Wednesday, December 03, 2003
If you are one of the miniscule minority that might not be so affected by my winsome words, remember that creative types like myself often have very fragile egos. Thus, any discontent should be saved for your own private murmurings, expressed safely outside the dangerous - and public - realms of cyberspace.
Tuesday, December 02, 2003
First of all, let me clear up a common misconception. When you look at the facts, ‘man’ must refer to all of mankind. For all genders and variations thereof act like they are my dog’s best friend. Why else would they come up to her and start putting their hands all over her like they were intimate acquaintances?
During this process, they also feel like they need to make small talk with me. Being such good friends with my dog, they must also want to get better acquainted with her legal guardian – perhaps to make sure I am a good provider, companion, etc. Regardless, my faithful companion somehow breaks the code of silence that usually exists between complete strangers.
With Katy at my side, I have had many conversations with people I would normally pass by on the street as we both safely averted our gazes down and to the side. Of course, Katy does encourage it. She likes meeting people – all kinds of people. And she is pretty non-discriminating – from well-to-do old ladies to a homeless man sleeping in the park.
It also doesn’t hurt that she looks friendly. All dog’s start out friendly looking – how more friendly can you get than a puppy? However, the attitude towards some breeds changes dramatically once the puppy stage is over. No matter how friendly an adult Pit Bull, Rottweiler or Doberman really is, they still give me pause. Katy has no such trouble. Goofy-looking dogs usually don’t generate a lot of fear, and as a Border Collie – Greyhound mix, she easily defines the category.
The effect that dogs have on people goes both ways – not just towards the complete strangers, but also towards the owner. As I dedicate the time to write this piece, I am beginning to wonder if this act makes me a dog freak. I would rather be a freak with a dog, than a dog freak. Dog freaks are usually weird, fanatical and a bit scary.
If you want to understand what I mean by scary, try visiting a local dog park. The dog park I frequent is host to a cornucopia of interesting characters. There is the egotistical east coaster dog walker who yells profanities at the dogs when they misbehave. His short temper and foul mouth are equaled by an older Scottish lady, who vocally asserts her Scottish heritage as justification for her ill-mannered behavior – much to the chagrin of other Scots I imagine.
However, all the characters pale in comparison to the Poop Man. No kowtowing to the socially conditioned approvals of others, the Poop Man fulfills his moniker each day – barefoot, bare-chested and armed with a stick and common grocery store bag that is sagging under the weight of the park’s orphan poop.
Like some sort of twisted superhero, Poop Man is always there to save a shoe from smelly ruin. And I do mean always. I frequent two different dog parks, and more often that not, I see him at each one making the park safe for its two-footed patrons. Whether saint or insane, he faithfully goes about his duty each day.
Now, I don’t know what kind of person I expect would devote his life to aggregating canine excrement, but it’s not Poop Man. First of all, he doesn’t have good tools. A stick and flimsy plastic grocery bag? That seems like an ad hoc solution ill-suited for long-term application.
If I were Poop Man, I would have a stainless steel scooper and heavy-duty bag. I would also wear shoes and a shirt. Then again, I also wouldn’t be someone who spends his day cleaning up after careless dog owners. But that’s what Poop Man does daily, outfitted solely in bright red shorts and an orange visor.
Hanging around his waist are his only accoutrements: a cell phone and portable radio blaring Christian talk radio for all to hear. The richness of the spectacle is enhanced by the combination of so many disparate elements.
Any two alone would seem odd together: "shirtless man blaring Christian talk radio," "shoeless man picking up all the park’s poop," "seemingly homeless man being able to afford a cell phone but not a pooper scooper." I'd love to hear his story sometime, but until my dog and he meet, social rules forbid us from speaking.
Sunday, November 16, 2003
Actually, it's been several days after the red dawn and sunsets that Southern Californians were treated to as some sort of twisted consolation prize for enduring the area's recent devastating wildfires. Despite the known destruction, I couldn't help admiring the stunning oranges and reds made possible by the refracted rays of the sun as it rose and set behind the thick, lingering smoke.
That was the only beauty of the fire. Mostly, there was a heavy gloom in the air that hung as heavily as the smoke - as almost everyone in San Diego knew someone who lost a home. I didn't lose a home, so for me the fires were only a major source of inconvenience ... and creepiness.
