Friday, March 29, 2019

"Examining A Possible Wrong Turn"

I shall keep this short, in respect to my limited knowledge in this area – “limited knowledge” being hyperbolic understatement, if you can hyperbolize downward and I see no reason you can’t.

Whoops.  There goes “keeping it short.”

This commentary was inspired by a Frank Bruni column in the New York Times, concerning “Anti-vaxxers”, parents unwilling to vaccinate their children, fearing the possible consequence of autism, mentioned in a study that was thoroughly debunked and, I believe, subsequently withdrawn.

Reading that column triggered considerations of “Thinking for yourself.”

Addressing that concern, Bruni quotes New Yorker writer Michael Spector, saying, (stringing two quotes together without altering the intension):

“We’re living in a world where facts are just another element of your decision-making process… (M)illions of people have abandoned traditional sources of information, from the government to institutional media, in favor of a D.I.Y. (’Do It Yourself’) approach to fact finding.”

A Harvard director of the “Social Change” institute noted a demonstrable “.. crisis in authority.”

Ignoring which side of the “vaccination” issue I land on – for the record, I am in favor of inoculating children – and not just because some uninoculated person gave my mother “rubella” (German measles) when she was pregnant with me which gave me bad eyes – I took in the message in that column and I expressively went, “Hm.”

“… abandoned traditional sources of information…”

“… a crisis in authority.”

“What does that remind me of?” I thoughtfully pondered.

Oh yeah. 

The 18th Century “Age of Enlightenment.”


(Not really “Duh.”  I just thought I put that in to make me sound smarter.)

Before the 18th Century, the (Europeans, if not elsewhere) “traditional sources of information” and prevailing “authority” was the exclusive purview of the King and the Church.

The “Age of Enlightenment” said “Forget that” – qualifyingly, so they would not get in big trouble – instead encouraging people, through their observational senses, to think for themselves.

And so they did.

Through that “revolutionary” process – rejecting authority in favor of “thinking for yourself” – reasoning people devised the “Scientific Method”, which, over the years, produced some wonderful stuff, including the “M.M.R (measles, mumps and rubella) Vaccine.”    

The downside to eschewing “traditional sources of information” was that, with the support of the “Age of Enlightenment”, everybody and his brother began thinking for themselves, triggering the possible pitfall of turning “The Truth” into

Whatever you happen to believe.

Those beliefs, often relying – did somebody say “Internet”? – on unreliable sources of information, which, in such cases, means, not really thinking for yourself, but instead, simply replacing one “trusted authority” with another, possibly as equally misinformed as the original ”trusted authorities”, they just don’t happen to live in a castle, or a place with a big bell.

The “unintended consequence” problem, it seems to me, is that some people have taken one part of the “Enlightenment” – the part about “thinking for yourself” – and abandoned the other:

Relying on verifiable evidence.

It is unlikely what the 18th Century philosophers had in mind, but as a result of the “Age of Enlightenment” not just the kings and clergy can be wrong.

Anyone can be equally mistaken.

In truth, the “Enlightenment” actually made things harder.

If you want to accurately know what’s what, you can no longer passively accept, as they did in the past, what guys with crowns or fancy robes hand down the “The Word” as they did in the past, nor can you bow to the “authority” of the internet “theorists” or cable news pundits of today.

“Thinking for yourself” requires the arduous “heavy lifting” of finding reliable authorities, offering proven factual reality. 

Sure, there’ve been times – and likely will be again – when the vast majority of people believed the wrong thing.  (See:  Going swimming before an hour after you eat.)  But it’s not about “majority.”

It’s about “How do you know?”

That’s all I have for the moment.

And, stringing together thoughts and not facts,

I’m not saying it’s true.

(But it might be.)

Thursday, March 28, 2019

"'The Slap', Or Much Worse"

Writing recently about a movie idea the late director Stanley Donen once pitched me reminded me of the problem with movies of that nature. 

At least for me.

Donen’s misguided pitch involved a struggling comedian who believes his career would take off if he were black and not white, so he strategically “blacks up” and heads off to The Comedy Store. 

Aside from being – you should pardon the expression – racist on its face, there is another issue making that kind of film something I’d be unable to write.

Here’s the thing.

Somewhere – call it the dramatic “turn” at the end of “Act Two” – the secret imposter will have to be “outed.”


Because “A white comedian pretends to be black and no one ever finds out” is not a movie.  Forget about actual life, where something like this would never occur.  (With some rare Civil War soldier exceptions.)  The problem for me is that that type of movie includes an inevitable “Moment of Truth”, where the curtain falls back and the subterfuge is brutally exposed.

Think Tootsie.

