Monday, October 31, 2011

Mr. Punctuality Man:

Worst. Super-power. Ever.

I’m always the first one to show up at the battle, and by the time the other heroes arrive, I’ve usually had my ass kicked but good.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

How I Wrecked My Halloween Vacation

“I didn’t kill nobody…”

“…matter of fact, I was next door robbin’ the grocery when my brother-in-law was stabbin’ that poor fella to death. I couldnta done it!”

That’s the basic pitch I used, then I improvised from there depending on the audience. If there were little kids, I kept slipping my dead-eyed gaze back to them while I talked to their parents. Of the scores of kids I saw Friday night, I scared all but about five of them out of talking to me.

What in God’s name am I going on about?

I volunteered to be part of a Halloween extravaganza at the local “Old State Pen” and current tourist destination. The event ran for two nights and featured a “Thriller” dance, prison-related booths, the local music school provided entertainment, etc. And a bunch of us locals dressed up as the ghosts of real-life former prisoners of the pen and drifted around talking to and scaring folks who were there for the festivities.

We were each given a specific prisoner’s name and history and required to memorize it, because as this event was run by academics, we were there to educate as well as terrify.

There were four weeks of rehearsals, but I was brought in just in the last week. Which was fine, because if I had had four weeks to bail, I almost certainly would have. I only did it because it was a last-minute thing, and expectations on me would therefore be uncommonly low.

Friday night was Family Night. The instructions were, no swearing and don’t scare the kids too bad.

As soon as the doors opened, the volunteer playing my brother-in-law and I interacted with the first couple coming past. As soon as they left, “Ernie,” my brother-in-law, pulled me aside and hissed, “We’re not supposed to swear tonight!”

Saturday night would be the 16-and-up night, where, God help us, alcohol will be served. We could say just about anything then. But not on Family Night.

I asked Ernie, “Uh oh. What did I say?”

“‘Bullshit,’” he whispered.

I said, “Really? I had no idea.”

Chastened, I dialed it way back for the next group of revelers. As soon as they were gone, I was conferencing with Ernie again. “Dial it back!” he seethed through clenched teeth.

“I was!” I protested.

He assured me I didn’t exactly hit the mark and illustrated his point with an example.

“Really?” I said. “I had no idea.”

So I learned to be a lot more subtle, quick.

For instance, the visitors were given a scavenger-hunt-type list of questions that had to be answered by the convicts (to force them to interact with us). One question is, “Who was the youngest inmate, and how tall was he?” To which my stock answer became, “I reckon he about ten, but ah couldn’t right say ‘xactly how tall he was; I ain’t never seen him standin’ full up. Haw haw heh”

See? I can do family-friendly. The adults got it and it sailed right over the kids’ heads.

At one point, I picked an unplanned fight with one of my fellow actors—a guy my size who must weigh 300 pounds—and it escalated rapidly from a shoving match into a full-fledged brawl, with him body-slamming me into a wall, knocking me to the ground then running away. He came up to me afterwards to make sure I was okay. I assured him this was not my first fake fight, and anyhow, I started it.

It was a magical night.

I based my character on Karl from “Sling Blade,” but leavened the Dixie accent and made him just a few ticks smarter.

And I also made him a sick fuck.

I liked to find a single overhead light source and stand under it, arms crossed, glowering at everyone who came by, daring them to talk to me.

Not that many people took me up on the dare.

Whenever a group of pretty girls walked past, I lowered my head, followed them with my eyes and made a quiet “tick-tick-tick” noise deep in my throat. Scared the shit out of them without saying a word. Or I made a little suck-suck-sucking noise with my tongue against my teeth and made dead-eye contact.

Once I stood glaring down from the top of the stairs in the Death Row building and a little girl screamed out loud when she looked up and saw me. Again, I said nothing.

Family-friendly, that’s what I’m all about.

