Sunday, November 28, 2010

Setting Up Xmas or You Realize It’s November, Right?

                I know Black Friday has been discussed ad nauseum – I even wrote my previous blog on the subject – But there is another tradition that takes place on the day after Thanksgiving.  It garners no attention in the papers or television, but it transforms my abode into a tribute to the most wonderful time of the year.  Submitted for your approval and entering its eleventh year, the day my wife Charger Gal and I set up Christmas in our home.
                I’d like to tell you we conduct this transformation at such an early date due to our deep love for Kris Kringle, shiny lights, and the colors green and red, but it’s really based on practicality: We’re both off work and the calendar for December always fills up prior to its arrival.  So with turkey still digesting within my girth and caffeine coursing through my veins due to a run to Coffee Bean (Suck It Starbucks), I begin pulling out the multitude of storage bins in the corner of the garage reserved for holiday cheer.
                Now at the risk of coming across as self-absorbed, I have always had a fantasy that Vegas  is fond of setting odds for whether or not I will wrench my back transporting the Christmas bins from garage to house. When we lived in our apartment and I had to climb up and down a narrow flight of stairs to accomplish this task, this was even money.  Nowadays the distance is shorter but the body is creakier, so call it two to one.  I complete the task without ending up like a retired professional wrestler, much to fantasy Vegas’ chagrin. 
                Charger Gal now begins looking through each bin, inevitably leading to her annual proclamation that something is missing.  As she investigates this further, I pop in Elf for its annual viewing and reacquaint myself with Bob Newhart’s hysterical opening monologue.  (Nobody has ever known how to evoke more gut busting laughter from a stutter as Newhart) The opening credits begin and I turn back to Charger Gal, who has nearly completed to assembling of our fake tree.  Yes, I said fake tree.  I saw as a child how quickly real trees can go up in flames and destroy property, so feel free to sweep up dead pine needles while waiting for you seven foot match to alight.  I’ll be A-OK settling for Charger Gal’s Christmas Tree candle and a slightly off kilter looking oversize phony plant thankyouverymuch.
                With the tree complete, our attention now turns to the ornaments.  Charger Gal has three goals with this process:  Make sure there are enough plush ornaments to hang on the bottom of the tree in case our dog B Is Love gets a hankering to do some unannounced tree rearranging, make sure everything else that goes on the tree is personalized to us and our life, and make sure I don’t break any said personalized objects.  There are also ornaments whose time has passed, leading Charger Gal to have a Boyz II Men “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday” moment of remembrance before turning to me and somberly stating “Dump ‘em Michael.”
                The ornaments are hung on the tree with care, amid hunger pangs that tell us food must soon be fed there.  Charger Gal and I retreat to the kitchen (singing the “Baby It’s Cold Outside” duet from Elf all the way) to make a couple of plates of leftovers.  Charger Gal is very specific in creating her leftover plate, ensuring that all components of her feast avoid contact with each other.  Conversely, I throw everything into my leftover bowl and form a goulash that Bluto Blutarsky would be proud of. (And you wonder why she worries about her sentimental ornaments?)  We return to the living room and proceed to set out our Christmas houses, Carolers, snowmen, CD’s, books, and a generous helping of Santas.  This is done while simultaneously fending off B Is Love from helping herself to our leftover feasts.  The final touch of the inside décor is hanging up our initialized stockings. I always place them in C,M,B order in the hopes someone will get the subtle New Jack City reference, but no one ever does.  
                Now we move outside to hang the lights.  Our relationship’s unorthodox but successful dynamic springs to the forefront as it is Charger Gal who climbs up our made in 1958 ladder and hangs the lights while I hand her clips, hold the ladder steady, and attempt to read the minds of passersby.  Charger Gal actually gets a kick out of handling the task so I have no problem giving her the moment.
                We return inside and settle on the couch to watch Will Ferrell save Christmas.  I examine the house, its festive vibe punctuating the completed make over.  I cuddle with Charger Gal while B Is Love lies at our feet and think to myself how warm and safe this all feels…and how it will all be back to what passes for normal these days in a month.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Black Friday or The Line Starts Where?