Think every movie – none of which I have seen because of the blood – in which an undercover police entity infiltrates “The Mob.”

In Tootsie, the turning “Reveal” elicits a violent slap.

In “Mob” movies… the violent consequence is bigger.

UNDERCOVER POLICE ENTITY:  “You know, from a certain perspective, this is actually hilarious.  Any chance you could see it that way?  Or is it absolutely necessary I be bumped off?”

SMOLDERING MOB BOSS:  “The second one.”

Of course, it’s “The second one.”  People do not like to be hoodwinked.  So there’s the furious slap.  Or the retributive “Cement Shoes.”

Why’s that a problem for me?

Because something’s generically “off” with that moment.

That’s why you have never seen Holiday Guy.

Holiday Guy was my idea for a movie based, as usual, on personal experience, because, when it comes to ideas, my imagination is limited to actual events.  I don’t know why.  I am apparently a scriptwriter who believes he’s a journalist. 

Anyway, here’s the idea.

Before I was married, during “Hiatus” periods when the shows I worked on were out of production, I would take trips to exotic places, like Tahiti.  To my surprise, I discovered the people I ran into on those trips really enjoyed me.  One of them literally said, “You made my whole trip.”

Leading me to wonder, what if there was this woman traveling alone, she bumps into this guy, and he makes her whole trip. 

“Bubbling Fun!” don’t you agree?

Sure.  Until the fizzy confection comes crashing to the ground at the end of “Act Two” when she learns that the guy she hung out with had been hired by the hotel, posing as a guest to insure the real guests had a memorable time.

Originally, the idea appealed to me.  Tropical settings.  Humor and playfulness.  Making somebody’s day, or actually, their entire vacation.

Then I remembered “The Slap.”

Can I have written it where the woman never finds out, she goes home and she says, “I met this great guy.  Nothing serious, but we had a wonderful time”?

Once again, not a movie.  It may be a French movie, the bittersweet tale of a man who makes others happy but never himself.

American “payback” requires “The Slap.”  The “Slap” is real. 

Unfortunately, the movie is not. 

And that’s the problem.

It’s like two different worlds, wherein, with “The Slap”, a fake idea meets an actual consequence.

It’s uncomfortable.
And it’s wrong.

Contrary – okay, popularPerspective:

“It’s a movie!

I know.  But it’s still wrong.

Those “Slap” scenes must be agonizing to write.  Remember that tortured line of dialogue in Tootsie where “Michael Dorsey” explains how his deceitful behavior made him an improved human being?

“I was a better man, as a woman… than I ever was with a woman, as a man.”

That’s terrible, right?  Even the people who write that can’t write it.

‘Cause they are writing a lie.

I cannot pull that off.

So I do not even try.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019


My “Blog Reader Book Suggestions” are, as the English say, “working a treat.”

(Writer’s Note: “Working a treat” is a goodthing.)

Case In Point:

Mystery writer Donna Leon.

Donna Leon has written over two dozen “Guido Brunetti” detective novels.  I selected a more recent example, giving her the time to work the kinks out of her “process.”

After reading “Earthly Remains” (2017), I can report the author is happily well on her way.  (Her earlier works might also be good.  Like the Friends pilot, some writers “nail it” right it of the box.)

Regular followers know I’ve been soliciting reading suggestions, because I am trying to cut down on TV, which is supposed to relax me but instead makes me inordinately jumpy. 

Even the commercials. 

Sometimes, especiallythe commercials.  

Did you know you could have “Hep. C” without even knowing it?

I could be suffering from it right now!

And so could you! (Sorry.  But early detection appears to be helpful.)

I have in the past read – or listened to – numerous crime novels.  John Grisham comes to mind, and then recedes, along with my recollection of his latest offering.  

Why does that happen? 

“Efficient writing” is as enduring as a shopping list.

On the other hand,

Donna Leon can write!

(She just happens to write crime novels.)

What does it mean when I say a person can write?
It means there’s a bonding connection between the writer’s work and what I personally appreciate.

(It may also mean it’s “good writing.”  But I am not in the business of making such judgments.)

Donna Leon’s “Guido Brunetti” series is set in Venice, Italy.  And it specifically feelslike it.  (If it were set, for example, in Venice, California, there would be more tattoo parlors, Dads on rollerblades pushing their kids’ strollers, and breakfasting wannabes “this close” to a big show business breakthrough.)

“Earthly Remains’” storyline easily held my attention.  Its fleshed-out characters were distinctly interesting.  The final resolution, though somewhat abrupt, came as a well crafted surprise.  (Don’t ask me to write book reviews.  I am not good at it.)   