The inconvenience amounted to the ubiquitous ash and being cooped up in the house for three days. The dumb ash was everywhere. Every time I tried to get rid of the sorry ash, more fell from the sky. I felt like the sky was opening a large can of whoop ash on me - and this was no half-ash attempt. Big ash piles were piling up all around my house. Call me a jack ash for trying to clean it up too soon, but it was asking for a thorough ash kicking. Okay, sorry. I'm done now.
Anyways ... In addition to the ash, the fire was also making things kind of creepy. Being a Gen-Xer (I like that youthful title now that I'm 32), I remember watching the groundbreaking and radiating film The Day After. I don't think many people would have actually watched this low-budget made-for-TV movie had it not been for all the controversy surrounding it. Apparently, it was too shocking for the minds of our susceptible youth.
Perhaps there was something to this concern, as the film's imagery quickly came to mind as I regarded the changed landscape around me. The first few days of the fire the daylight sky was completely white, and largish flakes of ash were falling peacefully from the sky. It was what I imagined a nuclear winter to be like. This eerie feeling of having somehow survived Armageddon was bolstered by a quick dash out to Vons for much needed groceries.
I hadn't yet ventured out of the house since being forcibly incarcerated by the unhealthy air, so I was quite taken aback by the scene that unraveled before me. The streets were empty. It was10 a.m. on a Monday - a time when our small-scale metropolis of North Park is usually humming with activity.
As I peered through the haze, I finally spotted a lone, surgical mask-clad individual walking slowly to the post office. After turning on to University Avenue, our city center's main thoroughfare, I soon encountered a few other people wandering aimlessly with mouths and noses covered by similar unflattering surgical masks that even Michael Jackson couldn't render fashionable.
Upon reaching Vons, I saw a few other sad-looking survivors pacing back and forth with large painted signs. I half expected them to read "The End is Near," but, instead, they said something about a strike and unfair policies, etc. The grocery strike was about a week old at this point, and I hadn't yet crossed the picket line, but I wasn't about to endanger my lungs by venturing further away from the apparent safety of my home.
The scene inside the store did nothing to ease the surreal setting outside. The store was largely empty, and as I navigated the aisles looking for the essentials, many of the shelves were bare. This effect was particularly pronounced in the produce and meat sections, where more than half of the bins were conspicuously empty. It was as if people had raided the store in anticipation of a Red Dawn or The Day After event - when in actuality it was directly related to the strike.
Luckily, there wasn't any looting in my area of town. While being an odious social phenomenon, such an event would also have added to the "end of the world" style drama that was unfolding all around. Other communities were not so lucky. The local news reported that two individuals were arrested for such a crime in a neighboring community - one woman and a 26 year-old man. Which made me wonder ... why didn't they report the woman's age too? But, I digress.
Despite all the seemingly obvious signs, Armageddon has yet to befall Southern California. Even if it did, there's really no point in worrying now that Ah-nold is looking out for us. He's already saved the world three times - in comparison, So Cal would be a piece of cake.
Monday, October 27, 2003
For me, beating the system amounted to my attendance at a recent Radiohead concert without paying any Ticketmaster fees. However, I think Petra had something else in mind with that song and would have disapproved of my seeing a dangerous band like Radiohead. Nonetheless, I did beat the system – with a little help from Craig and his list.
More than just a dark enemy of Ticketmaster’s subversive plan to control the live music universe, Craiglist is a remarkable resource for just about anything you could possible want: garage sale listings, community events, activity partners, job lists, free moving boxes and, yes, concert tickets. It’s essentially a community bulletin board on steroids, and that’s pretty much how it started about eight years ago in San Francisco.
Now Craigslist is nationwide, with ‘lists’ serving most major metropolitan cities – including my fair hamlet of San Diego. The successful spread of Craiglist across the U.S. and even Canada gives me hope that people are once again realizing the importance and benefits of being part of a community. The Craiglist concept feeds off the same part of the brain that has enabled eBay to be so successful. It gives us an easy and convenient way to sidestep the limited, self-serving options offered by corporate America.
After completing the financial transaction for my Radiohead tickets, I felt like I had won. There was a certain euphoria that arose from my belief that I had beat the system. Even though I had to go through a fairly laborious process of exchanging several emails and arranging a meeting place and time to complete the transaction, I felt it was all worth it. Perhaps there is also a thrill in meeting a complete stranger for an exchange of goods. I almost expect to hear the individual ask for unmarked bills and to make sure that I am not followed.
