As if Mondays aren't rough enough, it's a short week and I gotta get so much stuff done in such a short time it isn't funny. But I'll do it. Gotta. Someone has to.
Holidays are always weird for me- I'm never ready for them, I never have anything in particular planned. This year is an exception. We finally planned something out in advance. I'm not convinced it'll all happen. I'll believe it when it's over and I have the receipts. Until then, I have a million things to write, a million chores to accomplish, a million things on my mind. Just thinking about it makes it feel like a million more things to do.
First, there's the shortened work week, which is usually a signal for most people to slack off. For those of us who have to write about things in the news, it's the opposite, because with less going on, there's less to write about. Maybe someone famous will die (thank you, Kate), or some weirdness will happen (hello, Baylor), but, mostly, it's a week of nothing. Fortunately, my background in radio gives me the ability to prattle on for hours about nothing in particular, filling air and space with random words to make it appear like I'm coherently discussing important events. See? Just like that. So I have a week of breaking rocks ahead of me, and you have a week of reading incoherent, aimless blather. But be grateful- it's a short week. One workday's already in the books. Together, we can do this.
June 2003 Archives
As if Mondays aren't rough enough, it's a short week and I gotta get so much stuff done in such a short time it isn't funny. But I'll do it. Gotta. Someone has to.
Katharine Hepburn's dead, and I can only imagine what's going through the minds of people under 30 years old. Probably stuff like "Who?" and "Do you think there'll be tickets left for the 7:30 show of 'Charlie's Angels' at the AMC?" I think it's a safe bet that most people under 30 couldn't name a single Katharine Hepburn movie if you spotted them Spencer Tracy. This isn't necessarily evidence of anything. In fact, there is actually no reason in the world that anybody that young SHOULD know who she is. No relevance to their lives. Past history.
Celebrity's like that. Short of being President, everyone's forgotten, some more soon than others. Can't avoid it. What gets scary is when you casually toss off a pop culture reference, one as familiar to you as your own name, and all you get is blank stares- what it means is that you've passed from the "youth" category into the "your parents" category. You remember Katharine Hepburn? Might as well bring up Jimmy Durante, Eddie Cantor, Pola Negri. Didn't all the movies you saw when you were a kid come in black and white, with no dialogue? And everyone walked really fast? Did you go to school on the School Stagecoach? Did they have sex back then?
But you can take heart. Today's youth will be tomorrow's... you. And they'll throw out names like Avril Lavigne and get blank stares from their kids. Don't believe me? Ask a kid under 15 who the Backstreet Boys were. Things are moving even faster these days. That's not such a bad thing, either.
One question on a lazy Saturday: What the hell was Chachi all about?
No, really. We were idly flipping through the channels on the dish and "Happy Days" was on TV Land, and it was a Very Special Post-Shark-Jumping Episode in which Fonzie went in search of his biological mother and settled on a diner waitress who appeared to be roughly the same age as Henry Winkler was at the time. While pondering that disturbing circumstance, the diner door flung open and Chachi Arcola rushed in with some minor comic quip or something, and it struck me: this show was set in the late 50s and early 60s, right? Let's say they progressed to, say, 1962 by the time of this episode, and that's generous.
So, didn't anyone notice Chachi's hair?
Chachi's hair was your basic 1978 shag 'do, parted in the middle and puffed out a little with a blow dryer. And I realized that had this episode REALLY taken place in 1962- any time before 1966, I'd say, because his hair was long even by Beatles/Stones standards- and Chachi had walked into any random Milwaukee eatery, he would have had his skinny ass kicked all the way to Eau Claire and back. As I recall, long hair was considered less than masculine in those less than enlightened days of brush cuts and Butch Wax. At least, having long hair that had not been greased into a D.A. would get you a heap o' trouble, and even the D.A. had to be just right, because if you showed up at the Steak 'n' Shake with Fabian's hair, you were a Pretty Boy, and Pretty Boys were not appreciated by guys who were more than likely uncomfortable with their own sexuality, but I digress. Bottom line: "Happy Days" at some point lost all pretense of being chronologically accurate. I blame Ted McGinley. Or the shark.
Next: Anson Williams: What the hell?
Nothing. We inspected the shelves, carefully looked at every option, and found nothing. Nothing at all.
I'm referring, of course, to the video store. It's Friday, and we like to stock up on DVDs for our entertainment, since we are, after all, stereotypical suburbanites unwilling to venture very far for excitement. For a while, now, our trips to the Blockbuster- that's all we have, Blockbuster (albeit a Blockbuster that carries unedited, full versions and even unrated movies) and Hollywood Video- have ended with us leaving emptyhanded. Anything worth watching, we've seen. Crap not worth the time, well, there's plenty of that. Direct-to-video embarrassments starring people you assumed had left acting, or perhaps had joined Eddie Mekka and Georgia Engel on the dinner-theater circuit? Sure, unlimited supply. Good movies we haven't seen? Anything interesting? Well, no, but here's a Sylvester Stallone movie with a new title to make you think it's not the one you avoided the first time around. And here's a few Dominique Swain spectaculars. (I should note that I have met Dominique, she's very, very nice, and there's nothing intrinsically wrong with her acting, but she tends to be in very, very bad movies that somehow never make it to the multiplex) Look, Rob Schneider!
This will not do.
I was only half-joking when I told Fran that if we want something good to watch, we're going to have to make it ourselves. But if we're going to get it onto Blockbuster's shelves, we'll have to disguise it to fit in. We'll call it "Mindless Unwatchable Crap." No, it should be "Mindless Unwatchable Crap II." Or "Mindless Unwatchable Crap II: Electric Boogaloo." The plot: a suburban couple goes to the video store and gets swallowed whole by a tidal wave of "Just Married" DVDs. It's a documentary.
