Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Silver Drop of Innocence

He has an XBox and a Wii. He has a Nintendo DS. He plays games on my iPhone. Like many kids his age, he loves Mario Brothers, those plucky plumbers who were born in my era, originally jumping monkey-rolled barrels and climbing ladders in a free-standing video game in an arcade. Despite his constant access to Mario and the mustachioed chap's rangy, green-clad brother, Luigi, my younger son was determined to find a way to play Mario Brothers on the computer. I'm not quite sure why, but it's been very important to him.

So, we sat together and I looked. I found lots of places to play, but none that I was willing to expose my computer to, for fear of viruses which might result from the downloads and restarts the sites required. I explained this to the little guy, arm around his shoulder as he sat on my knee. I told him: "There are bad people out there who put something called viruses into computers. If we get a bad one, you might never be able to play games on the computer again. Would that be good?" "No," he said, wiping away tears. "But Dad, couldn't you just check to see if they are good?" I hugged him and explained that it doesn't work so easily.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Clanks and Pings

I remember watching The Jetsons as a kid. I also remember picking up the message about the direction of technology that the creators built into the Jetsons' lifestyle. Mostly, I remember thinking how unnecessary some of it was. Couldn't they walk? They needed conveyor belts for everything? Robots had to dress them? Of course, this is all part of the cliched fear of the mechanized age. It's how the Eloi became so frail. It's why we imagine aliens with huge heads and weak limbs. Someday, the writers imply, technology will do everything for us. Ridiculous, right?

This weekend, I was with my sons at a neighborhood kid's birthday party. He had it at a place called "Funplex." (What ever happened to names like "Mister Licorice's Candy Drop Mountain? [long pause ] What?) It is a wonderland of technological fun -- go carts, video games. The works.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Steve and Walt (A Dialogue)

Two worker ants, Steve and Walt, sit, resting, after a long day's work.

Steve: Tough day on the hill, eh, Walt?

Walt: You said it, Steve-o. I must have carried about ten times my body weight a few hundred times.

Steve: What's that work out to?

Walt: No idea. That's math I can't handle.

Steve: True that.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Worldwide Soliloquy

I believe this will happen. I really do.

Some day, everyone in the world, at the exact same time, is going to stop what they are doing and they are going to slap their own foreheads and speak the same soliloquy, in unison, from one end of the Earth to the other. This will be it:

Monday, June 20, 2011

If Fate's Cannon Misfires . . .

Bartram's house.
This weekend, I attended a loved one's wedding at a historical site in Philadelphia: Bartram's Gardens. John Bartram, sometimes called "The Father of American Botany," was a man who built his home, botanical garden and research site (all by himself), around 1770, a short walk above the banks of the Schuylkill River. The place is a small cluster of stone buildings nestled in among trees and the austere natural surroundings that are so characteristic of the northeastern part of the United States; surroundings that always feel so much like a warm blanket to me.

Friday, June 17, 2011

So, What Do You Do?

Just a week or so ago, I delivered my twelfth annual "Senior Farewell" poem to my school's graduating class. It was a poem about cliches. The gist of it is that some sayings become cliches because they are really wise ("Don't judge a book by its cover") and others because they are simply easy ("Life is simple"). My advice was, don't accept anything until you give it a lot of good thought. Folk wisdom can save your life or ruin it, as far as I'm concerned. It's up to each of us to figure out how to apply it.

It got me thinking about this one: "If you do something you love, you will never work a day in your life."

Not bad, I guess. It makes sense on some levels. (I do think, however, that it discounts the fact that doing something you love as a job can make it feel like work.) Still, my biggest problem with this is the principle behind it. It might be overstating it a little, but I always thought this cliche comes dangerously close to implying that your job is your life -- that is is the source of your happiness or sadness.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Remember Me?

(I was listening to the rain today and thinking of people in my past -- those I loved, lived with, studied with, made music with and passed by among late night shadows -- and this came out:)

Remember me? How did I come through your life?

Was I a volcano, a crater or an iceberg upon the planet surface of your brain?

Do you remember me in a chilled, leafy wind,
     sitting on a crumbling city wall, in a city smelling of city rain,
     looking like I was in need of a shave and some poetic truth?

Do you remember me singing and playing in an empty auditorium
     as you watched through the double-door windows -- or standing in the firelight
     in winter woods?

Or was I a cheek-kiss at a party or a handshake, stepping down from the stage?

Was I sweating on a field, running hard next to you among young men seeking

Or was I your boyfriend's roomate?

"Rain," by Childe Hassam

Monday, June 13, 2011

Chopper Boy and the Queen

With a little bit of shame, I admit to being judgemental of people I see walking along the road. Not if they have on exercise clothes, mind you. Clearly, people in exercise clothes are . . . you know . . . exercising. But when people are walking in normal clothes, I tend to have one of those "Why don't they have a car?" moments. I know. Not fair. But . . . why don't they have a car?

