Sunday, March 31, 2013

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Parking $4.00->

Yesterday I met a friend of mine at Musso & Frank's for lunch. If you know Musso's you know that it hasn't really changed since its Hollywood glory in the 1940's.  It still remains one of the most iconic places to go in Los Angeles. Manny, the bartender, has been there at least 40 years... probably more.  He knows everyone by a nickname and drink order.
One thing that has changed is the parking situation. They used to have a large lot where you could park for free with  a 3 hour Musso validation.  Now there are only a few parking places for Musso's and the rest of the parking has been taken over by some other company.  As anyone knows parking is always an issue in Los Angeles because no one walks anywhere. I knew I would have to pay something to park for my lunch.
As I drove in there was a sign at the gate of the parking lot that said, "Parking $4.00".  I pulled up to the booth and the guy handed me a ticket and said, "$8.00 please.."  I reached for a ten and said, "Your sign says parking is $4.00".  The man looked at the sign a few feet away from him which clearly said $4.00. Without a moments thought he said, "That is not my sign."
I burst out laughing because it reminded me of an Inspector Clouseau line from a the Peter Sellers Pink Panther movie.  The inspector sees a man with a dog... as he goes to pet the dog he said, "Does your dog bite?"
The man says, "No".  As the Inspector stoops to pet the dog it snarls and snaps at his hand.
"I thought you said your dog doesn't bite?"
The man says... "That is not my dog."
The world is a stage and we are just players imitating art.
As you were,

Spring Springing

As you were,

Friday, March 29, 2013

L. W. Abernathy...

It all came back to me in a flash. Like the lightening of a  mental storm.
Just yesterday I became FaceBook friends with an actual old friend. His name showed up in a FaceBook "you might know this person"- pop up. In this case I did absolutely know the person; I clicked on the button and he quickly accepted my electronic friendship. There I was looking at this picture on the right.

I had a very hard time making the distinguished Texas gentleman (read old man) in the lovely FaceBook profile portrait look like my childhood conspirator.  I still remembered him as a neighborhood buddy, a 10 year old kid, the only child of my first grade teacher who lived five doors down from me.  I certainly didn't expect to be looking at my playmate's grandfather. He is probably experiencing the same dilemma over my picture at this very moment.  There has been no exchange between us other than this FaceBook procedure for more than half a Century, but at the thought of him a childhood memory flashed before my eyes.
Neither of us is the same person today that we were then. I thought he might not like the idea of me publishing his picture and telling an old story about two kids,  but I couldn't resist remembering it in writing.
So I censored his photograph and  for now we'll just call him L.W. That is not his real name but it sounds like a good Texas name. This subterfuge is not intended to be a puzzle or mystery...It is only a ploy for plausible denial.
I have no idea if he will ever read this, nor would he necessarily remember it as I do, if he recalls it at all. But it is my story and I'm sticking to it. Although I have always been accused of not letting the truth stand in the way of a good story, in this particular case I claim poetic license.  
Jay and LW
At the time LW was 12 and I was 9 years old.  LW was a curious energetic gaget loving (read nerdy) kid just like me.  He was older so I was definitely his minion. We loved to play together. I was always ready to participate in any scheme he came up with.  As I remember, no scheme was too advanced nor too complicated for LW to attempt.
I'm not sure when he got the deluxe double sided Gilbert Chemistry set, but it instantly became our personal laboratory.  This is a picture of the front of the metal Gilbert Chemistry set box which held all the experiments.  It also happens to be exactly the way I remember the two of us at the time. There is no doubt in my mind, even now,  that we were the two kids in that picture, we even had the same hair coloring.
It wasn't long before we had gone through all the experiments outlined in the instruction book. We ultimately thought they were lame and looked for more exciting chemistry experiments to perform. We turned liquids different colors. We mixed gooey compounds together, and made CO2. But the experiments that burned, flashed, smoked or exploded were our favorites. That's when LW found the formula for making black gun powder in the Encyclopedia Britannica. It was simple. Just mix charcoal, sulphur and potassium nitrate together throughly,  and ignite carefully. It became a mission, a scientific necessity, our crowning accomplishment as laboratory geniuses, to make gun powder.
We had the sulphur and charcoal quickly. They were not hard to come by,  and we had the mortar and pistel to mix them in. Potassium nitrate was not something either of us had around the house.
Without all the ingredients we got distracted constructing a backyard dug out, a bunker of sorts that all the neighborhood kids could hide in.
One day LW showed up with a bottle of Saltpetre he had acquired. We made the appropriate juvenile jokes about the name, but in fact the white crystal like chemical was actually potassium nitrate by another name. We now have everything we needed to make gun powder, which we immediately proceeded to do. The goal is to make enough gun powder to power a large, loud home-made fire cracker.
Not actual size
Every boy in the neighbor hood was experienced at handeling fire works, it was a holiday tradition and right of passage.  We mixed and powdered sulphur, charcoal and saltpetre until we completely filled an empty Desenex Athlete's foot powder can. I can not recall how long it took until the project was complete. Several afternoons of summer I would suspect. 
D-Day...(Desenex Day) finally arrived.
As we had seen it done many times in Cowboy Movies we drew a line of our home made gun powder in the dirt to act as a fuse. LW counted to three and lit the fuse. The gunpowder ignited hissing and sparking its way to our fire cracker canister.
The fact that we are both alive today is proof that neither one of us was cut out to be a chemist.  The ingredients were correct but we had mixed them in the wrong proportions.  The gun powder did not explode. Instead of sending Desenex tin can shrapnel flying in every direction for 50 feet, the can shot 100 feet straight into the air like a pail yellow missile. The top of the can proved to be an excellent rocket engine nozzle. We stood in shock watching it spit fire until it was almost out of site.  It was the most impressive display of aerodynamics  I would see until I watched NASA blast Alan Shepard into subspace on television years later.  The can was eventually found in Dr. Wilson's back yard several houses away. It was the memento from our greatest Gilbert Chemistry Set experiment.
To paraphrase a line from the movie "Stand by Me" - Are friendships ever as good as they are when you're 10?
As you were,

