Friday, July 03, 2015

Happy Birthday America

It will be a weekend of summer fun to celebrate the birthday of our Nation.  Enjoy it.
Just like this illustration of the flag we have gaps that need to come together.  Yet even in this illusion of separation we are tied together by a common link grounded in a common root.  We stand together as individuals.
We fought for freedom and liberty, but now we have to express those qualities in understanding and compassion.  We do not have the freedom to oppress others for who they are. We do not have the liberty to be hateful to anyone, any group or any idea.  Americans have the right to be who they want to be as long as they know that right is the very connection we have to each other.  The rights given to individuals are the same rights to all. To deny freedom of choice to anyone is to deny the freedom of choice to everyone.  To deny love to anyone is to deny love for everyone.  No one is liberated unless we all respect one another's liberty.
Enjoy the hot dog... the barbecue but remember in your afternoon conversations.... Great people discuss ideas........ Good people discuss events........ The lowest form of discussion is about "those others".

As you were,
Jay

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The Apple Watch

I am not one of those people who will stand in line over night to be the first to get the new Apple gadget.  Don't get me wrong, I am a dyed in the wool Macintosh evangelist. I take the 1984 Ad campaign introducing the Macintosh as gospel truth.  Mac is the "Computer for the rest of us".

If you are too young or now too old to remember that 1984 ad introducing the Macintosh, it was a classic.  Directed by Ridley Scott, it was shot with depressingly grey tones as an homage to Orwell's literary vision of 1984.  A hypnotized crowd of blandly dressed people stare soullessly at a movie screen while an equally bland talking head spouts nonsense.  A young blond woman sporting a white tank top tee shirt and ample legs extending from a pair of red shorts skimpy enough to make you wonder why they stopped at just that part of her ass, bursts into the theatre and runs down the aisle with a big hammer. She is full of color against this very grey backdrop.  With the power and grace of an Olympic athlete she hurls the huge sledge hammer into the film of the talking head.  It shatters the screen and breaks the peoples trance.  The announcer says "Macintosh... the computer for the rest of us."  They had me at the red shorts.  

I traded some writing work for my first Macintosh. It was the original model bought by my friend Harry who had already up graded. It would signal a Macintosh arms race for Harry. Harry is someone who will stand in line for the next Apple gadget and has the money to pay cash.  In the 80's I was next up to receive the hand me downs from Harry's upgraded computers. At the time new Macs were coming out almost every 16 months. Harry always wanted the latest and the fastest. The hand me down machines were loaded with software (another aspect to the "Mac arms race") but never any instructions or documentation.  That meant for me to fully use these new toys I was gifted,  I had to figure them out on my own.  Little did I know this is exactly the way to really understand something.  To this day my understanding of Macs and iStuff is better than average.  

