Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Summer's Slow Goodbye

In my part of the world, summer settles softly to an end. There always comes a week that whispers the season's slow goodbye. The long stretch of woods behind my house becomes quieter. The grass under my bare feet starts to feel chilly at night. The air carries that scent that I can only call the smell of September.

My sons start to get sad that school is coming, their eyes a little wet at bed time, and I find myself telling them all of the positives -- that there are more summers to come; that Halloween is just around the corner and Thanksgiving and Christmas after that; that we can look forward to building snow forts and jumping into fallen leaves. (I've never been the type of dad to try to pretend that school is a blast. I hated it too, even though I loved to learn -- maybe because I love to learn.)

Monet's "Grainstacks at the End of Summer"
I believe in the wonder of all of these things I place before my sons, but I still feel heavy in the heart when summer ends.

Life used to be marked clearly into sections when I was a kid. When the last day of school came, it felt like I needed to break into a run and keep going until the ocean waves flared into white plumes around me. It felt like I stood at the ticket gate of a vast carnival filled with infinite rides. Now, summer comes, but it feels more like it flows around me, as if I were a stone in a stream, until the river finally goes dry.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sweaty Buses and Fairy Dust

I just spent a week in Walt Disney World. I'm an admirer of classic Disney movies and even of the new Pixar movies. What I am not a fan of is the Florida sun, waiting in lines and putting in twelve-hour days of running from place to place, in that sun, when I am on my vacation. With this in mind, I left for Florida, last week, less than excited. I was doing it for my kids.

Warning: Don't expect a major turn-around. Don't expect me to end this with: "but then, I discovered, in the magic of Disney, my inner child." Still, there is something to be said about the place. (If I heard the world "magical" one more time, however, I was going to find the nearest Mickey, tear an ear off of his head and feed it to Captin Hook's crocodile.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Darwin's Nightmare

The demands of opening another school year are upon me, so, for the first time, a repost. This is from a year ago, but a recent experience reminded me . . .

I used to be a little afraid of this, but now I'm terrified.  I'm not sure whether it is something in the water or if some sort of ray is being beamed through high-def screens at our children, but I am now convinced that our young Americans might be growing into adulthood without the benefit of a reptilian brain.  I have seen evidence of this over the years, but now I know it: the fight-or-flight mechanism in America's youth has been snuffed out in many and continues to quickly whither in others.

You have seen it too, but maybe it didn't register.  Picture it: you are standing in line at a fast food restaurant at lunchtime on a Saturday.  The store and the mall in which it resides are, as they say, hoppin'. The kid behind the counter says, "Hi. Can I take your order?" You order a Laughy-Meal, a "number four" with an orange soda, a healthy salad with an extra packet of dressing, a cheeseburger and two extra orders of fries, one without salt, and a bag of chocolaty-chip cookies.  The kid behind the register says, after you have painstakingly delivered each important detail in your best rhetorical voice, "Hi. Can I take your order?"

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bruce Versus Hal

Shark Night, 3D is coming out, you know. I saw in a preview commercial -- just one time. What I gathered is this: it is a movie about a night with lots and lots of sharks who come at you in 3D. Oh, and there are girls in bikinis -- who, I imagine, come at you in 3D as well, but that is neither here nor there.

It might wind up being a great movie (though I doubt it). 

God knows that making a shark movie must be a guaranteed ulcer for any self-respecting director, in the shadow of Jaws. I mean, I value my life quite a bit, but I am sure that if my second chance to score a film were on a project about a shark, I would certainly contemplate suicide.

As I say, the movie might wind up being good (though I doubt it). Why, you ask, do I doubt it?

Stephen and Bruce
Because it has 3D in the title, that's why. I'm not saying 3D is bad, but it can be a crutch for a lame screenplay. Let's face it : it's scary to have a white shark torpedo into your popcorn tub on date night. But that is so damned easy.

In 1975, Stephen Spielberg found himself on Martha's Vineyard with a techno-shark named Bruce that barely ever worked. This, if you don't know, is why the shark appeared so seldom in the final film. And this, as Spielberg has said, is the best thing that could have happened. He needed to rethink and to use his inner-Hitchcock to make the film scary. What is not seen in that film is the heart of its success as a thriller.

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Gear" vs. "Clothes"

Today, I looked down the street and was reminded of a pet-peeve of mine.

There is an old gentleman who lives a few houses down from ours. He happens to be Scottish, if I catch his accent and his last name's implications right. He's a nice fellow. Sort of austere. He moves slowly but surely, sometimes with a cane and sometimes without.