We were also supposed to respond to modern technology (my felon was executed in 1951). I was talking to one group of people—who kept asking me questions, and instead of answering them immediately, I kept protesting my innocence while my eyes wandered up and down the most defenseless member of their party—and when they pulled out a cell phone I screamed and jumped back, causing most of them to scream, too. “What the hell is THAT?!”  I cried before turning tail and running away from them like the devil himself was at my heels.

Playing a hateful asshole also meant that if I started getting bored with a particular group’s use of my time, it was fully in character for me to tell them I thought they were wasting my time and stalk away from them. And my make-up was so good that I was virtually unrecognizable.

It was the most fun I’ve had in I can’t remember how long.

Unfortunately, Saturday did not go as well. The “Sixteen and Up” night, complete with beer garden, produced at least five times more paying participants, but most of these were, well, sixteen and up, and their attitude toward us was, generally speaking, decidedly different. They mostly wanted to prove that they knew we were just losers in make-up, and that they couldn’t hold their alcohol. My natural-high from the night before wore off pretty quickly.

Plus, the first night my make-up was terrific and most of the crowd hadn’t put much effort into theirs; Saturday night I looked like a pasty raccoon, and all the paying customers were Halloweened-up to the nines. Frankly, I felt like a fool instead of a ghoul.

Additionally, as it turns out, I was coming down sick. When I signed up for the gig last week, I did not realize it was going to be an outdoor event, at night, at the end of October in Idaho. By midday Saturday, I was wondering where all my energy had gone. Saturday night was supposed to be the fun, wild-and-crazy night, but for some reason on the drive into town, I just couldn’t muster up very much enthusiasm.

By the end of my shift, it was painfully clear why. It must have been ten degrees cooler that night and considerably windier. The back of my neck was exposed and cold as the summit of Everest the whole second half of the evening (until I bailed early, for which I still feel guilty).

In spite of wearing SIX layers of shirts, sweaters and jackets, including thermal underwear, I noticed my sore throat on the drive back home. I managed to convince myself at the time that it was just because I’d been doing my Karl voice all night, but by this morning there was no denying it.

Today, I am one sick fuck, for realsies. I must have slept half the day away in a feverish daze—while The Missus and The Boy busied themselves with various holiday-related family activities—and it’s still just coming on. I’m gonna miss the whole damn holiday.

I think next year—as much fun as the first night was—I will pass on portraying a cautionary tale at the prison Halloween event, and stay home and carve the traditional pumpkin with my family. Halloween will be coming around again next year, but The Boy is never going to be six again.

Another hard life lesson learned at the old State Pen.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Going, going...

This is my goal weight:

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Boy’s first official school picture:

Kindergarten, 2011/12

Separated at birth?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Maized And Confused

The area circled in red is the part of the maze in which we got hopelessly lost last weekend.

Click photo to embiggen.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Seven Steps to a Successful Eating Disorder

People have been asking me how I lost 30 pounds or so this summer and went from this:

to this:

Well, here it is, the secret to my success, in an easy-to-follow, step-by-step format. You can thank me later.

Step One: Go to a family reunion at the beginning of the summer and come back so emotionally traumatized that you’ve lost seven pounds over the three-day weekend. (I think this is the only part of my formula that the reader should not try to replicate, but that’s okay because it is an inessential step.)

Step Two: Identify your chief source of empty calories and eliminate it. Cold turkey, today. Mine was Mountain Dew. Yours might be beer or wine (previous favorites, already long-gone from my diet), or Cheesey Puffs… but if you drink a lot of soda, that should be the first thing to go. If you really need your caffeine, take an Excedrin every morning. Take care of the morning’s little aches and pains and get you out the door on the bounce. Throw it in with your vitamins if you want to feel less like a junkie.

Step Two-point-one: I also eliminated caffeine this summer. Not because it was part of the weight-loss plan, just because. It turns out it was a crutch that I did not actually need, and was only doing habitually. Buh-bye.

Step Two-point-one-point-one: If you can, look at your medicine cabinet and see if there’s anything else you can cut back on, or out. For instance, I stopped taking Advil PM to help me sleep and an Excedrin in the morning to help me get up. Shortly thereafter, I went out for four hours in unfiltered, 95-degree heat and photographed a track meet and was shocked to discover I didn’t miss the caffeine a bit.

