Friday, December 26, 2014

Of Course... it is NO PROBLEM

The Broadmoor Hotel and Resort in Colorado Springs is beautiful.  It is warm and traditional while being modern and efficient.  It is also among the friendliest hotels I have ever been too, Five star service with a friendly smile. The term "family" is used a lot, not just because that's the way they make you feel, but because so many employees have been there long enough to be considered family.  One generally gets the feeling that every member of the Broadmoor family is glad you are their guest.  There was, however, one thing that was  completely missing during my stay.
I have issues with the term "No Problem" used by service providers.  You ask a waitress if you can order a cup of coffee and a bagel, she says "No Problem".  You ask if you could get just a little cream, "No Problem."  Excuse me but could I get the check? "NO PROBLEM". It becomes a meaningless sound that no one listens to. Mostly it sends the wrong message to a person who is at that moment your client.  
Doing our job should never be just no problem. We should be glad someone is paying us to do it.  If it is a problem, find something else to do that is not a pain in the ass and do that.  The client is giving us money for our service. Why do we respond by saying that it is "no Problem".  Are we saying it's no problem for me to take money from you?  If the phrase has become meaningless that is all the more reason to stop using it.  I actually paid a restaurant bill in cash once.  The waiter said, "Do you need some change?"  I said, "No the rest is for you."  His response?  "NO PROBLEM".  
That was what was missing at the Broadmoor... "No Problem" I did not hear it even once.  When you asked for something the response was, "Of Course" or "absolutely".
"Could I order a cup of coffee and a bagel?"  the response was, "OF COURSE". Of course I can, that is what they serve and it is why the waiter is there.  It was charming and more linguistically correct. It just made me feel like family.
The Broadmoor is also a very dog friendly hotel.  I was occasionally shocked to see an owner and their dog walking the halls or through the gorgeous lobby. I got used to it quickly and engaged dog owners in conversation about my dog Boo.  Most of the dog owners were under the impression that they owned the greatest dog in the world; it was my job to correct them with the fact that the distinction goes to my dog Boo.  
On the last day of our trip all the friendliness became a habit with me as well.  I was coming out of the coffee shop, with a cup of coffee, "Of Course."  Just outside the shop in the lobby was a large black standard poodle sitting next to a window display of fine jewelery.   It was a beautiful dog extremely well groomed but not cut in that fruity poodle way that is so clownish.  I looked down at the dog and said, "You are absolutely gorgeous."  The owner of the dog saw me looking and nodded a "thank you".  
I looked up just in time to make eye contact with a very pretty young lady who turned on her heels from looking in the jewelry store window. She assumed for a moment I was referring to her.  She was trying to process the idea of some "older" gentlemen coming on to her in the lobby of a grand hotel.   I was completely speechless but shot a glance to the dog and shrugged.  She sorted out what had happened and her face lit up with a smile as she played along and said, "Why Thank you."  
It was pleasant enough until a 6 foot 2 guy just within ear shot of this exchange turns on his heels.  He is the young lady's husband or boyfriend or maybe even body guard.  He did not see the dog that started the whole thing,  he simple saw the two of us smiling and exchanging a moment.  He frowned at me with a look that said, "Do I kill you now or wait till we are outside."  Like in so many other moments of stress, my mouth takes over with a babbling cadence.  It went something like, "Ha, Ha, I was talking to the dog... not your wife. Ha Ha" By this moment the dog and the owner were no where to be seen.  "Oh, not that I don't think your wife is also attractive. You see.... but  I would never...." babble babble ending with, "Well, I guess I have to take this coffee to my wife, she is right over there.. Merry Christmas." 
As I walked away I was hoping I would hear the sound of laughter.  I didn't care if they were laughing at me or with me.  But there was only silence, of course.  That is one time when the phrase "no problem" would be appropriate and welcomed.
Have a Happy Last Week of December.  May 2015 be more than you could dream of in every way.
As you were,

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Going Postal....

For several years in my life the Gilbert Chemistry set was "the" Christmas Gift to get from Santa. I never got a Gilbert Chemistry Experiment Lab because Santa seemed to know every year... "A Kid like you with a chemistry set like that would blow himself up."
My parents would tell me that Santa was only thinking of my safety.
Nonetheless, my friend Lindsay a couple of years older than me,who lived just up the street did receive the  Deluxe Gilbert Chemistry Set for Christmas one year. Before we went back to school  Lindsay allowed me to come over and assist in some "Experiments".
We decided to make gun powder. Yes the ingredients to make gun powder were contained in the Deluxe Gilbert Chemistry Set. It was not one of the experiments that came with the Deluxe Gilbert Chemistry Set instruction booklet. However, Lindsay found the formula, at the Library and realized we could actually make black powder.  This was supposed to be a Children's "Educational" Toy, so... making gun powder was a learning experience to me. Fortunately there was a limited amount of chemicals in the  Deluxe Gilbert Chemistry Set  to make an excess of gun powder.  I do remember being shocked at the height to which a Desenex foot powder can flew when propelled by our home made gun powder.    
But that is Christmas past here is a story of Christmas Present.   I love the dual meaning of the word "present":  it is a gift and it is also the moment. Perhaps our greatest gift is the present.
Today was a busy day at the post office. Our Christmas mailing is done, this was a business mailing I had to post. I knew the post office might be busy but,  I thought I would use the automated stamp machine. Unfortunately the machine was out of service, I had to stand in the long line with one envelope.
Several customers ahead of me become upset that there were no more Christmas Stamps.  Finally a Postal Clerk named Dale spoke loudly to the crowd.
"We are out of Christmas stamps. If you are in line for Christmas Stamps we don't have any."
A few people grumbled and left the line behind me.  After a couple more customers Dale once again announces to the crowd,."There are no more Christmas Stamps, we are totally sold out."   Then Dale yells to someone occupying the inner most part of the mail room.  "Janice we need to get a sign out here that lets everyone know we are out of  Christmas stamps."
Janice mumbled back in a way that indicated there would be no sign, it was all up  to Dale alone to deal with the Christmas stamp mob. Once more Dale announced, "There are no more Christmas Theme stamps, we have lots of stamps just no Christmas themes."
I was at the moment thinking how much stress is heaped onto a bunch of days on the calendar. Hanukkah, Christmas,  New Years Eve all crowd the same time of year.  So here is this postal worker trying not to piss people off because they have sold out of Christmas stamps.  The line behind me is now much longer than when I joined.  Dale is dealing with packages that all needed to be somewhere before next week. It is obvious he would need to decompress after this day was over.  Or perhaps he would have to wait until next week for things to return to normal. 
I digress to say my wife believes that my joke radar is not calibrated properly in public situations.  That's to say I am always going for a joke when the situation or the person in real life may not be in the mood for my humor.  Sandi even questions the idea that it is humorous at those times.  That said, it is a fine line that I don't always see clearly.  This was one of those times.
I finally made my way up to Dale. With a 50 yard stare through the place I was standing he mechanically said, "What can I do for you today?" He was in a daze.
I only had a second to think about it and no time to filter what was about to come out of my mouth.
"Got any Christmas stamps?" I said.  
Dale's distant stare was interrupted as he now clearly focused on me and what I had just said.  Fortunately he got it.  He burst out laughing and giggled through the words, "That's a good one you got me." 
My Christmas is complete.  I got a laugh from an over worked,  stressed out postal worker.  Perhaps I even saved lives.
As you were,

Friday, December 12, 2014

Ghost of Christmas Present.