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Your Limo is here Mr. Johnson....

Guatemala is very hot, they drive like maniacs and wear funny hats.  As my friend Bryan Simon said.... 
"Sounds like Texas." He is right except for the accent.
But Guatemala is where I disembarked the Vision of the Seas and headed home. 
I have found that you really have to roll with the punches when you embark and disembark a ship. Each time is just a little different. Usually there is very little communication with the crew on land and the crew on the ship. Once you are on the ship you are fine, but the minute you sign off you are mostly a stranger in a strange land. Often there is someone who can get you where you need to go... often there is not and one must figure it out for themselves.

I asked the production manager how far the airport was from the dock. He said, "I have no idea. I never got off at this port before."  I was on an early afternoon flight and the distance to the airport really meant nothing except an estimate of how long I would have to hang at the airport before getting on the plane.  
Fortunately there was a man named Roberto at the dock looking for me. He was a local and was responsible for getting me to the airport. I asked him how far it was to the airport and he knew exactly. However, he noted that since it was Easter week and there were parades and celebrations the traffic would be very bad.  What is usually an hour and 45 minute drive could be as much as two hours.  Even at that I would be at the airport a couple of hours before the plane took off.  I began to relax because it seemed to be working out.
I assumed that Roberto was the driver, but he was not.  He was the port agent. Sort of the captain of the Dock when the ship was there. He said he had arranged a vehicle to take me on the two hour trip to the Guatemala airport. We walked to a desolate, dry patch of earth.  Roberto waved his arms and gave a whistle toward a small grove of trees that served as shade for several taxi's.  There was a quick and immediate response to Roberto's hail. And this is the vehicle that showed up.  
Immediately I thought that two hours was going to seem like the rest of my life in this modified golf cart.
It was a matter of coincidental timing as the golf cart was there to pickup the guy in the red shirt. My "Limo" was the black van that pulled around after the red cart had left.  
The rest of the trip was uneventful although I did have to make a connection through Miami.  I don't know anyone who travels extensively who is fond of the Miami airport, especially when you are passing through immigration and customs trying to make a connection. The people are not that friendly, the flow patterns are illogical, and the signage is unintelligent, and don't get me started on the TSA gorillas.  Even for TSA they are below par. One agent decided Bob's head was a toy for his amusement. Knowing that they have unchecked authority in the name of keeping the public safe, there is little that one can do about these jerks. After this particular Neanderthal had played with Bob's mouth movement trigger, he began to stuff things back into place. I said I would repack. He sort of shoved the case my way.  I said, "Thank you sir I feel so much safer now." It was an asshole thing to say, but he had really pissed me off. There was a moment when his eyes narrowed in anger, but I think he saw even more anger in my face so we both turned and walked away from the conflict.  
My mission in life is to make peace with these idiots, but I am afraid the job attracts ignorant bullies.  I  am sure there are some wonderful people who work for the TSA. If you are one of those people, I look forward to a friendly exchange on my next trip. I am really an easy traveler to get along with. 
To the big fat TSA, jerk off, son-of-a bitch at the Miami airport yesterday... well I would love to have you in the front row of my show someday so I can return the favor when I have the upper hand. I will show you how an expert "plays" with the toy you seemed to be so disrespectful of.  Although I am an easy traveler, Bob is not and you really pissed him off.  We are both sorry that we didn't get your name or badge number or the location of your cage to complain about your attitude. 
As you were, 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

