Monday, May 29, 2017

"Chronicling Courage - A Memorial Day Honoration"

                        "The Ballad of Rodger Young"

                                 by Frank Loesser

Oh, they've got no time for glory in the Infantry
Oh, they've got no use for praises loudly sung
But in every soldier's heart on all the Infantry
Shines the name, shines the name of Rodger Young.

Shines the name - Rodger Young,
Fought and died for the men he marched among.
To the everlasting glory of the Infantry
Lives the story of Private RodgerYoung.

Caught in ambush lay a company of riflemen
Just grenades against machine guns in the gloom
Caught in ambush till this one of twenty riflemen
Volunteered, volunteered to meet his doom,

Volunteered - Rodger Young,
Fought and died for the men he marched among.
In the everlasting annals of the Infantry
Glows the last deed of Private Rodger Young.

It was he who drew the fire of the enemy
That a company of men might live to fight;
And before the deadly fire of the enemy
Stood the man, stood the man we hail tonight.

Stood the man - Rodger Young,
Fought and died for the men he marched among.
Like the everlasting courage of the Infantry
Was the last deed of Private Rodger Young.

On the island of New Georgia in the Solomons,
Stands a simple wooden cross alone to tell,
That beneath the silent coral of the Solomons,
Sleeps a man, sleeps a man remembered well.

Sleeps a man - Rodger Young,
Fought and died for the men he marched among.
In the everlasting spirit of the Infantry
Breathes the spirit of Private Rodger Young.

No, they've got no time for glory in the Infantry,
No, they've got no use for praises loudly sung,
But in every soldier's heart in all the Infantry
Shines the name, shines the name of Rodger Young.

Shines the name - Rodger Young, 
Fought and died for the men he marched among.
To the everlasting glory of the Infantry
Lives the story of Private Rodger Young.



Friday, May 26, 2017

"Sundance Got It"

I recently breakfasted with a friend and consummate professional, recently contracted to join a TV writing staff after an uncomfortably extended “dry spell.” Concerning transitioning back to the regimentation of a full-time job and assigned writing after creating his own schedule and writing whatever he wanted, my friend confided,

“I feel like I’ve surrendered my soul.”

Sure, the regular routine will eventually reprogram him to the rigors and responsibilities of “laboring in the fields” and he will likely come to enjoy being “back in the saddle”, but during that bridging interval of adjustment, there was this glimpsing revelation of the downside to the work experience non-working writers ostensibly covet and regret is no longer available.

Another writer, though steadily employed, revealed similar reservations, not between the conditions of working and not working but between working for Amazon where creative freedom is liberatingly permissible versus working for  traditional networks where it isn’t.

Two resonating examples , among others, of what I don’t miss about the job I no longer have – the enforced regimentation and the withheld inaginatorial license that draws writers to the profession in the first place. 

So why, after thirteen years of retirement, does it still feel bad to be, as they solemnly label it, “out of the business”?  More tangibly, and oddly inexplicably, why do I continue to mourn the loss of an opportunity I would almost certainly turn down if it were offered?

Let’s start with the inevitable (and enduring) loss of status.  Whose sudden deprivation, I imagine, shocks the system in every line of endeavor.

Say, you’re a school crossing guard, which, with respect to my school crossing guard readers though it is no surprise to them, is hardly a high-status operation.  Then, for some reason, justifiable or otherwise, it’s over.  There goes your “Stop” paddle.  There goes your reflective vest.  You’re walking home carrying your folding chair, the people you pass going, “What happened to your paddle?” or “You seem to have lost your reflective vest.” 

That’s got to feel terrible, doesn’t it?  Miniscule symbols of authority as they were, you do not even have them anymore.  You’re just a guy walking home carrying a chair.

Dipping back into show biz for an example, a screenwriter friend was given the opportunity to direct his self-written feature film.  After three days, the studio executives determine he is not up to the task and, while they do not summarily fire him, the next morning when he exits his trailer he discovers that the bicycle issued to convey him to the set has been confiscated.  A day later they, quoting my friend, “took away the damn trailer.”

One need not be hypersensitive to go, “Ouch!” 

The reclaimed “Stop” paddle?  The repossessed trailer?  It’s like that Daffy Duck cartoon where a hand holding a giant eraser enters the frame and furiously rubs out his beak.  That humiliating incursion says it all, reflected in Daffy’s forlorn eyes as he stares helplessly into the camera, desperately communicating, “What’s next?” 

No question.  You sorely miss the pampering perks of the position, the obedient deference of the people around you.  And, of course, there’s the regular paycheck.  Last but in no way least, is the deprived opportunity to work at the top of your game, the exhilarating challenge of delivering “gold” on an everyday basis.

For me, however, what cut deepest was the way it went down.