Step Two-point-two: Have an especially shitty cholesterol score. That’ll really reduce the amount of food you want to eat—that you are still allowed to eat—to almost nothing. I tried Step 2.2 and it’s worked awesomely! These days, walking through grocery store aisles is like flipping through the pages of a scrapbook of old girlfriends.

Step Three: Schedule a colonoscopy (you know you should). They’ll starve you for a week before the “procedure,” at least if the diet restrictions the prep requires are as distasteful to you as mine were to me. I quickly decided I’d rather eat nothing than the tasteless, vegetable-based slop I was allowed. This worked to my benefit by establishing a self-discipline where eating was concerned that I had previously lacked. I took that week to reassess my relationship with food, and having discovered how much less food I actually required to do all my regular stuff, couldn’t in good conscience go back to trying to fill up my self-esteem hole with groceries.

This leads directly to Step Four: Only eat when you’re hungry, and then only eat until you’re not hungry, instead of full.

Re-read Step Four until committed to memory.

You will be amazed at how little food you actually need to eat to still function and feel like a normal human being. It’s like discovering that you’ve been using super high-octane for years, when you could have been using regular unleaded all along. And driving a snazzy import with really excellent gas mileage instead of your dad’s clunky old American sedan.

Step Four, I think, is the genius Step. Once you’ve gone cold turkey and are only eating when your tummy has been grumbling for a while, prepare whatever you’re going to eat in half-portions then try not to finish that. The genius part is that I have been able to continue to eat whatever I want—within the damned guidelines of my low-cholesterol diet—and still drop weight. You’d be amazed how many sweet treats and high-calorie delicacies are low in cholesterol, and fill you up in a hurry.

But for the most part (and for the record), stick to undressed fruits and vegetables. That is to say, don’t dip your fresh strawberries in mountains of powdered sugar, nor add buckets of heavy sauce to veggies in a hopeless effort to make them palatable. Eat them raw and fresh. I lucked out and dropped my spare tonnage over the summer, when fresh fruit was abundant. You can burn off a lunch of grapes and peaches just feeling sorry for yourself that you weren’t able to have a proper meal.

Step Four-point-one: At this point, you’ll be drinking water like you used to pound back Pepsi. Or Budweiser. Or Franzia or whatever. By replacing your whatever with water, you’re not only dropping the millions of empty calories from not drinking your usual whatever, but you’re also peeing extra pounds of water away on top of it.

Step Four-point-two: Nothing to eat or drink but water between 8 p.m. and breakfast. Impossible you say? This brings us to Step Five.

Step Five: Work your self-loathing. It will provide the momentum to pull you through the particularly rough patches. Just repurpose it. Turn it from punishing your body with abundance to punishing it with denial. The result is still the same, with one exception. When you pass yourself in the mirror and risk a glance, you’ll see one less thing to hate about the person looking suspiciously back at you.

Step Six: This one also is strictly optional, but a dental emergency or two is always good for helping drop the spare pounds. Especially if you’re already committed and just looking for enablers to help your budding eating disorder along.

Taking a closer look at it, Steps Five and Six, like Step One, may be specific to me.

Moving on… I also have it on reliable authority that if exercise were added to the mix, I would probably be healthy by this point instead of just looking healthy. Still, exercise has that same sense of inevitability about it now that sobriety did back when I was drinking. I know it’s coming, I’m just not in a big rush to get to it.

But to be responsible, let’s put Exercise down as Step Seven. Hand to God, The Missus and I have been talking about getting me a stationary bike. My Spiritual Advisor recommended it, and he’s never been wrong before. He pointed out that I could watch TV while I did it, and a wealth of possibilities opened up before me. (I’ll be able to get to the fifth season of The Rockford Files after all!) Suddenly, the thought that I might get that other kind of cholesterol down and get my doctor off my back seems slightly less out of reach.

