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The Connections I’m Not Calling

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Department Of Random Ideas Which If Implemented By The Right People
Could Turn Out To Be A Groovy Thing

Calling all the Music Industry Connections I have:  [1] please do pass along the following suggestion to Ms. Bonnie Raitt.

Background: I’ve always loved the music of the Lynyrd Skynyrd song Free Bird, even as I’ve found the lyrics to be annoying (as in, whiney).  [2]   In a Flash of Insight ® …

 

 

insight

Yeah, kinda like this.

 

 

 

 

I had this week (while guess what song was playing on the radio?), I realized how the song could be redeemed, for moiself:  if Bonnie Raitt did a cover of it.

Ms. Raitt, are you listening? If so, please give us music-living mere mortals something to talk about  (sorry) and work your magic. Couldya wouldya, please oh please or please?

Or if not, could you please find an excuse to get Dennis Quaid out of his sly sexy devil semi-retirement and the two of you could do another flirty, Thing Called Love-ish video?

 

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Damage To Our Selves, Our International Reputation,
Our Environment And Civil Rights And Women’s Rights
And Basic Human Decency 
Is Almost Worth It…

…to hear an actual patriot/worthwhile human being, in this case Senator Tammy Duckworth   [3], have the opportunity to respond to The Cheetos Hitler’s treacherous oral spew. Here, in a series of tweets, Sen. Duckworth drops the mic on #45’s latest:  [4]

We don’t live in a dictatorship or a monarchy. I swore an oath—in the military and in the Senate—to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not to mindlessly cater to the whims of Cadet Bone Spurs and clap when he demands I clap.

Thankfully, there are better quotes from better Republican Presidents. Here’s one from Theodore Roosevelt—a Republican who earned the applause he received—that Trump might want to consider:

 

 

bonespurjpg

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of On Second Thought

Hyperbole, schmerbole – I realize that nothing is worth the damage to ourselves, our international reputation, our environment and civil rights and women’s rights and basic human decency and and and and and and…

and I apologize for, in a moment of trying to find the silver lining in the megaton dumpster of shit coming out of the White House, implying that the relentless opportunities for mockery provided by Cadet Bone Spurs is almost worth…anything.

 

 

 

picard

*   *   *

Department Of Well That’s Enough About That   [5]

Ever seen something so cute you just wanted to puke a stream of 100% proof  [6]  blood sugar?

Dateline: earlier this week, in a Trader Joe’s . I’m pushing my cart down the aisle when I hear a little girl’s yelp of delight.  The high-pitched voice belonged to a half-pint-sized dynamo who raced around the corner of the aisle to stand in front of, and point at, a shelf with various apple- and fruit sauce mixtures. She looked over her shoulder, toward (what I presumed, and later confirmed) her mother’s shopping cart, the edge of which I could just make out jutting from another (intersecting) aisle. The pitch of the girl’s voice and size of her body made me think like she couldn’t have been more than three years old, but what came out of her mouth was beyond precocious.

“I think we should get this one!” The girl jabbed her finger upward, indicating a jar of apple-carrot sauce mixture, and her tone changed from excited to reassuring. “Now, I’m not saying I don’t like the other one,” she pointed to the regular, apples-only applesauce, “but I think this one would be much healthier, Mom.”

 

 

slothpeekaboo

I don’t have a picture of the girl, but she was about this cute.

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Movies I’m Not Critiquing

Except of course, when I am.

I saw a multiplex extra jumbo popcorn-sized jug full of good films this past year. Thus, it’s going to be difficult for me to root for my favorites when it comes to Academy Awards time.

As always, I am trying to see all (or as many as I can) of the films which have been nominated in the “big” categories (Best: Picture, Director, Lead and Supporting Acting, screenplay original and adapted).  Once again, it is likely moiself will fail in that endeavor, but I think this year I’ll come close to seeing most of them.

The favorites I’ve seen in the past ~ 14 months include:

– The Shape of Water
– Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
– Wind River
– Lady Bird
– Get Out
– The Big Sick
– The Post
– I, Tonya
– Wonder Woman
– Battle of the Sexes
– Hidden Figures
– The Disaster Artist
– Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 

 

andtheoscar

 

 

 

Here’s how my list compares with the Oscar Best Picture nominees, which are:

Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape Of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

I have yet to See Call Me By Your Name or Darkest Hour, but plan on seeing both movies. I saw Dunkirk and Phantom Thread, but they did not make my list of favorites. (I wish one of the two war flicks [Dunkirk or Darkest Hour] and Phantom Thread could trade award consideration places with Wind River and/or The Big Sick).

Right now, my choice of best picture is between about five of the films up for the Oscar.  I could force myself to narrow it down to two choices, each of which is representative of the two classifications into which I can sort almost any movie I deem worthy of seeing:

(1) that which portrays an alternative and yet somehow believable or at least captivating reality (as in, The Shape of Water);

(2) that which presents a reflection of reality which, while fictional, is remarkable and poignant in both its narrative and character development/believability (as in, Lady Bird).

 

 

windriverjpg

 

 

 

 

Movie buddy and dear friend CC and I have often discussed how our judgment of the movies we like are based on not so much the immediate reactions, but those which stick with us – the movies that have you going over and defining to yourself, for days or even weeks afterward, what you saw and how you felt, as well as what you think the movie’s creators were trying to get you to see and/or feel. (Wind River, Three Billboards… and The Big Sick, for example).

The small moments of character revelation, the big u-turn in plot, all the elements which cause you to turn to the side, locking eyes or exchanging a knowing nod (or an eyebrow raising WTF?!?!?) – yes, even in the dark, with your friend or family member, or a total stranger….

Have more fun this year. See more movies. Get out of your house and off of your couch and mingle with your fellow bipeds, even if just for a couple of hours.

Yep, this is an unabashed promotion for the theater-going experience.  [7] A tragedy is more keenly felt, a documentary is more riveting, a comedy is funnier, when you’re gasping or laughing (or crying) with company. Two thumbs up for sitting with strangers in the dark.

 

 

 

theatre

Strangers…or maybe friends you haven’t met yet.

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Things I Want To Know Before I Die,
But I Don’t Want To Find Out And Then Die, Like, Right Away

Can anyone tell me what exactly is the pompatus of love.

I refer to the song lyric, and not the movie with the same idiotic title.

Every once in a while I think about things like this.  [8]   Not that I want to take all the mystery of life….

 

*   *   *

 

 

 

 

 

May you avoid puking (anything, for any reason) in the aisles of Trader Joes;
May the pompatus of love warm the cockles of your heart;
May you bond, however temporarily, with strangers in the dark, over a good movie;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] How many ways can you spell none?

[2] Dude, grow up and change, if your lack of it is causing you problems, or if it’s fine then just stop complaining about how you can’t – what are you, five years old?

[3] She of multiple honorable identities, including military veteran and helicopter pilot (who lost both legs in combat); first Asian American elected to Congress in Illinois and first disabled woman elected to Congress.

[4] This time, calling those who did not applaud during his self-congratulatory deluded ramblings State of the Union speech “treasonous.”

[5] Which was my father’s go to phrase when you were getting into conversational territory in which he didn’t want to tread…even when such territory was entered, honestly and directly, in response to a question he had asked you.

[6] Or however the stuff is measured.

[7] Although I’m talkin’ movies here, this includes live theatre – plays and musicals – of which I am also a big fan.

