.

The new dentist had a reputation for being capable but “no-nonsense” in her chair-side manner. She had once what’s the opposite of “endeared” herself to Anna by announcing, “You have so many cavities. I won’t tell you how many, because I don’t want to scare you.” You’re objective. There’s something not the best about that approach, isn’t there?

When Anna subsequently visited the retiring dentist, he assured her that an application of (painless) sealant would easily solve the problem. And that was that.

You can see, then, why I selected the retiring dentist to check out my filling.

And, once again, the man came through. He examined my now less than whole filling, and informed me that, though the surface was not longer smooth, the seal was fully intact, and that

Nothing at all needed to be done!

I love that retiring dentist!

And yet…

Anna didn’t get her tonsils out, and she probably needed to.

So what does that say about my filling?

Some doctors are softies. (On a later occasion, when the retiring dentist informed Anna that she needed to have two wisdom teeth out, Anna related that, while he was telling her this, he stepped out of the examining room, because he was about to cry.)

The question is – and it escalates in importance as we advance to more serious decisions – do we accept laissez faire pronouncements, because they coincide with exactly what we want to hear? Or do we reject, or at least question them, because they sound too much like exactly what we want to hear?

On the other hand,

Are we better off swallowing the bitter pill and submitting to the designated treatment no matter how unpleasant it is in the name of maturity and a (hopefully) more reliable outcome?

And then there’s the money issue. One would truly hope and pray that no doctor would deliberately over-treat you – or in the case of more serious concerns, carve you up – simply to run up the bill. But they might. Sure, doctors are human beings, but stockbrokers are human too, and look what they did. Who knows what financial pressures these medical practitioners are under. If you asked them about that, they would probably – perhaps justifiably – take offense, or offer an equally unhelpful wisecrack. So you’d never find out.

I suppose some doctors choose medical careers to get rich. I just hope I’m lucky enough never to run into one. The more pervasive problem arises in the gray areas, where more aggressive treatment is not, perhaps, an imminent necessity, but it’s not unjustifiable, objectively, and to the doctor or dentist making the decision, that it's the superior way to go.

“A new filling? You could get away without one, I suppose, but ‘Better safe than sorry’, don’t you think? A new crown? Eliminates any future concerns. And it’s whiter than the tooth you’ve got now.”

I don’t know what the “right” answer is, or how you even begin to determine it.

I just know that Anna is drippy again.

And that my broken filling is starting to itch.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Wide Ties - Narrow Ties"

At the beginning of each episode of the new sitcom Whitney, the show’s creator-star Voice-overs:

“Whitney is filmed in front of a live studio audience”

Then defiantly adds:

You heard me.”

We’re doing shows like they used to do them, Whitney boldly proclaims. The “old-fashioned” way, like All In The Family, Taxi, Seinfeld and Friends. We do jokes here, not snarky jabs, ironic “asides” or faux documentary, direct-to-camera confessionals.

That’s right. You heard me.”

We’re doing jokes!

Remember jokes, audience? Remember when people used to laugh out loud at something somebody said on a television show, rather than just smirk, or superiorily pronounce, “That’s funny”, without cracking a smile.

That’s right, audience. We’re going for that. Big-ass, hold onto your sides, milk-squirting-out-your-nose


I know why we stopped. Ken Levine (, in his October 23rth post entitled “The Problem With Multi-Camera Comedies” capably covered that ground, so I’ll leave that alone. A summary? The format got tired. (And why wouldn’t it? It had been situation comedy’s “format of choice” going back to 1930’s radio.)

Since some of my readers may not be as show biz savvy as Ken’s, I will quickly explain that “multi-camera” comedies are comedy series – as Whitney combatively explained – that are filmed in front of a live studio audience, in contrast to “single-camera” comedies, which are not.

If you are watching a comedy where there is no laughter coming at you out of your television speakers after a character on the show says something funny, that would be a “single-camera” comedy, or, though less likely, a comedy filmed in front of a live studio audience in which the live studio audience didn’t laugh at a single joke and just stared, like they were watching an operation.