Plus, I’m going back to another family get-together for Thanksgiving. The Missus and I have agreed I will stop at 180 lbs, so I will probably have to weigh myself frequently while I am there to make sure I keep my end of the bargain up.

Like guitar playing, if I had known how satisfying this feels, I would have started years ago.

Disclaimer part: Now, this is just what has worked for me. I’m not a dietician or a doctor, just a layman relaying his personal experience and extrapolating some larger conclusions from it. I’ve lost weight in the past, but it’s never felt like a lifestyle change before.

All the same, I am not discounting the possibility that with seven steps currently identified, I may still have a few yet to discover. These things usually come in twelves, don’t they?

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Running to Stand Still: The American Jobs Crisis

I was watching the Bill Maher show on HBO this weekend, and he posed a question that’s been on my mind for a long time now: What if there are not enough jobs for the amount of people we have in the world?

Every bastard politician running for office in this country is touting an alleged “plan” to get everyone back to work, but not a one of them—not even Ron Paul, that I know of—is talking about the jobs that are gone forever. And I’m not talking about manufacturing jobs as they are popularly understood (cars, munitions, etc.).

I’m talking specifically about jobs that have been erased from existence by the Communications Revolution.

There are entire industries being rendered obsolete. Anything that can be gotten over the web, is being gotten over the web.

I’m not just talking about my beloved newspaper industry. Writers and photographers may still be able to transition their skills into the new employment paradigm, but when are all the pressmen and production people laid off by shuttering newspapers going to find another print house at which to work?

How about never?

What about the travel agencies that don’t exist anymore? Are those jobs coming back? No.

What about CD store employees? Department store, one-hour photo and book store employees. Map, phone, Encyclopedia, dictionary and cook book printers and the lumber and delivery industries they used to support. Paper boys. Typewriter manufacturers and repair shops. Greeting card makers. The United States Postal Service. Porn cameramen and lighting guys—the actors should be able to transition smoothly to the world’s oldest profession, not yet in jeopardy of obsolescence from the technological revolution.

I could spend all day on the Internet, looking up other ways the Internet is radically reconfiguring the American jobscape, eliminating whole fields of employment.

Still our elected leaders—and lots of ‘Job Creators,’ too—continue to ignore the ugly reality we’re facing. Nobody wants to say it out loud. Nobody wants to be the Big Name who bursts America’s balloon by pointing out that the emperor is nekked; that the unemployment numbers aren’t going to improve until we start looking forward instead of backward.

Nobody holding the reins of power wants to acknowledge that whole industries—and all their lovely jobs and support industries—are going the way of horse-and-buggy makers and the milkman. Because to do that would be scary as hell, and even the GOP doesn’t want to scare America that badly, without some actual device in mind to relieve that fear, once in office.

And there currently is no device on the table.

Instead of focusing on the ‘job creators of the past’—I keep hearing Henry Ford cited, a fine example of an innovator for his time—we need to accept the new communications paradigm and prepare for it, not continue to rework outmoded business models from the last century.

In the 21st-century paradigm, as it is unfolding, it won’t be muscle and guts and assembly-line stooges that employers are looking for, it’ll be brainiacs. If we want to rock the 21st century the way we did the 20th, we’re going to have to do it by being smarter than the rest of the world, not just having the biggest dick.

And we are absolutely not preparing for that.

Our kids’ readin’, writin’ and arithmatickin’ scores compare extremely unfavorably to our global competitors. Why are American jobs being outsourced to India, and our general crap manufactured in China? It’s not just the fact that most modern Asian cultures have an indomitable work ethic that’s ingrained from day one and produce workers who are renowned for being slavishly devoted to their jobs.

It’s not even just because they’ll work cheaper, too—although that is definitely part of the equation—but because the workforce in Asia has been training for the 21st century for a while now and hit the ground running, while we’ve been admiring ourselves in the mirror, swapping tall tales with each other about how bad-ass we were when we whipped the Soviets in the Cold War back when we were kids.

