Saturday, January 30, 2010

“Houston, we have a problem…”

So I go to pick up The Boy from preschool the other day. I forget to bring my glasses, but it’s no big deal. I just need them to read or do up-close work. Picking The Boy up from preschool doesn’t require any paperwork.

So I get there and as usual he’s happy to see me, but he doesn’t want to divulge anything about what has gone on in his life that day before I arrived. He’s got absolutely nothing to say about it. Won’t even admit to knowing any of the other kids’ names, even though he’s been there more than a month.

And he’s pretty good with names, at least where it comes to super-heroes.

I see a pile of cut up, painted paper grocery bags on the floor, like the one he’s wearing above, and I ask him about them. The teacher yells something about how they went to the moon and that now he was Astronaut The Boy, not just The Boy.

“So you went to the moon?” I ask him. I’m spoon-feeding him the answers for Christ’s sake and he just turns his head and pulls at my hand.

A little blonde girl, maybe 3 or 4, rushes up and begins to explain the whole situation in elaborate detail complete with dramatic gestures and digressions and mispronunciations. It was like a scene straight out of Hollywood. Unfortunately, the explanation kind of got lost in the execution and eventually the scene began to drag...

Finally I wave her to silence and I say something like, “I see. Each one of you made one of the ‘helmets’ and he’s supposed to take his home, right?”

No, no, no, that wasn’t it, I didn’t have it right. She was getting frustrated with me. I took another look at the pile of tarted-up grocery bags and they all had a face-hole cut in them and the face-holes all had writing under them. Name tags.

I picked one up and showed it to her. “See,” I explained patiently, squinting to read the name written in under this example’s face-hole, “This one belongs to someone named, uh, NASA…”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The biggest loser?

In defense of Jay Leno, more or less:

Just got done watching Jay Leno’s hour with Oprah. When I heard about the episode I didn’t realize it was going to be a 60-minute one-on-one, but I understand Conan is contractually obligated not to speak publicly about leaving NBC for a specified period of time or he and his staff won’t get their buy-out money from the network.

Actually, I just got done watching Mel Gibson’s appearance earlier this week on The Jay Leno Show. At the end of Gibson’s two segments, in which absolutely nothing of any substance was covered, Jay said as they cut to commercial, “…and stay tuned for So-and-so from The Biggest Loser.”

It’s been a lot of Jay Leno for one day and I come away from it feeling sad for him, and I’ll tell you why. It’s not what you think.

For starters, having someone from a show called The Biggest Loser on your show is just a sad thing all by itself. That the show itself exists, is so titled and is wildly successful is an indication of the wretched state of American popular culture.

But that aside, the story Leno told on Oprah of just being the innocent, go-along-to-get-along guy, company man, coupled with the soft-ball two-segment interview with Mel Gibson this week, just makes me sad for the man. It’s like he has no soul, like he’s just an empty corporate bobblehead, always nodding impotent approval...

He told Oprah, essentially, that except for asking—once—to be let out of his contract, Leno went along amiably with every dunderheaded decision from the geniuses at NBC, every mis-step of the way.

I’m gullible enough to take that at face value, and it’s just so sad if it’s true.

You can only imagine the Suits at NBC pitching him next year if The Tonight Show’s ratings don’t bounce back, “…and we’ll have howler monkeys throw feces at you, from a glass-enclosed booth in Times Square, and it’ll run live for fifteen minutes at the top of every hour from midnight to 5 a.m.” and him just nodding his head, squeaking, “Well, if you guys think that’s a good idea, I’ll do it. Sure, let’s give it a try.”

He’s not to be hated, he’s to be pitied, which is even worse. It’s demeaning and, well, sad.

Good Christ. At least Conan still has his dignity. His remarks on his last Tonight Show about cynicism are already the stuff of television legend. When Oprah ran the clip then asked Leno his feelings about it, he demurred vaguely. I understood what Letterman had meant when he commented recently about how the whole affair was just so Jay being Jay.

I think probably Leno is the right host for The Tonight Show. As the ratings attested, he and it were a great fit. And it was an insanely risky, ill-advised idea five years ago to promise it to Conan. I mean, why? Apparently the brain trust at NBC assumed Leno would have dropped the ball by then? Gotten too old for a generation of baby boomers his own age? These NBC guys are overpaid dopes of epic proportions. They’re the bad guys here, not Leno.

