Monday, December 30, 2013

The Gravy Doesn't Just Come When You Cook The Meat

In Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, Oscar angers Felix by coming home very late for a double-date dinner that Felix is cooking. By the time Oscar ambles home, beer on his breath, the roast is dried-out. Felix, already angry, asks what he is supposed to do -- the dinner is ruined. Oscar makes the mistake of suggesting that they just pour gravy over it.

FELIX: Where the hell am I going to get gravy at eight o'clock? 
OSCAR: I thought it comes when you cook the meat. 
FELIX: When you cook the meat? You don't know the first thing you're talking about. You have to make gravy. It doesn't just come!

This popped into my head today as I was thinking about the sort of laissez-faire attitude people seem to have toward their own lives. They expect the gravy just to magically make itself, when it comes to life, in general -- especially in terms of marriage and kids.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Desolation of Smaug: My Two Cents

Anyone who reads my drivel on a regular basis will have gleaned by now that I am a Tolkien guy. I credit his work with awakening my interest in literature; I still love to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I also like the Peter Jackson films -- I think he did as good a job as he could with most of them. Sure, I disagree with some of his choices, but I am open to the idea of interpretation: he sees it the way he sees it and he makes choices not only in the interest of the source material, but in the interest of making a good movie. That is the nature of the beast.

Tolkien's own illustration of Smaug
I just saw The Desolation of Smaug -- the second film in the trilogy based on The Hobbit. The first film in the trilogy, An Unexpected Journey was actually my favorite of all of Jackson's adaptations, so far.

While I enjoyed this second film, I think that (so far) it is the weakest of his adaptations. Smaug, the dragon himself, was awesome in the truest sense of the word. In the end, though, I don't think the movie captured the charm of the original book the way the first one did.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

If You Buy A Kid an XBox

(I never posted on Christmas -- here is an older post that I still get a bit of a kick out of...)
(A children's story in the tradition of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.)
If you buy a kid an Xbox (360), the guy at the store will tell you that the old XBox games will work on it.

If you bring the Xbox (360) home, you will find the old games only work if you buy a one-hundred and thirty dollar external hard drive.

If you are a high school teacher who doesn't want to spend one-hundred-thirty more dollars (after the $375 you already spent on the game system), you will decide to hook up the old Xbox along with the Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii. (This will require a degree in engineering or a lifetime of experience with cords and plugs, the latter of which you fortunately have.)

After you do this, you will find out that your TV room is too small for the "Kinect" that allows game play without remote controls. For a moment you will consider whether you really need the garage that lies beyond the confining wall. You will also wonder whether you could make a small doorway into the garage, so the kids will be able to back up far enough. Your kids will suggest standing on the couch to play. You'll consider this, as well, and then get a hold of yourself.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sexual Desperation

If had a daughter, she would be beautiful. (I would think that automatically, I mean -- that was not meant to be a reference my genetic mojo.) It is impossible to imagine it would be otherwise, even as a fictional father of a girl, so I have to extrapolate that she would, eventually, upon her blossoming into womanhood, be attractive to men.

And when this fictional daughter of mine finally became, physically, a woman, I would want her to feel comfortable in joining in all the reindeer games of flirtation. I would want her to be proud of her body. As much as I would instinctually want to dress her in a burlap sack and hide her from the prying, seedy eyes of her hormone-possessed male contemporaries, I would teach her that she has two rights, when it comes to her body:
1) It is okay for her to look sexually appealing.
2) It is okay for her to deny access to her sexually appealing self, at any time. 
I would want her to feel the joy of being appreciated for her aesthetic charms. We all find it gratifying to be "looked at" (in a polite way, at least) by the opposite sex. It's good for the old ego and it is nice to feel attractive. It spawns some wonderful poems, too.

Friday, December 20, 2013

How Music Spins Up My Soul

It took quite awhile to realize that people who also love music don't also love music for the same reasons I do. This is probably because music's effect on me is so immediate and so fundamentally related to what is going on in side me that it feels as if it couldn't be any other way for anyone else. Maybe it is genetic. Maybe it is programming, but it is "musical direction" that my dad always pointed out to me -- the way the harmonies and the melodies walk through the span of a piece and carry the listener's heart along. For me, the presence of that direction has always been a necessary ingredient in truly good music.