Obama’s taking the same backward-looking approach to the jobs crisis, trying to recreate FDR’s WPA model, again from the previous century; build (or shore-up existing) bridges, highways and dams. Infrastructure! Which is fine for this election cycle, but all those jobs are necessarily short-term in nature. Once the bridge is built, Joe Constructionworker goes back to queuing up at the unemployment office.

We’re not fixing the problem at all, at best we’re proposing changing its bandages. We need brand new fields of endeavor, not a patchwork of one-time quick fixes. America doesn’t need new jobs anywhere near as badly as we need whole new, forward-thinking, technology-based industries.

To paraphrase a wiser man than me, give a man a job and you’ll feed him for today; give him a career and you’ll feed him for life.

All the WPA-type jobs in the world are not going to create new careers or new industries. They won’t produce the smarter, more tech-savvy workforce that will be necessary to advance this country’s interests in the 21st century.

What America needs is a modern-day Henry Ford, someone who will help us acclimate to and succeed in the ever-changing new world order. Some gutsy, high-profile politician or Captain of Industry who will step up and start an honest conversation about the vast number of jobs that are not coming back, not ever.

And ideally, also have a revolutionary innovation in his or her pocket that will help us to begin to address the crisis-in-progress the paradigm shift has created.

But the first step has got to be to acknowledge the severity, and define the true parameters of the problem.

Otherwise, we’ll keep right on denying the scope of the problem as it exists, and running in place until we dig a hole for ourselves so deep we’ll never get out.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

We have a new air missile at home...

...and it’s an awful lot of fun to take pictures of:

The annual R&RHOF rant

This year’s rant about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees practically wrote itself.

I have a friend whose super-power is knowing everything—everything—about music and sports from the latter half of the 20th Century, down to the tiniest detail. (My super-power, if you’re interested, is punctuality.)

Anyhow, my friend--who is an actual writer, as in, he gets paid to do it--wrote this column, to which I replied, said reply comprising the bulk of this post. I’ve done just a little bit of editing, mostly to omit private jokes that wouldn’t make sense to someone who was not Daniel, The Last Boy Scout or me.

Speaking of the article, I eventually had to copy and paste it to a Word doc because the  rotating ads on the page change the text layout every five seconds and it was giving me brain seizures. I recommend you cut to the chase and copy and paste into a text program document before reading.

So to be clear, the format is a paragraph-by-paragraph reply to Daniel’s comments in his article. Let the lazy blogging begin!

Daniel: “The criteria used by voters for this operation is often vague, but seems to favor obscure artists with one hit or less.”

Me: In their [the RRHOF] defense, what I imagine their actual criteria is focused on is honoring the artists they’ve been influenced by, and the panel being made up—undoubtedly—of Rock Snobs, one-hit wonders like Laura Nyro, Tom Waits (zero hits, I think) and Leonard Cohen are eventual shoe-ins. Bands like Rush and KISS are not usually the kinds of acts that Rock Snobs champion, thus they continue to go begging.

And I’m not just mentioning KISS to suck up to TLBS, but among actual bands—as opposed to Ivy League Rock Snobs—there are a shitload that cite KISS as a major early influence. Hell, they were my first experience with non AM-radio music. They blew my mind and reset my musical magnetic north. They were the gateway band to Led Zepplin and Pink Floyd. (The Floyd are in, right?)

While cases can be made for eventual induction of the Beastie Boys, the Cure, Guns ‘N Roses and Red Hot Chili Peppers, as newer acts, they can wait. There’s an incredible backlog of performers that need to precede them.

While I agree with the second part of this statement, I have to take exception to your exception to Guns and Roses... and God help me, The Beastie Boys. I was a pop culture omnivore back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and these two acts took their respective genres to heights undreamed of previously. And the Beasties, although strictly speaking a hip-hop band, rocked as hard as any metal outfit the couple times I caught them live at festivals. So if your metric is inspiration to actual musicians of succeeding generations, GNR and the BB are slam-dunks.