It was about ninety degrees Fahrenheit, today. What struck me was what he was wearing: a white, button shirt with suspenders, a classic flat cap and black socks with black, leather dress shoes. His shorts looked like they had once been dress pants, but cut-off and hemmed.

I like that.

To me there is something annoying about the fact that we have special clothes for everything today: bike-riding clothes; yoga clothes; gardening clothes; dancing clothes, etc. I know they have practical benefits, but I can't help feeling that this painstaking specialization means that we are so far from the basics of daily survival that it puts us into a bit of an existential limbo.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Celebrity Mask

As disinterested as I am in the lives of celebrities, the concept of celebrity itself had always fascinated me. It couldn't be farther from what I want for myself, but as a concept, it does intrigue me. And what I find interesting is the current fall of the celebrity that is in progress.

The Duke
The awe is disappearing. I saw a kid having a conversation with a major league pitcher during this year's All-Star game. He might have been talking to his cousin, Lou. The player was signing the ball and the kid was talking to him with little evident interest.

I couldn't help thinking back to old TV shows in which kids met celebrities: Bobby Brady calling the great quarterback Joe Namath "Mr. Namath" -- that kind of thing. It seems that is gone.

My dad has referred to his childhood -- to how the football players (American football) were (circa 1950) like knights -- their helmets covering them as they went to battle. He says the mystery was what made them awesome, to him. Now we watch them in the news and on commercials, cheating on their wives and sweating orange Gatorade, respectively.

Not good for the awe factor.

Another contributor to this is that we are all able to don our own celebrity masks, now. The technological gate has opened and exposed us all to the masses. We all get the airtime that was once reserved for the media elite.

When cell phones came out and they weighed sevent-five pounds, a guy talking on the phone in his car was an important dude -- no question. Well, we still are imprinted with that archetype. Did you ever see people strut and posture while they talk on their phones? They, too, are important and are able to display that importance to the world audience.

A kid sitting on the edge of his bed can play Dave Matthews covers for the world just by uploading a video. He might stink and maybe no one but his grandmom and his girlfried watch, but consider the celebrity mask donned. Or, he might get hits from around the world and come up with a big recording contract. You never know.

Look at me, writing for more than a hundred readers per day. Go figure. Whether I stink or whether I am a genius, technology has granted me an audience that Steinbeck, writing in his Californian loft, in his teens, was never guaranteed.

The Dope
People post on Facebook: "At the beach with my sweeeetieeeees." Who cares? Why, the adoring throngs, that's who. The thousand-plus friends that some teenagers have might care -- instant audience. The mask is donned.

It is no longer a matter of interest how Grace Kelly spent her vacation. We can now watch Suzie Shlemeil from Shamong, New Jersey, prancing about in the waves. Then people post compliments: "Soooo preeeeteyyy;" "Dayum, girl . . ." She is adored.

Good or bad? I don't know. Something in me hates the red-carpet prance of Oscar night. But another part of me laments the fact that we went from John Wayne and Sinatra to The Situation and Eminem.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Deeper Fun

Once, I wrote a piece about wedding receptions and about the idea of being forced to have fun -- about how distasteful I find that. (And boy, was I sorry about the title, after the number of unsavory sites that linked to me. There must have been a lot of disappointed mouse-wielding perverts out there that week. They must have felt like they had been "Rick-Rolled".)  Anyway, I was thinking about this again, only with a sharper dissection knife.

The great Gene Krupa
I don't like to dance. I have nothing against dancing or against those who enjoy the activity -- I just don't find it fun. Now, here's the problem: People who enjoy dancing enjoy it so much that they want everyone around them to enjoy it. If you claim that you don't like to dance or that you do not want to dance, the people who like to dance (as sure about the universal joy that dancing brings as the missionaries were about the salvation they were bringing in to the South American jungles regardless of the heedless destruction of indigenous culture) try to pull you onto the floor. It is, to them, their duty to show you the fun you are missing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hats and Rabbits CD Update (He Says with a Grin)

I promised I would let everyone know when my new CD, Hats & Rabbits became available. Well, it just did become available and I'm pretty excited about it, I will admit. (Though, as a testament to at least one reason why I'm not a more successful self-marketer, I was a little disappointed that I had to put off writing about my next blog idea . . . but stay tuned for it on Wednesday. )

Right now, it is available from "CD Baby" as a physical CD and as a downloadable album. (They're a reputable company with good roots in the music business, so no worries.) Just click the link at the right -- or here. To my surprise, the warehouse is down to four physical copies. More will be shipped to them soon, though. But the digital downloads are always available.