[8] Usually when moiself is trying to avoid thinking about something more consequential.

The S*** I’m Not Explaining

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trueamerican

 

Unlike every other developed country on earth (those with very high human development on the Human Development index) the United States of America does not have Universal HealthCare.
(The U.S. is the Only Very Highly Developed Country Without Universal HealthCare, fact.myth.com

So, what the fuck is wrong with this country, you ask,  [1]  that we, unlike the other “first world” nations, cannot come up with/agree on a way to provide health care for all of our citizens?  I frequently come across this question, and sympathize with the viewpoint behind the rhetorical query/statement, even as it makes me just…tired…to consider the issue.  I also understand the criticisms and concerns regarding “nationalized” or one payer system, even as I’ve come to consider them rather immature and uninformed. Yes, Virginia, we all realize that any form of health care will not be perfect – it involves human beings, and health and behavior and organizations – nor without bureaucratic entanglements and fraud (like that *never* happens now ).

 

 

DUH

 

 

Still, I still have to wonder at…well…at those who continue to wonder anew and again and again re why we don’t do this.

Look at our federal budget, vs. those of those other countries whose universal health care systems you cite.  [2]  One of  The Mandarin Mussolini’s #45’s favorite non-shithole countries, Norway, whose health system is ranked one of the top in the world, typically spends from 1.4 to 2.1 % of its GDP on its military, while we….

 

 

usbudget

 

Any questions?

We police the effin’ world – that’s one of the biggest reasons why we (think we) can’t afford to pay for health care for all of our citizens. And some of the same, well-meaning people who ask why we don’t spend $$ on providing health care for all are the same, well-meaning people who, when there is suspected or evident ethnic cleansing/genocide and other human rights abuses in the latest formerYuglocentralslavianmiddleEastdumbfuckistanAmerianSubSaharan dictatorship, insist that we must go in and stop it – that we have a moral obligation as leaders of the free world to get involved in yet another country’s religious/civil war quagmire helping those who are being oppressed….

 

*   *   *

Department Of A Rose By Any Other Name

Last weekend MH and I stopped at our favorite grocery store, where a Perky Young Wine Rep ®  was offering tastes of several varietals from a local winery. Funny, how my grocery cart always seems to make its way to the wine sampling table.

Due to its label, a certain Pinot Noir caught my eye (and later, my taste buds). Although the name on the label turned out to be a tribute as to how this particular vintage was produced, I took the opportunity to tease PYWR that, although I assumed she had nothing to do with the wine’s name, she might want to tell her bosses that the more politically correct term should be Tenant Farmer, and not Sharecropper, as the latter is considered pejorative by those coming from a sharecropper background.  [3]

So I am hearing, replied the PYWR. She both grinned and grimaced as she went on to say that I wasn’t the first person that day to tell her that.

The wine is delightful and fruity (and I actually like the label).  I wish I could raise a glass with, and speak the favorite toast of, my son of a sharecropper tenant farmer father:

These are the good times.

 

 

 

sharewine

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Different Points Of View

Last Sunday afternoon MH and I saw The Book of Mormon in Portland, which meant that last Sunday eve we were discussing the musical over dinner with son K and friend LAH.  It soon became obvious that I liked TBOM much more than did MH.

When LAH asked for our differing views, I said that I simply found TBOM (which has been described as “pushing Broadway to new levels of obscenity, blasphemy and outrageousness”) highly entertaining.  Despite understanding and appreciating satire and dark humor (as I must point out in his defense), MH thought the play “glorified violence” (Uh, remember, the people who wrote this are the people who created South Park, said moiself), among other annoyances (Yo, uh, the South Park. people…again).

But what really offended (Hello, remember, South Park?) MH was (SPOILER ALERT ) what he saw as the play’s “happy ending,” which he took as the promotion of the idea that facts and reality aren’t really important. In his opinion, the play’s point of view was that it doesn’t matter what made-up crazy stuff you believe. Just pick one – whether it’s the Book of Mormon or The Book of Arnold, and you’ll be happy.

 

 

peanuts

Sorry, even if a nice guy said it, that still doesn’t make it true.

 

 

 

Moiself disagreed with MH’s interpretation, which prompted MH to ask what point of view *I* thought the musical was presenting…which got me to thinking about my initial, brief assessment. I wasn’t sure the play had a POV, other than that which the South Fork creators have been presenting for years: that all POVs should be open to analysis – and subject to ridicule – based on content. 

The play uses Mormonism as a template for critiquing religious doctrine and proselytizing – and does so quite brilliantly (although as some have argued that it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, as the LDS  religion’s cup overfloweth onto their temple garments when it comes to providing material for a satire). You gotta love a musical with a song which references how church leaders attempted to solve the LDS god’s…problematic, to say the least… history of race relations (what one twentieth century [!!!!] Mormon apostle called “the Negro matter” ) when it became obvious that the LDS crazyass racist shit doctrine about the Lamanites (aka African Americans and indigenous Americans peoples) would not fly in the modern era.

[ELDER PRICE]
I believe!!! …that Satan has a hold of you
I believe!!! …that the Lord God has sent me here!
And I believe that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people! (Black people!)
You can be a Mormon! A Mormon who just believes…

[GENERAL BUTT-FUCKING NAKED]
(The fuck is this?)

(lyrics from “I Believe,” from The Book of Mormon (musical),
by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone.

 

 

generalBFN

 

 

 

You also gotta love a play with a character named General Butt-Fucking Naked.

And the dancing Starbucks cups in the Spooky Mormon Hell Dream musical number? Totally worth the price of admission.

Making fun of politics and American culture and religion is the South Park creators’ forte. Although they chose Mormonism for their musical they could have just as easily chosen to riff on Scientology or Southern Baptists.  I’d love to see how they’d deal with Catholicism…although, upon second thought, the resulting chorus line numbers featuring high-kicking pedophile priests might get a bit icky

Once again, I digress.

Although TBOM pokes fun at a conservative religion in particular I was glad to see it get in several shots at how contemporary, liberal religious believers – otherwise modern and intelligent people – justify still giving credence to their Iron Age Scriptures. How do believers work around the astounding misogyny, ignorance, brutality, violence, racism and just plain what-the-fuck-isms found in their holy books? They say (in their best, sweet but patronizing tone of voice), “Oh, that’s silly – of course it isn’t meant to be applied literally – it’s all _____ (symbolic; imagery; an allegory; metaphorical – insert your weasel word of choice)…

 “Salt Lake City isn’t an actual place. It’s an idea, a metaphor.”

…despite the fact that nowhere in their religions’ scriptures is it written that the prescriptions and proscriptions contained within them are only to be taken metaphorically, and despite the fact that their religions’ forbears took those scriptures/practiced those religions literally, as their knew scriptures commanded, for hundreds and even thousands of years.

I can understand MH’s take-away (and I’m sure he’s not the only one who found the play’s ending unsatisfying), but I did not think for a moment that the play advocated for believing mythology over embracing reality, nor did it promote the idea that faith, no matter what you place it in, overcomes all obstacles. After all, remember the play’s last line (another spoiler alert)?    [4]

 

*   *   *

Department Of One More Shot Before I Move On

 

explain this shit

 

 

I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today…. The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised. In this picture of the twenty Lamanite missionaries, fifteen of the twenty were as light as Anglos, five were darker but equally delightsome. The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation. At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter we represent, the little member girl—sixteen—sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents—on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather…. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated.