Personally, I say fuck The Cure and RHCP. They were flashes in the pan with small, insular fan bases. Very few current acts ever mention either one of them as influences or childhood favorites. Shit, I’ve heard Sublime cited more than the RHCP. And the one time I saw RHCP live, they sucked. Ass.

Heart: Okay, I’ll say give them a go, unless Sinead O’Connor is also eligible. I’m sure they opened a lot of doors for babe rockers to follow (not that I can think off-hand of a single babe rocker still working.). But Sinead should be inducted in her first year of eligibility. She’s going to become my new Tom Waits/Leonard Cohen!

sidebar: Is Kristofferson in the Hall? He should be. Right next to Johnny Cash.

Laura Nyro: Never heard of her till Daniel hipped me to her. As I recall she had one hit of her own, and apparently wrote many of my favorite childhood tunes, as performed by bigger-name acts. She should definitely be in the Songwriters HOF. The RRHOF is a reach, though.

Faces: Mos def. Nuff said.

Donna Summer: No fucking way. Her one hit was a series of faked orgasms to the usual period disco beat. Not only is that not rock and roll, it’s not even music unless you happen to be having sex at the time. Rock and roll isn’t the soundtrack to sex, it’s the soundtrack to foreplay. In case I have not made myself clear, Donna Summer my ass!

Eric B. and Rakim? Never heard of them. Pass! Send them to the hip-hop HOF. Fuck, man. They call it “rock and roll” for a reason. It’s ROCK AND ROLL!! If disco or hip-hop ever start a Hall of Fame, you can bet your ass Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and U2 will never make the ballot. And with good reason. (Pssst: because they’re not hip-hop artists...)

If the RRHOF wants to honor all musicians of every genre, that would be an honorable endeavor too, but they should change their name to the Pop Music Hall of Fame. I actually think that would be a good idea, if it stopped all these non-rock acts from elbowing out deserving actual-rock bands.

I agree with Daniel on Joan Jett. One big, crunchy hit, then straight to the oldies circuit with Pat Benatar. Excellent framing on “…who opens the show?” It makes your argument iron-clad.

GNR: Come on. Culturally, to my generation, they were HUGE. They influenced tons of kids to head out to Hollywood and get strung out on drugs, some of them even became rock stars.

On The Spaghetti Incident – a 1993 collection of glam and punk covers – they also covered a Charles Manson composition, “Look at Your Game Girl,” which was hidden as an unadvertised bonus track. Though vocalist Axl Rose insists the media doesn’t understand his fascination with Manson, there’s fine line between being edgy and displaying poor taste.

For what it’s worth—and I agree with you that the inclusion was a ‘mis-step’ at best; I always stop the CD as soon as I recognize the first couple chords of the song—by that time, Axl had assumed almost Roger Watersian control of the band, was secretly buying up the rights to the band’s back catalogue for himself and had already inserted a track the band didn’t know about on their previous album.

Finally about GNR, if they induct anyone other than the late’80s/early ‘90s line-up, it’ll be a crock. Whatever Axl is doing now, it isn’t Guns and Roses, no matter how loudly he insists that it is.

Regarding your list of outrageous omissions:

Dick Dale: Agreed. Put him in, coach!

Moody Blues: Maybe, but they’re much more pop than rock. Their exclusion doesn’t offend me.

The Guess Who: Agreed! They rocked and, unlike the Moody Blues, their stuff still holds up great today. I recently bought a bunch of MB songs off iTunes recently that I remember liking, and was surprised at how unimpressive I found them now. On the other hand, I still stop and rock out every time I hear The Guess Who. The long version of “American Woman” alone should be enough to require their induction.

Of your laundry list, I would add Sinead for sure, and agree with Rush, Kiss, Deep Purple, Tommy James and The Shondells, of course the Raiders… and Three Dog Night. Stevie Ray Vaughn was unquestionably a virtuoso, but he was a Blues virtuoso. If they’re looking to induct a proper Rock Guitar virtuoso, Ynwgie Malmsteen would be a much more appropriate pick.

And Carole King as a non-performer? That’s just insulting. The board must be not just snobby, but deaf, too.

