Sunday, July 21, 2013

An Ode To Grandpa

On many an occasion, professional wrestler Ric Flair stated that “To be the man, you have to beat the man”.    There are very few men who matched my grandfather.   A six-foot-two tower of power – until he shrank two inches in his later years and informed anyone he encountered of his contracted state with mischievous glee – my grandfather brought his no nonsense sensibility and depression era youth work ethic to a bustling California economy in the fifties, flourishing in the warmth and prosperity enough to make it his lifelong home.

But that is not to say that just because the boy took himself out of Pennsylvania that Pennsylvania was taken out of the boy.  His love of Pittsburgh sports teams knew no bounds and this love earned me many a trip in my youth to Dodger Stadium and his couch.  When his teams screwed up and he was in the presence of women, they were dirty buggers.  When it was just he and I, they were an expression that rhymed with dirty buggers.  Let’s face facts; an old person swearing is awesome.  When that old person is your grandfather and your post pubescent youth is spent listening to him redefine colorful metaphors  because the Pirates and Steelers took a downturn in quality?  Travolta playing Tony Manero and Danny Zuko simultaneously couldn’t match that level of cool.

This does not mean he lacked charm and grace.  One of my earliest recollections of what love is came from watching my grandfather and his wife dance across the Cloud Nine ballroom in Knott’s Berry Farm. Whenever I dance with my wife – be it in the company of a dance floor full of fools or the middle of our living room alone – I think of that image of my grandfather twirling his beloved, though I must confess to never trying it to his beloved Polka music.  (Don’t get all smarmy thinking to yourself “How could he leave his grandson alone in the middle of a dance hall?”  It was a different time, fuckstick.)

My grandfather welcomed my wife with open arms into his family.   They shared a love of jokes that were naughty, but not dirty.  An example: 

Grandpa:  “What do you call a German virgin?”

My wife:  “I don’t know, Grandpa.”

Grandpa: “Gudntight.”

In my wedding album, there is a picture of my grandfather with his arms confidently ensconced around three of my wife’s bridesmaids.  A certainty exists in his Cheshire cat grin that states in no uncertain terms these nubile women would know his company behind closed doors if only he were three decades younger.   Upon crossing paths later in the evening, I informed him of this visual I had joyously taken in, at which point he looked at me, winked, and said “Michael, I may be old, but I’m not dead.”

But as S.E. Hinton once wrote, that was then…this is now.  In a couple of weeks, I will attend the annual Sunset Strip Music Festival.  I will think back to the surreal memory of standing in the middle of the hallowed boulevard for the first time, answering a call from my grandfather, and thinking that if you asked me to list things I never thought would coexist in my life, the Sunset Strip and my grandfather would be right near the top of said list.  I will stand with my wife and my two best friends, and we will raise a glass to a man who lived a long, full life; one that we could only hope to emulate. 

You were always the man, grandpa.  Now, the man becomes the king…and the king doesn’t have to do a damn thing except sit in his favorite chair and watch his teams from the Steel City -- Careful of the colorful metaphors until I get there.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tragedy and Travesty –The End Game at Penn State

Why the hell do I keep thinking of The Wire Season four whenever I consider the atrocities that have occurred at Penn State?

Why do I keep equating the fictional lives of four youths in West Baltimore attempting to avoid the never ending cycle of crime and drugs with that of the all too real expanding roster of boys turned young men who suffered physical and psychological damage at the hands of a monster.  A monster that had the unmitigated audacity to brazenly wave a twisted personal double-entendre to his sexual deviancy below our collective ignorance by titling his biography Touched.
I do it because the expertly told novella that played out on HBO in the fall of 2006 didn’t provide easy solutions.  It wasn’t a sugar coated, afterschool special where the kids absconded to lives of gingerbread cookies, white picket fences, and loving homes that wiped away the scars of an unsympathetic culture.    Innocence was violently taken, never to be replenished.
That’s what the epilogue will be at Penn State. 
It’s an exercise in repetition to recount what has turned Happy Valley from Rockwellian portrait to ironic description.   I can’t even bring myself to link to the grand jury report that is as shocking as the Starr report was salacious.  I’m a big believer in knowledge is power, but there’s been very few documents that have ever left me so powerless to the reality that man’s monstrosities will always defeat its humanity.   That feeling of ineptitude led me to the harshest reality of all regarding this scandal; the truth that The Wire taught in its entirety, but most cruelly in season four.
People will die from this.