Just a word here about the Supreme Court decision on Texas' sodomy law, because I listened to something and it bothered me a little. Rush Limbaugh was going on and on about how the Court had overstepped its authority and it was an activist decision and it's not the result of the ruling, it's the dangerous way that blah blah blah.
And I listened and I thought, no, it IS the result of the ruling that's bothering you. If you're worried about judicial activism and the infringement of "states' rights," that horse left the barn a long time ago. The bottom line is simple. Conservatives want less government, want the government to keep out of people's business without a compelling reason to be there. I can think of not a single compelling reason for the state to be involved in which sexual practices consenting adults choose to practice in their own homes, not a one. There's not even an abortion-like argument (the taking of a life, the dispute over when life begins), or a drug-making argument (activity that could lead to harming others). It's people doing something that is none of the government's business. Not the federal government, not the state government, not the town government.
In a strictly procedural sense, yes, this is stretching the "right to privacy"- a right some would argue doesn't really exist in the Constitution- to cover something it hasn't covered before. And you'll hear people talk of a slippery slope- Justice Scalia, in his dissent, says that, why, according to this ruling, the government can't even regulate masturbation anymore! All I can ask is this: do you really want to live in a system that would regulate masturbation? That would even think about regulating masturbation? Sometimes, common sense has to prevail. It did here. Now, can everybody shut up and go back to arguing about tax cuts and WMDs? Thanks.
There are people who can walk or drive past a bookstore without veering directly through the door and spending an hour or two inside. I am not one of those people.
I was reminded of this yesterday, at lunchtime. There's a bookstore- a small Borders branch- at the top of the hill, right near the post office, and it was at the post office when I thought, hey, let me just duck into Borders for a second, pick up a Register or maybe a magazine, then head back to the office. Naturally, 45 minutes later, I was still in the store, speedreading a magazine about summer in the mountains, brushing through "Moneyball" while deciding whether to buy it now or later, checking the New Mexico travel guides, sizing up the NFL preview issues. I really did have to get back to work, but I was finding it hard to tear myself away.
Part of it is the lure of reading, to be sure- I am virtually always reading, even when doing other things like watching TV and eating and talking on the telephone- but I can do that anywhere. It has more to do with the atmosphere, and it's not just the physical appearance of the place, because that doesn't matter- I tend to read standing up, leaning with one elbow against the stacks. While I was killing time at the store yesterday, I realized that I'd entered a silent zone, a quiet place that I don't find elsewhere. It's not actually silent, either. At the moment I was thinking this, the store PA system was playing "Dazed and Confused." It's more the silence that envelops you when you're deep in thought, tightly in the grasp of an interesting article or a good book. World War III could have been raging in the cafe behind me and I would not have paid any attention. I was in another zone, and I liked where I was.
Trying to explain my bookstore fetish is probably a losing proposition with anyone not similarly afflicted. That would include most people. It makes me feel kinda weird, an otherwise normal American guy who's more comfortable at Barnes and Noble than a strip club on a Saturday night, but that's okay, I guess. I'll leave my stool at Jumbo's Clown Room for another average American guy. You know where to find me.
Blogger was down all Wednesday- here's a column that was intended for then:
I ran into some antelope today.
At least, I THINK they were antelope (antelopes? antelopii?). About yea tall, straight horns, light brown fur with white underbelly... There were two, crossing Palos Verdes Drive South as I was running along the curb. They crossed the westbound lanes, clambered over the median strip, wandered tentatively into oncoming traffic and stopping a bewildered SUV driver in his tracks, then scampered off down the entrance road to the old Marineland site and disappeared.
I'm not big on wildlife. Oh, it has its place- the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park work for me- but I prefer not to encounter wildlife in the, er, wild. Here in the coastal area of Southern California, we normally get a limited range of wildlife, namely a) skunks, b) raccoons, c) possums, d) more skunks, e) coyotes, f) the occasional fox, g) SNAKES!!!, h) peacocks, and and i) more skunks. I'll be sitting on the couch watching TV and a skunk will stroll by the window, look back at me, and casually hop away. Or I'll look out and see a pair of raccoons using our pool as a bath and drinking fountain. Or there'll be a thump-thump-thump on the roof, and I'll look in the driveway and see a peacock bouncing into the road. Note that in all of these instances, I am safely indoors, separated from the wildlife by glass, wood, and sheetrock. The antelope situation was different. As I ran towards the scene, I hesitated. What do I do? Do I run straight through? Do I turn and hightail it like I'd do if it was a rattler? Do I veer far, far across the road like I'd do for skunks? Do antelope like humans? Dunno, dunno, dunno. But they didn't see me, so nothing happened.
But it could have, and that's what's problematic for me. If I wanted wildlife encounters, I'd live in the wild. I live in the suburbs. We're supposed to be protected from such things. When I walk out my door, I want to be assured that I will not be headbutted by a crazed antelope, trampled by a bouncing peacock, sprayed by a startled skunk. Someone should do something about this. Call the Governor. Recall the Governor. It's simple: there's a place for wildlife, and it's called "Animal Planet." Or my dinner plate, with a baked potato and broccoli. I expect action on this immediately.
After yesterday's "I Don't Care" discussion, I was hoping that my mood would change at least a little, that I'd find something worth some attention. Then it was time to write the weekly newsletter I send out on behalf of my other column, a newsletter in which I try to riff on whatever's happening in that particular week, and...
