My Fellow Americans:
Let me begin this diatribe by admitting that I am:
a) a dick
b) a snob
c) occasionally guilty of the things I'm about to accuse you of.
That's fine; I can take the hypocrisy because I'm a dick, and I can take being a dick because I'm a hypocrite. But that doesn't stop the fact that you people are icky, and getting ickier by the minute.
Do I lump my friends and family in there? Why of course not. Y'all get a pass. Because I'm not just a dick, I'm also exclusionary. Some people call that loyalty, other call it a cheap way to make broad generalizations without pissing everyone off.
That's fine too. As my brother Sean likes to tell me, just admitting that you're a dick/snob doesn't give you a free pass to being a dick/snob. And so I am paying for this pass with your disapproval; I do not expect it to be free.
But my fellow Americans, you are fat and you smell bad. You dress like shit, and I would say you have no self-respect, but the reality is you may have too much. Why have you stopped caring what the world thinks? It's as though many of you hit 40 and completely ceased giving a shit.
I'm here to say that I care. I haven't given up on you yet, so please give up on that Tampa Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt. Men, why do you constantly wear clothes that turn your massive bodies into corporate advertisements? The only writing that should ever be on a shirt involves either irony or your favorite sports team. At least a Celtics jersey conjures up an emotional allegiance - being a commercial for Hollister just conjures up the end of creativity.
One more thing, guys: I don't care how hot it is. I don't deserve to be subject to your toes.
Look, I'm not perfect. I have bad skin, skate shoes, and god knows my BMI isn't going to inspire a nation to conquer the fuckin' triathlon. But for the love of god, if your love handles are going to spill over the armrest and into my airplane seat, I would like you to pay for the part of my seat that I'm unable to use. On this particular flight home from Hawaii, that accounted for about one-fifth.
I'm not saying this because it makes me miserable, which it does. I'm saying it because you look like you're miserable, a nation of humongous automatons walking around with dreadful haircuts, cutting in line at Burger King, always bothered, always one item shy of what you were supposed to be at for on with.
Stop barking at me. Stop yelling at your kids. Quit pushing me into the fucking tram! I get it, there's too many of us. My wife and I are doing our part; looks like we're replacing the two of us with only one.
For the love of god, men, stop looking at their boobs. They know when you're doing it. Hell, I'm sitting across the room, and I know when you're doing it. And ladies, if you don't want them to look at your boobs, stop wearing things that say LOOK AT MY BOOBS. Unless I am missing THE WHOLE POINT.
I'm going to start donning an ascot. I will part my hair squeakily down the middle, and dress for dinner. I will say please and thank you and sip my soup with the spoon sweeping away from me. I will scrub with the finest unscented soaps and take up only my tiny, allotted space in a public place.
I will retire to the country, sit in my drawing room, and with a quill pen, I shall complete the Fourteenth Volume of "Things What Offend My Precious Sensibilities". Join me for tea?
So we're walking down the beach. Catching a genuine emotion the instant it happens with a child is rare, but I managed to snap this one of Lucy today when she realized a sea turtle was indeed right in front of her:
If you know my daughter, and have had the experience of watching The Discovery Channel or Animal Planet with her, you can understand that we may all go home now, utterly and completely fulfilled. We spent 20 minutes just looking into the turtle's eyes, as it tried to fall asleep. Truly, these creatures are so cute as to be ridiculous. And it helps that they think us humans are fascinating.
As we started hiking back up the hill, Lucy said, "Can I touch it once on its back? I might not ever have this experience in my life again." The only thing I could think was, man oh man, I'd move mountains to make sure she would.
I'm going to put some links on this particular blog entry that you should not click on. Seriously. It's about the most recent conclusions regarding climate change, and the news is so bad as to be truly gobsmacking.
You've got the new write-up in Nature (or just read this), the 11-degree horrorshow in the Washington Post, David Roberts' work over on Grist, even the behavioral science papers on denial. Sure, being on this little island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has amped up my usually-dormant lava spurts of Planet Worry, but what I really want to know is... is it possible to care?
I mean, we can't actually do anything about it besides a bit of paltry recycling, driving a decent car, and giving half a shit. I say this as someone who has spent a lot of money on solar panels (which will pay for themselves on their 10th anniversary, next year) and have humorlessly waxed imperfect about The Environment® since 1991.
Here's where we are: the news is terrible; the world is getting hotter faster than anyone thought. Short of a radical energy solution invented - and implemented fully - in the next ten years... well, as I said, you don't want to read those links. Given that our government won't do anything about it, corporations have the same rights as humans, and half the country thinks climate change is a lie, what do you do?
