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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: 2017-11-22T01:55:46.888-08:00


"Thanksgiving Greetings"


Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

And if you happen run into an Indians today, let them know,

... we could have done better.

Should it occur to you that I am showing inadequate respect towards our indigenous peoples, check out the number of Indian art and artifacts are gracing our mantel and just one wall.  (The painting is entitled, "The Hitchhiker.")  The other walls are similarly adorned.  In Cat Ballou, it was asserted that the American Indians were, in fact, the lost Tribes of Israel.  That may or may not be correct, but in my books, I would be truly honored if that were true.  Hoka Hay, you guys. ("It is a good day to die.")  Though I  would be equally fine with tomorrow.

"Acknowledging 'The Horses People'"


I thought it was just me.  But once in a while, I discover a revitalizing “kindred spirit.”  The distinguishing symptoms originally presented themselves at the Toronto Hebrew Day School, more specifically in, as we Canadians, in accordance with the English education system call it, Grade Four.AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY:  “Fie on ‘Grade Four’!  We shall call it… “Fourth Grade.”  And dare King George and his vaunted army to compel us the change it back.”We were studying the Torah.  You do not see that sentence that often, unless you are reading a Chabad blog.  In Grade Three, every student received a six-inch replica of the full-sized, see-it-in-synagogue Torah.  We did not study that one; its print was illegible even to people without bifocals.  We studied a book containing the same words, printed more readably.  (If you could read Hebrew.  If you couldn’t, the increased print size was not going to help you.)  (Similar to talking loudly to a person who doesn’t speak English.)    We worked our way through the Pentateuch, starting with B’raysheet, “In the beginning…”, finishing up with “Book Five”, which was a long way from naked people eating an apple.  (An insidious “bait and switch”, I believed, from  “… a book you kids are really going to enjoy.”  Though those words were delivered in Hebrew, in which I was barely conversant, so the translation may have actually been, “… a book you better study hard, or you will struck down by God’s terrible swift sword.”  It was oneof those.  I am not exactly sure which.  (Though I can hazard a guess.)Anyway, by Grade Four we had slogged ahead to “Book Two”, the ever-popular Exodus.  We were studying the miraculous climax of the “get-out-of-Egypt” story – which, if you missed it the first time you can catch on the Universal Studios tour – in which the Red Sea parted, the Israelites passed safely through, and then, when the Egyptian cavalry pursued them, the sea immediately closed up… And here’s where I got in trouble.I was with them to that point.  Through an unusual behavior of water, my team was getting away.  Which was fair and just, as they had been mercilessly enslaved, building the pyramids and were past due for a break.  (Although even before that, they’d play insidious tricks on their oppressors:  SLAVE JEW PYRAMID LABORER:  “You know the Sphinx?  I rigged it so, by and by, his nose falls off.  Nyeh nyeh n’ n’yeah nyeh.”)  Anyway, back to the miracle.When we left off, the Bible says, about the pursuing Egyptians, trapped in the rejoining waters, and I quote, “Soose v’rochvo…”Wait, I’ll do it in English.  (After some transliterational grandstanding.) “Horse and rider drowned in the water.” I sat there, in my uncomfortable, bolted-to-my-desk wooden seat, genuinely perplexed.  Then I raised my age-appropriate, nine year-old hand.  “Mar” (Hebrew for “Mister”) whatever-his-name-was recognized me.“What did the horsesdo?” I inquired, my voice, half way between righteous indignation and “Don’t hit me with that ruler.”“Mar” Grade Four Hebrew school teacher did not understand my question.  So I explained.“It says, “Horse and rider drowned in the water.”  I understand about the riders.  They probably deserved it.  But the horses never hurt anybody.  Why did they have to drown too?”The teacher’s reaction, though thankfully tempered, was instantly dismissive, and we went on with our lesson.  Or recess.  I no longer recall which.  There was no mention of my equinal concern in the schoolyard.The foregoing anecdote?  That’s me – or a composite elementof me – in a nutshell.  Take a poll.  How many people’s response to that famous Bible tale would be, “Hurray!  We are free of our oppressors!” and how many would home in[...]

"'Going To The Symphony'... And What?"


Sometimes, when I can’t get a handle on something, I look for a clarifying analogy, to set me on a successful narrative track.  Then I can write the thing.  Otherwise, I can’t.  Well, I can.  But I will not know exactly where I’m going.  And when that happens, none of us will be having much fun.So we… oh, no – I just started a sentence with “So…”!  I am as doomed as doomed can be, you know.Okay, start again.We went to a classical music concert, to hear the visiting Chicago Symphony play Brahms.  (I was hoping they’d play “Go, Cubs, Go!” as an encore, but they played Schubert instead.  Oh well.  I guess that was too much to ask.)I know nothing about classical music.  (I originally spelled Schubert wrong.)  I often to listen to it on my cable TV station’s “Classical Masterpieces” channel while I’m working , and when I hear a piece I like, I turn and check out who the listed composer is – or, occasionally, who the Lisztedcomposer is – my first and hopefully last classical music joke – and then  immediately forget who it was.  Some things I remember; some things I don’t.  I an remember the Treaty of Ghent was signed in 1814, but I do not recall who composed… anything.  Okay, “Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony” and “Brahms’ Lullaby”, but their names are inthere.  “Brandenburg Concerto” – not a clue.  Although I’m almost certain it was not Brandenburg.  Was it?  No, I am pretty sure that’s a place.I love music.  I’ve been studying piano – although you’d never know it from my playing – for more than ten years.  I’ve learned songs. but I’ve also learned musical sequences, like the “Circle of Fifths”, an identifiable chord pattern, found in countless popular songs.  I am aware of the “2-5-1” and 4-5-1” song endings.  I know some ropes in rudimentary music theory.  Okay, maybe not ropes exactly, but definitely threads.I know nothing of that nature in classical music.  I mean, I know the basics –fast and slow, loud and quiet – but structural nuances and subtleties?  I am entirely in the dark.  To me, it is music, played in a foreign language.  I get “melodic” – or otherwise. But that’s it.I wanted to write about attending the symphony.  But I was stuck about “how”. When I find myself creatively unfocused, I am reminded of a wise man’s valuable advice:  “Everything is like something else”, he explained.  “What is this like?”I could not thinkof what an ignoramus’s experience at a classical musical concert was like.  And then it came to me.  Notfrom inside my head.  It was magically delivered to me from without.I come home from the concert, I turn on the TV for the local sports report, and there it is.  The “Ideal Analogy” I had been searching for:The L.A. Rams had just played an American football game in England.I heard that report and I immediately said, “Yes!”Me, attending a classical music concert was an English sports fan, attending an American football game.We get the essentials.  But otherwise, it’s like, “What are they doing?”They know, you run the ball, you throw the ball, you get four chances to go ten yards, a touchdown is six points, a field goal is three.  But what’s a “Fly Pattern”?  What’s a “Sweep’?”  What’s a ‘Bootleg’?”  What’s “Calling an ‘Audible’?”They know, like, six things.  But by and large, English people watching an American football game are as clueless as I am, watching the Chicago Symphony play Brahms.I believe they played skillfully.  They finished the “movements” together; nobody kept going and went, “Oh.”  I heard no sour notes.  No woodwind “squeaks.”  They probably did a really good job.  The audience around me thought so.  The guy beside me nearly “Bravo[...]

"The Upside Of 'The Stoop'"


I have a stoop when I get tired.  Which is a step up.  (Or is it a stoop down?)“What is he talking about?”Okay, I’ll tell you.  I used to stoop all the time.  Even when I was a teenager.  My rationale was to simulate “Old Age” earlier so when that unwelcome “Life Passage” – and its inevitable symptoms – finally arrived, I would not feel so bad, because nothing, for me, had actually changed.  I would also, from maybe age 13, go “Oy” when I up from a chair.  (Can you imagine a teenager behaving that way?  Well, at least one teenager I know did.) After regular bodywork treatments from the “Horse Doctor” – so named because he works three days a week on horses, though I have no idea what they call him – my habitual ”Stoop” has been essentially erased.  Except when I’m tired.  And then, it comes back.  I like the “Straight” Me” better, of course, but, what are you going to do?  You get worn out from your extended exercise, your bolstering discipline erodes, and before you know it, you’re “Stooped Earl” again.  Except this time, it’s real.Still…As I have ad nauseumlyasserted in this venue that, just as every upside has its inevitable downside – and I defy you to offer any reasonable exception – conversely, every downside has its compensatory upside.  And that includes stooping.  A fact I was reminded of during my most recent salt-water-adjacent excursion.I am heading back home, forty-five or so minutes into an hour-long weekend walk by the Pacific.  I feel myself noticeably stooping, but now, nearing “Out of Gas”, I lack the will and residual “core strength” to stand straight.  It appears that one of my vertebra has decided, temporarily, to retire.  It’s in the middle of my back; ergo, “The Stoop.” The “Stoop” is not ogreishly pronounced, and it doesn’t hurt.  It’s just a fatigued old guy, with a lifetime of bad postural habits, going for a walk.)And now comes my “upsiding” advantage.  Trudging doggedly along, my head facing decidedly downward, suddenly, I spot a dime on the ground, lying close to a parking meter.  Maybe it accidentally dropped out of the slot.  Maybe the parking meter snootily rejected it.“We don’t need no stinkin’ dimes!”However it got there, it was never retrieved from the pavement.So I retrieved it.  Hey, it’s a dime.  Plus, I hate litter.And unretrieved money is still litter.Having congratulated myself on my good fortune – and my small but meaningful contribution to cleaning up our streets – I press ahead on my journey.  I take two steps and, not six feet away…There’s a penny, lying on the sidewalk!Was this the discarded residue of same inconsiderate person, I wondered, one with no gift for inserting coinage into a vertical slot?  Or had the machine coughed out the penny, haughtily asserting,“If we are not taking dimes, how do you come back here with pennies?  Empty your wallet of small change, if you will.  But not on my stanchion.”What kind of a person scatters money all over the street and then strolls casually away?  It’s unlikely, the coins being suspiciously proximate, but maybe it two different “coin droppers”, the second profligate change-waster thinking, “Hey, if that person can throw away a dime, I can easily walk away from a penny.”  Unless the penny was dropped first, in which case it was the “Dime Dropper” thinking, “I see your discarded penny, and I raise you nine cents!”I know we are discussing “miniscule currency” here.  And I am not pretending to be Mary Poppins’s George Banks, tutoring his offspring concerning the accumulated “compound interest” value of “tuppence.”  It’s just… It’s money!“It’s just pocket change.”Not anymore.“I would not stoop to pick that up.”I would, and I did.  And not because[...]

