Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Week

I host the countless memories of haunted houses, Halloween parties, Bubonic Players Theatrics and all that goes with Halloween. I remember the first show I ever did in Richardson, Texas after we moved from Abernathy was a Halloween party at the Canyon Creek Country Club. I was 14 or 15 years old. That part of the memory is not clear. What is clear is that Halloween evokes some very strong emotions in me.

So last night I couldn't sleep. Excitement of the season or traumatic insomnia, who knows. But it is almost Halloween so even dark moods should be celebrated. I dressed in black. Turned the lights down and decided to draw. I was hoping that the muse would deliver a really Gothic pen and ink Edgar Allan Poe would covet.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a Jack O' Lantern. Not as scary or grotesque as I wanted. Perhaps a little to Hallmark for my darkness, but there it is.
This morning it dawned on me. Why was I drawing a Jack O' Lantern when I could actually carve one. Three pumpkins were currently sitting on the porch. Sandi does not like to carve them too early since they wither. She likes to have them around for Thanksgiving. But I decided to make my move and carve early.

Several years ago Andrew, my adopted child from Bulgavia, gave me an electric pumpkin carving devic
e. Actually it is a battery drive drimmel cased with orange plastic. Although I have used it for other projects when a rotary tool would work, I had never actually attempted to "create" a Jack O' Lantern with it.

I'm sorry to report to Andrew that the tool was a high tech hoax probably the Trick of the season. I had to rely on my well worn and over used pumpkin knife that has served me for seasons. It is just a very dull serrated knife. It seems to cut pumpkin very well but nothing else like your finger.

Unfortunately the actual
Jack O' Lantern turned out no more grotesque, and nothing like my sketch.
As you were,

Monday, October 26, 2009

Gettysburg Victory
I am coming back on a high from the Gettysburg Majestic Theatre. Beautiful theatre, great audience and the historic town of Gettysburg is vibrant. Wish I could have stayed a lot longer and entertained more audiences, they were smart and responsive. Thank you Jeffery Gable for the chance to come and experience your theatre.

The stress of doing a hit and run "one nighter" is well... stressful. You get there, set up, focus lights, work the sound, rehearse it a couple of times, take a break, do the show, and then break it all down and pack it up. I even found myself sewing some clips onto a microphone cord so I could hide it in my hair. The capsule and cord I had with me that I usually use was not a match for the Majestic system. I didn't even have time to share a drink with my fellow vent Tom who came to the show. (Again, thanks for coming Tom, it was great to touch base with you for even a brief moment.) I guess that is the deal when you are a "one man show".

I think the show was sold out. If I'm not working the door, I usually don't look at the count. It wasn't a Jeff Dunham arena show, but I am happy to draw the kind of audience that seems to come to see me.

I guess there are ways to attract huge crowds at the sacrifice of your own internal artistic compass. That has never been a very satisfying compromise for my personal esteem. The lowest common denominator has never been appealing. I want to try and raise the level of this oft misunderstood art form, not suppress it even more. So I guess I will continue to feed my own artistic soul and hope that a select few come to the feast as well. Bon Appetit
As you were,

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The original Cray computer at NASA which calculated the Apollo Astronauts trip to the moon had a computing capacity of 80 megs. At the time it was the fastest, largest and most expensive computer made. Today an 8 gig flash drive about the size of a half stick of gum contains 8000 megs or one hundred times larger than the Cray and costs about $30 dollars.
Believe it? Why not?

Friday, October 23, 2009

On the Road

Thumb typing a quick blog this morning. It is a beautiful day in LA and I am off to Gettysburg. What fun to get to go to the airport to hang with my friends from the TSA. Speaking of Gettysburg, a shout out to "the other one". When I mentioned I was playing the Majestic in Gettysburg, I got the comment, "what's the address?". I didn't get it until several days later. Very funny.

As you were,

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chuck and Bob
Susan Harris wrote Chuck and Bob into the bible of SOAP in 1977 after reading William Goldman's novel on ventriloquism called, Magic. Originally the producers thought they would just get an actor to play Chuck and dub in Bob's voice. It would only be for 7 episodes and the character would be written out. Jay Sandrich (who will correct my facts if I am wrong) said Chuck needed to be a real ventriloquist for the role to work. The actors, he said, had to react in real time to a real character. I happened to be at the right place, the right time, the right age and happen to actually be a ventriloquist who had done some acting. They hired me, Chuck and Bob weren't written out after seven but stayed for the entire run of the show.

I have often wondered what would have happened if a non-ventriloquist actor had done the part instead of me. I wonder how that would have worked. Well, now I know... and Mr. Sandrich, you sir were absolutely right on that call.

For three days this week I have been working as a consultant/coach on a new cable sitcom. I was asked to do this because one of the characters on this show is a ventriloquist. At least he is playing a ventriloquist in the script, but they are looping the "puppet" voice. I'm not going to say the name of the show or the cable network. It won't air until March and it doesn't matter anyway. Besides I don't want to write gossip just observations, observations on how, but for a decision of casting, my life and the characters of Chuck and Bob would have been radically different. I am getting to see what it is like for an actor to play a sit com ventriloquist.