(Mormon Apostle Spencer W. Kimball, speaking at a 1960 LDS Church General Conference, suggesting that the “Lamanites” [Native Americans] would go back to a lighter skin tone upon being placed in Mormon homes and accepting the Mormon gospel.  As reported in Conference Report, October 1960; Improvement Era [an official magazine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints between 1897 and 1970], December 1960, pp. 922–23.)

 

 

 

can you hear yourself when you speak

Can you hear yourself when you speak?

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Random Things I’ve Always Wanted To Say To A Canadian

 

“So, what’s with Manitoba?”

 

canuck

Am I supposed to take that question literally, or is it a metaphor?

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of One More Thing About Literalism Vs Metaphor

Reason #459 why I’m on a sabbatical from writing fiction:  I’ve known for years that whatever I make up simply cannot compete with the images available from reality, as per one of my favorite newspaper headlines from a few years back:

Teen high on LSD starts fight with a mailbox

 

 

*   *   *

May you take Broadway musicals literally and all else with 5 billion grains of salt;
May you be able to enjoy a toast with your father, whether in person or in memory;
May you say random (but nice) things to a Canadian;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] And really, could you ask without the profanity?

[2] Actually, you could compare our budget with that of any country in the world, to see the skew.

[3] My father, gently but consistently, corrected me whenever he heard me referring to his family as sharecroppers.

[4] “I STILL have maggots in my scrotum!”

The Heritage I’m Not Claiming

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I’d given up on attending Christmas-themed theatrical performances – at least, the ones which (theoretically) are comedies. The disaster that was A Tuna Christmas has become legend in my family. Several years ago MH got our family tickets for a Portland performance of the play, at my request, as a family outing for my birthday. When intermission was announced and everyone in the theatre stood up to stretch their legs and find the bathroom, I turned to son K, who was standing beside me, and asked, “Would you be disappointed if we left now?”

Oh, Mom, K gushed, hugging me so hard I almost toppled out of the balcony, “I’m so glad you feel that way!” His enthusiasm quickly spread to daughter Belle and MH, who, as it turned out, were all equally unimpressed with the play. We’d each been sitting there, thinking the same thing (this play sucks), each of us thinking we were the only one who felt that way….

There are few worse forms of entertainment than unfunny comedies, especially those that present themselves as satire and/or farces. The series of Greater Tuna plays – set in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas and described as satirical yet affectionate take-offs on small-town, Southern life and attitudes – are, IMHO, a prime example of that phenomenon.

I suppose…I can maybe imagine…how, in the early 1980s, the sight of two gay men portraying a play’s twenty-plus cast members, including elderly female characters, was considered to be thigh-slappin,’ boot-stompin’, side-splittin’ hi-larious. For some folks. [1]

Moiself? I found it dated, and, worst of all – take it away, Joanne Worley – 

 

 

joanne

BOOOOOORRRRRRING!

 

 

Last Sunday I decided to give the Christmas Comedy one more try, thanks to local theatre company Bag & Baggage.  Because nothing says holiday spirit like the description of their one time cabaret event, Drunk as the Dickens:

Five of our Resident Actors will start drinking at 5:00pm. We will pull as many vaguely Victorian costumes as our drunken hands can carry, and then head over to Clark’s Bistro and Pub where, at 8:00pm, we will make them pull their characters from out of Scrooge’s nightcap, hand them a 1 hour(ish) version of A Christmas Carol and see if any of them can read while hammered. What could possibly go wrong?

*   *   *

Speaking of Christmas….

 

Annual Holiday History Lecture Reminder To The War On Christmas Imbeciles Bunch

 

 

heathen

 

The more fundamentalist the believer, the more ignorant they seem to be re a fundamental truth behind their religious observances: “Christian” holidays, in particular the biggies (Christmas and Easter), began as pagan festivals. Christmas belongs to and was in fact originated by pagans. Christians just changed your own history and renamed the festivities. However, in the true spirit of generosity, we heathens are happy to share the jolly season with one and all. As per these self-plagiarisms excerpts from my previous blogs:

  The Reverend Increase Mather of Boston observed in 1687 that “the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones.”  [2]  Because of its known pagan origin, Christmas was banned by the Puritans, and its observance was illegal in Massachusetts until 1681.  [3]

 

pagan-idol

“Do you celebrate Christmas?”

Heretics/apostates non-Christians We happy heathens often hear this question at this time of year.  The inquiry is sometimes presented in ways that imply our celebration (or even acknowledgement) of Christmas is hypocritical.  This implication is the epitome of cheek, when you consider the fact that it is the early Christians who stole a festival from our humanist (pagan) forebears, and not the other way around.

 

 

santa

 

 

Who doesn’t like a party/celebration, for any reason? We who are religion-free don’t mind sharing seasonal celebrations with any religious folk – sans the superstition and government/church mumbo-jumbo — as long as they acknowledge the fact that the ways we celebrate this “festive season” predate Christianity by hundreds of years.

The fir boughs and wreaths, the Yule log, plum pudding, gift exchanges, the feasting, the holly and the ivy and the evergreen tree….It is hard to think of a “Christmas tradition” that does not originate from Teutonic (German),Viking, Celtic and Druid paganism. [4]  A celebration in the depths of winter, at the time when, to those living in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun appears to stop its southerly descent before gradually ascending north, is a natural instinct. For thousands of years our Northern Hemisphere ancestors greeted the “reason for the season” – the winter solstice – with festivals of light and gift exchanges and parties.  The Winter Solstice was noted and celebrated long before the Roman Jesus groupies pinched the party.

 But, isn’t “Jesus is the reason for the season?

The reason for the season?  Cool story, bro.  Since you asked, actually, axial tilt is the reason for the season.  For all of the seasons.

 

winter_solstice_diagram

 

 

Our names for the days of the week come from religions predating Christianity. The Greeks named the days week after the sun, the moon and the five (at the time) known planets which they’d named after their gods… then the Romans substituted their equivalent gods, followed by the Germanic, Norse and Celtic peoples. For example, Thursday comes from Thor’s-day, Friday from variants on Frigg’s and Freya’s Day, Saturday from Saturn’s Day….

The god Woden is the reason the middle of the week is named Wednesday.  [5]  My calling that day Wednesday doesn’t mean I celebrate, worship, or “believe in” Woden.  I don’t insist on renaming either Christmas, or Wednesday.

 

 

 

woden

“Go smite the sheisskopf who took the Woden out of Woden’s Day!”

 

 

 

The Winter Solstice is the day with the shortest amount of sunlight, and the longest night. In the northern hemisphere it falls on what we now mark as December 21 or 22.  However, it took place on December 25th at the time when the Julian calendar was used.   [6]   The early Romans celebrated the Saturnalia on the Solstice, holding days of feasting and gift exchanges in honor of their god Saturn. (Other deities whose birthdays were celebrated on or around December 25 included HorisHuitzilopochtliIsisMithrasMardukOsirisSerapis and Sol.)   [7] 

When the Roman Catholics came to power and spread north from Rome, they encountered pagan practices that had gone on for thousands of years before the Popes decided to claim divine authority and subdue the illiterate masses by dressing like the bastard spawn of Elton John and Lady Gaga.