With a gun to your head, or a simple “Think fast!” you will admit you would not want to do that job anymore.  Because you’re older, and when you are older the hours and requisite pressures are admittedly more toll-taking.  There is also the matter of “I’ve done it”, offering the diminishing pleasure of, “And now I’ve done it some more.”

The thing is, you want to go out on your own terms. 

Which brings me predictably, if your brain works as mine does, to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

You know the scene.  The Kid, finishing a card game, rakes in his winnings before departing.  His surly adversary, accusing him of cheating, insists,

(RE:  THE MONEY ON THE TABLE)  “That stays – you go.”

Butch Cassidy arrives on the scene and, instinctively intuiting the volatile predicament, encourages Sundance to peacefully leave. 

But, having been accused of cheating, Sundance’s feelings have been seriously injured.  As a result, though he has no problem with leaving, he insists on doing so only if his card-playing adversary asks him to stick around.

With a changing business targeting younger audiences, the downwardly configured boundaries of comedy, the accumulating years and a nest egg that should hopefully carry me and my loved ones comfortably to the “Finish Line”, I might have, not long after it happened, decided to “hang it up” myself.

Or maybe not.

I just know I'd have been more disposed to the idea of going,


If they had only told me to stick around.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

"A Questionable Concept, Except At Disneyland"

Let’s polish off the “Disneyland Exception” first because I know, as busy people, you may want to hear about the “anomaly” and take off.  I, of course, have to stay here till the bitter end, but that’s not your problem.  Nor actually mine, come to think of it.  I do not have another doctor’s appointment till Tuesday.

One of my longtime favorite Disneyland attractions is Autopia, a ride that simulates driving a racecar around an (I think) electrified track.  The cars are two-seater arrangements, accommodating a driver and one passenger.  Who’d want to be a passenger when you could instead take the wheel as the driver?  No one, I imagine, who is permitted to be a driver. 

But, you see, there’s this line.

Somewhere before gaining access to Autopia, there is this vertical metal bar with an engraved ring around it.  The line, represented by the ring, determines whether you are tall enough drive at Autopia, or are consigned instead to the passenger seat.  This precaution is ostensibly for safety purposes, and also, I imagine, because, if you are not tall enough, your feet will not be able to reach the pedals.

Whatever the reason, if you stand with your back against that bar, and you “height in” above the line, you can drive and if you “fall short”, so to speak, you can’t.  Which I am sure is upsetting if you feel ready and able to drive but, due to the unwavering requirement you did not “measure up” to, they won’t let you.

Fortunately, unless you fall into the subcategory of people who are not going to grow, this disqualifying demarcation is not a permanent condition.  You get older, you shoot up, you’re above the line, you can drive at Autopia.  (As well as be able to get things down from top shelves, which people shorter than you will never tire of asking you to, because they need them, and possibly as payback for the unequal distribution of height.)

One might think then that, after the restrictive Autopia requirements, such designating distinctions are now behind you.  But I think about the business I was once heavily engaged in, and I realize that in show business, at least, they’re not.  (Autopia is, in fact, the outlier exception because you can naturally, in time, rise above them.)

When I was working – and I am unaware that anything has changed – you found this immutable categorization, making the same, albeit metaphorical, distinction

There was no secret about it; the matter was regularly mentioned out loud.  One heard writers, actors, directors and producers referred to as the “Above the Line” participants in a production, and everyone else – camera crew and support staff, from the prop people to the crewmember assigned to ensure the availability of Ritz Crackers on the Craft Services Table:

“Below the Line.”

Just like Autopia.  Only, unless you change jobs and become a writer, actor, director or producer, you can never grow out of it.  People remain “Above the Line” or “Below the Line” until they leave the business or die, whichever comes first.

Do these official categorizations make any significant difference to the participants?  

“Above” and “Below”? 

Are you kidding me? 

“ABOVE THE LINE” PARTICIPANT:  “Come on.  It’s nothing.”

“BELOW THE LINE” PARTICIPANT:  “Nothing?  Okay, then, let’s switch.”

I like to think everyone is proud of what they do and performs their jobs to the best of their abilities.  That’s all that matters, isn’t it?  Why then the hierarchicaling labelling? 

Acknowledging, unless you are being deliberately stubborn, that “above” is superior to “below” who then decides who legitimately belongs where?

“I’m guessing ‘Above.’”

Okay, but on what basis?  Why are some jobs generically “above” other jobs?  And what happens in the ambiguous “Gray Areas”?

“Director of Photography.”

“Above the Line.”

“I don’t know.  Aren’t they just glorified cameramen?”

Who cares? 

And, more importantly, why are they doing this?

There is already a recognizable distinction between the two groups, and that’s money, the “Below the Line” participants generally compensated at an hourly basis, the “Above the Liners” making as much as their agents can squeeze out of the producers.