"The Unreliable Narrator"


When you are in my line of endeavor, the possibility kind of shakes you to the core.  Studies about memory suggest that you can make a person remember things that, in fact, never actually took place.  Apparently, the brain has the ability to recall things one – for some reason or another – believes to have had occurred, that, in factual reality, did not.Hm.  Given this understanding, should this blog more correctlybe retitled,“Just WishfulThinking”?We are talking about my blogatorial reputation here.  I tell stories from my past I purport to be biographically truthful.But what if they aren’t?  And I am, in fact, not the assiduous memoirist I thinkI am but am instead – a racket often disparaged in this venue…… a masquerading fictionwriter?  (The withering “curled lip” to be inferred, but this time, directed at myself.)     Not long ago, I heard a researcher on NPR radio – I just wrote “National Public Radio Radio” but I am not going back – whose area of investigation concerned the installing of inaccurate memories into an unsuspecting subject’s consciousness.  Why would you want to do that?  Well – one possiblecircumstance – to enhance the unsuspecting subject’s self-esteem.Example (with humorous complications, but it’s still a viable example):      (PLANTING THE SEED OF A BOLSTERING ALBEIT APOCRYPHAL RECOLLECTION.)“Hey, Ted.  You know that girl Cindy you had a crush on in high school but never approached?  Well, I ran into her the other day and she admitted that, back then, she’d had a crush on you.” “’She did?”  “Yeah.  She said she thought you were cute.”“I can’t believe it.  She actually thought I was cute.  Hey, it’s not too late.  I’m going to look Cindy up and…”“You know what?  Just think of yourself as handsome, and leave it at that.”And from then on, Ted does.  Because Cindy had told somebody he was cute.  Except she hadn’t.  It was a totally fabricated, surreptitiously implanted, “Confidence Inducer.”  The NPR researcher admitted she was skeptical such a reported phenomenon was real.  Then, in the course of her experimenting, she recalled a similar situation – though in the other direction – involving herself.Once, as an adult, the researcher had attended a family gathering.  She had always known that her mother had died in a swimming pool accident.  But now, a family member confided to her that, as a child, it had been the researcher who had discovered her dead mother’s body.The research was flabbergasted by this revelation.  But she eventually came to believe it.  Suddenly, everything changed.  Her entire perspective was now reflected through the shattering prism of, “I found my mother’s lifeless body floating in the swimming pool.”A few days later, the family member called her and said, “I just found out.  It wasn’t you who found your mother.  It was somebody else.”Okay, firstthing.  That family member is not getting invited to Thanksgiving dinner.    Still, there it was.  A personalized example of exactly what she was researching.  The event had never actually taken place.  But a conversation with a misguided family member had her behaving as if it had.After hearing her story, I remained less than persuaded by this phenomenon.  How can your brain so easily mislead you like that?  And then…It happened to me.I was flipping around the channels, when I encountered the tail end of an episode of M*A*S*H, the one in which Henry Blake is going home.  This is a famous episode, because, shockingly, Blake’s departing helicopter is shot down, and he dies.I vividly recall watching that episode during its original run.  I recall the various character-appropriate “goodbyes”, the [...]

"Rebel With A Pause (One OF My Cleverer Titles, Though It May Not Exactly Be Right)"


Sometimes, I actually pay attention to what I’m writing about.  Not that I am on other occasions “Sleep-writing.”  It’s that, now and then, my mind returns to an earlier post, and I think, “Wow.  I meant to say that.  But I did not mean to say what “what I meant to say” reveals inadvertently about me.  And then I go “Oo-ooh.”  And not in a goodway.For example,I have, on numerous occasions, cast negative aspersions on recent alterations in our communicational process, which now include, as I have before derisively decried, smart people starting their responses with “So…”, and people throughout the “Smart Spectrum’s” voices “going up” at the end of their sentences?  As if they are asking a question?  That question invariably being, “Do you know what I’m saying?”  Requiring the listener to then respond, when their accepted “Level of Commitment” to the encounter was “Just listening.”  I say, if the speaker requires positive reinforcement concerning the clarity and persuasiveness of their positions, perhaps, before opening their mouths, they should consider a way of communicating their positions better.  Or consider the possibility that they’re wrong, clamming up and allowing me to communicate my positions instead, positions that have never once begged for encouraging validation.Aside from the now insistent obligation to communicate – verbally or otherwise – that I do indeedunderstand what they’re saying, the current “Expectation of Courtesy” denies me the alternative of “simply listening”, because, THE SPEAKER:  “Hey, Jerk Face, I just asked you a question!” I am also opposed to how this currently accepted speech pattern sounds– that wan, desperately musical “upward veer”?  To me, it sounds like the speaker has suddenly lost their mind, eerily confusing a “Declarative Sentence” with a “Question.” But then I thoughtabout that.  I have a lot of time on my hands.  See:  Yesterday’s post, revealing that there is so little for me to watch on TV.  With the implied (and accurate) suggestion that I am unable to turn the thing off, nor able to keep it off in the first place.  Television is the default soundtrack of my boredom.  (I’m not sure about that one:  “TMI”?  Or “An evocative turn of phrase”?)It now belatedly occurs to me that when I complain about unwanted “Speech Music” and unwelcome additions of the word “So…”, what I am tacitly implying is:“I’m old.”To which the reasonable response is:“That’s what we donow.   Get over it!”I did not deliberately meanto sound old.  (Why would I?)  I intended instead to be  beloved comedian Jerry Seinfeld, offering wry “Did you ever notice?” observations on the way the people today talk.   Instead, the “self-inflicted wound” headline is:“You see?  The guy is definitely ‘past it’.”I have no enthusiasm for “past it.”  It sounds too close to “passed away.”Now, here’s where I defend myself.  Though possibly irreparably too late.It is not that I am opposed to contemporary trends in interpersonal communication.  (Though the previous sentence sounds conspicuously stodgy.  Something I picked up in a library.)  And it is not that I am a particular “Language Stickler.”   (Or “Punctuation Stickler”, for that matter; I have no idea if the period in the above sentence goes before or after the quotation marks.  And, by the way, I don’t care.  I am “that casual” about the whole thing.)Let me say this, in my “This is not about ‘old’” defense: In the sixties, when everyone around me was saying, “Groovy” and “Chill out”? – I never once said, “Groovy” or “Chill out.”In the fifties, when I was a teenager, suppose[...]