To put it another way, to guys like us, it is the horizontal progress of a piece that makes the magic, not the a rows of verticals stacked up next to one another like books on a shelf, that makes the magic happen. Rock music (and pop) are often based on verticals: one chord follows another and the melody note is just something laid over the top. To my dad (and to me) that was generally ineffective. But when harmonies melodies and chord move gracefully in a profound arabesque on their horizontal journey; when they "go where they need to go" it affects me (and it affected him) in the most profound way.

When music does this to me, I feel an actual physical "high." If there is a door that holds back the endorphin flood, for me, particular harmonic clusters and progressions are the key to the lock. Emily Dickinson said she "knew" poetry this way:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Filial Ingratitude...or Not?

Would you die for your parents?

It is a syntactically simple question: Would you sacrifice your life for your parents?

Don't ask me why this question popped into my head, today. I think I was going be hyperbolic to make a point in a text to my mom; something along the lines of, "Of course I will stop and pick up milk for you; I would take a bullet for you. I think I can pick up dairy products once in awhile..." I never did write it and the texts were about something completely different, but you get the point...

Anyway, after thinking about it, I realized it is a lie.

Well, let me back peddle a little bit. Instinctually, God knows what I would do if someone tried to shoot my mom. Filial programming might amount to my jumping in front of the shot without thinking. I think it probably would.

But, given time to think about No, I would not. If it came down to me and her, I would opt for me.

Do you think this is horrible? If you do, you must not be a parent. It comes down to this: I wouldn't do that to her.

Dark, I suppose, but a nice little mental mire to waddle through on a rainy day, if you are lucky enough to be in the middle of one.

Cordelia and Lear

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Message to Future Historians

One thing that makes it fun to be a historian or an archaeologist is the lack of information left behind from past generations. Right? It's the searching that is the fun part; the following of trails of clues...

An archaeologist uncovers an object with a pointy end and another end that appears to have been wrapped in long-decayed-away leather, apparently for grip comfort, and he concludes: "Ah! A Weapon. A jabbing weapon, too..."

A historian finds some pictures from the dawn of photography, all taken in New York City, and he draws conclusions about the manners of the day: men tended to walk on one particular side of the street; women held their parasols in the left hand; hansom cab drivers didn't just touch their hat brims, they lifted their bowlers completely off of their heads when greeting a lady... Or, he reads newspaper articles from the highly opinionated writers of the late nineteenth century about, say, the World's Fair in Chicago and compares the author's opinions to the letters of the fair's primary organizer, Burnham, in order to get closer to the truth...

Friday, December 13, 2013

Being Rich

My youngest son and I have been, almost nightly, going upstairs about an hour before bed time, and reading together.

He is nine. He can and does read by himself. But he likes when I read to him and, sometimes, I like when he reads to me.

We have a hard time sticking to books. We tried Redwall, but he wasn't into it, despite my best English mouse accent. We did get through all of The Hobbit, over the course of a few years. Sometimes, he likes to read comics about Mario and Luigi from a book we found online; it was published some time in the 1980's and still bears the writing of a small boy who is probably my age now: "Please return, if found, to this address...please, please, please, please..."

Sometimes, we read choose-your-own-adventure books, also found online; also about Mario and Luigi. He always asks me which choice I want to make at the end of a chapter, but he always corrects me if I pick the wrong one, so we don't get a "game over" (he has been through them several times, each).

Henry Lerolle
For the past few nights, he has wanted to delve back into his old Curious George books, which is fine by me. We'll read three or four a night, changing the boilerplate opening to: "George was a good little monkey and always very curious, blah, blah, blah, blah..." (He cracks up every time.)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Rebellion of the Angry and Dumb

Stanislav Chlebowski
My dad always said dangerous things to me as I was growing up. One of those was: "If you're going to rebel, do it over something big and important and make a real statement."

He knew what he was doing, of course. He trusted me to reason it out.

I used a similar tactic in the school in which I teach and serve as vice principal. The kids wear uniforms. Every year, there is conflict over untucked shirts. To my former Principal's shock, when we had class meetings about this, I did a bit of a stand-up comedy routine, satirizing a fictitious student who "was going to stick it to the man" by leaving his shirt tails untucked. He was a rebel. He was a hell raiser...etc. (Things improved after that.)

My dad was right, of course. But besides picking good things to rebel against, we should be careful about the conformity of non-conformity.

Last night, I was driving with  the radio on and the song "Fat Lip" by SUM 41 came on, and I caught this puerile, impotent little jab at conformist society:

I don't want to waste my time
Become another casualty of society.
I'll never fall in line
Become another victim of your conformity
And back down.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Grandpop's Snowstorm

This will be the last of the sad-sack posts. I promise.