Jerry Sandusky will die.  He will go to jail for the rest of his life and prison justice will see to it that the rest of his life is a finite number.  We will read between the lines upon learning of his passing, flash our sadistic grins, and allow the dark corners of our imagination to feed our silent blood lust. Then we will hang our heads, for we will know it can never equate to what he selfishly bequeathed in the name of a perversion that has left so many feeling a victim’s guilt for doing absolutely nothing wrong.

Joe Paterno will die.  I don’t say that haphazardly or to incite controversy.  Paterno has said himself on multiple occasions that he has no hobbies, no off season activities.  He doesn’t even like to vacation.  All he knows is football.  He has even implied that the reason he has coached so long is due to his own fear of an expedited mortality upon retirement.  That time is now here.  I do not find Paterno to be the devil incarnate.  I find him to be a product of a generation that doesn’t articulate its feelings and minds its own business; the product of a year-long military experience at eighteen that molded him into someone that follows the chain of command with blinding rigidity.  These are not excuses nor are they meant to forgive his egregious transgressions. They merely provide the foundation that led Paterno to make judgment errors so lacking in any semblance of common sense that multiple lives have been irreversibly altered.  On Dan Patrick’s show this week, Chris Collinsworth equated Paterno’s actions with the officers in A Few Good Men; he acted according to the code of the legality, but not the code of humanity.  To piggy back on the point, I wish Paterno would go the route of Lt. Col. Markinson:  express in no uncertain terms that these young men were indescribably harmed because he wasn’t strong enough to stop it.  After that, the combination of losing the only thing he ever wanted to do with the guilt of why it was taken away will serve as his nickel plated pistol.  Whether this is a fate deserving of his actions is left to the many heated debates still to come.

And whether you choose to accept it or not, chances are some of the victims won’t make it through either.  Too dramatic?  Consider the following:  The victims are about to relive the most horrific experience of their lives in the most public forum imaginable.  They will be subjected to the court of public opinion and the devil may care reactions of internet toughs and non-thinking electronic Neanderthals in their most vulnerable hour.  Victims of child abuse have ways of coping with their unfathomable pain, the vast majority of which aren’t healthy.  You really think that throwing such fragile souls into this pressure cooker won’t inevitably have tragic consequences?  If so, I guess you also think that inner city kids don’t have to jump through hoops to escape their pre destined life and attain the normalcy so many of us take for granted.

The Wire Season four ended with three of the four kids it focused on destined for a life that involved crime, violence, and a shortened expiration date.  But one of the four had a chance.  Not a promise, not a guarantee; just a chance.  That’s all we have now.  A chance to provide these damaged souls with the opportunity to heal as much as one can from such a predatory invasion.  If we can’t do that, then the only poet who ever got it right about the inhabitants of this big blue marble was Jim Morrison.

Five to one baby, one in five.  No one here gets out alive.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Where I've Been or What's New Pussycat?

I know, it's been awhile - and as much as I'd like to be able to regale you with stories of stunning adventure and breathtaking acheivement, the truth is a bit more mundane, though exciting for me personally.

In short, I've started plying my trade writing for  Quoting the website,
"This or That was created to help people make choices with the Internet by their side. We bring together editorial and user-generated media so that you can "own the watercooler" in a fun and offbeat way and stay current on the hot trends and topics buzzing across the globe. "

Thus far I have written 4 articles for the site that I hope you'll check out:

They’re Comparing Obama To The Wrong Southern Democratic President:

10 Things That Should Have Happened At The Oscars:

Rodney King and The LAPD: A 20 Year Anniversary:

The Real Reason Tiki Barber Is Returning To Football:

I'll still be writing here when I have something more personal to say and will be sharing likns to my latest articles, but I do hope you'll take a look at and enjoy all their talented writers