Blissful nihilism? Not possible with a kid.
Concerned worrywarting? Pointless.
Revolution in the streets? Unsustainable.
Just keep plugging along? I mean, sure, but is there any redemption in that? I need answers. Don't tell me there are other things to worry about; I have room for that shit too. I just want to know how normal people are supposed to react to something that appears so bizarrely hopeless.
Tessa cheers when Amy Heidt nails a fantastic take
Lucy wonders why the adults are so effusive
is there anything better than getting two brilliant Carolina women together?
what I look like now that I'm 45 (on set)
the sun sets on our last day martini shot
fireworks over Honolulu a few minutes later
Tessa with our incredible prop master Mathias today
It's not often you get to see someone in their Absolute Perfect Milieu™, but this week, my wife is in hers. As director of this short film going 12-hour days, she may be tired, sunburned, frantic, harried and constantly polytasking - but she is also the apotheosis of happiness.
Truly, my wife is at her most content when there is too much to do. I'm probably at my most content in the synapse-firing beginning sequence of a Big Idea. How about you? Today's question... What activity puts you in the most active state of bliss?
Besides orgasm, alcohol, drugs, and sleep, that is.
I caught her while eating, but this says it all
If you want to learn humility very quickly, try making a movie. There is no other art form in the world so dependent on a wide range of other people, and truly, so little you can actually accomplish yourself. Even universally-accepted geniuses make terrible movies all the time, none of them even knowing it until long after production.
I think of my own life as a succession of scales falling off my eyes, scales made of brittle, calcified ego. One major life lesson was the Pink House movie, which was so amazing in parts, but added up to a jumble we could never rescue. That was eleven years ago - and in a way, this Hawaii movie is something of a redemption, no matter how it turns out.
Alack. Let me back up and say what the hell we're doing. My dear old friend Stasia moved to Hawaii when her husband Jim got the job as 1st assistant camera on "Hawaii 5-0". He'd like to move up to the job of Director of Photography at some point, but that requires a "reel" of his work. Thus he put together a list of shots, and when we saw it in February, we said, "why don't we just write a short film containing all those shots?" Win-win!
What followed was an outpouring of support from his crew on "Hawaii 5-0" (many of whom had worked on "Lost"), and several of them agreed to work on this film for free - and, for some of them, the experience of having their boss' job. Hawaiian Airlines read the script and jumped aboard as sponsor, flying us (and the actors) to and from the mainland.
After three months of part-time (but intense) pre-production, we all flew to Honolulu over the weekend, and today was the first of four days of filming. To put it mildly, the crew... these cats are good. They work as one, a body of 20-25 folks made flawless by their own muscle memory and trust in each other.
None of you will know any of that, which is a testament to their fluidity. What you'll experience is the story, simply a comic romp across Oahu that starts when a married couple on a therapist-mandated holiday take the wrong rental car and end up being pursued by a villain having the worst crime day of his life.
in Hawaii, thunder and sudden rain can happen pretty much any second
Today we shot a scene involving a mother and two kids dropping off her car - the mother being Stasia herself, and the two kids being her son Noah and our own Lulubeans. They nailed their big scene in one take (unheard of!) and earned the kudos of the crew.
Lucy and Noah remind me of the Chinese gymnasts - too young to fully grasp the stakes of the situation, and therefore utterly at ease. I have decided to adopt their equanimity and spasmodic serenity. I've come to the realization there are some things I'm very good at, and as for the rest, I should let the village, each individual member, shine, shine on.
Jim and Tessa set up Lucy and Noah's shot
I will begin my report on shooting a short film in Hawaii tomorrow, for those who are interested in how such things work. Until then, I believe Lucy speaks for us all tonight:
waiting for luggage, Honolulu airport, 10:52pm
For many of you with kids, I'm sure you're having that "last day of school" experience... but I just need to say that I'm so proud of my little girl here on her last day of 1st grade. I could go on about how all parents try to right all the wrongs suffered by them as kids, or that we relive all our wounds each year our children go through them, but Lucy makes me forget about all that with each passing day.
I'm so proud of you and your spirit, my sweet love!
art project done Mo Willems-style
Sometimes I feel the need to give a little micro-update on our present circumstances so that later iterations of ourselves look back on these months, they will get a sense of what the hell was going on. So, future selves, here it is:
• On Friday, Tessa will be going to Kailua, Hawaii to work with Stasia and her husband Jim.
• Why, you may ask? Because we are shooting a short film - an adventure comedy set in Honolulu and places therewith. I helped write it with Tessa (who is directing); Seth, Amy and a bunch of amazing actors will be performing; and Stasia's husband Jim will be director of photography. Stasia herself is producing, and much of the crew comes from the smooth-like-butter set of "Hawaii 5-0".