This feeling of furtive excitement was heightened by my most recent experience securing tickets to see The Strokes perform at the Bill Graham civic auditorium in San Francisco. I had contacted “Kenneth” earlier in the day, and he said he had two tickets – below face value. Excellent. However, when I called at the prearranged time to come pick up the tickets, he said he couldn’t meet me as he was going out with a friend. This concerned me, as it was 5 p.m., and the concert was the next day. If he didn’t pull through, I wouldn’t have much time to come up with alternate plan. A failed attempt to arrange a successful exchange might force me into momentary Tickemaster servitude.
Thinking quickly, I suggested that we meet first thing in the morning, as I couldn’t meet him later in the evening due to my own plans to have dinner with friends. “Kenneth” seemed hesitant to meet in the morning, and would rather do it that night – he would be up late. At 11:30 p.m., I slowed my car to a stop outside the Mervyn’s in a particularly urban and gritty part of San Francisco’s Richmond district. As I turned off the engine and the lights, I could hear the howling of the wind as it coaxed the dense fog eastward from the ocean. The eerie setting and empty streets made me feel a little vulnerable. Who was this Kenneth? Why was he selling these tickets for $10 less than anyone else on Craiglist? Why did he want to meet in the middle of the night in a sketchy part of town?
Within five minutes, however, Kenneth appeared out of the fog with an envelope in hand. Not hidden in a folded-up newspaper or enclosed in an ominous briefcase handcuffed to his wrist, the white #8 business envelope was brandished clearly for all to see. As he handed it to me, I quickly inspected its contents. It looked official, had the right date and exhibited the nefarious Ticketmaster markings. I handed over the $50 in unmarked bills and shook his hand. On a whim (and to reassure my lingering doubts) I asked him why he was selling them. He replied that he had seen them twice already and decided a third time wasn’t necessary.
I would have liked a more plausible response, as I thought it unrealistic that he would have attended the prior tour dates in LA and New York. However, I accepted the explanation and completed the transaction with an awkward handshake. Either he was as ill at ease as I was, or he was a consummate trickster and it was all part of the act. Whichever it was, the truth would be had the next evening.
As I handed over the tickets to the ticket-taker, I was surprised that I did so with a little apprehension. Apparently, I wasn’t totally convinced that the prior evening’s exchange had been successful. Of course, the tickets were valid, and I proceeded to enjoy a great live performance that was subconsciously enhanced by the confirmed knowledge that I had beat the system.
Sunday, September 14, 2003
In order to justify this odd dichotomy, I have to go about mentally splitting country music into three distinct genres: 1) modern country, which I hate, 2) classic country, which I mostly hate, except for Johnny Cash, and MAYBE one or two others, 3) and alt-country, which I love – oddly enough. It might be confusing how I could hate country music and like Johnny Cash (and alt-country), but it should be noted that several of Johnny’s songs fared rather well on the pop charts too. Furthermore, I have read that Nashville didn’t exactly embrace him, which also sets him apart. Perhaps he wasn’t country enough for them, and perhaps that why I like his music so much. I listen to “Ring of Fire” or “I Walk the Line” and I don’t hear country, I hear Johnny Cash.
As for alt-country, respected bands like Wilco have earned respect in the world of alternate rock, but not in the trailer park of country music. See, it all makes sense, really. Oh, in case you’re wondering… no, I am not rationalizing too aggressively.
I am further comforted by the fact that on Friday, the day of his passing, San Diego’s local alternative rock radio station dedicated the entire day to Johnny Cash. It played tribute to The Man in Black by playing several classic standards, as well as the many collaborations and covers from his recent forays into the modern rock world. I remember the first time I heard “The Wanderer” on U2’s Zooropa album. There is something about Johnny’s voice that cuts you to the core. There is an honesty and earnestness there that I have heard in few other songs. I am obviously not alone, which is why other artists, like Bono, have wanted to collaborate with him. On Friday, Bono made a statement calling him an oak tree in a garden full of weeds.