...nothing. I son't know what I would do if I was on the air right now. Take vacation, probably. That seems to be what a lot of hosts are doing- Hannity's off, Rome is off, Savage is off, even all the Salem guys like Prager are off, and whoever isn't off this week took last week off or will take next week off. No wonder- nothing is grabbing any attention right now. It's June, it's summer, it's no time to be talking about war and taxes and crime and whatever. People want to- I want to- just put our brains on "pause" and skate through the next few weeks.
I'd be fine with everyone taking a couple of weeks off at the same time. Not just taking vacation- I'm thinking that all news, all events, everything should just be put on hold. Hello, Hamas? No murder for two weeks, OK? Gephardt, Dean, Kerry, all of you guys? Take five, we'll be back to you in July. A national vacation, a worldwide break in the action, a global recharging of the batteries- it's what the world needs now.
In fact, we should all work together to make this happen. Petitions, lobbying, a worldwide movement- yes, I can see it now. Well, actually, not now. Maybe in a few weeks. I need to take a break first. Hold that thought, willya?
After careful consideration of the important news stories of the day, I've come to the conclusion that I don't care.
It's not that the topics themselves aren't important. They are, surely, to millions of people. I just can't get to the point where I have a fervently held opinion one way or the other about any of it. Affirmative action in school admissions? I graduated a long time ago, I have no kids, I have no horse in that race. Terrorism? I DO care about that, but I can't DO anything about it, and thinking about it only gets depressing. Recalling the governor? Won't make a whole lot of difference. Library Net filters? I use my own computer. Sports? Too early for football, too early for the pennant races in baseball, don't care about golf.
So, that leaves me in a state of ennui, I suppose. This has its advantages. It gives me time and brain power to spend on home, family, the Food Network. It's trouble, however, for someone who's paid to have opinions on everything. Oh, I do have opinions- I can scare up a comment or two about anything- but it's hard to CARE. You know what I mean?
I suppose I'll snap out of this. Something will happen in the news that will get my back up, make me angry or elated or smug or something with even a tiny drip of emotion. Until then, there has to be an "Everybody Loves Raymond" episode to watch, a "Get Fuzzy" strip to read, a solitaire game to play on the Palm Pilot. You know, the important stuff.
That was interesting. I was close to finished with a longish rant about the fragmentation of pop culture when I stopped, looked at it, and remembered something I said this weekend, talking to a friend while killing time at a TV taping. What's scary about writing sometimes, I said, is that once you put something out there, there's no turning back. You're on the record, and you have to own up to what you've written. That's why I'll read and reread what I write here, edit, reconsider, think about that before posting. I don't want to say anything that'll come back to bite me in the ass, yet I want to be fearless as well. That's a hard balance to strike.
I had this piece almost finished when I stopped to think about it, think about whether it made sense. And something told me that, no, it wasn't quite there, wasn't ready. So I decided to copy the material into a separate document, save it, and maybe sleep on it, work on it later. But I must have hit the wrong key, because my fingers slipped and...
...it was gone. Not copied, not saved. Gone.
And that's why you're reading this, and won't be reading that. God is my editor, and He didn't like the other column. I've fought editors before, but this time, I'll take it as Divine intervention and figure that it wasn't meant to be. Not this time, anyway.
Well, at least I had good intentions. I was going to go to the convention today like I did yesterday, do the schmingle thing, show my face, but it's hard to do that when you sleep straight through to 4:30 in the afternoon. Yes, the ordeal continues.
I did get out last night, though, and was able to get to the convention for a little bit. It's a radio convention, one geared towards the DJ and programmer side of music radio, so it was a pageant of age-inappropriate attire. Guys in their 30s and 40s wearing the stuff 16 year old kids wear, baggy and labeled, throwback jerseys and Sean John, a Ruben Studdard dress-alike contest sometimes using his actual-size clothes. I've observed this for a long time, and I think I've figured this out. While these guys SAY they dress this way because they "live the lifestyle" of their listeners, I think it's really that they're living the lifestyle they never got to lead when most people do it. Let's face it, these guys were the nerds and outcasts of their high schools, the geeky, goofy, awkward guys who never got dates and never went out on Saturday nights. Now, they actually have JOBS where they get to be the cool kids, and there you have it, hundreds of guys with thinning hair, scraggly goatees, and those shorts that balloon out like Scarlett O'Hara's ball gown and reach their ankles.
Not that I wasn't a nerd. I'm STILL a nerd. But I know it.
And I'm a tired nerd with a persistent couch and indigestion, so I'm going to go now. It's Saturday night. You're supposed to be out partying. Turn off the computer. Talk to you tomorrow. Go!
Big activity night tonight, and I feel like I've been repeatedly run over by a bus. But you're as tired of hearing me whine about it as I am tired of hearing myself cough. So I'm armed with a fistful of medication that won't do anything, a case of water in the trunk, and away I go. The convention first- I'm never good at these things, because I never know anyone and I'm always sick and tired and...
...well, maybe it's because I don't get to go to a REAL convention. All of my conventions are either the kind with Guys in Suits or Bald Middle-Aged Guys With Ponytails and Suede Jackets. That's not a real convention.
I want to go to a convention where everyone wears a fez. Really. Everyone wears a fez and rides little minicars in circles, then goes and gets blasted at the hotel pool tiki bar with a couple of stewardesses on layover. "Room Service? Send up a hamburger, a case of Old Milwaukee, and your finest whore!" Guys in fezzes and short-sleeved shirts and clip-on ties with badges that really do say "HELLO! My Name Is..." THAT's a convention.