First of all, the kid that I am working with is a good actor, from New York. He has some really good chops, acting wise. But he has never even held a puppet can't even spell ventriloquism and doesn't have a clue. Yet, he is a regular character and they have written Chuck and Bob scenes for him and the puppet. The producer who brought me in to "help" said, "I guess we didn't realize how difficult ventriloquism was..." Duh... I feel like an acrobat from Cirque du Sole being brought in to help someone do a triple flip on the trapeze when they can't even do a cartwheel.

The puppet looks okay but is mechanically dreadful. It was made by a prop man who adapted a doll. When the kid showed me the puppet, I tried to operate it and it was like trying to play piano with mittens on. He told me it was better than the first on they gave him to work on the pilot. I got a look at the original which had a mouth that was perpetually open and the control closed it. I have never heard of a vent puppet being constructed in that manner. That is the equivalent to playing a piano with mittens on hanging upside down. The puppet needs to be replaced.

As we go to the office of the executive producer to plead our case for a new puppet, it turns out that the Executive Producer is a huge fan of mine. He is so excited I would agree to help them out. He knows every episode of SOAP by heart. It was life support to my ego at that point. But the kid is 18 and really has no idea who I am, or what SOAP is. To him, I'm just a puppeteer hired to coach. As we leave the office the executive producer said, "You haven't aged a bit since Soap." My standard line at such a complement is, "Well, I am hiding Bob in the attic and he is aging quickly." To a room full of writers the Dorian Gray reference got a big laugh.

As I worked with the kid I couldn't even get him to hold the puppet up straight when he was working him. The puppet was lifelessly limp in his hands. I kept giving the note but he just didn't get it. Finally I got an idea. We found a computer and I "YouTubed" some old Chuck and Bob scenes. I said, "See hold your puppet like that...". He replied, "But you are sitting down in those scenes, I have to stand up in three of the scenes in my script. How do you hold him when you are standing up?"

Well, on YouTube I found a Today show shot of me and Bob promoting "The Two and Only" in New York. It happens that the interview took place outside in Rockefeller Center and I am standing with Matt, Meredith, Al and the bunch holding Bob. This I thought would give him an example of how to at least hold the puppet. I played him that scene and he said, "You know... that puppet Bob hasn't aged all that much...."

I have to go to Gettysburg to do my show and won't be there for the actual taping, but I have seen enough. I have given all the notes I can, suggested business to keep the puppet alive, told secrets I never thought I would reveal and none of it seems to happen when the director yells action. Basically the actor is limp when the puppet is supposed to talk and the puppet is limp when the actor is talking, this puppet is dead as the furniture. But like all sit coms the writers on the floor laugh at every muffed line like they just swallowed a laugh track, so everyone thinks the character is a hit.

I don't think this will put the nail in the coffin for "sit coms ventriloquist characters" because this show will air and never be seen. But it is frustrating to see such a wasted opportunity.

Did I just hear a voice in my head say, "Why these young kids today they don't know jack about......" Maybe I better go up in the attic with Bob and talk about the "good ole" days.
As you were,

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fact Check Revisited
So, on Monday I was writing about checking facts. It was an experiment to see if anyone truly does question things they are told, even when they are easy to check. Not every fact is important enough to check, but you would think that some one reading this blog would have been curious enough, or movie-phile enough to challenge the only "fact" in the piece. To date only two people, my "photographic memory" friend David Sinkler and my most favorite director, Jay Sandrich caught the error and responded with the correction. This means one of two things. They are the only fact checkers left in the world... or perhaps the only two people reading this blog.

Nonetheless, this is how things become mis-informed. The first publication of a fact is not checked and it sits in "etherland" for a while. The next global search for that subject calls up the error. That error is used as the fact check for the current mis-statement and suddenly there is research to support something that is absolutely wrong.

In the CIA they refer to it as the "assimilation of mis-information." They take one fact that is true and combine it with another fact that is absolutely false. Instead of assuming the entire missive is wrong, people usually think the entire missive is truthful.

Example: "Stephen Grover Cleveland (March 18, 1837 – June 24, 1908) was both the 22nd and 24th President of the United States. Cleveland is the only President to serve two non-consecutive terms (1885–1889 and 1893–1897) and therefore is the only individual to be counted twice in the numbering of the presidents. Cleveland was born in New Jersey with a small deformed extra finger on the back side of his left hand. This is seldom mentioned in his biography. He was teased about about his six fingered hand as a child, and always tried to hide it. In his official Presidential portrait he is posed with his left hand closed so as not to accidentally expose the deformity. "

So all of that is true, except the finger. But because the rest can be verified and it is mentioned that the "finger fact" is lessor known, unless challenged, the entire statement seems true. Some day a researcher will search every reference to Stephen Grover Cleveland that was ever published on the Internet and come across the statement above. Unless they publish more than just that paragraph, the fact that Cleveland had six fingers would be a referenced fact of research.