 

gaga

 

 

The Celebration of the Saturnalia was too popular with the pagans for the new Christian church to outlaw it, so the new church renamed the day and reassigned meanings to the traditions.   [8] Rather than try to banish native customs and beliefs, missionaries were directed to assimilate them. You find a group of people decorating and/or worshiping a tree? Don’t chop it down or burn it; rather, bless it in the name of the (Christian) church. Allow its continued worship, only tell the people that instead of celebrating the return of the sun-god in the spring, they are now worshiping the rising from the dead of the son-of-god.

In other words, why are some folk concerned with keeping “the Christ in Christmas”  [9] when we should be keeping the Saturn in Saturnalia?

 

saturnalia

 

 

*   *   *

 

Department Of Is She Or Isn’t She

I’ve lost track of the number of times it’s happened to me. In a lecture hall at college; in a restaurant; while riding public transportation; with fellow travelers in a rowboat on Lake Bled in Slovenia….

It’s a combination of my reminding people of someone else, and/or my saying or doing something that makes people suspect (or even hope) that I might be one of their clan.

Are you Jewish? You’re Jewish – right?

It (the questioned ethnicity/group of origin in question) is almost always not the case, and I can’t help but be fascinated by why it matters to the person asking. The default explanation presented to me (by someone who once asked) is that if you are in the minority, in any way or group, you tend to notice [10] who might be one of your kind, so to speak.

Hands down, the majority of identity inquiries I’ve received have been about my being a member of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s Chosen People. But not exclusively. Other Are you _______?s have included gay/lesbian, Russian, Native American and – one of my favorites – Australian (hello?  Aussie accent, like, nonexistent?).

 

 

 

gday

We don’t claim her, mate, now G’day and bugger off.

 

 

 

Most recently it happened at a seafood bistro, during last week’s sabbatical-of-sorts trip to the Oregon Coast.  It was a slow evening for the restaurant, and my waiter and I had established a chatty rapport.  Near the end of my meal, before he frightened me with the dessert tray,  [11]  and seemingly apropos of nothing, the waiter asked if I or any members of my family were French Canadian, or Cajun?

I told him that, to my DNA analysis-deficient knowledge, the only thing French about me was the attempt by certain relatives on my father’s side of the family to downplay their indigenous heritage (this was back when it wasn’t considered “cool” for white folks to claim Native American ancestry) by reassuring my maternal grandmother than the purported Chickasaw/Cherokee woman who’d married a Parnell man was “maybe just French.”

The waiter chuckled; I asked him why he wondered about my heritage. He replied that, physically and mannerisms-wise, I reminded him of several relatives on his mother’s side of the family, and also, specifically, his mother.

The waiter was at least my age (several years older, I’d bet).  Nevertheless, I told him I would take that as a compliment, and he left verbal skidmarks assuring me that, indeed, that is what the similarity was supposed to be.

I did not order dessert, but left a good tip. Monetarily ,that is. I refrained from leaving him another good tip: never tell a woman who is older than twenty that she reminds you of your mother.

 

*   *   *

May you never be forced to endure a humor-free comedy;
May you acknowledge the old traditions before creating your own;
May whatever tribes or traditions you claim bemuse the hell out of someone;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

Happy Saturnalia and Solstice and Yule and Merry Christmas and Boxing Day and Hanukkah and Kwaanza and Festivus and….

*   *   *

 

 

[1] Like, say, your mildly homophobic grandparents.

[2] Increase Mather, A Testimony against Several Prophane and Superstitious Customs, Now Practiced by Some in New England (London, 1687).  See also Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday, New York: Vintage Books, 1997.

[3] Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday.

[4] “Learn not the way of the heathen…their customs are vain, for one cuts a tree out of the forest…they deck it with silver and gold…” Jeremiah 10:2-5

[5] Wednesday comes from the Old English Wōdnesdæg, the day of the Germanic god Wodan (aka Odin, highest god in Norse mythology and a big cheese god of the Anglo-Saxons until the seventh century.

[6] The Julian calendar, adopted by Julius Caesar ~ 46 B.C.E., was off by 11 min/year, and when the Gregorian calendar was established by Pope – wait for it – Gregory,  the solstice was established on 12/22.

[7] The Winter Solstice and the Origins of Christmas, Lee Carter.

[8] In 601 A.D., Pope Gregory I issued a now famous edict to his missionaries regarding wooing potential converts: don’t banish peoples’ customs, incorporate them. If the locals venerate a tree, don’t cut it down; rather, consecrate the tree to JC and allow its continued worship.

[9] And nothing in the various conflicting biblical references to the birth of JC has the nativity occurring in wintertime.

[10] And in some cases/in some situations, it can be life-preserving to keep track of such things.

[11] Really, out of nowhere a ginormous dessert tray appeared by my side, and my being startled by it greatly amused my waiter.

The Gifts I’m Not Authenticating

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Department Of Almost Feeling Guilty

Imagine the conundrum for a socially conscious political cartoonist, comedy writer and/or comedian: As a good citizen you want the electorate to make rational, informed choices; you want your fellow voters to consider the issues at stake when weighing a candidate’s qualifications for elected office and not be swayed or misled by hyperbole and fear. On the other hand, [1] you can’t help but savor the guilty pleasure arising from your knowledge of the inverse proportion between the level-headedness of a presidential candidate and the resulting opportunities to ply your trade.

I refer of course to the embarrassment of satirical riches – the material for monologues, jokes, cartoons, videos, memes, animated GIFs, you name it – to be found re the current primary season. Oy vey, what a dilemma. You of course want the best for your nation, but for your profession, the more Dan Quayles, [2] Sarah Palins, Ted Cruzs, the better.

And I will gladly suffer the WTF?!?!? barbs from people residing in the rest of the civilized world (What is wrong with your country, that such people can even be considered for president?!), as long as those people keep supplying us with gems like the following:

 

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Last Saturday MH and I attended NARAL-Pro Choice Oregon ‘s annual dinner buffet/auction benefit in Portland. Since we had tickets to a theatre matinee (also in Portland) the following afternoon, we decided to book a hotel room and make a night of it. The benefit was entertaining, the buffet items tasty, and it was even fun to force myself to get dressed in something other than a tie dye shirt and yoga pants. Also, the people-watching opportunities were prime – you couldn’t spit without hitting a local or state politician (and believe me, I did try). During the auction, MH and I mused about one day being able to bid on the high end items, once we stop our “bidding” on college tuition.

On the way from our hotel to the benefit we had a little time to kill, which we did by watching A Guy On A Horse [3] Ride Up And Down The Steps Of Pioneer Square © . Because, Portland.

 

horse

 

After the event wound down we cruised downtown Portland, taking in the street sights and allowing ourselves to feel superior to the line of tourists outside Voodoo Donuts. Feeling in the mood for something else, [4] we stopped in at a Portland institution, Huber’s Cafe .

This was our first visit to Huber’s. Fortunately for us newbies, the people sitting at a nearby table ordered the café’s signature drink, a Spanish Coffee, which, the café boasts in the culinary understatement of the year, is “flamed tableside with great flair.”

The bartender approached the table with his tray of accouterments. He managed to hold three stemmed goblets between the fingers of his left hand – I was impressed, even before the swirling of liquids and the flaming began – and undulated his left arm as if….

Okay: picture a dude in a tuxedo working on mixing a multi-layered cocktail and then setting it aflame while riding a roller coaster. I don’t even like Spanish Coffee, but I am definitely going back to Huber’s to order one before I die.

The timing must be right, of course. I don’t want to order a Spanish Coffee, and then die.

