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Preview: Earl Pomerantz: Just Thinking...

Earl Pomerantz: Just Thinking...

A regular person thinks about things and then writes about them.

Updated: 2018-02-21T21:20:23.248-08:00


"Now You See Them..."


Which, as with yesterday, involves homeless people, although, this time, more mysteriously.Dr. M was working late that evening, leading me to fend for myself for dinner.  I had selected Café Gratitude, a trendy vegetarian restaurant a few blocks walk from my house whose “Messagey” menu items include “I Am Wonderful” (French lentil and butternut squash loaf) and “I Am Beautiful” (blackened tempeh Bolognese.)  When my waitress asked if I’d like water, I replied, “Yes, please.  ‘I Am Thirsty’.”Eating alone, I had brought along a book, a biography of Andrew Jackson.  (A presidential “populist” who had actually born poor.)  After consuming my interesting bowl of “I Am Grateful” (shredded kale, black beans, garlic tahini, brown rice or quinoa – it kind of scares me that I can spell “quinoa” without looking it up – I paid my bill and went off to complete a nearby errand.Two blocks away lay Gjusta, a trendy upscale bakery – which makes it two “trendies” in one story; I am a regular Mr. “Ask me, and I’ll tell you what’s ‘Happening’” – that sold crusty loaves of artisanal bread.  How do you define “artisanal bread”?  Unrefined flour, and expensive.    I come out of Café Gratitude carrying my Andrew Jackson book, I head west one block, where I turn south towards Gjusta, the ancillary outlet of Gjelina, a trendy, California-style restaurant on trendy Abbot-Kinney Boulevard in the trendy Westside community of Venice.  (Hey, I am already “identified.”  I might as well go “All in.”)When I turn the corner heading for Gjusta, I am immediately confronted by the largest encampment of homeless people I have ever experienced, set up shoulder-to-shoulder along the sidewalks on both sides of the street.  (To avoid any inadvertent touching of their “stuff”, I end up continuing my perambulation along the side of the actual road.)Paraphrasing a “stage direction” I once wrote about a door bearing a dizzying number of protective locks:“If you walk to see a lot of homeless people, take a look at this street.”It was like “Homeless ‘Woodstock’.”Okay, liberal guilt kicks in here.  Along with a generic apprehension of “The Other.”My First Troubling Question:“To look, or notto look?”Offering a “Lose-Lose” proposition.On the one hand it’s,“What are youlooking at?”And on the other hand it’s,“We’re not invisible, you know.”I decide to look straight ahead, trudging silently down the edge of the thoroughfare.I hear music emanating from some nearby electronic device.  It’s a country song I believe I know but make a conscious effort not to remember, fearing I will reflexively start singing along… and…What if they don’t wantme to?Continuing down the street, I experience the disturbing Depression Era-like reality of two different worlds, uncomfortably intersecting.  They’re them, and I’m me. A man with money in his wallet, going to buy an overpriced bread.Which is exactly what I do.  Along with a “muesli” cookie, because I have never tasted a muesli cookie, and because bakery smells make me susceptible to “impulse purchasing” baked goods.I exit Gjusta totng my freshly baked Olive Loaf and munching my muesli cookie (which I can also spell without looking it up), and I start back, taking a less street-populated route home.It is only when I secure the Olive Loaf in a (trendy) canvas container, touted for keeping artisanal breads fresh longer, that I realize I have left my Andrew Jackson book at Gjusta.I immediately call them, and they confirm that my forgotten “Andrew Jackson” is there, left behind on the artisanal bread, irresistible cookie counter.  I check how long the bakery will remain open, and then hang up.I get an idea, which is far better than a return walk to Gjusta, or an even more harrowing return drive in the dark, imagining the headlines:“Bad Driver Triggers Terrible Car Accident Going Back For A Book”Dr. M will be home [...]

"The Only Reality We Know"


Sometimes, when you write a lot – as I seem to require myself to do – you are confronted by subjects you know nothing about.  This presented “Visit to Ignorance” elicits three responsive possibilities.  (I don’t really know if there are three.  That was a personally challenging “Leap of Faith.”)One available option:  You can rethink writing about subjects you know nothing about, sticking instead to topics on which you are, at least minimally, conversant.  Two, you can preemptively acknowledge your limitations, following that forthright disclaimer with thoughtful, although speculative, opinion.  Or three, you can blithely ignore your demonstrable ignorance, forging aggressively ahead – Remind you of anyone? – as if you were factually knowledgeable.     (Note:  Please forgive the excessive wordiness.  I am currently listening to this erudite dual-biography entitled Churchill and Orwell and, like allthe books I listen to, its literary approach seems to appropriate my patois.  Thiscautioning alert will hopefully return me to “Me” writing.)     I’m a “Middle” kind of a guy.  (There.  I’m back.)  So I shall select the middle solution:  Ignorance.  With a perspective.I am thinking about the burgeoning numbers – I read an estimated figure of 41,000 – of homeless people populating the streets of Los Angeles, one of the largest communities residing – if that is not too lofty a descriptive – half a mile from my house, in the square block around Gold’s Gym.  (I have been told that’s because Gold’s Gym in not a personal residence, so there are no irate homeowners to vociferously complain.)Anyway, it’s a problem.  I imagine there are many reasons people are homeless – economic displacement, debilitating addiction, untreated psychological difficulties and skyrocketing housing costs, to name four, although I am sure there are others.Still, sometimes, you hear of people marching to their own liberated drummer who deliberately choosehomelessness, so as to be unencumbered by personal possessions, conventional mores and burdening obligations, people determined to live, unconventionally, exactly the way that they want to.It is tempting to generate commercial entertainment out of such street-dwelling individualists, partly because they sound more like cultural “rebels” than scary people you are afraid to pass on the sidewalk, partly because voluntary homelessness is less generically depressing, but most significantly because it’s a unique and interesting story, the mythical “Man Bites Dog” of the homeless milieu.And therein lies the difficulty.It is inherent in the unearthing of “good stories” to chronicle “the interesting exceptions.”  Writers thrive on such provocative material; studios and producers bet on their hefty box-office possibilities.  A compelling narrative, deviating dramatically from the norm – catnip for “creatives”, and tempting “Cha-Ching” for the slavering “auspices.” How “seductively irresistible” can you get?The thing is,You make “colorful exceptions” (virtually) the only stories audiences receive, and they appear – by literally “The Process of Elimination” – to be the only stories there are.And therefore factually representative of “The Truth.”Exceptions Mistakable As Prototypes:– The independent homeless person demanding to live life on their own terms.  – The crusading deaf person refusing a possibly curative operation, fearing such actions might fuel the belief that hearing is generically “better” than nothearing.– The SVU series, and their like, sending the message, through literally thousands of episodes, that no one – especially in big cities – everreturns home un-shot and unmonkeyed with.The consequence of confusing “juicy” narratives with “The Truth”?I pass a homeless person and I refrain from giving them a dollar,Fearing I might pos[...]

"Understanding The Difference"


I have two guns in my house.One of them is the classic “A Christmas Story”-renowned “You’ll shoot your eye out, Kid” Daisy“Air Rifle” I received some years back for my birthday because they knew I would like it and I did.  The other is a real-looking Colt ’45 procured from a “Gun Shop” in an oft-used location “Cowboy Town” in Tucson Arizona, delivered to me by a friend who got detained at the Tucson airport for five hours after announcing he was bringing it onto the plane.  He got a big “Thank you” that one.Neither of these guns actually shoots, the duplicate six-gun because it was never intended to shoot, the pistols, designed specifically for “Extras” uninvolved in the gun-blazing action, and the “Air Rifle” because you have to buy “B B’s” to load into it and I have no intention of doing so.   My possession of them represents the “Grown-Up” extension of the pretend arsenal I enthusiastically assembled as a kid.  Call me the David Koresh of “Unusable Weaponry.”I won’t hide it.I had a terrible – or wonderful, depending on how you look at it –“Toy Gun” fetish.An attachment to weapons is a demonstrable “Cultural Divide.”  “Some does and some doesn’t.”  It is all “the way you grew up.”  Here’s the way Igrew up:I was enamored of cowboys.  Cowboys always packed “shootin’ irons.”“Cowboy Earl” – therefore – packed “shootin’ irons.” Though not justcowboy guns.  I had a “Flash Gordon ‘Smoke Ray Gun’.”  (I believe it shot baking powder.)  I had a “Potato Gun.”  (Which is self-explanatory, except to say it did not shoot whole potatoes; you had to chop them up first.)  I had a gun that shot rubber bands.  And, I recall, another that shot rice.  I was also impressively armed with a World War Two machine-gun-simulating “Burp Gun”, whose mere appearance had opposing adversaries fleeing the battlefield. But my unparalleled favorites were my “Cisco Kid’s”, my “Roy Rogers’s” and my “Hopalong Cassidy’s.” (The lasttwo were both “Two-Gun ‘rigs’”, if you will pardon the patois.)(The single exception in my “Absolute Favorites” collection was a replica “Snub Nose ‘38’”, the preference of “Private Dick” Peter Gunn – Peter Gunn; can you believe it?)  That one looked so real you were banned from carrying it into banks, its mere appearance triggering the frightened emptying of tills.  (I’d like to think.)  The “38” did not shoot rollsof caps.  Instead, you loaded a flat, six-cap “circle” into the… whatever in real guns you slip the shells into; as you can see, I am minimally conversant with the actual arena.  After you fired off six shots, you had to dig out the “spent” cap circle, and then judiciously reload.  Like with actual firearms!!!Sorry.  I got a little excited there for a second.  Okay, here’s the first “turn.” My undisguised passion for ersatz weaponry never once made me consider buying an actual firearm.  The accompanying caveat (from legitimate “gun people”, not lily-livered liberals):  You buy a gun – you have to be willing to use it.  I shall give this itsown line, for particular emphasis:That is never going to happen.(My favorite line in that regard.  A Jewish infantryman’s in the front lines, not firing his gun at the advancing enemy.  His superior runs up, shouting, “Shoot!  Shoot!”  To which the Hebraic soldier replies,  “Are you crazy?  There are peopleare there!”)Many parents do not believe this, but I am a living and breathing example that it’s true.  When it comes to firearms or any“playthings of aggression”, I am – and always have been – unwaveringly clear on the difference between the “unreal” and the “real.”  I had an abounding enthusiasm for toy store weaponry.  As for the real k[...]