So Howard Hawks was a famous noir director and he did direct Bogart but he did not direct him in Casablanca. That credit belongs to Michael Curtiz. Even the poster included in Monday's blog credits Michael Curtiz not Howard Hawks. The research to correct the error was contained on the same page.

Okay, now that I know that the truth will never stand in my way of telling a good story..... this blog may improve greatly. But don't go thinking you can ever pull one over on Jay Sandrich or David Sinkler.
As you were,
Jay...the other

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Memory Lane
My friend Mike Sartor, who was also in this production of "Whoopee" twenty some odd years ago, sent me these photo's recently. I am the Indian with the eye glasses on the far right.

This was a Kenley Players Production in Akron, Ohio. (I wrote about John Kenely in a blog some time ago Go to Kenley Blog.) After the run in Akron we took it to Flint, Mi and Dayton, Ohio, which was at the time the Kenley circut.

"Whoopee" was an old Eddie Cantor vehicle in the 1920's and was revived on Broadway in the early 80's. It was the mid 80's by the time Kenley got the rights.

The show is about a hypochondriac named Henry Williams who goes to a Dude Ranch for his health. He takes his nurse Mary along who is secretly in love with him, and hopes they will end up alone in some romantic situation. Mean while back at the ranch, Western sheriff Bob Wells is preparing to marry Sally Morgan; she loves part-Indian Wanenis, the half-naked Indian in the middle, whose race is an obstacle. Sally flees the wedding with hypochondriac Henry Williams, who thinks he's just giving her a ride; but she leaves a note behind saying they've eloped! Chasing them are jilted Bob, Henry's nurse Mary (who's is trying to get her man back) and others. Of course, humor ensues. The big numbers are "Makin' Whoopee" and "My Baby Just Cares for Me", which I got to sing. The show was conducted by a very young, 19 years old to be exact, Phil Reno who is now the conductor of choice for the legitimate stage musical . I'm not sure why John thought of me for the role back then, but I will be forever in his debt for giving me a chance to be an actor on stage and not just the guy with a puppet. It is so easy to get "pigeon holed" in show business. Ventriloquists seem to have a permanent hole in the pigeon roost. John saw me as an actor who was also a ventriloquist.

The picture above is me as Henry trying to fit in with the Indians while hiding from the Sheriff.

Standing to my left during the bows is Karen Morrow who played Mary the nurse. She was even then a seasoned Broadway veteran who is not only one of the most talented performers I have ever known, but also the sweetest. We had such fun. We tried not to let the show get in the way of a really good time every night. I think the audience felt the energy. I remember the reactions were almost electric. It was my first Equity show and you never forget your first time.

I did a curtain speech every night. Since I was known, at the time, for always being with Bob on SOAP, I made a "ventriloqual" phone call to him to see where he was. We did a quick routine and Bob ended the conversation by asking,
"Did you and Karen get your usual standing ovation tonight?" Flustered a little by the question I said, "Sure... just like always." It never failed to cause the audience to jump to their feet cheering as the curtain went down the final time.

Occasionally you can look back and see where you have been, but you really never know where you're going. Of all the people on the stage at that time, the least likely one to ever win a Tony was me. The secret is to enjoy every second of the ride right now, knowing you are on your way to something wonderful.
As you were,

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fact Check
Not long ago in a social situation I and several of my friends were trying to remember the name of a director. We all knew his work, we could describe him and even knew some of the actors he had worked with, but no one could not think of his name. Some say this is a sign of old age. I say "horse apples". At some point in your life your brain learns that a lot of "facts" you have collected over the years are of absolutely no value. Like the name of a director, I mean it is not the name of one of your children. Einstein said, "Why remember what you can look up". He was smart and old, so there.

Instantly three blackberry's and two Iphones are drawn like six shooters in a bad western and the contest begins. Who can answer the query of the director in question quickest? There are many directions to go which will lead to the correct answer. Some people Google, some IMDB, some Wikipedia while others try to find credit lists for the movies the director has done. Soon the director's name is not important anymore. The only reward for this game is who can come up with it first. Later we realized that everyone was working at the same G3 speed, on different devices and models of communication units. It was really a matter of technique as to who got the name first. Someone, not me, finally found the directors name and there was a general "Oh Yeah, of course. Who could forget?" reaction. The entire process probably took no more than two minutes to go from ignorance to intelligence on this matter. We realized there was no need to remember his name at all since in less than two minutes we could, as Einstein said, "look it up".

So here's the point. In the old days checking facts used to take days. It involved libraries and the dreaded use of "card catalogues" and the Dewey decimal system. It was the realm of nerds and book worms. It would sometimes delay the reporter's news story for days searching for the relevant facts before it was published. Generations ago we assumed information from the learned was true. It was so difficult to check a fact we generally took their word for it. No more, most of us carry the library of congress in our pockets all day long with a G3 response time. So why is there so much crap and misinformation still out there.

