Thursday, March 31, 2016

"People Are Different"

“‘People are different?”  Alert the media!”



“‘‘If Mr. Pomerantz has not gone viral before…’”

Don’t spare my feelings.  What do you really think?

“My honest reaction to ‘People are different’?  ‘Duh!’”

But it’s an interesting subject, don’t you think?

“We’re gonna get back to you on that.”


“After we’ve read it!”

Fair enough.  I suppose.  (My “Inner Critical Voice” is just killing me.)

“We read the brackets.”

There is no hiding from your “Inner Critical Voice.”

“Don’t even bother.”


Not long ago, in a post entitled “Thinking and Falling”, I mentioned that, while thinking on the way home from my Thursday morning walking excursion to Groundwork coffee emporium, I tripped and fell, spilling my recently purchased coffee onto the uneven sidewalk that led me to trip and fall in the first place.

UNEVEN SIDEWALK:  “We cause damage and we get coffee!  Hee hee!  (He observed, Spike Milliganly.)

In response to what he labeled my “debacle du jour”, a commenter named Nathan wrote, in part:

“I do hope you went back and got more of that overpriced coffee, as I’m sure they’d have comp’d you another cup.”

Taking Nathan’s comment at face value – rather than “sarcastic”, which today, you never know – got me thinking.  (Although wisely on this occasion, not while walking.)

For the purpose of clarity, I shall break my imagined “debacle du jour” follow-up into two issues:

Did I think, after raising myself off the unyielding pavement, of returning to Groundwork and procuring some replacement coffee?

For a blinking of a moment.  While simultaneously experiencing – aside from pain – feelings of humiliation, shame, pedal ineptitude and protocolical discomfort. 

I saw myself going back to the emporium, standing patiently in line - because there is no specially assigned area for “Coffee-spilling misfortunes” – and when I got to the front of it, reporting,

“I know I was just in here, but I fell klutzily on the sidewalk, and I was wondering if I could have another cup of coffee.”


If they wanted to, the “barrista” – or “barristo”, I no longer recall which – might have generously replied,

“I am sorry you took a tumble.  The ‘replacement’s’ on us.  Now would you like one of our employees to walk you home, ‘Mr. Helplessly Pathetic Senior Citizen’?”

What I am getting to, barring the slathering exaggeration, is that,

They could have offered to replace my spilled coffee.  But I would have adamantly refused.

“Why should my clumsiness and cost your company money?”

I would also, however – not that commenter Nathan included this alterative, I’m just rounding out the scenario – never have suggested – much less insisted – that they replace my spilled coffee, our Constitution, as you may know, including no mention whatsoever of “Faller’s Rights.”

On the other hand, putting myself back in the moment…

I want coffee. 

Perceiving no reasonable connection between falling and not getting any.  Though I could imagine a “Celestial Arbitrator” reaching a more dispassionate conclusion:

“You alone were responsible for falling down.  Thus ruleth the ‘Celestial Arbitrator’:  (WITH‘No-ACCOMPANYING “BURNING BUSH-ICAL” REVERBERATION): "No-ooo coffee-e-eee.’” 

No wonder I am a non-believer.  A coffee-depriving Diety?

“No-o-ooo, thank you-u-uuu.”

Two blocks down the road, at a diner open for breakfast called Flakes, I hobbled gingerly inside and bought another cup of coffee. 

And felt not at all guilty for doing so.

Return to Groundwork?  Impossible.  I could never handle the pity.  But self-impose an “Ineptitudinal Penalty”?   That’s where I personally draw the line. 


People are different.

But that is not a punishable offense. 

Was that original? 

“Sorry.  Still ‘Duh.’”

Was it at least – please, God – interesting?...

“I thought you were a non-believer.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"Meter Man"

There are things you can do, and things you can’t do.  There are also, along that “can do-can’t do” continuum, things you can almost do.

“Almost” is actually an elusive concept.  Because it means more than one thing. 

Let me explain.

In terms of our ultimate understanding, “I almost caught a fish” is the braggadocial equivalent of “I didn’t catch a fish.”  “Almost” simply makes you feel better.  And it is a somewhat superior story.  (Although less superior than the person telling it thinks it is.)

There is, however, another interpretation of “almost”, in regards to “almost able to do something.”  That incarnation of “almost” involves the intermittent ability to do something.  Sometimes you can do it, and sometimes you can’t. 

An example of this variability is me and lyric writing.  Sometimes, I can write lyrics, and sometimes I can’t. 

You would think that with something as uniquely specialized as lyric writing, you’d be able to do it consistently. 


Which makes me not a professional.

Stephen Sondheim has never had to return the money, confessing,

“Inexplicably, this time, I cannot make the lyrics fit the music.  And I wrote the music.”

I used to be write lyrics.  Year after year at Camp Ogama, I’d dash off mini-musicals where I’d come up with a story and write lyrics to already existing show tunes.