But as the old adage goes, who is the biggest fool, the fool or the man who follows him blindly, without question or caveat?

Or to put it in the current vernacular, who really is the biggest loser here?

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fang’s Blues

I’ve been hacking away at the guitar now for maybe a year and a half and at this point I can still barely hit a clean chord and I strum with my forefinger. I might as well be smacking the strings with a popsicle stick.

Then this kid comes along on YouTube and effortlessly knocks one out of the park on a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Rex’s Blues.” I’ve practiced the shit out of this tune lately but you’d never know it to hear me play it. This kid not only nails it, but elevates it.

I hate him so much. So very, very much.

Then I check out his channel and discover, Oh how nice for him, he not only sings and plays like an angel from the heart of Texas, but he writes, too. And writes well. Check out the note accompanying his latest posting.
A trad-style folk song that I wrote earlier today, after going through various Haiti-related news pages and trying to imagine the horror over there...
“A song he wrote earlier today”! About the crisis in Haiti and it’s not crass or exploitative or maudlin or anything I can criticize. Goddammit, it’s good.

Somebody needs to get this kid shackled to a recording contract right now. I personally don’t want any money; I just want to be on record as the venal, petty, small-minded person who first officially discovered him. I’m willing to settle for being an asterisk tacked on to the life story in music that this kid will write.

His name is Adam Sterling and the song below is the one he dashed off about Haiti the other day. In the morning.

Somewhere, Townes Van Zandt is smiling.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The future Jedi Master tests my mettle…

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I am beset by mortality on all sides

My cousin Jim’s wife, Mary, died tonight after a long, brutal battle with liver cancer. I’ll spare you what few details I know and just assure you, she’s got to be in a better place tonight than she’s been since the cancer diagnosis first came in. Since they are young (in their 40s I would guess, Jim’s a few years younger than I am) and have a bunch of kids, they fought it tooth and nail. All to no avail.

And a childhood pal’s dad just succumbed to Alzheimer’s, after what was also a horrific last few years for he and his family. Now I never met my cousin’s wife, but I knew my friend’s dad. My memories of him are from back in the ’70s, when he was all swagger and Brylcream and too-tight-fitting swimming trunks. I can see him in his back yard, Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned, spatula in his hand, assuring company that if they went away hungry they wouldn’t have him to blame for it.

I’m unfamiliar with the details of either case because in both cases, I came onto the story late. I’m only close to a couple of my many cousins, and Jim isn’t one of them. I knew his wife had cancer, but not much more than that. And when I realized last weekend that my friend had been sitting on the information that his father was dying by degrees in terrible indignity, I couldn’t blame him. But both stories kinda jumped into my life at the same time and together, pretty much overwhelmed me.

On the one hand, a deadly cancer striking someone who was by all accounts a sunny, radiant woman and selfless mother, that’s stinking rotten on its face. I was talking to my Mom about it—she of the born-again Christian persuasion—and she tried to convince me that God must have needed Mary. Needed her. “More than her kids?” I snapped. It’s pretty hard taking in God’s big-picture game plan when faced with such an obvious injustice. I don’t know what God’s Plan is, but I do know what the family’s is, and that’s to try to find some way to reboot their lives without its central figure.

How can that not make a reasonable person angry? With God or fate or whatever you call it. The capricious maliciousness of the universe.

Fortunately, Jim and his family have the faith to lean upon that I lack.

On the other hand is my friend’s dad. His death drove home the reality that, the whimsy of the universe notwithstanding, I’m at the age where my peers’ parents are expected to begin to expire.

I lost my own Dad over 10 years ago… again, after a long, debilitating illness. It was at that time that I decided old age and decrepitude had its function: to help us embrace, rather than dread, the end when it came. I know that seems to imply some sort of celestial designer and I’m not here to argue the proposition, pro or con. I’m just saying, form always follows function in nature and what better way to stave off our horror at slipping away from this life than by making it a god-awful living nightmare at the end?

The Boy is under the weather and we are poor and I don’t think I’ll be making it to either service. We are inconveniently located for quick, cheap plane trips.