"Unwavering Perspective With Wavering Consequences"


I am watching a western.It’s called A Man Called Sledge (1970), starring James Garner.  I am not enjoying it – too grim.  But it reminds me of all the James Garner movies and TV shows I have enjoyed, and watching the unpleasant A Man Called Sledge, I enjoy remembering them.(We take our pleasures where we find them.  And lately, with fewer viewing options, due to comedies that aren’t funny to me, reruns of dramas I have seen too many times, the news – you don’t need me to tell you about the news – and "Eh" sports without baseball, there is very little left to for me watch.  Look at that.  I just blew off an entire blog post in one parenthesis.  I have to stop doing that, or I am going to run out of ideas.)A Man Called Sledge involves the robbery of gold bars, stored in a prison.  Here’s the only thing I remember about it.Stuffing the gold bars into their saddlebags, the banditos skedaddle out of the prison, throwing the gold-laden saddlebags over their horses.  I think immediately about the horses.OUTLAW HORSE:  “That’s heavy!  And they’re even on yet!”That is reflexively where my mind travels.  Anticipatorily.  I see the outlaws racing for their horses, I look at their eyes – the horses’, not the outlaws’ – and I see panic.  Like they’re worried their vertebrae are not going to hold up.  “A rider.  Bullion-laden saddlebags.  Then they want us to run?  Call my chiropractor!  I’m gonna need an appointment!”That’s what I’m thinking.  And about how much I really liked Maverick.Next.I watched a silent movie last night – I’m telling you, there was nothing! The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), a film that propelled “Leading Man” Rudolph Valentino to international stardom and turned the tango into a dance craze.  It also introduced the fashion alternative of “goucho pants.” I am not thinking about anyof that.  (Nor the powerful, anti-war message of the movie.  I’ve been anti-war since we sang “Down By the Riverside” at camp.  (“I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield – bush-duh buh – down by the riverside…”) As I read the film’s elaborate subtitles, I am thinking about the American moviegoers back in 1921 when the literacy rate was substantially lower, not to mention the numerous immigrantmoviegoers, who maybe could read, but not English.   What did people at silent movies do when they were unable to read the subtitles?(Anyone else think about that?  Could it possibly be just me?)People sitting in movie theaters, reading the faces, but not the “Title Cards.”“I’ve got a feeling this is important, but I have no idea what it says.”How did they handle it?  Did they ask for assistance from somebody nearby?  “Excuse me.  What do those words say?”Did they go to the movies in pairs?  “I’ll pay, if you read.”  Were there people outside the theater, offering their specialized services?  “‘Reader!’ – Ten cents for the whole movie!”  People carrying signs: “Will Translate for Popcorn!”       That’s what I think about.How inadequately prepared audiences were required to read subtitles at the movies.The last one is more delicate.  It’s not about movies.  It’s about history.DNA testing has confirmed (with persuasive probability) that, after his wife Martha passed away, having agreed to promise never to remarry, Thomas Jefferson fathered six children with his slave-servant Sally Hemings.  INSERT APPROPRRIATE REACTION HERE.Here’s what I’m thinking about.  Besides that appropriate reaction.Martha Jefferson and Sally Hemings shared the same father.  (You can look up how that happened.)  Setting aside – momentarily – the inescapable implicat[...]

"A Belatedly Recovered Memory"


I am at dinner with a friend.  The conversation inevitably turns to the burgeoning number of performers currently accused of harassment.  Why “turns inevitably”?  I don’t know, it’s a hot topic in the news.  And because baseball is over.Thoughts readily come to mind concerning this issue.  Not in order of importance, but I wonder, for example… do you remember the blacklisting during the “Red-baiting” McCarthy Era?  One of the reasons show people were specifically targeted was because their prosecution drew more attention that if they had blacklisted (PLACE PRACTITIONERS OF UNGLAMOROUS FIELD OF ENDEAVOR HERE).  You have heard of “The Hollywood Ten.”  But probably not of the “The Iowa Twelve”, a group of suspected Communist soybean farmers.  Because they got considerably less media attention.  (And because they did not actually exist.)So there’s that.  Spotlighting “show folk” because – with prior apologies – who cares about soybean farmers?Show business also involves another – at least seeming– uniqueness.  Although I am sure people in desperate straights feel exactly the same way, there appears to be a distinguishing urgency to “I really need this job.”as sung by the auditioning dancers in A Chorus Line. Or the even more emotionally revelatory“What I Did For Love”referring not a romantic counterpart, but to their Broadway musical careers.You can chalk some of this fevered” hyperbole up to “Showbiz Narcissism.”  But some of it is, arguably, correct.  Unlike jobs you accidentally fall into or take to responsibly provide for your family, show business dramatically involves “Following your Dream.”  As a result of this self-styled personal crusade, “Make or break” moments, where “opportunity” meets judgment, evoke scenarios of agonizing temptation.  The Person in the Room can “make it happen” for you.What do you do if he asks for “a favor”?It’s not just in show biz, of course.   Power imbalances are everywhere.  And, though conditions have gradually evolved, men predominantly retain the “Upper hand” positions.  Which leads to their challenge:How do you resist, when you want to, and you can?How ‘bout this for an answer:You ask yourself, “What kind of a person do I want to be?”And then subsequently act accordingly.There is more I could write about this.  Concerning the increasing proximity of men and women in the workplace.  About changing sexual mores since the sixties, where what was once taboo is now “What’s the big deal?”  And et cetera.  But those issues are for social scientists to sort out.I will also refrain from lazy gender stereotyping, hoping dearly that the right people get vindication and justly punished, respectively, and that the wrongly accused or improperly charged receive justice, returning to their lives, free from residual taint.  For the most part, however, this is all just “Dinner Talk.”  Important.  Provocative. But, in the final analysis, Theoretical.Until, last night at dinner – and for the first time in forty-five years – I remembered something.I remembered working on a radio project in Canada, where, after vigorous competition, which I eventually won, I was hired to perform self-written comedy sketches that would be syndicated on local radio stations across the country.  We had a regular routine.  Every second Saturday, I would arrive at the old CBC radio building on Jarvis Street, go into a studio, and I would record these prepared sketches for eventual broadcast.The work went successfully, I got paid, and everything was dandy.And then, maybe mid-way through my eventual two-year employment, the show’s producer began behaving in a less than professional manner that I origina[...]

"The Joke That Gave Us A President"


Good day to you.I rise today to apologize for my tribe, by which, I do not, on this occasion – or on any occasion – mean the Jews.I mean comedy writers.As many of you know, I am – or at least was – a professional comedy-writing participant.  As a member of that mirth-making fraternity, more than a year after the fact, I believe it is past time for one of us to step up and forthrightly say,“I’m sorry, Humanity.  We messed up real bad.”Comedy people are uniquely aware that being funny carries an onerous responsibility.  Like a powerful football player, drilling himself to gingerly shake hands so as not to inadvertently crush his vulnerable, fellow-handshaker’s fingers, a writer of comedy must be assiduously vigilant, wielding their equallydangerous “Weapon of Wit.”Which brings me, sadly, to the anonymous “Funny Person” who wrote the sequence of jokes I am about to reveal to you today, and the blistering consequences those sharp but “in bounds” sequence of jokes unleashed on this country and, ultimately, The World.I am referring, of course, to the 2016 National Press Club dinner, during whichthen President Obama “Took the ‘Mickey’”, as the English say, out of Donald Trump, then just a self-promoting real-estate blowhard. Those were the days, weren’tthey?Anyway – not to editorialize – the National Press Club dinner has a longstanding tradition of allowing sitting presidents, having withstood a flurry of “funnies” at their expense, to then take to the microphone and fire back some bantering potshots of his own. Which, that night, then President Obama consummately accomplished.Little did he know – though he arguably should have – that the notoriously thin-skinned Donald Trump would angrily internalize this humorous targeting and, under the searing heat of public humiliation,calculate his revenge.  The rest, of course, is history.  Resulting, it must be honestly acknowledged, from the complicit collusion of a contributing comedy writer.I know he – or she, but probably he – feels terrible about this.  And, admitting that it is nowhere close to being enough, I deeply apologize on his – or her, but probably his – agonizing behalf.What punishing, sleep-deprived nights that guilt-ridden writer of comedy must be enduring, knowing - and forever regretting – they wrote this. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560"> [...]

"Ghost Word"


“The perfect is the enemy of the good.”  And also of everyone trying to be perfect.I have been thinking about what I’ve been writing about lately. My grandfather’s “humorous” response to my announcing I had gotten a “96” on my arithmetic exam, which, if you will recall, was,“Where’s the other ‘4’?”(It wasn’t his fault.  His very poor family in Russia could not afford a legitimate sense of humor.  They had to settle for the lower grade “teasing that sounds like a joke but isn’t.”)Surviving the sting of the “high-praise-third-rate-punchline” switcheroo, after whimpering in my room, I emerged to, henceforth throughout my life, as with the explorers of Yore and other places, search obsessively for that naggingly elusive “Other 4.”What did happen to those “Other ‘4’”?  If you can achieve “96” – like if you climbed 96 steps of a 100-step staircase, would you suddenly turn around and go back?  You accomplished ninety-six percent of your objective!  Why not bear down and finish the job?I know that’s “apples” and “staircases.”  One is physical; the other is… I don’t know what the other is.  Maybe, at some strategic juncture during the exam, “Arithmetic Earl” got foolishly overconfident, or sloppily careless.  Maybe one “four-mark” question was simply beyond his ability.  Mathematics is difficult.  I bet even Einstein didn’t always get a hundred.EINSTEIN:  “Dumbkopf!  I forgot to carry the 7.”Still, it gnaws at me – this concept of “Perfection.”  Since no one ever achieves it, you begin to wonder if it actually exists.  Maybe “Perfect’s” a “Ghost Word” – an idea, lacking evidenced validity.  You pound intently on “Perfect’s” door and there’s nobody inside.  You step into the house…… and there’s wind.There are a numberof words like that.  Heaven.  The truth.  Things you (may) reflexively believe in, though they (may be) factual “hot air.”   Maybe “Perfect’s” just another of those words.  All I know is – and notjust about my imperfect achievements but about everyone’s – I have no enthusiasm for examining the “96.”  I am inexorably drawn to exploring  the “4.” Take a moment to imagine how popular that makes me.To me, the “96” are the planes that landed without incident.  My attention’s on the four planes that didn’t.  Especially if they were flown by the same pilot.Wait, that doesn’t work.  Because the pilot would have had to survive at least three plane crashes.  Let me try that again.I’m not interested in the 99 planes that landed without incident.  My attention’s on the one plane that didn’t.  Better.I mean, it’s not thatunusual.  Do they examine the “Black Boxes” of the planes that arrive safely?  No.  (And nobody derides them for eschewing the “Positive Outcomes.”  So you can see how that’s a little unfair.)  (Amor Towles’s) A Gentleman in Moscow.The most enjoyable novel I have ever encountered, with its incomparable attention to detail.  But there were also some detectable letdowns.  The same guy wrote all the pages.  Why weren’t they all equally perfect?Did the “Missed it by that much” (a miniscule fraction of a degree) bother him?I just shrugged.  But I know who it didbother.Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.  Greatest pitcher of his generation.  Struck out eleven batters in seven innings during the playoffs.  But he alsosurrendered a towering home run.  An incredible performance.  But not perfect.And you could tell that he was struggling with that.  During the postgame interview, Kersha[...]