I am performing in the Broadmoor Christmas Show this season.  I love the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.  The history and the old style elegance are tangible and pervasive. I guess my show biz pedigree stimulates a love for really great hotels. This one makes me feel like a Vanderbilt.   There are plenty of places where I can sit and write while looking at the Rockies framing the lake. Or if I find that sort of view too distracting to concentrate I can find hundreds of other writing carrels from a dark wood Pub bar to a mahogany library.  Currently I am in a large lobby like room with only a few desks. If there were fewer people it would be too much like the "Shining" but for me it is the perfect place to write.
The altitude takes some getting used to.  I was late for a cue on rehearsal night and ran to get on stage.  Bob and I made it but our breath did not reach us for several minutes.  Funny the things we take for granted like breathing during the act.
The Broadmoor is all about history and they have old pictures and artifacts decorating the walls.  I find that particularly fascinating and humbling.  There is a hallway where pictures hang of all the celebrities and performers who have been here over the years.  I get a warmth inside realizing one of my hero performers walked these halls before me.
One of the pictures on this "wall of fame" is Bill Cosby.  Several weeks ago that picture might not have caught my attention among the rest.  I liked Bill Cosby but he was never a hero of mine.  I stood there for a moment wondering.  If the walls of the Broadmoor could talk would they say more than has already been revealed about Cosby?  It is easy to imagine that one of the beautiful bars at the hotel might have been the back drop for something other than Fat Albert jokes.  There is even a rumor that Bill Cosby is soon to return to the Broadmoor for a few performances.  There is no promotion of that event on site and scuttle butt has it that the performance will be cancelled.  As much as I don't want to engage in the discussion of Cosby, it seems impossible to avoid. Like the Boradmoor wall of fame, there are so many places where his image has been given a special place that now flashes like a warning beacon.
The idea that a performer, especially a comic on the road, would have an eye for the women who would want to be "with" an icon like a Bill Cosby is not that unusual.  And I have always heard that Cosby was a horn-dog with women.  But what doesn't make sense is the drugging aspect of the stories.  Why would he have to do that unless it is some weird sort of fettish ritual?
I have no skin in this game. I don't care what happens to Bill Cosby. I have no illusion he is any more than a successful television performer. He is not a role model nor a father figure, to me he is a massively wealthy comic who made it big with an act.  I have known a lot of comics that were not the cute fun loving person they play on stage. If people feel betrayed because they held Cosby to a higher moral standard, the pedestal placers are to blame.  If the allegations are true he should be punished like any other serial rapist.  Unfortunately there will never be a judicial remedy, only gossip in the public forum.  He is a rich man and the justice system operates differently for the rich. But Karma is a great equalizer. He has already been convicted and punishment given. No matter what, he will never be allowed to be Bill Cosby ever again. There will always be an asterisk, next to his name that will recount the revelations of the last couple of months.  I doubt this will be of any comfort to the women who now feel violated and betrayed.  But, perhaps for a narcissistic comic who wanted the world his way, it is cosmic justice.
As for me I am pissed that I allowed the contemplation of Bill Cosby invade this lovely day at the Broadmoor.
As you were,

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

NOT a Self Promotion....

Brandenburg Gate at Christmas Time
If you are within Wifi of my Facebook, Twitter, Domain site, email or happen to live next door, you know my DVD is now shipping. In fact I am almost getting tired of saying it.
Even though my college Marketing Professor, Dr. McQuarter, said "there is never a time when sales can take the day off," This blog is not about the DVD.
Being dyslexic and a little OCD it is hard for me to concentrate on one thing for very long, like the DVD release.  This "special" condition of mine also has another odd side effect.  Once I make myself concentrate enough to get some "on going task" done, it becomes an obsession. Then I find it difficult NOT to engage in that activity.  Perhaps this conflicted brain is one of the reasons I am able to partition my mind enough to create characters on stage.  As I read this back to myself,  this sounds like some clinical definition of mental illness.
You know my friend Bob Mandan who played Chester Tate, but you may not know him the way I do. He is quite silly and often becomes the "piss elegant" character he played on SOAP for my amusement.  Well,  he was kind enough to attend the Egyptian Theatre Screening of "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only" last week.
At the end of the screening and the Q and A there was a fan who ran down to talk to me.  He mentioned that he had Asperger's then launched into a litany of every performance I ever did. He had seen them all and kept asking me if I remembered them too.  He was phrasing my resume in a way that sounded like he was telling me something that I had never heard before.  At one point he started talking about SOAP and how revolutionary it was.
As Bob Mandan is coming down the aisle the fan is saying, "And Chester Tate was the womanizing ladies man who was not faithful to Jessica, Chester was played by Robert Mandan... do you remember that?"
This person had not seen Mr. Mandan yet.  I got this idea that I would freak the fan out and say, "Well as a matter of fact this is Bob Mandan right here." As the fan kept talking I locked eyes with Mandan.  He had sized up the situation completely and knew that I was probably going to rope him into the melee.  Mandan simply raised one finger and shook it side to side with a "NO No, you don't" gesture.  I burst out laughing. Fortunately the Autistic Fan thought it was something funny that he himself had said and never knew.
The picture above is from a Christmas a couple of years ago we spent with our son in Berlin.  It was certainly a different Christmas than what we are used to in LA.
Happy Holidays,
As you were,

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Bang Bang... "Stop or I'll shoot."

Two EMT's are called to see after a man who is sprawled on the sidewalk outside a bar.  When they get there they see that the man is already dead. There is nothing they can do and it is almost time for them to be off work.  One EMT says to the other,
"Let's go have a drink inside before we have to haul this guy to the morgue."
"What do we do with the stiff?"
"We leave him right here.... he ain't going nowhere,"
They go inside the bar and have several drinks.
After awhile a  Cop comes along and sees the man lying there and says, "Hey buddy move it."
The stiff does not comply.
"I told you to get out of here buddy" and he pokes him with his baton.
The stiff doesn't move.
"Don't make me get all up on your ass. Move on."
The stiff is still noncompliant.  With that the officer throws a choke hold on the guy puts his knee on the guys neck and starts to handcuff him.
At this very moment the EMT's walk out of the bar.  They see the Cop wrestling with the corpse. They run up,  pull the Cop off the guy and say, "Officer he's dead."
The Cop says.... "I had to kill him....he pulled a knife."