                Come Thursday evening, when a majority of us are sprawled out in front of the boob tube while allowing the L-Tryptophan to lull us into a food coma of epic proportion, there will be a gathering.  It will take place in parking lots and in front of closed entrances to giant retail store all across the country and long about the time you and I are waking for our wee small hours of the morning urination deposit, these stores will open to embark upon a madness of their own creation – BLACK FRIDAY. 
                I didn’t even know what this cavalcade of bargain shopping was until the first year I was living with my wife Charger Gal.   I remember at 4:30 that morning I groggily took in the sight of Charger Gal putting on her shoes, the slightest jiggling of keys captured by my ears.  I softly asked “What are you doing?”  (Though I’m fairly certain I included the more common vernacular for intercourse in the middle of the question.)  She kissed me and said she was off to do some Black Friday shopping and that she had always wanted to see what it was all about.  She returned 3 hours later, looking as if she had been through the Battle of Hogwarts.  (Ok fine, she didn’t leave in her Sunday best.   No need to get snarky about it.) She regaled me with stories of what she had been through.   I listened intently…and went right back to sleep.  But as I returned to my peaceful slumber, I swore Black Friday was something I would never experience for myself.
                And then two years ago, I did. (What do you want from me? The economy sucks and it was before I realized most Black Friday pricing can also be found online and the top notch deals are essentially limited to products with a quantity of 2.) 
                I left the house at 7AM, having been warned by Charger Gal that setting out for Black Friday at such time was a mistake before she requested that I please return home with Coffee Bean (Suck it Starbucks).  The morning was foggy; an ominous sign.  I pressed on, venturing forward to the local strip mall that has within its confines a multitude of retail outlets tailor made for consumer consumption.  (I don’t know why I just turned into Joe Friday from Dragnet either.  Make like Steve Winwood and roll with it.)
                The cornerstone of this merchandising megalopolis is the trifecta of Toys R Us, Best Buy, and Walmart that occupies a 2 football field stretch along the Northwest end of the strip mall.   I pull into the large parking area expecting to have to park a little further back than normal, but there’s no parking.  At all. After 20 minutes of motoring up and down the aisles in desperate search for an open spot that is as likely to exist as a Jolie-Aniston sex tape, I remember a little known set of parking spaces behind the Walmart.  I cross the distance like I’m racing Vin Diesel in The Fast And The Furious. Eureka, one open spot left.  Let’s hit the stores.
                I walk around the corner to approach the front of Walmart and am taken aback by the sea of men, women, and children roaming about the front of the store, none of whom are in the frame of mind to drop a verse of Tupac’s I Ain’t Mad At Cha. They curse humanity and deliver rousing damnations of their creator of choice.  In other words, Black Friday is just like any other day at Walmart, and since I’m not a fan of Walmart any other day, I feel secure in my decision to make like U2 and walk on.
                The pavement leading to Best Buy is littered with a plethora of Coke cans, beer bottles, plastic plates and cutlery, and to my astonishment, a turkey carcass.  An actual turkey carcass.  I shake my head, hold my breath, and make my way past the remains of the makeshift feast and into electronic heaven.  I take in a store that long ago exceeded the fire code for number of patrons allowed and proceed to make like an NFL running back, darting through and around the customers as each 18 inches of daylight presents itself.   My best O.J. (pre Bundy and Rockingham of course) turns out to be an exercise in futility, as the things I have come to purchase are all sold out.  Defeated, I head toward the exit and pass two men engaged in a heated disagreement over who gets the last cell phone both covet like Gollum over his Precious. These guys probably spent the night sharing turkey and singing Imagine and now find themselves fast approaching fisticuffs.  American consumerism in all its glory.
                I walk outside with no desire to even attempt Toys R us and ready to wave the white flag, but I catch out of the corner of my eye the Petco that sits tucked in between the mega powers.  It is open, near empty, and begging me to spoil my dog B Is Love.  I waste no time in doing so and then remember there’s a Sports Chalet further down the strip mall.  I drive over and parking is plentiful, the back pack Charger Gal wants is in stock and on sale, and I am rapidly starting to enjoy this whole Black Friday thing.  I leave the strip mall behind as the fog begins to burn off and head to Office Max.  They are out of some merchandise, but have what I’m looking for so life continues to be good.
                My last stop is the Target near my home.  You would think it would be as much of a mad house as the other big name stores I have passed or briefly entered, but things slow down after 8AM.   I make my way around the store and study the faces of the employees who have been there since the start of the morning. They look like virgins who have been subjected to a Ron Jeremy film festival.  My good friend Ponyboy has worked at Target for over 20 years and has this face for days after working a Black Friday.  It leaves me scared straight, thanking my lucky stars that retail is not my way to earning a living.
                So to quickly recap:  Sport Chalet, Petco, and Office Max good.  Walmart and Best Buy bad.  I hope that helps those of you who make this trek to worship at the altar of the almighty deal.  I have no plans to join you this year…but I do get the ads emailed to me in advance, just in case.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Walk Around The Block or I Didn’t Need Those Shoulder Blades Anyway