“Conventional Wisdom” asserts that as you get older, you gradually mellow, the gripes and grievances of the past ultimately evaporating.  You begin thinking “What difference does it make?”  You let go, the things that once troubled you, in time, mattering less and less.FULL DISCLOSURE:  This has not happened to me.True, the vituperative fires have substantially receded.  But the lingering embers of umbrage naggingly persist. GERONTOLOGICAL KNOW-IT-ALL:  “That ‘letting go’ thing?  That happens in your eighties.”Yeah, well we’ll see.  If I’m around that long.  Otherwise, I am “forgiving” ashes.   Unless my returning “Dust to Dust” adheres tenaciously to a grudge. This thing happened… wait, I am looking it up… okay, thirty-two years ago.  I was a two-day-a-week consultant on a short-lived, CBScomedy-anthology series, entitled The George Burns Comedy Week, whose Executive Producer was Steve Martin.Steve Martin had been a spectacularly successful comedian – he played stadiums – and then movie star, who, riding his enabling famousness, branched into other areas of the business.  On the show’s first day “Production Meeting”, I, although not a full-time participant, was invited (or was it instructed?) to attend.  (Earlier that day, I had gotten into a fight with legendary comedian George Burns because, I believe, he reminded me of my grandfather.  Not that he demanded an unquestioning acceptance of the Torah, but something about him felt incendiarily familiar.  Maybe it was the billowing boxer shorts they both wore.  To keep the crease in his trousers before a performance, erstwhile vaudevillian George Burns, when I was encountered him, was not wearing his pants.)The initial “Production Meeting”, spearheaded by the actual “working” (rather than essentially “honorary”) Executive Producer ran its course, outlining the general direction of the show.  Then Steve Martin took over.  In an effort to define the series’s stylistic parameters, he observed,“While developing some of the stories (during earlier pre-production meetings), I’ve heard people saying, ‘The character wouldn’t dothat.’  Let’s make them do that.”I sat there, quietly.  But, apparently, my face, without asking permission, spoke for me.  And it was not going, “Hear!  Hear!”After the meeting, I was standing outside, simmering down though not quickly, when Steve Martin, whom I had never spoken to, approached me and apologized for saying anything that may have possibly upset me.  I said, “I’s okay.”  Because he was my boss.   And because he played stadiums.  The thing is, my entire training to that point – with some exceptional writers – had drummed the exact opposite instruction into my head:  “Character! Character! Character!”  (Meaning, character “honesty” and character consistency.)We had inviolable “Marching Orders.”  If the character would not “do that”, you do not write that.  Now, here was Executive Producer Steve Martin insisting we should.I don’t want to get into a diatribe here – there is my volatile blood pressure to consider – but if you don’t write a character “in character”, how exactly are you supposed to writethem?  The alternative approach seems, then and today, to be arbitrary and capricious.  Not to mention bizarre, confusing, juvenile and dumb.Then I remembered The Jerk, a cutting-edge example of audaciously “coloring outside the lines.”  Though I enjoyed The Jerk, I did not consider it a replacement template for respectable comedy writing.CRAZED SNIPER SHOOTING AT GAS STATION ATTENDANT NAVIN JOHNSON, M[...]

"Answering JED"


In response to a recent post entitled, “Why I Never Wrote With A Partner”, commenter JED asks me to fully elaborate on “… how it is different to write with a partner rather than with a group of writers.” The thing is, I only did oneof those things – the second one.  (Which I dutifully performed to supplement my income and broaden my career opportunities, though it was not my favorite scriptorial undertaking.)To delineate the formerwriting setup with a degree of scientific accuracy – which, as we know, is the only accuracy that matters – “Ninety-nine out of a hundred people guess this pill will really work” – “No good!” – I would have to be two “me’s”:  The “Real Me” who never worked with a partner, and the “Control Me” who did. “What was it like growing up in Albania?”“I don’t know.  I grew up in Canada.”It’s like that.  I have no awareness of that experience.   Leaving me comparing apples with… something I never once did in my life.It is not like I neverwanted to work with a partner.  I asked one guy after I sold Best of the West,and we were collaborating magnificently on the scripts.  He said he wanted to leave TV and write movies.  I probably asked him, not because I really wanted a partner but because I was scared of handling the responsibility alone.  Maybe he sensed that distinction and decided he’d rather write movies than partner up with a scared guy.At the end of my career, I asked this extremely talented young woman to team up with me on a series I was developing in which the “Lead Character” was a young woman.  She said she was burnt out on the television business and wanted to stay home with her children.  (They had wonderful excuses, didn’t they?) Perhaps she just preferred to stay home with her children than team up with a writer at the end of his career.   In both cases, I had a feeling of deficiency – though not necessarily a writing deficiency – sensing a need for bolstering assistance.  But underneath, was this always anchoring insistence.  Herein illuminated by an example.At my Universal Studios boss’s request, I had agreed to collaborate with a writer with no half-hour comedy experience to develop (the ultimately successful) Major Dad.  The writer had been an Executive Producer on Major Dad star Gerald McRaney’s previous one-hour series Simon and Simon.  Both were seeking a transition to half-hours.  In our negotiation, the writer demanded that he receive an Executive Producer credit on Major Dad, though, lacking comedy-writing credits, he was demonstrably unqualified to be accorded one.My reaction was an acquiescing shrug.  I did not care, I explained to him, what credit he received, “… as long as…” – and I actually said this in italics, surprising myself greatly, as I had never done that before – “… as long as I have final say in what goes into the script.”As Marshal Kane said in High Noon, in a differing context: “That’s the whole thing.”Fortunarely, the writer was as disinterested in what goes into the script as I was in his Executive Producer credit, so it worked out acceptably for both of us.For me, the “final say” was all that mattered.As I mentioned in the earlier post about writing with a partner… excuse me, about not writing with a partner… my primary consideration, after my original apprenticeship where I (mostly) did as I was told – was that whatever appeared after the “‘Created By’ or ‘Written By’ Earl Pomerantz” screen credit must be a qualitatively admirable reflection of my imaginatorial uniqueness.  Paraphrasing the old “standard”,“It Had To Be Me.”This cann[...]

"Still Got It"


I have told this story before.  But also I haven’t.I mean, it’s the same story about this amazing thing I did.The thing is,It happened again.‘Das right.I did this amazing thing…Twice.Forget that it’s a “hockey story” – that’s just the milieu.  Its essence concerns how spectacularly instinctive I am.  And who doesn’t like stories about that?  I know, right?Okay, it concerns how spectacularly instinctive I am about hockey.  But still.  Some people aren’t spectacularly instinctive about anything.  Like me, if you exclude hockey.Okay.  I gotta calm down here.  Because just thinking about it, I want to stop typing and dance crazily around the room.  Wait, maybe I will.  No.  I gotta finish this first.  Remind me to dance crazily after I’m done.Okay.  So… oops, forget I started that sentence with “so.”  I am invited to a hockey game by a man I’ve known for twenty-five years who takes me to (L.A.) Kings games the one time per season the Toronto Maple Leafs are in town.  For understandable reasons.  I’ve been a Leafsfan since radio.  They shouted, “Come on, Teeder!”  And “Teeter” retired in 1957.My host is one of the most thoughtful, generous, caring and decent people I have ever encountered.  And I am not saying that because I want him to invite me again next year.  He is also my financial adviser.  (From the days when I made money.  Now, it’s more like a bald guy visiting the barber.  Mostly, we just reminisce.)I once wrote this limerick about him, celebrating one of his birthdays.  (And nobody lies in a limerick.)  It went:“A man of great prudence and purityHe takes care of our money with suretyAs our net worth advancesHe reduces our chancesOf depending on Social Security.”It’s one of my best limericks.Anyway…Two years ago, he took me.  The game was tied at the end of “Regulation Play”, plus a five-minute “Overtime.”  Next up – the recently instituted “Shootout”, where selected players from each team shoot alternately at the other team’s goalie, the accumulated goals determining the game’s winner.  That’s not the whole story, but it’s close.The “Shootout” ensues.  Nobody’s putting the biscuit into the basket.  (Meaning, nobody’s scoring a goal.)  Every player seems to be using the same strategy – skating in close to the net, trying out “fake out” the opposing goaltender.After several rounds, the game remains tied.  The next Leaf“Shootout” participant retrieves the puck at “center ice” and skates lazily goalward, pondering his optimal approach.  Having witnessed the foregoing futility, from my seat I shout out, “Shoot from outside?”He shoots from outside.The shot goes in.The Leafs win.And I’m a hero.   I had successfully “called the shot.”FLASH FORWARD TOLast night.I know I have tipped the upcoming ending here, but revel in this with me, will you?  How often do you get to communally revel?We go to the game, with my also invited friend Paul, who is also from Toronto.  (Growing up, Paul attended many a Leafs game because his uncle Joe was a sportswriter.  My uncle Irving sold “dry goods.”  I went, maybe, twice.)The game starts horrendously for the Leafs.  The Kings score two-and-a-half minutes into the game, and lead 3-0 by the end of the first period.  By the middle of the second period, it is five-nothing, Kings.  Déjà vu.  5-0, early in the contest?  It’s Dodgers-Astrosall over again.This time, on ice.No fun for the visiting Mapleos.  Nor for their expatriate support[...]