As the pre-prepared retrospectives began playing on TV and radio after the announcement of his death, I was made aware of some of Johnny’s more recent projects. Critical acclaim was largely directed toward his cover of the song “Hurt” originally performed by hard rock band, Nine Inch Nails. I was familiar with the song and was very interested in hearing how Johnny would treat it. After listening to the song and seeing the video, I understood why it was getting so much attention. It was amazing to see how closely the song paralleled his life.
On Friday I had lunch with an old high school friend as previously planned earlier that week. As we met outside the local Mexican joint, I noticed that he was wearing a white T-shirt with the words “Johnny Cash Went Home” on the front – each word occupying its own line. At first, I thought someone was already capitalizing on Johnny’s passing to sell shirts, and then I noticed that it was drawn on with permanent marker. It was a quick improvisation to honor a great man - a man who transcended musical genres. I can say this with greater authority after seeing my friend, as I am pretty sure we spent some time together in high school mocking country music together.
*To my credit, I had to look up the name of the “artist” on the Internet.
Sunday, September 07, 2003
This simple, beautiful URL will serve as the virtual nexus of my carefully selected and highly edited innermost thoughts. In addition to the beauty of having my very own www, instead of blogspot, I am also saving you all six keystrokes in the typing of the URL. Over the course of your lifetime, this is a significant benefit. I am in the process of assigning a worth to it and will subsequently set up a PayPal link so people can compensate me for the time I am able to save them.
In the meantime, point your browsers to www.randombanter.com for the most random banter on the Internet today.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Sunday, August 17, 2003
I still remember a traumatic experience in eighth grade, where my homeroom teacher, Mr. McEachran, publicly limited me (and me alone) to three questions per class. This created quite a bit of stress for me, as I then had to constantly evaluate whether each new question I pondered warranted being one of the sanctioned three. While I obviously still harbor some deep-seated resentment towards Mr. McEachran, I can now appreciate that having to make these hard choices was a valuable experience.
Fast forward 20 years, and I find I am using these same skills as a pubic relations professional. Okay, wait, before you start slamming down your misguided anvil of judgment, let me debate the innocuousness of my particular role in this dubious profession. I do not represent Exxon. Nor do I represent companies involved with logging, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, or things your mother would frown upon. Sometimes, do my efforts make large corporations buy software with more functionality than they’ll ever need? Yes. Of that I am guilty, but a nice kind of guilty that lets me sleep at night and happily cash my pay check to buy frivolous consumer items with more functionality then I’ll never need.
Now that I’ve hopefully coaxed you down from your horse of elevated stature, I will continue with some droll observations on how my adolescent years prepared me for my current position. The bulk of my days involve writing press releases – those wonderful 2 or 3 page documents that litter the email boxes of editors around the globe. Of course, the difference between my press releases and other ones out there, are that mine are the ones that editors should care about. This is an important distinction.
As I think about what makes a really good press release, it pains me to realize that Mr. McEachran’s questionable middle school injunction has most likely had a positive effect on my current press release writing capabilities. You see, with a press release you have to carefully choose 2 or 3 main points you want to get across. Forget the small stuff and quickly get to what’s important – for you have to get your point across in a span of time that is dictated by how long it takes an editor to maneuver the mouse to the delete button. If you’re lucky, the mouse’s roller ball might be gummed up with lint, dust and skin cells, which could buy you a fraction of a second more. However, if you’re unlucky, two words: optical mouse.
My experience providing metaphorical legal representation for the prince of darkness has also proved extremely valuable. Essentially, it’s better that I poke holes in overblown corporate marketing claims that were recklessly created during a binge drinking session with the company Kool-Aid(tm). If I don’t, editors will. They love that sort of thing. But really, don’t we all?
There’s something satisfying about letting someone know they got their facts wrong. Like the other day when someone claimed that it was late president Van Buren that tried to buy Cuba. Everyone knows it was Buchanan, and it was while he was Secretary of State under Polk. Despite the obviousness of this blunder, my innate graciousness led me to merely correct this person politely. But I digress, when really I should be wrapping this up.
The point being that you often learn valuable lessons from difficult experiences, and secondly, that not all PR people are evil. When it comes to professions with the worst reputation, I believe that lawyers have edged us out of the top spot, and I hope this little expose helps to keep PR out of the number one position. So in light of all this, someone might question whether it makes sense to still hold resentment towards Mr. McEarchran. Unfortunately, I believe that someone has already used up his three questions.