                It always starts the same way:  She approaches me and sets her head on my knee.  She looks up at me with big blue eyes that scream “Take me.”  She playfully opens her mouth, sticks her tongue out, and softly pants.  I can never resist her charms, no matter how tired or busy I am, nor do I want to.
                That is the prelude to every walk I take with my dog, B Is Love.  (What did you think I was describing perv?)
                Once I have committed to this neighborhood excursion, the first thing I have to accomplish is getting B Is Love’s harness on.  It sounds easy enough, except B Is Love approaches it like a MMA fighter performing a punch avoidance exercise.  I end up in a sweat and she ends up growling with delight and my incompetence. 
I strap on my iPod as we walk through the backyard and enter the garage.  B Is Love paces before the garage door with the fervent anticipation of a prisoner being released from solitary.  We just bathed in sunlight 10 seconds ago but you’d swear she hadn’t caught a speck of it in a month. This plays into my Larry David level of neuroses about being a bad dog owner so I grab my garage door opener and click. The door opens and B Is Love immediately ducks underneath, leading to my daily 15 seconds of petrification as I wait for the door to open high enough for my stuffed Irish pig behind to squeeze through while thoughts of what would happen if today was the day the door decided to malfunction and separate Breezy and I dance through my head.  Electricity comes through again however and B Is Love and I are off.
                We start off down the back alley leading to the neighborhood, unintentionally instigating the high pitched bark of the Chihuahua in the house across from us.  B Is Love glances with derision at this desperate to be adopted by Paris Hilton, no quiero Taco Bell rat dog that’s the size of the toys she loves to run around the house and chew into oblivion and moves on.  We come to the end of the alley where the holding mechanism on B Is Love’s 26 foot leash comes in handy to keep her from running up to the passing cars and introducing herself.  We cross the street – I never get tired of watching her legs move with the expediency of the Road Runner after foiling Wyle E. Coyote – and we begin the walk in earnest.
                With no further crossing of streets, B Is Love breaks into her walking strut, a cross between a peacock and John Travolta and the beginning of Saturday Night Fever.  I embark on my own walking boogie woogie wonderland of oblivion thanks to the tunes jamming from the iPod, but this momentary aversion from reality and all its imperfections is brought to a screeching halt the moment B Is Love comes across her first squirrel.  The next few moments  unfold as follows:  The squirrel taunts her like Floyd Mayweather Jr. at a press conference, B Is Love takes off after the squirrel in a frenzy, and my wanna be fifth Beatle singing self gets his shoulder pulled from his socket.  B Is Love never catches the squirrel (Much to my relief) and I rotate my arm in a reminder of why I never need to do shoulder specific exercises at the gym.
Now we settle into the smelling and peeing portion of the walk.  First, B Is Love engages in a sniffapalooza that entails more starting and stopping than the 405 freeway during rush hour, culminating in her discovering a preferred territory marker and unloading.  Now while I find urination to be an agreeable feeling, I must say that I don’t partake in the unadulterated pleasure that B Is Love gets from it: Her joyful eyes and broad smile lead to kicking the freshly sprayed grass into the environment for all to share.
We press on and come across a house with a cat residing in the front yard.  You would think the appearance of a feline would have me prepping my shoulders for another workout, but against all laws of nature, B Is Love just likes looking at the cat as if her appearance is a symbol that all is right with the world.  It is, as Bill Murray described in Ghostbusters, dogs and cats living together.  The same cannot be said for the Husky/Akita mix we come across on the back end of our walk that always growls from beneath its fence like the living embodiment of Metallica’s Thing That Should Not Be.  B Is Love makes like Rocky after Mr. T. incites him, thus requiring me to restrain her with all my might while wondering how so much strength can be packed into 70 pounds.
The walk comes to an end and I reopen the garage door to find my wife Charger Gal has come home in our absence.  B Is Love becomes excited and as soon as I undo her harness, she takes off to give her mommy some love.  I walk in and take a seat on the couch, a touch bummed that being the one to take her around the neighborhood doesn’t warrant such warmth.  I rationalize to myself that’s life and reach for the remote, but am met by B Is Love’s gaze.    We lock eyes and she delivers a series of licks across my face that leaves us looking like Fred Flintstone and Dino.  I smile brightly at my friend as I rub her belly in appreciation of the silent thank you that never fails to warm my heart and remind me it is the simplest gestures that are often the most profound.
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Sunday Baptism or They Do What With The Water?