Anyhow, there you have it. I agree with you and everyone else that the Hall has long since become a joke, but as long as Jagger, Springsteen and Bono keep showing up at the ceremonies, it will remain a going concern.

Friday, October 07, 2011

A working class hero is something to be

I was surprised at how taken aback I was at the news of the death of Steve Jobs. I mean, it wasn’t like we didn’t know he was sick.

But now that he’s gone, I realize I haven’t been this emotionally impacted by a celebrity death since Johnny Cash.

And what the two have in common is I can’t believe I walked the earth at the same time as these two giants.

Leaving Johnny Cash aside for the moment in the interest of brevity…

In the wave of media attention following Jobs’s death, the full scope of his contributions to popular culture is being tallied. The standard fonts—I mean standard, having shipped with every Mac since God-knows-when—were his innovation, and he named them himself after favorite cities. Chicago. Monaco. Geneva. He did that.

Before that, only graphic-artist monkeys like me had any idea what the hell a font was. Today, everybody’s a damn expert.

In his short life, he lived long enough to render many of his own seismic innovations obsolete, the mouse and the iPod being the first couple that come to mind. I refuse to even consider the changes he might have wrought, had he lived another 30 years, the approximate average lifespan these days.

What a loss.

I came to the Mac party late, securing a newspaper production position in the summer of ’89 and barely surviving a crash course in all things computer. You have to understand, just a couple months before working on my first Mac, I was using a punch-tape Mergenthaler for typesetting and a light table, t-square and Exacto knife for paste-up. Back then “cut” and “paste” weren’t computer functions, they were activities I performed manually.

I remember the papers’ first server boasting a whopping 40 megs of storage capacity! Quark and Illustrator were still just babies and the internet was a series of tubes that only a few dedicated early-adapters had discovered.

I was given two weeks to go from zero to running two newspapers completely by Mac. My employers were nuts to hire me. By Wednesday of the second week, I was only just beginning to “get” it. But if I had been given the same timeframe to master the PCs of that era, I’d probably be flipping burgers at McDonald’s today.

And during Jobs’ exile from Apple in the mid ’80s, he revolutionized animated filmmaking by founding Pixar. This tectonic shifting of the motion-picture paradigm was side-work for the guy while he waited for Apple to come calling again.

According to the media coverage, Jobs never graduated college. He wasn’t an inventor per se, but he was the visionary who kept the inventors’ paychecks coming. He wasn’t the genius who wrote the code and put the guts of the communications revolution together, but he was the futurist who was always ten steps ahead of everybody else in ways to apply the fruits of the eggheads’ labor.

He took a complicated, ugly workplace workhorse and made it into a sleek, sexy fashion accessory, in many circles a necessity by the time of his death. He took other peoples’ ideas and improved them, and integrated them in novel, commercially bold ways.

He took the stuff of science fiction and made them household staples. Like the famous Kennedy quote, he really did look at the future and say, “Why not?”

He didn’t ask “What’s next?,” he determined it.

And by and large, we live in a better, more connected world because of him. When the history of the communications revolution is taught a hundred years from now, Steve Jobs will be the Irving Thalberg of the tale; the indispensable innovator who laid the foundation for the industry that would change the world in the wake of his premature passing.

It’s a damned shame that that we’re still living in Steve Jobs’ world, but he isn’t.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Weighty Matters

Or: “Weight Matters”

My younger sister texted me the other day, wanting my feedback on why she appears to be unemployable. She wanted me to check something called “e-verify” for her, to see if it’s saying bad things about her that are scaring potential employers off.

I didn’t have to check e-verify. I know what’s scaring employers off. She’s twice the size she should be. She’s almost as round as she is tall. If I’m doing the hiring and five qualified candidates make the cut to the final elimination round, the morbidly obese candidate is the first one I am going to vote off Potential-Employment Island.

Unless there’s one with crazy-eyes, or serious personal hygiene issues. They’d get eliminated first, then the morbidly obese one. But they’d all definitely get the door.