I have the latest iPad, iPhone and  iMac. I even have the latest app on the iPhone which I have used the average number of times... two. Once when I bought it and once when I showed a friend how terrific it was.  But I do NOT have an Apple Watch...by the way why didn't they call it iTime?
Here are my reasons. You may have a much different list.
I love the idea of knowing what time it is. Unless there is a clock I can read in the dark near by,  I can't sleep well.  I roll over several times in the night to calculate how much time I have to continue sleeping. If I don't see what time it is, how can I calculate?  Okay, a professional might see this as "other " than a clock problem... but still.  
Modern smart phones have taken all the fun out of knowing the time.  They are never wrong, never need winding, they adjust immediately to time zones and daylight savings time. But it is the accessibility of that information that is troubling.  It is the reason I never liked a pocket watch because  since time is of the moment, time should be easily accessible. It is sometimes inconvenient to reach into your pocket to get the time.  For me smart phone clocks are like pocket watches. Even though it is a better gage of time, it is not easy to retrieve.   I like the time to be only a twist of my left wrist away.   I got very good at sneaking a look at my watch when I was on stage at a comedy club, but now? Try to sneak a look at the time when your "watch" is in your back pocket the next time you are trying to think of an excuse to get out of a meeting. You might think that having a watch with a million different faces on your wrist would be perfect.  Not so. 
Here is my issue with having the extension to a smart phone on my wrist. It only the problem of getting the smart phone out of my pocket to see the time.  While solving that issue it creates a plethora of others. 
This is what happens when I have that obsessive need to know the hour and minute of the day.  I take my iPhone 6s out of my back pocket, touch the home button to light it up so I can see the time... the only activity I wanted to do at that moment.  Flash! Up on the screen obscuring the time is a notification or two.  I missed a text, voice message and a missed call, there are 15 new Facebook messages, and 10 new likes, there is email I haven't seen and CNN (Crisis News Now) has an alert that is vague enough to make me doubt my personal safety. I immediately click on CNN to see if I am in danger. The news story turns out to be an event that happened on the other side of the globe. The text message is in response to the missed call but the issue was solved with the voice message. A Friend has sent me a video of some jackass trying to ride a unicycle on a power line, which results in a concussion for the unicyclist and a blackout on the west side of town. Although I take the bait, all the Facebook likes are directed to a cartoon I posted three days ago. There is an email that needs some attention so I spend the next five minutes trying to thumb type a response. (Don't get me started on auto-correct... that adds five minutes to any response)  I touch "send" and  hear that satisfying "swoosh" sound meaning the email has been sent. I have accomplished instant communication. I click the iPhone to sleep and it goes back in my rear pocket.  I have wasted a lot of time but I don't know how much..... because I FORGOT TO LOOK AT THE CLOCK. 
Even if the Apple watch was thin enough not to make me forget that it adds several inches to my wrist size (big watches do not go gently under a long sleeve shirt) it would not work for me.  AND although I could set up the watch with the classic face of Mickey Mouse, his arms doing a Vanna White to tell me the time, there is still that problem of my attention span.
Here is me with an Apple Watch. I sneak a look at the time because what I am doing is boring the hell out of me. Pop! Up comes some abbreviated push notices (tiny enough to fit on the tiny screen) of things needing my attention. Mickey's hands tell me that not only am I bored, I am wasting what little time I have left. It might mean I have to take my smart phone out of my pocket to respond.  I don't think there is a way to "type" on an Apple Watch. If there is I suppose you have to use your eye lash. So... no Apple Watch for me.  Strictly old school for a while yet.
However, here is a modern day plan for getting out of a boring meeting/lunch in the smart phone age. Don't wear a watch, keep your smart phone in your pocket.  When you are bored with the conversation, look perplexed. Say to the other person, "Wow do you know what time it is?"  He/She will take out their smart phone to tell you the time. While they are busy replying "like" to all the puppy pictures on their Facebook timeline, responding to texts, posting a tweet, and returning the calls they missed. Slip quickly away.  
Works for me.
As you were,
Jay

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Back to Show Biz

No political injustices outed.  No religious philosophy or devotion discussed, just a story about "the BIZ".
I find that I have come to that point in my career (perhaps my life) when remembering and writing about an experience is almost better than having to do it.  Like yesterday.
This is not to say that it was not fun, I had a blast, there was no pressure no stress but the reality of creating illusion is sometimes a chore.  
Hallmark Channel's show, Home and Family honored Robert Guillaume yesterday.  They gathered as many of his former co-stars from the two series he starred in as were available, and several others there via video clip to honor him. The retrospective on Robert's career in show business was concluded as Robert (Benson) Guillaume was given the "Hollywood Appreciation Award".
Those present in the Universal studio/house that is the set included, Katherine Helmond, Robert Mandan, Rene Auberjonois, Jay Johnson and Bob (me... or more accurately US) along with the dozen or so co-hosts that live in the Home and Family house.  Ted Wass, Jennifer Salt, Dianna Canova, Missy Gold and Billy Crystal made breif appearances via video messages.  They had gathered relative clips from Benson and SOAP in scenes we had done together years ago with Guillaume.  The show was heavy on SOAP clips although Benson was only on that show for two seasons while starring in his own spin off - Benson for seven years.  
Both of those shows were aired in the late 70's through the 80's.   Although it doesn't seem possible, mathematically that works out to be 38 years ago.  Time and age are very dysfunctional companions.  Thirty- eight years ago, when I was working with Robert Guillaume, I was in my late twenties.  It would be another decade before I would actually be 38 years old. Now, that is half of my life span ago.  Looking back is always a shorter trip than contemplating the future.  
SOAP had a younger cast which averaged around my age and an older cast that, well, were older. The older actors, playing our folks, were in their late 40's and early 50's at the time.  They were seasoned veterans of stage, screen and television.  They were the ones we looked to for the guidance of experience through uncharted show business waters.  It is strange to realize that I am older now than they were when we worked together.  This is especially true when this time machine of video clips transports you back to those days. There is nothing as humbling as having a split screen of yourself today looking at work you did almost 4 decades ago. I'm not sure I wish that experience on anyone. 