"Snob Appeal"


Aside from the most important issue – the “outed” perpetrators of sexual misconduct finally getting what they deserve; I literally salivate when justice prevails; it is not a pretty sight – I am happy to experience the refreshing range of commentarial reaction, speaking to modulated responses and the punishment fitting the crime, as well as the hotly clashing evaluations.One (female) commentator, although totally on board with the movement, decried a sign she saw at a recent downtown rally that read,“Women are the Future!”I would hope that was just a matter of “Signs don’t do ‘Nuance.’” Otherwise, I have no place in the “Future.”  I have tried gaining reentry into the past but they will not let me back in.  And the present’s, like, “Oops, it’s gone.”  Where exactly am I supposed to go?  (By the way, my daughter Anna’s “Reality television is ruining my government.” demonstrates protest signs’ more imaginative capabilities.  It can be done.)Anyway, the spectrum of generated perspectives – after the universally acknowledged “You can’t dothat!” – is both provocative and welcome.And then there’s thisguy.Help me out here.  Am I missing the point?  Or is there a serious glitch in the communication?Charles McNulty, the lead L.A. Times theater critic recently weighed in on the thorny issue of… you know, you appreciate their work but you deplore their personal behavior.(See:  Curb Your Enthusiasm in which a stranger mercilessly berates Larry for whistling Wagner.  (Known as one of Hitler’s favorite composers.) It’s an interesting question.  But it seems to me Charles McNulty misses the boat, captaining a craft I should happily see sink.Unless it is me missing the boat, McNulty seems to suggest that the “Great Ones”, although not deserving an outright “pass”, shouldreceive a comparatively lighter punitive consequence.“Give geniuses a break” he appears to be arguing.  At least, that’s what I got out of it.Studying their writings, McNulty discovers that (1984’s) George Orwell and (iconic film critic) Pauline Kael made unequivocal homophobic pronouncements.  But… they were George Orwell and Pauline Kael.  Meaning, quoting McNulty:“These homophobic nuggets didn’t change my thinking about these great writers, who have too much intelligence and flair to be reduced to their worst statements.”On the other hand,“James Toback’s films aren’t in my Netflix queue.  I never mistook Kevin Spacey for one of the greats.”So what is he saying?  Hang Toback and Spacey for being miscreants with the misfortune of having limited ability but keep Orwell and Kael in the rotation?What exactly is the connection?I’m just asking…Some illuminating examples on the non-Toback, non-Spacey side of the ledger:“Ben Jonson, a playwright second only to Shakespeare {who} killed an actor is duel… is not simply the slayer of a fellow theatrical.  He is also the self-taught playwright of prodigious classical learning, Shakespeare’s champion and a heck of a funny farceur.”“Sure, he killed a guy.  But he’s funny!”  (“And it was only an actor!”)Jumping to the historicalarena – where it involves sculpture – concerning Confederate Civil War statues, which he believes should be consigned to museums, McNulty goes on to conclude,“… I might feel differently if they were wrought by someone on the level of Michelangelo or Giacometti.”“Leonardo Da Vinci does ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.”To be sure, McNulty does offer a clarifying disclaimer:“… let me state categorically that I have no interest in furthering the careers of rapists, predators, racists and homophobes.”Then immediately subverts that assertion with,“But if evidence turns up that Shakespeare was a sadistic creep, I trust that we will still appreciate “Hamlet”, “King Lear” and “The Tempest.”Before finally “loweri[...]

"A Sitcom Character's Explosive Revelation"


Picked up by my brain, though I believe there was actual telepathy involved.  The following are the roiling ruminations of a ictional entity working in the television business – “Multi-Camera Sitcom Division” – who shall remain nameless to protect his identity.  I must be assiduously careful here.  Even using the masculine pronoun puts him in precarious jeopardy.  All I can say is he is a working sitcom character who fears he may be losing his mind.  I know that because his transmitted communication begins,I may be losing my mind.I am a sitcom character on a successful television series.  Before that… was I anything?  I don’t know.  But like all sitcom characters, the recognized “End of the Line “ is “Cancellation.”  So here I am.  In a world that, for me, though apparently not others, is starting to frighteningly unravel.  My fellow co-workers appear unfazed by their predicament.  They actually seem happy.  Me?  I’m a congenital questioner.  Which translates in this particular arena as the notorious “Kiss of Death” – “Difficult.”They tell me to “Go with the flow.”  But more and more, my existence makes sense, less and less.Some things, I have learned to live with.  I have come to terms with the fact that I am forbidden to leave a room without first making a joke, which keeps changing till they discover a funny one.  So what?  I’ll do it.  And I am basically okay with the fact that, despite buffeting conditions in the middle, at “Fade Out”, like a tightly sprung door, the situation reverts right back to where it started.  Nothing substantially changes in our world.  Including our wardrobe.  I have four shirts that are regularly rotated.  Except for parties, I have just one pair of shoes.Also – and this really bugs me though it apparently disturbs nobody else and when I mention it they give me that “Talking to a six year-old” look with “What’s the matter with him?” undertones.Okay, here it is.  You tell me if I’m crazy.There is this small room on each level of our “residence” containing a porcelain fixture with water in it.  And I have no idea what that’s for?We’re in our Fifth Season and no one has used the thing once.There is a lot of stuff like that that annoys the heck out of me but rolls off everyone else’s back.  For example, when we address another character, why do we keep saying their names?  “You know, Cindy…” I don’t get it.  She knows who she is.  Iknow who she is.  Often, we are the only people in the room so is no doubt who I’m referring to.Why do we keep mentioning their names?“Now hold on, Samantha…”“Do not use that superior tone with me, M…”Whoa!  I almost “blew my cover” there.  If they – and do not ask me who “they” are because I have no idea.  I do know, if they knew I was feeling this way, I would play out the rest of the season, and next year, there’d be a new M… a new actor playing my part.  This is not paranoia.  Word is, Kevin Can Wait killed off his wife and The King of Queens’ old wife’s suddenly back in the picture.  I’m tellin’ ya, this stuff actually happens!   One final “annoyance” before it’s back to the salt mines.Almost every episode since we moved out of “Family Hour” – and occasionally even before – there’s this inevitable dialogue, where – and it’s usually the guy who says this so it affects me directly – they’ll say something like,“Hey, Paula – there’s that “saying their name” again – “… the kids are asleep.  Feel like going upstairs and… y’know...”And I have no idea what “y’know” means. “Feel like going upstairs and rearranging the bedroom furniture?”“Feel like going upstairs and reading Moby-Dick to each other?”[...]

