Tuesday, August 25, 2015

NO more History in your Future

On Tuesday, August 18, 2015,  disciples of the newly declared Isis Caliphate in Syria beheaded 82 year old Khaled Asaad.
Isis is known for executing scholars, teachers and intellectuals when they conquer a region. Knowledgeable people threaten their medieval beliefs.   Khaled Asaad represented  those kinds of thinkers, which makes the cost of his death all the more Delphic.
Roman Temple at Palmyra - Destroyed August 23, 2015
Khaled Asaad was the antiquities scholar and curator of the Palmyra Museum. He spent years protecting and studying the ancient artifacts and ruins of the fabled City and called the Palmyra site, "One of the most beautiful in the world."

Mr. Asaad was in conflict with the Isis Caliphate from the moment they took over that area of Syria in May. He refused to reveal the whereabouts of the valuable artifacts of Palmyra. 

Mr. Asaad was executed in the  public square of the Palmyra Museum and his headless body hung on a traffic light. 
Yesterday, Isis used bulldozers and dynamite to flatten the ancient Roman Temple in Palmyra.  The 2000 year old structure  was destroyed because religious leaders declared it was a "symbol of Paganism".  The newly formed Isis Caliphate destroyed not only the historic site of Palmyra but by killing Mr. Asaad they eliminated the story of its history as well. An ancient shrine destroyed and de-Storied, all done in the name of organized religion.

But Wait there is more No more History
Buddhas of Bamiyan - before and after
Demolished in March 2001
This isn't the first time Muslim Extremist have purposefully destroyed antiquities in the name of Islam. In March of 2001 the Taliban dynamited the Buddhas of Bamiyan in central Afghanistan. The two statues of Vairdcana and Sakyamuni called the Soisoi were carved into a Sandstone mountain near Kabul.  They stood there for 1700 years, and marked an early trade route on the silk road. The Taliban religious leaders declared them to be "Idols:  and They were demolished. 

The deliberate destruction of these amazing antiquities makes me realize something about the teachings of Islam as practiced by these destroyers. 

Any religion, philosophy, race, people or creed that confuses Paganism and Idols with Art and Architecture is wrong. 

Isis is a fascist regime justifying itself as religion.

This is the very reason the American Government must remain "religion neutral".  We have forgotten how important the concept of Separation of Church and State is to our success as a Nation.  It is the First Amendment to the Constitution and top of the Bill of Rights. It defines America.  It is an inspired concept of government.
Religiously the United States is asexual. We are not an atheist Nation nor are we a Theocracy.  We were not founded by a Religion nor do we prohibit the free practice of any. Religion is part of our Liberty and Freedom. No person is obligated by a mandatory subscription to a single idea about God. We are an open Nation accepting and protective of all religion.  
They say the freedom to swing your fist ends when it contacts my nose. The same with Religion. Freedom of religion ends with the conflict of my own personal beliefs. As an American I have the right not to be preached to, converted, belittled, philosophically saved, protletized nor discriminated against for the way I choose to worship my God.  
The current fight for Americans is not the fear that the Washington Monument will be torn down because it is a "pagan symbol of ancient Egypt". It is a fight to keep our basic rights from being torn down by religious belief. The right to chose, the right to marry, the right to be different, the right of free expression, all are being assaulted by home grown Religious zealots.  These rights must be protected from all dogmatic religious beliefs be they foreign or domestic. 
Our rights, like the Roman Temple at Palmyra and the Buddhas of Bamiyan, can be destroyed very quickly no matter how long they have been in existence. Once they are eliminated, it is impossible to put them back the way they were. 
I am sickened by the loss of these historic treasures.  Their destruction is a dramatic example of a cautionary tale of our own future. 
As you were,

Sunday, August 23, 2015

American Extremism

First a disclaimer and clarification.  I am not an atheist nor am I an evangelized religious zealot. There are shades of faith in-between and I think most American people practice their faith in that zone.  By whatever definition you wish to use, other than sect specific dogma, I am a believer.  But to engage in a conversation about religion we have to have more than tradition, mythology, blind acceptance and exclusion to back up the Truth.  