 

 

 Only two goblets? Amateur.

Only two goblets? Amateur.

 

 

*   *   *

Department of Belated Holiday Pathos

 

This week I’ve been feeling a little bluesy.

 

 

Like this?

Like this?

 

 

No, not in a Bessie Smith bluesy way. More like in the reflecting upon the passage of time, How Did It Get To Be March Already, way – a way that, for some reason, made me think about how and why our post-Christmas cleanup gets easier each year. Now that our offspring are Young Adults ®, there is less gift flotsam there is for MH and I to deal with.

When K and Belle were kidlets, there were many, many, many – and did I mention many? – years where it took us up to four weeks post-Christmas to find enough room in the garbage can for all of the non-recyclable packaging materials which were indigenous to gifts that came from A Certain Side of The Family.

Read: my side. Specifically, my mother. [5]  Mom was abetted in her trashing of the planet abundantly swathed present-bestowing by the good folks at Lillian Vernon. Are you familiar with that catalog company? If so, you have my sympathy.

 

LillianV

 

My mother discovered the Lillian Vernon catalog (too) many years ago. Once she did, there was no turning back for her. The catalog became her go-to source for gifts for her grandchildren, and a more wasteful source I’ve yet to encounter. Why a four inch tin-plated Model T replica needs to be encased in enough Styrofoam insulate an entire Uzbekistan village is a mystery to me…but that, apparently, is the shipping policy at Lillian Vernon.

The excessive packaging of the gifts was one thing. The gifts themselves, ay yi yi. All made in China, of substandard construction [6] –– and almost all items but clothing are accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity.

 

This is an authentic piece of crap, guaranteed.

This  crap is authentic, guaranteed.

 

 

Most bewildering of all was how inappropriate the gifts were. Not inappropriate as in giving a life-size Uzi replica to a five year old; rather, inappropriate in that the gifts had no relation to what K and Belle actually wanted.

I’ll never forget K’s reaction the year he opened his present from Grandma M, dug through the layers of packaging and…oh, um….yeah…a set of miniature antique automobile replicas? Perhaps for some child somewhere, that would have been a welcome present. K had no interest in “antique replicas” (even those that came with certificates of authenticity).  Thus K, along with his sister, got an early introduction to practicing the art of Present Face.

 

 

 

It was (kinda sorta) terrible to laugh at the gifts, but we did – after I gave K & Belle the usual parental reassuring (Grandma means well). Year after year, my mom gave her grandchildren stuff they neither wanted or needed.  I tried to figure it out, thinking aloud to MH one Christmas, after K & Belle had opened their respective, bewildering (but authentically certified!) LV boxes: It’s as if my mom is using suggestions based on someone’s idea of gender and age; here are gifts for Boy Child, ages 9-11, and for Girl Child, Ages 5-8….

Which, as I would discover, was exactly what my mother did.

In year three or four of the They Sooooo Do Not Want These Things For Christmas (the year of the antique replica cars) phenomenon, I resolved to find out what was going on. I tried to be gentle during my Christmas Day phone call to my parents – I tried to tease out what made them think K would be interested in a set of Ford Model A and T cars? I could have used a verbal sledgehammer, for all of my mother’s obliviousness. [7]

I do all my Christmas and birthday shopping from the catalog, my mother explained. (actually, it was more like bragging than explaining). I have all the categories covered – they list them for girls and boys, of any age. When it’s time for a Christmas or birthday I go to the boxes in the garage or under my bed and pick one out!

Hmmm…yeah. Say, Mom, for next year, how about if you ask K and Belle what they’d like? Or they could send you a gift list, like you used to have me write up for my birthday and Christmas. K really likes to draw – there’s an artist’s pencil set he’s interested in, and Belle loves Legos and….

That’s okay, I already have next year’s Christmas presents picked out!  Birthdays, too! I keep them all in a big stash under the bed. K’s and Belle’s birthday presents are ready to go – it’s so convenient. Oh, here’s Dad….

I was more direct with my father: “This is difficult to say…I want my kids to be grateful for any gift, but Dad, it’s like the presents are from a stranger who doesn’t know them. It’s nothing they are interested in. Why doesn’t Mom ask them what they’d like? They’d love to tell her.” He just didn’t hear me (Well, that’s how she likes to do it.) and changed the subject.

Later that day I sought email counsel from my older and younger sisters. It wasn’t just my family’s dilemma – they’d both dealt with the LV catalog gift gifting issue, and had tried everything from dropping hints to being directly confrontational.  Their advice: Sorry, but that’s the way it is. Learn to live with it.

 

 

sad

 

MH and I raised K and Belle to look at gifts as just that – gifts, not entitlements. We encouraged them to find something about which to feel grateful for any present they received; we advised them to never expect nor request presents, but to be gracious and specific when asked by someone what you’d like.

My parents never asked. [8]

K and Belle dutifully wrote their thank you notes to Grandpa Chet and Grandma M. After year two of getting presents they didn’t want, it became somewhat of a silly family ritual: on Christmas morning, along with our gift-opening accouterments we also set out a direct-to-Goodwill bag for the Lillian Vernon haul, and there was a special ceremonial flourish when a Certificate of Authenticity assumed its rightful place in the paper recycling bin.

Along with the droll (okay, snarky) comments and laughter which became a part of our gift-opening, there were genuine hurt feelings, for both me and my children. It sliced at my heart the first time K and Belle looked at me with sad-round eyes and said, Why don’t they ask me what I want?

It was so effin’ impersonal; it showed no interest in them as individuals. My mother took pride in being done with her present shopping months (even years) in advance…and took no interest in finding out what her grandchildren actually wanted. You can learn a lot about children by asking them what they’d like for a present – it can be a segue into finding out about their hobbies and interests and talents, about finding out who they are and what they like to do.

Instead, it was This Christmas Belle gets something from the Girl Toys Ages 6-9 bag under Grandma M’s bed.  My mother even mixed up the presents one year: K got a gift that was meant for his cousin. The gift tag read, “To X, Love Grandma M” (cousin X, my younger sister’s second son, was the same age as K)!

At my suggestion and with my father’s encouragement, my parents switched to giving checks to their grandchildren a few years back, a practice my mother continued after my father died. Now, the LV catalog present years are the stuff of family lore. Then, it was Yet Another Life Lesson for my children (and their parents) in tolerance, acceptance, and loving people as they are, warts/quirks and all. Looking back, a part of me is even grateful for the experience, which provided us with one of our favorite family code phrases:

Belle: What do you know about that new cafe downtown?
Moiself: I haven’t heard much about them, only that each menu item comes with a Certificate of Authenticity.
Belle: Whoa, thanks for the warning.

ohno

*   *   *

May all of your gifts be authentic;
May your foo-foo cocktails be flaming,
And may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

[1] You have other fingers. No, that never gets old (for me).

[2] I remember reading an interview with a joke writer who worked for a late night comedy show – it may have been The Tonight Show during Carson’s reign – who said that during the Dan Quayle years “…sometimes the monologues just write themselves.”

[3] This was not a mounted patrol officer. Just some random guy with his cool as a cucumber horse.

[4] Which, in my case, translated into onion rings, sautéed mushrooms and a glass of Pinot Gris.

[5] Content reassurance: my mother is alive, albeit in poor physical and mental health. We speak at least once a week; she doesn’t remember our phone conversation from the previous week (nor often what I said five minutes ago). She is a shut in, in her own home, with 24/7 care by patient and loving attendants. She has no access to the internet, doesn’t read my blog, doesn’t know I write a blog, doesn’t know what a blog is….