So called "news stories" are claiming facts that can be so quickly challenged they don't stand up even as editorial license. Yet most of the country is still accepting these "truths" like the Dewey decimal system was still standing in their way of checking. The Daily Show derives a lot of humor from simply taking politicians remarks and "fact checking" them. Some times the politicians are impeached by their own earlier recorded contradictory statements.

The "fact" is, just because it is so easy to check a fact, we should never assume that a writer/newscaster/pundit/Limbaugh or Beck has done it. We no longer have to take anyone's word for it... we can find out for ourselves and should.

So... the director of Humphrey Bogart's classic movie "Casablanca" was the legendary film noir director Howard Hawks.

As you were,

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Titanic Thompson, a noted proposition gambler, once bet he could hit a golf ball more than 700 yards in a single drive. The only stipulation was he got to determine the time and place. Eventually a group of guys got enough money up to challenge his claim.
The bet was on. Thompson chose the dead of winter on a frozen lake. He hit the drive onto the frozen lake and the ball didn't come to rest for over 1000 yards.
Believe it? Why Not?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Balloon Boy
I did not follow the story as it was breaking, but eventually there was no story on the news but the helium balloon. Eventually the family, including the missing boy, was interviewed on CNN by Wolf Blitzer. Now I used to think he was a fairly good reporter when he was a Whitehouse correspondent, but he really has lost a lot of credibility with me in the last few years. I think he is a lousy interviewer.

That being said, the Father was trying to explain how the helium balloon came to be and how it slipped its tether. He said he was trying to invent a vehicle that would hover over the streets and use less gas. In his own words, "I thought Falcon (the son) was beside me as I went over to turn on the electricity. The million volts charge the vehicle to help guide it."

Now, family projects are a good thing. And helping transportation become more green is also good. But a million volts of electricity in the back yard with kids running around, sounds a little stupid. Sounds like this was an accident of some kind waiting to happen.

Eventually Wolf runs out of any questions to ask except the obvious, "Are you out of your F---in' mind?" Wolf then plays the tape of the moment he announced the boy had been found safe, hidden in the garage and not trapped in the run away balloon. You know you have abandoned an interview when you cut away from the actual news makers to play a tape of yourself reporting on the event.

Nothing better than to use millions of dollars in broadcast time to follow a helium balloon around Colorado. For a lot fewer dollars they could have looked in the garage to help find the kid. It would seem we have too many new stations, too few actual reporters and no one around to check the facts. Here is the topper. When the boy was asked the reason he hid for so long in the garage he replied. "I did it for the television camera." I question whether there is anything that really is news anymore.
As you were,

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Storm Watch
It is something I have gotten used to over the years, but it still seems funny when I think about it. Probably the most attractive thing about Southern California is the weather. It is hot in the summer with no humidity, and mild in the winter with no snow, unless you want to seek it out in the mountains. So you might think that the weather is not so much news driven here in town. Not so. It seems if we have a little rain the local stations go on "Storm Watch". We have been on Storm Watch here in Los Angeles for the last two days.

Reporters actually seek out street interviews with people who are in the rain. "How is the rain affecting your day?" Was one of the probing questions the reporter asked someone in Studio City. "Well, I had to bring an umbrella to work today, and it is a little wet out here." Her wrap up to this breaking story went something like this, "As you can see some of the drains are a little slow- causing the water to back up at the curb. This means you may get your shoes wet when you cross the street here at Ventura and Woodman. That's it for now. I'm Cynthia Infobabe reporting on Storm Watch 09... back to you Stud Groin."

Now this is just practice for the real story we all know is coming if the rain continues to fall. Mud Slides. The fires we have, almost yearly, destroy the vegetation that holds the ground, which keeps it from flowing down the hills in the rain and into some one's expensive mountain view home. It really is just a matter of time after covering Fire Watch in an area of town, when the news crew will be back at the same area covering the devastation of Storm Watch. A news organization could just leave the broadcast truck on the same street for a few weeks. It is almost certain they will be back. By then Cynthia will have enough practice asking, "How is the rain affecting your day?" that she can stick a microphone in the face of someone who has just had their house buried in four feet of mud, and ask it with no emotion whatsoever.

It is very foggy today... I wonder if they will be covering "Fog Watch" on the 9am local news.
As you were,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Family Tree!
David "NO.You heard me" Sinker finds that my ancestry of ventriloquism is not restricted to the male sex. In fact there seems to be very little sex at all in my ventriloqual family tree. There is a family rumor that Vicky is actually Uncle Doddy who began doing his show in drag after he was out of work doing his specimen drinking act with "Teeter the water log Sailor. "
The execution performance became the highlight of her/his career as a ventriloquist. He/she was known to say from that moment on that his act "killed" in Russia, a fact that no one who was present at the execution could dispute.
As you were,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Arrested Decay
That is what they call the condition of the town of Bodie, California. Bodie is an honest to goodness Ghost town up in the Sierra Mountains, a couple of hours out of Tahoe, near Yosemite. Ghosts have played a big part in my experience lately and since it is coming up on Halloween it seems appropriate to talk about Bodie.

