Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"Follow-Up To 'An Unstartling Epiphany'"

Explanation (And Unspoken Apology) For The Heavier Subject Matter:  I did not get into the summer course at the University of Oxford that I applied to because the class, to my deep disappointment – and it is encouraging that I can still feel deep disappointment – was full.  My more serious thoughts, needing consequently to go somewhere, are ending up in this venue.  Frothier material “To come.”  Hopefully, soon.

Despite both my wife and my daughter Anna swear by the healing benefits of acupuncture, although I have paid numerous visits to Dr. Mao for the treatment of various maladies, with the exception of the set of tiny new holes littering my body, I have had no physical difference to show for it.  So you know what I did?

I stopped going to acupuncture.

Suggesting the natural next question, involving the exciting examination begun yesterday…

If, as was, I believe, persuasively argued,

“Nobody changes their mind about anything”,

Why then do we – and by “we” I mean the people engaging in such activities which I believe greatly outnumbers the people who don’t – continue participating in adversarial discourse?

Acupuncture does not work for me? – I stop going to acupuncture.  Arguments, reasoned and otherwise, have no ameliorative effect because,

“Nobody changes their mind about anything”,

And we keep arguing anyway?


Why continue adhering to a procedure that, over time, has proven demonstrably ineffective?

Are we crazy, or what?

Children arguing with their parents – not about “Can I go out on a school night?” – but about contrasting belief systems, go at it – as iconic hockey broadcaster Foster Hewitt would describe it – “hammer and tongs”, hoping that one of them, or maybe both in a conciliatory compromise, will suddenly exultantly “See the light.”

Read my lips:

There is no light. 

Or, more accurately, there are two lights, the disputants gazing in opposite directions. 

Hugging?  Heartfelt apologies?  Cathartic “waterworks”?

Only in sitcoms. 

“Oh, Daddy, I had no idea my attending your alma mater meant so much to you.”

“So you’ll apply to “Shmedlap State”?

“No.  But at least now I know why you’ve been acting like such a jerk.”


Same with siblings.  Same with cherished dinner companions.  Voices are raised;
nothing’s resolved.

And I mean ever.

Ipso facto – or the more appropriate Latin alternative – if our continued debating provides no ameliorative effect, because…

“Nobody changes their mind about anything”,

Why then, when someone expresses an opinion out of sync with our own, do we not, in response, sensibly – not literally ‘cause that’s kind of disgusting – hold our proverbial tongues?

Because, be honest.  Has it ever made a glimmer of difference when we didn’t?

Sometimes, when articulating their provocative perspective, it appears as if the articulating provocateur (or articulating provocateuse) is deliberately asking for trouble. 

Choosing from an arsenal of options against their reticent opponent, the squabble inciter baits their prospective adversary, going up at the end of a sentence, as if their challenging statement were a question requiring an obligatory response.  Another engagement-enticing strategy:  They cap their provocative pronouncement with the words, “You know what I’m saying?”, implicitly demanding an answer, possibly agreement, but, barring that, the seemingly welcome alternative:

“Game on!”

I know sometimes it is obligatory to offer a corrective rejoinder.  For example, if someone said to me something like, “You are the only Jew I ever liked”, one would expect a more courageous comeback than “Thank you”, unless that “Thank you” arrives with a sarcastic vocal accompaniment.  And even then, you might later berate yourself for not more forcefully reading them the “Riot Act.”  “Gotta go… forever” comes to mind.  Admittedly no better than “Thank you”, but we are talking about “The Children of the Book” here.  Diaspora, not Israeli.

So there’s that exception.  When what you hear veers unacceptably “over the line.”  But, barring responding to slurs, subtle and otherwise, why bother entering the “back-and-forth” at all when…

Dare I repeat myself yet again?

Oh why not?

“Nobody changes their mind about anything.”

The only thing I can conclude about the contentious argument’s continued popularity despite its abysmal restorative track record is that…

People simply enjoy arguing.

Arguments being, the socially acceptable version of “fighting to the death.”  And if you don’t think “Virtual Combat” is what’s happening, take a look in your ideological adversary’s eyes.  Or, if you’re close to a mirror, your own.

Arguing is safe and civilized surrogate for “going to the mat.”  Eviscerate your dinner guests – like with a sword or a dagger – and they are unlikely to come back.  And if they do, do not expect flowers or candy.  (Unless they are insidiously passive-aggressive)  Doing battle with words?  “Hey, it’s just scintillating debate.”  Its malicious intent, however, never entirely off the table.

Make no mistake about it, arguing is warfare with words.  But, unless things go dangerously awry,

You will still receive dessert.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"An Unstartling Epiphany"

Though, to me, it was astonishing.  I actually went, “Oh, my God!”  You too may go, “Oh, my God!”  Not at the epiphany.  But that I found it astonishing.