Because of my religious belief I am as rabid about separation of Church and State as the NRA is about the right to bear arms.  Here is how I felt back in April. Separation of Church and State.  (If you get past the essay to the comment section you can read the statements of a lady who is the very delusional demographic  that I am afraid is out there.)

In a rally for Ted Cruz over the weekend, Ted stated there is an "assault on religion" in this country and if elected he would "Obey the laws of God over American Law."  He also said he would recruit a preacher in every county and district to rally support in their capacity as religious leader to campaign for him.  To me this is a clear violation of the separation of Church and State.  

If Mr. Cruz were trying to get elected as a Southern Baptist Minister his rhetoric would be radical but at least "subject appropriate". He seems to be rallying a crusade rather than conducting a political campaign.  What Isis and the Taliban are trying to do in the Middle East is exactly what Ted Cruz wants to do if elected. All want to form a "state" that is not dictated by law, but religion.  It will not be a state of freedom, justice and liberty for all, it will be a fascist government of suppression, exclusion and medieval punishments. All couched in the idea that this is Our God's Will.

If you belong to the "right" religion and abide by specific ancient rules, you are welcomed into submission.  Those with different philosophies will be converted or be killed.
There is nothing more empowering nor dangerous than a person who believes he speaks on his God's behalf. From Pharaohs to Kings and Cult Leaders to Zealots, it has been proven that the "self-ordained Righteous leaders" are sometimes the most corrupted.  

Granted, Mr. Cruz has not come out in favor of beheading infidels, but he is standing on the top of that slippery slope.  He is running for President of the United States not Bishop of Jesusland.  If in some way actually elected President, Senator Cruz would have to swear an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America".  Only days ago he stated that he would obey "God's law" over Constitutional law. I'm not sure the rules are the same.

His actions as Senator demonstrated that he will not let the needs of the Country stand in the way of his sense of Righteousness.  His filibuster reading of Green Eggs and Ham cost the United States a down-graded credit rating.  The credit rating has not yet gone back to its "Pre Cruz" level.
Religion is not under attack in this country. It is the same conflict in the Middle East. Misguided zealots fearful of losing the power they now have are fighting to keep it. This IS the attack.   The organized belief that there is  only one way to salvation, is under attack.   Religion that hides discrimination in the guise of  "Gods will",  is under attack.  Any group that advocates the suppression of rights in the name of "righteousness",  is under attack.  Killing because God tells you to do so, is under attack.  For me, I think that all out dated dogma, is under attack.
So, if someone has no chance to become the next President, why care what he (or she) says or stands for? Here's why:  We have seen how easy it is to "recruit" people into giving up their liberty and freedom and fly to a distant land, fight, to kill and die for a cause they believe God has ordained.  Today it is Isis cloaked in Islamic radicalism,  tomorrow it could be a new version of the Klan cloaked in the American flag and Christian extremism.  

Of course these are just opinions based on my own observations.  I would expect yours to be different. In my religious philosophy all are unique, individual expressions of that which is immutable omniscient eternal Truth.  God is omnipotent individuality, not  one size fits all.  What matters which path you take if it leads you to the same destination. 
As you were,

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Who performed at Woodstock?

Woodstock celebrated its anniversary this week or last... if you don't remember you were probably there.  Woodstock was the touchstone for my generation. So as members of the Love Generation it was our (Sandi & me)  duty to celebrate the occasion by watching "Woodstock" the Movie on an obscure cable HD channel.

Woodstock was as I remembered it.
The movie not the event.  There was no way I could have gone to the real Woodstock.  At the time I was a deeply closeted hippie living an under cover assignment posing as a college student in my folks house. Upstate New York was galaxies away from Dallas, Texas in 1969.  
But I have seen the Woodstock movie, once, years ago.
As a movie it's not so much but as an early recorded concert it makes a fine music video.
Here is the scene for the Woodstock celebration.  It follows a similar pattern as any typical evening at the Johnsons. The television is on and we are both in the den/family room. Sandi and I are multi-tasking on various iDevices while the television is on and we are listening more than watching. I am not relating to the "behind the scenes film" but the music is the sound track of my youth.
Joe Cocker begins singing "With a Little Help from my Friends".  I am distracted from my iScreens to the biggest screen in the house. There are close-ups of a young Joe Cocker doing the signature Cocker moves.  Odd choice of style then, and still is today.