Anyway, I gotta go to this, so let's see how long I'm able to hold up. If I'm coherent after the fact, I'll report on the action here.
I never quite made it out of the house today. This is the longest I've been under the weather for ages- I normally don't get sick too often- and the neverending cough is driving me up a wall. What's weird about it is that for most of the day, the rest of me is fine. I can walk, run, carry heavy objects, drive, whatever, except for anything that requires breathing, which has become somewhat of a chore. Ah, well, that's show biz.
Speaking of which, there's a convention of radio folks in town. I have to go at some point Friday, make an appearance, do the rounds, then slip back out into the night. I'm hopeful that the gallons of Long's Drugs Generic Robitussin Knockoff will take effect by then and I won't cause problems, especially at the big awards ceremony. No, I'm not up for an award. That isn't going to happen. I don't do the kind of things that people hold award shows about. The only way I'm going to win any award is if I enter my mom's Beef, Beans, 'n' Beer Chili into a cookoff. Strike that- I DID win an award a couple of years ago. I had the Dirtiest Car in the Parking Lot at a Rancho Cucamonga Quakes-Visalia Oaks game. I got a case of motor oil and a coupon for a free car wash. Beyond that, it's an Honorable Mention kind of life.
So I'm going to have a lot on the schedule for the next 48 hours, between work, the convention, and coughing. Wish me luck. Say, what do you think would happen if i mixed NyQuil and Red Bull?
Gotta sleep it off. More tom'w.
There was a story in the paper today about a woman who lost her suit against a tobacco company. She'd been a smoker for 30 years, and she claimed that the tobacco company was responsible for her cancer because she didn't know that tobacco was that dangerous when she started. The jury correctly surmised that she was full of it. 30 years ago- that would be 1973, for the mathematically-impaired- there were already Surgeon General's warnings on cigarette packs. Cigarette commercials had been taken off American TV. It was common knowledge that smoking was a very bad thing for your health.
Some cases, however, go back to the 50's, when, ostensibly, people didn't know any better. But they did. First, look at this ad from the back cover of the October 4-10, 1958 TV Guide:
Yep, the Marshal there is enjoying the "rich tobacco flavor," yes sir, "easy to get along with." The Deputy, back in the shadows, is undoubtedly wishing he could be the Marshal, that he could grow a mustache and wear a really tight shirt and have not just a pistol in his holster but a great big thobbing rifle jutting up right out of his crotch, yes, that WOULD be the life, but no, he's just a Deputy, comic relief with a stupid gray hat and, apparently, no right foot. You'd surmise from this ad that 50's people thought smoking was harmless, even good for you. And then you see this inside the magazine:
If people in the 50's were so ill-informed about the dangers of smoking, why is there an ad for a cure for nicotine addiction? Why does it specifically talk about nicotine causing a craving for tobacco? How could someone not know smoking was bad for you when they were already selling ways to break you of the addiction?
Maybe the jury in this case is signaling a change in the way juries will treat these smokers' suits. Maybe they'll realize that the plaintiffs made a choice, a bad choice, a choice of something that society already knew was harmful, and that these suits are a way to profit from one's own error of judgment. Or maybe the next case will go right back to the deep pockets. In any case, I wonder if the lawyers and state Attorneys General in these tobacco cases sit there and really, truly believe that people who started smoking in the 50's and 60's didn't know they were playing with fire. I think they know the truth. And that's another reason my law degree sits in a frame wrapped in brown paper in a storage space by the garage. I couldn't be part of that. I'd rather sleep at night and be able to look myself in the face every morning.
The illness that has been plaguing me for the last week is almost gone, except for the cough. It comes from the top of the lungs and rips through my throat and sinuses, leaving me slightly dizzy.
Needless to say, this is not an ideal situation, especially when expected to work normal hours (which are long in any event). It's a chest cold, meaning cough suppressants aren't wise- you WANT the cough to kick up phlegm and clear you out. Unfortunately for the other denizens of this house, this has resulted in huge, plaster-cracking hacks at 5 am. Can't help it. Gotta breathe, you know.
So, naturally, I want this to end as soon as possible, but it's not over yet. Meanwhile, you'll know where to find me at all times. just get within 30 miles of Los Angeles and listen for me. You'll know it when you hear it.
Proof some things never change. This is an ad for a show that aired on CBS, March 8, 1966. They were trouble back then, too. You'd think we'd have learned our lesson back then- barely 20 years after the U.S. helped save their asses- but there are still people who expect better from them. History would dictate otherwise.
Bonus: it was "in Color"!
Happy Father's Day, Dad.
I won't bore the rest of the readers with what I've told you already, but I will just give some advice- if you love your father, tell him so. Tell him every day. For him, for yourself. Don't wait for some unknown moment in the future, or think it's too sappy and sentimental. Go, pick up the phone. If you're close enough, get in the car and drive over there. And I'm not talking about only on Father's Day, either.
What are you doing still reading this? Go call Dad. And, if she's still around, tell your mother you love her, too. Everything else can wait.
A bright idea concocted in my (literally) feverish mind while wondering if I'll ever stop coughing:
- 1. Most people don't like to pay high taxes.
2. The federal and state governments are whining that they need more money.
3. Among the biggest advocates for more spending on more programs and levying more taxes on people are the Hollywood liberal elite. So...
4. Tax Hollywood liberals at a 95% rate.
If Rob Reiner wants an expensive new program to teach kids that smoking is bad, let him pay for it. School woes? A 95% share of Steven Spielberg's take on a SINGLE MOVIE would pay for everything. It's perfect!