Bodie is a very interesting place. The building you see in the picture is an old store having its "decay arrested" by the make shift flying buttress support on the left. When it was a gold rush town in the mid 19th century there were ten thousand people living here. That included about 40 brothels, 65 saloons and a Chinatown with several opium dens. The town was so rough they averaged a killing a day. Only about one fifth of the buildings remain in this time warp. Just as the gold was running out a fire destroyed most of the town. People just walked away and left what was here.

It is very interesting to look into some of the houses and see what was left behind. It would have been difficult to carry much away. Even with an automobile it is quite a trek to get up the into the Sierras to find Bodie. Gold was the only lure for these people. There was a twenty-five year old man named James Cain who leased a small plot of land on the hill and started the Midnight Mining Company. In 90 days his mine recovered $90k in gold. The land owner wouldn't renew his lease. James Cain leveraged his fortune and became one of the richest men in Bodie. The summers get very hot and there are no trees for shade. The winters can get to 32 below zero. One of the other rich residents of Bodie was the man who ran the saw mill. The houses were so poorly constructed it required the consumption of lots of wood for heating. Small wonder that there was as much violence and killing.

Sandi and I toured Bodie with some friends we drove with to Tahoe. In one of the pictures I told my companions to strike a pose like ghosts since they were in the middle of a ghost town. I snapped the shot but it did not achieve the result I had hoped for. It was way too "show biz". It looked like a pose for the ghost of Bob Fossee. What did I expect... not sure.
As you were,

Monday, October 12, 2009

Heavenly Art
A picture is only a millisecond record of the light waves spewing off an event. You can appreciate the color and structure, but it is never going to be like the real moment. Here is a case in point.

In the crystal clear water of Taylor Creek which flows into Lake Tahoe, salmon are spending the last few days of their life. This drama of color and hormones only happens once a year for two weeks in October. The salmon return to their birth place to spawn and start the cycle all over again before dying in these same waters.

What can't be shown in just a photograph is the frenzy of activity. There are thousands of salmon swimming fighting, and leaping out of the creek. Of course this attracts the attention of bear, birds and mountain lions who would like to feast on the confusion. It becomes a three act play written by Mother Nature and one that attracts an equal number of curious humans.

The comic "B" plot to this drama of natural selection is the fact that 15 minutes away is the frenzy of South Shore Tahoe. Here there is also swimming, fighting and leaping to get the attention of the opposite sex pushed onward by the green flow of casino money. It attracts the attention of predators as well called Pit bosses, bartenders and dealers. It is hard to conceive of these events happening so close together geographically. In my opinion they should be inter dimensional parallels to each other, certainly not happening in the same world, or same dimension at the same time.

It has been a long time since I was at Lake Tahoe. Usually I'm working and all I get to see is the casino side of the wilderness. This time was different. This time I was there not on business but for a wedding. It was a beautiful wedding, in a beautiful setting. Why one goes to Tahoe can make a huge difference in perception.

They call the ski run that practically ends down town Tahoe, Heavenly and that is certainly an accurate description. They tell me that it is really a small town and once the tourists and the gamblers leave it is a very different place. It won't be a small town for very long. The summer season is gone and their biggest season is just beginning. Come the first big snow the crowds will soar. Here come the human salmon trying to accomplish in a weekend what takes the fish a couple of weeks.

As you were,

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009
Aquarius – Things are happening fast and you need to stay on top of them. Perhaps you need to a break from your pod so you can swim with others on your journey. If you only know the ones around you, how can you help them become enlightened. Expand your family.

Pisces – Stop trying to beat the legal system. You must find the balance within yourself, because established systems will always let you down. Just pay the fine and get on with your life. Keep a clear head.

Aries- – Give out of your abundance and not out of your lack. Do not see it as the depletion of a limited amount but the flow of an infinite source. You are just the gate through which eternity flows. Share with not thought of running out and no thought of getting it back. It will always be there.

Taurus – Don’t give up so easily. Nothing worth while can be taken for granted. The long trip is part of the destination. Work at it and become what you seek. True value is earned and delivered. Never be afraid that it is not coming so quickly.

Gemini – - Things are happening fast and you need to stay on top of them. Perhaps you need to a break from your pod so you can swim with others on your journey. If you only know the ones around you, how can you help them become enlightened. Expand your family.

Cancer – Your worry is that you are simply running around in circles. You think you are just chasing your tail but perhaps you are catching up to your own goals. Action is good and motion creates more motion. Keep going don’t slow down. Even if you have been down this road before you can always notice something different in your mindset journey. Pick a tool that can be both.

Leo – The see-saw was always your favorite playground toy. When you were up you could see forever and when you were down you knew you would be up again soon. Your life is like that a series of ups and downs. Remember that and know that it may take two for a great see saw ride.

Virgo – Try to be yourself and not what you think others want you to be. It may be that you have to be more truthful to yourself and admit that you are no angel. It is okay, no one is perfect and if you think others see you that way you are probably wrong. Let go.

Libra – Some things that make you mad are but sheets in the wind. They billow, snap and wave for your attention, but they are not taunting you. It is but movement trying to make you charge.

