Monday, July 18, 2016

What I learned at the Vent Convention

Darwin (Jay) and Dale (The) ..
make up your own story for
this photograph. 
I have a picture story, one with a moral and everything.  It's not a story of the picture on the left. Make up a story of your own for that one.  The story I am about to tell involves the picture at the end of this blog.  Here goes.

The setting of this story is my back yard at 3:32 pm on Sunday, July 17, 2016, So.California. I have the house to myself because Sandi is off at a family baby shower in Portland.  

There are two characters in this story, three if you include me. Although the cast might be recognizable from the photo, it is important to know the players.   

Bambu (Boo) is my dog. Dog owners will understand, when someone says "my dog" it implies a human canine relationship like no other.  I was gone four days, and Boo had been alone most of the day when I returned. She was very excited to see me.

The other character is a puppet from my show. It may look like a tennis ball and surely started out to be just that but with a little craftsmanship a tennis ball becomes my co-performer named Spaulding. Spaulding was created for "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only" and has been part of the company since. I remember spending hours trying to get the cut on a tennis ball just right so it would transform from sports equipment to stage performer.  No two tennis balls cut or bend the same, so when that perfect combination comes together, I tend to treat that tennis ball like is was a McElroy Figure.  The original Broadway Spaulding is enshrined at Vent Haven Museum.     So that said, here is the story.

I arrive home from the Vent Haven Convention on Sunday afternoon. 

Aside: If you have never been to a Ventriloquist Convention before I will try to explain. The Vent ConVention is a gathering of professional, semi-professional, dilettantes, hobbyist, puppet makers and evangelists for the Art of Ventriloquism.   Whatever your interest in  Ventriloquism you can find experts and fellow artisans of what you love about this art form at the ConVention. 
The idea is that we "older" performers help inspire and promote ventriloquism to a new generation of the ventriloquially smitten.  The truth is, it always inspires me more.  In fact I came home and immediately started to work on a puppet  character and act that I abandoned long ago for lack of inspiration.  I have plans of using the character in a performance on Saturday.  

A sidebar for those who may have attended the ConVention,  I did not borrow someone else's idea.  Although one of the lecturers suggested that ideas and intellectual property can not be legally protected and therefore these "ideas" are free to "borrow",  In my opinion that is not the proper "take away" from the ConVention. However, given the lecturer's success I decided to take him at his word. I began to "borrow" from everyone who attended. In fact I didn't just borrow it,  I flat out stole it. But it was not some other ventriloquists act,  puppet character, intellectual property or "idea" that I "borrowed".  What I stole was inspiration.  I disagree with the lecturer's thesis that ideas are not proprietary, but have no disagreement that inspiration is absolutely not.  What I stole from everyone was their passion, their sense joy and wonder for this unusual art form.
I  also stole some great memories.  Time spent in laughter with my friends and peers is a priceless possession. When you have so much in common, laughter is as natural as breathing.  I have evidently been inducted into something called the MFC which is an honor and a joy. Thank you to the secret committee who nominated me. 

My job at this ConVention was to lecture on the technique of the art as taught by The Great Lester; I was traveling as light as I could.  I brought only characters that would fit in my carry on case. Being the size of a tennis ball, Spaulding was the only character I had room for. 

Now back to the story: I arrive home from the Vent Haven Convention on Sunday afternoon.  My cheeks hurt from laughter and I have some strange desire for curly fries.  I am exhausted from the 4 hour flight but my creative juices are flowing.  I begin to unpack but get distracted by every scrap of paper and bit of swag I brought back. My suitcase looks like it has exploded in my bedroom.
  
All Boo wants to do is play. She brings me every toy from her chew basket but she can tell I am more than distracted.  I am taking things from the suit case back  to the office. I grow tired of stepping past the mess so I decide to finish unpacking first and then I can start creating. 