Ah, you say, but what if they object? What if they leave the country rather than pay the tax? Well, you see, then it's working. A 95% tax rate will flush out the hypocrites. And there's ample precedent- when pre-Thatcher Britain had an onerous tax on the wealthy, many of the country's entertainers moved to America, the Bahamas, anywhere they could hide from the taxman. Subsequently, they were vocal in their hatred of Thatcher, but they came home when the tax went away. And, hey, would any of us miss Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins if they moved to a tax haven? No, we would not. So everyone's a winner.
Seriously, I don't have much of a platform here to get this going, but it's a golden opportunity to yank Hollywood's crank a little. I know that a disproportionate percentage of you work in talk radio, so you know what to do. And when you march on Brentwood and Bel Air, I'll be with you.
Still sick. Just ate, despite violent aversion to food at the moment. Must lay down. Weekend? Aaaaaahhhh. Good timing.
It started with a scratch at the back of my throat, then a persistent dry cough, then my sinuses started to feel a little funky, then more coughing, a sore throat...
...I'm sick. I rarely take ill these days, but I caught something this time. Of course, the first thing I thought was SARS!!! But I'm not running a fever, so it's probably just a cold. It's having the effect of knocking me out- I actually fell asleep for a moment at the keyboard. I don't have the luxury of taking a day off, because I work at home, and there's no place to stay home FROM. I also have that annoying work ethic where I feel guilty if I'm not working when I'm supposed to be. And then there's the incoherence, when I start off talking about something that makes sense and eventually banana. Newspaper remote stapler, antenna. Banana!
So I'm going to go lie down. Believe me, you don't want to spend a lot of time with my thoughts right now. Talk to you banana... er, tomorrow.
I'm not an old guy, not yet, anyway, but I'm about to sound like one, so pardon me in advance, won't you? Thanks.
This was another fast-Mexican-food night, and I'm sitting there slamming down my burrito and watching people queue up at the counter to order. There were the requisite soccer moms with unruly broods running around the place, playing with their Kid's Meal toys and sliding on pieces of quesadilla they put on the floor. There were distracted Toyota and Honda junior execs talking on their cell phone headsets while deciding between the Carne Asada Baja Grill Burrito and the Dos Tacos Combo. And there were the girls.
Here's the thing: when I was 16, kids didn't choose their own clothes. Every August, your mom and dad would load the family into the Rambler and head for someplace like Sears or J.C. Penney or the Army-Navy store downstairs from the Plaid Stamps redemption store (Plaidland!) in Pompton Lakes where mom would make you try on what seemed like a million pairs of corduroy pants and, finally, you'd walk out with a few bags of clothes guaranteed to make you look, well, average. Girls had the same thing, only dad would make sure that the clothes covered every inch of their daughters' skin. And the girls' clothes had to be loose, because God forbid anyone should get the impression teenage girls might have, you know, breasts and curves and stuff. So we got to lust after what appeared to be potato sacks with heads and feet. It worked for us because we didn't know any better.
Here's how it apparently works today: kids go to the mall without parental supervision but with their own credit cards, and they buy whatever they want. And what the girls want is to look like... um... well, not potato sacks. The girls on the burrito line appeared to have come to the place directly from auditions for Christina Aguilera's dancers or from the Mustang Ranch- one girl wore a low-rider skirt (it started right around, say, the pubic area) and a white push-up bustier under a see-through white blouse, another wore a t-shirt about six sizes too small that exposed an incipient beer belly. Apart from whether the girls actually look in the mirror and think, yeah, I'm looking good, the big question for me is:
Where the hell are mom and dad?
It has to be part of the total abdication of authority by parents, the rejection of discipline. You want to walk out of the house looking like a five-bucks-a-blow Tunnel Bunny? Yes, dear, whatever you want. We're not your parents, we're your friends. Besides, mommy has a Pilates class to get to and daddy's working late.
Am I just being old and intolerant and repressed here because I wouldn't allow my (theoretical) daughter to leave the house looking like that? I don't know. I'm not a parent. I can't say for sure how difficult it is to steer your kids around the potholes in popular culture. But I can say that, sitting there at dinner watching the flower of American youth leaving all sense of self-restraint behind, I did not feel confident that the kids are all right.
OK, you caught me. I was not engaged in important high-level talks or delicate negotiations. I was here:
(Why, yes, I DID get a digital camera. Why do you ask?)
The Phillies lost, miserably- no hitting, winning run scored on a wild pitch- and the thing that struck me the most was that security at these games is all wrong. I was carrying no bags, just a jacket, with a camera and cell phone in my pocket, all permitted. Nevertheless, the 80 year old security man/glorified usher at Edison Field insisted on inspecting my left pocket. I told him it was a camera, checkbook, and pen, but he insisted on my emptying the pocket, and then he patted me down.
All I could think of is WHAT THE HELL WAS HE LOOKING FOR? What could I be carrying- the world's smallest weapon? Bioterror material? Compromising photos of David Eckstein? What in his "training" could have possibly tipped this guy off that I- nondescript blond suburban American guy- might be some sort of danger to... to whom? Why did he single me out (and thereby hold up the line, which quickly grew to massive proportions)? Why did he then rifle through Fran's pocketbook- did he think she was Natasha to my Boris?
That's a hell of a way to treat your customers, isn't it? Nice greeting- Welcome to Edison Field, empty your pockets and put your hands where I can see them. How quickly do you think I'll be back at an Angels game this season?
