Tuesday, December 12, 2017

"Origins Of A Specific Sensitivity"

We – meaning my older brother and I – are sitting on the floor in our den, watching TV.  I’m, like, six.  Or possibly ten.  I would like to think six because it’s less embarrassing. 

“It’s” being what I am about to tell you.  

Television.  It was amazing.  Hopalong Cassidy.  Kate Smith – less amazing, but still pretty good.  Large woman.  Sang “When The Moon Comes Over The Mountain.”  But you could actually see her doing it.  Not like on radio, where you could hear her but you did not know how big she was.  Not that that matters.  But now you had the choice whether to care. 

Time matzas on.  Inevitable upgrades in technology.  RCA, who manufactured televisions owned NBC, which broadcast television programs.  Inducing people to buy televisions from RCA.  You see how that works?  You wanna see “Uncle Miltie” – you have to go out and purchase a set.  Or run down to the Appliance Store and watch it through the window.  A guy gets whacked with a gigantic powder puff, you don’t need to hear words.

Anyway, RCA was now selling color televisions.  (Colour televisions in Canada – same product, but with a “u.”)  To promote the arrival of color television, NBC began broadcasting color television programming. 

The thing is, most people still had black-and-white televisions, because A) color televisions were expensive and B) for a long time – in my opinion, until Sony got into the game – color television was terrible.    

Last paragraph of boring introduction.

In order for people to watch television both ways, the programming was transmitted in what was called “compatible color”, meaning, if you had a black-and-white TV you saw the program in black-and-white and if you had a color TV you saw the program in washed-out color.  (That is not sour grapes; color television totally sucked.)  To clarify this dichotomy, before every show, the network’s “Voice Over” announcer would intone,

“The following program is broadcast in compatible color.”

We were watching in black-and-white.  Probably a western.  Where the show’s wide-open spaces could “colorfully” showcase the new product.  Leave It To Beaver in color?  Who cares?

So we’re watching this western after the announcement about “compatible color” when suddenly, my older brother goes nuts.

“Look at that!” he shouts excitedly.

“What?” I respond confusedly.

“It’s in color!”

“No, it isn’t.”

“Are you crazy?  Look at those greens!  Look at those blues!

“I don’t see anything.”

“It’s right there!  In compatible color!”

“Compatible color’s only for color TVs.”

“I see color!

“But our TV’s just…

“Holy catfish!  The rancher’s daughter has red hair!

“She does?”

“Can’t you see it?”

“I only see black-and-white.”

“Aw, gee.  Maybe it’s your eyes.”

And on it went.  I cannot do justice to my older brother’s persuasive abilities, as I have minimal talent in that direction, while my brother has natural “Br’er Rabbit” propensities.  I only know that somewhat later, I am standing in the bathroom, washing my bifocals with soap, so I can see television in color.

That’s how I grew up.  Being convinced that what was demonstrably false was actually really the case, and it was my mistake rather than their brutalizing deception.  Can you sense I am not entirely over this?

Okay.  That’s where I come from.


When I hear, for example, that “The American people love this president” when I know that more than sixty percent of them think he’s an idiot

When I’m told that the Supreme Court is a non-political branch of government, when I know that every landmark decision of the last sixty-five years has been decided on the basis not of judicial impartiality but by the court’s political composition

When, even though I know the south turned Democratic after Republican Lincoln freed the slaves and then flipped back to Republican when Democrat Johnson got the slaves’ descendants civil rights and voting rights – I am assured that the south is not racist

To take three examples…

How do you think I am going to react?

Not calmly… is the answer.

You have your opinion?  Fine.  But don’t tell me stuff that’s not true.

People generally accept deceitful “certainties” as part of “business as usual.”  That’s understandable.  They never experienced

“Look at those greens!  Look at those blues!”

Nor found themselves scrubbing their bifocals in the bathroom.

Monday, December 11, 2017

"The (Arguably Unverified) Doggie Doo-Doo Predicament - A Minor Incident With (Possible) Legal Implications"

“It does not take much to send a guilty person over the precipice.”

– A Recognized Unnamed Guilty Person


Rachel and family went away for the weekend.  What that means for us is that we babysit their little dog Bean, the travelers reluctant to include him, as he insistently whimpers on long car drives.  By that standard, they would not be taking their youngest son along either.  But no complaints.  Bean and I are compadres.