• Hawaiian Air is one of our sponsors!
• I will be filming a "behind the scenes" movie about the production, and will actually be on camera, which as most of you know, I have avoided for several decades. But this particular idea requires it.
• We'll be back in 12 days, spend one day in LA, then fly to New York for the summer. We've got people staying at our house, so potential burglars FUCK OFF!
• Any questions? I know this is a lot to throw at you, but I thought you could handle it.
• Please. Please don't say that.
• Of course I care. What makes you think I don't?
• Look, I realize this brings up some hot-button issues. I wasn't trying to-
• You're actually going there, are you? So now we're allowed to say things like that to each other?
• WHAT?!? Look, when are you gonna get it through your head that NOT EVERYTHING IS ALL ABOUT YOU?
• FINE! LEAVE! (pause) THE CAR NEEDS GAS!
image courtesy of Landsat 7 Science Team
Does anyone know a good joke? If someone held a crossbow to my head and demanded a joke, I have exactly ONE (1) joke in my arsenal, only because I heard my dad tell it at a dinner party around 1979. Here it is:
Jesus is nailed to the cross, crying out. Mary Magdalene looks up to him and says, "What can we do, my Lord?"
"Peter... Peter..." is all she hears Jesus say. Then John the Evangelist joins Mary Magdalene and asks, "My Lord, what can we do to ease your suffering?"
"Peter! Peter!" Jesus says, so John bids the witnesses to summon Peter, who had already denied Jesus after the Last Supper. With his head bowed and contrite, Peter comes to the crucifix.
"Peter! Peter! Come here!" Jesus says.
"Yes, my Lord," he responds, and comes to Jesus' feet.
"Peter-" Jesus says, his voice parched from thirst.
"Yes, my Lord?"
"I can see your house from here."
You really do have to imagine my dad - the symphony conductor - telling it to a rapt group of orchestra musicians and board members after a half-bottle of Cabernet to get the full effect.
And I just looked, and apparently that joke is 163,000 other places on the internet - oh THANK YOU KNOW-IT-ALL INTERNET. But it remains the only one I can ever recall, and I supposedly write (among other things) comedies for a living.
So I put it to you? Do you know an actual story-based joke? No knock-knocks, or childish puns, mind you. Just a good simple set-up and punchline?
The old Steely Dan hit Rikki Don't Lose That Number has this great chorus:
Rikki, don't lose that number
You don't wanna call nobody else
Send it off in a letter to yourself
...which brings up how very difficult it was to flirt with people before the internet made everything so goddamn easy. There was a time, you know, when it was possible to never see somebody again. You could have a life-changing conversation someone at a party, and if either of you were suddenly whisked away, you could spend years with that "what if" inkling in the back of your mind.
It could be much bigger; you could have a summer romance with boardwalks and road trips, howling at Saturn over a rocky precipice, dropping acid and having months full of meaningful, soul-divining sex... and then lose touch. Forever.
All this led to the romantic notion of The One That Got Away, a person who embodied everything you didn't have, or weren't getting from your relationship at the time. You'd never actually see them again, but they'd appear in the short stories you might write, or the songs you'd sing. They would be lingering in that twilight liminal state in the wisps before sleep: they're out there, somewhere, waiting.
In the Facebook era, The One That Got Away never quite gets away. They become a Facebook friend, and unless they take the trouble to un-friend you, their whereabouts are meticulously documented for years on end. In fact, not only can you find your crushes, you can find anyone's. How about Rikki, Whose Number You Were Not Meant To Lose?
Say hello to Rikki Ducornet, who was a student at Bard College when Donald Fagen and Walter Becker (of Steely Dan) went there in the late 1960s. Fagen met her at a party in Annandale and gave her his number, wrote a song about it five years later, and now there's her picture and here are some of her cool paintings.
How about another one? Let's take Same Old Lang Syne, the Dan Fogelberg classic that I have both hated and thought about since 1981 - you know, where he runs into his ex-girlfriend in the frozen foods section and, well,
She said she's married her an architect
Who kept her warm and safe and dry
She would have liked to say she loved the man
But she didn't like to lie
Fogelberg always said it was autobiographical, and kept the identity of the woman secret for the rest of his life, as did she. Until, of course, he died and the internet took over...
Say hello to Jill Greulich, who was a student at Woodruff High School in Peoria, IL, when Dan Fogelberg went there in the late 1960s. Fogelberg dated her before he left for college, wrote a song about meeting her ten years later, and now there's her Facebook picture and an article in the newspaper.