"An Uncharacteristic Ray Of Sunshine"


Quite often, during one of my walks, ideas for interesting (to me) blog posts come to my mind.  That is not the reason I walk.  I walk for exercise.  I walk to get outside.  (It is February, but it is not Canada.)  I walk because, at the moment at least, my legs remain a reliable part of my anatomy.  I walk to celebrate “They work!”  But sometimes – and this is the reason I never wear headphones out of the house  (aside from the fact that my ears may alert me to oncoming dangers my eyes, though doing their best, are chronically unable to detect) with an unhampered brain open for business, interesting illuminations enter my mind, many of which later appear on these blogatorial pages.    But not this morning.  Why?  Because I am trying to memorize the lyrics of the latest song I am learning on the piano, the process of memorizing commandeering my consciousness as, wearing headphones, iTunes had appropriated my ear canals. It’s a tough song.  I mean, it’s not Sondheim complicated, which… I do not know how they learn that.   Fortunately, I am not enamored of Sondheim.  I get enough“ambivalence” in actual life.What it is is a hauntingly plaintive ballad called “I’m Not Lisa”, written by Jessi Colter.  (Yes, I am learning a “Girl’s Song.”  Why?  Because I likeit.)  Another way a song’s lyrics can be tricky to internalize involves the use of challenging similar wordings, making it tough to remember exactly which wordings go where.  In this case, you have “sunlight” – twice – as well as “rising sun”, as well as “morning light.”A nineteen-line song, and they mention a variation of “that really hot thing in the sky” four times. I mean, come on, “Country Girl.”  That’s not “homespun lyric writing”, that’s “Try harder.”  (Overall General Belief:  Lyric writing is more difficult than melody writing.  A tune can materialize in one piece.  In the extended effort of lyric writing, your brain sometimes unhelpfully intervenes.)So I am learning the words, struggling to distinguish “sun light” from “rising sun”, deciding finally to give up and go home and double-check when I realize I am on the last “leg” of my walk and no inspiring post ideas have yet come to me due to the blocking impediment of “hick-writing” laziness.  (Or a “stylistic motif” that has successfully wrestled me to the ground.)The thing is, once I decided I would not be mastering those lyrics on that particular sojourn, my mind was once again freed up.  And wouldn’t you know it?  And idea suddenly came to me.Not actually an “idea”, per se, or pari pasu.  (I do not know what that means; it just felt like per se could use company.)   What I experienced was a re-thinking of a previous idea, now seen from an altered perspective. No lie.  (Or self-serving rationalization.)  An idea from a rejiggered perspective feels refreshingly new.I have mentioned on earlier occasions – probably numerous earlier occasions – that, although I would like to write more about my television-writing career, somehow, considering the length of time I put into it, a relatively few number of recollections seem to come readily to mind.  I have in the past chalked that up to a form of benign by similar-generated  “PTSD”, the shuddering shocks and anxieties triggering “Anecdotal Amnesia.”Years ago, I didchronicle a biographical record of my experiences in fifty or so successive posts entitled, “Story Of A Writer.”  But after that, the torrent of intriguing “War Stories” dropped to a veritable trickle.  True dat.  A once roaring river is now cracked and crumbling terrain.It is possible I used them all up in that prodigious exercise, but I doubt it.  Others are l[...]

Actual Names (And Otherwise) - Can You Guess Which Are Which?"


I shall dispense with the traditional setup.  The idea reemerged in my consciousness when I heard on TV of this American Revolutionary Era guy named Charles Lynch, whose meted-out “unauthorized punishments” are considered the source of the deplorable term, “Lynching.”  I am saying it’s real.Surnames reflecting a characteristic behavior entering the vernacular as commonly used nouns, verbs and grammatical descriptives and, not unusually, all three.  I shall demonstrate how pervasively typical this phenomenon is by confining myself to a constricted category of consideration:  People’s names transformed into words related specifically – since it is currently in the air – to infant babies.   I can dothis.  (I think.)Are you ready?Let’s ride!Olivia Preemie – When she arrived at every party she was ever invited to, her hosts were invariably still in the shower.  Francois Bassinette– Who, for reasons never fully explained, would sleep, curled up in a miniature wicker-walled crib.  (See Also:  Jeremy Crib, who never slept in a bed without sides, though it was later discovered he had furtively “Cribbed” the idea from somebody else.)  Balthazar Cuddly(originally “Cudleigh”) – Habitually cozied up to anyone who… well pretty much anyone.  Surprisingly, nobody actually seemed to object.Marcel Diaper(pronounced “D’ya-pay”) – An embarrassing “Plumbing Problem” prompted the invention of disposal underwear.Horatio Onesey – Exhibited a congenital aversion to the separation of shirts and pants.Jennifer Swaddle – No one has ever seen her appendages.Abigail Snoozer – Whose problem, contrasting with insomnia, was staying awake.  (Not to be confused with Lydia Slumber, whose name alone could send you happily to “Slumberland.”) Vladimir Poop – An unwelcome visitor to the nose who later turned lemons to lemonade, commanding a court-imposed royalty when anyone says, “Did you ‘Poop’?”  (And now I owe him.)Marianne Rattle – As long as anyone can remember people have always been able to hear Marianne coming.Winifred Drooling– Whose rare medical condition led people to a continual gesturing to her chin and a simulation of “daubing.”  ("Kissing' Cousins" with Sandra Dribble.)Genvieve Bootez (later Anglicized to “Bootie”) – Rain or shine, Mademoiselle Boutez habitually wore nothing but diminutive, woolen footwear.  (On her feet.  I’m not saying she was naked, except for the “Booties.”)    Cicily Throwup – Who never left home without a stack of precautionary paper bags. Nicholas Cutiepie – Who maintained well into old age a congenital “Baby-Face”, though it was considered more adorable on babies, even by Cutiepie himself.Joe Burp – Who could never finish a sentence without the gastric interjection that now and forever bears his name.Isabel Pacifier (Hashtag: “Izzy-Pass”) – Her mere presence could bring calm to even the fussiest situations.  Ludwig Von Breastmilk– Who does not technically belong here as his name per se is not associated with the natural nutrient.  Besides, upon “Coming of Age”, he legally changed it to “Ludwig Von Breitmuller” because “I got fed up with ze joking.”  I just thought I would throw it in.  ­ Auguste Purell – Who claimed he could see germs. And there you have it.  Admittedly, not all these examples are real.  But none of them?  That’s like saying none of the president’s sexual misconduct accusers are telling the truth.  Would you want to put money on that?[...]

"A Man Moves On And I Remember A Moment"


Writer/director Hugh Wilson passed away a while back.  I recall him as a soft-spoken Southerner with a wife named Charters.  Two things I had never experienced before. I met Hugh at the Mary Tyler Moore operation, where he co-ran The Tony Randall Show (with Gary Goldberg) and I served as occasional scriptwriter and consultant.  (Only on the episodes I wrote.  It was a way of making more money without my working full time or the company paying me more for my scripts.  Which they admitted I deserved but could only provide via the “backdoor bookkeeping” of consultancy.  They said I didn’t even have to show up.  But I did, because I would not take extra money for my scripts by not showing up to consult.)More on our occasional working relationship shortly.  (I am saving that for the end, a spontaneous determination that I hope will work out.)But first, acknowledging mentions of two noteworthy TV contributions, one, because it was one of the funniest moments in half-hour comedy, the other, because it was a spectacular series that lasted one season.First…The (!978) “Turkey’s Away” episode Hugh wrote WKRP in Cincinnati.”  (Which he created.)As a promotional extravaganza WKRP’s idiot owner arranges to have a Thanksgiving “Helicopter Drop” of complimentary turkeys.  With the expected consequence.  Except for the hapless idiot station owner, who ultimately laments,“As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”Second…Memorable for a totally different reason, the short-lived comedy Frank’s Place (1987-88), which Hugh Wilson also created.Frank’s Place concerned a highly educated African-American professor working at an Ivy League university “up North” who inherits and winds up, not entirely enthusiastically, running a family-owned restaurant/bar way down yonder in New Orleans.At that time, there were very few sitcoms filmed without a live studio audience.  But the nuances and subtleties of Frank’s Place required that more intimate approach.  Going its own way technologically, Frank’s Placealso provided insight not only into character – which sitcom, superficially or otherwise, doesn’t? – it also provided illuminating glimpses into contemporary culture and race, sometimes – soon to be referred to in the following paragraph – lesser-known racial issues of the “in-house” variety.In the episode “Frank Joins the Club”, viewers learn that in the New Orleans of the time, distinctions were made in some circles concerning “degrees of blackness” through the auspices of the “paper bag” test, the dividing “Class Line” determined by an individual’s being lighter or darker-skinned than the color of a typical, brown paper bag.After its cancellation, I made it a point to call up Hugh Wilson and invite him to (a showily expensive) lunch, where I could effusively gush about Frank’s Place in person and bemoan the world’s lacking appreciation of it.  It was a little embarrassing, that lunch.  We were not really that close.  And yet I had to do it.  Somehow, I urgently identified with Hugh’s creative efforts, even if there were no similar, courageous breakthroughs coming from me.  I guess I just liked consorting with “brave” and “exceptional.”  (Hoping something might rub off.)Okay, now that otherthing, remembered not judgmentally but as a reflection of “Divergence of Cultures.”We get back from a Tony Randall Show runthrough.  It is now time for the arduous rewrite.   Before we get down to business, however, Hugh produces a bottle of… I don’t know what – something alcoholic and Southern.  In what appears to have been a show rewrite-night ritual, Hugh pours generous glasses of this unidentifiable – to me – brown liquid, and all the assembled writers a[...]

"When They Do It Right..."