That's a Monkey Joke

Since it is before my show because I just got on board, I wore my Monkey Joke tee shirt today. On board the Vision of the Seas the shirt did not get a notice. I forgot that I was wearing it. That is until I went off ship into the tourist fed commerce dockside in Costa Rica.
Perhaps it is because you don't have to drive very far here in this country to see real monkeys in the trees. I eventually got tired of answering for the shirt. In various accents people would say, "What is a Monkey Joke? What does that mean?" I started saying a monkey joke is any joke that a monkey tells, but that was not satisfying to most inquisitors. Finally I came up with an answer. When asked, "What is a Monkey Joke?" I would say, "What is yellow and smells like old bananas?" They would shrug, I would then say, "Monkey vomit." I would say in my best Darwin imitation "That is a monkey Joke.." It was a great conversation stopper.
It dawned on me when I returned to the ship that I was also wearing a "Big Bang Theory" hat... usually that gets all the questions and comments. Costa Rica where the real monkeys are and Los Angeles where the real nerds are.
I love this ship. The Vision was the last of the Vision class ships at Royal Caribbean. It was just before they decided that the ship WAS the destination so they started building them bigger that most of the ports they visit. The rumor is that they will build a ship that is as long as the Atlantic Ocean. For a trip from New York to London, they will just spin the ship around. This ship is just big enough not to be cramped but you can still get around without a line of 5000 other passengers ahead of you. I have probably performed more shows on this class of ship than any other class. It is familiar and home to me.
I may be home by the time this post is published since this is a split week for me. The internet onboard is slow and expensive. To get home I will travel from Guatemala to Miami and Miami home. I am probably equal distance from Guatemala to Miami as it is from Guatemala to LA so I will travel the two sides of a triangle that will add 6 hours and a layover to my travel day. Show business... is all about travel first.
As you were,

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thinking out Loud..

There has to be a balance between writing and thinking. If you write and think at the same time that is called a first draft and it is not always posting material. Today is a thinking day so I turn to my magic Eight Ball for inspiration. 
My answer is hazy, I will have to try again later.
As you were,

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How to be a Ventriloquist

Tony and Charlie
My friend Steve Axtell of Axtell Expressions, Inc. asked me to judge the ventriloquist video contest he is currently sponsoring. I have watched over a hundred 2 minute videos in various age categories. 
It has been an enlightening and concentrated experience.  After watching these videos I have noticed that there are general notes I could give to most every vent student.
Since time restraints and sheer volume keep me from fully explaining to each contestant individually, I thought I would use this space to express some thoughts. 
Note: I refer to the ventriloquist as he. I saw some really wonderful "she" ventriloquists in the competition. I do not mean this blog to be sexist or politically incorrect. It just saves me several typing steps to write "he" instead of "he/she." So female vents... don't think this only applies to the guys.
I always make the comparison between ventriloquism and music. You practice for hours with your puppet (your instrument) and perfect the routine (your music). The same rules apply to both art forms at this student level. You must perfect your technique, rehearse, for hours and hours before you play music.  You must practice until the instrument almost performs by itself. You come to a point in your rehearsal when the technique transcends rote behavior and orbits at a higher level.  When you perform this integration between instrument and music you have a performance... you have ART. 
Here is where the analogies part company.   When a musician plays music on an instrument the experience can be totally appreciated with your eyes closed. How the musician is creating the music physically with his instrument is not important any more. It is all about the emotion and phrasing of the music itself. The music and the musician become one in expression. 
The interaction between the instrument of a musician and the character of a ventriloquist is totally different at performance level. The musician is communicating through his instrument. The ventriloquist is communicating WITH his instrument. The routine and the ventriloquist become TWO in the expression.
The art of ventriloquism is creating the illusion that there are two separate expressions on stage at the same time. The trick: it's all being done by one expression. In the videos I saw performers with great lip control and great puppet movement but it wasn't the art of ventriloquism. 
It should look like two separate expressions interacting together in a spontaneous conversation, each listening and talking in turn. What I saw mostly were ventriloquists  who would deliver a line while the puppet remained motionless, then assume a blank motionless stone-faced expression while the puppet became animated and delivered their line. 
Sometimes the puppet would never even look at the ventriloquist nor react to what he was saying. The same was true with the ventriloquist, and even though he might actually be looking at the puppet he did not look like he was listening. The expression on the face of the ventriloquist was that of a "lip control trance", concentrating on doing a funny voice not listening to what a character was saying. 
Here is an exercise. Find some place where people are having an animated discussion. Watch two people in conversation. They are both alive, active, engaged and involved the entire time. Even when one is just listening there is eye contact, head nodding, blinking, finger tapping or just fidgeting that visually communicate that the listener is involved. You will never see a person in real life stare into space and remain motionless while the other is speaking to them. 
A ventriloquist has more of a responsibility to this active conversational engagement since a puppet (even as good as an Axtell puppet) has less range of motion than a human. A ventriloquist has to work with a puppet so much that even when he is not thinking about it, the puppet is moving, thinking and reacting to what ever is happening on stage. To repeat the discipline of the musician.... You must practice until the instrument almost performs by itself.
Keep your character active, thinking, reacting to what is going on. By the same token the ventriloquist has to keep his own personality active, alive and thinking at the same time.  It may seem like patting your head and rubbing your stomach for a while, but the fingering on the neck of a violin seems difficult at first. 
Ventriloquism and acting overlap like music and phrasing. I would encourage all ventriloquists who are serious to find a good acting class and study. Acting comes from the root word action. You will learn how to communicate your emotions (actions) non-verbally with facial and body movements. When you are on stage you can never "zombie" out and be uninvolved with the action nor can your puppet character.  Actions speak louder than words. A good ventriloquist can keep the illusion of simultaneous dual expressions alive on stage even when neither character is actually talking. Turn off the audio of your video practice tapes and see if it looks like there are two separate characters always alive, active and talking to each other. Look at what the vent is doing when the puppet is talking and look at what the puppet is doing when the vent is talking. But remember the three rules of ventriloquism are the same with any art form discipline: Practice, Practice and Practice some more.
For what it is worth.
As you were,

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

From the Mouth of Babes

At a terrific St. Patricks Day party over the weekend the hostess was telling this story on herself.