Spaulding and Boo
The suitcase is now empty and I realize something is missing. Spaulding is not there. I check in the office, around the dirty clothes, under the bed and retrace every step I made.  It might seem a little weird to be concerned to the point of panic over a cut up tennis ball, but like I said, it is one of my characters.  In my frantic search I notice Boo out by the pool playing with one of her toys, or so I thought until I realize what was going on.   She was, at that moment, nuzzling, chewing and drooling on Spaulding.   Boo had found Spaulding in my suitcase and decided it was a new toy I brought back for her. 

The minute I opened the patio door her tail started to wag, she grabbed Spaulding and took off.  For the next few minutes it was a game of keep away.  She would get close with Spaulding in her mouth and just as I thought she would drop it like I demanded, she sprinted away, very happy I decided to play with her.  Finally I was able to get her to drop it in anticipation that I would toss it.  I quickly snapped a picture. 

There is an object lesson to this picture story.  Boo "borrowed" something from me.  To her it was a tennis ball like so many others she plays with.  To me it was a puppet, a cherished part of my act.  As smart as dogs are they will never get the concept that borrowing, taking, or stealing something from someone else has consequences.  They don't know the difference between legal rights and ethical principles, and have no concept of ownership...  if they like something... they take it.  I am glad humans can operate on a higher level. 

As you were,
Jay



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Donald Trump won't Read this: # seven will shock you.

Okay that title has nothing to do with this blog.  It was click bate... A mini-scam.  A title that made you stop and click to see what the blog said.  You will understand why I am thinking like that after you read this. Or is that statement just a hook to get you to read the rest?  You really can't be sure until you come to Section C-7.*


My birthday is only four days earlier than Sandi's birthday so about this time of year there is an uptick in the number of packages delivered to the Johnson house. But a couple of days ago when Sandi opened up a couple of boxes, we determined they were not gifts nor was it something either of us had ordered.  

The first one to arrive was from a cosmetics company.  A small jar and tube of something that must have been compounded with gold bullion because the invoice was for $324.  We determined that it was not a birthday gift from anyone so Sandi immediately called the company to say she had not ordered it.  They had Sandi's name and shipping information but the email and credit card number were not correct.  Although a card had been charged it was not one of ours.
A day later she gets another package from a different company but the same set up, her name and information with a credit card that was not ours. However, the last four digits of the card were not the same as the one charged for the cosmetics.  This time it was a box of health and vitamin supplements for around $300.  This time the company had more information about the transaction. It seems when this order was placed the person tried three different cards before one went through.  That put a flag on the shipment and they explained what experts think happened.
It was a phishing scam of sorts. Some how these crooks had Sandi's shipping information even down to the correct zip code and phone number. It seems they also had a bunch of stolen credit card numbers.  In order to determine which numbers were valid, they would place an order to see if the number worked. When one of the stolen numbers worked the order was complete and sent to Sandi.  That number would then be kited with a flood of other orders that couldn't be traced.  

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from "Apple" which was an invoice for an APP I bought on line.  I get one every time I buy a new APP, and it looked legit. However, since most of the stuff I buy are APPs costing a dollar or two and this was a invoice for $99.99, I knew it was a mistake. There was the usual link to click if you had questions or problems with the invoice.  Something told me that before I clicked I should make sure the link went back to Apple.com.  It did not, the IP address was not even a site in this country.  So, these hackers sent me an invoice, I was sure to question, with a link back to a site that was not Apple.  

And there was a voice message on the home phone yesterday saying the IRS has found a mistake in my taxes and they are starting legal proceedings.  I know the IRS does not call on the telephone. But here is my question to the universe, WTF? Do I look like I have "sucker" written on my forehead? What is with the sudden test of wits with invisible scammers? 

Perhaps this is an Internet algorithm testing my computer skills after having turned another year older.  It could be based upon the Meta data that Facebook has been gathering on all of us.  In layman's terms it would go something like this -   
Facebook Meta data:  "Look at all the crap that Johnson is liking.... He even put a smiley face emoticon on this shared meme about Donald Trump. What is he doing?  Well, he is in his 60's and just had a birthday,maybe he just suddenly lost it. We better see if he's still "got it".  Send him a bogus app phishing invoice.  If he doesn't go for that see if you can get him with the bogus IRS call."  