… it shines like glistening crystal.Just a brief tip of the cap to two creative efforts I recently encountered that handle their storytelling as skillfully as I have ever experienced it... being handled.  I do storytelling myself, you know, and, as you have probably noticed, when I wrinkle my critical nose up at presentations whose storylines display jarring inconsistencies and/or cavernous loopholes – undervaluing in the process their subtler attributes and then I have to go back, belatedly according them their underestimated due – nevertheless – if that grammatically scans – incorrectly or merely subjectively, I value the element of “Story” above all other considerations.For me, it is not Deutschland but “Story” that is indisputably uber alles.  (Sorry, there are no umlauts on my computer.)  Although elegant phrases are good too.I am currently listening (on CD) to Iron Marshal, written by western novelist extraordinaire Louis L’Amour.  (Twelve of whose works have been turned into movies or miniseries.  Why are they so appealing for adaptation?  They do not have to fix the story.)I needed a break from a book describing how the doctors’ mistaken medical practices of the day did in the seriously wounded President Garfield – at his trial, the assassin ludicrously but justifiably proclaimed in his defense, “I shot the president; but it was the doctors who killed him!” – I turned to the lighter reading of western fiction.  And I was joyfully rewarded.Having just completed listening to “Disc 4” (out of a total complement of six), I find myself – spoken like “Gabby” Hayes – smack dab in the middle of the ripsnortin’-est yarn you y’ever laid eyes on.  (Or headphone-ed ears, for that matter.)  And what stands majestically out is the storytelling.  You know the story is good when, just as you begin wondering about something, the lead character (in this case) wonders exactly same thing.  There is no, “The reader will never think of that.”  L’Amour covers all the hypothetical bases.  The plot entirely holds water.     Speaking of that last word, L’Amour also includes some colorful metaphors, the most colorful, for me, being – and I don’t know if this is common parlance out West or if L’Amour made it up – but describing a character’s limitless courage, he writes,“He’d face hell with a pail of water.”Well-crafted story.  Memorable turns of phrase.  And there goes my cap.“Tip.”And then yesterday, accompanying (six year-old) Milo and (three-and-three- quarters year-old) Jack, we saw Paddington Bear 2.Same thing again.Rock-solid storytelling.You would imagine the writers might say,“It’s for kids.  How assiduous do we have to be with the story?”But somehow, in my experience, “Kids Movies” appear to be more assiduous.Are there any loopholes in Dumbo?Dubious scat-singing crows, perhaps, but inconsistencies you can drive a proverbial truck through?No.  It seems predominantly in “Grown-Up Movies” that they obscure stupefying illogic with gratuitous nudity, gore-festive violence and ponderous “Inner Meaning.”  (Which you might have you put in yourselfbecause it may not actually be there.)Paddington 2’s technique, blending “drawn” bears that look real with real actors who look drawn?I don’t know how they do that, and it is seriously impressive.  But folks, it don’t mean a thing of the storyline “Shtings.”  (An obscure reference to a six year-old camper I once counselored who, in a mandatory letter to his parents wrote, “Camp shtings!”)Judging by the eventual butt-fidgeting of my youthful companions, Paddington 2 was a few minutes too long.  (Suggestion:  Testing kids’ movies that way.  [...]

"The (Technological) Tail Wagging The (Writerly) Dog"


Years ago, at an earlier juncture in our technological development, I attended a Neil Simon play, a man deservedly famous for his punchy, hilarious one-liners.  The play was one of his later, more serio-comical offerings, and as the performance ensued, the play’s central character, “The Mother”, related an extended anecdote, concerning a memorable moment in her life.  It went on for about ten minutes.Somewhere around the seven or eight minute mark, I leaned over to my theatergoing companion and whispered,“Neil Simon got a computer.”That’s what happens.  Inevitably.  Which should probably appear in the previous sentence but I was unsure where to put it so I made it separate.  Can you imagine if I were chiseling this on stone – at a time when the phrase “It’s not written in stone” made no reasonable sense – I write, “That’s what inevitably happens”, then have second thoughts, believing it should actuallybe, “That’s inevitably what happens”?  I’d have to throw out that tablet and begin the arduous chiseling process again, an activity substantially more frustrating had the troubling phrase arrived in the final sentence of the document.  “You can’t just shave off the bottom of the tablet?”“No!”I chisel the whole thing again, and then belatedly think, “That’s what inevitable happens” or “That iswhat inevitably happens”?  Should my conundrum compel me to make that “essential” adjustment – Say hello to “Stone Tablet Number Three.”By the way, it is unnecessary to go back to Cave Times.  It was the same issue with typewriters.Which was considerably more recently.You proofread a page, you notice a “typo”, or see something to take out, or think of something to put in, or move someplace else, and that offending page is inexorably destined for the trash bin.  And then the revised page totally retyped.STONE WRITER:  “At least it’s not the entire thing!"We are busier people!  For us, a page is a lifetime!  It was terrible.  There was no “Cut and Paste.”  No “Deleting” backspacing.  No “Copy” and “Insert.”STONE WRITER:  “Poor baby.”(To “Stone Writer”)  Go chisel your own blog!Once a young writer on a show I was consulting on asked me what it was like before computers.  To which I sexistly replied, “We had women.”Which was true.  During rewrite nights, teams of rotating “secretaries” typed up the revised pages, and if we decided on subsequent changes, they’d retype them again.  And again.And again,And, if necessary,Again.With computers, we now revise everything ourselves.  In a system where it is exponentially easier to rewrite.Today’s Headline: “Technology Intrinsically Affects Writing.”Hammering a tablet with a chisel decrees a significantly different creative result than writing with a feather.  Or than writing with a pen.  Or than typing on a typewriter.  Or than what I am tapping away on right now.Imagine Thomas Jefferson, “feathering” the Declaration of Independence.  He hands the completed version to John Adams who reads it and says, “Uh-oh.  It’s ‘unalienable rights’, not ‘inalienable rights.’”  Jefferson digs in his heels; the contentious descriptive remains in perpetuity.  In later years, Jefferson and Adams became mortal enemies.  Ideological differences?  Perhaps.  But there are outlier scholars who believe that their mutual animosity began when Adams demanded the “re-feathering” of the entire Declaration of Independence, replacing “inalienable” with the actually-a-word “unalienable” and Thomas Jefferson scatologically replied,“Go commit an inspeakable sexual act upon yourself!”[...]

"Would Ya?"


I met this guy on the Internet by mistake.   (There are better stories to write involving this setup but they would, unfortunately, be fiction.  For better or worse, I am stuck with limiting reality.)I had emailed a friend, thanking him for making the cursor on my computer bigger.  (And has that ever upgraded my joie de vivre!  My original request was “Is there a way to make the cursor on my computer red?”  There apparently isn’t, so making it bigger is the next best thing, if you have trouble finding the cursor, which I invariably do.  “A red cursor.”  Isn’t that a sensible idea?  If you invent one, send me a dollar for stealing it from me.  Plus, simple instructions for making it red.  Thank you.)  The Internet stranger I met my mistake – who knew a good friend of mine from Toronto – asked if I’d be willing to meet for coffee to casually chew the fat concerning my luminous career.  Okay, before I move forward,Okay, before moving forward – Pick one.“They’re both the same.”I don’t think so.Let us explore the popular maxim:“It doesn’t hurt to ask.”Dollars to donuts, the person who concocted that fakakta maxim was not the person who was being asked.Who it, in fact, not always but often,  Does hurt.Suddenly, through not fault of their own and entirely out of the blue, the accosted “Askee” is on the defensive.  They have to make a decision as to whether to comply, a decision they were entirely unburdened by before the person who believes it doesn’t hurt to ask – and they are right if they are the “Asker” – put them there.Not all requests, of course, are equally troublesome.  Someone on the street asks you directions, what would it hurt to give them to them?  (Unless they are inaccurate directions, in which case it hurts the person ending up going the wrong way.  In that case, saying (a polite) “No” to their request is more considerate than saying “Yes”, although, for some, this is surprisingly difficult to pull off.  In England, where good manners are a national obsession, people will happily dispatch you on frustrating “wild goose chases” rather than “rudely” denying their (mis)directional services.  Oh, the places I’ve been!  Noneof them where I originally wanted to go.) Imagine, by provocative contrast, this potential creepy scenario:TWO STRANGERS MEET IN A BAR.  A PERIOD OF ‘SMALL TALK”, AND THEN THIS:“Would you like to come back to my apartment?’“No, thank you.”Usually the appropriate – or at least reasonable – okay, potentially possible – response when two strangers meet in a bar.  Still, consider the unwanted pressure triggered by that unbidden requirement to say, “No.”The bon vivant “Asker” feels great.  They courageously “took a shot.”  They might even feel righteously indignant.“Oh!  Ms. ‘Too good to come back to my apartment!’”Crossing the line from “suggestion” to “borderline harassment.”  Depending on the situation – and the mode of the approach – “It doesn’t hurt to ask” is a felony posing as a request.“It doesn’t hurt to ask”?It can.  And, annoying often, it does.  But don’t try to explain that the “Asker.”They “innocently” haven’t got a clue.Well.I feel like a man pulling a lingering thumbtack out of his butt:“I have been meaningto get around to that for some time.”Unfortunately, I have run out of time for what I started to write about.Wait, I’ll go fast.I was concerned that this person I met by mistake on the Internet was going to ask me to read something they had written.  It turned out he was great and had no such intentions in mind.  But, yo[...]