Friday, February 4, 2011

Celebrity Is Sought or Shut Up Kristen Stewart

                No matter your point of view on her, recent reports stating that Kristen Stewart turned down playing Lois Lane in the upcoming Superman reboot elicited a strong response.  I. like most of you, met the news with great relief.  Stewart annoys me to absolutely no end and it’s for only one reason:  She is so incredibly put upon by being a celebrity.  I must paraphrase Dan Aykroyd in his classic Weekend Update tiffs with Jane Curtain and state:  Kristen, you ignorant boob! (Even I can’t go slut on this one; I know nothing about her sexual proclivities)
                Now a number of you might be saying to yourselves “Michael, it’s not her fault that she became a celebrity.”  In my twenties, my response to this ridiculous statement would be to sardonically ask you how much cannabis you’ve partaken in and if there is any you wish to part with.  In my forties, the response is now to simply ask how someone of such limited intelligence hasn’t managed to run into traffic yet.   OF COURSE IT’S HER FAULT SHE’s A CELEBRITY!!!! 
                Let’s be clear – There have only been 2 can’t miss film franchises that were started in the last decade.  2 absolute can’t miss propositions in a business where success is a bigger crapshoot than deciphering Ozzy Osbourne’s verbage.  The first is Harry Potter (Should you ever wish to gift the Jesus Freak in your life with proof of God’s hand in our world, the fact that those 3 kids went through that rabbit hole of an existence during the most confusing time of their lives and came out the other side without pretense or addiction is exhibit A).  The second is Twilight. (And before you psycho fans of The Girl Who Wore Bondage Gear While Piercing Every Part Of Her Body and Hacking Into All Computer Programs Known To Man start bitching, the American version isn’t out yet, so it doesn’t count.)  My point?  If celebrity is something you don’t want, you don’t go after the female lead of one of the 2 sure things of the last decade!
                And do not hit me with the whole “How could she know she would be so encumbered by celebrity?”  This is 21st century America – We are a society that bequeaths celebrity to socialites who film in graphic detail their oral copulation skills, then proclaim dim witted ignorance.  We are warmed by a You Tube clip of a homeless man with the voice of a trying too hard DJ who then proceeds to seek out any and every camera in his sight.  With the machinations of our society determined to transform Andy Warhol’s famous 15 minutes line from observant witticism to unofficial Constitutional Amendment, it’s hard for me to fathom the thought that auditioning for the role of an angst ridden, thrill seeking, vampire loving teenager would be done without the knowledge that accepting said role would carry with it an entry into the public consciousness.
                I know – you’re starting to come around but thinking to yourself that targeting someone in the acting arena is like shooting fish in a barrel.  Say that to the men and women who perform in regional theater all across the country.  Actors who figured out a way to express the creativity that burns within without trading it for the public exposure that has an uncanny knack for extinguishing such pure motivations.   Maybe turning down the role of Lois Lane indicates that Ms. Stewart has turned over a new leaf.  That she will no longer put herself in the path of unavoidable celebrity.
                Oh yeah, she just accepted playing the role of Snow White…possibly with Julia Roberts as the evil queen.   I’m sure stepping into the shoes of arguably the most famous Disney heroine, with the real possibility of playing opposite the biggest female box office attraction of the last 20 years, won’t generate an abnormal amount of attention at all.
                I can’t wait for the put upon press junket.
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Halfway Home or I’m A Man, I’m 40