I used to think that was a funny joke.  Perhaps not so much any more. There is a lot of speculation about how to interact with the police these days. Excessive and lethal force being used against unarmed non threatening people seems to be the rule. I am hearing on the news that I should just "do what the policeman tells me to do" and I won't get shot.  I am not persuaded.  This "compliance" theory is only as good as the trust I have in the Cop telling me what to do.  A Cop's desire to be a control freak does not negate my rights as an American and a human being. What about the cases we know about when officers have made women strip naked for their mug shots.  Or the recent case of deputies sodomizing a detainee with a broom stick.  Are we simply supposed to "comply" to those orders to avoid being beaten or shot? Seeing the underbelly of society so much of the time a Cop can start seeing everyone as a perp. Instead of seeing each encounter with the public as a unique situation, the public becomes objectified as criminals who have not been caught... yet. 
What you hear a lot is: "Well, if you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to be afraid of."  That is the stupidest reasoning ever, and usually comes from people who have had little or no interaction with the police.  Innocent people are the victims of mistaken identity more times than not. To a Cop everyone is a suspect.
The idea that as Americans we are innocent until proven guilty is completely not true.  Every time you go to the airport you have to prove to the TSA that you are not a threat.  You are a terrorist until you submit to invasion of your privacy so they can determine you are an innocent traveler.
It is the same if you are detained by the police.  You are not innocent in his eyes.  You are guilty until he says you can go free. 
Routinely people who are stopped by an officer are handcuffed for "YOUR SAFETY and MINE" says the Cop.  It has nothing to do with YOUR safety.  You are restrained so the officer can control and dominate you until he decides how to proceed. No matter what the reason for the stop, when a policeman detains you there are hundreds of laws he can use to justify your arrest.  There is only one way you will be let go;  the policeman has to determine he has nothing on you that will stick. 
I don't want to be a policeman. I appreciate someone who takes charge of a dangerous situation and has the training to defuse it.  But Cops think they are in the detain and arrest business, when they are actually in the "trust" business. If Cops worked harder to develop our trust in their snap judgements we would be safer, freer and ultimately happier. But until Police know they will face swift and just punishment for their abuse of power the bad apple cops will continue to abuse their badge. 
Rodney King said, during the worst of the LA riots,  "Can't we all just get along?"  Sounds easy enough and simple enough but how can I get along with a Cop who needs to cuff me behind my back before we have a conversation or if I am struggling to say I can not breath under the weight of his boot on my neck?  When Cops are not made accoutable they become a gang of bullies with badges.  "If you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear?"  That is never true with bullies.
As you were,

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Repost - November 22, 2014

Friday, November 15, 2013

Kennedy Connection

I am not an avid reader but I have read almost every book on the subject of the Kennedy Assassination. (I can even spell assassination without looking it up). There have been some completely loony theories, some creative theories and some compelling theories on the subject. I have my own opinion based upon the local coverage from WFAA in Dallas immediately after the shooting.  
I am not a "lone gunman" believer.  I will never be sure exactly how Oswald was involved, but think he was more of a patsy than anything else. Once you open up the possibility that it was a planned operation it gets difficult to follow. It is not so important if the secret service driver of the limo pulled a hand gun and shot the President, or if it was E. Howard Hunt who shot the President from a storm drain below Elm Street. Obviously those are crucial details in the murder but what group is responsible for the plot to kill the President. Three groups are usually thought of as suspects.  They are:

1) The CIA. It is true that Kennedy didn't like the CIA and they didn't like him.  He was supposed to support the CIA Bay of Pigs invasion with air support but he didn't and the operation was a disaster.  Kennedy was quoted as saying he was going to "splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds". 
Side note: Allen Dulles, head of the CIA was fired by Kennedy over the Bay of Pigs incident. Several of his staff resigned in protest including deputy director Charles Cabell.  Allen Dulles was later appointed to the Warren Commission by Lyndon Johnson.

2)The Mafia.  It is believe that the Mob helped Kennedy get elected in a very close race with Nixon.  There were voting districts in the Chicago area that seem to have been as tainted as any in Florida during the 2000 election.  Sam Giancana, the Chicago boss, was said to have "influenced" the ballot boxes in several districts.  However, once in office JFK unleashes his brother as Attorney General who began to crack down on organized crime with a manic passion.  Carlos Marcello, New Orleans mob boss was dogged by Robert Kennedy and is quoted as saying, "Take the stone from my shoe" meaning get Bobby Kennedy off his back.  Santos Trafficante the Miami/Cuba mob boss said, "If you cut the dogs tail off the head will still bite. If you cut the dogs head off the tail no longer wags." The Traficante idea was, kill the president and his brother will no longer be the Attorney General. After he heard that President Kennedy had been killed, Jimmy Hoffa is quoted as saying "Well, that makes Bobby Kennedy just another lawyer, doesn't it?" (Five years later Bobby was assassinated when it looked like he might become president) 

3)Wealthy Texas Right Wing Radicals.  Dallas hated Kennedy and the day he arrived for the visit there was a full page ad in the Dallas Morning News accusing him of treason and calling for his impeachment.  Months before Adli Stevenson was physically assaulted by a protester when he was visiting Dallas, Texas. Dallas in particular, was a hot bed of hatred toward the Kennedys. Earl Cabell was mayor of Dallas at the time of the assassination. He was the third generation of a Cabell as mayor of Dallas. His Father and Grandfather had both been mayor of Dallas. More importantly Earl Cabell is the brother of Charles Cabell ousted deputy director of the CIA.  The fact that the route of the motorcade through Dallas needed the Mayor's approval has always been a curious connection to the tragedy. 

It is possible to make a case that any one of these three "groups" could have motive to plan and execute the assassination. They were all one in reality.  Here is how they connect.
It is easy to connect the Mafia and the CIA. They were both working together to take Cuba back from Castro. For the CIA it was strategic and for the Mob it was business since all their casinos had been nationalized and then closed by Castro. Frank Angelo Fiorini was in several branches of the United States military, aided Fidel Castro in the Cuban revolution of 1958, and worked as an undercover operative for the CIA. When Castro won the revolution he appointed Frank Fiorini as "head of national gaming" for Cuba. Fiorini was the contact between Castro and the Mafia operations of the casinos for a year after the revolution.  Fiorini left Cuba when Castro closed the mafia hotels. It is obvious he continued in the employ of the CIA. Frank Fiorini later changed his name to Frank Sturgis and was arrested in the Watergate Break in. He alone proves the link between the CIA, Cuba and the Mafia. 
It is also easy to connect rich Texas Right Wing radicals with the CIA at the time.  In the early late 50's early 60's George H.W. Bush owned the Zapata Offshore Company, a subsidiary which specialized in offshore drilling in Houston Texas. Although Mr. Bush would later become head of the CIA, Vice-President and eventually President there is no proof that he was CIA during his oil company days. However, two of the ships used in the Bay of Pigs invasion (provided by a wealthy un-named Texas oil man) were named the "Zapata" and the "Barbara" two names closely associated with George H.W. Bush. In the Warren commission it states that private citizen George H. W. Bush was "briefed" on the assassination investigation by the government the day after the event.  This was before Mr. Bush was part of the official government. He was one of the only private citizens to receive an official briefing.  I am not implying that "George the first" had anything to so with the assassination of John Kennedy. I simply point out that the over lap between the prime suspects in this case is more than coincidental. 
So there you have it 50 years later and it is still a mystery.  I suggest it will always be.  There is no smoking gun proof of anything including the theory that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I am pretty sure the Warren Commission got it wrong, but it will be the only story that will survive ultimately.  Twenty-five years from now we will find an empty file that will lead to more mystery.
As you were,

Friday, November 21, 2014

To Post or not to Post... that is the question....