"Use It, Or It Unquestionably Uses YOU"


February Fourth – which is my birthday – passed two days ago.  And how ‘bout that Super Bowl! (Writer’s Note:  I have no idea what I’m talking about, as this was written more than a week earlier.  Still, “How ‘bout that Super Bowl” can be read a lot of different ways, from giddy excitement to grumpy disappointment.  Select the appropriate reaction, and move on.)I go through this detectable cycle around my birthday.  Externally, it appears I am depressed, which may actually correspond to how I feel internally.  (Where do you think these things come from?)  But then there’s this change, which seems to transpire all by itself, and which I am only awareof through my behavior.  (The “Outside-Inside” type of psychology, similar to the English system of acting where, stick on an “Admiral’s Hat” and you’re Horatio Nelson.Every year, I determine to be “low profile” about my birthday.  No fuss.  No excitement.  The thing’s happening; I can’t stop it.  Just take a low-key approach and try to get through it.  Tomorrow, it’s somebody else’s birthday, and we’re done.But then, invariably, thishappens.The morning of a recently past birthday – I take a walk by the beach, stopping at Cora’s for coffee.  And the first words out of my mouth after placing my order are,“It’s my birthday!”Accompanied by an elevating grin.So much for “low profile.”Compounding the evidence of my conflicting “mixed feelings”, when recently asked what I wanted for my upcoming birthday, I definitively laid down the law:“Just immediate family, hotdogs-and-hamburger barbecue, weather permitting.  And a crown.”You see what I’m talking about?  The preamble is “funereal disaster.”  The day arrives, and it’s “Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee!”Unless you’re dogs, you only get one birthday a year.  (They, apparently, get seven.)  You cannot allow it to slip by.  One of my favorite birthdays ever, my daughter Anna took me to Disneyland, where they had this promotional campaign – now, sadly, abandoned – in which visitors arriving on their birthday got in free.  Not only that,they gave you this giant button with your name on it, leading every passing Disneyland employee to call out,“Happy Birthday, Earl!”And not just“Earl.”  Because of the telltale “Birthday Buttons”, you got to meet and greet everyone else there born on that day.I don’t know if we are an astrologically “cool” population, but the “Co-Birthdayers” I ran into seemed equally terrific.  There was even talk of a reunion!  Still, “Uh-oh.  Here comes “The Worm in the Birthday Cake.”Despite the celebratory overtones (eschewing the more cynical “celebratory veneer” – so there!), what can I tell you?For years – starting around age sixty – I imagined each ensuing birthday as another block placed atop an increasingly teetering stack.There is only one way thatcan end. I just sighed.  (Optimists simultaneously shaking their heads.)The thing is – and I shall restrict it to writing – I do not want to “Write ‘Old’.”  (If I actually have a choice, which I, in fact, may not.)I am aware, evidenced by your emailed responses, that a preponderance of my readership – bordering possibly on everyone – falls into the demographic who members of a younger demographic politely get up and offer us their seats on the bus to.  (To which I curiously respond, “Do I really look that terrible?”)  A predictable cohort, comparing “medical scares” at casual outings, and saying, “You know who died?”  (Note:  If I am off-base about this, my humble a[...]

"Then - 'Just Thinking'', In Retrospect"


I could not let go of that commemorative birthday picture just yet.A little background.Literally.Towering behind me – if a two-floor edifice can “tower” – is the local public school, Glen Rush Elementary.  Never destined to do anything the easy way, I was not slated to attend that nearby hallowed house of Lower Education.  I was, however, frequently seen diagonaling my away across its schoolyard on my way over to Bathurst Street, where I picked up the bus, heading north to the transplanted Baycrest Avenue Toronto Hebrew Day School, a half-hour’s travel time, rather than the less than a minute it would have taken me to trek to Glen Rush.  The superannuated southern incarnation of the Toronto Hebrew Day School I’d once attended had been even furtherfrom my house, requiring transferring bus, subway and streetcar transportation – and of course the opposite on the return trips.  That commute took closer to an hour.And yet – he reports with a nostalgic quiver – the boy in that picture, and one even a year or two younger, was, as were his classmates, permitted to navigate Toronto’s transportation system alone.  No fear of possible abduction or sexual misconduct.The most bizarre event involving those solo commute was that every day for an entire year, on my way home from the downtown Brunswick Avenue Toronto Hebrew Day School, an inexplicably friendly middle-aged woman working in the kiosk at the College Street subway station gave me a large, free cup of Orange Soda.What was sheangling for, I wonder?  Anyway, the next year she was gone, perhaps, like those miscreant priests, judiciously relocated to another kiosk, or – more likely – she had been summarily cashiered for dispensing unpaid-for Orange Soda.  I remember, first day of school the following year, standing hopefully in front of the counter, my benefactor’s clueless replacement greeting me with an uncomprehending blank stare.REPLACMENT KIOSK ATTENDANT:  “Why are you looking at me?”The bungalow pictured behind me belonged to the Bluvols.  Patriarch Al had once screamed at me and my mother – actually just her but I had been present to witness the frightening tirade – for buying our new Chevrolet Bel Air from a dealership other than the one at which Al Bluvol sold Chevrolets.  (Our car – and his own Chevrolet Impala – were actually jointly bought by my Uncle Irving, who was unacquainted with Al Bluvol.  In a just world Al Bluvol would be screaming red-facedly at him.  But we were living next door.  And it is not a just world.)So that’s the background.No, wait.  A little more background:The covering blanket of slippery snow.And now, the foreground.  If this snapshot (taken by I have no idea whom) were an incomparable work of art it might well be entitled:“Cold Boy, With Hockey Stick.”Or, more specifically – although how many officionados of art would actually care: “Cold Boy, With GoalieStick.”Let me say, straight out – I like that boy!First of all, I’m outside.  No.  First of all, it’s me.  Second of all, I’m outside.Technical Note:  Photography – even today – is unable to record wind.  I mean, look how flat it is behind me.  (And, with topographical consistency, in front of me, as well.)  Those winter blasts must have been gusting.  And yet – burly Canadian that I am – Ihaven’t even fastened my earflaps!   Third of all, reflecting the Earl of my past,I was holding a goalie stick!The right way!  (And slightly raised from the ground, keeping the penetrating slush from insidiously cracking the blade.)I had deliberately askedfor that goalie stick – not a[...]

"Earl Pomerantz Is 73 (On Sunday)"


Caption the following photo, eschewing the traditional commemorative snapshot showcasing my deepening creases and receding hairline:“The Puck Stops Here”May I face the future As boldlyAs the hotshot goalie I once imagined myself to be. (Or imagine now I imagined I was.)[...]

"Duly Elected"


This is one of those posts in which I am hoping, in the process of developing it, to figure out why exactly I am bothering.  Sometimes it happens that way.  Okay, here we go.Not long ago, Major League Baseball announced the list of its latest inductees  entering Cooperstown’s revered and hallowed “Hall of Fame.” Covering the highly anticipated announcement, the chosen honorees are described as having ascendedto the “Hall of Fame”, or having been elevatedto the “Hall of Fame”, or more mundanely, that they were elected to the “Hall of Fame”, although an echoing whisper from my University of Toronto “Comparative Religion” days reminds me that amongst early Protestants “The Elect” were people believed to have been specially anointed by God.   Which is not that mundane.This descriptive vocabulary suggests that these newly-arrived “Hall of Famers” were movin’ on up…… to heaven.Only “The Best of the Best” achieve entry into the “Hall of Fame.”  If you ignore Pete Rose, who collected more hits than any player in baseball history but was barred from inclusion because he bet on the games.  Or Barry Bonds who hit more home runs than anyone else but who, to date, has been rejected, owing to strong suspicions he used unsanctioned performance-enhancing drugs.  Or Roger Clemens, who won more Cy Young Awards as his league’s best pitcher (7), “Hall of Fame”-snubbed for a similarinfraction.  These exclusions mean that the most prolific hitter, the greatest home run slugger, and the game’s arguably all-time best pitcher are all absent from an institution dedicated to honoring baseball’s crowning participants.Even though their conspicuous absence seems perplexing – especially since racial and sexual infractions are not equally disqualifying – mybelief is that cheaters should never be rewarded, except with money, fame and beautiful girlfriends, which, I mean, whattaya gonna do?   But where you can… sidestepping the obscenity… I say, the heck with ‘em!(Should these players ultimately never be inducted, there has been the suggestion – made by me – of establishing an alternative “Asterisk‘Hall of Fame’”, where their monumental achievements would be separately celebrated.) Here’s the thing.Wait.  Here’s the thing before the thing. Halls of Fame, in anyarea of endeavor, are primarily tourist attractions.  (And remunerative “profit centers” for all concerned.)  People buy tickets to enter designated buildings, where they can check out their heroes’ “Hall”-housed memorabilia, and go,“Shaquille O’Neal’s sneaker.  That’s big!” Visitors love these places, so who am I to complain?  I myself have never been to Cooperstown but, were it not in the middle of nowhere, I’d be excited to go there.  I havevisited the revered and hallowed “HockeyHall of Fame” in reachable downtown Toronto, standing in awe before the celebrated Stanley Cup.  (Or was it a replica?  Generating replicated awe?  Which, I’d say, is better than no awe at all.) It’s just that… well…Okay, here it comes.Some people are born with more natural ability than others.  And that’s that.  The question is, why are we honoring “natural ability”?  Sure, they have it.  But they didn’t create it.  They come into the world, and there it was.Should, say, inordinate height be equally – pun, I swear to Gosh, not intended – elevated?  Should there be an exalted “Tall of Fame”?  Or, more accurately-put though arguably less amusing, “Hall of Tall”?Why not?  “I [...]