I say, "Look, Sandi it's Cocker." 
Her attention is elsewhere and she says, "Who?"
"Joe Cocker" 
She looks up for a second or two. "It doesn't look like him." 
I say, "It's Woodstock. He was younger."
"He was at Woodstock?"
"He was one of the headliners."
She thinks for a moment. "Wow. That's something. I didn't know that about him. He's done everything. What a career. "
Her knowledge of Joe Cocker's career is not something I knew about my wife.
She watches a little longer. "Is that him singing or is he lip syncing it?"
"That's him. It was recorded live at Woodstock. That was one of his hit records."
"He recorded that? "
"Of course,  it's a Beatles song you know. "
"Oh I knew that but I thought some other guy recorded that version. The guy with the raspy voice. The guy who sang "Wrote me Letter."
"Joe Cocker. "
"Right. Joe Cocker."
"And there he is on the screen singing."
"Wait a minute that's Joe Cocker?"
"That's who we're talking about. That's him."
"Well I know that's Joe Cocker, You told me it was Phil."
"Proctor. You said that was Phil Proctor."
It takes me a second.
Realizing the error I say, "Cocker.  Joe Cocker. Not Phil Proctor."
"Well that makes a lot more sense." She looked down and continued to play Words with Friends.

Now least we dismiss this conversation as just a miscommunication here is the complicated backstory to that conversation.*

Phil Proctor  is someone who logically and realistically could have been on the Woodstock Stage. In the late sixties early seventies, Phil Procter was a member of the Fire Sign Theater which was the voice of comedy counter culture to that Woodstock generation.   Sandi and I met Phil Proctor and Melinda many years ago and have been friends ever since. Since Phil is not such an unusual name, there were even two Guys named Phil in the Firesign Theater,  we simply  call our Phil, "Proctor. " 
Phil has acted in literally every medium of entertainment ever created.  We never know where we will see him next, and it is not surprising to see him in obscure and interesting programs.  I am always turning to Sandi and saying, "That's Proctor" when I hear his voice on the radio or see him in a guest role on television. 
In our decades of marriage I have said to Sandi many times, "Look it's Proctor," and only once have I said, "Look it's Cocker." It was not that far of a stretch to get confused. 
As you were,

*Note: Sandi told me that if I was going to write about this, I had to explain the back story or it came off as just a silly mistake.  

Monday, August 17, 2015


I can no longer use the phrase "Old friend of mine" here is why. It's confusing, if not insulting.  Some friends I have known for a very long time, others I have not known that long, they are just old.  I prefer to say "Friend of Mine" without a modifier.  The rest is Googleable information for those who need to know more.
So.. a Friend of Mine sent this on Facebook.  It reminds me of a story.