I recall one song delivered by a deluded Israeli “Mess Sergeant” who prepared food for the combatants – not on both sides, just one – during the Middle East “Six-Days War” which, in part, went:

(To the tune of “I Am I) Don Quixote” from Man of La Mancha)

“I am I, Chaim Goldbatt, the chef for the army
My borscht has the taste that appeals.
And my cooking inspired all our soldiers so much
They insisted on fighting through meals.

Remember, I was eighteen.

It seemed easy back then.  But you know, like a one or two year-old frolicking fearlessly in a swimming pool but then they turn four or five and it’s like,

I could drown in this stuff!”

This awareness turns “easy” into a paralyzed non-swimmer.

That appears to be me and lyric writing.  

Except I’m not four.

More than thirty years ago, I began writing this sort of sappy, country love song about how “my life turned around when I met you.”  This was not biographical; I had not, at the juncture, met anybody.  It was just a concept.  Songwriters do that sometimes.  Randy Newman explains that he simply works out ideas, which in no way, for example, reflect his personal view on whether or not short people have a reason to live. 

I believe him.  Because it was the same with my sappy,country love song.  The difference was, I could not finish it.

In the beginning, I excitedly dove in:

“There never was a time when I was happy
There never was a time when life was good
There never was a day when I’d get up and say
I think I’ll find my way, as if I could…

There never was a place where I felt welcome
I’d move from town to town but none was home…”

And that was it.  Thirty years later, I’ve got six lines of a sixteen-line love song.  I didn’t even get to the “turnaround”, where it all changed “when I met you.”  My motivational impulse simply dried up, like a car running out of gas unable to make it to the “Finish Line”.  You just hear that empty… (FILL IN THE BLANK WITH A DEMONSTRABLY “DRY GAS TANK SOUND).

(THROATILY)  “Chhh…(as in Chanukah)… chhh…  chhh… “

Something like that.

It used to bother me that I couldn’t write lyrics.  I mean, I’m a “Words Guy.”  What’s up with that!

Only recently did this insight belatedly came to me.

“Backstage” Information:

I habitually write my first draft here in about an hour.  After that, I put in two hours or more – of course focusing and tightening the content – but more than anything, my rewrites involve replacing words that do not fit the rhythm of sentences with other words that more rhythmically do.

That’s what I focus on – beats and syllabic emphases within every sentence.  To provide a subliminal smoothness for the reader’s sensibilities.

Here’s how it works. 

I revise a sentence for some reason, and suddenly, a word, once onomatopoeically appropriate, no longer is.  I then replace that previously “right” word with a “substitute” word that fits the rewritten sentence more rhythmically.

(For example, in that last sentence, the word “substitute” was originally “different”, but after rewriting, I found that “substitute” was better for the flow.) 

But it doesn’t stop there.

I revise a third time, and when I do, I find the “substitute” now falling clunkily on the ear.  I will then require another substitute.  Or I will sometimes return to the original word, which, once again, is rhythmically ideal.  Before I know it, I have totally missed lunch.

Here’s an embarrassing confession.  (As if the preceding was not embarrassing enough.)

Sometimes, after selecting a word for the rhythm, I will deliberately neglect to look that word up in the dictionary for fear of discovering it’s the wrong word.   Truth be told, although I would prefer my selected words to serve both functions, in the end – I am looking ashamed – I inevitably choose the word that scans better. 

I move words around, I include unnecessary words, I make new words up – all in the service of “natural rhythm.”  Natural to whom?  Natural to me.  But hopefully to other people as well.

It was then that it occurred to me – the aforementioned insight – that, given my intense metronomic scrupulosity, I am still, in effect, writing lyrics.

I am just not writing them in songs.

(Postscript:  Did you notice the “turnaround” in this story?  I can do it here.  Why can’t I do it in my sappy, country love song?)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"Swing Low"

At the fitness place we go to in Mexico (which they call the Ranch), after the question, “Is this your first time at the Ranch?” – (In my case)  “No.  I have been here thirty-four times.” – the second-most popular conversational icebreaker is,

“What is your favorite activity at the Ranch?” 

The answers about “favorite activity” vary, from offered hourly classes such as, “Circuit Training” to “Stability Ball” (no idea) to “Dance Striptease” (leave me out of it.) 

My own response to “What is your favorite activity at the Ranch?” is:

“The hammocks.”

From the very first of my thirty-four visits, I developed an immediate relationship with the Ranch’s hammocks located beside the communal lounge, which offered my previous “favorite activity”,

“Sitting in the lounge.”

Imagine – or actually “visualize” because they’re real – woven hammocks fastened to hooks embedded atop tall, four-by-four posts embedded in cement shoes to insure stability, although the words “hammock” and “stability” have a tenuous relationship at best.