Why hire someone who is comically fat? They’re going to need special accommodations at the office, they’re statistically likely to take more sick days off because that kind of extra weight is inherently unhealthy, and they demonstrate their lack of control over themselves just by squeezing into the doorway, why would I figure they were any more disciplined at any other part of their life, specifically work?

The same way I wouldn’t hire someone coming in reeking of booze—and for many of the same reasons—I wouldn’t hire someone as overweight as my sister or Gov. Chris Christie. Or as fat as I was at the beginning of the summer.

I’m in the newspaper biz, so I’m looking nervously at having to hit the job-interview circuit myself sometime not too long from now. Consequently, I have put forth the effort and dropped a good 25-30 lbs this summer. Granted, it started off as trauma-induced weight-loss a couple times at the beginning of summer, but the decision to Step Away From The Mountain Dew has been critical.

So has my decision to eat only when I’m hungry, and then only till I’m not hungry—as opposed to “full.” Such a tiny change in behavior has yielded such happy results! 30 pounds just by denying myself soda and a full belly. Not a lick of exercise (which is my next cross to bear).

The Missus, her parents and I also threw down a bunch of cash at my long-in-the-tooth teeth, in an attempt to resolve the issue once and for all. I am now the owner of a dazzling, picture-perfect off-grey smile.

I may not have any marketable skills to offer in the new digital communications paradigm, but by God, I’ll look good flaming out at those job interviews!

Which really brings me back to Gov Christie of Bruce Springsteen’s home state. I’ve long said, there’s no way Lincoln could win office today, ugly as he was; just like there’s no way Taft could win, enormous as he was, in an America that is as increasingly health-conscious as we are. Even people who don’t care, like my sister, at least know what they’re doing to themselves.

(For an in-depth rebuttal of my argument, click here: BALDERDASH )

Even if you love Christie’s politics, which I understand are too “liberal” for the Tea Party fire-breathers currently pulling the strings of the GOP, why would you vote somebody into office knowing they’re actuarially likely to suffer serious, debilitating illness in the next five tears, from diabetes, to stroke, to heart attack to you-name-it.

You wouldn’t be voting for Christie, you’d be voting for his Vice President.

Hell, I’d vote for Oprah first. She’s at least shown she can take the weight off. Keeping it off is the real bitch, but that will be another column another day, I’m sure. Meanwhile, Christie can’t get it off at all.

I dated a plus-size gal for a little while, and let me tell you, it wasn’t long before I hated watching her eat. It was like having a drunk in your life, for whom you cared deeply, drink his liver away in front of you. Or a lung cancer patient with a three-pack-a-day habit. I couldn’t handle it. I had to bail.

The time to bail on Gov. Christie is before he is thrown into the GOP Primary whirlwind. This is a star-crossed affair at the onset. Even if the Deep Pockets of the GOP talk Christie into running, the Ron Pauls, Michelle O’Bachmanns and Rick Santorums of the ascendant Right Wing won’t have a thing to do with him.

And even if by some dark miracle of political arm-twisting they did, he’d be a lousy candidate because of his unhealthy personal habits. Seriously, it would be like voting for Otis the town drunk, or your teenage daughter who cuts herself, for President.

The mess she’s in, America deserves better. She deserves someone whose mettle has been tested, and the response didn’t come back, “Super-size it! And throw in a basket of them curly-fried onion rings.”

And my sister deserves better, too. I’m gonna screw up the courage to have a come-to-Jesus phone call with her soon about the real reason she’s not getting past Point A in the job application process.

Because I believe that although people don’t change, behavior can. And that’s what I’m going to try to impress upon my sister.

Show me a Gov. Christie in four years who’s half the man he is now, and I’ll give him twice as serious a look.

In the meantime, I would urge my sister and Governor Christie to heed the sage advice of the wife of the Oracle, Ronald Reagan, when confronted by your next Denny’s Jumbo Texas-Sized Breakfast Platter or 64-ounce tankard of Pepsi Cola… and just say no.