When I did SOAP Sandi and I didn't have kids.  When the boys were old enough to comprehend what I did for a living, any trace of my work on SOAP was stored away on Betamax tape in the closet.  Any reference to a career that took place before they were born, was just that, a vague reference to a historic event. 
One night when the boys were young teenagers, I woke up at 2:30am to sound of the television in the family room.  I stumbled out of bed and grabbed a terry cloth robe that was near and headed down the hall to investigate.  Occasionally one of the boys would fall asleep watching television and I assumed that is what happened this time.  
I enter the family room to see both boys wide awake comfortably watching TV way past curfews or common sense.
"What are you guys...." was as far as I got. Neither boy looked away from the big screen, but both together held up there hands and told me to hush up.
In that moment my Father gene took over. Not only are these two in trouble for staying up late, they are also about to be punished for blatant disrespect.
Before that can  happen I hear the voice of my wooden partner Bob, coming from the television. I look and there he is on television screen right next to where I am standing. On the television Bob and Chuck have just entered the family room of the Campbell house in matching terry cloth bath robes.  I am at that moment standing in a bath robe looking at my younger self in a bathrobe on television.  I am lost in a time warp.  I do not remember this SOAP scene nor what these characters are going to say next. I have a vague memory of the wardrobe Bob and I are wearing but nothing else. Those royal blue bath robes with the yellow collars, matching down to the shoes were etched in my brain.
At the commercial break both boys came out of their video trance and explained.  Comedy Central was broadcasting a SOAP marathon and although they had heard about the show all their lives they had never seen it.  
The Father in me wanted to say,  "Never mind that. You boys get to bed and learn to respect your Parents." But the actor/performer in me saw it differently. Since this was years before DVD's would make boxed sets of old television shows available, there was no other way to see SOAP at that time.  It felt to me like Comedy Central was providing a personal screening just for my boys. When would there ever come a time when they would binge watch a major event in my life?  
The commercial was over and their attention went back to the screen.  Standing there as an old specter of what this young actor on the screen has become, I said, "Enjoy" and went back to bed.  From then on every time I hear about a SOAP marathon I remember the faces of my boys and smile.
Thank you Suzanne for bringing back that memory.
As you were,

Friday, August 14, 2015

Classic Happiness

In some cases the exile loneliness of performing on a cruise ship gives me a chance to think about what life is all about.  Here is an example of a "Sea Blog" thumb-typed four and a half years ago on my state of the art CrackBerry.  Technology changes... human nature does not.

Friday, January 07, 2011

What is happiness

This is a study in human nature with me as the bad example. (I bow to my friend Zan on this subject. Consult her Blog "Zan on Happiness" for real solutions to the question of happiness.)
I finally get on the Navigator of the Seas. I've been on this ship many times and know the accommodations well. It is a suite and not a crew cabin.
I am happy.
Then I settle in I discover that the television is not working. Since Bob doesn't talk to me except on stage I usually have the TV on and tuned to CNN for company and background noise. I feel it keeps me in touch on the off chance there might be some universal catastrophe that might cancel my show, or at the least change my narrative on stage.
But the television is broken and won't turn on.  I say to myself. 
"Damn TV". I am not happy.
For a few minutes I wonder what will keep me occupied during my down time. I soon discover I can bide my time drawing and reading and playing with my IPAD. I begin to fill the day with those activities. I think how much calmer it is spending time creatively with out the drone of impending disaster and drug ads polluting the atmosphere of my cabin. I fall asleep that night not to the TV but beautiful music coming from my favorite iTunes. I think this will be a great advantage not having a TV. The TV is such a distraction. I say, 
"Damn TV" and I am happy.
I wake up refreshed. I greet my steward with a smile in the hallway. He is happy. He asks if everything is alright. I say the TV doesn't work but all is good. The steward says, 
"Damn TV." He is not happy.
He leads me back to the suite. After a few unhappy minutes trying to fix it he finally discovers a glitch in the remote. He says the TV is prone to this problem. Frustrated that it he has to fix it again, he says, 
"Damn TV", and He is happy.
He leaves the suite with the Television on and ironically tuned to CNN. Cliff hanger promos fill my world once again and I am caught up in the need to see the incredible video coming up next. I wonder about a problem posed in a television drug ad, who would I call if I suddenly have an erection that lasts four hours. The production manager? The Captain of the Ship?
I think I am happy. But then realize I am caught up in the world of "coming up next". I am not drawing and I am not reading. I am not listening to my music. I come to my senses and break the hypnotic CNN spell. I try to turn it off but can't. Short of contacting the steward and ruining his happiness again, I can not get the TV turned off. I think to myself .... 
"Damn TV" and I am not happy.
I leave the television on and leave the suite for the deck looking over Montego Bay. Soaking in the beauty I decide to write a blog on my BlackBerry about not being happy. But now... I am happy........ "Damn TV."
As you were,