A few years ago when her Grandson was 6 years old she decided to take him to see "The Lion King".  It was in town at the time and my friend got tickets, made the plans and looked forward to a great experience with her Grandson. She loved the theatre and wanted to be a guide to encourage her Grandson's appreciation of live theatre.  It would be just the two of them... no one else, just a grand bonding experience for them both.
The day came and the little guy was very excited.  He put on his best theatre clothes, his best manners said "see you later" to his Mom and jumped into the car with his Grandmother.
They headed for the theatre. Hand in hand they walked the block from the parking lot to the theatre with the excitement growing as the little guy ogled the posters outside the theatre.
At the theatre entrance the usher looked at the tickets and directed the Grandmother to the box office.  Excitement was delayed as she stood in line with her grandson at the will call window.  Finally they got to the box office attendant who looked at the tickets. He said the tickets were for the performance of the show a week ago.  That night they were sold out... completely.
With a total change in plans the two walked back to the car.  For a moment the grandson was quiet in his disappointment.  Finally he turned to his Grandmother and said. "You know the theatre ought to put the date on the tickets."
As you were,

Monday, March 18, 2013


I have succeeded in designing wallpaper.
As you were,

A Rose by any other web search....

Common Garden Variety Rose
In old detective stories the gum shoe would eventually head down to the morgue file of the local paper to see if a suspect had been involved in any salacious headlines.  It was an extensive ordeal that involved micro film, cumbersome projection units in a small room and hours looking though unrelated headlines to find what he was looking for.  Inevitably, in the Hollywood story, the detective would see a headline or story that would lead him to solve the case.  But that is old news.
Times have changed.  Just like there are no more candlestick phones or manual typewriters the morgue files of most newspapers are now available online.  The detective with a smart phone today doesn't even have to leave his bedroom to search the files for some "person of interest".  
There is currently an advertisement on my Google page that touts a site which will search the arrest record of anyone.  It is accompanied by the picture of an unsavory character in jail house orange.  Anything that has ever been written, blogged, tweeted, photographed, statused, shared or emailed is out there waiting to be sifted through a data base and served up to anyone on line. The problem is that there is no expiration date to this information.  True, relevant or just plain wrong, it doesn't matter... once it is there it never leaves. 
I have a friend who was arrested five years ago on a bogus charge. It made the local television news as well as print media.  It was a ridiculous emotionally charged case with several counts that added up to a felony.  Within weeks most of the counts were dropped, the charge was changed to a misdemeanor, and eventually the whole thing was negotiated down to nothing.  However, if you google his name even today you will see the felony charge and the booking photo accusing him of countless infractions none of which were validated. If that is as far as your search went you would not know the real story nor the true person behind the ubiquitous headline.
This modern day problem has given rise to unique solutions.  Some scholars say that in the future it may become a rite of passage for people to change their name when they reach majority. It would be a way to clear your actual name from being associated with transgressions which have made their way onto the net.  You know, That picture you posted on your FaceBook page when you were 16?  The one of you in a Charles Manson tee shirt taking a hit from a bong? That probably would not be the one you would want a future employer to see when you are 21. However, an internet search will probably be the first thing that happens after your application.  By changing your name and stepping away from your juvenile "on line reputation", you could keep the mistakes of your past from destroying your chances for the future.  It may be an idea who's time has come unless we can mature enough as humans to show a little FaceBook discretion.
I always liked the name Jay and I am glad that there was no public place to deposit the photos of my misspent youth when they were taken back then. To see them today requires a search warrant not a search app on an iPhone.  However, if I had been born into another generation with such access, what would I change my name to?  Francis.... because to find me, a prospective employer would have to wade through billions of hits for the Pope.  I wouldn't go by Francis... that will always be a girls name to me,  I would be Frank.  On second thought, I like Jay better.... and why run when no one is chasing you.
As you were,