Although physically diminutive, Bean is a born and bred “Guard Dog.”  Anyone comes to the house – friend or foe – Bean barks incessantly at their arrival.  And for several minutes thereafter.  Nobody really likes that.  It is noisy and annoying.  Taking Bean’s side, however, I cannot imagine how it feels to perform your encoded duties and all you receive for your efforts is,

“Bean!  Stop!

It’s like,

“What?  You don’t want to be protected?  Fine, I’ll stop.  No, wait.  I can’t stop.”

Nothing is sadder than outdated genetics.

I enjoy dogsitting Bean.  But here’s the problem.

I put the leash on the dog and I take him outside.  At that point, I am fully responsible for his safety.  I swear to you, not once have I exited the house without thoughts of a rebuking step-grandchild, staring at me with mournful eyes and mumbling, “Pappy…” – they call me Pappy –

“Did you kill my dog?”      

That’s the “guilt bundle” I carry… as I take Bean for a walk.

And not entirely without reason. 

Years ago, a couple I knew, going on vacation, left their pet goldfish in my care while they were away.  It succumbed in two days.  I was mortified.  I got two episodes out of it – one on Taxi, one on The Cosby Show – but I’ve felt terrible about it ever since.  

I had killed a pet, entrusted to my care.

Like goldfish – like Bean.

That’s a guilty person talking.

Who will now experience this.

Introducing the most recent installment.

We are heading for a nearby park, the one my daughter Anna and her husband were married in, and also, more recently, the one where an alleged murderer was wounded by the police.

On our way to the park, Bean has peed four times in ten minutes, a feat I could not fathom earlier in life but have less difficulty with today.  It is now time for “the other thing”, for which the appropriate “collection bags” have been provided.  I cannot take Bean home till he is fully evacuated, fearing he will complete the “Daily Double” inside our house.  The thing is…

As we enter the park, I spot a police car parked ominously by the adjacent curb. 

I am not thinking about the earlier shooting in that park.  Okay, I am thinking about it a little.  What I am really thinking about is the police officer inside that patrol car, likely of Junior Grade, deployed by their superiors to insure that dog walkers responsibly pick up the poo-poo. 

Or else.

I immediately imagine an obsessed Javert-like “Pooper Trooper”, scanning the perimeter for malevolent miscreants.  For them, it’s

Not a job. 

Not a duty. 

It’s a crusade.   

“I shall not rest…” 

That’s who is sitting in that patrol car.

And I know…

They are watching me walking my dog.

After foraging around for… I don’t know, do dogs eat grubs? – and while I’m hyphening, what are grubs? – Bean abruptly curtains his activities, hunkering down beside a large tree.  From these giveaway signals, I know,

“It’s ‘Go’ time.”

And he goes.

Then – this is the testimony I imagine delivering in court – I reach for a bag, ready to fulfill my custodial duties in the park.  But as I do so, Bean, fronting the excrement, rapidly churns his back legs, effectively “covering the evidence.”

Now I’m in trouble.

The dirt he had kicked up is brown.  The twigs on the ground are brown.  The surrounding dead leaves are brown.  Because of that camouflage – and my less than optimal eyesight – it’s like a “perfect storm”…

I cannot see…

What I am expected to pick up.

And I know…

Someone is watching me.

What exactly am I supposed to do?

It turns out I have practice in this regard.  There is a family member who bristles at discarded cracker crumbs in the bedclothes.  I myself cannot see them.  But, to dutifully accommodate – and retain peace in the valley – I climb out of the bed, scoop up the invisible (to me) food crumbs into my hand, walk over and dump what I have meticulously “collected” into an accommodating trash bin.

That’s what I do.

And that is exactly my M.O. in the park.

I open my plastic-bag protected hand wide, stoop down, and gather… a bunch of stuff, which hopefully includes Bean’s diminutive “Number Two”…  But, seeing and – with apologies – feeling nothing demonstratively determinative, I can not exactly be certain I have completed the assignment.  I then walk over… directly in front of the patrol car… and make a show of dropping “the entire package” into a provided receptacle. 

I then go back… to “make sure”, or at least pretend to make sure, for the benefit of the hovering police officer… and possible surveilling security cameras, positioned strategically up in the treetops.

And then we go home.  Five retraceable houses away.  And I’m thinking,

“I know I tried.  But what if I missed?”

Me – and I am sure this will be brought up at trial – who has left an incriminating  “paper trail” in this very venue, complaining of people carelessly leaving their pets’ solid wastes on the sidewalks in the great, surprisingly poopy city of Rome.

I was not in Rome.  But there was the possibility

I had done like the Romans.