Isn’t that enough? 

What is the purpose in pouring it on?  I can imagine two L.A. school kids, “hanging” in the playground at recess.

“What does you Daddy do?”

“He’s a ‘Boom Operator’.”

“Ooh, ‘Below the Line.’  See ya.”

Of course, that would never realistically happen because one of those kid would be in private school.  No points for guessing which one.

I may be wrong – as my personal experience is limited – but I don’t think it’s just show business where such unequal classifications are an indelible part of the deal.  I think “Above the Line” and “Below the Line” is everywhere, affecting every thing, all the way to the top.

“We may be ‘Below the Line’ in education.  But we’re smart enough to elect a president.”

No doubt about it, “Below the Liners” are angry.

You know why?

Because somebody labeled them “Below the Line.”

I understand it for Autopia.

Everywhere else?

You can do it.


But there are definitely going to be consequences.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"A Cautionary Analogy, Although It's Kind Of Too Late, Though Hopefully Not For the Next Time"

It happened in 1979.

And again in 2016.

I think.  I could be mistakenly “off-base” with that comparison; let’s see how this turns out.  At the very least, I’ll have some needed practice writing directly to the point, as I am susceptible to extended side trips and literary extraneities, using words like “extraneities” which a red underline reports is not an actual word.  Though it should be.  And there’s my first side trip.  Which I am committed to making my last, an added incentive to keep reading:  It might be fun watching me struggle.

Now…

No, wait.

You have caught me not entirely prepared.  Please excuse me while I do some last-minute research. 

-------------------------------------

Okay, I’m back.  And I already found a mistake.

Turns out, it did not happen in 1979.

It happened in 1978. 

Thank you Wikipedia, for allowing me to nitpick myself.

Okay, here’s the story.  During the 1970’s, the country experienced massive inflation, most noteworthily in California, and most noteworthily in California in real estate, wherein property values skyrocketed.

Based on the then-in-place California assessment formula, property taxes inevitably skyrocketed commensurately.   

And some people, particularly Senior Citizens on fixed incomes, got very angry.  (Imagine:  The irate, torch-carrying townspeople in the Frankenstein movies, but the whole country is old.)  Legitimately angry, they believed, because their property taxes had gone through the roof.  Albeit a roof that had become considerably more valuable.

But here’s the thing.  When a stock that you own goes up, you do not pay capital gains taxes on the accrued profits from that stock until it’s sold.  With property taxes, by contrast, you are required to pay on the increased assessed value of your property now. 

That’s the “Wimpy” arrangement backwards.  “I will gladly pay you today from the profits I will receive when I sell my house some time in the future.”  Minus the “gladly.”

And by the way, what if the value of your property subsequently recedes?  In that case, you paid property taxes on a house whose current value is now lower than it was previously assessed. 

It’s a legitimate problem, don’t you think? 

The California legislature seems not to have agreed, the state government doing ostensibly nothing in response to the jacked-up property tax burden generated by skyrocketing inflation.  Indisputably, some homeowners – not an ignorable amount of them though they were ignored nonetheless – were legitimately hurting.

So, along comes “Proposition 13” – “responsively” to its proponents, “cynically self-servingly” to its detractors – branded “The People’s Initiative To Limit Property Taxation” providing a revised formula for property tax assessment that was more “sensibly reasonable” – Read: slashingly lower.  And wouldn’t you know it?

It passed.

With more than 60% of the vote.

And why not?  In the stroke of a ballot initiative, homeowners’ property taxes declined, on average, an estimated 57 per cent.

“Hooray!”

Yeah, but wait.

As of 2009, primarily due to the passage of “Proposition 13”, the amount of tax revenues received by the State of California has been reduced, in aggregate, by five hundred and twenty-eight billion dollars.

So what, you say.  The government wastes money anyway.  They’ll just have to tighten their belts, assiduously cutting their budgetary allotments.

Swellerino.  Except that one of the traditional responsibilities bankrolled by property taxes is schools.  Over night, my five minutes of research reveals, “Proposition 13” cut the allotment received by the California public school system by a third. 

That’s a lot.  Now there was thirty-three percent less funding available for schools.  Think there were possible consequences?

Nope.  There were actual consequences. 

As a result of the slashed budgetary allotment engendered by ”Proposition 13” the California public school system, which in the 60’s ranked as one of the best in the country, plummeted to forty-eighth in the country.  Which, may I remind you, means forty-eighth out of fifty.  Meaning those backwater states in the South? 

A lot of them were better.

There were other collateral damages beyond the funding of public schools – libraries and public parks, for example…

AN AVIARY REPRESENTATIVE:  “Great!  We can’t read and we can’t perch.”