Another reason “multi-camera” comedies (synonymous with “live audience comedies”) fell out of fashion relates, I suspect, to the fact that today’s writers identify more with film, which “single-camera” comedy resembles, than with theater, which is the prototype for the proscenium-style, “multi-camera” format.

Think of “single-camera” comedies as short films, and shows recorded in front of an audience as one-act plays. Writers don’t want to be Arthur Miller anymore. They want to be James Cameron. (Imagine “Death of a Salesman – 3D.”)

Anyway, now the “multi-camera” comedy is back. Or at least, more back than it has been in years.


I already mentioned one reason. Audiences wanted to laugh again rather than just smirk. Laughing is cathartic. Smirking is – though I’m not a doctor and I may be wrong about this – constipating.

You may want to check with an actual doctor for confirmation, but it seems to me a smirk is a laugh that was not… fully… realized. Also – and you may want to check with a sociologist on this one – during tough economic times, people hunger for the full-out release that can only be delivered by an anxiety-relieving belly-laugh.

Also – since I can’t write about television without taking at least one swipe at executives – “single-camera” comedies are not as easy for executives to control. “Multi-camera” comedies are recorded over a few hours on a single night. Executives can stand behind the cameras watching each scene being shot, and, after the director yells, “Cut!” they can say, “I didn’t like that”, and require producers to shoot the scene again, or even rewrite it on the fly.

By contrast, “single-camera” shows are recorded over a number of days. The only “single-camera” episode I ever wrote was filmed over three. It is impractical for executives to stand around for three days overseeing the filming of a single episode. These are busy people. They have other shows to ruin.

Absent full-time supervision, when an executive calls in to complain about something in a “single-camera”-recorded script, the producer can legitimately explain, “It’s too late. We shot that yesterday.”

Eager to maintain their dominance, executives, therefore, prefer the “multi-camera” format. And look at that – it’s back!

There is also a money issue. Before digital, “single-camera” filming was more expensive; ergo, the network preference for “multi-camera.” Now, I don’t know, though it seems to me that “multi-camera” productions may still be cheaper, because, the digital process notwithstanding, “single-camera” filming still takes longer, so the film crew budget would be higher.

Finally, there’s the issue that serves as the title of this post.

“Wide Ties – Narrow Ties.”

What does that mean?

People who wear wide ties for a while eventually get tired of wearing wide ties, and they start buying narrow ties. Then, time passes, they have their fill of narrow ties, and they go back to buying wide ties again. This phenomenon also seems to apply to short skirts and long skirts, and women’s hairstyles, which I know nothing about, except for an awareness that once in a while – and for no apparent reason – they change.

The “multi-camera” comedy is back, at least to some degree, because the audience inevitably got bored with its replacement – the “single-camera” comedy. And, like wide ties and narrow ties,

Those are the only choices we’ve got.

No ties?

I suppose. But then,

How would you know when you’re dressed up?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"The Game Saves 'The Game'"

I could talk about the “Game Two” comeback, where bold strategizing, steady nerves and textbook execution turned a 1-0 Texas Rangers deficit into a ninth inning 2-1 victory, keeping the Cardinals from taking a daunting two-games-to-nothing lead in the Series.

I could talk about the Cardinals then going into enemy territory and massacring the Rangers on their home field, 16-7, a trouncing that included the Cardinals first baseman walloping a World Series record-tying three home runs in a single game.

I could talk about the Rangers, now in danger of going down three-games-to-one, shaking off the day before’s debacle and shutting out the Cardinals ­4-0 in “Game Four”, knotting the Series at two-games-to-two, courtesy of a gutsy pitcher who masterfully closed the door on a team that had plated sixteen runs the game before.

Baseball, boring? Give me a break!

Consider a small but significant moment from “Game Two.”

The Rangers come to bat in the bottom of the ninth, trailing 1-0. This is their final at-bat, their last chance to score one run and tie, thus continuing the game, or score at least two runs, and finish it then and there. It’s do-or-die. “Game Four”, and a swing in the momentum of the series, is unquestionably on the line.

The first Rangers batter hits a single. He’s on first base. As the Cardinals pitcher fires one in to the next batter standing at the plate, the runner on first takes off for second. With the Rangers three outs from oblivion, their manager has decided to gamble on a steal, placing the runner in scoring position at second base if he makes it, but sacrificing a precious out if he fails.