More later, but while I'm off doing something else, here's Ella the World's Most Famous Cat's impression of a rat, or mouse, or gerbil:
We were eating fish tacos at a local Rubio's when I looked up at the wall and saw this:
It's something called "The Story of... Rubio's Baja Grill," and it's actually a relic of the fast food chain's recent past marketing, in which a talking fish taco represents the founder of the business. (Since then, the chain has reverted to telling the story using the real guy's name- astonishingly, it's Rubio) I read the poster, which says that Pesky Pescado- that's the talking, walking fish taco with arms poking through its shell- was "the most tasty and delicious fish taco" in San Felipe, who "had always hoped to move to America, the land of the cheesy burger" and swam to San Diego's Mission Bay, where "soon San Diegans were driving from miles around for a taste of his Baja-style fish tacos." The story is illustrated by artist's conceptions of Pesky dreaming of "America!," contemplating a directional sign pointing to California, and, finally, standing outside a Rubio's location, jauntily waving to passers-by in the manner of a college student in a hot dog costume waving at cars outside a Wienerschnitzel for minimum wage.
After absorbing this tale, I was left with a few questions, to wit: did it ever occur to Pesky that he, himself, is a fish taco and therefore edible? How was it determined that he was "the most tasty and delicious fish taco" in San Felipe- who "tasted" him, if you know what I mean? And isn't selling fish tacos to be eaten by Americanos a little disturbing to Pesky? I mean, these are his brethren, his own kind, and he's selling them to be eaten, to be brutally gnawed to death by the sharp white fangs of Touristus Americanus. That makes Pesky the kapo of San Felipe, sending his fellow fish tacos to their certain death in the vain hope of saving his own, much like the Pillsbury Dough Boy (sending his dough-brothers to the ovens!) and the talking M&Ms (who at least appear to be aware that they are likely to be next in line to be eaten).
Mercifully, they dropped the Pesky concept not long ago, replaced by- I kid you not- a talking Mexican-stereotype marionette. But the remnants of Pesky's reign of terror remain at many Rubio's outlets, as do the tropical fish tanks in the dining area (a bizarre concept, making the fish watch people eat, er, fish). I finished my taco, but it was hard to ignore the tiny fish screams. If they introduce a talking tortilla, I'm taking my business elsewhere.
A Day at the Fair
Every year, the Chamber of Commerce of our peninsula holds a Street Fair. Every year, or, more precisely, every other year, we stop by, just to see if there's anything worth seeing. There never is. Most street fairs are like that- every year, a long line of booths selling the kind of stuff you'll eventually be too embarrassed to put in a garage sale, plus rides for the kiddies, local "talent" on stage, and food served from booths and wagons unfamiliar to the local health department and constructed to be whisked away one step ahead of said health department. We go anyway. We went today.
Most of the fair is about as sad as this- a very, very bad cartoonist doing caricatures that look nothing like the subject, with a clutch of bored-looking kids surrounding him. (You can't see how bad his drawings are in this picture, and I didn't want to embarrass him (or myself) by getting too close) Sad booths with carny/gypsy-looking types selling clothing of dubious origin and jewelry of dubious value and sunglasses the boxes urge you to "COMPARE TO OAKLEY" or "COMPARE TO RAY-BAN." Okay, I've compared and the Oakleys and Ray-Bans are better- now what? Fran bought some scrunchies for her hair (including a Phillies scrunchie- that ought to go over well at Edison Field Tuesday night) and there was one interesting booth that displayed pictures of our area from 1931 and 1937, when the peninsula was mostly undeveloped and bare and our neighborhood, according to the 1937 zoning map of Los Angeles County, was zoned for, er, nothing. But that booth was the exception- the rest were the same scary people and goods as in past years.
And then there was this: in an adjacent lot, they'd set up a brace of carnival rides. This one's called "Jumpin' Star," and it involves taking six children and sending them uuuupppp the yellow thing and dowwwwnnnn real fast and uuuuupppp again and dowwwwnnnn again and all I could think about is what the insurance riders must be like on these things, because, I mean, you're taking SIX CHILDREN and VIOLENTLY JERKING THEM UP AND DOWN A TALL STRUCTURE. Lawsuit in the making? No more, I'd say, than this:
That's a rollercoaster back there. It's hard to see it in this shot, but the thing, loaded with kids, goes fast, faster than I'd like something as impermanent and weathered as this carny ride to go. Whiplash? Why, yes, please, make it a double. And while you're at it, I'll take this:
The only reason there doesn't need to be a lawyer and an orthopedic specialist on call for this one is that, like with all bumper car rides, this one generally ended up with all of the cars crammed into a corner, gridlocked like La Cienega and 3rd at 5:15 pm on a Friday. Nobody's moving, so nobody can get hurt, right? At least, that's the theory. It's a better theory than...
...letting kids climb an inflatable that looks like it's about to collapse or tip over, then having them slide down. Ostensibly, they'll hit the inflated part and bounce harmlessly, but it looked to me that they could just as easily bounce right onto the pavement. See that "Exit" ramp? Right into the concrete.
Of course, there were animals. Pony ride? Check. Elephant? Check. Petting zoo? Check. Getting thrown from My Friend Flicka? Salmonella and e-coli from a petted sheep? Any number of mishaps on Dumbo? Would you take that chance? (Couldn't get a clear shot for an elephant picture and didn't want to wait around to get one- sorry)
So what have we learned? We've seen how street fairs can be hotbeds of consumer fraud and havens for personal injury lawyers. We've also learned not to go back, although you know we'll ignore that lesson. Look, this isn't really all that exciting of a place. This is the biggest happening we have, bigger even than the week Eddie "The Big Ragu" Mekka, Greg "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman's husband" Mullavey, and Richard "Larry from 'Three's Company'" Kline teamed up to perform the play "Art" at the Norris Theater. If we don't go to the Street Fair, what WILL we be able to go to? And besides...