                “And I’m talkin’ to myself at night because I can’t forget.” – Jack White
                The first time I heard the voice was in September.  My dog B Is Love turned 7 and my wife Charger Gal and I celebrated her birth as if she had 2 legs instead of 4 paws.  It was during this celebratory moment that the voice first started spewing in my head.  This is nothing new for me; the total tonnage of voices that converse within my mind are enough to blend into white noise most of the time.  This voice was different.  It’s simple and dangerously affecting sentence was reminiscent of a George Carlin bit that argued “Shell Shock” was a far more effective term for what war veterans go through than “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”.  I always respond to moments of discombobulation like this with humor, thus I stated to Charger Gal that within 6 months, all three of us would be halfway home and it’s all downhill from here.  Charger Gal was not amused and I can’t blame her; it wasn’t terribly funny.  This worried me more than anything.  Humor is my fastball – If that’s not working, this emperor has no clothes (Not a pleasant sight I assure you).
                A short time later, the voice returned during a conversation with my best friend Cowboy Jelly. He was freaking out one night to anyone in the vicinity of his voice (a far larger radius than the human vocal cord should be capable of covering) about turning 40.  He also freaked out about turning 30, so I wrote it off as a Meg Ryan When Harry Met Sally breakdown mixed with a Willy Loman Attention Must Be Paid Temper Tantrum and listened with half an ear while watching the Packers game.   The voice took advantage of my distracted state to reiterate its simple, piercing sentence.  Rather than attempt another joke that might fall flat, I chose instead to intently listen to Cowboy Jelly spend 20 minutes lecturing how none of today’s music has the soul of 1987. Yes, 1987 – A year whose number one song was Walk Like An Egyptian.  This was not going well.
                The next few months moved along with the voice making regular appearances, each one leaving me sadder and more disheartened than the last.  It wasn’t a constant chant, but every time it reiterated its message, it was in a moment where vulnerable was the emotional color of my rainbow.  It particularly loved making its presence felt at night, waking me from the dreams it could not infiltrate and taunting my inability to return to the peace of slumberland.  The voice was taking its toll.
This week, to celebrate my own entrance into the forties, Charger Gal threw me a party.   She is an amazing cook – better than Meryl Streep’s characters in Julia and Julia and Its Complicated combined.  This being a milestone birthday, she even outdid her usual high quality cuisine and provided a delicacy that had carnivores and vegetarians alike craving more.  The soiree was worthy of The Hangover – minus the ruffies and missing friend.  I love parties because it’s the one situation where people from all aspects of your life come together and interact in a melting pot where you serve as the binding ingredient.   I always allow myself a moment to step back and take a mental picture of the glorious sight of those whom I care so much for together as one.  Even the voice could not crack the unbridled joy of such a scene.
Then the party ended. 
Charger Gal and I prefer to clean up before bed no matter how big a post celebration mess may lay before us (Yes, we go “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” even in a semi inebriated state).  As I was separating the abundance of empty bottles and cans into their respective recycling receptacles, a cool breeze blew up through me carrying with it the voice, louder and stronger than it had ever been before. 
“You are a failure.” 
Told ya it wasn’t exactly “If you build it, he will come.”  I was tired of the months of consistent shanking upon my psyche and attempted to compose a response that would banish the voice once and for all.  What did I come up with after such a lengthy period of hearing this menacing review of the first forty years of my life?
“No I’m not.” 
I’m a regular Aaron Sorkin character when it comes to verbal combat aren’t I?  But my lack of a verbose defense stems from the truth of the matter, which is this:  I’m a good husband and a good dog owner – beyond that I can’t argue much with the voice and its destructively concise argument.  I’m not the professional writer I have yearned to be since I was a kid.  I haven’t been able to lose the excess 30 pounds that has dragged me for years despite a consistent exercise program.  I have a massive inability to just let things go when someone upsets me.   My current employer is facing a 500 million dollar budget cut and the job market could be charitably described as lacking.  I am on the whole an insecure, neurotic mess that despite sincere efforts to the contrary is halfway to life’s finish line with a distance to success meter that still reads To Far To Count.  This is what I have accomplished in 40 years of existence. 
But they say Life begins at 40 and 40 is the new 30 and whatever other verbal slight of hand they can concoct to soften the blow of becoming, without a shadow of a doubt, middle aged.  So I will rise up and I will continue to bleed, sweat, and pay the price that is necessary to bring to fruition the things that must come to pass in order for me to meet my maker and emphatically state “I got life right this time.  My ticket can be one way.”
The real work begins...
“Don’t remind me of my failures, I had not forgotten them.” – Jackson Browne

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar Morning or What Are These People Doing Up So Early?

Why does Hollywood’s big day, also known as the Academy Award nominations, occur at the crack of dawn?  Oh yeah, because 95% of Hollywood is insanely insecure, narcissistic, and must make sure everyone on the east coast is aware of their glorious triumphs before the morning shows break for the day. 
Here’s what I don’t get (among many things). This is one of the few times that east coast bias isn’t in play.  If Hollywood makes the decision that they’d like to sleep in, have a cup of energy drink, and announce the nominees at 9AM local time, you know what the networks and their east coast bias would say?  What time do we cut into programming for a special report?  Hollywood moves the needle:  Always has, and in our warped sense of what is deemed admirable, always will.  If you don’t believe me, check out the covers of the rags that pass for mainstream magazines at your local grocery store checkout line.
These nominations always go down the same way:  An older gentlemen walks out and drones on in such a way that the entire morning is threatened to be derailed before it even starts by everyone falling back to sleep out of sheer boredom (This has nothing to do with the 5:40 AM start as he would be boring any time of the day).   Then an actress is brought out, normally either a former Oscar winner or a young up and comer (Code for Hottie).  She is attired in a dress that should not be worn during AM hours unless it is in disarray from having been removed the night before.  She attempts a joke that she trips over the words of (because its 5:40 in the flippin’ morning), not that it matters because the joke itself reminds you joke writers shouldn’t be working this early either.  Finally, the proceedings begin in earnest.
During the reading of the nominees, there’s always some idiot that whoops it up when a particular film or person is nominated.  Most of these people are journalists who weren’t part of the film and are surrendering any semblance of objectivity with their incessant need to be a verbal part of the proceedings.  As for publicists who do this, one thing must be made perfectly clear:  They have not a single creative bone in their body.  Their entire purpose on Earth is to be a glorified cheerleader whose relentless repetition that their client is better than someone else’s client is all that separates them from stating over and over again “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” while drool runs freely down the side of their face.  Upon completion of the nominations, the older man wishes everyone a good morning and states that he’ll see us at the movies (Because after all, there’s nothing crossing my mind at the cusp of 6 AM other than sitting wide awake in a darkened room for 2 hours).
The rest of the day consists of reporters getting hold of the nominees and asking the same question “What were you doing when you found out about being nominated?”   Stars always try to state they were asleep.  Nice try, but you were a neurotic mess and we know it.  Know what I’d love to hear just once?  An actor proclaim “I was so nervous about this whole thing that I just started fooling around with my wife…my girlfriend…the woman next to me whose name I don’t remember…the crease between my mattress and box spring.  Any hole that was available man!”  That would be honest. 
But if you live in L.A., whether you are in that wacky business, yearn to be a part of it (raises hand), or wish to have nothing to do with it, you know that honesty is never considered the best policy.  See you at the movies!
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Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Curse Of Being Right or These Size 13’s Don’t Taste So Good