Don't you just wonder how many twitter followers William Sheakspear would have if he were writing today? How could he come up with all that literature not having a bunch of "likes" and half a dozen reposts, retweets and shares?  How did he know he was popular, and how did he get people to come and see his plays without creating a Facebook event?
Not only that but we will never know what "William" had for lunch as he was writing "Twelveth Night". We don't know if it took him more than twelve nights to write it if there was no "time line". Would there be selfies of author and cast as the Globe? I would love to see a post like this:

"Bill ...saw Mid Sum Nite Drm yesterday... LOL"     or

"OMG William that clip of Hamlet and the Skull went viral"  or

"Juliette and Romeo both die at the end?????.... WTF"

Likes, Thumbs up, pokes, friends, followers and feeds are just numbers.  The time it takes to click or touch a word on a computer screen is in direct proportion to the depth of sincerity in the act.  It always makes me chuckle at the irony of clicking "like" on a post about the death of a relative or family pet.   "My Father passed away this morning suddenly"....  LIKE!  It has become so thoughtless that Like and Friend have lost all traditional meaning.  Friend has even become a verb.  "I friended him the other day."  of  "I had to unfriend that douche bag."   Like now means... I "clicked".
Why are these "numbers" so important and when did they become so?  I'm asking because I don't know.
What I do know is that in today's world the question asked at Call Back auditions to get an acting part is: "How may Twitter followers and Facebook friends do you have?" When two actors are equal in all other aspects of being right for the part... the one with the most "followers" gets the job. As if these numbers translate into viewers or ticket buyers. In the words of sage and bald Texan Dr. Phil... "How is that working out for you?" Why not skip that acting class or dance school and spend the time working on increasing your "social media" numbers?
There are reasons why this is on my mind today.  Within moments of the Presidents speech last night my Facebook "home" feed displayed some very hateful things about our duly elected Commander in Chief.  I'm okay with differing points of view and civil debate, but this was hateful, ignorant, racist jingoism.  All of these awful things were posted by Facebook Friends.  It was then I realized I don't hang around with people like that in real life and they would certainly not ever be a friend with those feelings.  Every time I saw one of those race bating rants I went to that person's page and unfriended them.  It's not that I only want to associate with people who feel exactly the way I do, No. I am not in total agreement with all the people I know and love, politically, religiously or sometimes even philosophically. But we can enjoy our differences in civil discourse, and lively debate. Friends don't act like yelling screaming political talk show hosts.

As John Cleese and Michael Palin said in a Monty Python sketch...
Michael: "An argument is not the back and forth name calling and repetitive yelling of the words yes and no"
John: "Yes it is"
Michael: "No it's not"

In my younger days I had great admiration for politicians who sat across the aisle from each other with totally different points of view but could work together on a compromise that was generally better than either side could come up with on their own.  Was Sen. Everett Durksen a Republican?  Was Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn a Democrat?  I would have to look it up.  Back then it was just a party affiliation not a lock step group of ignorant followers.  Back then we at least pretended there was respect and democracy. America is not Red or Blue, the Constitution says a true American is colorless.

Today respect has been assassinated and democracy means "we are in charge now" so fuck off.
And it is true from both sides of the aisle.  If our standing in the world has been lowered it is due to the fact that our enemies only have to repeat the hateful things our leaders say about each other. What ugly things could an enemy say about our President that has not already been said about him on the Senate and Congressional floor.
Hey ISIS... If you are looking for people to recruit that spew hate toward our leaders,  hand out some flyer's when the House of Representatives is in session.
I'll quit ranting now so you can go to my page and unfriend me.  However, I am making a conscious effort not to post, print, write, tweet, share, blog or acknowledge hate and his friend fear in my life.
As you were,

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mike Nichols

When I was old enough to be aware of what Comedy "is" my first crush was on Nichols and May.  Not just because they were a comedy team (like I wanted to be as a ventriloquist) but because of what kind of Comedy they performed.
Most of the comedy going around the Sullivan show at the time was borsch belt brand humor. The routines were mainly set up jokes and stories. Make believe situations with stereo typical characters.  There were a lot of mother-in-law jokes and one liners like "Take my wife.. please".  I did not think these comics were so much funny as goofy.  Even comedy teams like Martin and Lewis did goofy humor. Martin the suave Italian singer and Lewis a frenetic chimp interrupting the song with stupid.  Allen and Rossi, Steve Rossi an Italian singer Mary Allen a wild haired troll with a lobotomy.
They say a comedian says funny things and a clown says things funny.  Then there was Nichols and May. They didn't look funny.  They weren't clowns. They didn't do funny ethnic accents. They did real characters in real situations that became hysterically funny as the situation drove the humor. Things like: The mounting frustration of a man who wants to get his dime back from a pay phone operator.  A funeral director who offers a cheap funeral while adding on "extras" like a casket and driver for the hearse.  They gave us a satirical look at how our everyday lives can spiral into a comedy of errors from just trying to communicate.  The jokes came out of the frustrating situations we all find ourselves in from time to time.  They were the sirens for the fogged out beatnik generation that was morphing into a society of consciousness seeking hippies.  Put on one of their albums, close your eyes and let them take you on a journey not that different from your own life only funny.
At the height of their career  Nichols and May were hired to write and perform the voices for cartoon characters to sell Jax Beer.  Jax was a New Orleans beer company that was more a regional brand than national.  The commercials were hysterical and sometimes better than the shows they were sponsoring.
For example:  A funny looking lady walks into a bar.  She has a funny little voice and orders a Jax beer.  The bartender gives her the beer and says "Here you go, Jax beer" in the same funny little voice. Lady says, "Are you making fun of my voice?"  In the same voice the bartender says "No. absolutely not. Ma'am" At this point a man come up and orders a Jax beer in a very normal voice.  In a regular normal voice the bartender says "Here you go my friend a Jax beer." The man walks away and the lady, a little pissed off, says to the bartender, "I thought you said you were not making fun of my voice." in the same funny voice the bartender says, "I wasn't making fun of your voice... I was making fun of his."
The commercials were extremely successful to the point I still remember that one to this day.  However, after one cycle the commercials were discontinued.  Not because they were not popular but because even though the commercials were great the Beer remained awful.  The commercials became more popular than the beer.
I was destroyed when Nichols and May broke up.  It wasn't a drama like Martin and Lewis, I guess Elaine and Mike decided they had done all they could together. I felt like the most popular kid at school had just moved away.  I was going to miss their talents just as I was trying to find my own.
Elaine May went into writing and acting.  She was hysterically funny as the ditzy millionaire opposite Walter Mathau in "A New Leaf" and other projects.  Mike Nichols became a Broadway director.  and a Film director  (check out those credits) and one of the few people to become an EGOT ( winner of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.. EGOT) AND he married Diane Sawyer.  He was a genius of real comedy, funny and real.  I was never fortunate enough to meet him but will always be a huge fan.
Nichols and May made it possible for comics like Bill Cosby to become stars doing real life situational humor and not just jokes.  Perhaps that is the very reason why Mike Nichols decided to move on after 83 incredibly creative years on earth. He didn't want to see what he started in the hands of a comic that  now seems so unworthy. Mike Nichols was the real deal and from what I have heard a wonderful person.  He will be missed in so many ways.
As you were,