“The Hammock Experience” is like you’re on the deck of a tossing watercraft… lying down.  And exquisitely relaxed.  (Due to the absence of the possibility of being ignominiously thrown overboard, although there is the chance of falling out of the hammock, which, since there is no possibility of drowning actually supplements the experience.)

I was informed that these attractive “string” hammocks were manufactured in Yucatan, located on a peninsula in southeastern Mexico (in case after reading this ringing endorsement of these hammocks you feel compelled to pop down to their vicinity of origin and pick one up.)

They are extremely colorful.  (Explanatory Note:  I am stalling a little, to delay my description of “Getting into the hammock”, during which my innate ineptitude rushes uncomfortably to the fore.)

But here’s the thing about these three-inch-wide, vertically striped colors.  They follow the sequence of the spectrum.  Until suddenly, they don’t.

There is “Red”, followed by “Orange”, then “Yellow”, then “Green”…

And then, inexplicably, the pattern deviates, going…

“Purple”, “Blue”, instead of the spectrumally-designated

“Blue”, “Purple.”

“Why?” I wonder, staring at the hammock, staving off the impending embarrassment of a passerby seeing me attempting awkwardly to climb into it.  And also delaying the possibility of mastering the “Entry Process”, only to have what is fundamentally a delicate undercarriage of knotted string collapse under my body weight, dropping me unceremoniously to the stone-covered surface below, fracturing both of my seventy-one year-old hips in the process. 

Although, stickler that I am, that “color thing” simply bothers the heck out of me.

Why follow the spectrum sequence – “Red,” “Orange” “Yellow” “Green” – and then suddenly switch, going “Purple” and then “Blue” when anyone with a “Color Chart” knows it’s supposed to go “Blue” and then “Purple”?

Numerous explanations come to mind.

Maybe it’s just a difference in countries.  Maybe in Mexico – like when you fill in government documents and it’s “Date of Birth” before “Month of Birth” (where, in America, it’s the opposite) – I don’t know, maybe in Mexico, the sequence goes “Purple” and then “Blue” rather than “Blue” and then “Purple.”  Although, when you change countries, can you actually change science?

Or maybe by Yucatanian aesthetics, it just “looks better”.

“We are Yucatanian ‘hammock artists’.  Let science be hanged.  We say, first ‘Purple’, and then Blue’.  You don’t like it?  Buy an American hammock!”

Or could be, it’s a subtle political statement:

“We cannot feed our families making hammocks.  Our ‘silent protest’ is changing the sequence of the colors.  We are a peaceful people.  It is the best we can do.”

Anyway, there it is – a Yucatanian hammock, mocking the universally recognized color sequence.  You know what?  I say go for it.  Until your government gets wind of your subversive color-flipping.  Then, grab your twine balls and head for the hills!        

Okay, time to get in.  The question is,


The answer:  Carefully.

You sit down on the edge of it, you swing your legs around ninety degrees, then you lie back, “butt walking” your way gradually to the middle.

And then you’re in.

Unless you mistakenly over-“butt-walk”, toppling heavily off of the other side of the hammock.

Ah, but once you’re positioned, with no work and not a single muscle called to action, the Yucatanian contraption holding you effortlessly in mid-air...

Ladies and Gentlemen…

You have arrived.

And you’re just swinging there.  Blown by the breeze.  Or a precipitating side-to-side “hip action.”  Or – worst-case scenario, you extend a foot to the ground, and you give yourself a push.  Like that’s such a bad case scenario.  I mean, how lazy can you get?

Nothing’s as sublime as relaxing comfortably in a hammock.  Birds dropped by just to look at me.

“That look of contentment on his face.  Does that remind you of anything?”  

“Yeah.  Us, when we’re flying without flapping.”

Rocking in a hammock – an idyllic pastime.  A contented “Ahhh” would be gilding the lily.  So I silently lie there. 

Until the bell rings for lunch.

Do not think, however, that I inflexibly limited in my activities at the Ranch.  I did not.  Not by a long shot.

For the first time after thirty-four visits…

Instead of the hammocks outside the lounge…

I tried the other hammocks outside the Health Center.

And they were equally satisfying.

But different. 

The hammock I chose – you won’t believe this; I didn’t –

One end of the hammock was knotted tightly to the trunk of a tree.  And the other end of the hammock was tied to a branch belonging… to the very same tree.

Now that’s a big tree.

I will end this encomium to happy hammocking before venturing into the single negative in an otherwise blissful experience:

Getting out.

It’s not just me.  Fred Astaire would look foolish getting out of a hammock.

Ginger Rogers:  “It’s okay, Freddie.  I did it backwards and in heels.  But I also looked like a putz.”

I mean, you sit up, you swing your legs around, your full body weight is in entirely your butt, and somehow, you have to transfer that weight to your feet, waiting impatiently on the ground going…


Lunch was half over before I got myself out of the hammock.

Ah, but when I was lying there…

You know the song “The Best Things In Life Are Free”?

I’ll bet that was written in a hammock.