I am on record.  And therefore culpable.  As a shameful poop-abandoning hypocrite.

Maybe I’m crazy.


Maybe I did my duty without knowing it.  Maybe it’s enough to make an honorable effort.  Maybe he didn’t actually go.  I am probably in the clear.  Likelier than not, the “Long Arm of the Law” will not be coming for…

Hold on a second.

Was that the doorbell?
Joyful Addendum:  A little girl, scheduled to arrive on January the 20th arrived instead yesterday morning, small but full of fight.  We have a new grandchild, named after my Mom, Gertrude.  And the beat goes happily onward.    

Friday, December 8, 2017

"A Stand-Up Guy"

I got a gift recently. 

It’s this kind of a platform you put on your desk so you can write standing up.

I did not ask for this platform.  Though I have often complained about hunching over the keyboard when I write, and how doing so is bad for my back.

I have tried sitting straight up when I’m writing.  (And similarly while practicing the piano.)  But my concentration on the task at hand inevitably distracts my attention away from my posture.  I am not a brain specialist.  (So there will be no misunderstanding concerning my credentials.)  I do not know how many things our brains can do at the same time, though I suspect that it’s one.

What I do know is, when I am focusing real hard sitting down, my spinal musculature, seeing I am otherwise occupied, takes a break.  It’s like,

“Okay, he’s writing!  Slouch!

A thoughtful family member took in my frequent complaints and bought this ameliorating contraption.  Some people are “problem solvers.”  It’s like Superman.

“Someone’s in trouble in Metropolis”…

And they immediately take to the skies.

Never considering that the person they are rescuing simply likes to complain.  The result being, you receive action that is not urgently required.

“Sorry, Superman.  It’s just the damn ketchup wouldn’t come out.  Although, since you’re already here…”

So I now have this platform, which I am typing away on it as we speak.

I bring up this transitional switchover from sitting because… what else am I going to talk about? 

“The president’s crazy.”

You already know that.

The thing is, when I talk about making the move, I inevitably receive this deflating reaction.

Here’s an example from another arena.  Otherwise, I’d be giving an example from the same arena twice.  And nobody wants to hear that.

Or type it.

You travel to, say, Rome.  You come home.  You meet friends for dinner.

“We just went to Rome.”

“You went to Rome?”

“We got back yesterday.”

Then, almost immediately, it’s

“Did you see Julius Caesar’s preschool?”  (Not an actual place, but representative of some esoteric attraction they went to and you didn’t.) 

Your only response to that question, if you are an honest person, or do not not want to be caught out saying you visited some non-existent attraction is


And then they’re into it.

“I can’t believe you missed Julius Caesar’s preschool.  It’s got his little desk there.  They’ve got his art on the wall.  It’s not great, but he’s four.”

“I never heard of Julius Caesar’s preschool.”

“We had this amazing tour guide.  I mean, anyone can visit St, Paul’s cathedral or the Coliseum.  But if you missed Julius Caesar’s preschool, it’s like you never went to Rome.  That and St. Peter’s favorite gelato emporium.  (Also not an actual attraction.)  The gelato’s sub-par, but can you imagine standing in the same spot where a major religious icon said, “Can I try the stracchiatella?”

(I came within one “c” of spelling that right.)

I don’t know what that is, that syndrome.  Competitive one-up-person ship.  Puffing yourself up at another person’s expense.  They are so chronically depressed they can’t rest till they depress everybody around them. 

Who knows?  Maybe they work for an airline.

“Honey, we’ve got to fly back to Rome!  We missed Julius Caesar’s preschool!”

Whatever the reason, I got a paralleling dose when I announced I was altering my writing technique.

“I got this new ‘stand-up’ desk.”

“Oh yeah, my friend has one.  He said it really helped his back.  But he eventually got varicose veins.”

The next sound you hear are my dreams of a better life crashing noisily to the ground.

It’s the proverbial “trade-off” – it improves your posture but it destroys your legs.  That’s like, when I was in the hospital.

“We dried out your lungs.  But me messed up your kidneys.”

Do I really need to hear that? 

I had not started using it yet.

It’s an experiment, okay?  If it doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to the chair and I’ll live with “The Slouch.”

For now, I am “Writing Tall.”  (And when my legs get tired, marching bracingly in place.)

I am kind of enjoying it so far.

Despite shadowing fears about varicose veins.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

"Course Correction"

Boy, was I in a mood yesterday.

I was writing this honest but frivolous piece of fluff entitled “’Night, ‘Night” about how much I enjoy going to sleep, and when I read over my first draft, I realized I was parodying my own writing style. 