Jay to Facebook Meta data: "F-Off. I don't care what you do... I am never going to finish that profile now." 

*Section C-7 - the answer is affirmative, Donald Trump is just another scam artist.  

As you were,
Jay


Monday, July 11, 2016

Lucky Monday -

I am not really keen on numbers, except for purposes of superstition.  I have always thought that my birthday July 11-  or 7/11 was very lucky. Growing up I just assumed the numbers had blessed me and I was preordained to be lucky.  Looking back today on 67 years I would say I have absolutely been lucky, blessed and guided.  
Normally I would not give my actual age to anyone but a doctor. I would certainly not publish it in a blog. But thanks to this math based Internet, my age is easily available online.  So..I'm 67. There I said it again, So, let's move on. 
"Adrift" 
I don't put much importance in a number as the indicator of age. I'm not sure what "age" is if not a generalization or stereotype.  I know people who are young in their mid 80's and others who are old in their mid 50's.  In those cases the number attached to their existence is totally meaningless.  
However, my number of years on this Earth has taught me one thing for sure. It is the worst thing one can do at this point in life: talk about your age. No one wants to hear it. They no longer sell parts for the way things used to be. If it was so great back in those days, they would still be doing it that way. 

In my mind I'm still a twenty-five year old man, in my mirror I'm reminded that no one else sees it that way. I don't know how I am supposed to be or feel at this age of my life. I've never been this old before. I will be saying that every year for the rest of my life with no hope of ever finding the answer.  
Looking back, the thing I value most in my life is friendship. To laugh, and lounge with friends under most any circumstance is "golden time" to me.

"He deserves Paradise who makes his companions laugh." From the Koran

Thank you for all the birthday wishes. We will all celebrate when next we meet.  
As you were,
Jay 




Sunday, July 03, 2016

You're not a writer...

You can't write. It wasn't told to me in those very words, but that was my take away in Junior High. I wasn't a good writer, I wasn't even a good student according to some of my teachers.  Somehow, I knew that my teachers were wrong about my potential, especially Miss Williams.
Sue Williams may still be around, if she is I hope she is reading this right now. She was my 7th grade English teacher in Abernathy, Texas.  It was her first year as a teacher and I hope, if she continued to teach, she learned how to be better at it.  It is a situation that can only happen in a small town like Abernathy and needs context to really explain.

Sue was the daughter of my favorite teacher Esther Williams.  Not the movie star swimmer but the Junior High Science teacher, beloved by everyone lucky enough to get into her class.  Being a small town Mrs. Williams lived three doors down from my parents on the opposite side of the street.  She was widowed from her husband and had one a daughter, who went off  to college when I was in elementary school. Mrs Williams was a loving person/neighbor/teacher who had the hint of a Swedish accent, I think the entire town loved her back.

As a kid I would see Sue around the neighborhood.  She was probably ten years older than me so we were not playmates. She was just the "older" girl who lived up the street.  I knew her well enough to  wave and call her Sue.  She was blonde, very attractive, and I admit to having a boyhood crush on her.
 
Then came the day I started the 7th grade. To my surprise Sue Williams is now a college graduate with teaching certificate and is the new Junior High English teacher.  I figured she would be the same kind of teacher as her Mom.  Add teenage hormones to a boyhood crush? I figured I was going to like this class.
The first day, however,  was a harbinger of things to come. She began that class by saying, "Some of you may know that I grew up here in Abernathy. And you know my Mom teaches Science here. Some of you may know me as Sue."
At that point she looked in my direction and said, "I am no longer Sue. I am Miss Williams, your teacher and you will refer to me in that way from now on." I got the point. From that moment on she seemed determined to destroy any self esteem I had developed the year before in her Mothers science class.  
Miss Williams knew I had trouble reading but seemed to delight in getting me in front of the class to read out loud. Perhaps she thought embarrassing me in front of the class would make me a better reader.  It didn't work. It only made me feel like a total loser. She harped on me as if my misspellings were an  insult to her teaching ability. My essays were never graded higher than a C. I couldn't work hard enough to get above a C+ average in her class.