Friday, August 12, 2011

An Open Letter to Humanity

Dear Humanity,

I'm really trying -- really, really trying not to get overwhelmed and turn my back on you. I mean, like every other thinker, I have flirted with the whole cabin-in-the-woods thing. I know that probably wouldn't make me happy, though, because I'm torn: I like people, but I am disgusted by humanity.

Every time a person sits alone in a studio or with his or her books, lab equipment or a pen and creates a thing of beauty or of goodwill, my heart fills with admiration and love for the human animal and its endeavors. But every time that thing of beauty or of good will gets handed to the masses, the masses find a way to tear it apart or corrupt it.

In short, the atom bomb was not really Oppenheimer's fault, was it? Muhammad and Jesus are not to blame for war, the Inquisition, persecution, hate, or terrorism, are they?

And art -- such wonders get spun at the hands of solitary geniuses, then we turn those wonders into cliche by merely sharing them -- we water them down until they become almost laughable because we want everyone, whether they are at the level of the geniuses or not, to swim in the waters of greatness. "To be or not to be," is an apartment number joke now. The Mona Lisa is so common a sight that it has become impotent. Beethoven's Fifth Symphony has been turned into a cartoon by the cartoons.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wiffle Dad

Every day, without fail, my son -- nine years old -- asks me to play Wiffle Ball. (I'm not sure about the universality of this game, so I will mention, for my readers outside the U.S., that Wiffle Ball is baseball, more or less, with a plastic bats and balls that allow play in one's back yard without breaking windows, faces, etc.) So, every day, the lad asks me to play.

He has quite a skill for asking me to play at the most inopportune times. As soon as I get home from work, for instance -- I mean, the instant I come in the door. Or, right at the end of dinner -- simultaneously with my last bite, usually. (Two days ago, I ran around the bases moaning "Ugh. Too . . . much . . . pork . . . in . . . belly," which he thought was hilarious.) He asks me when I wake up on Saturdays. He knocks on the bathroom door and asks me. He asks me while am writing blogs. He throws open the door to my studio while I am practicing or recording or singing and asks. The only way he can ramp up the issue would be to wake up at three in the morning, shake me, and ask. It hasn't come to that. Yet.

Monday, August 8, 2011

It Ain't Natural

From Darwin's
The expression of the emotions in man and animals
We're kind of stuck, aren't we? We like to argue for the legitimacy of things by saying: "It's natural." Of course, by this, we imply that natural means it is okay -- good for us; advisable; even moral. Sometimes, the argument works; usually it doesn't. I think it would be good if we all remained aware of this.

Yet, we construct belief systems that are meant to elevate us above the rest of nature. Sex, for instance, is natural. It is natural to feel sexual feelings. How we act upon those feelings throws us into a tizzy, though. Usually, we put lines around it: You may be sexual under conditions A, B and C, but not under condition D. You may be sexual under condition A, as was aforementioned, but not if element Z is introduced into the situation.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Memory of Now

What do you think of you, now? What did you think of you back when you were a teenager? When you look back from now, what do you think of you when you were a teenager?

I have a serious lack of connection to my past.

That is to say, I have vivid memories of being me in, say, 1985, but not of what was happening around me so much on a day-to-day basis. I couldn't, for instance, tell you what classes I had in my junior year and who my science teacher was. I can, however, remember various teachers well and I can probably still do a pretty good impersonation of them.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Parental Love (A Riff)

I wonder how many incongruities and insecurities and soul-aches in life come out of the fact that none of us could possibly love our parents as much as they love us.

And I wonder how many lives have fallen short of their mark because that sort of love was never realized -- not on the superficial level that people use to say things like: "life before kids was worthless" (which it is not, whether before or completely without kids, by the way), but in a sense that the intensity and type of love that lives in the heart of a parent was never in the mix as an impetus for deeds and aspirations.

And I also wonder why we don't love our parents as intensely as they love us.

I'd hate to think it might be evolutionary, simply -- the idea that cute babies make us feel protective.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bill, Disconnected

The man ventured forth into the night, leaving his beautiful wife behind in the glow of lamplight. It was cold and the streets were wet with melting snows.

He shivered and pulled up the collar of his coat and punched the button to unlock his minivan. He opened the door and stepped in and then drove off into the darkness on his mission: ice cream. "Mint pinky-berry swirl" for her, "chocolate chewy candy chunks" for him. The usual.

Halfway down the dark suburban road, lined with spooky houses that glowed blue from the windows as television screens flashed, he reflexively and then violently felt his coat's breast pocket. His heart rate quickened. It wasn't there. Where was it? It was always there . . . where had he put it?