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Running For President

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS was a popular show during the mid 60's.  It began in 1967, the official summer of Love and ended in 1969 the year of Woodstock. At the height of their success, the Show was cancelled when Tom and Dick Smothers refused to bow to the CBS network censorship policies. However, for three years The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was the only show doing political satire on a regular basis. It was a time of public protests and demonstrations against the Viet Nam War.  
Pat Paulsen was a regular on the Smothers Show.  His dead pan hang dog, Buster Keaton delivery was a staple on the Smothers Brothers show.  Pat would often portray politicians as the foil for the Smothers Brothers satirical humor.  
Pat's stand up routines were generally in the form of a political speech in back of a podium. I remember clearly one sketch with Pat portraying a Politician answering questions at a news conference.  During his close up they used a split screen to have him talking out of both sides of his mouth.   It did not compare to the high level of a John Stuart Daily Show satire, but it was the cutting edge of the day.  
As a stunt for his comedy act in 1968, Pat declared himself to be an actual candidate for the President of the United States.  At the time there were only three networks and the rule was they had to give equal time for each announced candidate for President.  Even though Pat Paulsen wanted to be booked on talk shows for his comedy, he was considered an actual candidate.  No show would book him because they would have to give equal time to Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey.  Pat's career took a dive and he never really regained a footing.  
One of his most satirical routines was cut from the Merv Griffin show because it was "not acceptable" enough to be broadcast at the time and still isn't.  However, if you can get past its total lack of political correctness there is a satirical message in the concept of the routine dealing with political correctness.  Here it is saved on YouTube for you to judge. (Spoiler Alert.... if you are offended by the picture of a man in black face makeup don't bother watching.)

I worked with Pat at the Comedy Magic Club in Hermosa Beach.  He wrote this on the wall of the green room: "The best club I have worked on my way down."
He closed his act by telling the audience he would channel the spirit of his celestial guide. It was the soul of an old Indian Chief who took over Pat's body on stage. He did some jokes based upon the idea that were funny.  Then the spirit guide said, "Pat a funny man.  He never gets standing ovation. It would be good for him to get one... would help his mood. Me say good bye now and I return you to Pat."  Pat wakes up like he has been in a trance and says he never remembers what the Indian guide has to say, but the audience should heed his requests.  He takes his bow for the set to...(of course) a standing ovation.
Clowns still to this day run for President of the United States... they just aren't as funny nor as clever as Pat Paulsen. 
Pat died on April 24, 1997 at the age of 69 while living in Mexico.  His life is a testament to the old chestnut "Dying is easy... Comedy is hard".
As you were,

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Trump Train

Donald Trump is an enigma in politics.  Rules governing the other candidates seem not to apply to Mr. Trump.  Every media pundit is watching with baited breath just waiting for him to implode.  So far the typical gaffs that would have sent any other candidate to the bottom of the heap, bounce off his chest like bullets off the chest of Superman.  Why? 
It might be informative to look back at the other Republican hopefuls in the past to see how and why they imploded.  Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum won their share of primaries and lead in the polls for a while. We didn't know much about these people until they took the national stage.  When we got to know them better their message or their personality eventually got in the way.  Rick Perry uttered his famous "oops" when he could not remember one of the three agencies he would immediately do away with if elected. It doomed his campaign.  With Bachmann and Santorum it was  not a single gaff but a preponderance of ignorance that eventually did them in.  
Trump is not such a mystery.  He hasn't changed his stripes just because he announced he is running for President.  His gaffs, his over blown vibrato and his ego are not shocking to anyone, because we think we know Donald Trump. He is a celebrity, and one of the most visible Billionaires in America. His television persona portrays him as a mover and shaker who does not hesitate to "fire" someone on the air. But his qualifications for leadership are no more valid that the Kardashians's talents. 
In reality, Donald Trump is the poster boy for the Republican idea that rich people create jobs. He is the American Dream of a kid from New Jersey becoming a self made billionaire. He is all about money and how you can make more. I don't understand why Republicans are trying to distance themselves from a candidate who personifies all they represent.  If this "trickle down" theory of money flowing down from the top is valid, then wouldn't we want an ultra rich man at the top of the political hill? 