Sunday, August 03, 2003
Truth be told, I love my dog. A lot of people are fanatical about their dogs, there’s nothing new about that. A lot of people would also say that they have the cutest dog ever. The difference between those “fanatics” and me is that my dog actually is the cutest ever. These other poor saps have been so emotionally manipulated that it’s impossible for them to see how inferior their dog would be to mine. It’s sad really, but a mixture of denial and fantasy world living works for some people.
To prove a point, I can make a quick analogy that will hopefully clear things up for any doubting Thomases. When it comes to beauty, humans have placed the highest value on the ideal represented by the latest batch of supermodels. (Before you start making a point about my leaving out male representation, first inform me of any male model that makes 10 million dollars a year on looks alone.)
So now that I’ve established an accepted standard for supreme attractiveness, it’s best to analyze the attributes that make supermodels successful. Based on media attention and lucrative contracts, I would say Gisele is a prime example for examination.
After conducting careful research, much to the chagrin of my wife, I have concluded that it mainly comes down to three factors: long legs, thin waist, big boobs. Now, examine a photo of my dog, Katy.
She has all of that going on: very long legs, super thin waist and an extremely large chest. If that weren’t enough, she also completes the comparison with her egotistical, prima donna personality. Furthermore, like most supermodels, she was discovered in a humble setting – in this case a local animal shelter.
So there you have some empirical evidence that establishes my dog as being the cutest ever. The next time someone else makes an erroneous comment about their dog being the cutest, please kindly correct them. Feel free to download a picture of Katy to prove your point.
Now as cute as my dog is on the outside, I never really wanted to see what she looked like inside. That’s a mystery that I’m happy to live with – just like the Loch Ness Monster, Area 51 or how Michael Jackson fathered his three children. In fact, I’m pretty content with not seeing the insides of any living thing. I think it stems from a traumatic experience in 4th grade where I almost fainted during a field trip to a blood bank. Of course, I was only 10, so it’s not too surprising. It would be another thing if I was 30 and fainted while getting a hemoglobin-style yellow fever shot. And luckily, that can’t be proven beyond hearsay and rumor.
I was actually fairly calm when I received the X-rays of my precious pooch. Not that I’m an expert – which, if there’s any truth to these fainting rumors, I never could be – but the black and white images seemed to be pretty normal. The veterinarian at the urgent care animal hospital agreed with me on this point, and also commented on the voluminous size of Katy’s bosom when mentioning the unique placement of her organs, which was dictated by her attainment of the feminine ideal of tiny waist and big chest. So now, I know what Katy looks like inside. It doesn’t really change the way I feel about her – except when I think of how I could have spent that $100 another way.
You may be wondering why my wife and I got X-rays of Katy at 11 p.m. at an after hours animal veterinary hospital. You can chalk that up to the inexperience of new puppy parents. To us, the odd looking puke that resembled the yellow and white insides of a Cadbury’s cream egg seemed very odd, and potentially life threatening. More experienced dog owners laugh at us when we tell the story.
We began to feel like we might be overreacting as we noticed the other dogs that were in the animal ER waiting room: the German shepherd who had suddenly lost all use of his limbs, the lab mix with a large splinter impaled through its paw and Yorkshire terrier with internal bleeding. These dogs stood, or laid down, in stark contrast to our dog, whose slight indigestation did not keep her from enthusiastically trying to jump up and kiss the other owners' faces. Regardless, now we know, and at least we had the sense not to opt for the $150 worth of lab work expertly promoted by the veterinarian by his subtle calls to our sense of compassion.
In the end, we did get something out of it beyond the macabre 11x17 glossies – professional validation of Katy’s striking waist to bust ratio. We didn’t set out looking for a supermodel dog, but I’m not so naïve to think that we weren't unduly and subconsciously influenced by the media’s relentless promotion of the feminine ideal.
Saturday, July 26, 2003
There is an evil in America today, and its name is Ticketmaster. It is a parasite that is feeding off the host of live music. It is entirely insidious in nature – luring music fans in with the promise of convenience, but then striking with malevolent barbs of insatiable greed at the last page of checkout.
Any fan of live music has certainly experienced this pain. However, like a shameful addiction, we do not often talk about it. It is something experienced in secret, before the soft glow of the computer monitor. It has become personal. And that is why Ticketmaster has thrived. The only way to combat this behemoth of convenience charges, order processing charges, and mailing charges is to expose it. Like a poisonous mushroom, pull it out of the dank, dark shadows and watch it shrivel in the light.