"the Losing Fan, Taking His Lumps, And Re-Learning A Lesson"


I deliver this post with a “heavy heart.”But not a heavy heart.(The crucial distinction to be clarified shortly.)Last night – as of this writing – the Los Angeles Dodgers lost the decisive seventh game of the World Series 5-1 to the Houston Astros, handing the Astros the championship, four games to three.In this morning’s newspaper, there was a full-page picture of Dodgers third-baseman Justin Turner getting hit by a pitch, the second time he was hit, a startling four Dodger hit batsmen, plunked by Astros Game 7 pitchers.  (They must have thought they were playing Dodge Ball.)The revealing caption below the photo of the grimacing Turner (replacing the hoped-for celebratory “dog pile” on the Dodger Stadium pitcher’s mound):“It Hurts.”Unquestionably….It does.Looking for an explanatory scapegoat, easily located, as hugely ineffective Dodger starting pitcher Yu Darvish surrendered the five Astrosruns in less than two innings, the ubiquitous L.A. Times “Pun Guy” – L.A. Times Editor:  “There was a budget squeeze.  We could keep an investigative reporter or the ‘Pun Guy.’  We kept the “Pun Guy.” – assigned Darvish culpability for the Dodgers defeat with the headlining quip:“It Had To Be Yu.” But it wasn’t just him.  Although… geez.After falling behind 5-0 in the first two innings, the Dodgers had numerous chances to catch up, and blew all but one of them – a one-run “answer” later in the game – and they were unable to cash in further on thatone.  If Game 7 had been “scored by rounds” like in boxing, the Astros capturing the first two rounds, the Dodgers eking out a next seven-inning advantage:  Dodgerswin ultimately “on points.” Unfortunately, it’s not boxing.It’s baseball.Where, after a glorious 104-win season, the “Comeback Kid” Dodgers, in do-or-die “Crunch Time”, were unable to rise successfully to the occasion.  Where a shoo-in “Rookie of the Year” who hit 39 home runs during the regular season struck out 17 times in 28 World Series at-bats.  Where a four-time All-Star pitcher performed atrociously in bothhis World Series appearances.  “Yu!  Stay away from that ritual dagger!  There is always next season!”And therein lies my message – the thing that’s uniquely wonderful about sports.The Dodgers loss?It was “agonizing.”But not agonizing.It was “heartbreaking.”But not heartbreaking.It was “life and death.”But not life and death.Competitive sports?It’s critical real life,Lived entirely in metaphor.It matters desperately.But at the same time…It doesn’t.Hope may have died at Dodger Stadium last night.But no one actually succumbed.With every Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, NBA Championship and World Series, the stinging disappointment of a loss is offset by that sobering awareness.There are worse things than the Dodgers losing the 2017 World Series. It could have been the Blue Jays.[...]

"The 'Inexplicable Skip-Over And 'The Incredible Happenstance'"


I mentioned recently how, while writing an episode of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, I was commended by the guy who’s name appears prominently in the show’s title for “cracking” the episode’s story, when he and his phalanx of movie mavens could not.  That’s not a gratuitous “re-compliment.”  I am actually going somewhere with this.Okay… where?Oh, yeah. The question is how do I getthere? Let’s try this.The generating premise of today’s effort came from this novel I am listening to on CD.   Yes, I am listening to a novel.  I usually don’t.  Because I believe novels are entirely fabricated.  Which, undeniably, they are.  So I am right about that.  If not necessarily about “Who cares?”Non-fiction writers stick to verifiable facts, specifically, the ones accommodating their narrative perspective.  The remainderof the facts, they leave to non-fiction writers arguing differing narrative perspectives.  No one makes anything up.  It’s just contrasting collections of evidence.Despite my proclaimed preference for factual reality, the novel I am listening to – brought to my attention by Dr. M – has (re)opened my eyes (because it has, albeit infrequently, happened before) to the glittering possibilities of fiction.  It’s called A Gentleman in Moscow (written by Amor Towles.)  My psychological proclivity requires me to see fiction writing as “lying.”  That is simply the way I’m “wired.”  I am now, given the mitigating evidence of this novel, however, coming to realize that there is “lying” and there is “exquisitely executedlying.”  A Gentleman in Moscow, with its compelling narrative, its understanding of character, his impeccable sense of time and place, and, most particularly, its unsurpassable evocative language, is unquestionablyGreat “lying.”Over-reacting in the opposite direction – due to my newfound conversion to “The Novel” – I have developed a colorfully clarifying distinction.Consider the calendar.Non-fiction writing, even skillfully written non-fiction writing, is the months and the numbers at the bottom of the calendar.  Fictionwriting – meaning,  “Top of the Line” fiction writing – is the picture of rural Vermont with the leaves changing, decorating the top.(How’s that?  Any good?  It came from the place where the good stuff invariably comes from, so I was thinking it might be.)Anyway, here’s this spectacular novel, which I can’t wait to climb back on the treadmill so I can listen to more of.And still…Without rehashing the entire scenario, there’s this pre-Revolutionary Russian Count, placed under “House Arrest” at a luxury hotel he resides at, although now relocated from his former sumptuous suite to a constricted cubicle in the belfry.  The plot chronicles his personal experiences over the decades.But here’s the thing.At one point in my “reading”, I hop onto the treadmill, I excitedly press “Play”, and suddenly, This erstwhile Russian nobleman is a now waiter at the elegant hotel restaurant he once regularly patronized.With nary a mention of what happened!  (In a book that’s takes a page to describe furniture.)At first, I thought I had accidentally skipped a disk, the one where they explain this surprise transition.  But I hadn’t.  The book goes, “He’s a Count – he’s a waiter.”  And proceeds obliviously from there.You know “The dog ate my homework?”  Could some household pet, I wondered, have consumed the author’s “When He Becomes A Waiter” chapter, and, facing an imminent deadline, he[...]

"Why I Never Wrote With A Partner"


Three-word answer:Splittin’ da money.A glib answer.  Proving that glib answers do not inevitably lack merit.Come on.Half a house?  Five-and-a-half belts?  (I have eleven belts.)A fifty year-old Lexus?  Knowing who the real “Funny One” is,\ and still halving the paycheck?Sorry.Not for me.Fortunately, there is another reason I never wrote with a partner where I look demonstrably less mercenary.  (Although you will find none where I look “not mercenary at all.”) The less mercenary reason stems from the question few writers – including myself – rarely articulate this out loud.  (Unless they are drunk or stupid.  See:  “Incredibly Stupid”:  To come.)  However, working backwards, my behavior, at least, strongly reflects that motivating concern.Let me, however, first assert this.I know lots of magnificent writing teams.  Schiller and Weiskopf.  Levine and Isaacs.  Amos ‘n’ Andy.  They weren’t actually writers but I needed a third example.  Oh!  Gosden and Correll.  They wroteAmos ‘n’ Andy.Let me also acknowledge this. It is not inconceivable I’d have made more working as a team?And finally, this.The decision whether to “partner up” is ultimately personal and subjective.  I make no evaluative judgments on the matter in either direction.  As a venerable hotel Bellman from my past, referring to my mother and her two sons sleeping in the same bed, but it works just as well in this context:“Some does, and some doesn’t.Now, back to where I was.I knew a writer, who worked on numerous highly rated, if innocuous, sitcoms of the day.  Here’s me, out of work at the time, challenging his rationale for writing “meaningless fluff.”  (Also known as, “Doing precisely what he was hired to do.”) Standing in his NBC Studios office, where I’d have been barred if he had not gotten me a “Pass”, I opined, in a voice dripping with withering condescension,   “Why would anyone be a writer if they didn’t have anything to say?”Real classy, huh?  I believe he even paid for my lunch.  Three questions arise concerning that unfortunate utterance, which had eluded my mind at the time but seem indismissible today:1.  Who ever said sitcoms – the most collaborative of undertakings – were the ideal arena for ideological pronouncements?   (Despite the Norman Lear oeuvre, it was hardly obligatory.  Do you recall “Mr. Ed” ever saying anything that got you seriously thinking about the world?  It was a horse chewing on caramels, making his mouth move.)2.  Where did I get the idea that having something to say was the motivating prerequisite for comedy writing?  (From the Broadway play, A Thousand Clowns, but once again, that was the remarkable exception.  Most onstage comedies were, “Hide in the closet!  My husband!”)And 3:Who said what I had to say was so urgently and unquestioningly worth hearing?  (A looming concern, persisting to this very day.)Whatever.That’s what I believed.People wrote because they had something to say.How does that relate to my decision not to write with a partner? Collaborating with a partner, wherein, from “Word One”, every inclusion into the script must be mutually acceptable?No “Me” writing in that.That’s, by clear definition, “Us” writing.Which contradicted my oft-stated agenda.  And, as I mentioned, seemed incongruous to me.Who ever chose writing to write like a team?The answer?People who dreamed of being in show business and believed they had a bette[...]