[6] I was going to write shoddily manufactured…there’s just no nice way to put it. That shit was cheaply made.

[7] And it was my mother’s doing. As was common to many men of his generation, my father gladly ceded the birthday and holiday gift-choosing tasks to his wife.

[8] MH’s usually did.

The Lab Specimens I’m Not Sniffing

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Department of Big Surprises

Son K is enjoying his job as a research assistant for a medical diagnostics company, and I love to hear his stories about his tasks. Recently he was preparing lab specimens used to cultivate proteins. Specifically, he was working with  e. coil bacteria. Dare you guess how descriptive K was when trying to convey to MH and I what the lab samples smelled like?

 

bad smell

 

*   *   *

And now, a related breaking (sorry) news story, which I shall classify under

Department of Tempting Fate

From The Looks Of Things © , I am probably the youngest student in my Tai Chi-Qigong class.  And from the sounds of things, I am also the only student who has not (yet) inadvertently let one slip – if you know what I mean and I think you do – during one of  the class’s twisting routines.

 

qifart

*   *   *

By Grabthar’s Hammer…

…this is one actor I am really going to miss.

Alan Rickman played an amazing range of characters over the years. Praised for his performances across the board in the theatre and television, he was most widely known for his movie roles. He was perfectly cast to play the complexly nuanced, ostensible-villain-turned-heart-rending-hero, Severus Snape, [1] and probably most widely known for turning what could have been just another wise-cracking action film (Die Hard) into Something Truly Memorable, with his performance as arguably the greatest bad guy of all time, German terrorist Hans Gruber.

My favorites of Rickman’s many movie roles included the reticent, infatuated, honorable Colonel Brandon (Sense and Sensibility) and Alexander Dane, the hilariously frustrated classically trained actor fallen on hard times who finds himself stuck repeating a catchphrase from his role in a sci-fi Television franchise he despises (Galaxy Quest).  And I managed to forgive Rickman for so convincingly playing the conflicted husband who broke wife Emma’ Thompson’s heart in Love, Actually. For a real cinematic treat, revel in his “gloriously nasty” portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham, by which Rickman steals Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves right out from under Kevin Costner’s spasmodic British accent.

When I read the news of Rickman’s passing I noted he was the same age as David Bowie. The world lost two truly Great Brits, esteemed and beloved in their respective fields. Thanks and RIP – you guys rock (ed).

Now, if you believe the old husband’s tale that “these things [2] come in threes,” who’d you put $$ on to be the next to go? I hear O.J. Simpson is turning 69 this year….

 

 

*   *   *

Yet Another Reason To Hate/Quit Writing Go On Living

I belong to several professional writers associations. The Authors Guild is the largest, oldest and most influential of the lot, and the one I most admire. As per its mission to “…advocate for authors on issues of copyright, fair contracts…protect authors’ copyrights…establish fair royalty rates for both e-books and print books…” the AG has its work cut out for it, especially in these days of the digital and electronic piracy and royalty grabs changes in publishing.

 

book

 

The AG are the good guys; they fight the right fights. There are so many fronts, so many battles, for authors these days, I truly wish I could – as per the suggestion on the AG’s membership renewal form – add a donation in addition to my dues to further their work.

Except for one pesky detail: I have no spare writing income with which to do so.

The AG has a tiered membership dues structure, based on author members’ annual income from book and magazine writing.  There are four levels: I ($0 – 24,999; II ($25 – $49,999); III ($ 50,000 – 100,000): IV ($ over $100,000), with dues rates increasing with each level.

I am (surprise!) at the lowest level. My writing income-loss sheet [3] has remained the same as last year, and the AG’s Level I dues have jumped 38%, from $90 to $125.

 

sob

*   *   *

Department of Apparently It’s a Thing ® Now

…to leave up your Christmas or solstice tree year round, and decorate it according [4] to whatever season’s or month’s commemorations strike your fancy. For example, you might hang paper flags from the branches during July (to celebrate Independence Day);  Bunny and Easter egg ornaments in March (Spring); candy corn and mini pumpkins in October (Halloween); Quaaludes and still photos from The Bill Cosby Show in April (Sexual Assault Awareness Month)….

Well. I’ve left our tree up, but I’m not sure you can call it decorated (I did leave two of my favorite ornaments on it). I just like having it around. I don’t know why, but I derive much sinple contentment from looking at the little blinking lights.

 

tree

*   *   *

May your enjoy whatever constitutes your own blinking lights of contentment,
and may the hijinks ensue.

 

 

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

[1] I don’t need to reference the Harry Potter series of books and films, do I? I do not require readers to be fans of either; I do assume a certain amount of cultural literacy.

[2] In this case, famous and/or infamous peoples’ deaths.

[3]  I’ve not done the figuring for 2015, but already know it will rival last year in pathetic-osity.

[4] Simply not enough footnotes in the New Year.

The Relevance I’m Not Maintaining

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Department of Thanksgiving Hangover

Yet another thing for which to be thankful – a spate of recent crisp, [1] clear mornings late last/early this week, when I could see the moon as I walked at dawn.

dawnmoon

 

Department of My Irrelevance

Medical doctors are trained in the importance of pain assessment , including how to differentiate between the many and problematically subjective human experiences of pain. Current thought on the matter is that storytelling, via descriptive prompts from doctor to patient, is a valuable lead-in to pain assessment.

Tell me about your pain. Would you describe it as:

burning, shooting, tingling, radiating, lancinating, or numbness
or achy, throbbing, or dull;
or squeezing, pressure, cramping, distention, dull, deep, and stretching

The pain I felt on Tuesday morning began as a burning in my ears. The sensation quickly radiated up the auditory nerve to my auditory cortex, where it translated into a deep, throbbing ache. It was all I could do not to jerk out my earbuds and fling my iphone to the ground.

Lay translation: the podcast I was listening to made my brain hurt.

This American Life , the mahvelous weekly journalistic radio show, follows a distinctive format.  Each show has a theme, and uses a combination of essays, first person narratives and interviews, archival sound recordings and sometimes even short fiction to explore and illustrate their show’s themes, in segments of up to three or four “acts.” TAL’s themes range from current events and popular culture to particular aspects of human nature. The one that made my brain hurt was This American Life #573: Status Update.

“Most of the time, the updates we share about our lives are small and inconsequential. This week, status updates that interrupt daily life.”

I had to force myself to finish listening to the first act – the ominously [2] titled, Finding the Self in Selfie. TAL host Ira Glass interviewed three teenage girls on the complex and constantly changing social media map that is primarily distributed and maintained via their cellphones. The interview consisted of the girls (Julia, Ella, Jane) explaining why they feel they must constantly tell their friends they are beautiful on Instagram and other social media sites, as well as post pictures of themselves on the same sites, which are in turn subject to commentary.

 

socialm

 

There are complicated and unwritten – yet widely known and seemingly accepted [3] –  “rules” for such social media interaction. And listening to the girls explain it made me want to puke.

Navigating the social strictures of high school was hard enough in The Olden Days, ® when your social status rose and fell via lunch table and locker room gossip. Now, kids have to obsess about their “relevance”  – they use that term, I kid you not – as per their peers’ reactions to their social media presence, a relevance (read: social ranking) both ephemeral and life-altering, which can change in minutes, even seconds.