I was particularly struck by the detective’s ultimate decision – possible “Spoiler Alert – to place “feelings” before “justice.”  (Showing a level of maturity beyond “Book him, Dano.”)

But what I really enjoyed was the writing.  

A good mystery novel, written with literary flourish?  That’s like the “No-Stick” frying pan advertised on TV, and they throw in “Shipping and Packaging” for free.

And sometimes, even a second “No-Stick” frying pan!

In crime novels, “literary flourish” is a genuine bonus… 

Is what I am trying to say. 

In fact, the book’s “word choice” is so scrupulously careful I began wondering if I was reading a translation.  It felt “better than English.”

“Earthly Remains” includes countless examples that made reading the “whodunit” so deliciously pleasurable.

Offering a few of my favorites: 

“Imitating a look he had often seen on his mother’s aunt Anna, Brunetti brought his lips together in a tiny moue of disapproval.”

Describing a row of garishly painted houses:

“No one would think of wearing any of those colours as clothing.”

A reticent character, taking Brunetti’s handwritten phone number:

“She took it and studied it as though she’d found it in her hand at the end of a magician’s trick and had no idea what to do with it.”

A guarded Nursing Home manager:

“… she flashed them a smile that resided exclusively in her mouth.”

An eager support person, asked to assist in the investigation:  

“She did not sniff, she did not wag her tail, nor did she pull at the lead, but Brunetti could sense her desire to be off in pursuit of what might be only a rustle in the grass but might just as easily be prey.”

An offended character registers the kind of astonishment 

“… a dowager would express at the idea of doing the dishes.”

And the philosophical reminder:

“… it was not his business to ask people to think as he did.”

There was one loose end mentioned in “Earthly Remains” the book failed to address.

How do Italians drink coffee at night?

Otherwise, it was lovely.

(Postscriptural Acknowledgement:  Thank you Pidgie for your book recommendation.  If all my followers’ suggestions are as rewarding as this one, I’ll be “off television” in no time.  And by the way, keep ‘em comin’!)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

"Me And A Cactus"

If you are anything like me, you cannot rest until you understand what I meant yesterday when I said I grabbed hold of a cactus with my fingers.  Let me now assuage your itching curiosity by telling this story.  Or re-telling it, for those who remember. 

And also for those who forgot.

What is necessary to keep in mind is that I grew up in Canada.

We had maples.

Not cacti.  (Latin; masculine plural.)

Maples, we knew.

The second one,

We didn’t.

File that away, as we illuminatingly proceed.

I am 21 years old.  Besides camp, this is my first time away from home by myself.  (And at camp, they all knew with my family.) 

I am on the other side of the continent, in California, in the U S of A, where, for the multitudes who have never experienced us, coming from Canada’s the equivalent of hailing from Kansas.  But with the Queen on the money.

The point being, when you’re a stranger,

You do not want to mess up.

I am attending – “Here we go again!” – The Bertolt Brecht Summer Theater Workshop at UCLA.  No classes on weekends.  And also, no food service for resident students, the on-campus nutritional option – vending-machine spaghetti out of a tin.  (Which requires a can opener.  Which I had mistakenly forgotten to pack.)

The “locals” go home on weekends, leaving students from Asian countries and Canada to fend for themselves.  Sadly, I am not competitive at ping-pong, so I was unable to join in on their fun.  (I know that’s racist but that’s all they did. Where’s “Table Hockey” when you need a helpful distraction from gnawing hunger?)   

Sometimes, a generous L.A. “Home Person” with a car takes me out to a restaurant or back to their families.  Or in the case of this narrative, a ramshackle beach house in Santa Monica.  (A ten-minute freeway drive from UCLA’s Westwood campus, but when you’re a passenger – or at least when I am – it might as well be Mongolia.  You sit in the back seat, and you’re there.  How it happened?  You have no idea.)

When we arrive – me and a handful of my classmates – there is immediate talk about beer.  Which I am not sure I had ever imbibed.  (“Imbibed” avoids “had drank” or “had drunk” considerations, which I only accidentally get right.)

The person whose absentee parents own the beach house, apologizes. 

The available beer is not cold.

To which I immediately suggest:

“We could put ice in it.”

The general response I receive is akin to suggesting putting ketchup on cupcakes.

Apparently, I am quickly apprised, you do not put ice in beer.  You can put beer “on ice”, but not the other way around.

To my chagrin and embarrassment, I did not know that.

It seems that ice waters down the beer.  Or else it won’t fit in the bottle.  (I probably assumed we’d be drinking it out of a glass.  Why didn’t I just shut up?)

Anyway, I am in “Negative Territory” and the game had barely begun, putting me on a “short leash” in the all-important “Peer Group Acceptance” department.

My next move would be crucial.