I am salivating just thinking about it.

As the pitched ball rockets towards the plate, the base runner starts his dash towards second. The catcher, emerging from his crouch, fires a pellet towards the bag, aiming the ball low and on the first base side of second base, the easier to tag out the runner, sliding in.

The runner propels himself “head first” towards the base. Simultaneously – or as close to simultaneous as is chronologically possible – the ball arrives, and is caught by the infielder covering second. The infielder sweeps his glove towards the “head first”-diving runner…

The umpire calls the runner safe. He has successfully stolen second, keeping the Rangers hopes alive. (In a game they ultimately pulled out.)

Television “Instant Replay” accentuates the achievement, and how breathtakingly close it came to going the other way.

The replay, repeated in slow motion, reveals the base runner touching second base milliseconds before the infielder tags him with the ball.

The play was that close.

Think about it, exhorts the unashamed booster of baseball. Think about how many spectacular things happened in that one play?

The Rangers manager made the right call. The runner executed the steal to absolute perfection. The catcher could not have delivered a better throw. The umpire made the correct call. And the cameraman, also a participant, clarifyingly captured the moment.

That’s baseball.

Off the field, the geniuses in charge – as described yesterday – make embarrassing “money-first” decisions, tarnishing the dignity, integrity and exquisiteness of the game. But time after time, the game saves “The Game” with its eye-poppingly unbelievable on-field display.

I was thinking about this on my way into the gym this morning. I knew I was going to follow up yesterday’s “The Pastime In Eclipse” by reporting how, despite rampant executive incompetence, baseball, through the efforts of its highly skillful practitioners, continues to prevail. And I thought to myself, “What does this remind me of?”

I love baseball, and I will trumpet it as the greatest game of all – with the exception, perhaps, of Stanley Cup Finals hockey. So my enthusiasm for the players and my antipathy towards the people who run things goes significantly beyond metaphor.

But what fuels my passions in these matters is the realization that this is precisely the same dynamic that I experienced when I was working in television.

What’s apparent is this: The “suits” can royally screw things up, and they invariably do. But be it television, or be it baseball,

The players

Will inevitably

Save the game.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"A Pastime In Eclipse"

Written after “Game Four” of the World Series.

Baseball’s postseason slunk into town like an unpaid bill.



“Don’t mind us. We’re just finishing out the games.”

“Game One” of the World Series, the crowning event of the year, premiered on a Wednesday, after a quick “look around” to make sure that that big bully, football, was nowhere in sight.

The once pre-eminent Crown Jewel in the sporting pantheon seems almost clandestine. Jews praying secretly in a basement.

“When’s the Series start?”

“Shhh. Wednesday night. Pass it on.”

And this after two earlier rounds – the Division Championships and the League Championships – where games came flying out like promotional t-shirts shot from pneumatic tubes.

Game! Game! Game! Game!

I’m not exaggerating here. The Division Championships featured four baseball games on the same day! Burying a 1-0 gem (The Cardinals beating Philadelphia), an unnoticed drop in a downpour of random scheduling.

Why the hurry? It seems part of a general sloppiness. Baseball has lost its mojo. It’s like they’re not even trying anymore.

What happened to “bunting”? Pleated half moons of red, white and blue festooning the balustrades. There’s no “bunting.” How come?

“I looked like the inauguration of William Howard Taft.”

It was celebratory!

“Game Four”, which I just watched? Okay. The pre-game for the Super Bowl is, like, six hours long. For “Game Four of the World Series?

Eleven minutes.


Because it was Sunday.

And what’s on Sunday?


And when there’s a conflict between them, baseball being football’s – what they call in prison – “bitch”, football calls all the shots.

BASEBALL: “Can we start our game now?”


BASEBALL: “But your game is over.”

FOOTBALL: “”We’re still got “Post-Game Wrap Up”, and then, we’re going into the locker room to hear the winning coach tell his team they played their hearts out.”

BASEBALL: “But it’s a regular season game. We’re the World Series!

FOOTBALL: “The World Series of Golf?”