I loathed English that year. It was not a fun learning experience like it was in her Mothers class.  She assigned a very heavy "reading and book report" assignment to the class.  Being a dyslexic I could barely finish one book a year, much less the five book reports a semester she assigned. My brother on the other hand was a voracious reader.  He read books one after the other.  I would occasionally ask him to tell me the story of a book he was reading which he could do in detail.  I would write the story he told me and turn it in as my book report.   I realized early on in Miss Williams class that it didn't matter if I had read the book or not... I still got a C.

There came a time when yet another book report was due.  My brother was reading some Mystery novel at the time and I asked him to tell me about it.  He went into great detail about this murder case the hero detective was trying to solve.  The book was entitled "The Deep".  It had great twists and turns, red herrings and lots of near misses.  When my brother got to the end, he said, "I'm not going to tell you how it ends, it would spoil it for you, when you read it."  I tried several ways to get him to tell all but he wouldn't budge.  The next day I turned in a detailed story report on "The Deep".  However, not knowing how it ended I used my brothers technique.  The last line of my bogus book report... ""I'm not going to tell you how it ends, it would spoil it for you, when you read it."  I got a C.

In spite of hating every minute of this class, the end of the year finally came.  Miss Williams passed out our final exam papers.  She said, "The final question is an essay. I have chosen specific individual questions for each of you to write about.  Write at least a page on the subject. It will be worth 40 percent of your grade."  I had long suspected that Miss Williams was on to my bogus book reports, but I was never sure. At least not until I saw my final question written in long hand on my mimeographed test.
"Explain in detail the ending and the solution to the mystery in the book 'The Deep'.  It won't spoil it for me... I have already read the book." Even then I understood the passive aggressive nature of this "personalize question".
The rest of the test was not that difficult.  By the time I got to the essay question I figured it out. Even if I got a perfect score on the rest of the test; without a good essay I could not get more than a failing grade on this final. Since I did not read the book, I had no idea what the ending was.  I sat there with my blank page and Bic pen feeling not only like a loser but like a failure as well.
There was not much to do but go for it.  If I was going to fail I was going out in flames, determined not to let a blank page or Miss Williams get the best of me.
I spent half the essay describing the plot points I remembered from what my brother told me. I vamped some more as creatively as I could for another quarter page. But now... it was time for that last paragraph, the solution to the mystery murder, the only thing that mattered to my grade or Miss Williams.
I thought and thought about the plot and the characters of the story.  I had no idea what the real ending was, I only knew that it had to be something completely different.  It had to be a character no one would expect to be the killer.  I watched the clock count down the minutes till we had to turn in the test.  As I racked my brain trying to write the last paragraph lost in the daze of crunching my brain cells I noticed Miss Williams looking over at me as if to say, "I got you this time."  My boyhood crush had turned into an absolute disgust toward this passive aggressive hag of a teacher.  
Suddenly that anger turned into an idea.  Who would be the most Unlikely killer in this story? Which character would be the most shocking when revealed as the murderer?  It suddenly came to me.  The Detective.  Justifying this imaginary plot twist took another half a page but it made total sense.  The detective kept throwing off the investigation, he was leading the others down the wrong path to solve it with suspects that could not have been the killer. Another detective discovers details of the killing in the lead detective's first report that only the murder would have known.  End of story, end of question, end of test, end of school, end of that class and most importantly end of my relationship with Miss Williams.
 