But Mary and Bill have both been on my mind and in my heart for the last week, and now frankly, so is my own mortality. Whereas it used to just be the subject of some of my favorite music in the world (thank you, Johnny Cash), issues of death and dying have taken on a more tangible urgency since last week. Like, what’s my situation? I know I’ve told The Missus to pack me off early-on if my mind starts to go—I don’t want to be remembered as the guy in his long, twilight decline, the way I remember my Granddad. I’d much rather be remembered as the fun-loving drunk I was or the diligent, faithful husband and father I’ve become.

And if my body is in such hopeless disrepair that machines are required to keep me alive, for pity’s sake, pull the plug and let me go exploring the other side. (Boy, will I feel like an asshole if all that stuff my Mom told me about heaven and hell turns out to be true!)

But I don’t know if it’s down on paper and now I think that might be kind of important. 47 is looking closer to the grave than the cradle every day.

I want to have at least enough time left to see my son off to college with some dignity… dignity which is already being denied me, come to think of it. The other night, The Last Boy Scout was over for a good old-fashioned guitar-pull. We were sitting on the floor torturing our acoustic guitars and I had to get up to go get something. I consciously suppressed the grunt of lower-back pain that accompanies such movements these days, and The Boy filled in an audible groan for me. The Missus thought it was hilarious.

So much for dignity.

Anyhow, this post wasn’t supposed to be about me. But without a good editor, all my work circles back to navel-gazing. Sorry...

Kris Kristofferson has a new record out. The title cut is called “Closer To The Bone.” I’ll close tonight with a few lines from that song in memory of Mary and Bill. Hell, I’ll even try to play it for them. I hope they’re in a better place tonight and can’t hear the terrible things I’m about to do to this lovely song.

Ain’t it kinda funny
Ain’t it just the way though
Ain’t ‘cha getting’ better
Runnin’ out of time…

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cold Remedies 2.0

Yesterday, The Boy is sent home from pre-school with a fever and a runny nose.

He’s flushed and logy and complaining of stomach pain. The Missus comes home from work to help take care of him.

From my office, I hear her ask him, “Would you like me to make you some crepes?”

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Jimmy Kimmel eviscerates Leno on his own show

This is priceless. I may have to take a closer look at this Kimmel fellow:

Friday, January 15, 2010

Thus ended my life of crime

Backstory: I started out life as your basic amoral sociopath, and comported myself thusly for a good twenty years. Since then, in dribs and in drabs, bad behaviors have dropped away. Larceny, both petit and grand mal, check. Booze? Yep. Crystal meth? Oh, throw me a hard one! Check.

As vices go, I’m down to Mountain Dew, weed and “Heroes.” And the same programming geniuses at NBC who are causing so much trouble in late night have just renewed the pathetic “Heroes” for yet another interminable, embarrassing season of turgid, overworked scenarios and uninteresting characters. The only thing I can think of that would be more embarrassing than admitting I still watch it would be working on it.

I’ve also all but given up on getting off the Mountain Dew. No matter what I do, my teeth continue to be a disaster area, and it was mainly at my dentist’s urging that I commenced trying to curtail my intake of the noxious brew. If shit is gonna continue to drop out of my mouth whether or not I’m swilling my beloved Slurm, I prefer to go toothless fat and happy.

Of my three remaining vices, the only one that remains illegal is the weed. And I’ve tried to quit that before but it didn’t go too well. An intervention was arranged to confront me and make me go back on it.

You ever know somebody who could be the nicest bloke in the world but then get mad at the drop of a hat and turn into a giant asshole? That’s me. That’s me, when I’m not on my meds. Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different stuff to modulate my behavior, all of it legal, all of it prescribed by proper family doctors and shrinks. Not a one of them ever worked near as fast or as effectively as the contraband medication does.

So I went to our family doctor a few years ago and asked her if she could write me a scrip for medical marijuana. Christmas Island happens to have legalized it for such purposes—although we haven’t gone totally off the reservation, we still won’t let gays marry—and I was anxious to take my business out of the back alleys and into the boutiques.

It should be mentioned here that I used to meet my guy in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant just off the freeway. He was a huge black dude with massive dreads in a town that is maybe 1% black, and my guy is clearly neither a student nor a professor. I couldn’t get him to drive all the way to my house, he was so afraid of getting busted for Driving While Black by the local constabulary. And his house, too, is obviously off-limits. Drug dealers can’t afford a lot of suspicious foot traffic in their nice, residential neighborhoods.