So here I am sitting on a couch in a fake home on the Universal Studio back lot, attempting to recreate the title shots of SOAP. I remember the original shot like it was yesterday, but today is very different from then.  My adult friends, my mentor actors and leaders shuffled on to the set in wheel chairs with walking canes and physical help.  Katherine Helmond, who was never a tall lady, seems so much shorter than my memory of Aunt Jessica Tate. Robert Mandan would no longer play the dashing philandering overstuffed Armani suite wearing Chester Tate, he would be cast as the grandfather today.  Robert Guilliaume has mostly recovered from a stroke many years ago, but he times his Wit a little more slowly and with limited physicality. I know they are all in their 80's now.  I could have looked up an exact age for each, but why would it matter anyway. This present moment is all that really matters. There have been so many from the cast who have died, it was thrilling to just be around the ones still here. 
Rene Auberjonois looks the same to me.  I have seen him more often over the last few years.  He was the only one there to represent the Benson Show family. He was just back from a trip to Australia, and that is a literal  fact.  He was jet lagged and fried. His plane landed two hours before his call time on the set. He was repeating the same calendar day in his life as he landed the day before he took off from down under.  It is another example of how time seemed to be an irrrelevant mash up, but more importantly it speaks to the trouble freinds would go through just to honor our friend Robert. 
It was one of the hottest days of the year in drought stricken Los Angeles but with a heavy dose of hummidity to make it sticky and uncomfortable. It was also the day the airconditioning failed to come on at the Johnson hacienda.  I took one shirt to wear and one to change into for the show.  Both were dripping wet the moment I put them on. 
The set for Home and Family is an actual house, well an actual movie house. It looks like the real thing except when you look up there is no ceiling nor attic. That space is filled with lights, grids for more lights, microphones and tiny airconditioning ducts that are totally ineffective against the heat from outside and the furnace blast created by the movie lights.  Even though I just put on my jacket for the takes, I had the look of a drowned New York subway rat washed up after Hurricane Sandy.  The makeup team resembled plate spinners as they ran from person to person trying to mop up and powder sweaty faces.  None of the faces seems to be as sweaty as mine.  I kept remembering that old show biz chestnut... "never let them see you sweat" - it was an impossible task to accomplish that day.  
I longed to be in a studio on the Universal Lot with fake walls, fake landscape back drops with tons of room and 30 degrees cooler than this "house". As I looked out the real window at real landscaping, on camera it looked very little different from a well painted back drop. It was hot and tight.  Along with a large regular cast, five guests (with at least one extra person to help them), gaffers, camera operators, cable pullers, sound men, stage managers, prop men, makeup ladies, segment producers wardrobe people and the set decorating crew there were maybe a hundred people crowded into a very warm crowded space.  There were even some shots outside in the yard and on the patio, so the doors needed to be open for cables.  I resorted to standing in a closet that had been converted into the sound department, just to get out of the way.  It was cozy, along with RF receivers, extra sound boards, microphones and cable there were three people claiming that space as their office.  They understood my interloping and tolerated me for a while.  
The coldest place on the lot was my dressing room trailer.  It was 40 degrees and felt like heaven.  Unfortunately it was parked a block away from the set and I was there no longer than 20 minutes over the course of the three hour shoot.  
Robert Mandan, Katherine Helmond, Robert Guillaume
(Chester, Jessica, and Benson)
They sent a car for me so I didn't have to drive. Thankfully so,  because the driver drove me through an entrance to the back area of Universal that I did not know even existed.  On our journey to the set my car passed by one of the Universal City tour trams loaded with tourists. I could hear the tour guide giving his spiel. The riders strained their necks to see who was in the back of the limo.  One person snapped a picture with an iPhone. Thank goodness the windows were heavily tinted. Their fantasies about who might be in that limo would certainly have been dashed if they had seen who it was in reality.  Once again we all participate in the illusion of fantasy even if I was miscast as the "mystery celebrity in the limo" that day.