                Why is it that whenever a person who fails to frequent church finds themselves standing next to one their nervous energy goes into overdrive?  My wife Charger Gal informs me that my best friend Cowboy Jelly is showing all the signs:  The hands in the pockets…The rigid posture…The tense shifting back and forth…The inability to look any direction but downward.  It’s like a child awaiting punishment.
 I thought this was God’s house.  Now granted, if you take the rationale that every church is a home for the almighty, you’ll quickly realize the big man has a jones for real estate that would put Donald Trump to shame. (And no taxes to boot.)  But that aside, there’s just no reason for Cowboy Jelly to be like this.
And I’m gonna tell him that…just as soon as I’m able to loosen my posture, unglue my hands from my pockets, figure out how to look upward, and stop rocking back and forth like Tom Cruise on Oprah’s couch.  Look, my relationship with God is complicated (We’ll get there in a blog someday…TRUST ME) but this day isn’t about me.  My friend Only Child is having his daughter baptized and I’m here to share in the blessed event. 
So Charger Gal, Cowboy Jelly, his freshly minted fiancée Dorothy Gale (Named for her affinity for the state of Kansas), and myself venture into the church.  Dorothy Gale is the only one amongst us who thinks to go dip in the holy water.  As I consider whether that makes the rest of us heathens, my eyes gaze upon a throne at the front of the church.  It is ginormous and completely looks like something Joel Osteen yearns to conduct a sermon from.   I glance about the church, taking in the other children dressed to the nines.  I also take in their mothers;  it’s clear based on their looks and attire that a couple of them have previously spent time in this church confessing to sins I only wish I had assisted them in committing during my single days.
My impure thoughts are broken by the arrival of the minister.  He’s a regal looking man of the cloth whose appearance is a cross between Father Christmas and Floyd the Barber from the old Andy Griffith Show.  He motions us to head toward the rear of the church, which confuses me.  Every baptism I have ever viewed took place in the front of the church, the better for the minister to do his best impression of John Lithgow in Footloose.  (HE IS TESTING US!)  But despite my discombobulated state, I venture back.
The back of the church has open doors leading to a small white room, the centerpiece of which appears to be a beautiful birdbath.  As I wonder how our feathery friends could make their way inside to use such a lovely watering hole, I overhear others state this will be utilized for the affusion, a process where water is poured over the infants heads to signify the baptism.  E me.  It hits me that this is a far better way to perform the service:  Each entourage can make their way into the small space and observe the baptism without the prying eyes of strangers who have no vested interest in the child in question.  But I’m on a roll with misconstruing each step of this process, thus Father Floyd the Barber Christmas asks all of us to fit into the small room. (Why utilize a room that could house King Kong when everyone can squeeze into a space usually reserved for people with hot plates?  Oh yeah, the birdbath.)
My posse and I stand just outside the room, but with a perfect view of the birdbath, Only Child, his wife The Perfect Teeth (named for her pearly whites that Hollywood stars could only hope to obtain) and our girl of the hour, Mellow.  Not only do mommy and daughter look radiant, but Mellow is so chill in her dad’s arms that she effortlessly twirls her legs in different directions the way John Belushi could maneuver his bee antennas to move in multiple directions.  
Now Father Floyd the Barber Christmas raises his hands and I’m convinced he’s about to refer to me as a friend, Roman, or countrymen and ask me to lend him my ears.  The ceremony begins and Mellow has her moment of affusion that she handles with graceful aplomb.  The conclusion of the affusion is immediately followed by Only Child’s parents breaking for the exit like Usain Bolt in the 100.  They have to do final prep for the post baptism party and as the next child begins to bellow tears normally reserved for the acoustic heart of a Target, I wonder if they need assistance. 
My eyes turn back toward the festivities when they freeze on the sight of Cowboy Jelly checking his phone for football scores with the subtleness of Kobe hiding disdain for Shaq.  I grab his hand; tell him it’s wrong, wonder why he has to be so selfish that he can’t let one Sunday of football pass by for his friend.  Of course, that’s when my eyes catch Charger Gal doing the exact same thing.
Oy Vay.  (Yes, I went Jewish during a Christian ceremony.  Why do you ask?)
I turn back and see Father Floyd passing out candles to each of the parents that each child attempts to grab like they are well lit toys.  I settle in for the rest of the service while silently pondering the odds of the church turning nto the Universal Studios Backdraft exhibit.
At least there’s plenty of water in the birdbath.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Trip To Costco or Get Your Free Samples!