Friday, March 15, 2013

Tricks of the Trade

I try to avoid blogging about religion or politics. A one way diatribe of words, like a blog, is insufficient to shed meaning on such controversial and emotional topics. It can only lead to diversion and separation.  It is unfortunate because I love to contemplate religions. But that is not my goal for this blog.
My goal is to talk about ritual not religion. The two words are sometimes confused with each other. So parsing my own rules of discussion to the edge, I am referring to ritual.
In the pagan religions of ancient Greece it was all about ritual. Temples were entertainment spectacles intended to amaze the congregation with "miracles" or just signs that the deity attached to that religion was real and powerful. The temples were often rigged with ingenious mechanical devices that could be interpreted as signs from the god.  There were crying statues, temple doors that opened by themselves when a ritual fire was started. There were even chariots that flew through the air in the temple.  All of these "miracles" were accomplished with advanced mechanics and engineering kept secret from the general public at the time.
Today when the door at a grocery store opens for me automatically, it is harder for me to think of it as a gods intervention.  Or when I see remote toy helicopters for sale hovering in the air at the mall I do not think it is one of the gods chariots.  As for crying statues,  in the Haunted House Ride at Disneyland I have seen statues sing with the fluid facial expressions of a living person. As amazing as all these devices are, in this modern day, I am not inclined to think of them as supernatural.  
As thousands gathered at Vatican city this week to watch smoke billow from a chimney it dawned on me how antiquated that form of communication is in today's world.  It was made even more confusing when I read that to make sure the smoke was the proper color modern day chemicals were added to the "ballot burning" to make the smoke turn. 
In earlier days when the college of Cardinals went into the Sistine Chapel and closed the door, no one knew what was going on inside. It was supposed to be a mystical process.  The implication was that when they had chosen the right person and burned the ballots God would turn the smoke white acknowledging the right choice. There was a time when it was believed that even the Cardinals did not know who the Pope was until the smoke turned white. Today we know that the Pope is chosen before the color smoke is determined. Today it is just ritual.
I don't think the people of today are looking for the David Copperfield of Gods any more.  We are not looking for the Deity who can cause a statue to cry blood, or open a door for the faithful.  As far as flying chariots,  these days I fly in huge 747 Chariot every time I go to do a job. 
What people are looking for is a philosophy of life and a way of living, they will go to a magic show to be entertained with mystery. We want a religion that is relevant to us today in our modern world. A religion that will help us navigate through life. We don't need a religion that shuns the advancements of the world, but rather gives us a map to make our journey through the modern world clearer. 
This is not to say that ritual cannot sometimes be very useful as a metaphor for spiritual discipline.  But when it gets in the way of spiritual development it can be a hindrance. When ritual is hypocritical and negates the idea of progress then it no longer serves its purpose. When a religion uses modern day chemicals and devices to turn smoke white or black but preaches against chemicals and devices for family planning, this is the definition of hypocrisy. We no longer use rose pedals to cure the Bubonic plague so why do we refuse modern technology to make the rest of our life more productive. 
Pope Francis the First is 76 years old.  He was passed middle age when the Macintosh computer was invented.  He was in his late 60's when FaceBook was created and in his Seventies when Twitter became a means of communication. Can his generation understand the megabyte speed and access to the world today? How can he make religion relevant in this modern day world of tweets, shares and status posting using smoke and mirrors?  I am sure he is capable of doing it but will he get caught up in the ritual of his new job and forget that most of us watched the ancient mystical  ritual of white smoke billowing from the Chapel chimney on a smart phone? 
That is just my opinion, I am sure yours is different.
As you were,

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Additions to the Text

When our sons were children, Sandi went with me on a trip to London for a week. As are most of the Johnson trips it was a working vacation for me.  We asked my folks to come out and stay with the boys  who were 6 and 9 years old at the time. They agreed.
Being the organizer Sandi is she had a list of "do's and don'ts" for the boys.  It was a list several pages long of things they liked to do and places they liked to go, and what their schedule was on a daily... almost hourly basis.  It was sort of a narrative list.  "The boys can do this... The boys can't do that... the boys like this.... or the Boys don't like that".  Most of it was typed and printed out but there were things that needed to go on the list after the printing.  I became the scribe and neatly wrote down the additions with my best black ink pen and my best block printing. 
We left on our trip and had a great time.  Upon our return my Dad showed me something that made me laugh out loud. At the bottom of the list, added with my best black ink pen in an attempt at block letters was this: "THE BOYS CAN SMOKE CIGARS". 
It was straight out of a Simpsons episode when Grampa Simpson stayed with Bart and Lisa while Homer and Marge were gone.  Bart manipulated the list left for Grampa in the same way.
Yesterday.... years later my oldest son, the list forger,  is staying with us for awhile and was working on the computer at my desk. He translates documents online and we were having issues with Time Warner and the Internet connection. It was making us both mad but for Brandon it was impeding the ability to get work done for his job.  
In my same "anal block printing" I had taken some notes while talking to Time Warner Internet tech support.  The page with my notes was on my desk.  At the end I had written, "You god damn whores! You aught to try doing what I do for a living!" It is a phrase from an audio tape that circulated years ago. The tape is a compilation of the weekend messages left on a New York cable company's message machine.  As is the way, it is now on YouTube ..Angry Cable Customer (those with strong profanity issues might find it a little raw)
The tape is from a real guy trying to get his cable television restored. He calls and leaves 20 messages each getting a little more frustrated and profane, and for the unconnected listener, funnier and funnier. One of his messages is the "god damn whores line."
This morning added to my notes, written with my best black ink pen imitating my printing style was this: "I'm payin' for the fuckin' service and I ain't gettin' it."  
I burst out laughing because it is also one of the Cable man tape's rants. Brandon recognized my rant and added to it.  It proves that the apple does not fall far from the tree and seems to take root there.
As you were,

