Saturday, November 28, 2015

Unfriending Saturday

Let's call this Unfriending Saturday. It falls between Black Friday and Cyber Monday when there is a lull in the shopping frenzy. It was pointed out to me that the Black Friday shopping greed comes the day after we are thankful for all that we already have. Perhaps Unfriending Saturday will help balance out some of our hypocritical Karma.
The problem with my newly created "day" is that it involves the word Unfriending. For a person of my generation it has such a negative connotation.  Facebook has turned this useful noun into an awkward verb. In FB vernacular "friending" someone simply means you have turned on their Facebook channel. You get to see what they are saying, and they get to see what you are saying. It's not like a conversation, nor a social interaction, it's more like communicating by really fast carrier pigeons.  
Sometimes the "friend" you "accept" on Facebook is someone you already know from real life, sometimes it is not. There may come a time when the friends channel you have subscribed to becomes clogged with racist, homophobic, holier than thou, mean spirited "shares", "memes" and "posts". It can happen even with people you think you know well.   In the outside world if you encountered a person spewing such bull shit, you would avoid them,  the last thing you would do is call them a friend. 
But on Facebook the racist, evangelical, NRA loving, homophone is publicly listed as your "friend".  Eventually you become tired of being in the loop of their social media hate and wish to distance yourself from such ideas. It requires that you physically "unfriend" them. 
In real life I place such significant value in my friendships that even in Cyberspace I find it hard to let one go. It is because of this word "friend" which Facebook has co-opted and redefined as a link to a personal media page.  I wish FB had chosen some other metaphor to base their connections on or at least some other name.  Call them Cleethans. "How many Cleethans are in your group?" Rather than "how many friends do you have." The reason is, if you have more than a couple of hundred "friends" on Facebook a vast majority are Cleethans.  It is a statistical certainty.
Today I noticed a "friend" published a link to Sean Hannity interviewing Phil Roberts. Sean Hannity who is a fear baiting Fox Hound and Phil Roberts the gray bearded redneck duck dynasty reactionary. I could not watch much of it mainly because it involved Sean Hannity and Phil Roberts. I only watched enough to know that Phil Roberts had his "preachers" hat on and Hannity was wearing his " Jesus University cheer leading" uniform. Any real friend knows I would not find any agreement, enjoyment nor satisfaction in a link like this. Comments from this "friend's" other "friends" indicated they did enjoy it and agreed with Mr. Duck's rambling stupidity.  That's when I realized, I had mistakenly tuned into the wrong social media station. This information was not intended for me, I just needed to change what I was looking at.  In my day it was just a matter of changing a channel on the RCA television. But with Facebook, I actually had to go to that channel and click "unfriend this person". And it still makes me feel bad that some how I knowingly said no to friendship. Even though this was an acquaintance of someone I knew in High School who requested a friendship because she knew my work. I am not sure we have ever really met. In real life this wouldn't even make the threshold of a solid introduction, much less anything similar to a friendship.
So, take this Saturday to be proactive. Why choose things you don't agree with and let them clutter up your "news feed".  It is Unfriending Saturday, enjoy your day.
As you were,

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Relevance of Trumbo

I am sitting in a bath tub with a bottle of Scotch, a ruled pad of paper and a cigarette holder in the ash tray, cutting and gluing sections of a typed script together. The black Underwood typewriter is noisy and slow.  I am trying to capture the muse Dalton Trumbo entertained during his life journey.  If you have not seen the movie "Trumbo" disregard the setting. The process is not the message.

I went to see the movie "Trumbo" last night.  It is set in the repressive times of the Hollywood blacklist and political turmoil of the 1950's.  It is highly reflective of the current political climate and should be a cautionary tale for us all.

Spoiler alert:
The movie has made me start thinking about what the country is going through right now. "Trumbo" is the true story of a very talented and prolific writer. But you don't go see it for the biography. The protagonist is not the message. I am guessing the real Dalton Trumbo was not so lovable. Bryan Cranston can make any retro bate into a screen hero. It's about the story and what that period of history means today.
Writing about how this movie makes me feel seems to be a fait accompli.  I'm not sure how much of your movie experience I will deplete by writing this blog.  Perhaps the best advice I can give is: see the movie then come back to this opinion. We can start from here on equal footing.