                It is 9:59 on a weekday morning. I find myself grasping a supersized shopping cart that I instinctively use as protection to remain separated  from a large group of people. They surround unopened double doors like sinners with attention deficit disorder, awaiting entrance to a confession they can only articulate via unintelligible babble.  They grip similar carts to my own, only theirs contain children who pierce the morning air via lungs capable of sounds no human ear should be forced to withstand.   The doors open and the masses huddle in to hand over money via the collection plate of multiple cash registers.
                It is 10 AM and I am in front of a Costco at opening time.  What the Hell happened to my life?
                This is hardly the first time I have entered this tribute to merchandise sold in bulk quantity; I’m usually here with my wife Charger Gal, just so I have someone to cling to as I work my way through the horrors within.  But I was off and wanted to be the good husband so I volunteered to go it alone.  Of course the 54th regiment volunteered at the end of Glory and look how it turned out for them.  So with deep breaths normally reserved for the practice of tantric sex, I move forward.
                The first thing I always notice is how it is mandatory I have my membership card out upon entrance, yet nobody ever wants to look at it.  I admit it’s not the best picture I’ve ever had taken of myself, but it’s not Lindsay Lohan after an all-night bender either.  Yet there’s the greeter (normally old and bored or young and full of ADD) looking every which way but toward my black and white, half-smiling visage while stating a pleasant “Good morning” to nobody in particular.  I shake off the hurt from the rejection of my pearly black and white and move into the store, passing the registers manned by employees and managers who smirk at this initial sea of humanity like Tom Hanks waving his cap while cursing fans under his breath in A League Of Their Own.
                I can’t blame them.  My friend Mr. Incredible (named for his striking resemblance to the lead character from my favorite Pixar film) works for Costco and has told stories of self-absorption that would make the Housewives of Beverly Hills blush.  People walking in with half-eaten pies and demanding a refund under the assertion the pastry didn’t taste very good...then sticking their hand out in expectation.  People throwing titanic temper tantrums over false claims of price differentials that wouldn’t cover the cost of 10 minute parking in downtown LA…in the 70’s.  There’s nobody I know who has lost more faith in his fellow man during the course of his 30’s due to job experiences than I have…but if I’m playing amateur psychologist (and not even staying at a Holiday Inn last night to do so), I’d bet Mr. Incredible isn’t too far behind me.
                Of course, you don’t need to have a friend working the inside to notice the insane tunnel vision of Costco customers.  I’ve long maintained that the greatest NBA defensive team in history roams their aisles.  If you’ve ever been in one, you’ve seen them. Their carts are always stopped long ways; their arms are forever extended as if eagerly anticipating measurement on their wingspan.  They directly block the front of the freezer door containing the chicken breasts you wish to purchase, uncertain if this is the brand they want even though it’s only brand there.  They wander around the liquor section asking no one in particular if the white wine bottle in their hand is a good red.  They ogle you with an unnerving Stepford Wife stare that illustrates the lights aren’t on and nobody was ever home.  And of course, they partake in free samples.
                Free samples are to Costco what Adam Sandler’s attempts at drama are to his box office record; they seem like good ideas in theory, but ultimately lower the success of a body of work that really wasn’t all that great to begin with.  I have seen people become so exasperated by the human artery clogs that are the free sample hubs they abandon their half-filled carts and walk out.  On the bright side, these people are replaced by individuals who have no other purpose but to peruse and indulge upon said hubs. (Because paying customers replaced by freeloaders is always a combo for business success)  My BFF Cowboy Jelly proudly states that the Costco free samples are the cornerstone of a healthy, nutritious weekend lunch – He’s also heavy set and cheap, so take that pronouncement for what it’s worth.
 The newest part of this cherry on top of the warehouse shopping sundae is that sample servers now call out to every person that passes by like a carnival barker.  They used to catatonically stand like the living mannequins on Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade and much like those performers only moved when money was presented to them, samplers only moved when customers partook of their treats.  Now they’re PT Barnum and every single person that passes by is their next sucker born every minute.
In the end, I weather the malaise, reach the register and exchange an emphatic glance with the checker that really doubles as a chance for me to silently plea “I’m not them!” (She wasn’t buying, I couldn’t hold it against her.), make my way to the attendant who delivers a scan of my purchase and marks my receipt with a long pink line that indicates I’m not a crook, and I am free.  I move toward my car and breathe in the air of freedom.  Free of the people hopelessly attached to large quantities at fair prices.  Then it hits me… I’ve got a ton of photos to develop. 
Take a guess who has the best prices?

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Writing Process or Stop Blinking At Me Wretched Cursor

                I was meant to write.  The way George Carlin was meant to do stand up, Steven Spielberg was meant to direct, and John Lennon was meant to have incredibly crappy taste in Asian women.  Chevy Chase once said that when you discover what you are really good at, it comes to you rather naturally; no doubt referencing his uncanny ability for picking lousy scripts post Fletch.  Writing does come rather naturally to me – always has.  It is built into my very fiber of being and I am at my most confident and free when I am in the midst of stringing together words, phrases, and ideas in intelligent, clever ways.   I’ve never snorted cocaine or shot heroin.  I only took ecstasy once in the hopes of improving my bond with the girl I had just started dating at the time. (All it gave me was one mind numbing headache, much like she did during our tumultuous time together).  Yet I can’t imagine any of these narcotics or stimulants holding a candle to this creative addiction for which I have neither the methodology nor the desire to find a cure. 
                So then why in the Hell am I staring at a blank screen?
                While it is true that writers can be procrastinators of the highest order (I have cleaned yards, rearranged garages, and walked dogs and children across the greater San Fernando Valley to be a member of good standing in the order of dawdling), it’s not for lack of ideas – quite the opposite.  A writers’ antenna is wired to transcribe in entertaining detail life experiences both exotic and mundane, resulting in a logjam of concepts that constantly fight for release from the mind like NBA centers positioning themselves for a rebound.   Everything is in play…and EVERYTHING is daunting.  But if you’re afraid, buy a dog. (And there’s my dog now.  Look, she needs a walk.  I’ll be back later.}
                So seriously, what happens once one of these embryonic conceptions breaks through the whirlwind and carries its way from the brain to the computer screen via the stroking of the keyboards?  You have to make like Ferris Bueller and take the Ferrari out for a spin…assuming it is, in fact, a Ferrari.  Like it or not, as you begin to expand on the thought, far more of your ideas will turn out to be Pearl Jam post 1990’s than Pearl Jam first three albums.  It’s hard to decipher or admit when something of your creation is garbage, but much like Andy in Shawshank, you too must crawl through a river of excrement in order to come out clean on the other side, armed with an idea that’s worthy of expansion.  
                But how do you expand it in a way that delivers what you are trying to say and does so in an entertaining manner?  This part is much like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, looking down at her atrophied limbs and stating over and over again “Wiggle your big toe.”   Because once you answer that question, the hard part’s over…and now you start cooking.  The idea takes shape, expands, binds the points you want to make together, and opens itself up to humorous anecdotes and snarky one liners.  Before you know it, you’ve completed your piece.
Yeah, if you consider completed how you felt when the screen went black on the final episode of The Sopranos.
My ultimate goal in life is to be a screenwriter and if writing is rewriting, than screenwriting is rewriting and rewriting…..and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting some more.  There no doubt comes a point that no matter how big a fan of your work you are (and make no mistake, you better damn well be your biggest fan) even you cry out “IT’S JUST EXPOSITION!!!”  But it’s what you must do to get it right.
Finally the moment comes where you have completed your work, taking it from beginning to end with the precision of a car collector rebuilding a ’65 Mustang from scratch.  You are proud, as well you should be.  You look forward to showing it to people, secure that they too will appreciate its brilliance.  Only thing is, everybody’s a critic and everybody’s got their opinion.  Professionals call them notes; friends call them “I didn’t really like when…” And you know what?  More times than not, they’re right…which means you’re going through the whole arduous process again Bunky.    
And you know what happens while you’re going back through the looking glass?
Another embryonic conceptions breaks through, and you find yourself right back in front of a blank screen, trying to make something else come to life and wondering  how you‘re ever going to juggle so many thoughts simultaneously.
How do you think I ended up creating a blog while rewriting scripts?