The silence the public has about this crime against concertdom is like the story of The Emperor With No Clothes. Except, in this case, we’re the ones with no clothes, because we’ve hocked them all to pay the fees. And we’re choosing not to acknowledge the nakedness of our fellow citizens who have also lost their shirts.
Ticketmaster succeeds because it knows music is a drug. And it’s the best kind of drug. It’s legal, has mass appeal and is socially acceptable. So, Ticketmaster knows when you go into to by that $40 Radiohead ticket, you are not going to back out when they shoot the final price up by 50 percent with their multitude of monstrous fees. They know that your feeling of violation and betrayal will subside once you begin thinking fondly about your secured attendance at “the concert event of the summer.”
This monopoly of live music also has the audacity to call them “convenience” fees. Yes, it is very convenient for them to collect loads of money for simply offering up an automated e-commerce site and portal for concert events. I want that kind of convenience in my life. I would probably feel better about it if they were honest. How about calling them “you have no other choice, so we know you’ll pay ‘em” fees? Just an idea. I would like to be honorable and take a valiant stand against this evil empire, but I also want to go to Radiohead. Live music is a fix, so I guess I’ll take the hit. Ticketmaster be damned.
Tuesday, July 08, 2003
I’m not sure if it’s the smell of ignited gunpowder, the latent pyro inherent in everyone, or the thrill of real danger to one’s digits, but I love lighting fireworks. This past 4th of July was the first one in the last 14 or so that I’ve been able to be an active participant in the processes of formally fêting our fair nation’s birth and narrow escape from the foul tyranny and drab clothes of Britain.
The opportunity presented itself during a planned escape from the foul tyrannous firework prohibition of California. In truth, on the onset of the journey I wasn’t aware that Oregon did not share the same prudent, cautious and boring legislation that destroys many a young Californian’s dreams of blowing stuff up. So, upon my arrival in Portland, I was delighted to learn that the city compensated for its lackluster weather with open views towards putting explosive materials in the hands of ill-supervised children.
I was informed of this fact by our Portlandian friends who ventured out to the airport to pick us from our two-hour journey from sunny San Diego. Apparently, there is some validity to being able to take the weather with you, because I doubt Portland would have been so hot and sunny if we had arrived from Seattle or some other sun-challenged locale. Regardless of how it happened, the weather in Portland was impressive, which was a stark change from the oppressive weather that I was expecting
Our Portlandian friends are actually recent transplants from the Bay Area, who I now think moved up north for the fireworks. That’s the reason that seems to make the most sense anyways – that and perhaps Portland’s more reasonable attitudes towards what a two- bedroom, one-bath house should cost. Anyway, these friends informed us that they had stopped at Costco, the mass purveyors of mass quantities of all things American, and purchased the standard firework sampler. I was informed that the jumbo sampler was the size of a large door and wouldn’t have fit in their car. Luckily, most of Costco’s members drive super-sized SUVs, so sales of the jumbo version were still brisk.
Spending my adolescent, fire-curious years in New Mexico, I was used to going to firework shacks, lean-tos and back of pickups for my firework buying needs. However, I did find Costco had a decent selection of the safe, crowd pleaser types. What were missing, though, were the dangerous, self-pleasing ones. This latter category, of course, covers your lady finger, bottle rocket and M-80 varieties.
While these were sorely missed, we managed to still have fun with the fire-marshal approved incendiaries. Plus, I discovered, that if miss-handled, you can still add an element of danger. For example, when burning ash blew into my eyes while looking up at the spark emitting ‘candles’ that I was waving above my head. This was almost as thrilling as discovering how quick the fuses were on some illicit firecrackers that were shared with us by some patriotic, drunk passerbys. While drunk, I have to give them credit for not trying to light the firecrackers themselves – and passing them onto a slightly more sober, definitely less discerning, pyro.
The drunken revelers also informed us that you can get the “good fireworks” in Washington State, or on the Indian reservations. So that’s the mission for next year. I think it’s sad that I have to leave the state to find proper rockets that red glare, but if that’s what it takes to celebrate the good ol’ USA with Chinese-manufactured explosives, then that’s what I’ll do.