It was days before we got the tests back. I was not looking forward to a failing grade but didn't see there was any other chance in my future. As I slowly turned over the test papers that had been handed out, I saw, instead of failing, I got a B on the test.  I could not imagine how this had happened because the essay was worth 40% of the grade, since I was surely busted on my bogus book report the best I could hope for was a D.  But there it was one of my best grades of the class.  
The reality is, Miss Williams had NOT read the book. She was simply applying her passive aggressive nature to my final test, perhaps just to get me to admit the fact that I had not been keeping up with the assigned reading.  It backfired on her. The story report in my final essay explained a logical and surprising twist to a book that was believable.  If that was not the correct ending she would have to admit that she lied about having read the book.  I pulled a C+ for the course.  
Two years later we moved from the little town of Abernathy. I enrolled in Richardson Texas school that had three times the number of students in my class than the number of students in the entire Abernathy Public School system. In this environment it was much harder for a teacher to single out a student for personalized punishment and I actually flourished as a student. In that system there were educators who identified my problem as dyslexia. The idea that I might have a minor disability rather than just being lazy and/or stupid was a great boost to my self confidence.  
I never heard another word about Miss Williams. She would now be in her late 70's and probably not Miss Willams any more.  I assume if she continued to be a teacher either she got better, or was run out of some school on a rail.  But, I'm still a little pissed about the whole thing even after this many decades.
A writer is some one who can put ideas and words together in a structure that works for the intended purpose. I could always do that and got better with practice. Miss Williams never read my English assignments looking for raw ideas, she was grading me on my bad spelling, and juvenile grammar. To Miss Williams I would now say: computers now do most of that analysis for me, leaving me free to write better ideas and express them more fully. In reality then, my computer has made Miss Williams abilities obsolete.  
This week I received a residual check from a script I wrote for an animated film fifteen years ago. It was one of many sizable checks I have gotten for that work over the years. It made me think again of good ole Miss Williams. I often wonder what happened to the kids that "Aced" Miss Williams English class. I wonder if any of them are writers. My hope is that they found some other route to their self esteem than relying on the opinion of Miss Williams.  
As you were, 
Jay



Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The News Today, Oh Boy!

John Lennon said it best when he sang the line "I read the news today, oh boy." The fact that the line states he "read the news today" rather than "saw the news today"  or  "I tweeted the news today, oh boy." suggests a time when news was delivered differently.  I'm not sure the difference is a better way, what with fewer and fewer people getting the news from papers there is less time to gather the facts of the news. Today news is  not gathered, collected, researched or compiled, it is just regurgitated with no more background information than raw video from a Go Pro strapped to a daredevil.

I remember when Ted Turner first announced he was going to fund a television station that would be 24/7 news called CNN. At the time it seemed to me that one hour of news a day from the existing networks was more than sufficient.  It took  at least 24 hours to gather the relevant facts, check them out and report them during the next full broadcast.  Somewhere along the line the news reporters and broadcasts stopped reporting on the news and became participants.  Instead of a knowledgeable journalist analyzing a story that had been researched and dissected, the job was replaced by observers giving knee jerk reactions to a story still unfolding.

We have been lulled into the fact that when CNN cuts live to a Breaking Story, it is not very informative.  They are just showing the same video over and over repeating the same cursory information.  Until officials have a chance to investigate what happened there is no facts for the news.   But with a 24/7 news cycle you will never hear "details at 10:00".  The situation continues to play out live on the air, as details trickle in as they are received. There is no way to know in that moment if the detail is correct or merely a speculation.  In their rush to be the first to report some fact the 24/7 news cycle more times than not they broadcast opinion or at best a semi-intelligent guess.  The same can be said for all the other 24/7 new stations the only difference is the political slant that each station attaches to the occurrence.

With this philosophy for what passes as the news plays out we are more apt to get the wrong information. In the heat of the event rumor and speculation get disseminated. Later when that "fact" is repudiated the correction is buried.  If a person only hears the early stages of a crisis what they know of the situation is not complete.

By the time the correct information has been gathered the error, the speculation and the rumor are flying around social media repeated so often it begins to have a ring of truth.  It has been said that a fact becomes true to the believer when a story is repeated by three different sources. If you consider all your friends on Facebook to be a "different source" then you have hundreds of reinforcements with dozens of comments to boot.  I have seen posts stated as absolute fact when a quick check with Snopes.com would prove the opposite.  It has never been easier to find the truth, but you can not find it by just listening and accepting everything you read.