And even as the girls complained about or acknowledged the shallowness behind the obligation of social media, they admitted to voluntarily and rabidly participating in the same.

(excerpt from a transcript of the episode)

Ira Glass: I have to say…oh my god, this is such a job.

Girls: Yeah.

Julia: It’s like I’m– I’m a brand, and I am like–

Ella: You’re trying to promote yourself.

Julia: The brand. I’m the director of the–

Ira Glass: And you’re the product.

Jane: You’re definitely trying to promote yourself.

Julia: To stay relevant, you have to–

Jane: You have to work hard.

Ella: Relevance is a big term right now.

Ira Glass: Are you guys relevant?

Ella: Um, I’m so relevant.

Jane: In middle school. In middle school, we were definitely really relevant.

Ella: (SARCASTICALLY) We were so relevant.

Jane: Because everything was established. But now, in the beginning of high school, you can’t really tell who’s relevant.

Ira Glass: Yeah. And what does relevant mean?

Jane: Relevant means that people care about what you’re posting on Instagram. People–

Julia: Care about you.

Listening to the story, I felt…I’m not sure how to describe it. I felt like some kind of Amish anti-tech/media advocate. 

 

There be no more Snapchat for thee, young ladies!

There be no more Snapchat for thee, young lady!

 

Of course, those seemingly benign Amish can get downright nasty when it comes to their community’s insular social status, and shun their own who fail to toe the line. But the threat of ostracizing, bullying or relevance banishment seems so much more pervasive in today’s all-knowing, all-reporting world of social media.

I wanted to slap some sense into those girls and envelop them in a mama bear hug, all at once.

It’s like I’m– I’m a brand…
…and you’re the product.

I wish feminism came in a can, like Red Bull, that girls and young women could chug. I wish there was a “product” to rev up their perception metabolism, a formula that would make them want to stop shoring up the system that perpetuates looksism and a bajillion-hundred other insecurities and forms of disempowerment.

 

wecandoit

*   *   *

Department of Holiday Hell

A recurrent seasonal nightmare of mine involves having a friend who participates in That Most Fiendish Holiday Of Events © . This friend invites me to attend said event, and in a moment of weakness truth-telling I blurt out that I would rather dive face first into a vat of eggnog-laced hyena feces than attend a Singing Christmas Tree show.

 

Santa, shoot me now.

Santa, shoot me now.

*   *   *

Department of Holiday What The Hell

Every time the traveling company for the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon has come to Portland I’ve tried to get tickets, and every time I have failed.  I did succeed in convincing MH and our son, K, in accompanying me to the next best thing: a matinee performance of The Book of Merman, which we saw last Sunday.

The Book of Merman is the story of what happens when two novice Mormon missionaries unexpectedly encounter “the undisputed first lady of the musical comedy stage.” (Well, of course it is).

I tried to make our outing as multicultural as possible. When one thinks of Mormons and/or Ethel Merman, the cuisine that naturally comes to mind is something Ricky Ricardo would appreciate. Thus, we dined before the show at Portland’s best Cuban café, [4] Pambiche,

BTW, you should know that Ethel Merman did one of the all-time great movie cameo appearances, in Airplane!

 

 

*   *   *

Department of Don’t Make Me Say It 

Is it December, already?

I thought I advised you not to make me say it.

And while I religiously dodge Singing Christmas Tree invitations I do enjoy a seasonal song or two.  There is no shortage of good Christmas carols for atheists, [5] including, White Christmas, Sleigh Bells, Deck the Halls, Rudolph…and I’d say almost any tune by Tim Minchin qualifies, especially the lovely, cheeky and yet sentimental, White Wine in the Sun. A new-old favorite of mine is I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas. [6]  And please, get you and yo mama some seasonal spirit by singling along with the greatest rap Yule tune of all time, Christmas In Hollis.

 

 

*   *   *

May your unexpected encounters be Merman-esque;
may you be emotionally healthy enough to not give a flying flounder’s flatulence about your social media relevance;
and may the holiday hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

[1] Not exactly thrilled about the 20˚ temps…but the moon is worth it.

[2] For someone my age who loathes selfies.

[3] At least, by the teenagers involved.

[4] Well, it’s the best Cuban restaurant – Perdóneme, el mejor café CubanoI’ve been to in Portland (okay, so there are, like, maybe three).

[5] “Good” is defined as songs that do not mention deities. And it’s funny, when you do the research, to find out how many Christmas songs were written by atheists and agnostics…and Jews.

[6] Of course, some godless nitpicker will point out that hippo gods were worshiped in ancient Egypt.

The Second Act I’m Not Staying For

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Department of Duh

The opening, thumping drums and guitar riff to The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army is mesmerizing, to say the least. It is also an unfortunate earworm to wake up with at three a.m., if your intention is to return to sleep. And mine was.

 

As soothing as a Brahms lullaby, trust us.

As soothing as a Brahms lullaby, trust us.

*   *   *

 

MH and I saw the second play of the Portland Center Stage season last Sunday. A part of me was hoping I would find the play boring or just unappealing; thus, when asked for my review, I could justifiably opine, Sex With Strangers is so overrated.” 

 

CAMEL

 

I had no idea.

No idea, that is, as to the reasons I indeed find the play unappealing. It wasn’t a “bad” play. But it wasn’t the play for me, at least at this point in my life.

In general, if I intend to see a movie or play I don’t read reviews about it – or even brief plot summaries – in advance.  A major theme of the SWS play was the intersection/conflict between art and commerce, as played out between the cast, which consisted of two writers. Had I known Sex With Strangers was going to be about writers arguing about writing I would have gone bowling instead.

Not to say it wasn’t done well, and I’m sure most of the audience enjoyed the battle of wits, sexes, and literary mores and intentions between the older, female, more-literary-(read: talented) and-commercially-unknown-but-with-integrity writer, vs. the younger, male, more-financially-successful-and-famous-or-infamous-and-cool-but-once-you-look-past-the-braddadocio-obviously-not-proud-of-what-he-does writer. Older writer was rightly aghast at the mountain of muck that exists due to the advent of self publishing…and how relatively quickly younger writer was able to get her to shelve her integrity and let him construct a false, more hip author’s profile for re-releasing her earlier, neglected novel on his new self-publishing application…

Ick, and ick again. It just sooooooooooo wasn’t for me.

By the play’s intermission I had a nasty headache from clenching my jaw. MH stayed to watch the second half of the play while I took a de-clenching walk around the neighborhood and was temporarily (but rewardingly) sucked into a retail vortex. Thank the FSM for Sur La Table – I found that soy sauce dispenser I’d been so desperately needing.

 

soy

*   *   *

The Return I’m Not Applauding

 

That would be the return of Bloom County.

 

whatswrongpng

 

I know, I know. I seem to be one of the few FB denizen who isn’t performing the social media version of the Happy Dance, now that the much-beloved comic strip has returned.

 

"Bloom County is baaaaaack!"

“Bloom County is baaaaaack!”

 

I did read the comic strip on a semi-regular basis, during its initial publication period, but was never one of its most devoted fans. I couldn’t put my finger on my lack of enthusiasm, until the day I made a list, to confirm my suspicions.