"Lost Playground"


I am not saying it was better.  I am just saying… well, youdecide.Google “Double-Talk” comedian Al Kelly’s appearance on the Ernie Kovaks Show.Imagine – because I can’t find it on Google – a vaudeville “paper hanger” routine, where the beleaguered paper hanger gets increasingly ensnared in the gluey wallpaper he is desperately trying to put up.   Google Abbott and Costello’s immortal (and, to me, incomparable) “Who’s On First” routine.To pull three examples out of the air, which, if they were wallpaper, would be sticking infuriatingly to my fingers.And speaking of fingers, Googleventriloquist Senor Wences, turning his hand into the talking head of an adorable puppet.That was comedy.Before comedy turned serious.Clarifictional Explanations:You begin with “Those were simpler times.”  You proceed to “People needed to laugh.”  (Google– I am really making you work today – the “prison ‘Movie Night’ scene” from Sullivan’s Travels.)  And you finish – considering the audiences of the past as not simpler but actually savvier – they overlooked its transparent frivolity, needing that comedy as a salving oasis from an everyday life that contradicted to the promise of justice, liberty and equality enshrined in the United States Constitution.And then came Lenny Bruce.  Whose entire comedy career was what?That the reality of people’s everyday lives contradicted the promise of justice, liberty and equality enshrined in the United States Constitution.Which was precisely what they were trying to not think about.“I came for the knockabout comedy.”“We’ve got something better – a hilarious routine on the unlawful abridgement of free speech.”‘umble Pomerantian Proposal:  People “got” the cultural hypocrisy.  They did not need comedy to remind them.  They needed comedy to cheer them up.The monopoly of “comedy as commentary” is only concerning if you are sad that “Comedy for the sake of comedy” has (virtually) entirely disappeared.  (Google Seth Meyers’s opening monologue on The Golden Globes.  And virtually every comedian since Lenny Bruce.)There is no longer a place for (Google) comedian Victor Borge’s “Inflationary Language” routine – where words, like escalating price tags, were incrementally inflated, yielding the immortal, if not conceptually accurate, “Any two for eleven-is?”(To be truly consistent, Borge should have said, “Any two five eleven-is?”  But that’s me, again at least somewhere “On The Spectrum”, a reference itself inappropriate to comedy.  Or not, if “Anything goes.”)Let me repeat, this time not in italics.I am not saying it was better when comedy was “strictly for laughs.”  I am saying, or at least asking,  “Must comedy alwaysbe a probing search for “Ultimate Truth”?   Or is there a place to just roll down your suspenders – an allusion even before my time – and laugh.How ‘bout a modern version of “comedy for comedy’s sake”?  Minus the rancid racial, gender or immigrant, et cetera, diminishing cheap shots. Consider, if you will, a contemporary “Laff-Fest”, without residual anger or “pay-back”, a nurturing distraction from, say, a brutal presidential tenure that is barely twenty-five percent over.I enjoy comedy that confronts things that matter.  At my best, maybe I have contributed that genre.  (A man in an ice cream emporium, persuading another patron to try something other than vanilla.)  But I also enjoy frivolous tomfoolery.  (Google:  {Though you probably won’t find[...]

"The Unparalleled Recipe"


I took a recess from life recently to enjoy the last minutes of the Jack Benny version of To Be Or Not To Be (1942), to be distinguished from Mel Brooks’s 1983 version, which I have not seen in its entirely because the “tirety” I have seen did not come close to equaling the taste, the “touch” or the hilarity of the glorious original.  Jack Benny displays a smoldering dominance.  Mel Brooks, by meaningful contrast, is bombastic, but after a while you get exhausted and you can’t wait for him to either lose steam – which he apparently never does – or go home, a literal “non factor” if he is performing at his house.  Then you’d have to go home.I stylistically prefer Mr. Benny, who, from my youngest recollections, was my comedic example.Also – I am coining a phrase here, perhaps not a great phrase but at least it’s original – which is the following:“Nobody does ‘Then’ better than ‘Then.’”   Hold on. Some clarifying context.To Be Or Not To Be is a comedy/drama in which a troupe of itinerant Polish actors seeks to escape the Nazis during their ravaging occupation of its capital, Warsaw.To produce such a movie during the height – actually, I think for the “Allies” it was during the depths– of the conflict took monumental courage and… Forget the nightmarish reality a moment, as it is is beyond my ability to worthily encompass.  I shall just stick to the “movie” part.A movie made when– or at least near – the time it actually depicts is suffused with the spirit, the ambiance and the sensitivity and of its era.  That’s what I meant by “Nobody does ‘Then’ better than ‘Then.’”  Forty years after the fact – as with the To Be Or Not To Be remake – you are left with only imagination, research and “worshipful homage.”  It’s not the same.But as insightful as that observation is, that is not why I decided to write about this movie.Maybe because of commercial marketing reasons – and what isn’t? – today’s movies are classified by “Type” – Comedy, Drama, “Horror” Film, Action-Adventure.  Et cetera.  Check out your cable TV listings.  That is exactly how they are categorized.  Very few movies mix the potatoes with the peas.  They instead enforce impenetrable boundaries.  From a “Sales” standpoint – and perhaps an audience standpoint, as well – that is apparently what they prefer.A movie like, say, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, you come out, you go, “They said it was a comedy” and you get angry.  You came to laugh and see a guy thrown out of a window.  The post factocorrective – “They said it was a mordantly blackcomedy’” – is rarely like, “Sorry.  My mistake.”  You feel ripped off, your unmet expectations sending home full of suppressed “Ha-ha.”Think:  “I drank my soda too fast.”  It feels annoyingly burpy.But – and here’s what you miss, demanding unwavering “genre separation” – You miss the weight, the depth and the resonance of a comedy set in a world of torturous calamity. That’s the 1942 version of To Be Or Not To Be.  Every joke and comedic “set-piece” lands like a shattering thunderbolt.The TV series M*A*S*H?Same thing.The quippy one-liners come fast and furious, fully in sync with the perilous situation.  Everything’s “short and snappy.”  The “casualty” helicopters could arrive at any moment.Every M*A*S*H joke came sheathed in the (spoken or subliminal) context:“Hey!  There’s a war on!”As compared to some of th[...]

"Deciphering The Message"


There are some things that permanently stick in your mind.  That sounds like they’re important.  Some moment of blinding insight where life’s mysteries and confusions become blindingly clear and then suddenly…  (“Oo-aah” Chorus) … you know. But sometimes, it’s something more trivial, something that, rather than being celestially illuminating, leaves you perplexingly scratching your head.By the way, the first one is better.But if you are, as I am, a person to whom accumulated oddities adhere to you like you’re “The Flypaper For The Bizarre” – and if you are still waiting for life’s mysteries and confusions to become blindingly clear to you – you get the following.  And feel grateful you got anything. Without these cerebral visitors, your frazzled brain otherwise teams with endless “To Do” lists, replayed embarrassing conversations and where exactly they went wrong, and flurries of impending doctors’ appointments and thoughts of what they possibly might find.My Personal Opinion:  You are better off with extraneous clutter.Random Example:  This.I am walking along singing a song, my bowed head facing the sidewalk – because sometimes I forget to walk straight – and I spot what looks like the face of a pirate, below which is the stenciled confession,“I Sold Hemp.”“Odd”, I silently remark, considering, both at once, this sidewalk pronouncement and thoughts of paying more assiduous attention to my posture.“I Sold Hemp.”… it says there.And not justthere.  But on subsequent blocks of pavement every fifty or so feet along the way.“Hm”, I think next.The “Hm” relating to my speculation that someone, late at night so as not to be impeded or even arrested for defacing public walkeries with pictures of pirates and retroactive hemp-selling confessions… I’m thinking, unless they deliberately stayed up to carry out this nefarious operation, they had to, imaginably, set their alarm clock to awaken them deep into the A.M. so they could get dressed, exit stealthily outside, make their way to the street I am currently perambulating, and stencil away, free of unwelcome public scrutiny.Sounds like it was really important to them.But why?“I Sold Hemp”?So what? But that’s me.  Not only because it’s artsy littering – and I do not litter under any circumstances – or because I personally never sold hemp, or because I feared constabulary consequences for stenciling a lie.  My thoughts beyond myselfare why would anyone want to serially proclaim on blocks of concrete that sometime in the past they sold hemp?  It’s not like a “PromotionalMessage.”  “Get your hemp here!”What it says is, they soldhemp.  That’s placing flyers on porches, advertising a business that has already closed down.  The proverbial – and practically unhelpful –   “past tense” announcement.Nor is it a proud point of personal accomplishment.  If they had not made The Post, it might be conceivable to find Daniel Ellsberg out there on his hands and knees, reminding pedestrians on that particular thoroughfare “I stole the Pentagon Papers.”Not with an accompanying “pirate”, of course.  Maybe a stenciled Rand Corporation logo.At least that’s something.  I don’t even know if it was illegal to sell hemp.  Nobody brags, “I sold hair products.”So what’s the big, chest-thumping deal about “I Sold Hemp”?There’s the possibility they are promoting their exceptional salesmanship.“I sold hemp!Implication:  “I can sell anything[...]

