Monday, July 30, 2012

Two Kinds of Rich: Adventures with Milton S. Hershey and Bobby Flay

Hershey Park (an amusement park in Pennsylvania) and Bobby Flay's restaurant, the Mesa Grill, in New York City, may seem unrelated to you, but to me, they both made statements about the relationship between money and perception to me over the last week.

We did the small family vacation thing this year. We spent two days in Hershey, Pa. There's an amusement park and it is the home of the chocolate company, founded by Milton S. Hershey, way back. It's a cool place to go, just to see a good example of a business that built a town and to take the tour, replete with animatronic, talking cows, that explains how the chocolate is made. But, we are also a roller-coaster-loving family, and some of our faves are in the park.

1st Class Cabin, Titanic
Since we were going small, this year, we shelled out a pretty obscene amount of money to rent a cabana at the park. Doing this made every fiber of my musician/teacher's body tremble with Scroogiosity, but we had saved the money just for vacation, so...what the hay?

The cabana got us a shady place to sit when we needed a break. It also gave us instant access to "The Lazy River" -- no line waits. We got a refrigerator stocked with water. We got "free" towels (I figure they were more like, maybe, thirty dollars a piece). We got a tote bag for "free" towels and a little restaurant stand that was just for cabana people: no waits, and they would bring your food right to the cabana. We also got a "free" soda machine we could use with out "free" souvenir cups.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Roller Coaster Arabesque

A rare re-posting in honor of a recent family day trip. Gotta love roller coasters!

Yes, it's true. Even in an amusement park, atop the crest of a roller coaster pre-drop, I'm thinking metaphors. For instance: roller coasters, themselves, as examples of the way people seem to look at life, at least in terms of what is interesting to them.

I like roller coasters. Always have. But there have always been some that I had no interest in riding because, it seems to me, there is a fine line between being scared in a fun way and being scared in a losing control of one's bowels way.

For instance, on a family outing to a mega amusement park the other day, we rode a wooden roller coaster called El Toro. We also rode Kingda Ka. (The latter's very name annoys the crap out of me. I don't know why -- it just angers me to say it.) Kingda Ka is a metal spike up into the sky which shoots straight up, drops straight down, once, and reaches ridiculous speeds of somewhere around 130 miles per hour.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Ever Happened to the Sweet Science?

from "The Bells of St. Mary's"

My friend and I were talking about fighting the other day. It began as a discussion as to when is the right time to tell one's child to fight -- to "throw down," in order to free himself from bullying or torment. We didn't come to an over-arching conclusion. But we did wander into talking about an older film; I think it was The Bells of St. Mary's, with Bing Crosby -- not sure. In it, the priest in charge (Bing) breaks up a fight between two boys. He then makes them put on the gloves and duke it out in the ring. With rules. With order.

Again, I'm not even sure how I feel about that -- about encouraging the boys to fight at all. Part of me thinks that's the whole point of civilization: to control, but not to eradicate human nature. Another part of me thinks fighting is something we need to rise above as a species. But I think, in the end, I might lean toward putting on the gloves when necessary.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Ladder of Light (A Parable)

Ansel Adams: "Clouds, Sierra Nevada."
The old man fell asleep in his chair. He died.

He only knew that he died because when he sat up, bleary, everything around him had turned to foggy shapes. From his upraised hands extended, upward, a ladder wrought of light.

He began to climb, with no effort, feeling the way he had as a boy when he had lifted his smiling father in the pool, amazed at his own strength in the water.

It was like being a weightless astronaut. He could climb forever, without effort. With no muscles to tire, with no heart to race, with no brow to sweat, "effort" was a word with no definition.

He climbed and climbed until he reached a platform of mist where some others had stopped climbing. There, near his ladder, hovered a guardian spirit, as bright as a solar flare and as dark as anesthetic sleep. Without speaking, it said, Go. Climb. And the soundless tone of those words made him feel as happy as a cuddled dog.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Escaping Streaming Virtuality

I even joke with myself about my being an "early-onset curmudgeon." But, the truth is, I have always been a bit of an anachronism; a fan or solitude; a guy with a distaste for either conformity or blatant, conformist non-conformity; a lover of conversation over wasted hours under flashing lights and noisy, empty-headed music. I've always been a reader and a thinker. I college, I used to sit in the woods and write before the mists had lifted for the morning. I've always valued reason and good-sense over unreasonable fulfillment or risk.