So anyway, at that time, my doctor turned me down. My recollection is she gave some reason relating to her lawyer advising her against it; it was still W’s America at the time, and I thought her caution prudent.

I tried again last month and [SPOILER ALERT] my crazy still doesn’t qualify me, but my chronically-screwed lower back pain does!

The same doctor read me the riot act as required by law, carefully phrasing all her cautionary notes as hypotheticals, then wrote me out a scrip—good for a year on Christmas Island—and wished me a happy new year.

Thus making an honest man of me at last. Who would have thought I would have reached that lofty distinction after only 47 years? Not me, brother.

The statue below is posted outside the “goods” room of the local Collective. It about gave me a heart attack the first time I rounded the corner. I figure it’s a way management can ascertain whether you’re already high when you arrive.


Past it, the large room with the little glass-case kiosks at the far wall was lit dramatically, like something from a movie. I noticed another, taller glass case off to the side, filled with plants for sale. Apparently I am allowed to own up to x number of pot plants as well, but I’m pretty sure our landlord would take a dim view of me giving that a go. He seems like a pretty conservative, old-school kind of guy and I’m strictly in playing-it-safe mode still.

The various “strains” of weed are displayed in the illuminated glass display case in large glass jars full of the most perfectly-manicured buds I’ve seen since I grew my own back in the early 80s. And they all have cool names like “Purple Kush,” “Super Diesel” and my current favorite, “Kryptonite.”

The clerk, a lovely, friendly young lady, allowed me to inspect the perfume of the various glass jars and was a wealth of information on the origins and effects of each strain. After she weighed out and filled my order, I handed her a roll of twenties then said, “Huh. I bet you take plastic here, too, huh?”

She said yes, and not only that, because it was legal, there was even a sales tax attached!

If my mind hadn’t been blown before, it was then.

I happily assured her she was doing the Lord’s work and drove home with my medication safely—and legally—stored inside my glove box. And I began to consider what it was going to be like to not be an outlaw anymore. For one thing, I was no longer risking my son ever seeing me sitting on the wrong side of a jail cell. I’d been worried about that ever since he was born.

I never liked the outlaw part, I realized. I was scared shitless every time I met my guy in the Taco Bell parking lot. One time I got there first and had to call him and yell, “Abort! Abort!” The place wasn’t just swarming with cherry-tops, there was also a Department of Corrections bus there loaded up with prisoners enjoying the ersatz Mexican cuisine. Probably a lot of them on the way to the pokey for pot-related offenses.

No, I’m not going to miss being an outlaw at all.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The acorn that thankfully rolled far from the oak

The Boy came into my office tonight with a puzzle in one hand and a seat cushion in the other.

He’d gotten a bunch of puzzles for Christmas, smallish ones, mostly with superhero motifs. I’ve had a lot of fun watching he and The Missus put them together, but I’m not really much of a puzzle guy. Or for that matter, a game guy either. Okay, or a crafts guy… Our time together is mostly spent watching movies and cartoons or engaging in non-structured horseplay. I also like to fill his head full of outlandish exaggerations and calculated misinformation (ala the Dad in “Calvin and Hobbes”), and see how much of it he calls me on. As a result, he’s already developed an excellent bullshit detector.

We also play “Good Guy/Bad Guy.” This game consists of the image of a public figure—real or imaginary—flashing by on the TV screen and me pointing to The Boy and demanding “Good Guy or Bad Guy?” He’s uncannily accurate at that game, too. He’s learning to pick up on things like facial expressions, body language and probably ominous background music. Just yesterday we were all watching an episode of “The Daily Show” from earlier in the week and an image of George W Bush flashed by. I hit the Pause button and barked, “Good Guy or Bad Guy?”

After a brief pause, he answered, “Bad Guy.”

The Missus was fine with that, but she’s gotten upset at this game before. Like when we were watching a WWII-era Superman cartoon and one of the characters turned a photo of the statue of liberty over to reveal a drawing of the Japanese flag. I didn’t even have to ask; he turned to me and announced, “Bad Guy!” (I maintain he observed the sneakiness of the hiding of the emblem and responded to that, but The Missus thinks the racist caricature of the enemy agent may have had more to do with it. In which case, though, why would he wait till the flag was turned over to draw his conclusion?)