The movie is about how a perverted idea of Patriotism attempts to control a nation. It is about how the government generates fear to exercise control.  You are either "one of us" or you are "against us" and the template to determine which one YOU are is very narrow and shallow. The movie points out how the government uses intimidation, extortion, black mailing, career destroying and public shaming in the name of Americanism.  There is even incarceration if you show Contempt of Congress.  Although this was the time of the red scare in the 50's nothing has changed but the enemy, the techniques of fear are the same today.

In "Trumbo" the government goes after the movie industry. In reality the House on UnAmerican Activities Committee went after every industry during that time.  Broadway had it's own black list of actors, writers and designers who could not work.  Careers were ruined and in some cases lives were lost because of what the government was doing.  It was finally a movie that ended the Hollywood blacklist.  So, it's very appropriate a movie tells that story. It is the cautionary tale of corrupted governmental over reach.
More importantly the story points out the reason that movies and all art should exist, unbound. Art is the mirror held up to our faces.  In the third person of an image we see warts and blemishes we may not even realize are there.  More importantly, art is the battery that keeps our national heart beating, but it must be recharged from time to time.
Those who think the arts are not a fundamental aspect of Liberty and Freedom do not understand either word. Those who wish to suppress the artist from expressing his art are tyrants, dictators and fascists. Cutting the arts from our schools so a tax break can be given to a capitalist is not the way a country of Freedom and Liberty survives.
Over sixty years ago we feared the Communists were trying to destroy our country by indoctrinating our people with propaganda. There were sympathizers everywhere who must be identified, watched and marginalized. The Freedom and Liberty of some needed to be suppressed so that Freedom and Liberty could thrive. Replace the word Communist with the enemy of your choice and make the sentence present tense.
The bath water is getting cold.  I don't like Scotch, don't smoke... cigarettes and if I was restricted to writing on a manual typewriter I would take up knitting.  Everyone has their own muse and mine has no answer but this.
Learn from the past or be doomed to repeat it.
As you were,

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Be Afraid... there is a monster under your bed...

© Jay Johnson - Jaysons Imagination, Inc. 
The power of Fear is not in the actions of violence, it is in the anticipation of some violence.  Fear is an assumed condition of the future. Fear is the erroneous idea that we are not able to handle a situation which might come to pass in our lives. It is a quantum conundrum . The future is an infinite set of possible outcomes to any current action, and our imagination can attach fear to any of those imagined realities. 
Fear does not exist in the present. That is because it becomes something else in the present. It can become pain, it can become suppression, it can become violence, but it is no longer fear.  I don't know the statistic but it must be a large percentage of our fears which never become anything but stressful anticipation.  I can remember people who were afraid to fly in a plane New Years Eve in anticipation of what they feared Y2K would bring about. None of the things they told us to fear came to pass. Roosevelt said it best when he said, "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself."  It is a complicated truism. 
I have lived in Southern California for 40 years.  From before the time I arrived there was a communal fear of "the big one", a massive earthquake that would kill thousands and destroy a lot of property. Scientist's can't predict it, but claim with scientific certainty that eventually it will happen.  I own property here,  my family is here.  It would certainly be easy to live in fear of that day when the San Andreas slips and the crust of the earth will shake us off like water from dog fur.  
If I lived in that anticipation, that fear, of a quake that is a cosmic certainty, my life would not be worth living.  I would sleep in a tent pitched in the yard far away from any utility pole, electric wires, or trees. I would never drive a car through an under pass nor over an elevated freeway and I would avoid buildings of any kind.  Why would I make my life so complicated? Because I would be living in fear. There is no way to know when the "big one" is coming so I would need to be always fearful 24/7. 
Since living in a tent is not an option for me there is nothing to do but avoid the "what if" game of fear.  If the big one hits I know that I will be able to deal with the situation the quake causes.  We prepare as best we can and live with the assurance that the present moment brings with it the solution to moving forward. 
We lived through the Northridge quake in 1994 and it was not considered a "great quake" (it is actually the term they use for a quake of magnitude 8 or greater. ) It did a lot of damage to our property, and disrupted our lives for a while. But we dealt with the problems caused by a 6.7 quake at 4:30 am one step at a time.  We got through it like we get through everything, doing whats needed to be done at the moment. I am perhaps a little less fearful because of that experience, since none of the worst fears I could imagine about an earthquake came to pass. 
So the world fears ISIS now. ISIS says it is going to strike the US. They want to turn the Whitehouse black with smoke.  Why they want to do that is a tough explanation wrapped up in belief that a vengeful Deity wants it that way.  It is not based on the idea that they are trying to gain the favor of the Deity, they are motivated by the fear of what the Deity might do to them if they don't blindly obey.  
The amount of coverage and exposition ISIS has received in the last few weeks is way out of proportion to their power. ISIS is to Islam as the KKK is to Christianity. We do not judge all Christians with the bench mark of the KKK, why do we fear all Muslims because of the actions of a gang of young thugs? The only reason we would do that is because we have fear. 
If we live with fear and do not try to overcome it, we will make bad decisions based upon that fear. Political candidates have suggested we need to issue an ID to all Muslims, round them up, put them in a camp where they can be watched closely or keep them from coming here at all. That is the same fear that allowed Jews to be rounded up in Germany, and the Japanese in America.  Two countries of people accepted this notion because they were told constantly to be afraid of an ethnic group. 
The USA was led into the Iraqi war with the fear that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.  They did not. Thirteen years later we are still being told to fear some of the people in Iraq. 
Although we call them mass shootings here in America, most of our mass domestic killings have been done at the hands of young white American males.  Should we fear another attack like that so much that we put every young American male on a watch list? 
Statistically speaking everyone in America has a greater chance of dying in a car accident, or being struck by lighting than being killed by a terrorist. The crowded freeways of LA would suggest that drivers here are not fearful of that fact.  
There is no way to make sense of the killings in Europe and Africa over the last week. We all feel the loss of people who were not participating in a conflict, but were killed simply for going about their lives.  But let us mourn, let us raise our consciousness to embrace love not hate but certainly let us not live in fear.  We know what happened, we know what France is trying to do about it... there is no more to the story. Right now there is only the trumpet of fear 24/7. It is not news, it is the call to believe in that which has not happened.  
As you were,

