Friday, January 30, 2015

"King For A Day"

It was “Dad’s Day” at preschool, and Milo’s father was sick with a cold.   So I was recruited to fill in. 

While I was meditating that morning, it occurred to me that at some point, they might go around the room, asking each of the Dads to say what they did.  If that happened, I decided to say, “I tell stories”, and if asked if I’d tell one, I was determined to be ready.

(Which is not at all appropriate, since when you’re meditating, you are supposed to be meditating.)

The following is the story I had tentatively prepared:

Once, there was a frog.  You know what a frog is, right?

KIDS:  Yeah.

And what color is a frog?  Frogs are blue, right?

KIDS:  NO!!!

Oh, you’re right.  Frogs are yellow.

KIDS:  NO!!!

Really?  What color are frogs?


Oh yeah, now I remember.  And what sound does a frog make?


The other kids agree, throwing in “Ribits” of their own.

That’s right.  A frog goes “Ribit.”  But not this frog.  Because this frog was special.  Instead of going “Ribit”, this frog went…



He went “Boowiggee.”  And because of that special sound, the other frogs – the frogs who could only go “Ribit” – made him…

“King of the Frogs.”
And he remained “King of the Frogs” for a very long time. 


The other frogs finally got tired of him because, when you think about it, that frog was only special in one way – he could go “Boowiggee.”  And as unusual as that was for a frog, after a while, it just stopped being interesting. 

So the frogs took a vote, and they decided to make another frog “King of the Frogs.”  There was nothing special about that frog.  But at least he didn’t go “Boowiggee.”

Now, the frog who used to be “King of the Frogs” but wasn’t anymore had nothing to do.  Except wander around, mumbling sadly to himself, “I used to be ‘King of the Frogs’.”  Which made the other frogs stay away from him, because who wants to hang out with a really sad frog?


Me neither.  And that’s how things remained. 


One day, a bunch of frogs came up to the old “King of the Frogs” and they said to him, “Old ‘King of the Frogs’:  We need your help.  The new ‘King of the Frogs’ has a cold, and we need you to fill in.”  I would have said “He has a frog in his throat”, but that would have gone right over your heads.  As will this.

The old “King of the Frogs” played it very cool – (COOLLY) “Okay, I guess so.” 
But inside, he was really excited by this unexpected opportunity.  You could tell, because he cleaned himself up real good, he combed his hair for the first time since they took away his job, and he put on his very best “King of the Frogs” outfit.  You know the outfit you wear to birthday parties?  That one.

I am telling you, that frog looked good.

That day, he handled all his chores perfectly.  Which is no surprise since once he was the full-time “King of the Frogs.”

The next day, when the new king was better, it was over.  A little sad, I suppose.  But at least he had been “King of the Frogs” for one last time. 

And as he slowly hopped away, the old frog turned back to the crowd, he nodded goodbye, and he went…


As it turned out, they did not go around the room asking the Dads to say what they did.  Instead, we used markers to decorate paper ties – larger ones for the Dads (or as Milo called me the “Daddy-Grandpa”) and smaller ones for the kids – which had rubber bands attached to them so we could wear them after we were finished. 

We were also divided into “Dads” and “Kids” and the opposing teams threw wadded-up balls of newspaper at each other.  (When I snatched one he had thrown at me out of the air, Milo shouted to anyone who was interested – which turned out to be nobody – “He caught it!”)

Though I did not get to tell it, it was still fun coming up with that story.

And it was an inexpressible blast being “King for a Day.”

Thursday, January 29, 2015

"Progress Report"

It is “Pat-On-The-Back Day” on the old blogeroo.

Now I know.  A lot of readers – particularly younger readers – who I assume I have for the purposes this sentence – will find nothing at all earthshaking concerning the “accomplishments” I am about to delineate.

“Dude’s givin’ himself props for changing a lightbulb!”

First of all, Dude, I actually do that.  It is maybe my primary duty to replace the burnt-out lightbulbs in the house.  And every time I do so – I switch the light on and it comes illuminatingly to life – I invariably pat myself on the back.  Maybe not literally.  More often, I simply equate my accomplishments with the Old Testament Deity and I recite – in Hebrew, mind you:

“Let there be Light.  And there was Light.”

I can just imagine how good that Guy felt.  It is a powerful feeling. 

We both made light.