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Culture of Fear

Once in a while something makes you stop and think. We seem to live in a constant state of fear nowadays.  ISIS, Ebola, Iran, North Korea and the government are  just a few of the things that can make us  pull the covers over our head and cower. What is it that is making us so afraid?
The event that made me start contemplating this idea was a video I saw yesterday.  It is going around the Internet.  In the video a fundamental Christian woman explains why the energy drink Monster is a product of Satan.  She states that the stylize M on the can is actually the Hebrew character for the number 6 repeated three times, or "666" (Satan's personal license plate number see illustration).  Since my lucky number is 7,  I always thought it looked like three sevens.  
As an artist it looks like the scratch marks that Monster claws would make.  But the idea that the logo might be the mark made by a monster fits nicely into her interpretation.  My advertising professor at the University of North Texas would call it perfect "artistic symbolism that reinforces the name of the product." (Baskin Robins has an incredible logo which also does that very well.  The BR actually becomes a 31 for the number of flavors of ice cream they serve).
Back to the Satanic energy drink. The Christian lady points out there is a cross in the middle of the O in the name. But although the cross is a sacred symbol to Christians that is not the intent of this logo. It is there because when you turn it upside down to drink out of the can you are inverting the cross. The inverted cross is one of Satan's favorite emoticons.  
Although the Christian Lady sees a cross, I see a circle with a line through it.  In Algebra that symbol means "there is no solution"  a "null equation".  In other words, to me it means  "absolutely nothing" literally and mathematically.  
Some time ago fanatic Christians thought that there were "back masked" lyrics in rock and roll music.  That's the idea that when played backwards certain songs suggest satanic worship. There were lots of religious zealots who were playing songs backwards to hear the Satanic message.  Marylin Manson spoke up during this outrage to say, "If we could write songs that had a backwards hidden meaning we wouldn't disguise Satanic messages. We would hide the message 'buy more of my records.' " 
With all due respect to the differing opinion of the Monster drink Church Lady, she is not  promoting the Love and understanding  of her religion ... she is promoting a culture of fear.  In this case we need to fear going to hell for consuming a Demonically inspired energy drink.
If there is a personified devil the power would not be in the enigmatic symbolism of an energy drink, or rock and roll lyrics backwards, the power and control would be in the Fear.  It is said that "the devil is in the details".  Not true the devil is in the fear.  Franklin Roosevelt said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself".  
The roots of fear are found in oppression,  ignorance, isolation and intolerance.  Fear is always used to control and suppress the masses.  Alexander the Great hired mercenaries to occasionally raid the outlying villages of his empire.  He kept the people in fear of attack from an unnamed enemy so they would not break away from his rule. 
So.. Church Lady I have never consumed a Monster Energy drink nor have I even held a can in my hands.  I guess I am near the "front of the line to heaven". I would certainly be in front of those unknowing sinners who participated in the Satanic ritual of inverting the cross when they were just trying to stay awake in class. However, I think my personal salvation is not a matter of canned drinks.  Someone named Jesus once said, "Fear not... neither be afraid".  Instead of trying to teach us to fear advertising graphics, why not teach us how to  do that?
As you were,

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Meeting of Artists

Some time ago I wrote about the relationship between the puppet maker and the ventriloquist.  If you didn't get a chance to see it, here is a link to the post about my friend Kirk Thatcher.
Kirk is a member of the notorious Bubonic Players and has become one of the most famous "monster makers" of our generation.  If you were a fan of Jim Henson's Creature Shop television show you will know Kirk from his duties as a judge on that show mentoring a new generation of monster makers.
For years the Bubonic Players would take over the Comedy and Magic Club to present an annual Halloween show.  It was produced and written by me and my partner/friend Harry Anderson, so it was a mash up between a scary ride through a haunted house and a comedy show.  We finally had to quit doing the show when our kids got old enough to go trick or treating.  For one year we actually tried to use them in the show.  They liked it but the reward of audience applause was not enough to come between kids and the yearly pursuit of candy.  The shows have now become part of Comedy and Magic Club history and are even more impressive in the retelling of fond memories. 
For several years the recurring star of the Halloween show was "Log Chainey" the psychopathic wooden killer.  Every year at Halloween Log, an inmate at the Home for the criminally insane, would escape.  His hatred for ventriloquists and magicians not to be contained.  He would seek out those performers to exact revenge.  This would, of course,  cause him to break into the Club while we were performing.  He always made his way for me first since he hates ventriloquists for their constant wood jokes.  He would take me hostage by grabbing me at the waist and dragging me on stage. Log Chainey is a 7 foot evil tree/man puppet created by Kirk Thatcher.  
I knew that I had pictures of Kirk and me with his creation.  They seemed to be lost in Halloween files past. However, yesterday while looking for a document I found them filed in the wrong place. Here are those pictures. 
I'm not sure how old Kirk is in this picture because he has always been a kid in my eyes. (an extremely talented, funny and creative kid).
It is a shame that no video exists of Log in action because the illusion is so much better in motion.  Log is actually a body puppet with a leg switch.  The green scrubs that Log wears (barely visible in these pictures) are actually my legs.  The legs in the tuxedo pants are fake.  It looks as if Log is dragging me along. It was an uncomfortable position to maintain so the routine was much longer than 7 minutes.  
I miss doing those shows very much. Particularly now that the kids are grown and there is nothing to keep us home on Halloween night any more. It was always a challenge to come up with a new show each year for the club.  Harry and I usually spent more money than we made, but the value we received from the creative challenge was priceless.  Nethernore, Long John LaFeat (another Thatcher creation) and Log Chainey were just a few of the characters that were created for the Bubonic Players Halloween show.  There is nothing more satisfying to an artist than the pursuit of expanding his art.  
So here is a shout out to Kirk a creative genius, Harry who is from an other planet and Mike Lacey,  the nicest person in the world to deal with and owner of the Comedy and Magic Club.
I paraphrase a line from the movie "Stand By Me" which asks, "are there ever any friends like the friends of your youth?"  Probably not but the joy and blessings from those youthful associations feed your soul for a long time after.   
I miss Log Chainey.  He is probably ready to perform again.... I'm just not sure my body can handle it again. But there are 11 more months till Halloween if I start limbering up now... who knows.
As you were,

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Comedy or Drama

How many times have you heard someone one say regarding an unusual event,  "You couldn't make that stuff up." This response is a total denial of the truth.  OF COURSE YOU CAN MAKE IT UP, just because it is a story you haven't heard before doesn't mean that it's the truth or even that unusual. 

We are all blind men trying to describe an Elephant to a blind population.The elephant is the story of our lives. 
I am not saying that our lives are nothing more than stories. I am saying, the way we interpret our lives is nothing more than a story.  Our lives become the story that has become comfortable enough for us to share with others.  In reality it is all we know about others. Since we can not experience any body's life from the inside out,  all we really know about anyone is the story they tell or that others tell about them.   
I once saw a Top hat that looked every bit to be 140 years old.  Well taken care of, but fading with age,  it was an interesting item.  If I had seen it in a thrift shop I might have offered five dollars to buy it.  Other than obviously being old there was nothing that made the Top hat very special. However , I did not see it in a thrift shop but in a traveling exhibit at a Los Angeles Museum.  It was (according to the story) Abraham Lincoln's top hat warn on the steps of the Capitol during his Inauguration.  Priceless. 
The value of the item was only in the story. How much more complicated it is to assess value on human beings much more complicated than a hat. A human story is full of plot twists and decisions that change direction.  Our story is like the mental mask we wear. We tell the story of a person we want others to believe we are. Like an old Top hat we can only know so much about a person by observing.  Our story becomes the most important part of our sense of value. 
In one of my English classes, either high school or college, I found a quote by a noted British author. I have forgotten the class, the teacher, the author and everything else associated with it except, I did not forget the quote.  Here it is:
"He wears a Mask and his face soon grows to fit it."  
I carried these words in my wallet for decades.  It made total sense then and now.  What we project to the world usually becomes what we are.  It is our story, our autobiography, the way we want to be seen.  
The truth is: we are the writers of our own story.  And the stories are so complex as to fool us into saying, "You couldn't make that stuff up." We are making every thing up as we go, so why not write a comedy.  
I would love to make my life a comedy, but there is nothing funny about what happens in my life. Every time I think that I am getting ahead, something slaps me back down. Why would I write a story like that?
So your story is: I have no control over what happens... "something" always goes wrong.  Why not write a story with the theme "I have total control over "something" that might happen."  You are the hero of your own story, why not give yourself super powers.  