Scorpio - Since there is not end to your service to others, you need to find time for yourself. You do not need to make sure the entire world is happy before you smile. It is the reverse, smile and the world is more likely to become happy. You need to be of service to yourself as well in these times.

Sagittarius – Be proud and stand tall but do not give in to stubbornness. You can lower your head and try to break through an obstacle, but you are guaranteed to get a headache. Think of the horn of a ram, it curves and bends and makes a point in a round about way. Use your head in a different way than as just a battering ram.

Capricorn – Don’t give up so easily. Nothing worth while can be taken for granted. The long trip is part of the destination. Work at it and become what you seek. True value is earned and delivered. Never be afraid that it is not coming so quickly

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Call of the Wild Duck
I've got this friend who's life seems to mirror a film noir plot. The twists and turns of his life would make Raymond Chandler and Dashielle Hammet jealous. Recently his half brother, we'll call him Pete, was victim of a scam hatched by the ex-wife and brother-n-law. They had Pete declared incompetent after a doctor diagnosed a brain disease which gave him no more than two months to live. The prognosis was this: soon he would lose touch with reality and die because his brain would forget how to control his body. There was no cure.

The bro-in-law got power of attorney and started funneling money from Pete's account to his own so he and the ex-wife could "care" for him. It was eventually exposed when my friend encouraged Pete to get a second opinion. There was no disease. The doctor was in on the scam to take Pete's money. It turns out now that Pete had a sort of nervous break down, probably from the stress that was coming from the ex-wife and her lover the brother in law.

Now that complicated scenario is only one of the hundreds like it that seems to follow my friend around. He said one time, "Why me.. Why do these things follow me around. I don't go looking for them. They just happen around me." Now that part is true, but my friend is also a very noir kind of guy. He devours all the old books and movies with those twisted plots. He would live in that world if he could.

Here is what I got to thinking. You get what your mind is set on. Comics have funny things happen to them. Depressed people tend to experience depressing situations. You could argue that comics are funny because funny things happen to them, or depressives are depressed because of the bad things around them. I'm not sure I buy into this "product of your enviornment" theory. I think that is cart before the horse.

If you blow a duck call in the wild you expect to attract ducks. Moose are rarely attracted by a duck calls. So if one hunter has a duck call and another a moose call... in the same wilderness they will attract only what they're calling.

You attract what you put out there. If you see life in certain ways then that is what you are attracting. If your life is full of ducks you shouldn't wonder why, stop with the duck call.
That's just a thought. No charge.

As you were,

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Muse
I have always worked with the help of a muse. She comes and goes at her own choosing and can't be coaxed or beckoned. The length of her stay is never predetermined and she leaves without warning. The only thing for sure is that while she is around, massive amounts of creativity can be coddled, but only on her schedule. It can't be saved up until you are ready to handle it, you have to be ready to ride the rapids when she shows up and put everything else on hold.

I am not sure she is the same muse every time and I'm not sure if it is female. According to the ancient Greeks it is a she and there are several, so I go with that. It is easy and who wants to argue with a Greek. Some times it is the pen and sketch pad she desires, some times craft tools, sometimes the keyboard. If she is the same muse every time she has so many different skills at her command. It is always best not to anticipate what medium she will need on any given visit. They must all be close at hand.

I know she is not corporeal. That is why you can never see her coming or even know she is actually here using any human senses. The only evidence the muse has come for a visit is the work. When she has left the work remains as the only testimony of her existence.

She arrived on October 1st and confiscated my key board. She dictated a script without stopping. I had no choice but to lend her my hands and my be there physically for hours while I watched it take place. She was not much into allowing me time to blog so I totally missed publishing a blog on Tuesday. A few hours ago the script was completed. It was a solid week of non stop writing, sometimes 12 hours a day. But the result is a real script, you can hold it and leaf through it. It has weight, it looks just like it should look. I keep stealing a glance of it out of the corner of my eye to make sure it is not an illusion. But there it is bound and ready. The muse will hang around for a few more polishes on the draft, but I can tell she is getting ready to move on probably because of my eagerness to hear it.

The Final Draft application has a voice function, and you can actually have the machine read your script to you. After only hearing it in my head for days, I lusted to hear it read aloud. I followed the procedure to make it happen. I assigned voices to the parts with the different voices they had, like, old man, girl, woman, man 1, man 2 etc., I clicked a button and suddenly the script was being performed. Sort of...

The machine began to read the text. The stage directions are nicely recited. I am so excited for the first scene to come alive. But, it is awful. These mechanical voices can't deliver a punch line with a bucket. It's just voices, mechanical inflections triggered off punctuation marks not comedy. The experience is something like hearing Stephen Hawlkings read a bed time story. I realize it will be a long time before actors are out of work in this electronic age. I question the reason for cluttering up the application with such a function. The muse was pissed, I could tell.

So... I will have to find real people and real actors to read this script to me so I can know what it means. I'm not sure the muse plans to stay that long.