It was all over too quickly.  I was also there to promote my DVD "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only" which I am told turned out to be a blurb on the credit line at the bottom of the screen.  It was not the reason for being there, it really was to honor Robert.
I was hot and miserable and knew that my red face was not televising well.  Puppet Bob was in perfect makeup and no shine whatsoever.  He is the poster boy for "never let them see you sweat" he never has.   I am sure that viewers watching at home felt like Bob had certainly held his age a lot better than me.  Just before we all ran for the air conditioning I snapped a quick picture of my friends on the couch. Bob Mandan made a Chester face, Katherine's smile shone as ever it did and with trophy in hand the honoree gave me a trademark sly grin. True Pros.  How lucky I am to work with them, to know them, and still be touched by their friendship.  No one said it out loud, but everyone knew it would probably be the last ever SOAP reunion celebration, I'm sorry that I didn't get a selfie with me and Bob in the picture.  But then again... I don't need a picture.. I have my memories and now have this blog to recall that special moment.  Soon it will not be about how hot it was that day, but how special it was. 
As you were,
Jay

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Church and Marriage

""The World is a stage and we are mere players" said Shakespeare, so this is my monologue.  In the words of Edward Albee, "I write to know what I am talking about."

Here is what baffles me, when did "marriage" become a Christian right to grant?  And how does the recent Supreme Court ruling constitute an assault on religion, especially Christianity?


Stage note - aside:
  
To circumvent a possible misunderstanding of my spiritual journey and study; and to limit comments intended to convert me or save me, let me explain.  

 I have come to my belief in the Omnipotence of Deity from conscious contemplation and serious study.  In this post I will reference Biblical passages that, in my opinion, support the thesis. They are merely footnotes. If Bible quotes are not "your thing" disregard. 
With that having been said:

ACT I

Marriage is a legal distinction.  A governmentally sanctioned contract intended to facilitate the transfer of property and create a partnership that carries accepted rights and responsibilities.  It is a license issued by a governing political body, normally the State.  The legal enactment of this contract is carried out with the public affirmation of the two parties and witnesses to that process.  The governmental body which grants the contract also authorizes several kinds of public servants to oversee the process.  They include: a judge, a court clerk, a justice of the peace, a ships captain at sea and...any recognized member of the clergy (i.e. Priest, Minister, Rabbi, Imam, Cantor or Ethical Culture Leader). They are all authorized to perform a marriage. In some states the clergy must first be certified with their own license granting them permission to do so from the State. Something akin to a notary public who is licensed to witness and verify signatures for the government. 
Organized religions of every kind have co-opted this right to perform this contract of marriage and attempted to imply that their authority for a marriage comes from God.  It clearly does not. The most elaborate wedding performed by a Bishop himself in a church with full ceremony, would not be legal if that ceremony did not include a "license" from the government.  Those couples married by a court clerk during a lunch break are equally valid as any religious ceremony... if they both have a license.  

This marriage license contract exists so that if one of the partners dies the other partner is not excluded from the possessions they both acquired together.  Simply put, because the law recognizes this union blood relatives of the deceased can not simply claim their property by inheritnce.  During the AIDS epidemic I knew of many couples who were victims of family greed.  These devoted couples saw a life time of possessions and real estate taken away from the surviving partner by blood relatives who did not "approve" of the relationship.  Since there was no license available for their bond, the property grab was totally legal.  Finally thanks to a Supreme Court decision, that never needs happen again. In fact the very case brought before the high court hinged on this very principle of survivor's rights. 

Setting property inheritance aside in the discussion of marriage, what about the bond of love itself? Isn't that marriage?
The attraction of one being to another has no explanation. Why anyone desires a relationship with anyone else is as mystical as love itself.  The need to be with another doesn't just exist for humans, it is everywhere.  Eagles, Wolves, Gibbon monkeys, French Angelfish and even Schistosoma Masion Worms mate with one partner for life. There are 7 other species we know of that are life long monogamists as well.  What drives animals to dedicate their lives to a single partner forsaking all others for life? It is the mystery of love.  In nature the mate is not always of the opposite sex, sometimes two females sometimes two males. There are certain species of worms that have no specific gender at all, yet they mysteriously bind together in some sort of love. Surely these relationships are God ordained; therefore God must have something to say about marriage. 
Well if he does have rules about marriage they don't exist in his Kingdom. At least not so, according to his earthly surrogate.  Here comes that scripture I was telling you about. It is from the word of Jesus in the book of Matthew.

Matthew 22:30

…But Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven."

Not just once but that concept is repeated again in Mark.

Mark 12:25

…Jesus said to them, "Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God? "For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven."

So if "marriage" is not a heavenly requirement of God, where is the authority for the Church to determine the application? Love is the only rule of heavenly relationships, like angels.  But what about love between persons of the same sex. What is the exact sex of an angel?
At this point I would expect someone to quote Leviticus 20:13 and Leviticus 18:20 as rebuttal. 
"If a man lie with another man as with a woman it is an abomination." 
Although it would seem from an absolute interpretation of this passage that lesbian couples are okay since it does not mention a woman being with another woman as with a man.  But that is not the point. 
What other abominations does the Bible point out that seem to cause less concern for God's wrath?