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bringing People Together or Let’s Throw A Party

                Raise your hand if you love a good party.   I would imagine everyone would lift their appendage in agreement to such a sentiment. (Though you do realize you’re raising your hand in front of a computer screen right?)  Raise your hand if you love to throw a good party.  Not so many of you eager to throw your hands in the air and wave ‘em like you just don’t care is there?  
Now don’t write it off to the hand/computer screen tease above; a lot of people simply have neither the time nor the inclination to host as it requires two commitments most of us would rather avoid.  First, one must thoroughly clean their home inside and out.  For most of us, this task is analogous to having a proctology exam performed by the Gimp from Pulp Fiction. Second, you must put your home, and by extension yourself, on display for judgment from others. Friends, friends of friends, neighbors wondering what the Hell is going on and why weren’t they invited, etc.  Throwing a party is chock full of obstacles that Indiana Jones would have trouble negotiating.  My wife Charger Gal and I, however, are not afraid.
Cleaning tasks for Charger Gal and I are fairly spread out.  I handle the outside; this includes mowing lawns and sweeping leaves into piles while my iPod blares at volumes surely causing more hearing loss than the plethora of heavy metal concerts I attended in my teenage years. This is followed by utilizing an outdoor vac that makes me look as close as I’ll ever get to a Ghostbuster.  Charger Gal handles mopping floors and all kitchen related activities while singing along to her iPod.  Her voice is decent, but tends to go one octave above her song of choice.   We switch off inside vacuuming and cleaning the rooms but she rids the couch of dog hair while I clean the bathrooms.  You’d think this deal would clearly favor Charger Gal, but our beloved black lab B Is Love sheds her fine coat with such frequency that I’ll take scrubbing residual pubic hair and fecal specs and chalk it up as a draw.
                Now comes the most important part of the entire behind the scenes process.  The activity that without question separates “This party rocks!” from “Maybe next time.” Charger Gal’s nap.   A happy cook is a well prepped cook so while Master Chef Charger Gal peacefully slumbers; her dutiful Sous Chef extraordinaire gets everything ready to roll.  Charger Gal awakens and strides into the kitchen, ready to perform culinary miracles. I make my exit and retreat to the comfort of the DVR.  This lasts until the inevitable moment that a fury of expletives is released from the kitchen, signaling that I will be taking a trip to the market to pick up a missing key ingredient needed for one of the appetizers for the party.  
                Upon my return, the guests begin to arrive.  They are all greeted by B Is Love’s best impression of Dug the Dog, jumping up on them and proclaiming “I have just met you and I loooove you!”   Charger Gal and I have tried keeping her down from people and time has certainly mellowed her, but she loves guests and isn’t afraid to show it.  It’s better than a bite in the ass.   The guests make their drink requests, take a seat, and relax.  Now the old saying goes “It’s not a party until something gets broke.”  At our house, it’s not a party until B Is Love shocks someone into reflexively lifting their glass before encountering her tail o’ doom.  This canine attachment only whips across our coffee table a couple of times, but does so at speeds normally reserved for Gulf Coast Hurricanes that FEMA fails to pay immediate attention to so drinker beware.
 B Is Love mellows and the vibe turns decidedly chatty; people who have never met get to know one another, people from different avenues of my life catch up on what’s new since the last time they saw each other at a previous party.  I take a moment to step back from the festivities and gaze at the panoramic view of the people I am so fortunate to know happily coexisting in one place.  It is my favorite activity of any party we throw and I revel in it like Tony Soprano savoring a stogie.
This mental photograph gives way to the taking of actual photos.  Candid shots, group shots, couples shots, B Is Love jumping on people shots, and harmlessly risqué poses while grinning like a Cheshire cat shots. You would think this compulsive need we have for taking pictures would necessitate a secret photo lab, but it doesn’t.  We just like to have memories of everything.  When Charger Gal and I are 75, holding hands, and swinging in a rocker on the front porch while drinking lemonade spiked with some sort of alcoholic chaser, we’ll have these photos to serve as the touchstones of our lives and the people we shared it with. 
Yes, I know this is starting to border on a melancholy Daniel Stern voiced Wonder Years monologue, but what can I say?  Even the smartest of smart asses has a maudlin moment now and then.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Born To Stop or A User’s Guide To L.A. Traffic