Monday, November 16, 2015

Writing During A Crisis...

Being a recovering depressive or how ever Dr. Joyce would say it,  I tend to over dose on television news.  In time of great anger and sorrow like in the last week, all the news is depressing. Like a diabetic looking at a candy store I know I should not go there, but I do. There is still something in me that wants to watch.  I am usually sucked into that vortex with my own special kind of judgement.  Justifying my depression as externally caused rather than of my own doing. But not this time.
This time the muse of literary enlightenment distracted me from being glued to Paris. I was trying to figure out another reality.  A paper reality of a world that exists only in my mind.  I create problems for people who inhabit my story and give them solutions to get them out of harms way. It is a matter of trying to intellectually solving problems I have control over.

I was emailed a script by someone I didn't know years ago. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to make notes, or punch it up, see it as a vehicle for myself, or just read it  I liked the story, but thought I could tell it better.  I wrote back and said, "Let me take a pass at this."
I never heard back.  To me taking a pass at someone's script means a re-write. I suppose "taking a pass on something" also means "not interested".  I'll never know.

  • An old lady that was very fond of her pet cats suddenly lost both of them within days of each other.To help her come to terms with her grief she decides to visit a taxidermist.The taxidermist checks them out and says, "Would you like them mounted?"The old lady replies, "No thank you just holding hands will do!"

Monday, November 09, 2015

Start Spreading the News.....