Criticizing my efforts is an activity I invariably leave to others, which I subsequently ignore.  (Not emotionally, where the “Ouch!’ remains forever, but in altering my individualized approach.) 

What triggered the unconscious self-lampooning was the post before “’Night, ‘Night” entitled “Story Time”, where I recounted a “Grace” story involving the birth of my daughter Anna as an imagined storytelling performance.  The bloated silliness in that post made me realize that what I wanted to accomplish in this blog and what I was actually delivering were dismayingly no longer in sync.

When I read over the first draft of “Story Time”, I began to notice that, though I was purportedly “telling a story about telling a story” – where you would, if anywhere, expect me to “write talk” –  I was, in fact, “writing talk” sometimes, but more often than I was happy to discover, I wasn’t.

My “transcribed storytelling” sounded too much like writing and not enough like talking.  How, I wondered, had I inadvertently turned into an “author”?

Maybe it’s a generational concern.  Truman Capote once assailed Jack Kerouac’s “spontaneous prose technique”, acerbically observing, “That’s not writing.  It’s just typing.”  Since I did not want to be accused of “just typing”, I threw some adjectives into the narrative.  And adverbs, many of which, my computer tells me, underlining them in red, are not actual English words.

I am, admittedly, a sucker for an artfully turned phrase.  In the recent (listened to) Michael Connelly mystery, when Detective Harry Bosch traded cars to make it harder for him to be followed, the writer described this maneuver as “vehicular subterfuge.”  The book was ten discs long – that’s the only thing I remember.  When I heard it, I thought, like the Australians say after an admirable achievement, “Good on ya!”

I really liked “vehicular subterfuge.”  But that is not what I am supposed to be doing here.

So in the post “‘Night, ‘Night”, when I described sleep  as “sweet surrender” followed immediately by “beneficent slumber” and then said to you, “Pick one”, I was, in humorous fashion, acknowledging, “This is not ‘talk’ and I am deeply embarrassed to have included it.”

In my unfortunate “lapse into literature”, I had forgotten the original Just Thinking mandate.  Paraphrasing the sage studio head in The Three Amigos, I had “strayed from the formula and paid the price.” 

I was apparently too busy writing to remember I was supposed to be talking.

I know that blog writing – because it’s writing – is not – and cannot ever be – talking.  When you write – no matter what the format – you are required to adhere, at least minimally, to the basic writing “Rules of the Road.”  Unlike “talk”, although, as with writing, you want to communicate the story simply, succinctly, (as) truthfully (as you can) and completely – and if it’s funny nobody’s going to complain – there are further essential obligations in writing. 

One of numerous examples:

You have to produce (comprehensible) complete sentences and clarifying “bridges”, facilitated in “talk” by gestures, facial expressions and conventional speaking inflections.  (The latter replaced here by italics.)

I spend hours rejiggering sentences so they will “flow better.”  I don’t do that in casual conversation.  Who would stick around till I got it exactly the way I wanted it?

“Nice talking to you.  Call me, and tell me what you were trying to say.”

Unlike “talk”, where the communicational cadence is inherently natural, I work hard to make it sound inherently natural. 

And then also I don’t. 

For example, I assiduously avoid using the same word twice.  In writing, especially comedy writing, writers are vigilantly on guard against repeating a word when telling a joke.  Repetition distracts the listener from the ultimate payoff. 

“Didn’t they say that already?  Oops, I missed the punch line.”

In life?  Who ever thought, talking to someone, “I just used that word in the last sentence.  I’m going to stand here till I can come up with a synonym.”

So many ways – or as the writer would revise, “In so many ways” – writing is distinctively different from talking.   Paraphrasing “O, Canada”, I have to assiduously “stand on guard for thee,” the “thee” in this case being the considered balance between “Lemme tell you something” and “Lemme tell you something in print.”

My less-than-natural imagined storytelling post came as a… there, see?  I am trying to conceive of an appropriate descriptive before, “Wake-up Call.”  I would never do that when I’m talking; I’d either get it or I wouldn’t.  Maybe just “Wake-up Call” is enough.  I throw in a colorful adjective and it’s like,

‘WAKE-UP CALL”:  “Why are you doing here?”

Fashioning the ideal combination of writing and “talk.” 

It’s not going to be easy.

But I need to get closer to my intention, whatever that mystical amalgam might be.

And that’s the last time you’ll hear, “mystical amalgam.”

I hope.