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Short Stories

I like to tell stories, especially at dinner parties. Since childhood I have been mesmerized by men who could hold court in a group of their peers. These were the kind of men I wanted to grow up to be like.  Based on my observations at the time, the race goes to the man with the gift of gab: the raconteurs, the toast masters, the conversational hosts of a gathering.  My Dad was one of those guys, but even he would admit that he was not as good as Charles R. Meeker, Jr. Mr. Meeker was my first show business boss. I have written about him before. (Check here if interested)
Dinner and wine with Mr. Meeker was better entertainment than going to the theatre. In reality the way Mr. Meeker performed his gift of spoken word...was theatre. I still remember watching and listening to him in awe.
Mr. Meeker and my Dad are gone now, and I am old enough to be every bit the raconteur they were. I keep practicing and pretending that I am smart as they were.
Recently there was a defining moment in my quest to be the conversational host.  It was a small dinner party with friends, and wine and conversation. I think I said wine, right?  You really need wine and plenty of it.  I learned from Mr. Meeker that good wine is an essential part of the raconteur theatrical experience. 
At a lull in the evening's laughter, as we sipped more wine, a friend said to me, "I love it when you tell short stories."
Had it been a male friend who mentioned it,  I might have just said, "Thank you.." and that would be the end of it.  But since it was one of my social girl friends I said in my patronizing  yet flirty way, "Why do you like my short stories?" I was hoping to hear adjectives like, funny, witty, charming.~no..
Without hesitation she said,
"Because they're short." 
As you were, 
3/13/13 @ 3:13

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Doing it Right

My friend Martin Lewis is a charter member of the notorious Left Handed League.  That is a group of magicians who are slightly off of plumb, have radically weird ideas about magic and how it is performed. They came together to form a conclave and happen to all be left handed. I am a founding member of the organization although I am not left handed. I do, however, have all the other qualifications for being slightly off plumb. I was allowed into the Left Handed League on a technicality. Because I am dyslexic and I don't really comprehend the difference between left and right... I could be left handed and not know it. I have always been proud of being a part of that league, even though my membership comes with a codicil.
Martin said one time while we were preparing a proposal, "If we don't have time to do it right, when will we ever have the time to do it again?" That phrase has stuck with me for many years and I think about it often when I am rushed to get something done.
Along with Martin's sage advice my son also has a theory called the "more mop" solution.  Although not exactly the same thing the two ideas do over lap.  In a nutshell the "more mop" theory goes like this.  Suppose a drain is stopped up in the bathtub and the water is running.  Eventually the water will run over the sides of the tub and cause a spill.  The "more mop" solution would be to bring in a bunch of mops to clean up the spill.  Unfortunately when those mops are soaked you will have to bring in more mops, followed by more mops.  The solution is not in finding more mops but stopping the water flow or unclogging the drain.  To combine the two chestnuts, if you don't have time to fix the problem right the first time, then the alternative is a lot of mopping up. 
I have always been taught "there is a lot apparently wasted time in creativity". Ideas like flowers need time to bloom and every path to the solution of that idea is one more step in the unfoldment. Like what is happening inside the plant as it is trying to bloom, a lot of the creative time is unseen.  Although it looks like wasted time, it is all part of the process.
Time is the key word here.  Each flower blooms at a different time and at a different rate from all other flowers even those of its own kind. It takes whatever time it needs and can not be programed into a schedule or deadline. So it is with artistic and creative ideas. They must be allowed to run their course and fully develop before we cut the flower and try to fashion a bouquet. In most cases it is better to miss the deadline than to cut off the creative process mid development.  
Being an artist is a matter of knowing that timing.  Knowing when some idea, painting, sculpture or piece of music is finished as a piece. When is the painting done? When one more stroke will make it better and when one more brush stroke will ruin it.  Creativity is not a timed sport, the winner is not the one who is ahead of the game as the clock runs out.  Creativity is about knowing when an idea is complete based upon an inner feeling not a deadline. How does one know when enough time has been dedicated to a project or idea to be finished or when time has just run out? No clue. This unquantified ability is what makes and artist and artist. 
So do it right the first time.  It is the only time you will have for the project or idea. Besides by sticking with some artistic venture and giving it all your attention and time you insure that the original muse is still guiding your instincts.
Adopt a non-temporal approach to your work, let completion and quality dictate the project not the clock.
As you were,