...there's always jerky.
I have returned from the Pantages with a mind full of stuff to write and no time to do so. Much material about musicals, Italian restaurants, Pesky the fish taco, and various other disturbing topics will be forthcoming, but y'all gonna hafta wait some more. Thanks.
Can't post much tonight- took Fran to the theater, which is where I am right now, waiting for "The Producers" to start. Later.
It was raining this morning, courtesy of the "June Gloom" that makes Los Angeles such a joy this time of year. It started before 5, that much I know- it was coming down in a misty drizzle when I woke up. That means there was no excuse for the Los Angeles Times carrier to throw today's paper onto the driveway without bagging it in plastic. (The Daily Breeze carrier was more prepared for the weather- that paper was double-bagged) I had to peel the Times off the driveway and call the paper for a replacement copy.
The cheery voice on the Times' automated system told me that a fresh, dry copy would be delivered within 45 minutes, and if it didn't come, I should call again. Two hours later, no paper.
I called again, got a live operator who apologized and said a copy would absolutely be there in 45 minutes. 45 minutes, no paper.
I called again. Another live operator, now faced with an irate customer who really wanted a paper and a credit for not seeing fit to deliver a copy before half the day was gone. OK, he said, credit and paper. 45 minutes. No problem. 45 minutes later, no paper.
By now, I was not going to accept the 45 minutes thing. The first CSR I got didn't know what to do, frankly- he passed me onto a supervisor, who sounded really, really young, and just kept offering to send a message to the regional agent- the guy who was supposed to deliver the replacement copy and ignored three requests to do so- to call me. I explained that this would be futile since I would be waiting for a call from the same guy who'd been ignoring my requests all day. This confused the CSR supervisor. I said that I'd been a subscriber for 8 years and I had had about enough, and they were flirting with losing me as a customer. I told him that just sending a message to the agent wasn't going to cut it, and I expected them to show me some action, like calling the agent with me still on the line so I could be sure to get him and find out what the hell happened to my paper. I also asked what would be done to the agent for refusing to do his job. This confused the guy even more- he said something about there being nothing in the procedures allowing a direct call to the agent, he wouldn't give me the number, he pointed out that they have a lot of customers (as if I'd care about the other 999,000 customers), he offered a week's credit- big deal, four bucks- but couldn't figure out what to do except to send me to ANOTHER supervisor, who told me that, well, you're not going to get a paper and there was nothing they could do about it.
"So you're going to blow off a customer, a guy who's faithfully subscribed for eight years? Your agent refuses to service a customer, and there's nothing you can do?"
And they have a point. Where am I gonna go? There's only one major paper in the market. I can't get delivery of the Register or the Daily News or the Press-Telegram, and the Daily Breeze is just the local paper. The Times is a monopoly. I have no choice...
...except for hundreds, even thousands, of web sites. The news is fresher, I can get opinion columns without having to face Robert Scheer's absurdity, I can get "Get Fuzzy" delivered to my e-mail in-box, I get the TV listings and movie times on my PDA phone. I can even get the entire content of the Times without the quarter-page cell phone ads. Epiphany! I don't need the Los Angeles Times! I'm free! Free, I tell you!
But I still like the hard copy paper. I LIKE the ads, the portability, the feel. I want it. So it's either put up with lousy monopoly service or do without. And I can't do without. Don't tell the Times- I don't want them to take advantage of me. Not that they aren't already.
As I noted yesterday, I got around to watching the movie "Comedian" last night, and, as I said, it is highly recommended. I've worked with several stand-up comics, and the intensity, the insecurity, the ego, the need to perform and be loved while simultaneously feeling unworthy are all there. It's a fascinating look at the people who choose that life, if you're into it. And, yes, it has Jerry Seinfeld all over it, but you'll be more fascinated with Orny Adams. Trust me on that.
Anyway, the movie reminded me of something I want to tell those of you whose job it is to talk on the radio. (That's a large percentage of this column's audience; the rest of you, please bear with me. Thanks. And while everything you'll read here reflects my own thoughts, I do want to acknowledge Walter Sabo for, in a different way, making similar points in his convention and seminar presentations- if you see his name on a meeting agenda, go see him)
In the movie, the comics, to a man, carry around notes- in Orny Adams' case, he has a full library and several file drawers' worth of meticulously detailed joke material. They shuffle nervously before performing, running through their 20 minute routine in their minds, fretting about forgetting something- Seinfeld is shown completely losing his place on stage and coming to an embarrassing silence. New material is considered poison, and the rule is that you never, ever, ever open your set with the new stuff. Any changes throw the whole performance off, which is immaterial, since they are never happy with their performances. All of this angst is generated by a 20 minute routine their audience will forget shortly after the last drink is served.
If you talk on the radio, you do two, three, four hours a day of original material. You don't have the luxury of rehearsal. There's no script, and your notes aren't from a stockpile of tested material, but rather have been scribbled hurriedly in the hour or two before showtime. You have nothing BUT new stuff- you open with new stuff, do new stuff for your whole show, close with new stuff. You are charged with entertaining people for that entire time, informing them, keeping them happy, yet, other than those phone calls, you get no feedback from the audience, no laughter when you're funny and groaning when you're not, no way to judge whether what you're doing is working.