"Managing The 'Ups", Modulating The 'Downs'"


I am not at ease around positive emotions.  To be honest, I don’t trust ‘em.(When your Dad dies when you’re six, it kind of colors your subsequent outlook.)But here it is, this sunshiny emotion.And I am warily unsure how to handle it. Right now, I am experiencing a constricting tightening in my throat.  It is possible I am feeling the lingering after-effects of my cold.  But I don’t think so.  I think I’m just really excited.In his heyday, comedian Steve Martin called this spirited phenomenon“Happy Feet.”Translated, in Yiddish, as“Shpilkies!”Which is the same thing, only with ear locks and an aversion to shellfish.My reaction engulfed me in a tsunami of expectation.  I barely slept last night.  (Though that could have been the coffee.  You see how I reach for explanatory alternates?  It’s the cold.  It’s the coffee.  Anything, but admit I am genuinely excited. I am virtually neverexcited.  So this feeling, it’s like… (AS WITH THE “FUN HOUSE” CRAZY MIRRORS AND UNSTEADY FLOORS)… “What’s going o-o-o-o-o-o-o-on?”As I write this, I imagine this “Mad Scientist”, ingesting some dangerous concoction, scrambling to record his reactions before entirely losing his… Okay.  Let’s not get overly dramatic.“Wait!  Are those Mexican Jumping Beans dancing in my brain!?!”It’s like a bad sixties “drug trip” I… heard other people tell me about.Here’s the thing.  (Before I am consumed in literary hyperbole.)I am not sure if I told you about this.  I might have, as a throwaway “Follow-Up”, but that in no way renders its significance.After being rejected in my efforts to attend “The Oxford Experience”, an adult off-season program at England’s Oxford University (after my wife got accepted, eventhough it was my idea in the first place), after regular badgering – inquiring if anyone had dropped out, or passed away or decided to go to Cambridge – I finallyreceived an email, beginning…“We are delighted to inform you…”I did not need to read further.  Who writes, “We are delighted to inform you we continue to have no place for you at ‘The Oxford Experience’?”Not the English.  They invented politeness.  At least, for the English.  The Irish have a differing perspective.  And the Indians, Americans and South Africans.  Plus, they expelled all the Jews in Thirteenth Century.  Generously, we have an “Eight-Hundred-Year Rule” on letting bygones be bygones.  But don’t do it again.Returning to the immediate point of this exercise…I was in.I was going to Oxford.And I couldn’t possibly have been happier.Studying Political Thinking in the Twentieth Century, living in ancient dormitories with no elevators or air conditioning?Who wouldn’t enjoy that!I have already read the first book on the “Reading List.”  Think I’ll remember anything by July?  I’ll be lucky if I recall where I left the book.Wait, lemme look.……………………………………………“Upper left drawer of my filing cabinet.”  Remind me when I ask you later, will ya?  I’d really appreciate it.The thing is, since it is currently January, I have to temper my enthusiasm for six months.  And keep my negative thinking from questioning my dream, the darkly balancing mind-set:“The more you want it, the less likely it will transpire.”  Why do I think that way?Because it’s me, people.  (My entire career I expected my career to be over.  And gu[...]

"A Sitcom-Inspired Personal Strategy"


Who said you are wasting your time watching television?  Okay, my mother, but who else?I would have lost big money on this bet.I would never have guessed that “Red State” voters in substantial numbers watched Seinfeld.And yet they demonstrably appear to have. I mean, I know there’s “coincidence.”  But when millions of people living in parts of the country even more millions of people have never visited engage in precisely the same behavior as George Costanza’s behavior on Seinfeld, there is a presumable possibility that that’s where those learned that behavior.Consider the 1994 Seinfeldepisode “The Opposite.”George Costanza, at his lowest ebb concerning the way his life is proceeding, confides to his best friend since high school Jerry Seinfeld that every decision he has ever instinctively made has been wrong.  To which Jerry, following conventional logical thinking, suggests that, “… if every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”Deciding – because he is dismally desperate – to test out Jerry’s “reasonable hypothesis”, George approaches a beautiful woman in Monk’s Café and announces,“My name is George.  I am unemployed and I live with my parents.”To George’s surprise, the beautiful woman agrees to go out with him.    “Red State” voters apparently took serious note of that episode.  Enduring comparable withering circumstances to “I’m unemployed and I live with my parents” – or maybe those exact circumstances – having received no ameliorating relief from “Politics as usual” and feeling – like George – that they have nothing to lose, following “The Costanza Strategy of Desperate Behavior”, they elect a president, displaying personal qualities that are the exact opposite of the standards of an minimally acceptable American president. The opposite of “eminently qualified for public office”, (let alone the highest office in the land.)The opposite of “fully knowledgeable about the issues.”The opposite of “A reliable ‘Truth Teller’.”The opposite of temperamentally thick-skinned.The opposite of humane.The opposite of unifying.The opposite of “sensitive to the most vulnerable elements of our society.”The opposite of humble.The opposite of magnanimous.The opposite of self-sacrificing.The opposite of strategically compromising.The opposite of thinking carefully before speaking.In short, the opposite of every positive personal characteristic any president ever exhibited while serving in office.And why wouldn’tthey?If “eminently decent” wasn’t doing the trick,Why not give “abominably monstrous” a try?It worked for Costanza.  Why wouldn’t it work for the country?[...]

"A Continuing Head-Scratcher"


Maybe.  Or maybe I’m just looking for an excuse.  (Just so you’ll know the quality of person you are dealing with.)It was not the firstthing I thought.  The first thing I thought was,“I’ll write a movie.”I had written dozens of TV scripts.  Screenplays?  They just require more time and more paper.Or so I confidently believed. (“Confidently” in the context of a person whose “Most Confident Day Ever” a real confident person would perceive as “a debilitating funk.” I had previously written two “spec” screenplays, neither of which garnered a whisper of encouragement.  I decided to write a third spec screenplay.  I am not exactly sure why.  Though it may possibly be related to a lunch late in my career, at which my longtime agent sensitively observed, “You’re finished in television.  Start thinking about features.”That kind of thing can set a real fire under a person.I do not recall the exact chronology anymore.   Wait, lemme check something.…………………………………………….Okay.The first Toby McGuire Spider-Mancame out in 2002.  So it was a little after that that I got the idea.  Coincidentally, as often happens when the instigating seed has been planted, I came across a short paperback book entitled,“Writing Successful Screenplays In Three Weeks.”After reading it, being the impressionable person I am, I sat down and completed an entire screenplay in three weeks.  I do not know how that worked, but it did.  During the eponymous “Three Week” period, I finished the First Draft of a 120-page screenplay.  I called it,Super Mom.OrSuperMom. Or Super-MomI no longer recall which.  (Although if it had gone, I can envision endless meetings about that.)What apparently – by which I mean unconsciously – happened was that my uniquely idiosyncratic brain scrambled the original Spider-Manconcept and arrived at the following.  (Writer’s Request:  Be as forgiving as you can about this.  It has only been fifteen years.  And I am still a little tender about the experience.)Okay, here’s the premise:“While volunteering at a local hospital, a Middle-American stay-at-home Mom  (imagine a vigorous Michelle Pfeiffer in her mid-thirties) is scratched by a dying superhero and subsequently assumes his residual, awesome powers and abilities.”You can see what I made up and what I kind of… adopted for “Creative Purposes.”  The “Accidental Transfer”?  If it sounds familiar, so be it.Anyway, I wrote it.  And it was good.  I thought.What exactly did I meanby “It was good”?I meant that, from a professional writer’s perspective, SuperMom was a respectable, “in the ballpark”-appearing screenplay, offering an original – minus the “Accidental Transfer” component – idea, likable dialogue, and a narrative storyline – and this, to me, was the most rewarding aspect of my accomplishment – in the context of its whimsical concept, it made logical and believable sense.  (And how many movies do that?)I also liked the thematic undertone:“Ordinary person backs into extraordinary circumstances.”Through my agent’s ministrations, my script made the traditional “rounds.”  And, as we say on “The Coast”,“Pasadena.”Nobody wanted it.  (I would repeat “Nobody” for emphasis but it would make my too sad.)Because our kids went to the same school, I became acquainted with two-time Oscar[...]