FOOTBALL: “The World Series of Billiards?”


FOOTBALL: “The World Series of Darts?”

BASEBALL: “The World Series of Baseball!”

FOOTBALL: “Oh, yeah. My grandfather used to watch that. He’s dead now. And by the way? So’s baseball.”

Baseball has ignominiously thrown in the towel. They’re like England.

“We once ruled the world.”

“Yeah, not anymore.”

Baseball’s primary objective, which was once to thrill the world with the National League and the American League sending forth their respective champions to do battle for the ultimate trophy, now almost exclusively has as its goal finishing the season before November.

Hence – four games in one day. Which leads to some of the games being played at times when the sun’s shining directly into the outfielders’ eyes, and the shadows make a pitched ball virtually impossible to see.

Year after year, the “Summer Games’” determining contests are played under conditions more suitable for hockey. It’s crazy. This is baseball’s one chance to get people back, to regain its popularity by demonstrating what a singular and exquisite game it is. You would think they would do whatever they could to insure the best possible showcase.

Instead, they play under the most inclement conditions, in muscle-cramping cold, and, not infrequently, during pelting rainstorms. The ball is slick, the batter’s wiping raindrops from his eyes, and the waterlogged outfield is a knee injury, waiting to happen.

And still, the game goes on.


They can’t postpone it. It’s impossible. They have to be finished before November.

And what do you hear about these outrageous playing conditions? The standard rationalization:

“It’s the same for both teams.”

That’s true. If the ball field were totally covered in ice, there would be indeed the same playing conditions for both teams. But the ball field would still be totally covered in ice!

Which under ordinary circumstances, like, say, a meaningless mid-season game, would be


Well, not in the World Series. Where the most important games – both to the teams involved and to the game itself – are played under the worst possible conditions.

And nobody cares.

Because they’re all watching football.

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Two Modest Computer Proposals"

I know they can do anything. Computer people are the smartest people in the world. They just have to think something and – snap your fingers – they’re selling it in stores.

And we can’t live without it! Something that didn’t exist, and you never thought, “Boy, if that thing existed, I would be the happiest person in the world.” The consuming public did not know it was possible. How can you covet something you had no idea they can make? Then they make it. And you gotta have it!

And once we have it, it’s not like, “Now I am truly content.” We know better than that. Before you know it – usually around holiday season – they come out with something new. And we can’t live without that either!

Now, if I may respectfully interrupt myself…

I believe that, on occasion, computer geniuses are too smart for their own good. Yes, they are creatively ahead of the curve. I imagine meetings where they brainstorm better and more desirable products, ”aps” (or is it “apps”) and services that currently don’t exist, but that’s hardly an obstacle, because they’re geniuses, and whatever they can think of, they can make.

Is there anything geniuses can’t think of? There is. Geniuses – being geniuses –can think of a lot of things. But geniuses have one blind spot. Geniuses cannot not think like geniuses. They’re geniuses. And they are unable to think any other way.

“Let’s dial our brains down a bit.”

They can’t do that!

And so I propose, along with all the geniuses sitting around the table, that there be one ordinary person in that brainstorming session, voicing the thoughts and concerns of ordinary people, someone like, let’s say, for example, I don’t know, me.

If I were included in that brainstorming session, I would nervously raise my hand and propose “Ordinary People” ideas for improving computers, such as this one:

“Make the cursor red.”

This would be the place to be if you wanted to hear a room full of smart people groaning. I, however, would take their groans as a personal challenge, and courageously keep talking.

“Sometimes the cursor, I don’t know, it just moves somewhere. And I don’t know where it is. Since the cursor is black and the letters on the screen are black, I have the darndest time trying to find it. Even with the ‘mouse’ – I’m movin’ it around, ‘Where’s the cursor! Where’s the cursor!’ And I can’t find it anywhere!”

“We’re on to phones now. We’re finished with computers. Unless it’s making them lighter, smaller and thinner.”

One little change. It would make my life so much easier. I know there‘s already red in computers. My “misspells” are underlined in red. Why not take that red that’s already in the computre, and “redden” the cursor, so people can see where the darn thing is.”