Anyway, although I spend an inordinate amount of time complaining about the new machinery I am required to deal with and my overall inability to do so, adhering to Biblical analogy:

“Lo, and there were wondrous signs of Fissures in the Firmament.”  (The Book of Earl: 2-17)

I am getting better at it… is what I’m saying.

It started with the CD clock radio.  I read the appropriate instructions, and – not quickly, but eventually – I reset the alarm.  I also moved the clock back an hour when we they changed the time.  (You are very kind.  Thank you.) 

Of course, that last move only happens twice a year, so there is a fifty-fifty chance off some backsliding in the spring.

But I did it… is the point I am trying to make. 

One gizmo down – a hundred thousand to go.  Because every time I figure one out, they come out with a truckload of new ones.  There is no way in what remains of my lifetime that I can ever keep up! 

Fissure in the Firmament Number Two:

The printer. 

I had a paper jam, and I had to call a guy to come out and fix it.  Matt – is his name – Matt then taught me how to fix it myself.  Now – the writer proclaims, with not bravado or even false bravado, which is unjustified bravado, although I imagine all bravado is to some degree unjustified –

I welcome paper jams!

Bring ‘em on!  A jam in the front!  A jam in the back!  A jam on the top!  I can handle them all, extricating any obstructing printer paper within.

I am… the “Plenipotentiary of Paper Jams.”  (Not precisely the right word but I like the way it scans in the sentence.)

Fissure in the Firmament Number Three:

The dreaded DVD player. 

Of which in our house there are three, none of which we had any idea how to work.  Every year, during Oscars season, members of the Writers Guild, among other guilds relevant to the arena, receive what they call “Screeners”, which are free DVD’s of potentially awards-contending motion pictures. 

We have never watched any of them.  They sit in a neatly piled stack in the living room, and when Oscars season is over, they are stored, unviewed, in a cupboard in the basement. 

When other writers inquired, “Did you watch this movie, or that movie?”, I would sheepishly reply “Not yet”, feeling utterly ashamed.  Dreading exposure and, like a cornered illiterate, being forced to tearfully confess,

“I cain’t read!

Well, now, sir – and madam – I can.   (Not all three DVD players, but at least one of them.)

I was shown how to do it, and miraculously, I retained the instructions.  Today, with three remotes in hand – the TV remote, the cable remote and the DVD player remote – click it on, click it on, click it on, switch “TV” to “Input One”, Press “Open”, slip in the disc, press “Close”, press “Play”, press the “Right Arrow button”, promising not to duplicate or promote the disc for commercial purposes, and off we go.

Nine steps – nothing to it.

Let me stop here before I overwhelm you with my amazing accomplishments.  Okay, one more.  It is not exactly technological, but I am gradually adjusting to wearing Birkenstocks. 

Okay, that’s enough.

Here’s the thing – another “Wisdom of Age” observation.  (Be dutifully forewarned.  There may well be others.)

I am not a troglodyte.  Nor do I deliberately try not to learn stuff.  What I have recently come to believe is, instead of saying, “Oh, the guy hates new things” or “He is not a grownup” (an accusation to which I am eminently vulnerable when facing legal documents or on-the-spot decision-making), the more appropriate assessment is:

“His mind does not work that way.”

Some things are harder for some people than they are for others.  It is not that they’re not trying; their wiring is different.  The result being that one mental activity – say, writing stories – falls easily into some people’s chromosominal wheelhouse, while others can successfully hook up a sound system, or fill out a Social Security application without hyperventilating. 

We are talking “individual differences.”  And it is not encouraging to disparage people for their inevitable deficiencies.  Though it might be eminently more convenient if they didn’t have any.

It takes all kinds, eh?  So ease up.

Including on yourself.

And now, if you don’t mind, I have a date with a coffee maker, and an accompanying apparatus that grinds the beans.

May I be up to the challenge.        
Postscript:  Anna sent me a text.  Retrieving it – One hundred percent.  Texting back – Still working on it. 

Wait!  I did it!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"The Wisdom Of Age"

“I have come to believe…”

An aging person is about to deliver a personal perspective, culled, it would be imagined, or so the speaker subliminally implies, from the experiential consequences of living numerous decades on this planet.

This is hardly an exhilarating method of beginning a sentence.  The listener does not, of course, know what’s coming next, but the annoying preamble tellingly suggests that they are about to be lectured.  A “life lesson” will be imminently imparted.  The most desirable location when you are about to receive unquestionably illuminating “Words of Wisdom”?