When you start comparing eras, it's easy to be an old fart and kvetch about how Kids Today™ with their twittering and twattering don't know anything real, and drown themselves in a vat of unceasing information, rendering them hopelessly unimaginative. I'm sure the same thing was said about us, so I always repeat the mantra "not worse, just different."
But I will say this: there is something magical about some people leaving your life, forever, in a cloud of lingering possibility. A chance encounter, a dream dance, a moment that gets to live evermore in its time. I had a superlative moment with a girl 20 years ago, then met her again through this blog and now I can't imagine not having her as both friend and confidante. But I've also had a question that remains unanswered, and those stories without endings can inspire stories without end.
When you were a kid, you'd go to other people's houses - perhaps for a sleepover, maybe for a meal - and you'd be stunned at how foreign everything seemed, even if they lived next door. Here's my list of other families' things that seemed "not quite right":
• Hunt's Ketchup (instead of Heinz)
• or worse, generic "catsup"
• weird-smelling towels
• Post© Raisin Bran instead of Kellogg's™
• economy-sized vats of Honeycomb cereal, for that matter
• big plastic water glasses that made you dribble down your shirt
• Pepsodent or Gleem; Colgate was only a little better
• pot-smoking older brothers who only like the Stones (not the Beatles)
• Intellivision (no Atari)
• long, hand-holding prayer before dinner
• watching "B.J. and the Bear" instead of "Love Boat"
y'all got any?
yes, yes, I know, but it was better than B.J. and the fucking Bear
Despite a marginally successful media blackout, I've become ever more demoralized about the future of this country, now that the real money from the Citizens United debacle is starting to flow into Republican ideas. You can decide not to care, as I have tried, but the fact is this: we're all affected by this somehow, every day.
If I were a Republican right now, I'd be so psyched - sure, you don't get the Presidency, but if you control everything else, it doesn't really matter. And sure, maybe the billions of dollars being poured into races like the Wisconsin recall election ain't really "fair", but hell... you know you're right, so who cares how it comes about?
History tends towards cycles, and it seems like we're destined for a Tammany Hall-style, union-busting, fat cat era - at least until there are enough scandals and enough abject misery to force a quiet (or not-so-quiet) revolution. But that takes decades, and in the meantime, we have to live here.
How could the Supreme Court possibly decide that money is speech, and therefore protected as a fundamental freedom? By that math, doesn't that mean that rich people are fundamentally more free than other people, thereby desecrating the idea that "all men are created equal"?
Look, I'm not going to write a profanity-laden thesis. That only happens when I believe in possibility. I do want to ask this one question, however. Let us fundamentally accept that the "undecided America", the ones that actually dictate who wins what, could be informed by knowing both sides of an issue equally. Why can't conservatism and Big Business offer their ideas on an even playing field?
That's all I'd ever want. Two ideologies presented, and the undecided choose. When reduced to its basest parts, that political system would look like this:
If progressivism failed that debate, I would gladly acquiesce. I'd say "nice game, gentlemen" and take my backgammon pieces home. But that's not what we've got. For the next generation or so, it seems we've got this:
And I don't like those particular odds.
Yessiree, astronomy-related events are just a hair shy of ham radio jamborees and fruit canning when it comes to your sperm count, but I don't care: Venus was going to pass in front of the sun, and I kinda wanted to see what it looked like.
So did Lucy, who has no trouble stirring up serious passion for these sorts of things. Luckily for all involved, we still had the pinhole viewers from the eclipse a few weeks ago, but when we used them today, we couldn't see anything. So we had to bring out the big guns, fellas.
I drilled a small hole in a piece of plywood and clamped it to the top of a ladder. Over the hole I stretched a small piece of tinfoil and poked a teensy hole in it with a needle. About 12 feet away, I took our largest pinhole viewer tube and balanced it on my old bicycle. AND BEHOLD!!!
Yes, I know, you can barely see Venus in the lower right quadrant of the sun (which is actually inverted from reality). Thank goodness, then, that I BOUGHT A CHEAP PAIR OF #14 WELDING GLASSES last week FOR THE WIN!
Frankly, I didn't think they would work. And it led to me saying the following sentence to Lucy: "Okay, sweetie, this is the only time in your life I will tell you this, but look directly at the Sun."
I can't quite describe what it was like, because it was unexpectedly breathtaking. I mean, you never get to see Venus as a "place", it's always this giant gaseous object hanging incongruously in the evening sky. Half the time you mistake it for an airplane.
But looking straight at the Sun, and seeing Venus right in front of it... it seemed so real for the first time, so understandable, like spotting a good friend clear across campus. When you view it, you get the sense of Earth as not just this exceptional, separate place, but as part of a family, a brotherhood of orbs lining up around our mother.