This would be the place to be if you wanted to hear a room full of smart people sighing.

“Okay, hands! How many people have a problem finding the cursor?”

No hands go up. Except mine.


My hand shoots up again. What the heck, I’m fired anyway.

“Speaking of underlining – and I think this will be more challenging for you than making the cursor red – although I’d like to go on record as still being in favor of doing that – how about some kind of underlining for words that are not the words that you meant to type – you know, like when you mistakenly type “t-o-o” instead of “t-w-o”, or you type a word that’s an actual word – it’s not misspelled or anything – it’s just not the word you intended to put down, and the computer – because you guys programmed it to – would ‘red flag’ that mistake – of course it doesn’t have to be red, it could be, I don’t know, blue – to alert you that there’s something written there that you need to fix.”

This would be the place to be if you wanted to see a room full of smart people surreptitiously checking their phone messages.

Despite the response of that room full of fictional smart people, I think those are both valuable suggestions. Make the cursor red. What would it hurt? The “contextual underlining” idea would help me, for one, not embarrass myself, by erroneously typing a perfectly spelled word, just not the word that makes sense in that sentence. (FYI? When I was going back to italicize the word “word”, I totally could not find the cursor.)

I know I make mistakes. I type things I don’t intend, and unless I catch them in proofreading, out they go, to an admonishing public. My computer, as currently configured, is no help in this regard.

To my computer, what I rote is prefect just the weigh it is.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Black Man - Twelve O'clock"

Once a week, I hike down to Groundworks, a really good coffee emporium, about a twenty-minute walk from our house. It’s a pleasant stroll and, especially on the way back where’s there’s a steep hill – there’s actually a steep hill in both directions, but on the way back, it’s up – the walk satisfies my requirements for aerobic exercise.

I prefer hiking someplace. I appreciate its destinational intent. Much better than walking nowhere. This from a man who walks on a treadmill four days a week, the epitomizing definition, I would think, of “walking nowhere.”

What can I tell you? I’m complicated.


So I’m heading back home, sipping my freshly brewed coffee as I go. Though my house is on the west side of the street, I always take the east side, because at that time of day, that’s where the sun is. When you grow up in Canada, the sun, despite medical warnings to the contrary, exacts a siren-like draw.

“You have skin cancer.”

“Yeah, but look at my tan!”

I am almost home. A few more steps, I cross the street, and I’m there. In anticipation of opening my front door, I extract my keys from my workout pants, and I hold them in my hand. I am notoriously early on my “key extraction.” Most people would likely wait till they’re at least on the porch, but I am not a “last minute” kind of a guy. When I’m driving, I habitually put my signal on long before I’m ready to make my turn. Sometimes, I do it the day before.

“I will be turning right tomorrow. Cars behind me take notice.”

Yeah, I know. I’m a menace. Good things there’s no ticket for “signaling too soon.” Is there?

Okay, so I’m directly across the street from my house, keys reassuringly in hand. I check the traffic, and am just about to cross the street.

That’s when I see him.

Half a block away, a black man, of approximately middle age, is walking down the street, heading straight in my direction.

What do I do?

If I cross the street now, he might think that I’m doing it, you know,

Because of him.

“I know that one.”

And he probably does.

The cross, in truth, is entirely without implication. No malice. No prejudice. Nothing in any way discriminatory should be read into it And yet, the fact that a male member of an historically mistreated minority happens to be heading towards me as I make my completely innocuous move, seems, in my liberal guilt-driven thinking, to alter the equation.

An old white guy…“brandishing” keys…deliberately crossing the street…?

It just didn’t feel right.

I could obviously just do it. Cross the street to my house, as I’ve done on hundreds of occasions in the past. But those occasions were ones in which racial considerations were not in the mix. Most times, there was nobody on the street. Or somebody walking a dog. What kind of misunderstandings could that suggest?

“Ginger’s a four-pound puppy. And you’re crossing the street to avoid her?”

Nobody cares. But in this case,

The man might.

One possible strategy was for me to stall. Pretend I was stopping on the sidewalk to drain the last few drops of my coffee, smack my lips, maybe sigh in satisfaction, and go on my way, after the man had crossed my path. I might even smile, offer a cheerful “Good morning” as he passed. But it all seemed utterly contrived (because it was). Patronizing even.