                I hate traffic.
                Let me repeat that, because psychiatrists feel you should always repeat things you feel passionately about (or so I’ve been told):  I. HATE. TRAFFIC.
                So why do I have a job that’s 50 miles from my home?  Because I’m an idiot?  Because I have some deep seeded need to inflict pain upon myself?  Yes and yes, but that’s neither the point nor the explanation.  When I took the job, I was 3 months into being laid off and was offered a gig with a 15% raise.  That’s hard to turn down.  Now its 8 years burning down the road and I’m still schlepping my cookies back and forth each day across the expansive reach of greater Los Angeles.  I do it because…well have you read about the current economic climate in California?  We’re deeper in debt than the combined worldwide grosses of Batman, Lord Of The Rings, Star Wars, James Bond, and Captain Jack Sparrow.   We’re the Pictionary definition of the guy from Monopoly with his shoulders shrugged and his pockets turned out.  When your home state is in that kind of dire straits you stick with the devil you know.
                Now traffic is not to be confused with driving.  I actually don’t mind driving.  There’s something liberating about jumping in a car, cruising down the highway, and allowing a multitude of thoughts to roam free until they organically meld into the formation of ideas that clarify life, jokes, and blog topics.  Traffic is altogether different.  Traffic is a soul crushing excursion that seeps the life out of you in a manner reminiscent of a colon cleanse performed by Harry Potter’s Dementors.  If you combine John McCain’s sadness upon realizing what he was in for by choosing Sarah Palin as a running mate with Dirk Diggler’s desperation during the Church Parking Lot sequence in Boogie Nights, you have a starting point for what sitting in Los Angeles traffic feels like.
                The first thing that occurs when I hit traffic is the grinding of my teeth.  It started as a subtle tick that I didn’t notice and grew to a point that I began to file down my teeth.  This perpetuated a trip to a dentist, who fit me for a form fitting mouth guard that cost 500 bucks out of pocket and lasted a whole month before I unintentionally snapped it.  Now I just incessantly chew gum like Violet in Willy Wonka.  It works most of the time, is much cheaper, and I have yet to turn into a blueberry.
                Now the dull discomfort of the left knee begins.  This is a recent occurrence stemming from years of the appendage being stuck in the same bent position, day in and day out.  It’s always followed by attempts to stretch the left leg back and forth to get blood circulating again.  They’re not terribly successful, probably because I’m attempting to perform the task in the contained space of a car.  All it really winds up doing is causing the knee to crack with the repetition of Chinese water torture.   The right knee never has this issue as it’s too busy performing the vehicular equivalent of dancing’s 1-2-3: Brake-Gas-Brake. 
                On occasion, the cracking knee and grinding teeth are capable of symmetrically combining to transform me into a virtual one man band of rhythmic harmony.  In these moments of self created docile tones, I take it upon myself to catch up on some kegel exercises.  Don’t be surprised.  Any man worth his salt performs these non pharmaceutical performance enhancers with regularity, especially if you’re a guy on the cusp of putting the 30’s in your rear view mirror.  For all you know, I may have just ripped off a set of 50 while typing this paragraph…I’m just saying.
                While this internal whirlwind of activity occurs, I’m alert to keep a keen eye on the vehicle operators around me.  There are many types of drivers that come into view during my trek and when you’ve been doing it as long as I have, you can capture everything via the subtlety of your peripheral vision.  Here are a few examples of what’s out there:
The Guy With The 500 Yard Stare - He’s most likely to either break out a gun and retrigger the freeway shooting craze in L.A. or break into hysterical tears as if watching Field Of Dreams for the first time on the day his father died.
The Singers – They are blessed with all the passion of I Will Always Love You Whitney but possess the driving skills of Crack Is Whack Whitney
The Cell Phone Users – Those drops in the bucket fines only serve to raise these peoples crank factor, considering 99.9% of all cell phone users seem to be pissed off at whoever they’re talking to.  (Seriously, when is the last time you saw someone on a cell phone in a car happy?)  If they hit a dead zone, they seem to believe bringing your cars together can provide uber coverage.
The Self Converser – Unlike cell phone users, these people are talking to nobody. Loudly.  Their wrath generally seems to focus on spouses, co-workers, or God for blessing them with the ability to procreate.   They will complete their thought across as many lanes as necessary and, much like DeNiro told Pacino in Heat, you will not get in their way.  Not for one second.
                Of course, there is a group of people who need their own delineation: The Motorcyclists.  You know, those people piloting two wheels of fury who must announce their presence with the rev of an engine so pervasive that it could wake the dead…in Japan…who died in Samurai times.  Now in the name of fairness there are some motorcyclists who will give you a wave of thanks if you move over to give them an easier path to pass.  Most of them however prefer to whiz from side to side, passing cars with the expediency of a pinball and doing so through a space that could fit anorexic Siamese twins…if they were on a diet.  There’s far too many of them who still think they’re too sexy for their helmets and it’s always a 50/50 proposition that your side mirrors will escape unscathed.
                But if I survive this living Donkey Kong screen known as the L.A. freeway system, I pull into a parking spot at my place of business and breathe deeply.  Of course, it’s right about the time I finish exhaling that I realize in just 9 short hours, I’ll be out there again.