(Time to remind you that I grew up in Canada.  Where, if there’s a potted cactus, it is invariably a decorative rubber one.)

On the beach house living room windowsill, I spot a small green cactus, planted in a compatible brick-like container.

For reasons I cannot explain – then or now – I spontaneously reach over,

And wrap the fingers of my right hand around the trunk of the cactus.

(Yes, thinking it was rubber!  But who grabs a rubber cactus?)

With an accompanying “Ow!”, I reflexively draw back my hand.  But it is too late.  Standing like soldiers on the tips of my fingers are dozens of needle-thin spines.

That’s what I’m looking at – a forest of needles, rising vertically from my throbbing fingers.

Which I am required to extract, one spine needle at a time.  As my classmates look on, in dumbfounded horror and disgust.

“Ice in beer”, and now this.

Forget about “ushering me into the clan.” 

I am lucky they gave me a ride back to UCLA.

But they did.

Mindful there was an “alien” – or lunatic – sitting in the car. *

(* I cannot blame Canada for this fiasco.  Canadian readers are likely shaking their heads, along with everyone else.  With the added awareness that I am shamefully them.)

Monday, March 25, 2019

"Streanger Than Fiction"

(Subsection:  Little But Noteworthy)

Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Spa and Resort (in a nearby suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.)

“Wild Horse Pass.”

Sounds like my kind of place, doesn’t it? 

What’s not to like? 

“Southwestern” decor.  Native-American flute music playing on the elevators.  A panoramic picture window, showcasing the expanse of the eponymous “Wild Horse Pass”, with its rugged terrain, breathtaking sunsets, and (imagined) rampaging stallions.  (Plus, you can also get an aromatherapy massage.)

So much for introductory fooferah.

Now, a small but memorable moment having nothing to do with any of that.

Saturday morning, I step into the hotel “Gift Shop”, to ask the “Gift Shop” attendant a lingering question.

“Do you get the Sunday New York Times?” 

(Which we subscribe to at home.  Only the Sunday addition.  I like its “Book Review” section and its political “Week In Review”, while Dr. M frets contentedly with the crossword.  The rest of the week, we live with the lowlier L.A. Times.)

A simple question:

“Do you get the Sunday New York Times?” 

The attendant’s answer is somewhat a curveball.

“We get one,” she responds.

I just stood there, dumbfounded in a “Gift Shop.”

One paper? 

For the whole Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Spa and Resort? 

I immediately wondered if we were required to read it, and then dutifully pass it along.


Sensing the competition would be fierce for that one available Sunday New York Times, I immediately determine to stake out my claim.

“What time do you open?” I strategically inquire. 

“Seven A.M.”

“Okay.  I may not get here that early.  Do you think I could reserve it, and come in, maybe, around eight?”

Making no guarantees, the lady jots down my name on a slip of paper promising to leave it by the cash register.  I accept those tentative terms and exit the “Gift Shop.”

Sunday morning, I come spontaneously awake at 6:30 A.M., unconsciously prompted, I believe, by my fervent desire for that paper.  Making myself marginally presentable, I step out of my hotel room and I head for the “Gift Shop”, hoping to be the first to arrive.  To collect the one paper they have.

And then I remember something.

The day before, I had noticed a stack of complimentary newspapers, topping the “Concierge’s Desk” in the lobby.  It was still ten minutes to seven. 

Why don’t I check out the lobby?

I arrive at the Third Floor lobby – guest accommodations are situated below it, maximizing the elevated “Wild Horse Pass” view – and head directly towards the “Concierge’s Desk.”  And would you believe it?

There they were.

A stack of Sunday New York Times.

All of them, free for the taking. 

Summarizing – for the inveterate “skimmers” in the audience:

They were selling a paper in the “Gift Shop” they gave away free in the lobby.

The Slightly Longer Version (Scanning less flowingly while clarifying the particulars):

They were selling the one paper they were allotted in the “Gift Shop” when there was a stack of free ones, topping the “Concierge’s Desk” in the lobby.

I’m not unhappy about it.  But shouldn’t those two entities be talking?


A wonderful visit with desert-dwelling amigos, a Spring Training excursion – where the opposing team’s first two batters hit towering home runs and then nothing happened the rest of the game – a out-the-window reminder as we traveled the trail that I had once grabbed a cactus with my fingers – that’s in the archives somewhere, don’t ask me where – and then back on the plane.

And there you have it.

A weekend getaway to a place that gets spring before we do. 

Good talk, with good friends. 

Good food.

And a free copy of the Sunday New York Times.

That I could easily have paid for.

(Plus an aromatherapy massage.)

I’d call that a successful trip, wouldn’t you?