"I Just Asked One Question"


“Where are you from originally?”And the following unsolicited narrative came tumbling out.But First, A Brief Backstory:  Anna, Colby and “Baby Golda” – I held her on my shouldah – live about forty or so minutes away by car – five minutes by plane, but who’s got a plane?  Dr. M was downtown attending the “Women’s March” which I scrupulously avoided due to chronic “Crowd Claustrophobia.”  Since I was therefore at loose ends and Anna was lonesomely housebound servicing the baby, I was entreated to come up (their house is on top a hill) for a visit.  The house-to-house distance, being too far for me to drive, I ordered “Lyft” (“Uber’s” competitor) to take me there.  My driver, I was pre-informed – let’s call him “Shane” – dutifully arrived, and after asking if I could sit in the front – which, to me, is more democratic – I posed, based on his out-of-state accent, what I assumed would be the simplest of questions.It wasn’t.First, briefly, some “Transportational Bookkeeping.” I had apparently mistakenly pressed the wrong button, agreeing to share my ride with somebody else.  That’s why, it was explained, we startlingly blew past the freeway entrance – to pick the other passenger.  That is also why, although I was informed that our mutual destinations – according to Lyft regulations – would only be one mile apart, we instead drove seven miles out of my way.  Normally a fuming annoyance – and a prospective blog post.  But not this time, because it allowed me to hear an expanded version of the astonishing answer to my one question:“Where are you from originally?” “Shane’s” opening response was Louisiana.  But after that… wait, let’s pause for a second.  I mean, what I am about to reveal feels a little like “biographical voyeurism.”  It is not really my story to tell.   Still, it was my Lyft experience, and the driver offered it voluntarily.  You know what?  I’m going for it.  I am “Lyfying” his auto-biography.  (No pun intended.  But hey.)Okay.  (After a gigantic swallow.)My driver “Shane” explained he was the eleventh of fifteen children, whose father, whom he described as a long-haired “Party Animal”, and here it comes…… had tried to sell him.And his two-and-a-half year-old sister.  (At the time, “Shane” himself was one-and-a-half.)This was truly uncharted territory for me.  Nowhere outside of a Law & Order SVU episode had I been privy to someone who had actually been sold.   The father had outfitted them in leather, assigning them Native American names, as, apparently, in the Louisiana “Black Market” for children, Indian kids were considered substantially more valuable. Unfortunately for Dad, the arranged “Cash For Kids” exchange turned out to be an FBI “Sting” – resulting from a tip-off by Shane’s teenaged older sister – and the “alleged” Baby Broker – yeah, right – was immediately arrested.The problem was, it was a Friday night, and the “Flesh and Blood”-selling felon could not be arraigned till the following Monday.  The merchandized babies would either have to spend the weekend in a “holding cell” with their miscreant father (and various other creeps), or alternate accommodations would need to be procured.Let’s take a breath here, okay?I am sitting in a “ride sharing” conveyance, heading fo[...]

"You Vill Be Happy!"


I don’t know why it annoyed me so much.  It echoed exactly what I wrote yesterday, except, this time, about drama.  Maybe, hearkening to Fagin from the musical Oliver!,“I think I better think it out again.”My perspective yesterday was a lament for a now passé genre of comedy which, characterized in three words, would be,“Recess from Reality.”Call it the “Silly Putty” of comedic entertainment, consumed not for learning and growing but just laughing.  (“Soupy Sales”, anyone?)  Not all the time, but sometimes, I think, we need a restorative “palate cleanser” from life.  Which seems no longer commercially available.Call me a “Lonely Crusader for Comedic Diversity.”(I just imagined myself, a solitary protester, carrying a sign on a stick reading, “Where’s ‘The Silly?’”  Wearing a loud, checkered coat and a flower that squirts water?  No.  That’s “Gilding the Lily.”  Regular clothes, with an incendiary message.  A classy campaign, championing unclassy comedy.  Paraphrasing the old {animated} sitcom Dinosaurs:   “Lonely Protester – Gotta love me.”)   Alright, enough about me.“Yeah, right.”  Oh, a gratuitous “Wake-Up” call from “Blue Italics Person.”  Thank you.Anyway, so here comes this guy, writing an op-ed column in the paper about how the Hallmark television channels are making a fortune doing, basically, “Recess From Reality” dramas, and I’m like,“Wow.  He’s saying what I’m saying.  And I hate him!”Comforting Head’s Up:  “Meaningful Distinction” to follow.  (So you won’t think I am “bank-shotting” hating myself.  Always a possibility, but not, thankfully, thistime.)The commentary’s objective observer characterizes “Hillary Country” entertainment as “dystopian”, “grim”, “dark” and populated by (Booga-Booga!) “unconventional families.”Not that there’s anything wrong with that.That purportedly left-leaning audience, otherwise known as “The Devil’s Spawn”, is said to be “dwindling.”  (Not because of the many available alternatives.  It’s the irredeemable subject matter that’s doing them in.)On the other hand, the ratings and revenues for Crown Media’s Hallmark networks, offering the good people of America “shows that express traditional family values”, steering clear of shows expressing “political themes and stories that denigrate religion” favored by the“Trump Country” viewership are soaring.Justly so, as they are doing “The Lord’s Work” on television.I have thought about writing how the country’s “Political Divide” has created two diametrical cultures of entertainment, but as my time on this planet winds down, I have (hopefully) abandoned chronicling the obvious.  Our Current Predicament:Two nations.  Two distinguishable entertainments.Taking a moment to (gratuitously) mock theirs…The self-righteous op-ed columnist mentions a Yuletide-themed made-for-TV movie entitled, “The Christmas Train.”  Full Disclosure:  I happened to have somehow missed that movie.  But here’s my (imagined) “Thematic High Point.”   Everyone’s sad to be away from their loved ones during this special time of the year… until somebody chimes up:Wait.Diabetic Alert:  I am unaware of the distinction, so, erring on the side of caution, r[...]

"Style Over... Everything Else - Notes On 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Middouti'"


   Writer Martin McDonagh made a big splash in the theater when he was 26.  He subsequently branched out into movies, his latest offering, which he also directed, Three Billboare Outside Ebbing, Missouri. (How’s that for uncharacteristic concision?  Whose compact assertion I risk squandering through excessive patting myself on the back. Nope.  I’m out.)An artiste who strikes gold early faces the danger of believing they have successfully “Cracked the Code” and are creatively infallible.  An artistewho directs their own material?WRITER/DIRECTOR:  “What do you think?”DIRECTOR/WRITER:  “I like it.”WRITER/DIRECTOR:  “What a coincidence.  So do I.”I have written earlier about a McDonagh play I saw called The Beauty Queen of Leelane.  Formulating Conclusion:  A recognizable M.O.Original writing.  Deficient narrative policing.  (Note:  In the theater, the playwright, especially if successful, has, contractually, the last word.  The director may offer suggestions, but the playwright is free to hum impatiently which they do so.)Three Billboards gives us an intriguing “Jumping Off” point:Seven months after the atrocity, a grieving mother of a raped-and-murdered teenaged daughter pays for three adjacent billboards, on which she challenges the local sheriff for making no progress uncovering the assailant.The obstacling “wrinkle” in her unwavering rancor?The likable sheriff is dying of cancer.And off we go.It’s a promising premise.  And the acting, especially the leads:  Frances McDormand, (married to one of the Coen brothers; I am not certain which one, but it only matters that theyare), Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell – are unilaterally rewardingly stellar.  I was also impressed by the overall casting.  Although an accompanying family member pronounced it, “Too ‘Hollywood.’”  Meaning, the participants were too “glossy” (as in actors’ promotional “8-by-10 ‘Glossies’.”)  I myself have no problem believing there are attractive people in Missouri.  Those Hollywood “transplants” must have emigrated from somewhere.  The Midwestern air appears to be good for your complexion.(A Blogger’s Possibly Erroneous Perception:  Since the massive success of Hillbilly Elegy, I have detected a newfound focus on “Heartland” difficulties.  As in politics, the “Big Cities” feel seemingly eclipsed by the provincial problems of the unglamorous folks who stayed put.  Though it couldbe I am just noticing this more.) Although Three Billboards’s” storytelling generally held my attention, it, at meaningful junctures, felt annoyingly arbitrary.  (As if the Writer/Director said, “That’s how I want it” and the Director/Writer readily concurred.)  Among other diminishing infractions, the less than scrupulous storyline includes head-scratching coincidences, characters changing unpersuasively in midstream, and serious actions proceeding without consequence – a guy throws another guy out a window, with no expected constabulary follow-up.It’s like I told a comedy writer once:  “Your goodjokes are ‘Check Marks.’  But your bad jokes count too, in the other direction.”  By that score, Three Billboards barely breaks even.However, because of the acting…Hold on.For your increased enjoyment and understan[...]

"A Passing 'Pappy' Post Of Personal Privilege"


(Written By:  "The Pacific Ocean Invisible Mariachi Ensemble", a Division of the "Invisible Sacred Mountain Mariachi Ensemble.")










One more, because I love who's in it.