As always this blog is intended for the sole purpose of Jay Johnson attempting to understand himself. Not for the use of anyone else.  Do not read this if you are nursing, pregnant or may become pregnant while reading. Tell your doctor that you have read or plan to read any other posts in this blog.  Side effects may include loss of limbs, organs or even consciousness.  Stop reading this blog if you have sudden feelings of sadness, nausea, ventrilophobia or have an erection that lasts more than 4 hours.  Women should avoid contact with anyone who might have read this blog and if a woman reading this blog accidentally has an erection that lasts more than 4 hours, you are on your own.  Call immediately if you have the symptoms of a life threatening condition.  

As you were,

*Three blind men are touching an elephant describing it as they conceive it.  One touches the tusk and says the Elephant "is like a tree."  One touches the tail and says the Elephant "is like a rope".  Another touches the elephant's trunk and says the Elephant "is like a snake." 

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Am I Blue?

I don't write too much about politics. It's the same as writing about religion, no one is looking to change their own ideas- only everyone else's. Some people are expecting change now that the Republicans control both houses of Congress.  No doubt things will be different, but I do not think things will change.  Here is my reasoning.

For the last six years the Republicans have disagreed with everything done by this administration. There was never an alternative compromise plan, or suggestions on how to make better laws, just a flat out "no" for every idea.  Even when it meant closing the government, losing our top credit rating and showing complete lack of respect for the office of President. In fact it was sometimes hard to distinguish between mere disagreement and personal contempt for the man  currently holding the office. The only strategy was to create failure and reflect poorly on the present administration.  There were no such words as bipartisanship, compromise or phrases like "working together". It was the idea that the bigger the fall of the current administration, the greater the bounce for the GOP.

Well, now they have the congressional steering wheel and right wingers are proclaiming a return to good old unregulated capitalism and an end to grid lock. It was accomplished by spending more money than has ever been spent on mid-term elections with almost exclusively negative ads.  It resulted in a lack luster turn out and electorate interest that wained the longer it continued.  
Even before yesterday's election wing nuts like Ted Cruz were suggesting that his ilk might not vote for or support Mitch McConnell as Majority Leader.  I rest my case. The Republican party has spent so much time getting salacious negative headlines, they have forgotten how to govern.  Old habits die hard and I don't think just because one of their own is now in charge of the Senate it will be enough to change the stripes of the tigers. 
Take for example out going governor of Texas Rick Perry.  No one has been more out spoken about his hatred of the National Health Care Reform or this administration and this President.  He also believes that the National Government is too involved in the affairs of his ruby colored Texas constituents.  But then Ebola comes to Dallas, a big city in his own State.  His response? "It is up to the National Government to do something about this (potential pandemic.)" Like most people who sit on the sidelines and yell at the coach, when it is their turn to lead a team they've got nothing.
This last congressional class has been the least productive of any Congress in the history of the United States.  Their approval rating is lower than the Presidents approval ratings.  Congress is a punchline to every talk show host and Comedy Club Comic performing (except maybe Dennis Miller... who has become a punch line unto himself).  
The Republicans have been the party of "no" for so long I believe it will take some time to change course.  The government won't change, but the rhetoric will.  For the next two years expect the majority leader of both Houses of Congress to say things like.... "We can't fix things over night... they have been in charge for 6 years."  Or  "We can't do anything while there is a Lame Duck presidency."
Starting today no matter what happens the Republicans will be touting the idea that they can't do anything until they get their own president in the White House.  This "change in leadership" that was heralded with the taking of the Senate is only the "loss leader".  They will be kicking responsibility of governing "for the people" down the road to 2016.  Plus for the last few years the Republicans have given the Democrats a road map on how to keep Congress from acting on anything... karma is a bitch no matter what color is takes.  
In the mean time the peon electorate continues to struggle with almost no consideration or concern from the "ruling" class.  I wouldn't care what "political party" is in charge if they would make laws and rules that made it easier for me to live my own life. Neither party will because the "new breed" of politician in both parties is not a statesman nor a diplomat but a self centered egotist that is in the game only for themselves.... no one is working for their constitutes.   Today I am not purple, red or I am just pissed. Pissed that politics has become an expensive "let them eat cake" game for the wealthy to play. 
Just my opinion. I'm not trying to change yours.... (That's what's called working together respectfully)
As you were,

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Election Excess

This is a Tom Meyer political cartoon that appeared in the LA Times today. I did not get permission to rerun this work, but hope the link to his site is sufficient credit and acknowledgement of a brilliant and timely cartoon.

If is is not totally readable, here is the dialogue. Two farmers are talking about the low yield of their crop, which is labeled "likely voters".  
      One farmer asks if the low yield is due to the lack of water. (California is in the midst of a sever drought).  In the distance there is a tractor spreading campaign flyers. The second Farmer says, no, "Too Much Fertilizer."

It came on a day when I continue to purge my email and unsubscribe to several political web sites.  Obviously I agreed with the ideas of the group when I originally signed up for emails or contributed funds to the cause.  However, I quickly tired of the relentless email blasts that were not only ubiquitous but in some cases intimidating and insulting.  I "unsubscribed" quickly to one organization that daily told me how disappointed they were in me for not contributing more.  The emails blatantly said that the fight was lost specifically because I had not responded to the emails.  (read "hadn't sent in any money).  
Then there were the blasts that reminded me that I had ignored several emails sent to me directly from high profile politicos. It was as if I had insulted the various leaders of the cause by dismissing their communication.  As I looked down the list of new emails more than 80 percent were being trashed immediately upon seeing the return address.   I was trashing dozens of emails without even opening them.  That is when I started unsubscribing to the ones that were offensive to me or just over crowding my mail box.  
The most egregious was a group that some how gained the names of some of the people I email with regularly, like my Son.  These familiar names would be clearly visible in the return address rather than the name of the political group responsible for the message.  It worked a few times when I thought the email was from a friend or relative but soon they became instant trash when identified. That .org - I parted company with immediately.  This "invasion of privacy marketing" was ingenious but totally offensive to me.  
I know that these midterm elections are important.  All elections are important and although I expect that my phone will be used to proselytize my vote and the mailbox will be full of political junk this time of year,  I do not want my email to over flow with the same crap as well.  
It is not always easy to unsubscribe from these steamrolling monkey mailers. At the very bottom of the offending email there is usually a  paragraph in very tiny print with a link to "unsubscribe".  Right next tot he link to "unsubscribe" is a link that will take you right to the place to "donate".  In one case it took me three steps to get off their list.  I was given the option to immediately donate and get off the list,  receive "less" emails,  receive "only the important" emails or have them sent as snail mail if I would give them my street address.  None of these options were satisfactory when they had already pissed me off from their contact.  
I know that the attention span of the electorate and population in general is very short.  However,  it computer driven email senders assume that I can not remember from day to day about political choices. They also must assume that we all have the intelligence of mushrooms cause only mushrooms can thrive on a relentless diet of bull shit.
As you were,