We grope for meaning, don't we? Maybe that's okay. Maybe that is necessary. And maybe it is better than logic.

Sometimes we consciously delude ourselves. Sometimes we truly believe in things that have no explanation. Sometimes we lie to our children, because they need it. Sometimes, these things intersect and science and fact and circumstance give us help in turning delusion into belief.

As of some time on Friday, the local scuttlebutt was that, on Sunday, there was going to be snow coming. Nothing significant. In fact, it was most likely going to miss us altogether.

We said our last goodbyes to my father on Saturday.

On Sunday morning, the snow began to fall -- small flakes that reminded me instantly of my dad having told me, as a child, that if the flakes were small, the snow was going to fall for a long time; when the flakes get big, he always asserted, it was about to stop.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Joe Matt

The boy emerged from an Italian neighborhood in a Philadelphia world that still smelled like burning coal, burning wood and big pots of gravy (that's right: "gravy") bubbling on the stoves. From a world in which the milkman made his slow zig-zag way through the city's streets, an old horse pulling, then waiting; pulling, then waiting, old head dropped low, as his master set the bottles on one side, then another. And when the last clip-clop faded into the distance, the boy would sneak through the grey light of dawn, from stoop to stoop, drinking the cream off of the tops of people's bottles.

Wide-eyed, he'd watched as Dorothy's world went from sepia tones to glorious color, on the screen, for the first time, along with the other children of his generation, as her door opened onto Oz. He ran home on summer nights, dashing especially quickly past dark alleyways, after having spent all afternoon ("for ten cents," he would tell me) with a bag of his grandmother's sandwiches while watching Frankenstein and Dracula creep and stomp through the flickering, silver screen shadows.

He sat on the floor in his father's business, "Joe's Market", on 19th and McKean, playing Mario Lanza on a record player, annoying everyone by lifting and dropping the needle in the same place, over and over and over, just to hear one of Puccini's musical swells...just to nourish his little heart that needed harmonic direction the way a plant needs light.

He heard what Hitler was up to; saw newsreels before movies; laughed at the silly little moustache, but was too young to really understand, so he sat on a stone lion and posed with a comb over his upper lip: the Great Little Dictator.

He perspired in the congestion-free, South Philly avenues of the forties and early fifties playing summer halfball and football until the street lights came on...

He saw Kirk Douglas in Young Man With a Horn, and knew what he wanted to do and who he wanted to be, so his grandmother bought him a silver trumpet and he played, first, like Harry James, but, soon, like Joe Matt. But that wasn't enough, so he walked (as he told it to his less than musically studious son) uphill, both ways, barefoot over broken glass to sit sat at the piano at his aunt's house and to discover chords and the soul-spinning effects of harmony, and he wrote and orchestrated, and approximated the power of God's voice for years to come.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Death and Arrogance

Writers have been writing about death for centuries.

That's adorable, isn't it?

When it comes down to the event, in whatever form, we might as well be three-year-olds trying to write about quantum physics. Even if we are Shakespeare.

So I won't write about it. Maybe I'll feel deluded enough about my own abilities to give it a shot later; maybe later, I will join the halls of the wildly conceited. Today, though, I'm feeling pretty realistic.

Monday, December 2, 2013


One thing I am thankful for is that my friends on Facebook didn't go overboard saying what they were thankful for on Thanksgiving. I don't know why is rankles me so, but I can't stand holiday sentiments on Facebook. Drives me batty. Bah, humbug, I suppose.

Maybe it is because it seems "preachy" to me -- like, people telling me on Veteran's day that I should thank a vet for my freedom. It's probably irrational to react this way, but, I am admittedly weird. Sentiments that are punctuated by holidays just anger me. Valentine's day, for instance. Yuck.

(That kid had better get out of the goal
if he wants a save...)
But I would be a liar if I didn't admit that the holiday season does get me into a kind of "taking stock" mode. It's a result of certain circumstances in my life around the holidays. I don't want to boil it down to a Facebook post, but it is worth mentioning, here. I am very grateful for the kind of friends I have. Let me sum up:

I am not good at returning calls. I try to steal every free minute, after professional obligations and family obligations, to write, compose or to "recharge" by seeking silence and solitude. Because of this, I could be seen as a bad friend. I once got wind that, in frustration, a friend once told another: "Chris is all about Chris."