BC major characters:

* Bill the Cat
* Cutter John
* Hodge-Podge (rabbit)
* Michael Binkley
* Milo Bloom
* Oliver Wendell Jones
* Opus (penguin)
* Portnoy (groundhog)
* Steve Dallas

Minor characters include [1]

* Bobbi Harlow
* Frank Jones (Oliver’s father)
* Lola Granola
* Milquetoast the Cockroach
* Mrs. Jones (Oliver’s mother) [2]
* Quiche Lorraine

* Tom Binkley

 

The major characters (including the talking animals) are all male.

 

mansworld

 

I’m not saying Bloom County was a misogynistic, backasswater Islamic burg; however, to my curious mind at least, there is a connection. Bear with me.

When you see pictures, from still shots to newsreels, of life-out-side-the-home in a conservative Muslim nation, you might wonder how, in a land seemingly devoid of women, all those men were produced. Whether at a political demonstration or just going about the tasks everyday life – walking to and from work, at the marketplace or having coffee with a friend – the lack of females, shrouded or otherwise, is notable…if you pay attention.

Pay attention to contemporary American art and entertainment forms – from plays to movies to TV shows to comic strip. Now, imagine being an alien (or an anthropologist) looking to such forms to try and understand the culture that produced them:  you’d have no idea that females comprise more than half of the US population. [3]

I am woman, hear me roar/in numbers too big to ignore…
I am Woman, written and performed by Helen Reddy)

I love that song, and wish its opening sentiments were correct. But it seems the numbers aren’t too big to ignore when it comes to…sadly…just about any field.

I get that art and entertainment have no responsibility, inherent or otherwise, to be socially or demographically representative. But damnity damn, how it frosts my butt, and makes me feel old and tired, to have to “get that” excuse rationale, over and over and over….

Unlike Islamic state artists, [4]  American screenwriters and playwrights and directors and comic strip authors have the freedom to draw, create, and cast female characters in all kinds of roles. They can also depict them as scantily or as fully clad as they choose…and yet they still – unintentionally perhaps, but effectively – shroud women and girls with the burka of scarcity.

Not being seen is a form of being covered up.

 

Are these women, men, mannequins, corpses, lampposts, bundles of rebar? Who can tell?

Are these women, men, mannequins, corpses, lampposts, bundles of rebar? Who can tell?

 

Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad BC existed. I derived pleasure from many of its story lines, and sincerely believe the comic strip gave us an incalculable, lasting contribution to contemporary culture: an opportunity to appreciate the uncanny resemblance between Bill the Cat and actor Nick Nolte.

 

Noltemug

 

Cartoonist Berkeley Breathed was – and is – widely lauded [5] for creating Bloom County’s whimsical/imaginary world in Middle America, with storylines that lampooned big and small town culture and politics. I did enjoy (most of) BC’s take on the political ambiance of the 1980s, [6]  and hope that Breathed will do as well or better with the strip’s present day incarnation. [7]

Still, what I didn’t need then and do not desire now is for yet another artist to create yet another world, real or imaginary, wherein females are peripheral.

Yeah. Hear me fuckin’ roar.

 

roar

*   *   *

Department of While I’m On The Subject

Listening to a recent Fresh Air podcast of the October 9 show, Steve Jobs: The Man, the Book, The Film produced two aha moments – one of which I’ve had before, both of which explain my almost visceral aversion to those who worship at the altar of Apple.

At one point in the interview, Walter Isaacson, author and Steve jobs’ biographer, addresses the issue of Jobs’ legendary volatility.

It’s one of the dichotomies about Jobs is he could be demanding and tough – at times, you know, really berating people and being irate. On the other hand, he got all A-players, and they became fanatically loyal to him…an artist who was a perfectionist and frankly wasn’t always the kindest person when they failed “

That is the near-perfect description of a cult leader.

 

jobs

 

Isaacson also compares the styles of Steve Jobs vs. Jobs’ rival and collaborator, Bill Gates:

Steve Jobs was more intuitive, operated in a much more volatile manner…. the biggest difference is that Jobs was very much a genius when it came to aesthetics, design, consumer desire. And Bill Gates…was much more of a focused businessperson than Jobs was.

Jobs’ intuition and artistic sensibilities are described several times in the interview, and those qualities are presented as strengths which enabled Jobs to envision and produce Apple’s “revolutionary” products and marketing. If Jobs had been a woman trying to make it in that field, those same qualities – intuition, volatility, focus on aesthetics – would have been seen as weaknesses. No one would have listened to her.

 

*   *   *

Department of Family In-Jokes

"You're out of croutons!"

“You’re out of croutons!”

*   *   *

Department Of The Customer Is Always Right…
And Sometimes Rightly Pissed Off

Dear Surly Checkout Clerk at a Major Pet Supplies [8] chain store,

I’m so sorry for interrupting your important slouching time last week, when I annoyed you by causing you to have to do your job. How persnickety of me to notice that you rang up my purchases without asking me for your store’s frequent buyer number – the number that gives me discounts on future purchases; the number your store’s clerks are supposed to ask for at the beginning of the transaction. I regret the pain I caused you when I meekly pointed out your oversight; the number of muscles employed to roll your eyes appeared to have been agony-inducing, as was the effort you put in to pointing your finger toward the payment screen and verbalizing your thinly-disguised disgust with what you mistakenly thought was my concern: “It doesn’t change the price.”

When I smiled at you with the patience your attitude did not merit and replied, “That’s not the point,” I selfishly caused you to grimace with the five seconds’ worth of effort it took to void and then reenter my purchase – a grimace which implied a colossal waste of your valuable slacker time (I’m sure you had better things to do with those seconds, despite the fact that there was no one else in line behind me, nor at any other register in the store) and which used facial muscles that clearly caused you discomfort, being as they were in such close proximity to your festering, so-hip-so-five-years-ago ear gauges.

Forgive me for entertaining, even for a nanosecond, my totally ungracious impulse to jam a feline hairball chew supplement down your throat when you once again took the effort to point out a factor which was not my concern – “It didn’t change the price” – but which, in your infinite, churlish wisdom, should have been my top priority.

I offer one more mea culpa for the small-minded thoughts I had while leaving the store – thoughts having to do about the importance of a brick-and-mortar store’s customer service [9]– especially these days, when we can often find the products we seek online, at a lower cost. Consumers rarely have the incentive to think about courteous customer service– how kind of you to go out of your way to inspire me to consider the concept.

Sincerely and contritely yours,
Another enlightened customer

assist

*   *   *

May your customer service exceed all expectations,
may your second acts be tolerable if not inspirational,
may your earworms be lullaby-worthy,
may you never run out of croutons,
and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

[1] “Minor” = having appeared in the strip in “sideline” stories that were not central to the strip’s development and overall story arc (e.g., Bobbie, Quiche and Lola were love interests of the major characters).

[2] That’s her identification –Oliver’s mother and Frank’s wife. Oliver’s father at least gets a first name.

[3] Forbes magazine, hardly a bastion journal of feminist thought, even addressed the discrepancy by publishing  Women Still Ridiculously Underrepresented in Movies.

[4] If such exist, they are, sadly, well-hidden.

[5] Much to the chagrin of actual editorial cartoonists, Breathed’s Bloom County won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1987.

[6] Can you believe that Donald Trump has provided fodder for cartoonists for 30+ years? Of course you can.

[7] I also hope he will continue to be patient with those of us who continue to mispronounce his surname.

[8] Hint: not Petco.

[9] In all fairness to the chain itself, their customer service dept.  was promptly responsive to the complaint I filed on line.

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