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


No more blogs about death and dying.... Let's talk about Halloween a holiday dedicated to the dead.  I know some think October 31st is just an excuse for a masquerade party,  but for me it goes much deeper than costumes.
Halloween has been a favorite subject for me to blog about over the  years. It is difficult to get my mind around the fact that I have been writing a semi daily blog at this address for eight years.  That being the case I will probably repeat myself when talking about Halloween again this time.
My kids are convinced  that I only know seven stories and I repeat them over and over.  They say the reason Sandi and I have been married for so many years is only because she keeps forgetting she's heard them before.
The Evolution of Halloween...
Halloween, for me, is not an excuse to act out a costume fantasy. While I think wardrobe is fine, it is not the essence of Halloween.  I am certainly entertained by the "sexy devil" and "sexy French maid" costumes on attractive women and Elvira mistress of the Dark is a sexy poster girl any time of year. However once that envelope has been stretched you also have to allow bearded, overweight festive men in drag to participate. While the site of a husky man in drag can be horrifying, it is not the right kind of horror for Halloween. Halloween has been co-opted by Hallmark and "costumed fantasy-role-playing" which, for me,  is more suited to masquerade parties than celebrating All Hallowed Evening.
Here is the deal.  Halloween is the night before All Saints Day. For this one evening a year all the ghosts and ghouls who are stuck on this earthly plane are allowed to walk around until dawn.  When dawn arrives on All Saints Day, the Saints drive all the "undead" back to the darkness where they are confined for another year.  
The traditions behind Halloween are tied to the gothic idea of zombies, ghouls and ghosts (not Firemen and Star Wars characters).   We dress like the undead so as not to incur their wrath as we walk among them on Halloween night. Real specters will not be fooled by dressing like Elsa from the Animated Disney Movie "Frozen". 
The way I see it... if a person is dressed in a cutesy costume for Halloween, they have to give ME candy when they come to my door to Trick or Treat.   This idea is not embraced by the Fathers who escort their five year old costumed princesses to my door.  
Although we don't get many Trick or Treaters in this neighborhood, our old neighborhood hosted a carnival atmosphere every Halloween.  We would always run out of candy no matter how much we purchased.  At the time the actor Andy Garcia lived a few doors down. (We both have moved on since.)  I never really got to know my neighbor Andy because the first time we actually connected was on a Halloween night years ago when he escorted his kids to my door.  I did a trick and then gave them some candy.   With the kids out of ear shot Mr. Garcia told me that I had scared his daughter. Although I was more complimented than apologetic I was sorry that he didn't get "into" the spirit. We have not spoken since although I doubt that is the only reason.  
So.... be warned all you Princesses and Marvel character pretenders... Halloween is not Christmas and the Johnson house celebrates Gothic Halloween even if your Dad CAN kick my ass. 
As you were,

Monday, October 20, 2014

What's Next?

I have been thinking about the passing of my friend René.  The one thing that unites us all is death, and yet it is the least understood journey of all.  Upon the death of the Maestro I heard a person say, "Well, I guess that means we all move up one place in line."  I think he was talking about career but it's also true for life; we all move one position closer to the exit at the death of those who are older.
There was a time when I thought of heaven as some great reunion.  Those whom we have known would be there to greet us and celebrate eternal life for well... eternity.  As I get closer to the actual experience I am not so clear about what is "there".  In fact I can't even conceive of what "there" is.
Teachers and philosophers will say that "knowing" is impossible.  The human mind can not conceive of what spiritual existence is.   Mortals can not quantify immorality. It's a catch 22.  Any human concept about immortality and eternity is incorrect.  This circular thinking does not sit well with my human reason.
It all comes down, not to concept but, to consciousness.  What will my consciousness be when I have "shed this mortal shell".   I assume in this human-less state I would be conscious of the Truth, Love and understand what Principle is but: will I be consciously aware of what I did or did not do while in that shell?  Will the consciousness I know as "me" still be intact or totally irrelevant?
Assuming that my consciousness remains individualized I would "know" other individualized conscious entities on the same plane.  That would be like a marathon celestial party in an esoteric way. I would know everyone in consciousness not necessarily by physical form since there would be no physical form on that plane. But what are we if we are not the sum total of what we have done as a human?
Who are we when we refer to ourselves as I am? What are we when we say I am? Conscious Awareness perhaps? I am aware of my existence. The only thing we can know is this moment. A conscious recognition of our own being. I AM.  The more we identify with this consciousness of I Am, the closer we are to immortality and eternity.  I AM seems to be the only consciousness that continues on after our death, but not the consciousness of I Am in human life but abstract existence.
Since all my earthly pleasures will be unavailable to me, consciousness is all that I will take.  If I am unsure of who I am in the realism of eternity, then I am unsure of eternity.  What I did or what I accomplished (or didn't) in this limited Earthly existence is irrelevant.  If I conceive of myself as the sum total of all the Earthly possessions and achievements, then I will be left without an identity in the next plane of existence.
Christianity believes in a "get out of Jail free" card.  I am not convinced that a ransom paid by an Earth bound deity is enough to give me the sense of I Am.  The belief that one can do anything they wish and at the last minute play the redemption card seems contrary to the way life works. Can we really gain this "heavenly reward" by publicly acknowledging a belief.  With faith in this belief we are saved?.. but saved from what?  Belief is important but it is trumped by knowing. What can I actually know about this divine bargain? We are back once again to what we can know as humans.
If I can't know what tomorrow will bring, how can I know what eternity will bring? To experience what happens in  the future,  I will have to know the I am that is experiencing it.   Otherwise the experience will take place without an observer and as we all know: a tree that falls in the Forrest when no one is there to hear it makes no sound.  
Once again we are back to circular logic.  I am then the observer of I am. I am not the observer of WHO I am but simply the observer of THE I AM.  I am observing the ever renewing eternal nature of life. For me that force is God.  Man, then, is the point at which God knows of his own existence.  Man is that knowledge of individual eternal Mind which is also our Mind. Like a grain of sand which is not the beach but the beach is a collective of individual grains of sand, we are not God but collectively represent God.  
This probably flies in the face of most organized religions. This I AM idea was not taught to me in the fundamental Methodist faith I was raised.  In that philosophy I was taught that there were rules I could follow and concepts I could acknowledge that would get me a line pass to this private club called heaven.  I had no reason to doubt it, but back then I also had no reason to doubt that Santa Claus had elves who made toys in a shop at the North Pole.  I have matured in both concepts enough to question the idea that something is true just because adults tell you it is.  Knowing that there is no North Pole workshop has not ruined the Christmas spirit for me.  Knowing that heaven is  not this "members only" after party in the sky does not ruin spirituality for me.
I am not trying to change anyone Else's idea of what eternity might be. It will always be the great unknown and unverified place we all seem to end up.  In the same way I am not looking for someone to "save" me from these thoughts.  It seems to me that if you are trying to know the I AM of God and that this God is the same to everyone everywhere, so we should all treat one another like we would want to be treated, and truly live that way.... then whatever reward is coming will not be withheld because we did not belong to the proper organization. 
That's just me.  You probably feel differently.  
As you were,