                I possess a multitude of shortcomings:  I’m vertically challenged, I have a bit too much girth stemming from my weekend appreciation of adult beverages and carnivorous delicacies, my emotional attachment to my dog prevents my wife and I from leaving her for extended periods of time, and I have the capability of holding a grudge for more years than Joan Rivers has been on the receiving end of a plastic surgeons’ knife.  But above all else, when I believe very strongly in a point of view, I have the need to be right.
                At face value, this isn’t out of the ordinary; anyone involved in verbal disagreement seeks to be victorious in proving their point of view.  My need is different – a Michael Jordanesque compulsion.  It’s not enough to just win an argument; I must have my opponent curled up in a fetal position crying “Mommy”,  and even then I have to kick the opponent like they’re Sonny Corleone after being shot 742 times.  When engaged in oratory debate, I take in EVERYTHING: What a person says, how they say it, what words make their eyes drift off or their posture fall.  Then I proceed to engage in spoken rat-a-tat-tat Snoop Dog would state never hesitates to put a person on their back.  The tone is destructive, the words piercing.  A General Patton level of intensity overtakes me and I do not let up until victory is mine.  
                It’s not pleasant and I have tried for years to just calm the eff down, but I can’t.  It’s an uncontrollable beast inside me that stems from a multitude of places ranging from years of not being heard while growing up to the current challenges of my job and trying to prove my worth to people I’ve recently met who are established in industries I aspire to be in.  It always starts the same—an observation or a disagreement over how something should work.  I am summarily dismissed, which sets the demon within into motion.  There are times where the slight is over something of major importance; more times than not its root takes shape over something ridiculously pointless.  Yet it is in those inane moments that my compulsion unleashes its wrath the most.  I almost step aside my body to watch this angry, anguished filibuster play out.   I don’t even see the person I’m engaged in elevated discourse with half the time; I see every single person who told me I’m not smart, I’m not right.
                And that’s the thing:  I AM RIGHT (Most of the time). 
I’m right because if I I’m not certain, I’m not getting involved.  If I am certain, I’m not stopping.   I’m right because the majority of issues I get into have to do with stupid behavior.  Not ignorant, stupid.  Ignorant is not having an answer because you don’t know the subject: I am ignorant with regards to the inner workings of brain surgery because I don’t know the first thing about it. Stupid is in knowing something is wrong but replicating the action in hopes of a different result:  A person who continuously has bad results from a particular action but continues to engage in said action is stupid.
Know what that means?  I’M STUPID!
And therein lay the true conundrum:  What do you do when your actions fall into the classification of stupidity but the rationale of why you do it defines your very being?  I’m honest to a fault; sometimes one the size of San Andreas.   It’s a source of immense pride for me that there’s nothing I say behind a person’s back if I’m not prepared to say it to their face.  Thing is, for all the yearning people have for honesty in their lives, they generally react to such sentiment as if walking around a condom factory when they’re allergic to latex.  Telling someone the truth is delicate business and once the disagreement begins, I become as delicate as Rain Man having a conniption fit in the middle of an airport.  That lack of diplomacy has cost me some in life – a lot in certain cases.  But there is this core fiber to my being; something as clear and vivid as a warm sunrise after a cold spell, and all it says to me is that it may not be right how I do things but I’m also not wrong in what I do.
And that my friends, is a curse.
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