The only time I ever got "in trouble" in high school was because of a piece I wrote for the school "newspaper"; a short, satirical play called Spamlet. Otherwise, not a single detention.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Sweating Anomaly

I had the strangest experience today.

I was standing in a Wawa -- it's a convenience store in this neck of the world; there are so many of them in my state that you tend, while driving, to say, "Mah -- that one's on the wrong side of the road; I'll wait for the next Wawa." There's always a next Wawa; always, and hard upon the last. I don't doubt that they're connected by underground tunnels hung with oil lanterns.

Anyway, I was standing (leaning, really) in one of these ubiquitous Wawas, waiting for the young woman behind the counter to grudgingly slap together the sandwiches that I had ordered as part of dinner -- the unhealthy composition of which more or less negates any good thing I have ever done as a father or husband -- for the family. (My, I'm feeling parenthetical today.)

It's been near one-hundred degrees for a few days 'round here. Sweating people trudged wetly in and out, buying sports drinks, chips, cookies, cigarettes, beef-jerky, milk, bread and queso dips of various hues. The tired plastic bags in their tired hands were loaded with little packages of death-hastening treats. And they didn't care, because life is busy and it is hot and they just want something nice in the midst of a day that sucked fat ostrich eggs.

Leave me alone, each face said, in weary silence. Just leave me the hell alone! What more do you want from me? It's been a long, hot day. My children are chittering little dung beetles and my spouse is a soul-eating extraterrestrial. I NEED this brownie and I am going to wash it down with this ice-cold Coke and when I'm done, I might lick sugar cubes until the entire box is gone and my wrists drip with stickiness! So, BACK OFF!"

Really. That's what they wordlessly said.

Monday, July 16, 2012

An Idea in the Distance

I’d love to take a trip around someone else’s mind. Did you ever wonder what it looks like in someone else’s head? What’s the process like? What colors flash around the ideas? Are the sounds gentle or raking or do they take imagined shape, like the ones in my head do? -- like when I am trying to arrange a piece of music I have written and I “see” the notes as a cascade of colors in my head, like rains layered over each other in different hues that resolve with each other when things are right…

People’s minds must be like snowflakes in their individuality -- infinitely varied fractals of processes and connections of ideas and feelings.

I’d just like to visit other minds…just to see…

Alas, I only know mine, at least from the inside. I try to know those of others from the outside as best I can.

Friday, July 13, 2012

How to Be a Parental Ninja

Parents! Are you tired of the constant struggle? -- sick of the arguments? Have you had it with fighting the urge to be a killjoy when it comes to helping your children get a healthy and non-meat-headed perspective on the now cotton-candy, now obnoxious offerings that the pop culture mongers try to foist on them daily, via the television airwaves? 

We all know that advertisers and marketers want to sell our kids a belief system that will bolster sales. We all know that they want to build up a concept of what it "cool" in our babies' innocent, not-as-yet-self conscious minds so that these electronically-created adver-zombies will drag us parents into the labyrinths of the marketplace maze and deplete us of our hard earned money and self-respect. For some, this works out.

Parents, unite!
Sure -- the advertisers get money. The kids get stuff. But what do we get? We get stuck with little groupthink materialists at our dinner tables, along with a lifelong feeling of guilt resulting from the fact that that we allowed our kids to wander down the dark road of really, super-duper darkess -- to step through the door held open by that devourer of young intellect, Justin Bieber, and then to make a fateful left and get on the elevator down to pop culture Hades, where they play Big Time Rush on the PA system all day and night.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Emperor's New Question: A Philosophical Look at Health Care

In my new weekly column for When Falls the Coliseum, I get to wear the disguise of "The Emperor of the World." As we all know, some disguises can be liberating; this one allows me to air out the saltier, less compassionate side of myself. (My wife thinks I am way too nice here on H&R; I tend to growl a bit more during our living room conversations about the world.) In the column, "The Emperor" makes a decree of some kind and then deals out punishment for transgressions. The punishments are always Dante-esque -- flavored with metaphoric meaning that is sometimes obvious and sometimes not.