Monday, March 11, 2013

Time Out

When I was growing up a time out was a good thing.  It was an interval in the game when the playing stopped and we kids could get a drink of water or catch our breath.  King's X worked just as well.
When my kids were growing up a time out became a bad thing.  It reflected a different era of raising kids with different ideas about discipline.  The Time Out became the equivalent to punishment. We all did our part to hi-jack the idea of a time out.  
In an attempt to right the wrong, time outs have received from this generation,  I have decided to bring back the good time out.  A Kings X from the stress of the world. A metaphysical drink of water. Life's oasis unto itself. 
The best thing is... you can participate in good personal time out right now. You don't even have to leave this page.  You don't have to do anything.  The task is to do and think...nothing. The task is also the challenge... do nothing and think nothing.  It is a seventeen second time out, meditation, true consciousness.  
The teachings of Abraham suggests that 17 seconds is all it takes. Still the mind from THINKING for 17 seconds and it will be enough to change your journey. If you spend seventeen seconds  in the vortex,  the present moment, the nameless now... that connection is enough to cause you to experience a physical change, a shift in your consciousness. Try it.
This is a video of my old stop watch counting out 17 seconds. Play it and try not to think about anything... even the fact that you are currently trying not to think about anything.   You are the only one to know if you had 17 full seconds of total time out. Most say that when they have touched that moment of timeless being they know it. Goldsmith called it a "click"
Why is a 17 second investment.  Reading the explanation to this point has taken longer than 17 seconds.
As you were, 

Not the way I imagined it...

I'm not sure if the romantic notions I have of my life lives up to the reality very often. Like right now. I thought it would be a great idea to come up to the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf to write my blog. It just seemed like the very thing I needed to add a dramatic kick start to my week. However, the reality is far different than the episode I imagined in my mind. It's the little details that I left out of my fantasy.
Most importantly, I did not imagine all these other people in my dream. People are coming and going, ordering coffee and pastries treating this writing carol of mine like some common, retail establishment. Some of the patrons have even brought with them their preschool kids. How can a serious writer concentrate with all this noise going on. Who are all these people and why aren't they writing?
In my version of this scene there is light classical music playing in a reverent and respectfully quiet environment. In reality there is a sound that the expresso machine makes which sounds like a steam engine coming into Victoria station and an 80's cover band music is playing on a repetitious muzak system. Who can write anything, tied to a railroad track trying to avoid acknowledging that I recognize a Barry Manilow song.
I should have stayed at home convinced that I would have so much more success concentrating at the Bean. But then what would I write about? The idea of writing about something that keeps me from writing is better than not being able to write at all. The fact is that you just can't force it out, at least I can't. Whatever creativity is, it has it's own temporal unfoldment and is not to be artificially forced. I can't schedule when an idea will come, and even then can't know if it will go anywhere until it is done.
So, I'll just sit here until that perfect article comes. I'll let you know when I go something.
As you were,

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Brain

I was thinking about this organ in our body called the human brain and how it functions. I thought I wanted to  write about that idea. I wanted to gather some words together and think it through.  Then I wrote the title to the blog..  "The Brain". 
This, of course, made me think of one of my all time favorite cartoon characters: The Brain- featured on an animated television series called Annimaniacs.
Pinky and the Brain are experimental white rats living their life caged in a Laboratory. Pinky is incredibly naive and stupid while the Brain (the shorter Alpha rat who sounds like Orson Wells) makes plans every night to use his superior intellect to conquer the world. The Brain is voiced by my friend and announcer for "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only", the incredibly talented Maurice La Marsh.  I was a huge fan of the show even before I met Maurice. 
Pinky and the Brain's  trademark phrase is.... "Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Pinky?"....  the proper answer to Brain's question should be.... "Yes Brain, we can take over the world."  However, Pinky would always come back with the most obscure and unexpected answer. It always started with... "I think so Brain... but".  
There were hundreds of brilliantly written comebacks; this one immediately comes to mind.
My "Pinky and the Brain" 
action figures. 

Brain: Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Pinky?
Pinky: I think so Brain... but if Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares.... why does he keep doing it?
(If you have a favorite Pinkyism write it to me in the comment section.  I would love to collect them all)
The Brain is obviously the perfect name for an evil genius who has been genetically engineered with lab experiments to possess genius level intelligence; while Pinky, just seemed like a random name for the stupid partner.  Not so.  It could be the most brilliant name for a character, like Pinky, that has ever been conceived.

We'll return to how the human brain functions in just a moment... but to explain Pinky I have to digress.

Just as there are "feeder" fish for purchase at the pet store other animals are sold as "natural nutrition" as well.  Those who keep snakes as pets buy small rodents as food for the reptile.  To quote the rabbit breeder in a Michael Moore documentary... "You want a Pet or Meat." She would either sell a rabbit as a beloved pet, or kill and dress it for your dinner. 
So.. okay back to snakes, some snakes are small and need smaller mice to feed on.  The pet store is there to supply all your pet needs. They sell baby mice as meat for the pet snake. Since these mice have not grown hair yet... they are called Pinkies.
Pinky, a rodent that was meant to become food, is pared with The Brain, a rodent who has been given superior intelligence. Perfect names, perfect casting for a cartoon sitcom.  
All of these memories came to me because I typed two words, THE BRAIN, at the top of an electronic page or it is a post. I guess technically it would be a title to a blog post.
Oh and about this organ in our body called the brain.  This is how it functions. 
This whole blog has been a narrative example of how the brain functions.  Every where in your brain are areas containing billions of insignificant bits of information. One stimulation, one phrase, one smell, one sound, two words, anything can trigger the assembly of billions of these bits into a complete memory. Thousands of small areas of your brain fire up with a sequence of random information signals that are compiled in sort of a singly unified report. This happens millions of times faster than a computer using an electrical energy we don't comprehend. What does all that energy and effort your brain goes through mean? Is it just wasted activity? Wasted energy? What are we supposed to do with a thought like that? And where does it go?
As for me.... it all goes right here.  Where ever this is.
As you were,
Jay...the other one