As you were,

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Family Tree!
Once again David "Run that by me Again Uncle Billy" Sinkler has discovered yet another distant voice from my ventriloquial ancestry. I actually knew Uncle Bobby or as we called him "Uncle Doddy" and his tartner "Teeter". Although I don't think Peter (or Teeter) served in the Navy, he was considered a very early fan of what would become the group, "The Village People". Uncle Doddy used to refer to him as the "old water log."
As you were,

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Blank Page
People have bridge nights, poker nights, book clubs and sewing circles and they all seem to have the same thing in common. It is an excuse to get together with a common goal in mind. I'm all for it because man is a pack animal. In modern times we don' have to team up to for a hunt or prepare the village feast but we still need reasons to get together. I think humans are just hard wired for that.

Well for me, I don't play bridge, stink at poker and dyslexia makes me a slow reader so book clubs are too much pressure. Sewing circles would be okay except for the fact I really don't know any Metro sexual males that bond on that level, even here in So.California. I actually sew pretty well, probably as good or better at it than my wife. I have inherited several of my Mom's sewing machines and puppet making skills over the years. But I just don't ever see me joining or forming a sewing club. You see even talking about sewing this much makes me a little uneasy. Boys who grew up in Texas, aren't really comfortable touting their sewing skills. And just in case the ghost of Stephen F. Austin is listening in.... I am also a very good shot with a rifle and can throw a knife and stick a target at 20 feet. I guess I could find a shooting group or a knifing club to join, but some how I don't think I would ultimately have that much in common. Still the natural DNA pull to group is very strong.

All that being said, I am finally involved in a group that works on an intellectual level as well as on the level of a pack mentality. It is a writers group. Specifically we are working on a musical, which sets us apart from the thousands of lonely screen writers sitting at Starbucks for most of the day. We get together once a week and kick around the story, the songs and the "meta narratives". Two of the members take turns bringing bagles, one brings the coffee and I provide the meeting place. I'm not sure how all this structure was established, but by now it is part of the process.

Now when I say one of the guys brings the coffee, I mean it is a ritual akin to mixing a potion for the creative process. He buys the green coffee beans wholesale direct from the grower. He roasts the beans himself at home for just the right amount of time until they are just the right fragrance. He brings them almost hot off the roaster to my house where he grinds them with an other ritualistic technique. I have to admit, it is superior coffee on any level you can think of. But I digress from the writing.

Now writing is generally not thought of as a club activity. Most of the time writing is a solitary act. As a matter of fact it is early in the morning right now, no one is around and I am alone writing this piece. So how does this writing group really work? It becomes as much a reading group as it does a writing group. Everyone contributes to an idea, someone writes it then we read it and we see if that idea was serviced.

Now a lot of the actual writing in this group falls to me. Again, I'm not sure how all that became structured but there is more reason for that coming to pass, than who brings the bagles. I am the blank page guy. I always have been, and I think of it as a blessing. The thought of a blank page of paper or a empty computer screen with a blinking cursor terrifies some. I don't seem to have that fear. I have always been able to face the blank page and fill it with something. If I can not master the page with words then I will master it with pictures. But fill it and master it I will. I think the blank page is perhaps my natural enemy.

With every collaborator I ever collaborated with this blank page role became mine. Once something, anything really, is down on paper then it becomes the focal point for a discussion. Before that moment there is nothing to talk about or reshape. Now the original project for which the group was formed is slowly taking place. It is a musical, based on a true story and although I know the real story, trying to shape a commercial story out of the real events is sort of a mine field. I suppose that is really a good thing, this project really doesn't have a deadline and as long as we don't finish we can continue to meet and have great coffee and bagles.

One of the guys in our group worked on a musical for 12 years. No one liked each other and it got no further than the public reading stage. I 'm not sure how long this one will go, but with good coffee, good bagles, a blank page guy, and this herd mentality... it could serve us for a very long time.
As you were,

Saturday, October 03, 2009

An earthquake on Dec. 16, 1811 caused parts of the Mississippi River to flow backwards! Some of the residents of that state have not moved forward since.
Believe it? Why Not?

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Great Hollywood Boulevard Elephant Race
This is a picture taken, maybe 25, years ago. It is Richard Paul, an actor, a great friend and on this day Elephant jockey. This is about half a block from the famous intersection of Hollywood and Highland so the Elephant would be just past what is now the Kodak Theatre and in front of Mann's Chinese Theatre. In this shot, Richard is losing his balance and falling off the Elephant while racing it down Hollywood Blvd. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. How many is that already? I would say this one is worth twice as many. Here are just a few more.

Just at the edge of the right frame you can make out the posterior of another Elephant. The jockey riding that Elephant, the one in the lead, is me. Although you can't see me, at this point I am laughing so hard I am about to fall off my Elephant as well.

Now Richard Paul loved to laugh and eat and is generally known for his "portly character roles" in television and film. Click on his name in the previous sentence to link up with all his credits. You have seen him millions of times. His career is very impressive.