"the Baffling Difficulty"


I feel like the “Lead Character” in a show they may have done – and if they haven’t they should – about a retired detective who ends up solving contemporary cases.  (And by the way, if you are going to imagine something, you may as well imagine yourself as the “Lead Character.”)  (By the Way “Number Two” – If you ever do this show, send me a dollar for making it up.)I have previously mentioned the show Bull, which I regularly watch but find naggingly unsatisfying.  Why do I watch it?  Because it’s a courtroom drama and I watch all courtroom dramas.  (Unless they are soap operas masquerading as courtroom dramas, in which case I don’t.)  Though riding comfortably high in the ratings, I sense that, creatively if not commercially, Bull is in serious trouble.I know.  My expertise is in half-hour comedy.  But, to me, a concept is a concept, and a story is a story.  Interlude of Gratuitous Self-Aggrandizement:  The one time I met Steven Spielberg, he sincerely complimented my ability to “crack” the story of a script I’d been assigned for his anthology series, Amazing Stories.  (Which I hear is coming back on some streaming service.)  My honest response to his dizzying praise was, “In half-hour comedy (unlike in movies which can be developed for years), we “crack” stories every week.  That’s, maybe, the biggest part of our job.”  That’s my “credentials.”  Though I have nary a single credit in one-hour drama.  (And have no idea how to define “nary.”)For those who have not seen Bull – and for those who have– Being “On the Spectrum” obliges me to include that superfluity – Bull concerns a high-tech jury consulting operation, whose job it is to, first, tailor the juries to their strategic advantage and two, articulate a trial narrative most susceptible to exonerating their clients.First Conceptual Difficulty in the SeriesA team of high-tech jury consultants costs big money to retain.  As the result, the clients are invariably super-rich, and often generically unlikable.  A noteworthy exception was a “First Season” episode, in which Bull evokes the jury’s unconscious prejudice towards a commercial female airline pilot charged with “Negligent Homicide”, winning the case for the pilot, whose bosses wanted her to take the fall rather than incurring adverse publicity for the airline.   That, to me, was the most successful episode of the series – jury consultants, representing the underdog, simultaneously alerting the jury – as well as the audience – to their buried biases against females doing what were once exclusively men’sjobs.  The episode was interesting, suspenseful and factually plausible.Unfortunately for Bull, it represents the pleasing exception, rather than the discomfiting rule.Mostly, they do “Don’t hate me because I’m successful” cases, in which the jury – as well as the audience – come to acknowledge their submerged feelings of envy.  Hardly as egregious a personal failing as misjudging half of humanity.  Consequence of Concept Difficulty Number One:Primarily super-rich clients, challenging the “Sympathy Factor.”Then, there’s the storytelling.In the “Season Two” debut episode, a billionaire’s wife, faced with a less than generous “pre-nup”, stabs herself three times, and then shoots her unlikable husband, later claiming that he stabbed her and she blew him away in self-defense. Also on hand:  The victim’s mega-corporation board members, wishing to avoid an exorbitant “[...]

"What Happened To 'Enough'?"


The recent New Yorkerarticle this extrapolation emanates from was blandly entitled, “How Civilization Started”, though it made a provocative comeback with the subtitle, “Was It Even A Good Idea?”  On second thought, maybe it wasn’t that wonderful.   I mean, those notorious “Question ‘Billboards’” on the local news, like: “Big tornado – Is it headed our way?”They withhold that worrisome tidbit till the end of the broadcast, making us sit through the sports, the weather, the returned puppy story and the inane banter.  Then finally, they answer the question, “Big tornado – Is it headed our way?”:“No.”Of course, “No.”  If there was an actual big tornado heading their way, they wouldn’t pose it as a mere, speculative query, they’d say, “Get in the basement or you’ll wind up in Oz!”Still, in the context of civilization, “Was it even a good idea?” is an admittedly tantalizing enticement, even if the inevitable answer is “Yes.” Or is it?Oh, no.  Now, I’m doing it.  Oh, man!  I am so impressionable.Anyway (and I hope this is worthwhile)… The gist of the New Yorker article is that when society morphed from a hunting and gathering society – the latter pursuit relegated to “Second Position” because it’s… “gathering” – anyway, when hunting (and gathering) transformed into “Planting and Cultivating”, we generally saw this as an anthropological “upgrade.”But is it?  Meaning, “Have we mistakenly gotten it backwards, and the so-called “primitive” society was actually the superior one?”)There is this song in the musical Oliver! entitled “Reviewing the Situation”, in which the miscreant Fagin contemplates abandoning his nefarious proclivities.  In one verse, considering one change in his larcenous lifestyle, Fagin ponders the possibility of marriage.  Ultimately, however, his connubial ruminations lead to a strategic reversal.The verse goes like this:“And a wife would cook and sew for me  And come for me, and go for me And go for me, and nag and me The finger she will wag at me The money she will take from me A misery she’ll make from me… I think I’d better think it out again.”You see what he did there?  Upon further examination, the prospect of “marital bliss” becomes substantially less appealing than it was original considered.That is, analogously, what happened with society, the New Yorker article asserts, triggering the provocative question about civilization:  “Was it even a good idea?”To which, their researched reaction, mirroring Fagin’s, is:“Yes.  But…”And here’s why.Hunters (and gatherers) exhibit a tripartite cultural arrangement:“We find it.  We bring it home.  We eat it.”   Next day – they do exactly the same thing.  By contrast, the “more advanced”, subsequent agricultural societies:“We plant it.  We grow it.  We form settled communities.  We elect representatives to administer those communities.  They impose taxes – crops and property being more assessingly visible than digested food already in hunter-(gatherers’) tummies – the tax revenues providing for roads, bridges, universal health care if it’s not here, but they also potentially open the door to dictatorial dominance, corruption, exploitation, and an accelerating unequal distribution of wealth.  Among otherunwelcome consequences.”“We find it.  We bring it home.   We eat it.”You see the difference?The[...]

"The Things I Think About"


Not as in, “The following is a list of the things I think about.”But as in,“Really?  With all that’s happening in the world, you’re thinking about that?I am so ashamed.Once again.  (And you would not be incorrect in seeing at least a portionof this exercise as “emotional unburdening.”   With humorous interludes.  To conceal the therapeutic intent.)  What can I tell you?  My “Catastrophic Prioritizing” is egregiously out of whack.  For example, as of this writing…Raging wildfires, natural disasters, a  mistake in the White House.  And what serious concern stands foremost in my mind?Larry David’s physical wellbeing.I know, I’m an idiot.  Larry David himself would not be this oblivious.  Although he did slough off his turbulence-imperiled wife Cheryl, while wrestling to get hisTiVo to work.  (I am referring to the “TV“ Larry David.  I met the “real life” Larry David.  He was disappointingly quite pleasant.)Curb Your Enthusiasmis back for its ninth season after a six-year hiatus.  Although we were happy about its return, a friend adjudged that Curb had become a parody of its former inspired and incomparable self.  The show is doing the same style of comedy, but having already expended the best versions of their idiosyncratic approach in earlier seasons – e.g,, Larry is booked to co-star in The Producers on Broadway (credible) – they are now relegated to delivering the ninth-best incarnation – Larry writes a musical called Fatwa(less credible) – and it’s, like, the same magician, but now you can see where he’s hiding the chicken.  Still, we agreed that, unlike the similarly resurrected Will & Grace, Curb Your Enthusiasm is at least a parody of a show we like. What concerned me for Larry’s personal safety was something I saw in one of the “promos” for the current season.  In a brief clip, I saw Larry David being violently booted off of a bus.  No laugh from me.  Why?He looked like he could have really hurt himself.  I mean, the man is 70 years old.  And they’re tossing him off a bus like he’s… 57.  There’s a reason old people avoid physical comedy.  A medium-hard handshake can wind you up in the Emergency Room.  (Noteworthy Exception:  Jackie Chan.  But that aging “Kung Fu King’s” got an ambulance following him around.)I wondered, because, at the “Moment of Impact”, Larry’s back was facing the camera, if they had actually slipped in a Larry David “Look-Alike” stuntman and booted him off of the bus.  Many movie stars have ”Look-Alikes” who’ve had extended careers, serving as the “Leading Man’s” risk-taking “Stunt Double.”  The question is, where would they find a capable stunt man, matching the appearance of Larry David? And wouldn’t that venerable “Stand-In” be equally imperiled, were he to be thrown off of a bus?  With – since he is not the super-rich Larry David, and this is America – less comprehensive medical coverage? It was while watching this year’s “Episode Two”, that the mystery was suddenly solved.After Mary Steenburgen rejects Larry as not being her type “physically”, Larry David discovers her, strolling along the boulevard, with a man who looks exactly like him!I thought, “There he is!  That’s Larry’s ‘Stunt Double!’”Who’da thunk it?  A Larry David “Identical Twin.”  I immediately wondered if you could rent the guy out for birthda[...]