In short, your job is about a hundred times more difficult than any comedian or actor can ever dream of doing. You have to do the impossible every single day. Yet, somehow, you do it. You come up with that original material, a new angle on things, another outrageous comment, another impromptu riff on news that's breaking while you're on the air.
They don't make movies following a radio host around like they did for "Comedian." Your job isn't visual, isn't Hollywood enough. But when it's done right- when you do it- the talk radio show is the single most impressive feat in the entertainment industry. It's live, extemporaneous, improvised entertainment around the clock. It's amazing. And it's you.
Kinda backed up again. That happens. Just a couple of things: 1) Martha Stewart gets indicted, quits, and I cannot think of a single reason to care. So I don't. I also cannot for the life of me think of a single reason for anyone but her investors and her family to care. Then again, I don't subscribe to "Us Weekly." 2) Finally saw the documentary "Comedian," which is highly recommended. I'll tell you more about that tomorrow. Right now, I'm too tired to even post a picture.
Update: the school tax passed, with over 70% of the vote. Whaddya gonna do?...
We voted today. There was only one thing on the ballot, a yes-or-no question, which made things nice and easy, as long as you made sure the chads weren't hanging (we still have punchcard voting here). Normally, I'd skip these mini-votes, because it's usually selecting a water commission chairman or something like that, and I know nothing about those jobs and those people. This one was different, a choice that I just had to make sure I didn't miss.
I went to vote the school tax down.
You have to understand something about this- I'm the son of a career educator, a public school principal, no less. I understand the need for public education, and, having grown up in a union household, I'm not wholly unsympathetic to the cause. I remember the way my town's school budget never passed, how they'd bus the retirees in from the nursing homes to make sure they voted, because everyone knew they'd not want to spend a dime on those whippersnappers. I remember being annoyed- don't they realize that I'M THE FUTURE?!? How DARE they endanger my future!
And then, I grew up. As time went on, I realized that for every dedicated public educator like my father, there were plenty of hacks leeching off the school system, protected by tenure and a system that made it impossible to tear away that cloak of invincibility. I realized that school systems and governments had no accountability at all for the money they spent, that they could pretty much waste any amount of money and nobody would say a thing. I realized that countless programs- bilingual education, "head start," free meals- were complete failures in accomplishing their intended goals and, in the case of bilingual ed, may in fact have the opposite effect, but instead provided political appointees with accountability-free patronage jobs for life. And I realized I've turned into one of those cranky old farts squeezing his precious pennies in his wrinkled fist as he shakes it towards the heavens vowing never to let go, not if it's only going to help those ungrateful little bastards who don't appreciate the sacrifices their elders made for them.
I voted "no." Let the little bastards' parents pay for it, not me. Just leave me in peace with my money and my "Diagnosis: Murder" reruns on the TV. Now, where did I put that AARP application?
Fantagraphics is in financial trouble, and that's going to be meaningless to most people. And I suppose what they do is not all that important for you to know- they publish some great alternacomics, including the amazing Chris Ware's stuff and Daniel Clowes and Peter Bagge and much more, but those names may be meaningless to you. The company says it ran into trouble for various reasons related to their inattentiveness to the niceties of business, and when I saw that, I had to laugh.
About a year or two ago, I needed to order some of Fantagraphics' books for gifts, and their web site wasn't working, so I called them. The woman who answered sounded put out that I wanted a catalog.
"Yeah, hi, I need a catalog."
"I need a catalog."
"Yeah. Can you send me one?"
"YOU? Want a catalog?"
"Why do YOU... all right, what's your address?"
It was like trying to get past the velvet rope at SkyBar. Maybe retailers on Melrose or Rodeo can pull off the attitude sale, but this was a comic book company. It was worse than Comic Book Guy sneering at the kids paging through Radioactive Man #27. It was actively refusing to sell to someone they thought wasn't worthy. And then they get stuck with a warehouse full of second-tier comics and they can't figure out why.
I never did get the catalog. They never got the sale. Think they'll ever connect the dots?
By the time you read this, it'll probably either be time for the big FCC decision, and because I've been doing a lot of the background work on All Access' coverage, I'm going to be brief here. (As always, the opinions expressed here are my own, and are not intended to represent the opinion of All Access or anyone else, for that matter. Just me, and you know what THAT's worth.) I originally wrote a long, detailed column about deregulation and consolidation, but I'll save you the agony of reading it by summarizing my reaction to this whole thing:
- 1. These new rules will change nothing. Radio ownership will stay the same, pretty much, and the TV changes only make official what's existed for years. Newspapers already own TV stations in the same market, or did I dream that Tribune owns the L.A. Times and KTLA, among many other examples, both grandfathered and new? (And who reads newspapers anymore, anyway? People are acting as if newspapers wield infinite power- they can't even get someone elected dog catcher anymore) Companies already have duopolies and triopolies in TV. Every town in America has a multitude of available media voices, and the Net makes the number almost infinite.
2. Pre-consolidation radio and TV sounded and looked a lot like what we have now, except for fewer radio formats. The playlists were just as tight. News on radio was nearly nonexistent on many stations in the 80's and 90's- there's more available now.
3. The downside is employment- fewer jobs. But if you're good, you'll find a job. If you can't, see Thursday's column.
I guess the summary is this: the new rules aren't the End of the Media As We Know It. They aren't really changing anything, and they don't allow one company to buy up everything. They don't allow a "new oligopoly," because we've always had an oligopoly- it was worse before cable. They don't really change much of anything. Calm down.