Proverbs 6:16 -19- There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.


In my thinking there are certain radio hosts that seem to make a living by sowing discord among brothers. Why does that not get people to cry abomination? In fact Proverbs is just full of abominations that don't seem to concern some people as much as some other abominations.

Proverbs 12:22  Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord

Proverbs 15:8  The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord


A reason to rally against capital punishment? Would seem so..

Proverbs 11:20  Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the Lord

Proverbs 20:10  Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the Lord.







Butcher get thy thumb off thine scale...

And number one on the top ten abominations to be considered...

Proverbs 28:9  If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.






So .... marriage equality is now the law. It is a legal document that protects the rights of every couple equally. It seems like God would be in favor of equality and fairness. This legal license does not threaten the Church with abomination. There seem to be plenty of ignored abominations to go around. We do not get to choose our personal favorite abominations and  "turn our ear away from the law."  If we do that "even our prayer is an abomination." 

Scene and Curtain-  

As always the opinions expressed are solely my own, not intended to be the only interpretation, nor only point of view.  I would expect yours might be different and I respect yours as you respect mine. 
Namaste
Jay


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

TO THE FLAG...

Eddie Izzard has a wonderful monologue from his "Dressed to Kill" DVD on the conquest of the world with "The clever use of flags".  He claims that historically invaders planted flags and pronounced invaded land conquered. When the inhabitants of the land objected stating "We live here" the invaders would say, "Do you have a flag? Then it doesn't count."

Here is the reason that routine comes to mind. Along with some incredible memories I bought back from Ireland, I also returned with a head cold. This has kept me in bed for the day with only the television as a distraction from nose blowing.   After several weeks with limited (by choice) access to American news I was carpet bombed with never ending coverage about a flag. There seems to be nothing else of concern to any journalist on any station but the fate of this antiquated furling piece of fabric atop a South Carolina State Government building. 
I get it. I understand the connection this flag has to racism, oppression and recently mass murder in a church.  But it seems to me that it has taken on a mythology unto itself. "If we just take down that flag then racism will go away in America." As if covering up a fatal wound with a bandage keeps the patient from bleeding to death. 
Oh, but America is responding to this "flag crisis" with Walmart refusing to sell the emblem followed closely by Ebay, Sears and Amazon.  And although NASCAR will not out right ban the flag at it's events it will (and this is a quote) "Discourage the use of the flag."  And the American public has responded by purchasing up all the Confederate flags they can still get, surging the demand to a 3894% increase over average sales.   
And if it really is as important as to be the front page of every newspaper in the country today, why doesn't South Carolina just not fly the flag today? That's right,  just don't hoist it up the flag pole TODAY. Unfortunately the best the demonstrations in Charleston could do is get the state congress to agree to discuss the matter later this summer. Then the measure has to pass by a two thirds majority of the locals when the national news has moved on to some other over reaction.   
I am sure that the governor of the state, who has come out in favor of removing the flag, has the ability to order state flags at "half mast" in honor of the funerals of the 9 people beginning this week.  The Confederate flag isn't even their state flag so why can't she just order that flag to be flown not just at half mast but "no mast".  
As it is now the body of South Carolina congressman/Reverend Clementa Pickney, will lie in state at the capital building while atop the building flies the very flag waved by his murderer.  Thanks Walmart but,  the only Confederate Battle Flag that matters for the next week is the one on the South Carolina Capitol.  

It is a start to sanitize the public from symbols of bigotry and racism, but that is only the symbol of the issue.  Where was the public outrage a few weeks ago when President Obama launched a Twitter feed and with in minutes there were more than a quarter of a million replies using the word "nigger". The only outrage was later when he himself used the word in an interview. Once again we obsess on the minutia of the problem.  President Obama, used the word to make the very point that Americans are avoiding.  It is not so important that we just refrain from racism in public, we have to eliminate racism at the core of our being.  

Back to the brilliance of Eddie Izzard,  since we have a flag now that we all agree symbolizes racism and hatred... why don't we have a flag that represents tolerance and acceptance.  The idea drilled into us every July 4th is that the American Flag is such a symbol.  I wish it was so, but flying a flag outside your locked door where your assault rifle is loaded and ready in case "those people" try to come around is not the answer.  In that case it is a empty piece of cloth signifying nothing of substance.
As you were,
Jay