"The Car Of The Future Is Here Today - Please, Don't Make Me Drive It"


My ’92 Lexus shook like a 50’s test plane breaking the “Sound Barrier”, made  earsplitting ratcheting noises, smelled like something inside it was burning and drove like it was stuck draggingly in “Neutral.”I figured it was time to take it in.  (Like its aging owner, my 25 year-old Lexus is in increasing need of restorative maintenance.)When it’s in the shop, the Lexus dealership provides customers with “Loaner Cars”.  Or as they call them “Courtesy Cars”, so you’ll think they are doing you a “courtesy” rather than sneakily getting you to “test drive” a new Lexus.“Hey, this car is better!  Maybe I should ‘trade up’.”Then, instead of paying hundredsfor the repairs, you are shelling out tens of thousands for a car you had no previous interest in purchasing.  If there were no subterfuge involved, they’d have provided me a 25 year-old “Courtesy Car.”  Which I’d have preferred because I’d have known how to drive it.My 2017 “Courtesy Car” came equipped with the advanced – compared to my “classic” – “Bells and Whistles”, including a now-standard “Back-Up” camera, with its accompanying “Beeps”, alerting me to proximate objects.  (Or people.  Or beloved pets.)Okay.  I’m at home.  I have to go someplace.  Time to “fire up” the “Courtesy Car.”No more key.  I put my foot on one of the pedals – I do not currently recall which – and press “Power.”  The car’s engine – if they still haveengines – roars immediately to life.  I put the car into “Reverse”, preparing to back out of the garage.The car “Beeps.”  “Watch out on the ‘Front-Left.’”  (Hitting the side of the garage.)I make a slight steering-wheel adjustment.The car “Beeps.”“Watch out on the ‘Front-Right.’” (Hitting a metal bookshelf, slated for Salvation Army reclamation.)Having apparently “over-shot” my slight steering-wheel correction to the “right”, I make a slight steering wheel “counter-correction.”“Beep.”“Watch out on the Front-Left.”I make a “counter-countercorrection”?“Beep.”“Watch out on the Front-Right.”  The frustration increases.  Whatever I do, I get “Beeped” from another direction.I roll back warily towards the garage-door opening.   “Beep.”“Watch out on the ‘Rear-Left.”I correct my trajectory.“Beep.”“Watch out on the Rear-Right.”I finally give up, backing out of the garage as carefully as I can.  The car hates what I’m doing, its intense “Beeping” simultaneously alerting,“Watch out on the Back-Left! – “Watch out on the Back-Right!”  “Watch out on the Back-Left!” – Watch out on the Back-Right!”  “WATCH OUT ON THE BACK-LEFT!” – WATCH OUT ON THE BACK-RIGHT!”  “WATCH OUT ON THE BACK-LEFT!!!” – “WATCH OUT ON THE BACK-RIGHT!!!”By the time I am – safely, no thanks to them – out of the garage, I am entirely drenched in sweat.And I still have to back into the street!“Driverless” cars.  (Moving on seamlessly.)This one, I might actually like.  One of my nightmarish dreads is the inevitable “Driver’s Test.”  “Driverless” cars?  No more “Driver’s Test.”  “You don’t see well enough to drive.”“So what?  My car does.”There are stillgoing to have “Driver’s Tests”?  For what?  Sitting in the seat?“GPS”?  (He then segues, with consummate Borscht Belt come[...]

"Everything Old Is Old Again"


Once in a while I see recognizable names on the credits of current TV shows.  I am not jealous.  Norbolsteringly encouraged, as in “If he (or she) can, I can.”  It’s more a perplexed, “If he (or she) can… how canhe (or she)?”But that’s for later.Contemporary (though some years younger) Glenn Gordon Caron, creator of the deservedly, lavishly praised megahit Moonlighting in the 1980’s is currently Executive Producer on the TV blockbuster Bull.  I have an impulse to drop him a line with some cautionary advice concerning the show, which, although doing exceedingly well in the ratings, I feel is essentially hollow… or is it shallow…. or is it both, or is it “conceptually unrealized”?  In my mind, Bull is a much-watched show that is detectably floundering – I actually wrote about that already.  I watched the “Season Two” debut?  There is still something not right.I have personally experienced this type of phenomenon before.  It happened on Phyllis.  First year, it was in the Top Ten; the second year, it was cancelled.  Why?  Call it “Popular Emptiness.”  That’s how I feel about Bull. Although I know Glenn Caron, I am reluctant to contact him, fearing coming off as an ossified “cast-aside”, ranting at my television and going to bed clutching my Emmys. (Assuring Note:  I do not do the secondone.  And not just because they’re pointy.)If I wrote to him, I would also inform Glenn – as an interesting sidelight – that there was the name of a street near my house in Toronto – Glencairn Avenue.  When you’re working yourself to the bone on a TV series, sometimes an extraneous factoid can be a ray of restorative sunshine.  I thought maybe that might help.  GLENN CARON:  “Wow.  I’m a street spelled a different way in Toronto.  For a moment there I forgot that the show’s star is an idiot.”(Note:  I am speaking generically here.  I have no idea if Bull’s leading man is an idiot.  Although, you know… he’s the star of a highly-rated television show.  Place your bets, ladies ang gentlemen.  And be prepared to give “points.”) Anyway, this isn’t about that…. entirely.What it’s about is the recent rebooting – wait, is it “rebooting” if it comes back entirely unchanged, or does “rebooting” imply some meaningful upgrade?  (Just trying to learn something here, education being a prominent element in this blogatorial exercise.  Well, not prominent, perhaps, but considerably above “Don’t bother me with that; I know enough as it is already.”  I am nothing if not a sponge for unfilled gaps in my understanding.  A dried-out, raggedy sponge, but a sponge.)Was I a big fan of the original Will & Grace?No.    Was I a regular viewer?Yes.  Why?  It was frothy.  Sometimes, that’s all it takes.So they bring back Will & Grace, and, like Woody Allen in Sleeper– it wakes up, and it is exactly the same.  Will & Grace – the first cryogenic TV show.I read the show’s original writers are all back.  I imagine they figure if it worked great the first time, why veer from a successful formula?  Although if it’s the same writers, they’d be unable to veer if they wanted to. My unshakable mantra:  You are what you are.  And you write what you write.  (No optional “veering” available.)I watched the second half of the resusci[...]

'"A Textbook Case Of Classic Displacement"


Irrelevant “Table Setting” (For atmospheric purposes, and as a literary “Throat Clearer” for the writer):Every visit to Groundwork Coffee Co. now elicits “Priority Treatment” from the Picard-headed manager of the emporium.  When I arrive, he immediately leaps from the behind an adjacent counter, assuring the “coffista”taking my order, “I’ve got this”, after which he carefully prepares my Venice Blend pour-over himself.  Frequently, there are whispered instructions, concerning a discount.  When he misses the timing and I have already paid, he fills my cup to overflowing with bonus individually prepared coffee.And I have no idea why this is happening.Three possible hypotheses have come up:He has mistaken me for someone important.Having studied medicine before entering his current field of employment, he intuitively detects that my time on this planet is running out.Or three – daughter Anna’s idea – He believes I am a homeless person.For whateverreason, I now consistently receive individualized attention whenever I arrive.  Which feels inordinately odd to me, as I am given, at best, perfunctory attention everywhere else.  If you sense a hinted, irrational expectation of the former, well… leave us not jump ahead in the story.I am standing at the counter.  The “coffista”announces the charge for my Venice Blend pour-over:“Four dollars.”  I produce a premeditated five-dollar bill from my pocket.  And, though I have never done this before in my life, I startlingly “Frisbee” the flattened money in the direction of the “coffista.”  And it surprisingly takes off.“That flew!” I respond, with giddy enthusiasm.  The “coffista’s” response is more muted.“It’s usually handed,” she replies flatly. My contributed dollar-in-change into the “Tip Jar” – deposited, not flung – comes repentingly too late.  The damage had already been done.As the drops of my “drip-coffee” plop into the appreciative cup below, I proceed across the room to the shelf where the coffee cup’s lids are assembled.  As I do so, I obliviously almost collide with a waiting customer, checking the messages on her cellphone.“Excuse me”, she responds.  Although it is clearly Iwho should be apologizing. Later, on my walk home carrying my coffee, I step around a dog standing in the middle of the sidewalk, its nearby owner retrieving its evacuated debris.“Excuse me,” exhorts the upset poo-picking dog owner, as if I had committed some egregious ambulatorial faux pas.“I was just walking around the dog,” I defensively explain.But she remains resolutely irate.  Maybe I was wrong.  Which was developing into a trend.  I had been wrong, sailing the five-dollar bill at the “coffista.”  I had been wrong, jostling the waiting customer, checking the messages on her cellphone.  Guilty by nature, and curious by inclination, I begin to ponder,“What the heck is going on?”And then I realize… (This will feel like a “Jump” but it isn’t.)More than anything in numerous years, I had become genuinely excited by the possibility of attending a summer Adult Education class at The University of Oxford.  (England, not Mississippi – meaning to clarify, not to compare.)I do not recall where I found out about this, but I really, really wanted to go.  I quickly imagine us, gathering on “Day One” in a venerable classroom for “Political[...]