Thursday, October 09, 2014

René the Artist

This is one of my favorite pictures of René in his "shop". I always preferred to call it his studio. The word shop seemed more appropriate for guys working on automobiles. In this Burbank space artists of varying talents sculpted heads from clay and designed miniature stage wardrobe for a tiny dancers and singers on strings. Other than the occasional reference to René's vintage Jaguar convertible there was never any "garage talk".  It is a studio. It holds a lifetime of memories for me.
"The Way I remember the Maestro."
Over the last 40 years I have lost count of how many hours I have spent sitting on a shop stool listening to René tell stories while we painted, glued but mostly sanded pink neoprene molded body parts. It was right there that I heard tales of the Ed Sullivan Show and days of the Hollywood Palace.  It is impossible to recall all the things I learned from watching René but for sure he taught me how to do "finish sanding".  
Since René painted his puppets with an airbrush finish the sanding had to be perfectly smooth.  Under an artistically applied base coat of lacquer paint, a slight error in sanding would stand out like a lighthouse beacon.  Several times a body part would be sent back to the sanding table for me to "work on" again, after that first coat of paint.  Since he never threw away sandpaper it was always a tough selection finding just the right piece with just the right level of wear to accomplish the task.  I didn't mind because sanding time meant more time for us to swap stories.  Besides I was only at the "shop" because I wanted to be there, not because I was on the clock. 
One of René's Creations
During the early days of my career I used that shop as a hiding place to get away.  In a day before cell phones it was easier to drop off the grid.  If I had a business deal to consider, a script to learn or just needed to vanish from show business for a while, the shop was the perfect Bat cave.  There were plenty of projects at the shop to take one's mind off just about any decision.  The Maestro (a name I gave to René - the lead puppeteer is always called the Master Puppeteer, so he was always the Maestro to me) was a strict gate keeper.  Even my personal manager did not have the number to the shop.  Unless it was Sandi trying to reach me I was "not there".  
Perhaps our best collaboration was for a short lived series called "Mrs Columbo".  The story was written for me and involved  (what else) but a crazy ventriloquist.  My character kills a puppet maker in his workshop.  The ventriloquist makes it look like a robbery but becomes haunted by a puppet who "witnessed" the killing .  It was my first dramatic acting role and I was trying to prepare for an experience I never had before.  
René was contracted to make the puppets for the script and they used a lot of  his work to dress the set.  The actual shooting workshop was very similar to the picture above. 
It was a couple of days before we started shooting the show. It was probably after 10:00 pm and the shop was dark and empty except for me and René. The Maestro was finishing up the puppets for the show, I was a nervous wreck. Since the set was very similar to the actual shop I decided to rehearse the murder scene while the Maestro was painting the final touches on a puppet face.  He was paying absolutely no attention to the words from the script I was yelling trying to make believable.  I tested several moves around the room to see what felt better.  
With the Maestro sitting in almost the same position in the same chair as in the picture above I was totally immersed in my character as a killer.  With all the method I knew to employ I started to picture how this character would kill a puppet maker in his own workshop.  Not thinking how it sounded that evening, I walked up behind the Maestro and calmly said, " Maestro, If I was going to kill you right now, what would I use to do it?"
René did not turn around nor did he pause to think or even divert his attention away from painting eyebrows on a puppet.  He simply grabbed a tool from his desk, and passed it back over his shoulder to me and said, "I'd use this." 
It was a wood worker's awl... a very sharp, heavy duty ice pick of a tool which, indeed, would make a very formidable murder weapon.  Even though I mimed a couple of stabbing motions in the Maestro's direction he neither flinched nor turned in my direction.   Although the director of the episode decided that the murder weapon should be a chisel on the day of shooting,  I still think the Maestro was correct in the selection of the right tool for the right job.  
I never thought of the Maestro as old, just older.  Over the last few years when he would express his frustration over the advancement of age,  I would tease him.  I thought he was teasing back one day when he said that one of his hands was older than the other.  He held out his hands turning them  palms up and palms down.  His left hand was much more wrinkled, worn and aged than his right hand. The difference was startling, his left hand looked like it belonged to another person 20 years older. It seems that the years of holding a puppet in his left hand while airbrushing lacquer based paint with his right hand had taken a toxic toll on his skin.  Clearly his left hand was much older looking than his right.  It was a graphic example of how our art expresses itself on our mortal coil. 
Only a few people knew that René was hospitalized after a stroke a week ago.  Yesterday with his life partner on one side and his business partner on the other, the Maestro took in one last breath and left the world stage.  The Maestro always said you could tell a professional by the way he took his exit bow.  René's final exit bow was humble, quiet, peaceful and he left us wanting more.He was definitely a Pro.  Rest in Peace, Maestro.
As you were,

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday Factoid

The odds on a piece of buttered bread falling butter side up on a carpet are directly proportional to the cost of the carpet.

A Glock 9mm beats for Aces in a game of Texas Hold 'em.

If a dog is man's best friend, then a cat is an Asian food delicacy.

If two wrongs do not make a right, then two Wrights make an airplane. 

Nine out of ten doctors surveyed say that they would not be surveyed again.  

Out of the 27 side effects of the flu drug Flangelsta 26 of them are the same as having the flu.

Everyone that ate home grown tomatoes in 1832 is dead.  

100 our of 17 people are poor at math.

A comic is someone who says funny things.  A clown is someone who says things funny.  That makes me a... ventriloquist.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Observing the Herd

I am about to get my land legs back after a trip at sea.  Between Newark and Bermuda we encountered high winds and a pretty good chop to the ocean.  For me there is something very relaxing about a ship that is rocking and rolling.  It reminds me of being rocked in a cradle before the "Bough Breaks." 
It never dawns on me that the motion is an issue to some passengers until I see pouches of "vomit bags" placed on the stair well of each deck.  That is when it becomes clear to me that most people do not share my love of the angry sea.  
Now in total honesty, when I am alone on a ship, I become a guiltless people watcher.  I pass the time watching those who are on vacation trying to get along.  I have come to the conclusion that some people save up for a long time to take a cruise so they can  have heated arguments about what to do for fun. While trying to appear that I am uninvolved with anything other than my iPad, I observe body language and study the countless types of people on board.  Since the odds are that I will be able to observe the same people for several days, I imagine what their stories might be.  Grandparents traveling with a grandkid, honeymooners, Old people who can barely make it down the corridor (part of a bucket list I assume), extremely large whale like humans being propelled by sit down scooters, and some of the worst examples of tattoos and  body art that one can imagine, are all fodder for my bored imagination. If they only knew the world they occupy in my sea fairing pastime.   
On day two of the trip I went to the Windjammer Buffet to have lunch. People were having trouble walking on deck due to the pitch and roll of the ship. The Windjammer is on one of the highest decks so the motion is much more pronounced.   I noticed a table occupied by a family with matching neon day glow colored tee shirts that said,  "The Bufano's - Bermuda or Bust".  Those shirts were hard to miss.  One of the little girls was looking quite pale leaning up against her Mom.  She wasn't eating nor did she look like that was even a possibility.  The Mother repositioned the little girl who came to rest on the shoulder of her older siister who was perhaps eight.  The sister did not have the same compassion for little sister's current situation and continued to eat. The Mother left the table to refill a drink. 
A moment or two later I hear the splatter of some viscus liquid hitting the floor of the dining hall.  Before I can quantify what the sound is I hear the scream of an eight year old girl followed immediately by a very loud call to her mother, "MOM.... PUKE!"  The word "puke" ricocheted  around the restaurant full blast. 
Like a herd of Antelope sensing an approaching lion, every head in the Windjammer turned in unison to the table of neon clad Bufano's.  The little girl continued heaving after covering the table, the deck and her sister with rejected breakfast.  
I suppressed a natural gag reflex as did others in the Antelope herd, and following the lead of most, excused myself from the area.  I fled quickly to a more pleasant deck no longer interested in the second act of the Bufano Story.  I assume the day glow shirt was washable. 
So here is my take away from this experience.  Next time I decide to enjoy the rock and roll of the Atlantic Ocean, I will enjoy it with room service, alone in my cabin.
As you were,