Anyway, with my writer's eye, I just tend to try to figure out the individuals I see plodding as I zip by in my status-symbol of a 1999 Saturn, with its manual tranny and custom, manual window-lowering mechanisms. (Yeah, my whip. That's how I roll.)

Today, I was taking my sons over to Grandmom and Grandpop's for sugary, salty afternoon of treats, cartoons and video game-filled joy, and I passed two folks on the side of the road. They didn't have a car, but they did have a tricked-out bike. (By the way -- did you know Melville used the phrase "tricked-out" in Moby Dick to describe a ship? Word.) The bike had a chopper wheel on the front -- you know, the long fork and handlebars so high up you have to reach for them like you are about to do a pull-up. It was pristine, with chrome everything and a big honker-horn on the front.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ditch the Shuffle

I've been going back in time. I'm real believer in the potential of pop music, though I'm a lover of modern orchestral music and classical. I think pop is the music with the most creative potential, even if it is the area in which the least creative potential is realized, as things stand. Anyway, I have been going back in time to check out the the particular tunes of the pop greats that we don't usually hear.

My latest purchase is Elton John's Tumbleweed Connection. (It's really, really good. But this isn't a music review. I hate music reviews.) The album got me thinking about something that has floated through my head ever since the iPod era began: the advent of the MP3 has some great effects, especially on young people whose diversity of musical experience is surprisingly broader than it was ten years ago. (I have seen kids with Metallica, Abba, Wu Tang Clan, The Beatles, Eminem and Sinatra on their playlists. Of course, this could indicate either a total lack of musical discernment or a delightfully broad musical view, depending on your perspective.)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Childless Children

"My mom .  .  ." he said, snorting a little.

"Yeah," I know what you mean, answered a friend. (They were sharing a joke.) "My dad is the same way."

All night long, the conversation went on, about parents. Snacks were eaten, pitchers of beer emptied -- an easy conversation that everyone agreed with: parents . . .  Eyes rolled. This was a post-teen parental evaluation. The anger -- the angst -- was gone. It had been replaced with cool superiority that sounded like the dismissal of any legitimacy; the tone of those who believed they had outstripped their archaic mothers and fathers in every intellectual way . . .

Somewhere else, a father paces the floor, at one in the morning, trying to get his cholicky baby to sleep, smiling gently despite his exhaustion after a full day of work and with another one looming in just a few hours.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Magnetic Mind

The human brain is a magnet. But imagine it as a magnet that works on multiple charges rather than the binary poles we know of: negative and positive. Imagine that there are innumerable types of charges in existence.

Imagine, then, that our brains are each a magnet and that there are myriad other magnets on the plane that is the world in which we live. These other magnets are ideas, concepts and perspectives on life. We cruise around atop this plane (see it as a tabletop with magnets lying everywhere) and, at a certain point, we pass by a magnet with a particular charge and -- click -- in snaps over to us and becomes part of our minds' concepts.

This happens without conscious reasoning. We are simply attracted to a concept and we attach to it instantly; for instance, the teenager who adopts a "look" (maybe low-slung skinny jeans with the boxers hanging out and jet black hair over ebony eye-makeup) doesn't necessarily reason through his targeted look. He is simply sees it on someone else, is attracted to it, and he aligns with it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Back to Back

What if, when we got married, we stuck with some of the "till death do us part" and some of the "forever and ever" stuff but we added some things that are a little more prosaic. I'll bet if we added these vows, more marriages would last a lifetime:

1) When I'm mad, I promise to tell you what I am mad about instead of making you guess out of vengeance for something you probably don't know you did.

2) I promise never to walk in to the house without saying hello to you.

3) I promise never to complain to my friends about you. Little betrayals are still betrayals.

4) I promise not to separate from you the second we walk into a party, as if there is a rule that says we can't talk until we get back into the car.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dear Albrecht: V

Albrecht Soothspitz, b. 1347
Take heart, dear readers! Albrecht is back. This batch of letters took him an extraordinarily long time. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep a magically preserved medieval philosopher supplied with quills in New Jersey? -- especially when said medieval philosopher goes through epic stretches of ennui?) While is Wii addiction eventually wore off, Al developed a powerful attachment to fantasy football. He has no idea, whatsoever, how the game is played, mind you, but he so enjoyed the onion dip and Guinness at the league meetings, he couldn't resist. Please, as always, bask in his wisdom. Then . . . evaluate it carefully, for your sake and the sake of those around you.

Dear Albrecht:

My mom is all mad at me because she saw some pictures of me on Facebook. I was at a college party and, in the pictures, I am lifting my shirt. But, like, I had a bra on. Like, big deal. It's not like I was naked. I don't see what she is all worked up about. What do you think? I don't want to be, like, a prude.