It wasn't as if I was trying to sneak into New York City. I came to do a show with my friend Jamie deRoy and I was planning to be here for only 48 hours. I knew  I wouldn't have time to see friends and relatives. So I decided not to, as they say, alert the media and come incognito.
As we crossed mid town from the airport some of the streets were blocked off with construction, and it was a slog to get through Times Square.  It's always exciting in the theatre district, especially if you are in a car and not the one driving. For me it was like coming back to a second home. As I am lamenting the fact that I didn't have more time to stay, I look up and there on the Magnetron Video Screen at 7th and 47th, bigger than life, is my picture.  Yes,  forty feet above Broadway as if to say "Welcome back, Jay" is my publicity picture. It was part of a video ad for the show I am coming to do with Jamie.  The ad didn't cycle back around before the car moved on so I didn't get a snap shot of it, but I was not delusional there it was, my five seconds of Times Square fame.  At the same time I thought to myself, well there goes any attempt to come to New York incognito.  
The apartment where I stayed in the Theatre district came with a framed poster of my show, a Tony and an Ovation Award on the shelf, both with my name on them. The doorman, Angel, even said "welcome back" as I entered.   It's the apartment of my friends and the director/creators of my show, Murphy Cross and Paul Kreppel. 
My iPad and iPhone immediately connected to the wifi as if I had never been away. Walking out for lunch I ran into an acquaintance on the street, like you do in New York.  I'm still not sure what his name is but New Yorkers can have a ten minute conversation with any one for five minutes. What are you doing in town? How long will you be staying? Where are you staying? Did you see any shows? Isn't the weather nice? (Or Isn't this weather shitty)?  The weather was at that time perfect and I once again felt like the King of New York. 
I get to the show and I am sharing a dressing room with, Larry Gatlin, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Robert Cuccioli.  I as I walked in I said, "Oh I think this dressing room is one Leading Man over the limit."  The ladies dressing room was way over the limit in Divas, Michelle Lee, Joy Behar, Luba Mason and Daisy Jopling.  This was not only The Jamie deRoy and Friends show, it was also Jamie's birthday and a benefit show for the Actors Fund. The musical director was Ron Abel who is accompanist and conductor to the stars. As we say in Texas, "I was in high Cotten".
We were performing in the Gene Lynch Theater at John Jay College of Law.  With my dyslexia I kept seeing Jay John Law College posted everywhere. In my wired mind It was like I owned the building. 
Things could not be more ripe for having a narcissistic over load. In my mind I am standing on a balcony in a flowing white dress with arms outstretched singing to the masses below, "Don't Cry For Me New York City you know I never left you".
It is such a memorable moment I want to keep a program of the evening to never forget. I grab one of the programs from an usher, turn the pages to instantly see the stellar cast of which I am a part. Here is what it said:

So much for the fleeting fame of the great white way.
 It is a grey and rainy morning as  I sneak back to LA. "Broadway giveth and Broadway taketh away, long live the denizens  of show biz. "
As you were,

Friday, November 06, 2015

By Any Other Name...

This is all visual but a little explanation is necessary. This is a magnified screen grab of the drop down menu for the Wi-Fi icon on my Mac. Mac users and addicts will recognize it immediately. If you are lost already in the explanation you probably won't see the humor anyway. But here goes:

This is a list of all the Wi-Fi networks my wireless devices can potentially connect to, and conversely the list of networks that can access my Monkey network with their devices.
As you can see my name is on the top.  It is dated Mon. September 21, 2015 6:42, but the last time I looked, the list was almost the same. The red arrow is my addition to the picture. For those listening on the radio, the eighth network listed, two above Mary's Wi-fi, is labeled FBI Van.
I walk the dog almost every day and I am not aware of an FBI Van operating in my neighborhood, but there are alway vans around.  You never know.
Although I think it is the clever name given to the network of a neighbor, it does make me think; what a perfect name to give a covert eavesdropping network.  Who would believe it's for real?  Would we think the government could be so stupid?  Then again the words "government" and "stupid" are not that far apart anymore.
As you were,