Saturday, June 28, 2003
I'm a funny guy. No really, I am. Not only am I funny, but I've been creating material for other comedians for more than 15 years. Of course, I should specify that this long and impressive history does involve my nerdy years in high school where I would meekly say something funny, only to have it repeated by the class clown (aka comedian) at a louder decibel and to uproarious applause. And, if you want to get completely specific about it, my comedy writing also ends in high school - and wasn't really writing, but more inadvertent verbal coaching. Apart from that small fact however, I really have been writing comedy for more than 15 years. I'm currently just in a 12-year dry spell.
The most significant challenge of being known as a funny guy is that people expect it from you all the time. Being funny 24/7 isn't very easy - I just make it look that way. We've all seen some of our favorite comedians on The Tonight Show or similar entertainment program that takes advantage of our voyeuristic and vicarious tendencies. Somehow knowing their intimate life details makes us closer to them. And, as an added benefit, we'd know what to talk to them about if they showed up at one our parties (so far all my celebrity invitations have gone answered). However, my point is that often these purveyors of high comedy are not funny on these types of programs. They seem forced. The reason being that even great comedians need great writing.
At this point you are wondering when I'm getting to "The Value of the Marriage Contract." And, I don't blame you. I really should have broached this subject already, but comedy involves timing - and the delay of this subject is intended to compel the reader to keep reading to satisfy their curiosity. But then again, you string the reader along too long and they lose interest. Timing can be very complicated.
Imagine being a roadie for Jerry Seinfeld. You get the job and are very excited about touring with this amazing comedian for his sold out 50-city tour. The first couple of nights you laugh your [insert body part you wouldn't mind losing or diminishing] off as you listen in the wings. A dozen shows later, however, you find you are not laughing as hard or as often as you did in the beginning. The problem? It's the same material and you've heard it before. It is this problem that threatens most romantic relationships.
In coupledom, there is usually one person that takes the humor-lead, while the other takes a supporting comedic role or dutifully plays the straight man/woman. This happens because people are attracted to funny people. Findings from survey after survey conducted by reputable research firms - such as Cosmo, Glamour, etc. - indicate that sense of humor is always high on the list of desirable qualities sought after in a potential mate. The comedic power differential is caused by the fact that really funny people will tend not to date other really funny people because of the risk of upstaging.
A marriage or committed relationship is like a 50-city tour, except usually much longer and not so much time on the road. Social outings are the events in this 50-city/year/date tour. Each social event is an opportunity for the humor-lead to perform. The other half of the couple equation will then fulfill their duty as supporting comedian or straight person. Regardless of either position, a key duty is laughing at the humor-lead's jokes. Now, on the surface, this doesn't seem like it would be too hard. However, after you've been on the tour for a while, you've heard these jokes many times before. And while intrinsically they are still funny, they have lost their efficacy over time - like an Altoid that's been in the tin too long.
This is the precarious point in a relationship. For a relationship to last, both individuals must be committed to developing new material and also possess the ability to convincingly laugh at the delivery of each other's old material. Not only is new material important for domestic accord, it is also valuable for entertaining your social audience on your next world tour.
Meeting these requirements for a lasting relationship may seem a difficult task, but luckily for me, I'm married. As a married person, the marriage contract affords me many benefits, not the least of which is its binding nature, which represents an extra prod for my wife to laugh at my jokes. Also luckily for me, she has a good wit of her own, and while I remain the humor-lead, she has been known to write some of my material (and unfortunately upstage me at times).
Tuesday, June 10, 2003
I’ve always believed in the power of suggestion - I just never knew the extent of its power. Sure, I only heard the “Satan is my hairdresser” line until after my youth group leader told me to listen for it while he slowly fingered the Black Sabbath LP backwards across the phonograph needle. And, I’ve definitely had the experience where I’m exposed to a new word, and then I see or hear it everywhere. However, my ponderings on “skullduggery” apparently added some high-octane fuel in the power of suggestion engine. Right after I made a mental note about that word while driving down Highway 1 in Leucadia, I saw a stereotypical Harley-Davidson figure drive by on his signature hog.