So here is my hope. Take it upon yourselves to know what is true and what is not.  Don't take the news reports at face value. The goal of 24/7 news is not to keep the public informed.  The goal of all news today is to sell product advertising.  Why tell the important facts about a story in 10 minutes when you can sell advertising all day by covering every moment waiting for the next piece of information to come.  With all forms of instant communication there is no way to miss the next important turn in the story, it will be plastered in notifications all over a smart phone the minute it happens.

The day after the Brexit vote Google was overtaken by British searchers trying to find out more about the EU. That was too late to be informed after the vote had been taken.  The very same information existed the day before the vote as it did after the vote.  Where were the reporters of old before the vote? Where were the reporters who tried to give all the researched facts about what this vote would mean?  They were around but were drowned out by emotional posts and trolling tweets that had none of the facts but plenty of the popular jingoism.

The difference in the vote for Britain to leave the EU and votes to stay was only 4% points.  In todays' world when gossip travels as fast as the news I would suggest that at least 4% of the voters in Britain were totally uninformed by the facts before they voted. To me that's a low number and the actual percentage of ignorant voters is probably much higher.  The point is, WE THE PEOPLE can not allow 4% of the "uninformed" to decided the future.  WE THE PEOPLE must be informed voters, not emotional voters, we must be long sighted and not myopic.

As you were,
Jay


Friday, June 17, 2016

Enough is Enough

Our political and social world seems to be upside down right now. Two great Religions at war with each other for centuries,  seem to find agreement on two things.  Their love of weapons and their hatred of LGBT people. This unresolvable issue is all that anyone is talking/tweeting/posting about right now.  Enough is Enough so this post is not about any of that.  Stop reading here if you are in need of having a hateful fire fanned.

I have blogged about it before but I was performing at a Comedy Club in Atlanta, Georgia when a middle act named Jeff Foxworthy asked me if I thought an idea of his was funny.  He opened a spiral notebook and recited "You might be a Redneck" jokes he had written.  It was hysterical.  Two of my favorites: "If your family tree does not fork... You might be a Redneck."  And "If your mother does not take the Malboro out of her mouth when she tells the Highway Patrol officer to kiss her ass... You might be a Redneck".  He went on stage later that night and killed (comedy term for performing very well).  It caught on and Jeff Foxworthy now owns Georgia, or so I am told.

Although I do not think of myself as one, I am PROBABLY a redneck.  But you decide, here goes.  

At the Johnson Estate we do not have a formal dining room/living room. That space was converted years ago into a pool room. The pool table once belonged to Harry Anderson. Stories associated with this pool table can entertain people for hours and you never have to rack a ball or chalk a cue.  

It was not a hard sell, getting Sandi to agree to put a pool table in the dining room. In fact she was all for it since that formal area was not used very much. And with the boys growing up, it would be great place for them and their friends to hang out.  Twenty years later I can not imagine living in a house that does not have a pool table. I love to play the game but there is more to it than that.
A pool table is the perfect place to do all kinds of things. When there is not a game going on, I put a cover over it and the pool table becomes a waist level, perfectly balanced 8' x 5' table with 40 square feet of flat surface to work on. I use it to lay out and work on props, sort through files, arrange pictures and stack the mail when we have been out of town. But I mostly use it packing up my act for a trip and, oh yes, folding laundry.  No other area, so useful to fulfill these tasks, exists in the house.

The laundry day usage came about when Sandi became tired of the boys leaving their laundry in the drier for longer than necessary or mostly to get them to empty their stuff out of the drier for our clothes.  To get them motivated one day Sandi put the dried laundry on the pool table so they would have to move it (by folding and removing it hopefully) before they could play a game of 9 ball, and a new function was born.  By now this domestic use of a game table has been well established in the Johnson house. 

Okay, by now you are wondering what any of this has to do with the mass shooting in Orlando or Jeff Foxworthy. The answer to the first question is "nothing".  Here is the answer to the second question. it actually happened to me yesterday and I have to phrase it as a Foxworthy redneck joke. 

"If you are playing 9 ball on the pool table, that's in your formal dining room, and you find a fabric softener dryer sheet and a sock in the corner pocket..... You might be a Redneck.."

Love more, Laugh more, hate less,
As you were, 
Jay