I thought about explaining.

“It’s not you. Really. That’s my house. Right there, across the street. I’m just going home. Nothing more to it than that. And by the way, I’m really sorry about slavery. And I know ‘Jim Crow’ was no picnic either. Another ‘by the way.’ I’m from Canada. We had nothing to do with any of that.”

But a pronouncement of that nature, especially in the nervous and apologetic tone that would certainly accompany it – could make him, okay both of us, very uncomfortable.

Discretion…is the better part of weaseling out.

Which is finally what I did.

I crossed the street, allowing the approaching source of my discomfort to think whatever he wanted. Full disclosure: I actually hesitated in the middle of the road, considering returning back to the sidewalk – for what purpose, I have no idea – causing an oncoming driver to screechingly brake, then angrily honk his horn.

“What did he die from?”

“Vehicular ambivalence.”

In the end, I traversed the street, and re-entered to my house, hoping the man would sense the purity of my motives, and not take offense.

Hopefully, that was the case.

But I will never know for sure.

And now, a discriminational “off the hook” song, from a Broadway musical called Avenue Q.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wedding Follow-Up"

The ceremony was simple, short and as moving as any wedding I have ever attended. In the end, Rachel's longtime friend distributed rose petals, with which we showered the newleweds as they exited the courthouse. We then went for deli. (Through Rachel and Tim could not join us, needing to be elsewhere to attend to baby Milo's medical needs.)

I now have two married daughters, when, seven weeks ago, I had none. I guess stuff happens if you just stick around.

P.S.: If this post makes no sense to you, please check the post earlier today where I explained what was going on. Maybe I should have just added this to that, but I didn't.

"The Good News Keeps Coming"

At nine forty-five this morning, at the Beverly Hills City Hall, which is apparently the closest place that provides such services, Rachel Braude and Tim Groseclose will be officially joined in marriage, five days after the arrival of little Milo, will be along, but will remain in the car, under supervision, of course, so he won’t accidentally get a hold of the keys and drive away.

Sticklers may find these events to have occurred in a non-traditional order – Rachel and Tim met, Rachel got pregnant, Tim proposed, the baby came, and they got married – but when you’re in the middle of it and your eye’s on the ball - the ball being the couple's happiness - the rest just feels like bookkeeping.

You look at their faces. And that’s all you need to know.

Though they have not been a couple that long, Tim and Rachel project the aura of two amoeba who, sensing a kindred species, surrendered their boundaries, blending seamlessly into one.

They truly seem right together.

And my fondest wishes are with them.

Go, Rachel!

Go, Tim!

Go, Milo!

A newly formed family.

Is on its way.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"My Favorite Inanimate Object"

I don’t think I’m cheap, but what do I know? My view is that I love this inanimate object not – at least not primarily – for moneysaving reasons, but because it’s existence fills me with wonder, excitement, hopefulness and joy. It’s almost like magic, though come to think of it, everything I don’t understand feels, to some degree, like magic, including how, though billions of phone calls are being bounced off satellites at the same time, you never get somebody else’s call by mistake. The light bulb also knocks me out. A heat bulb I could understand. You plug something in, and it gets hot, like a waffle iron. But where does the light come from? Don’t tell me. I would miss going “Look at that!” every time it goes on.

Okay, so there’s this store – it’s still around – in a “walking street” mall near my house called the Z Gallery. This was the store where I bought this wonderful thing I’m about to talk about, although since that time, the place has completely altered its inventory, and not for the better. There is now nothing in there I would want to purchase. No “wonderment” items whatsoever. Mostly, it’s really ugly lamps. Did you ever wonder who buys the stuff that you think is hideous? I do, all the time. Just once, I’d like to walk up to the checkout counter as they’re paying for their coveted monstrosity and go,


Anyway, about twenty-five years ago – don’t hold me to that, old people are notoriously inaccurate about the dating of past events – I say something happened ten years ago and it was twenty years ago; I believe as you get older, the years somehow become shorter – anyway, I walked into the Z Gallery, at the time when they sold less unattractive furniture accessories and more chazzerai (assorted knickknacks) – and I discovered and felt immediately compelled to buy, at a price of twenty-two dollars, a smallish (maybe six by nine inch), flat, molded black plastic, what was promoted as:

A solar calculator.