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Monday, November 1, 2010

It’s Election Time Charlie Brown or Good Grief, These People Again?

                There are 4 truths to any election cycle:  Mail carriers will gain 10-15 pounds of muscle due to the myriad of propaganda pieces they must carry every day. TV ads will air ad nauseam and leave you with your thumb on the mute button like a gunfighter ready to draw. The phone will incessantly ring, leading you to yell at it to stop even though it’s an inanimate object.  Gas prices will fall in the 2 weeks leading up to election day. (3.13 on October 15th, 3.03 this morning)
                If you live in California like I do, you’re probably yelling at the computer (Much like the phone, an inanimate object) to add to that list the following:  The candidates suck!  Look, I’ve bemoaned on record via Facebook for over a month that we should all go the Brewster’s Millions route and vote “None of the Above”, but that was a movie, and not even a very good one.  We’re stuck with these people. You know it, I know it. Of course this doesn’t stop every blowhard on every political show, local and national, from espousing with ferocious intensity their castigation of the candidate from the opposite party, followed by a passionate defense of the candidate their joined in political lockstep with.
We can be just like these blowhards, but with a twist.  Seriously, they can sooth their fragile egos with half assed, mostly made up proclamations about who they are all they want, but there’s nothing superior about their mental acumen.  We could do exactly what they do, and I say we can do it better.  Here’s how:
-Grab a box.  Any box will do as long as it can hold your weight.
-Write in front of the box in big bold letters the word SOAP.
-Stand on box.
-Espouse your viewpoint with ferocious intensity
See?  We rock!  Now that we’re up on this box, how about we do some espousing?
I’m a registered Independent, which means that during the election cycle, both parties court me like I’m the hot chick at the school dance.  I’ll be honest; having never been hot or a chick, it’s rather flattering.  But much like what attractive women have to go through in life, the attention is ultimately disappointing because the big men on campus eventually have to open their mouths, rendering their attention unfulfilling and unwanted.  (It’s just so hard for us to find a good man isn’t it ladies?)
Being Independent also means I have the audacity to reject conventional thought.  I’ve never understood the pack mentality that dictates you must support someone, even if your instinct says they are awful, simply because they have D or R in parentheses next to their name.  I actually believe it’s conceivable to be liberal on some issues and conservative on others.  For example, I do not smoke pot nor am I gay, but I’m completely in favor of legalizing marijuana and gay marriage. I also strenuously support abortion and a woman’s right to choose.  Conversely, I’m all for capital punishment and believe that the moment someone forcibly enters your home, you should be able to kill them.  Yes, kill them.  (Oh look, it’s the bleeding heart liberal thought balloon you all had.  It just popped.)
I know, you’re silently saying to yourself, “That’s rather politically schizophrenic of you.” Yes it is, but at least it’s consistent on the matter of life and death.  Have you looked at our two party system when it comes to abortion and capital punishment?  Republicans will do everything possible to ban abortion, citing what a crime it is to take an unborn life.  But the moment that fetus is exposed to smog infested air and does so much as jaywalk, they want it injected and gassed and fried and marched before a firing squad.  Let’s try the other side.  Democrats are all for babies dying at any point for the duration they are in a woman’s womb, but the moment that child is out and proceeds to live a life of such violent depravity that Hannibal Lecter would hiss “That’s disgusting Clarice.”, somehow Mike Farrell ends up on every news show known to man pleading for a permanent stay of execution.
Who’s schizophrenic now?
Look, I’m not going to share my candidates of choice, mostly because they’re not my choice as much as they are the ones I consider to be the lesser of two evils.  I plan on approaching the ballot box with a clothespin pinching my nostrils shut same as most of you.  But if I may be so bold, let me ask one thing of each of you. 
It doesn’t matter if you play Eenie Meanie, Minie, Mo, mark C on everything like it's an old school Scantron test,  or find a way to write in Batman and Sue Sylvester. Just don’t shirk it off because you had a long day, you think the line will be too long, or you think it won't make a difference anyway.
Because too many people who you and I never met made the ultimate sacrifice for us to still have the right to be able to do this.  If for nothing else than as a tribute to them, we should all make our way to the local fire house or church and punch a few circles.  They gave up a Hell of a lot more than a night’s TV.  (And the TV won’t be any good anyway because it’ll all just be election coverage.)
Viewpoints espoused.  Can somebody help down from this box?

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