Now, I’m not implying that all Harley riders are crafty or deceitful, nor I am suggesting that they all sew skull and crossbones on the back of their tasseled, leather jackets. For if that were the case, this particular event would not be worth mentioning at all. In fact, their presence is quite common on this popular and eclectic stretch of California coastline. What you don’t often see is a Harley rider with a pint-sized, skeletal companion on back sporting the typical leather garb - but without any skin. Then again, the grim figure appeared to be having so much fun, I’m now surprised that you don’t see it more often.
So I began to wonder it my musing on skullduggery had conjured up this Harley-riding, skeleton puppet beaming back at me with a disturbing, yet toothsome smile. Before I had too much time to consider this fact, I was passed by a large, high-riding black truck with a pair of skull and crossbones emblazoned across the tailgate. Whether the owner of the truck was just extremely patriotic or merely thought our national symbol helped soften the effects of the Jolly Roger imagery, I cannot tell, but nonetheless the truck also featured four American flags waving rapidly from the windows and truck bed. Once again, this is not a scene one often encounters, and the timing was impeccable.
Due to these odd events, I began to consider that the power of suggestion goes beyond an increased exposure to a particular word or phrase – it has the ability to shape individual destinies. In my case, it made a Harley rider with a puppet fetish and a patriot with a Napoleon complex make an intricate series of decisions that led them across my path. I think altering the life course of these individuals took a lot out of the suggestion deity, as the next day it was back to its tried and true tricks. This time, it was working its magic on my friend A.J., who came across the use of the word “skullduggery” in a daily newsletter he received just hours after reading my post. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I’ll have to track down a black truck and mischievous marionette to be certain.
Thursday, June 05, 2003
Over Memorial Day Weekend, the wife and I packed up the dog and all her amenities (I note the dog's amenities, because they are indeed noteworthy) and headed North.
It was time for the annual Heathcote Hiatus at my wife's parents' five-acre plot in the beautiful hamlet of Nipomo, just south of Pismo Beach. Understanding the significance of traveling via motor car on a holiday weekend (especially when L.A. stands before you and your destination), we made sure we were prepared for a 4.5 hour trip that could easily turn into 6 of 7. Part of that preparation was securing some books on tape* from the local library.
One of the selections was The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse. It was a random selection based on compelling marketing copy found on the cover of a 10 audiocassette collection. The carefully crafted words clearly indicated that I had satisfied my search for a light-hearted comedy. Please forgive my ignorance, as I will you if you're also not familiar, but I had no idea that Wodehouse was an extremely famous British author who first penned the character "Jeeves" - whose renown forever pinned that name to the butler profession.
However, the point of this post is not to discuss Wodehouse, but rather the style of speech that his novel characters' employ. For me, a good portion of the comedy comes from the formality, exaggeration and elevated vocabulary inherent in each conversation. I was constantly delighted by the sound of such rarely used words as ensconce, miscreant and skullduggery. Perhaps it's because I'm a writer by profession, but I just love the clever use of words. As I continued to listen, I began to wonder why most Americans seem to use such a limited vocabulary. I've chalked it up to laziness over ignorance, but I leave it up for discussion.
Soon, I began to become inspired to use more colorful language in my own everyday speech. However, as I thought about it more, I feared that people would consider me very odd, pompous or gay. The former and latter I could deal with - as it certainly wouldn't be the first time - but I don't want to come across as pompous. So, for the meantime, I am going to seek out more Wodehouse novels (he's an author of nearly 100) for my private amusement and perhaps slowly edge myself further into the deep end of the vocabulary pool.
*The subject of cassette tapes will be explored in a future post.
Wednesday, June 04, 2003
I'm currently perfecting the art of procrastination. I think I'm pretty good, but I know I could be better if I would just devote the time to it. I believe I have some real raw talent that just needs to be cultivated. I imagine the possibilities.
Of course, my mother said I had raw talent for playing the guitar, but I stopped practicing after a couple of years and now can barely remember a tune. To my credit, that was about 15 years ago.
This personal anecdote doesn't give me much hope for my mastering procrastination, but maybe that's a good thing.
Sometimes it's important to try new things, set new priorities, venture outside of outside of the box thinking.
That is why I have come up with the novel idea of posting some of my daily musings. I have a feeling that this kind of Internet-based journaling will really catch on one day - but, in the meantime, I'm happy to be an innovator. So, here goes...
OK, I'm drawing a blank. The pressure. Being clever on demand is more difficult than I anticipated. Must not force it. Must let inspiration strike.