Anyhow, my point is, I’ve never done a puzzle with The Boy before, except once when he received one as a birthday gift and I received an order from the giver to do it with him. I had pictures taken and sent them to her and figured my puzzle-playing days were behind me.

So I was taken completely aback when he walked in tonight. He said, “Would you do a puzzle with me, Dad?” He waved the seat cushion and added, “I brought you this so you wouldn’t hurt yourself with your back.”

I said, “Did your Mom put you up to this?” Both the puzzle and the seat cushion seemed suspicious to me. But no, it turned out to be completely his idea, even the seat cushion to lessen the impact of sitting on our thinly-carpeted floor on my increasingly gimpy back.

He’s getting to the age where the surprises are coming thick and fast. And one of the most welcome surprises is just how decent and thoughtful a young fellow he’s becoming.

Somebody’s doing something right with him and I’m pretty sure it isn’t me.

Dick Move of the Week—NBC-TV:

According to the AP (which bloggers can’t quote directly anymore or we’ll be up to our asses in frivolous litigation), NBC is considering bumping Conan O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” back a half hour to 12:05 a.m. in order to move an abbreviated, 30-minute version of Jay Leno’s mirth-free crapfest back to the 11:35 p.m. time slot.

As Seth Meyers pointed out last night on SNL, 12:05 a.m. isn’t even the Tonight show anymore, it’s the Tomorrow show. NBC’s own internal logic is screaming “ICEBERG! ICEBERG AHEAD!!” They should be floating lifeboats, not test balloons.

Have they even watched Leno’s and O’Brien’s shows since the initial time slot switch? Conan’s “Tonight Show” is better than Leno’s “Tonight Show” ever was—funnier, faster, sassier—and way better than Leno’s current incarnation. The idea that they’re considering kicking Conan’s can even further down the street is madness on its face.

It’s like they want to fail. Like Leno at 10 isn’t killing them quickly enough.

I actually feel bad for Leno, who I’ve never liked much to begin with. He gambled and lost. But if he never worked another day in his life, he’d still be set if he lived to be a hundred. And he’s bound to remain a popular draw on the upscale comedy circuit.

But how long is Conan going to keep taking it? Both AP and Seth Meyers also reported that the Fox TV network has expressed an interest in giving O’Brien his own late-night berth. He should grow a pair and tell the geniuses at NBC to take their Dick Moves and shove them in their time slot.

EXTRY! EXTRY! NBC just made the announcement while I wrote. (Monday morning in-house update here.) They thought their test balloon floated! Doesn’t anyone at that network even watch TV or read the trades? Oh I can't wait for the TV-movie about the whole madcap affair. “Jay Leno killed our network, what do we do?” “Quick, we’ve got to get Jay Leno! Only he can save us, now that he’s killed us! You know, like in fairy tales...?”


Friday, January 08, 2010

Where have all the flowers gone?

So The Missus and I are in the local art store buying art supplies for her, and I pick up the matchbox, above, and ask her loud enough that all the pierced, tatted-up artsy-fartsy salegirls can hear, "Honey, I'm not wearing my glasses. Why does Elvis have flowers in his hair?"


Monday, January 04, 2010

I so can’t wait for this show to return:

“Lost” is coming back for its final season in February, on the American Broadcasting Company’s television network.

Looking back on its previous five season, one can’t help but be taken by how every season has been exceptional, every season its own discrete storyline with a beginning, middle and an end that is still part of an overarching mythology, which is only now beginning to be revealed. And how every plot twist or sci-fi element is woven so cleverly into the narrative that a lot of people didn’t figure out it was a time-traveling show until season five spelled it out.

Most people celebrate the human relationships in the show, but that’s all shadow boxing, window dressing. The characters exist only to advance the plot. The characters are great, but they’re not the hook.

This is a writers’ show, plain and simple.

Anyhow, there’s this cool new art that’s just come out, and I wanted to look at it on my blog page. Go ahead and click on it. It gets really big!

Addendum: New Final Season artwork just surfaced that is arguably cooler than that at top. Check it out!


Friday, January 01, 2010

Slingin’ the Big Lens like a pro…

From Christmas day at his Great-Grandma’s house.