Friday, October 31, 2014


Make it ghoulish day.

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,