Somewhere else.     

My response to that wheezy windup became tempered by compassion when I realized that the mouth the words “I have come to believe” had come out of was my own.

“I have come to believe…” was my opening salvo.  Only in retrospect do I recognize – and embarrassingly acknowledge – its pomposity.

You want to believe you have learned something from being around for a while.  Otherwise, aging is simply a matter of hair loss, receding gum-lines and those adorable brown spots on the backs of your hands. 

Note:  I recently read somewhere that historically, though not all that far back, especially in places like China, there were people who would deliberately lie their age “up” – and I am not talking about teenagers seeking access to forbidden movies – in order to accelerate the moment of respect and admiration, dutifully accorded to their “venerability.”  Can you imagine?


“Sixty, uh, seventy-seven.”

“You look really good.”

“Thank you.”

“What’s your secret?”

“You lie about your age.”

“Ah, so.  Very wise.”

Who knows?  Maybe there was never a correlation between wisdom and old age.  Maybe that was just a clever stratagem to get a seat on the bus or get somebody else to carry your groceries.  It is possible, however, that in certain cultures – where they did not roll out a new Iphone every twenty minutes – the relative, unchanging nature of conditions gave “The Wisdom of Experience” legitimate value. 

That’s an unusual wind we’re experiencing?”

“Quick!  Come inside!”

“But why, Ancient One?”

“That ‘unusual’ wind means locusts!

That’s a good thing good to know. 

If you don’t want to be covered with locusts.

The tradition, although less pervasive than it once was, prevails.  And so, when they are willing to put up with it, the young, or young-er – though if there’s nobody else around, the contemporaneous will do just as well – might find themselves the ungrateful recipients of a windy discourse, delivered by some voluble “elder statesman” with less wisdom perhaps than a little too much time on their hands.

Having said that…get ready…

I have come to believe – though I did not when I was scrambling desperately for show business success or at least survival – that there is a genuine satisfaction to the virtually forgotten principle of “enough.”

“‘Virtually forgotten’ by whom?”

Please.  I am eloquently – meaning there’ll be some “artistic license” involved – pontificating.  Your interrupting will merely derail my train of thought.  Plus, it is seriously disrespectful to the elderly.

Okay.  In the film Whiplash, which I evaluated a while back, the protagonist/drummer committed to becoming preeminent in his profession was willing to sacrifice everything in the service of that objective.

That intention is the opposite of “enough.” 

My late-blooming illumination – of at least “another way to go” – was inspired by this fitness place that we go to in Mexico (to which I shall shortly be decamping during the second week of February.) 
The fitness place’s adherence to “portion control” introduced me to “enough.”  A perspective I then transplanted to every aspect of my life.

Enough wardrobe.  Enough vacations.  Enough net worth.  Enough sitting in the sun.

A slice of birthday cake?  Of course.  But when you triangulate the slice size? 

“Just enough.”

I realize this idea is a disaster for the economy.  If everyone accepts the mantra of  “enough” and its reliable first cousin “good enough”, the capitalist system would come crashing to its knees. 

“I’ve got enough purses.”

“Harry, file for ‘Chapter Eleven.’  We’re going out of business.”

The economy, however, is not really my problem.  I am just trying to live, well…a “good enough” life.

And so far, it’s working.  I feel less envy.  Less regret. 

I lost forty-two pounds in just ten days!

I know how it sounds – like a testimonial for “enough.”  But I swear to you, there is a palpable feeling of wellbeing when you hit the target “dead center.”  The way others – Donald Trump springs immediately to mind – feel “alive” when they are striving for “more”?  I feel equally successful consuming “just the right amount.”  

My dinner may appear uneaten.  But a moment occurs – I can viscerally sense it – when a voice from within tells me,  “Put down the cutlery.  You’re done.”  And when I listen to that voice, I feel, not “stuffed”, but gastronomically in tune.

He droned on, extremely boringly.

Okay – the “opposing perspective” paragraph.  “Enough” is a chicken heart’s perspective, a tin-plated “Consolation Prize” for underachievers, lacking the guts and gumption to “Go for the Gold!”

A “rationalization for mediocrity”?  Perhaps.  But, to me, “enough” is a satisfying objective. 

Is it the Path To Everlasting Happiness and Contentment? 

Who knows?

It may just be what I have come to believe.