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Thank you John A. Hardman

It is impossible to tell a life story in the limited space of a blog. This is just a flash in time,  a moment in the incredibly creative life of my friend John Hardman.
I was 16 years old working in the Southern Palace Theatre at the Six Flags Over Texas Campus Revue during the first summer of what became my career as a ventriloquist/performer. Since the Southern Palace was an amphitheater we only did shows in the evening. I really knew nothing of what went on at Six Flags during the day.  Turns out magic was happening.
I wasn't working at Six Flags very long before somebody asked me if I had seen the puppet show over in the BoomTown section of the park.  The puppet shows took place during the day, on an opposite schedule from my shows so one day I came to work very early to check it out.
It was an old style puppet wagon designed to fit the theme of the old west, sitting off by itself on the side of Boom Town's Main street.  Other than a bleacher for no more than twenty people and a sign indicating a 4:30 Show time there was nothing around the brightly colored wagon but the smell of theme park popcorn.  I was thirty minutes early and with the bleacher empty I picked the best seat in the house.  It was good to be early because by 4:20 every seat was filled and younger members of the audience were spilling over, seated in front.
With no more fanfare than the curtain to the puppet stage opening, the show began. A hand puppet slowly took the stage. I was prepared for a presentation geared toward the kids who sat near the front.  It was a snake/dragon puppet of sorts with wide eyes and a furry top knot.  There was nothing unusual about the puppet, but the magic was not in the way it looked.  You can't judge a snake by its skin.
After the puppet surveyed the audience for a few minutes he spoke,
"Howdy, my name is Argyle." And it began.
There was no pandering to the children, no set routine, no story with a fairly tale twist, just Argyle talking to the audience. It was more like a comic working a comedy club than a puppet working a puppet wagon.
"Where you from?" The question solicited several responses from the more vocal of the kids.  Argyle continued with something like this:  "You're from Texarkana huh. I crawled through there once.  Not much to do there unless you are a monk. I saw a bunch kids hanging out at McDonalds.  They ordered a million hamburgers just to watch them change the sign." At the time every McDonalds advertised how many million they had served right on the golden arches sign.  The crowd laughed. The parents laughed because what Argyle said was funny, the kids laughed because Argyle was just funny.
"Hey you... you there in the front, the one with the funny haircut. Let me give you some advise. When your barber says next.... get out of the chair."
And so it went with the expert timing of Argyle's slow and deliberate delivery. The laughter from the crowd was drawing more people to the area of the puppet Wagon.
Argyle saw a kid wearing one of the personalized hats they sold at Six Flags. He read the name which had been sewn on the front.  "Hey what are you doing with Tommy's hat on?" The eight year old was a little embarrassed that he had been pointed out in the crowd, but insisted it was his hat. "Let me see that hat... bring it up here."  The kid hands the hat to Argyle who takes it in his mouth and places it on the stage.   Argyle examines the hat carefully for a moment, then engages the kid with snake banter. As he does jokes with the kid, the hat moves on its own power stage left. This catches Argyles eye. He grabs the hat gently by the brim and slides it back to its original place.  Another joke to the kid and the hat moves again. With a look to the hat that draws giggles from the crowd, he once again drags the hat back to the starting point. I'm not  sure how many times this happened but enough that all eyes are now on the hat in anticipation of its next move.
At just the right moment, that magical moment of timing which only a comic mind can execute, the hat moves one last time. Argyle is ready and with the full force of his head he smashes the hat flat on the stage, like it was a coke can under an elephants foot. No one is more startled than the kid who owned the hat.  Argyle picks up the pancaked hat, hands it back to the kid and without apology or explanation and says, "Here's your hat back, Tommy."  The crowd roared with laughter, and as a testament to the love ability of Argyle, even the kid with his new hat completely smashed laughed just as hard as the rest.
I hung around long after the show had ended and the crowd was gone to meet the Wizard behind the curtain.  It was John Hardman.  John was the nicest guy, joyfully showing me the inter sanctum of the wagon.  Inside was the complete cast of a Punch and Judy show.  John said he was originally hired to do that traditional show, but Argyle was so popular he did not do Mr. Punch very often.  However, if I could stay over for the next scheduled show he would perform it for me.  I did and he was good to his word.  Although I knew the history of the Punch and Judy show, it was the first time I had ever seen one performed.  I was blown away again.
This began a friendship with a man I would come to admire more and more over the years. I would move on from Six Flags over Texas to the wild west of Hollywood show business.  John would become the creator and star of among other shows, the Christmas Show at North Park Shopping Mall. His "Scrooge" character became as popular as Santa Claus in North Texas.  Scrooge had the comedy timing, the conversational style and the quick wit of Argyle because they were both born of John's genius.
I got some quality time hanging with John over the last two years at KAX, a conference of family entertainers held near the Steve Axtell studio in Ventura. I was able to tell him how much he influenced me as we both looked back on our life in puppets.  We were looking forward to more time together in a couple of months, but yesterday he left us all.  I immediately thought of my old hero Argyle. Even if there are no personalized hats in Heaven I'm sure John is making them laugh.
John rest in peace and I hope we will meet up again some day. You are an original and we may not see your like again here on this stage.
As you were,