"The Missing Thing (A Substandard Title I Hope To Ultimately Replace, But Probably Won't)"


I have an interest in perfection, a subject easier studied than possibly attained.  (Although I found the previous sentence to be remarkably successful.)This curiosity began unfortuitously when, as a precocious eight year-old, I proudly proclaimed to my grandfather, “I got ninety-six on my arithmetic exam.”  To which he unsmilingly replied,“What happened to ‘the other four’?”Is there such a word as “Grand-patricide”?  (I may have then wondered, and probably did.)Still, the incentivizing “seed” had been permanently planted.  How exactly, I urgently pondered, do you scale the seemingly unreachable summit of “a hundred”?Then, I went into writing, a pursuit in which “perfection” is functionally inoperative, partly because writing’s a subjective operation so “Who’s to decide what exactly constitutes ‘a hundred’?’”, and partly because there are so many words it is practically impossible to consistently hit the bull’s eye with each of them.  I’ll bet even Hamilton’sprodigiously gifted Lin-Manuel Miranda has sleep-sapping second thoughts about rhyming… I just flipped through the booklet of Hamilton lyrics and was unable to identify one regrettable rhyme.  (Although I am certain if you asked him, he’d go straight to the spot and say, “I just could not come up a betterone.  ‘College’ and ‘astonish’?  Ay, Carumba!”) Still, despite my inability to approach close enough to “perfection” to see it with the Hubble Telescope, I assiduously examined that conundrous enterprise in others, to determine why that sought-after objective is so frustratingly beyond human achievement.  (Although animalscan do it.  CHEETAH:  “I have an unblemished record at ‘bringing down antelopes.’  Which would be noteworthy, except that all the other cheetahs do too.”)Recent Memorable Example:I saw the 2017 Dodgers, at one point this season, winning an astonishing 51 out of 62 games – challenging the best “Won-Loss” record of all time – suddenly losing 20 out of their next 25 games, capturing, during that dismal decline, one game, while contemporaneously losing 17. Yes, there were injuries.  And yes, the “Marathon”-length season eventually exhausted their energies.  And yes, there is the inescapable “Regression toward the mean”, the “Law of Averages”, inevitably bringing one’s “Icarus”-like performance more predictably back down to earth.  (Though, hopefully, without the accompanying Icarus-like “splat.”)Those factors were unquestionably contributory.  But there was, I believed, some more salient and ultimately more satisfying reason for the precipitous nosedive.Of course nobodyever wins all their games – an “imperfection” my grandpa, in a mistaken incentivizing technique, would have unhelpfully pointed out.  Still, in baseball, you take 51 out of 62 games, that’s a stratospheric “Winning Percentage” of… you know, numerically, it’s a ton!And then, the rains came down.After record-setting successes, pitchers with pinpoint accuracy were suddenly “just missing” their locations.  Batters who regularly punished the opposition pitchers’ “mistakes” now fouled them harmlessly out of play, or whiffed entirely, the missed pitches popping tauntingly into adversary catchers’ welcoming gloves. Inevitable winners becoming inevitable losers? What the heck was going on[...]

"Writer In The Sky -The Return (Home)"


I don’t know why I get such a kick out of this –“Writer in the Sky.”I just sang it.  (As in “Riders in the Sky.”)“Writer in the sky…”  “Doo-doo doo-doo doo.”It feels so “Tomorrowland” to me.  Like playing ping-pong on the moon.  (Note:  I am not sure that is scientifically accurate.  Perhaps I should add, “… if you can play ping-pong on the moon, which I am not certain you can.”  Yeah, that feels better.  I mean, for me.  I wouldn’t want you going on about playing ping-pong on the moon in front of some astronaut and have them laugh derisively in your face.  Then you think, “Who talked about playing ping-pong on the moon?” and you remember who it was and you blame me for getting you derisively laughed in the face and you track me down and hurt me.  You see the lengths I go to avoid hypothetical beatings?   That’s cautious.)It also returns us to the subject of blame.  Just like I just defused the possibility of blame for leading you down an erroneous lunar possibility, that’s how – and to what extent – people will go to keep the spinning “Blame Arrow” from pointing accusatorily at them.  Blame must be terrible.  People will go to inordinate lengths to avoid it.Praise?“That was me.”Blame?“Somebody else.”I was talking yesterday about how the application of “blame” must serve some Darwinian purpose, hearkening back to at least biblical times (You think Adam and Eve said, “Let’s not talk ‘responsibility’ and just put on some of these clothes”?)  And arguably before even that.  See:  Blame-related cave paintings, featuring some sideways-looking person pointing a j’accusatoryfinger, and another whose one visible eye reflects serious concerns about their imminent wellbeing.  (And you can bet the unseen “back” eye feels similarly imperiled.)What is the enduring value of “blame”, allowing it to remain around when nobody likes it if it’s them?To begin our inquisitorial journey, consider the dictionarial definition of “blame”, the verb:“To assign responsibility for a fault or a wrong” In that way of looking at it, “blame” is a valuable remediative.  Something went faulty or wrong.  Assignment:   Who or what was responsible?  Why does that matter?  Because understanding why it happened will decrease its chances of happening again.Faulty levees are blamed for increasing the damage during Hurricane Katrina?  Improve the levees.  (As opposed to the “Levys”, a Jewish family from New Orleans who are just dandy the way they are.)  That’s the practical application of “blame.”   After that, however, it gets tricky.  When considering a tragedy, nobody likes “Uncontrollable Circumstances” for an answer.  “Uncontrolled Circumstances” makes people feel helpless, and keeps them sleeping comfortably in their beds.  “Uncontrollable Circumstances” could happen again.  And at any time.  Try dropping off to “Slumberland” with that troubling your mind.“Is it now?”  Or now?”  Or now?  Or now?  Or now?”You want to put the concern – sorry about this – to bed, any way you can.  Which invariably means blaming someone.  Even if was nobody to blame.  Or it means blaming the wrong people, a procedure t[...]

"Writer In The Sky"


This is a first for me – writing in an airplane.  It’s like writing my desk.  Only I am thirty thousand feet in the air.  Making it harder if I drop my pen.  (No it won’t.  I just imagined it landed on Kansas.  And got ink stains on the wheat.)  Drawn to “Worst Case Scenario” scenarios, – reflected in evocative nicknames I collected over the years, like “The Black Cloud” and “Captain Bring-Down” – and the people who called me that were my friends– the first idea that occurs to me under these circumstances is,“Discovered amongst the debris…”wherein this laptop is retrieved from the wreck…age, bearing the parting notation:“I forgot to turn off my i-Phone and now we’re all going to……………………………………” It is just like me to fantasize “personal responsibility” for an airline disaster.  It could as easily have been engine failure.  Or, like in Sully, we flew into some birds.More on the knee-jerk “Guilt Response” shortly.  (Can I “drumroll” enticingly, or what?)One rewarding element of this airborne excursion is that for the first time, I have joined the crowd of admirable “grinders”, working ceaselessly when they travel.  I have always envied those people, tapping away on their computers from takeoff to landing, while I, typically, fritter away my time, falling asleep, and watching reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond.  By the way, have you noticed that everything’s funnier when you are trapped in an aluminum tube, hanging unsupportedly in the air?  My standards seem to noticeably diminish, suspended helplessly in the sky.  I just wolfed down two Lotus Biscoff coffee-flavored cookies.  I wouldn’t go near those things on the ground. Having previously mentioned taking responsibility for triggering a potential “Breaking News” event not about someone assuring us he did not think the president was a moron, my mind returns to the phenomenon of “blame.”  Which is a gigantically big thing, since nobody ever seems willing to take responsibility for anything, except guilty people, who do it reflexively, although it is arguable that people who reflexively deny responsibility feel, unconsciously, even guiltier.  (Claims the congenitally guilty person, so there are grounds for skepticism.)You know the language of “Blame Denial”:“It fell.”  (Rather than the more Newtonianly accurate, “I dropped it.”)“It got lost.”(Suddenly, inanimate objects acquire the power to relocate from where you left them to where you can’t find them anymore.  Just once, I’d like to watch that happen.  “Oh, look!  My car keys are moving to a different place.”)“Mistakes were made.”  (Sidestepping the sleuthingly suspicious:  “And I happed to be there every time they were.”)    I knew this Scandinavian guy named Thor who insistently denied responsibility for anything that happened, no matter how remote he was from possible culpability.“There was an earthquake in Pakistan.”“Thor not do it.What’s wrong with blame?  We all mess up sometimes.  Why not fess up and admit, “I did it”?  No way.“It broke.”  (One moment it was whole.  Next thing, it’s in pieces on the ground.  Just like that.  They can’t come up with a perpetual mot[...]