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Blog

After a really wonderful dinner with my friend and mentor last night, I was instructed not to write about Jay, or the dinner. It has left my stream of consciousness writing style bereft of current material.  So, as a part of my self imposed deadline on publishing something every day, when possible... I offer this work of art instead of writing about last night.   The drawing is titled... "The Lesson We Learned as a Child".  It ripe with subtext and philosophical meaning. Unfortunately I can't go into it without talking about Jay.

As you were,

Monday, March 04, 2013

The Chess Game

In Central Park in New York City there is a spot where people meet to play chess.  Several boards with several games are going at the peak times.  Here is the story of two such games side by side.
At one board is a player who contemplates his every move against every possible move his opponent could make in response.  It takes him hours to come up with his next move. He thinks and thinks knowing that the right combination of moves will end in victory for him, but he is afraid to make his next move because it may be the wrong one which would not lead to ultimate victory. Because of his method of considering every counter move he is a very slow player. 
At the other table is a player who looks at the pieces and makes the best move based upon the current standing of the board. He is a very fast player.
At the end of the day, the two different players have very different experiences.  The fast player has participated in 30 games and has won not quite half of them.  The slow player has played only two games during the same time period and won one and lost one.
Which one is the better player?  It is hard to tell based upon a day of playing.  However, the fast player has much more real time experience at playing than the slower chess player. The fast player has seen many more unexpected moves from his opponent and had to continually adjust his play.
The slower player did not make as many mistakes as the faster player, but by nature of sheer numbers, the slower player has not seen as many defensive strategies to play against.  If experience is the best teacher then the faster player has the best coach. 
A chess game begins with the first move.  If you don't move some piece on the board the game never begins.  You can be afraid of making a bad move, or you can make the best move you can at the time. The fear of a bad move will keep you from enjoying the game and the experience.  Making a move and constantly adjusting to try and make it better starts the game, provides experience, brings the joy of participation and eventually you learn how to play the game better.  
It is a metaphor for life. Make the first move and adjust as you need to with future moves.  If you sit around waiting for the perfect move you won't be participating, you will only be contemplating on the side line. The perfect move is always the best one in the moment, even if you plan years in advance.

As you were,

Friday, March 01, 2013

Stop Talking to Yourself

In my profession I am always talking to myself.  Not just out loud but internally as well.  Most people just call that thinking, but if anyone else is like me, it sounds like dialogue inside my head. 
This morning as I was trying to sort out some notes regarding the rough cut of "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only", A different voice interrupted and said, "Stop thinking about what you are going to say, or what you are going to do. Just let it be when it is... stop thinking."
At that moment I realized I was rehearsing a scene to come in this story called my life. It wasn't a performance it was a rehearsal. If something is organic and real it can't be rehearsed, so it was an exercise in mental mumbling not constructive contemplation. 
I agreed with the idea that I should stop thinking.  Just be in the moment.  Don't live in a future moment at the sake of actually living the present moment,  now. Just be, just react and live in the actual moment.  It was a calming realization and a moment of clarity.
So I stopped thinking about the show and the notes and the DVD and the schedule and the pressures of the production and tried to just float with the moment.  I was outside in a beautiful California morning with balmy clear blue skies, I noticed that the trees were all individual shades of green where moments ago I didn't see them at all. It was a territory and a place in my life that was comfortable, calm and peaceful.
I could not wait to write this feeling down, to express it and package it.  I immediately started thinking about how I would construct the blog this morning, and then it dawned on me.  I was thinking again. I walked from the spring like weather outside and into my office to write about the feeling of being outside. No longer in the moment, no longer aware of the trees, I was thinking about what I would write about not thinking.
My inner dialogue betrayed the actual desire. I had not stopped thinking, I had simply changed the subject matter that occupied my former thought.  It was gone, that moment of peace. The rehearsal of an up and coming life scene was simply replaced by another.  I was not clear, I had continued to think and I was back out of sync with actually being alive.
If you don't believe me, try it for yourself. Try just to be still and have no thoughts about anything for a moment.  Usually a moment is all your ego will allow, it immediately wants to get your attention. That inner voice says, "Hey, wake up... listen to me when I talking to you." I don't need to just change the station on my internal radio broadcast... I need to figure out how to turn it off for awhile.
Two words keep coming back to me Echart Tolle.
As you were,