I put the welding glasses in front of my camera lens, turned the aperture way down, and clicked, hoping I could get something. Surely there are better ways of doing it, but the image is oddly haunting:
I'm a dork, sure. When I was about 12, I remember getting up at 3am in Iowa, sneaking out to the high school down the block in 10-degree wind chills to see a shitty penumbral lunar eclipse, easily one of nature's least-interesting phenomena. But if any of these fun, silly projects Lucy and I do together happens to spark something in her - even something completely unrelated - all the masking tape, aluminum foil, felt, cardboard, glitter glue, pink paracord and plywood will have been worth it.
A few days ago, there was an article by Stanley Fish about spoiler alerts in entertainment. Fish is usually a compelling writer (when he's not in "get off my lawn" mode), but his apparent insouciance about spoiler alerts is something I find personally gobsmacking.
After giving away several major plot points of "The Hunger Games" in his previous column, he justified it with research from UC-San Diego and the Psychological Science journal:
...in a controlled experiment, "subjects significantly preferred spoiled over unspoiled stories in the case of both... ironic twist stories and... mysteries." In fact, it seems "that giving away... surprises makes readers like stories better perhaps because of the pleasurable tension caused by the disparity in knowledge between the omniscient reader and the character."
I mean, sure. And as someone who dares string verbal yarn together for a living, I'm also fascinated at the way us humans can feel suspense during a scene we've seen 35 times before. It's as if, deep down, we believe it might be different this time, a character may act differently, like Jeff Daniels' character in The Purple Rose of Cairo.
As a writer, however, the concept of the spoiling the ending - or the hook - of a TV show or movie is like getting stabbed in the fucking heart. No amount of psychological research will convince me that watching "The Sixth Sense" would have been better if someone had told me the ending. That theater that night, as it dawned on us - it was something akin to religious ecstasy.
Just think, someone always there to tell you: "Rosebud is his sled," "this is where Uma Thurman gets an adrenaline needle in the breastplate," "Keyser Sose is actually..." and so on. Thinking of that great twist, the popcorn-dropping mindfuck, is what I am here to do. To think of it so carelessly discarded makes me weep like Bluto when they cleared out the bar.
As such, I treat all TV shows and movies with the same respect to their endings and plots, which makes me an annoying completist: I have to watch everything in order, as the creator intended. Tessa is happy to catch bits here and there, and miss entire episodes, and that's fine... but I just can't do it.
I have been purposely avoiding all talk of "Mad Men" from TWO SEASONS AGO because I eventually want to watch this week's finale with Matt Weiner's true intent. I went on a "Game of Thrones" binge so that I could bask in Sunday's season finale with the collective unconscious.
If I wanted my films spoiled, I would go back to work writing movie trailers, where we did it almost every time. But now I want my movies straight, no pre-chaser. I need to be wowed and captivated by something I didn't see coming. Saying spoiler alerts don't really matter is like saying sex is awesome, but orgasms are overrated. Like Woody Allen said, even his worst orgasm was "right on the money".
I need to ask a serious question: what is your survival strategy for the next five months, given the election? I have tried (and occasionally succeeded) in media blackouts over the years, but two things keep ruining it: the unwaveringly brilliant writing of The Daily Show, and the ambient awareness of other events whilst trying to skip to my favorite parts of various online haunts.
Put simply, I cannot STAND how this country now elects its Presidents. I know that makes me look like a pusillanimous, dainty little pipfarthing, but there are no real exchange of ideas going on. The level of discourse would be shamed by your average kindergarten fight over Legos, and one side is so clearly fucking crazy that even talking to them sets up a false equivalency.
In short, Mitt Romney is a rare combination of buffoon and robot, harboring ideas about women, gays and money that smell distinctly of 1953. The inside of his brain looks like the lobby of a mid-century Howard Johnson's. What troubles me about the dog-on-roof incident is not that he did it, but that he took the dog down, cleaned all the diarrhea off the car, dog and crate, and then strapped the poor fucker back up there.
As for Obama, us progressives feel sick about the things we'd hoped for, so sick that we forget how many amazing things he's actually done. We might be frustrated, but one thing's for sure: the alternative is unfathomable. And so I, like most people I know, have a sneaking suspicion Obama will win by seven points just like he did last time.
But until then, oh, the rivers of shit they will all make us swim in... the faux 3-day scandals, the bursts of righteous indignation, the game-changer bullshit, the cable news horrorshow. God, the arguments over semantics, celebrities and parfaits while so many suffer. How will you do it? How will you process your American world for the next five months?