This description seemed mislabeled to me, because, despite its being “solar”, I was never required to stand in the sun to use it. I do not have to calculate outdoors at all. I can calculate in my office. And I don’t even have to stand by the window. I can use it when the blinds are drawn, and my office lights are off. It appears to be a “solar” calculator that can function in the dark.

Lacking any kind of light source – natural or otherwise – my calculator works flawlessly. And it continues to do so after, what I believe to be, twenty-five years.

The most magical part of all?

The thing never breaks.

Judging by a quarter of century of impeccable service, my calculator is projected to last


I love perfection. I strive for it every day in this blog, and consistently fall short. Now here’s this thing I own that is inherently…perfect. It lasts forever, and works as reliably today as it did when I bought it. It always calculates correctly – just for fun, I have double-checked its computations, comparing its results with my own pen and paper calculations, and after all these years, it has never once been wrong.

Wouldn’t it be terrible if you “bad lucked” into an “Evil Calculator” that deliberately gave you faulty calculations?

ME: I have five hundred dollars in the bank.

EVIL CALCULATOR: Heh, heh, heh.

My calculator neither gloats nor misleads. It is one hundred per cent decent and correct. Every single time. Since, somewhere around, 1986. I did that in my head – 2011 minus 25 – but I could have done it on my calculator. And I’m certain the answer would be exactly the same.

What’s interesting to me is, I look around my house, and do not see a single piece of equipment that, like my calculator, has the “Expiration Date” of “Never!” This magnificent gizmo seems to be one of a kind. And you can easily understand why.

The customer may be ecstatic about such a product. The free enterprise system? Considerably less so.

“Would you like to buy a solar calculator?”

“I already have one. And it’s projected to last forever.”

Uh-oh. Say goodbye to the Capitalist System. Open the window, and you’ll hear the house of cards called “business” come crashing to the ground.

If I were Swedish and voting, I would readily accord the person who invented the calculator that lasts forever the “Nobel Prize for Mechanistic Immortality.” Judging from the dearth of devices boasting similar longevity, what seems clearly to have happened is that, instead of being feted, huzzahed and carried around on shoulders, the inventor of this devise was instead vigorously shaken, bopped over the head repeatedly with a mallet, had his head submerged in water for several minutes, after which, he was forced down a gauntlet of club-wielding company shareholders and assembly line workers, to the point where the battered genius who invented the reasonably priced product that lasted forever agreed to promise, through swollen lips and shattered teeth, that

He would never ever do it again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"What It's Really, Deep Down, All About"

Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly recently brayed that if the government raised his taxes, he might seriously consider giving up his show. Though a few days later, Jon Stewart quickly got him to abandon that assertion. I hate Jon Stewart. He says everything I want to say, but before me, and better. “You’re hurting America”? – the three-word accusation Stewart lodged against the hatred and divisiveness promoted by the cable news outlets? – case closed! Though it doesn’t stop me from elaborating. To, deservedly, little effect.

Here’s the truth about that matter, or, as the above title hyperbolically proclaims – “What It’s Really, Deep Down, All About.” There is no chance in hell that, if they raised his taxes, Bill O’Reilly would ever walk away his cable news show. Why?

Because he doesn’t do it for the money.

Sure, money – in gargantuan amounts – is a highly agreeable bi-product of the enterprise. But money is not O’Reilly’s primary motive for doing the show.

What is it really deep down all about?

Simply put,

It’s about being on television.

Trust me on this. O’Reilly would do his show for nothing, or, at least, considerably less, so don’t worry about bumping up his taxes.

Why would he do his show for nothing? Because, minus the show he hosts, Bill O’Reilly is a middle-aged potato head (and I don’t mean he’s Irish, his head is shaped like a potato) who. in the grand scheme of things, means absolutely nothing to anybody. And by “anybody”, I mean the general public. I exclude his immediate family. I imagine he means something to them.