Okay, so I was at this party I mentioned yesterday, where I got gunned down by a young comedy writer which made me wonder, as surviving gunfighters eventually must, if it was maybe time for me to…

Wait.  Let me tell you the epiphany first before I run on forever and wind up having to save it till tomorrow, which is good for nobody but me because I would then have one less post idea to come up with although everyone knows this exercise is hardly for me. 

(I just coughed in a self-revelatory manner.  Two quick “Oh, sure’s.”  And now, we move on.)

The epiphany I just realized – you can insert the word “belatedly” if you adjudge me an illuminational “late bloomer” – is this:

Allowing for inevitable although scattered exceptions,

“Nobody changes their mind about anything.”

I now leave room for the appropriate reaction.  “Speechless amazement” comes to mind, but only as a compliment, not of the head-shaking variety. 

All right.  Ready?  React!


Okay, that’s enough.  Now…

How did this speechlessly amazing epiphany come to me?

As I said, I was at this party, where I encounter a writer who knew me, explaining to his accompanying wife that I was one of the best comedy writers of my era.  Never an unwelcome conversation-starter.

I knew this writer primarily as a friend of a friend, the headline about his personal biography – which he injected shortly into the conversation – being that he had lived for an extended period in Israel and had participated in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.  Previous conversations about him with my friend suggested treading softly around that area of inquiry.

I once read somewhere that when you hear a sentence beginning with “Don’t”, as in “Don’t talk about Israel with this gentleman”, all you remember is “Talk about Israel with that gentleman”, and then you do.

But then it hit me, like a ton of shimmering “Ooh-ah Chorus”-revelational bricks.

“Nobody changes their mind about anything.”

Although in other arenas, admittedly not, I do, however, find myself to be audacious – bordering on foolhardy – in casual conversation.  Maybe I just like to keep things lively, and the best way to do that is to get my co-conversationalist first, engaged and then, angry, a variation, perhaps, on Descartes:  “I antagonize; therefore I am.”

Putting a more positive spin on the matter, I apparently at some point came to believe that, with carefully assembled facts and water-tight logical reasoning, I can actually alter people’s opinions by, ever the “middle-of-the-roader”, presenting them with the alternative position, with the goal of redeeming them from their intractable one-sidedness.

I actually believe that.  I am not making this up.

Discussions on this matter inevitably come down to the contentious “dividing line” of whether or not you are “A friend of Israel.”  Which is a serious consideration. 

As committed “single issueists”, a substantial number of Jewish voters have switched their party allegiances from Democratic to Republican, believing that the Republican Party is “A friend of Israel” and the Democratic party is not.

To which my analogizing rejoinder is invariably,

“If a person is six-foot-five and another person is six-foot-four, does that make the six-foot-four person ‘short’?”

That, to me, is the gradational differentiation between the two parties support of the beleaguered State of Israel.

I would then go on to remind the unwavering “Friend of Israel” that the definition of what exactly it means to be “A friend of Israel” is qualitatively elusive, and that if I, for example, were declared because of my views, to be not “A friend of Israel”, then a lot of Israeli citizens – approximately half of them – would, due to their matching beliefs, reside a similar ideological watercraft themselves.

I leave you to decide what to think about that.  For me, it is a defusing “starting place.”

Because of my recent epiphany, however, you know what I said to this man whose hardline position on Israel is emotionally galvanizing?

I said nothing.

And felt sensationally good about it.

Realizing that there was no way I could budge this man’s opinion on this matter a single centimeter, I suddenly felt free to allow him his position, experiencing the glorious relief of being liberated from the self-imposed task of trying to change it.

Besides who wants to provoke a person who tells people you was one of the best comedy writers of your era?

I confess that, because a leopard may be able to change his spots but never all of them at one time, I did feel the need to mention a controversial book on the subject of Israel entitled My Promised Land, which I mistakenly called My Beloved Country, which morphed immediately into Cry, The Beloved Country, which is about South Africa, allowing me merciful rescue from my misguided misstep.

But Oh, the Freedom!  Oh, the Exultation!  I am now and forever released from wrangling others’ longstanding beliefs because I now happily realize that…

“Nobody changes their mind about anything.” 

In fact, I actually read somewhere that, very often, if you confront people’s longstanding beliefs with validating facts and figures and impeccable logical argument they end up holding those longstanding beliefs even more intensely than before.

So forget about it.  (He proclaimed, throwing his now shredded “argument confetti” into the air.)  My well-intentioned assignment, proven demonstrably impossible, is over.  I can express my views, or not, and if do I choose to express them, I can now do so without the accompanying vein-popping frustration of, “Why can’t you see that I’m right!”

The words “You silly person” understood, though reflected in the lightning bolts of incredulity flying angrily from my eyes.

A well spent few minutes then, wouldn’t you say?  Learning nobody changes their mind about anything? 

Of course, it you believe otherwise, I am now sure that I haven’t convinced you.

And I am perfectly fine about that.


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.