On this day, April Fools day to be specific, we were booked to do a publicity stunt in conjunction with Circus Vargas. We were to be the Celebrity jockeys for an Elephant race down Hollywood Blvd benefiting Muscular Dystrophy. I'm not sure how the MDA collected money from this event. For all I know there could have been para mutual betting on the out come.

Richard was a very funny guy and had a great laugh. It was that laugh that was always the prize. His laughter was so infectious it would make anyone around him laugh just as hard as he did. I can't even remember all things we did together or the places we went, all I remember is laughing until I was crying and hurting.

Back to the race. So I am out in front with my Elephant, but riding an Elephant is not a smooth ride. There is as much backward movement as forward as I now recall. I am holding on for all I'm worth because it is a long way to the ground. Richard, however, has more weight to manage and he begins to lose his "Elephant balance". From the rear I hear that incredible laugh punctuating moments of terror. I look back and he is sideways on the beast but hanging on dearly. The site of him hanging on that Elephant and that laugh makes me start to laugh hysterically. Richard, who did a killer impression of W.C. Fields, channeled him at that moment as he is yelling, "Beelzebub stop this monster. Godfrey Daniel. This a pachyderm on a rampage."

Of course all the trainers run to help Richard, which leaves my Elephant totally un- supervised. I have to tell you, the natural instinct of an Elephant, with a novice jockey and no trainer running beside, is not the instinct to continue straight down Hollywood to LaBrea and finish the race. My Elephant decides to head for the crowd of spectators on the sidewalk. The people scream and run, I start yelling for the trainers to come back and redirect my steed, but no one pays any attention to me because I am laughing so hard I can't make it sound like real panic. As my Elephant was reaching the entrance to the Chinese theatre one of the trainers finally gained control. Richard never fell completely off, but the race was declared over due to safety concerns for everyone.

In 1998 Richard died rather suddenly after fighting a very aggressive cancer. His wife Patty asked me to be a pall bearer and speak at his funeral. She asked me to recall some of the funny times we had. I pulled together my top five and prepared for the day I would bid a final goodbye to my friend.

That day in the church Patty came up to me before the start and said, "Thank you so much for remembering Richard like this... He wanted a show biz friend to send him off. I hope you are going to tell the story about the time you both raced Elephants down Hollywood Blvd. That's always been one of my favorite stories."

I was stopped short. Until that moment I had forgotten that story. It was not even in my top ten list of funny stories involving Richard. During my remembrances I said. "How many good times do you have to have with a friend when there would be so many that you would forget about the time you both raced Elephants down Hollywood Blvd." That was my friend Richard.

There is a passage from the Koran that says, "He deserves paradise who makes his companions laugh." I guess this paradise place must be a lot of fun with guys like Richard around.

As you were,

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Journal Syndrome
On a plane not long ago I became aware of a lady a few rows ahead of me writing in a journal . Since I am an avid journal writer myself, and often spent time journal-ing on a plane, I could not help but notice her. I was not sitting close enough to see what she was writing but how she was writing. She would write a sentence then scratch it out. She would write another word and scratch it out. She would keep maybe three words and scratch the next sentence out. I don't mean she was just drawing a line through the text, she was attacking it. At first I thought she was sketching because it resembled a child slashing through a coloring book. She scratched the page with her pen so many times, the thought itself must have been permanently scoured from her mind. She continued down the page in this manner leaving only small islands of text still standing on a completely inked up page.

She approached the journal with what I could only interpret as anger. Each page was being punished for reasons a slab of pulp can never understand. Surely, the paper thought, it must be the fault of the pen. After all, paper is the journalistic equivalent of a catcher in the game of baseball, the pen is the pitcher; unfortunately unlike the baseball catcher the paper has no way to signal for the pitch it thinks is best. In this process the paper serves no purpose other than to be a target for ink stains. The page of paper was reduced to a marked up and blackened mess, hardly the dignified end to a once living conifer.

The pen must have been confused as well. Designed to deliver ink in a controlled feed to create legible symbols on a page, the pen found itself complicit in random acts of destruction. Destroying even the few symbols it was allowed momentarily to create.

Then we come to the woman herself and my Dr. Phil-esque wondering? I even hear my questions in that Texas accent of his... "Whut are you thinkin." I mean a journal is a journal and it is just stream of consciousness anyway; why waste the ink to correct a couple of words that no one will read anyway?

I have always believed in a hand written journal because of the tactile nature of the process. It is that hand to brain connection when the brain's abstract nature is controlled and channeled into a precise mark on a page. Nothing could be more useful in developing your thinking ability than to exercise the brain in such a way. That is why handwriting analysis is so insightful. In its purest form, hand writing on a page is like an EKG of the brain. A graph that reflects the brain's emotional state at the time.

That being said, obliterating those marks on a page is the mental equivalent spanking the brain for attempting to communicate. Think at least milli-seconds ahead of the pen so it has a chance to write something, communicate in some way. There will be those times when you write "to" instead of "two" or "there" instead of "their." Do you have to obscure such transgressions from the holy page?

And then the plane landed and I was back home. I realized that thinking about this woman's odd journalistic style had completely occupied the time I had to write in my own journal.


As you were,