Still, the irate torch-carriers got what they wanted.  To an answerable degree, I believe, because the government closed their eyes and ears to a legitimate concern.

CUT TO:

2016.

The same thing…. argues this chronicler, hopefully persuasively.

Resulting, though admittedly not exclusively, from international trade policies, a substantial constituency is hurting financially.  The government ignores their struggling predicament.  One candidate (at least pretends) he sympathetically “gets it”,

And “Boom!” – he is elected president.

AN AVIARY REPRESENTATIVE:  “Okay.  Now it is more than ‘Just birds’.”

Summing Up Analogically:  There is a legitimate situation.  The elected government sits on it legislative hands.  A colorful “grievance exploiter” jumps into the vacuum… 

And teachers are buying their own chalk. 

And undocumented immigrants wait for a knock on the door.

There are lots of reasons a thing happens.  The rarely mentioned “governmental inaction” deserves prominent placement on the list.

Says I.

What say the assembled readership?

“Right, or stupid?”
------------------------------------------------------------------
Oh, my God!  It's Queen Victoria's birthday.  And I forgot to get her a present.  

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"Accurate But Not Mean"

This morning as I was reading the sports section in the newspaper I was confronted by an example of an issue I had considered writing about today.  That happens a lot, I’ve noticed.  There is something on my mind and suddenly, supportive encouragement pops up everywhere I look.  It’s nice.  Makes me feel in sync with the universe.

Dodgers beat writer Andy McCullough – whose regular coverage I find to be better than the norm – chronicled last night’s ballgame, during which a Pirates pitcher threw a “slider” a Dodgers hitter connected with for a grand slam home run. 

Although working under a punishing deadline, chronicling the major contributor to the Dodgers’ 12-1 victory McCullough took time to show a caring compassion for the defeated.

He dubbed the pitch lofted out of the ballpark “pitiable.”

Not “pitiful.”  Not “inconceivably awful.”  Not “My Aunt Fannie can do better and she’s got arthritis.”

“Pitiable.”

I am reminded of the lyric from the song “Pancho and Lefty” that goes,

“Pancho needs your prayers, its true

But save a few for Lefty too…”

The Dodgers received the advantage.  But the player providing it was a person.

So you know what I did first thing before writing this, which, as I said, I had kind of intended to do but the word “pitiable” seal-the-dealingly said, “Do it”?

I went back to yesterday’s post – written somewhat earlier – and I softened the adjectives.

Overall lowering the vituperative flame, my original effort being best described as “The Wrath of Thor.”

I don’t know what got into me yesterday.  Sometimes, you just get in these pitiable moods.  You see what I did there?  I cribbed Andy McCullough, letting myself compassionately off the hook.  Kind of stylish, don’t you think?  Maybe not, if the object of your generous consideration is you.

Anyway…

I was writing about the rookie TV series Bull, which I thought at first was a winner but as I kept watching went continually downhill. 

And boy, was I angry!

I didn’t even sound like myself.  Yesterday’s published product remains essentially what I believe; I just went back and took the turpentine out of the water.  (That may not mean anything but I really like how it sounds.)

I don’t know, I guess I get mad at myself when I get fooled, and I take my negative feelings out on the “fooler.”  At first, Bull felt excitingly like a “keeper.”  Then I cut open the fish… okay, I’m a little manic, here, due to my still smoldering at the deception.  Which could have actually been self-deception.  Maybe Bull was always what it was and I bamboozled myself into believing it was better.  Noticing its progressive decline could have been me, coming belatedly to my senses.

But did I have to be so hurtful about it? 

Just to prove I am not necessarily that guy – or at least not always necessarily that guy – I offer a brief anecdote that exemplifies the opposite.

A family member solicited my advice, concerning his serious disagreement with his parents over the last, lamented presidential election.  His question was, should he set their political differences aside in the name of family cohesiveness or should he stick to his ideological guns, maintaining an ostracizing separation? 

The words emerging from my mouth in response to his conundrum were these:

“The question is, ‘Who do you want to be like, and who do you not want to be like?’”

Truth be told, I have rarely expressed myself with such illuminating sensitivity.  Truth also be told, however, I have rarely been as aggressively hostile as was reflected in yesterday’s original version of the post, which, now revised, is hardly a valentine, but you should have seen that poisonous diatribe before.

Accuracy defines accuracy.  There’s an immutable standard for telling it – for you, at least – exactly like it is.

But then there are the adjectives, the adverbs, the metaphors and the analogies.  Words that qualify, shave the edges off the extremes, words that, without selling yourself down the river, take considerate thought for their intended target.

There is more than one way of telling the truth.

… is what I’m saying.

Every writer works hard and does the best they know how.

Yesterday, I neglected to think about that.

I shall try to improve on my performance in the future.

Not to do so…


Would be pitiable.