Cable commentators rapturously relish what they do. Check out the on-air demeanors of Chris Matthews and Sean Hannity, to name just two, but to a certain degree, it applies to all of them. You can almost see them smacking their lips, fully aware of how incredibly lucky they are.

“Can you believe what they’re letting me do here? I can say anything I want. (As long as it’s colorful and extreme.) I mean, look at me! I’m famous, I have this reverberating platform, and I’m rich. Is this a great country, or what?”

Of course – and I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t complete the whole picture – there is also the other side of the coin. For these very fortunate opinion-spewers, being on television is everything. The show they headline totally defines who they are, to the world, but more importantly, to themselves.

Take away the show, and suddenly, you’re a body that no longer casts a shadow. You look in the mirror, and nothing comes back. The people on television would do anything to keep that “disappearing act” from happening, because they are painfully aware that when they leave television, they are, not literally, but one belt-hole before literally,


How do I know that? Remember David Hartman? You don’t? That’s how I know that.

After a successful acting career, David Hartman co-hosted ABC’s Good Morning America. For nine years. Nine. Years. At that point, Hartman departed the show

And walked into oblivion.

Hartman fronted documentaries on PBS and The History Channel – which, from a high profile television perspective mean the “stations that don’t count” channels. Beyond that, he was the guy that you spot at the supermarket that you know from somewhere but you’re not exactly sure where.

These, as Jimmy Durante once remarked, are the “conditions that prevails.” You cannot leave the show. Because

When you leave the show,

You’re nobody.

And this steep and scary slide is hardly just for commentators. David Letterman can’t let go.

It’s pathetic. I mean, look at him. The man cannot say goodbye. Ever. Someday there’ll be a sarcastic skeleton up there, cracking Sarah Palin jokes, a skeletal Paul Shaffer egging him on.

David Letterman cannot leave the stage. He is stranded out there till he dies. And he knows it. His face says it all.

“I do not want to be here, but I do not want to be not here even more.”

It’s like some lost episode of The Twilight Zone. A man struggles his whole life to get a late-night television show, and once he achieves his heart’s desire, he is fated to stand there under the hot lights, doomed to continue doing his act

For eternity.

After “having your own show” – especially for an extended period of time – everything else is precipitously downhill. Where is Letterman going to go? What is he going to do, sit at home, throwing rancid potshots at his cat?

"You know, my cat is so lazy, the other day, he was taking a nap, enjoying a much-needed break from doing nothing. And all of a sudden, this mouse comes scurrying by; he scampers across the floor right past him. My cat looks up and thinks, 'I'm going to pretend that didn't happen.' And he goes right back to his nap. I tell ya, that is one lazy cat."

Who’s going to laugh at that? The drapes?

This situation, however, is even worse with news commentators, because, essentially, cable news personalities have no discernible talent. They can’t sing. They’re not funny. They are not particularly telegenic. Their perspectives, crafted to distort reality for partisan arousal, are really all they have to offer. Strip away the hype and the graphics, and that’s all it is: People, trumpeting their opinions.

As Bill O’Reilly (and his breed) will inevitably discover, when you don’t have a show anymore,

Nobody cares about anything you have to say

Ever again.

That’s they cling so desperately to the show. For how great it makes them feel while they’re doing it. And to avoid the big crash when it’s gone.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"New Boy In Town"

I have today been authorized – and am exquisitely honored and thrilled – to announce the arrival of Milo Henry (October 15th, at one fifty-one A.M.), as they so gracefully say in horseracing, by Tim Groseclose, out of (my stepdaughter) Rachel Braude.

Though baby Milo entered our world five weeks ahead of schedule, I am happy to report he is perfectly healthy and maximally equipped. Early on, he was a noticeable reddish color, igniting my hopes of having an Indian in the family, but a return visit the following morning found him characteristically Caucasian.

When asked the age-old question of what I would like the young lad to call me once he attains the faculty of speech, I hearkened back to what my Great Uncle Manny’s grandchildren called him – and I always found delightful – and I selected the nickname


“Pappy’s” official reaction to the experience we have recently undergone? Words fail me. Or at least words worthy of the occasion. For the moment, we will just have to settle for