Yesterday, my alter-ego made a decree that one is owed nothing as a result of his or her hard work.

When I posted a link for my Facebook friends, I captioned it with a reference to the Declaration of Independence, sort of mechanically. (I often write that way.)  Here's what I posted:

Okay, now the Emperor is mad. Stop yer whining and accept the fact that you deserve nothing but life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (Key word: "pursuit." If they had meant "attainment," believe me, they would have said that.)

After I wrote this, I sat back and said, "Hmpf." (I actually said that. I say that a lot.)

Monday, July 9, 2012

The First Journey

Today, my boys asked to go to the local store on their own. We never forbade it or anything -- it just hadn't come up yet. My younger boy is eight and the older one is ten. The store is three-quarters of a mile down the road that runs through the middle of our town. I had no doubts about their finding it. It's just that they never went there alone before. I thought it over and finally gave the go-ahead.

My older son took his bike and, the younger, his scooter. Off they went.

After a few minutes, and echoing the numerous parenting parables about this sort of thing, I jumped in the car and followed, in secret. What I wanted to know, mostly, was how long it would take them to get there so I would have an idea how long it should take, for future reference.

I won't lie: it was kind of fun. I zigged and zagged through the neighborhood, taking up secret positions to watch them pass. When they got to the store, I waited until they came back out and then headed home, confident they would be fine. They seemed to have stopped at the cross streets on the way -- that kind of thing.

The questing parent, Marlin,
enduring Dory's whale song, from
Pixar's Finding Nemo
See, I believe "helicopter parenting" is one of the worst things in the modern world. But I also believe one can never be too careful with one's kids in the modern world. Every precaution must be taken. What's the difference between my secret mission and "helicopter parenting"? With helicopter parents, the kids are fully aware of the protection they are under. In fact, they rely on it; that's the damaging factor.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Crime of Chivalry

The release of the John Carter movie, awhile ago, reminded me that I had been curious to read the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Bradbury had always cited them as an inspiration, too. So, last week, I picked up A Princess of Mars in the "John Carter of Mars" series.

I was reluctant to read it, in a way, because I had just finished Winesburg, Ohio, which I found one of the most profound treatments of the modern human condition of anything I have ever read. But I was pleasantly surprised by Burroughs's book. It was a delight. It was an adventure, front to back, that made moderate demands on the intellect but that was written well and that managed to be charming and, yet, still to managed to avoid becoming hackneyed. In fact, I found it to be better science fiction than most critics give it credit for.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Enough for Now

So, there it is.

Give me an unchanging arpeggio, for an hour, under my fingertips.

Give me a white snow that turns every color into one; that fattens the branches into kinder angles and softer, slower, sideways swayings in the heavy silence.

Ansel Adams
Give me days of grey and rain that turn the warm lights of home into the brightest thing in the world -- a world that usually feels like being surrounded by funhouse mirrors under fireworks.

Give me some time ankle deep in the pond after days on the rapids.

You take your hopping from car to car and meeting to meeting and virtual window to virtual window if it makes you feel "connected."

I'll loaf, invite my soul, and connect with the winded leaves.

They're enough. For now, they're always enough.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Redecorating the Head

Constable's "Willy Lott's Cottage"

If only people, including myself, could keep in mind that there is no quick-served happiness, especially when it come to "getting out of here" -- that phrase so commonly uttered by the young on late nights in home towns. Grown-ups do the same, though. I actually used to discuss, with my wife, the idea of opening a "bed-and-breakfast." What was I thinking?

What I was thinking was that changing everything would change everything for the better. What I was thinking was that running a bed and breakfast would be an escape from the unpleasantness of  humdrum life. We'd be in an idyllic place. We'd meet interesting people. We would not have to work "jobs".

This is a flawed and common problem in the thinking patterns typical of the human beast. The only way that running a hotel would be a pleasant life for me would be if I liked pouring coffee, making beds and making small talk with total strangers. I would like none of that.