The problem is that some members of the electorate confuse celebrity for leadership.  And Mr Trump confuses Twitter followers for constitutes. Donald Trump has become the Howard Beale character from the 1976 movie "Network" insanely screaming "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore." He has struck a chord with people who are tired of politics as usual.  When people are faced with choices of another Clinton or another Bush for President they ARE mad as hell.  And like the network executives from the movie, the modern media is using Trump like they did Howard Beale. They are willing to exploit his insanity for good ratings ready to broadcast live the moment he jumps over the edge. When they are done with him they will move on to some other story for "rubber neckers". 
The irony is that Trump could become a third party candidate next year.  It would be a repeat of the H.W. Bush vs. Bill Clinton election when another billionaire, H. Ross Perot, ran against them. Perot captured the public imagination of having a "business man" run the country.  He pulled out of the race at the height of his popularity, only to re-enter the race a few months later.  It was impossible for him to gain the momentum. If he had stayed his course he might have gone all the way. I don't see Donald Trump making the same mistake. 
To compare the two, Perot said things in a folksy metaphoric way that didn't make much sense. "Just because your cat has kittens in the oven, doesn't make them biscuits."  Perot also had the haggard look of a nerd who hadn't gotten enough sleep.
Trump on the other hand brings that celebrated energy of his to the game, making blunt and non-complicated statements.  He has no specifics except "wall building" and "winning against China" he is basically asking his followers to vote for him because they "know" he will do what is necessary.  Actually all we know about Donald Trump are images created by an expensive PR firm.  He has no record to stand on, no qualifications except being rich with more ego than ability.  
It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming months but don't expect Donald Trump to go away quietly. Popularity and fame is a drug worse than heroin. Once you have had the taste of  a high dose you will do anything to get more.
As you were,

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

One Year Later

This is the piece I wrote when I heard that Robin Williams died.  Statistically it is the second most read blog of the thousands I have written.  I thought it was appropriate to reprint today.

Memory in Third Person

There was nothing more intimidating than the corporate offices of ABC Network at Century City in the late 70's.  I was there for final network approval to play Chuck and Bob on a new ABC sitcom called "SOAP". It all boiled down to this final audition. I had passed all the other audition tests but this was the final network test, the only one that mattered.
When I checked in at the ABC receptionist desk a striking woman, beautiful but emotionless, checked off my name and told me to have a seat on the couch.  The lobby entrance to the network office was three stories high.  I looked up at the endless ceiling as I sank to the bottom of a leather couch. The soft cushions engulfed me. I sat eye level with the arm rest. At that moment I could neither feel smaller nor more insignificant.
The producers arrived and were whisk into an office without even acknowledging I was on the couch. Then the director arrived and finally the SOAP Casting agents arrived.  All were escorted to the office. My heart was racing with fear/excitement. It seemed I spent hours alone on that couch until the two casting ladies came and talked to me.
They explained the delay was due to the fact that Pam Dixon, the head of ABC casting was late.   As soon as she arrived we would begin, but no one knew where she was.  They noticed my nerves were on edge so they attempted small talk for awhile but eventually there was only the silence of anticipation.
After a while one of the casting people said, "Let me go see if they know anything yet," and walked to the office where everyone was waiting.  She was gone for awhile and returned with an up date of information.
"Well, they found Pam... she is stuck in the elevator between the 16 and 17th floor of this building.  They are trying to get the elevator fixed. They don't know how long it will take."
"Geez," said the other casting person, "Pam hates confined spaces. She must be going crazy in there.  Will she still feel like doing this reading when they get her out?"
"Don't know.  If they can get her out in the next 30 minutes they will still do the reading."
Again there was silence between the three of us. It must have been no more than 30 minutes but it seemed like days to me.
Finally Pam's secretary came out to us.  She said, "They almost have Pam out of the elevator and she still wants to finish this reading today.  Is that good with everyone?"  We all nodded.
One of the casting people said, "How is she doing?"
The answer, "Don't know but I am sure she is frazzled. She has a phobia for that sort of thing." And with that the secretary walked away.
Both casting directors looked at me and one said,
"Wow, you better be really funny." And with that they went back to the office. What little confidence I had left was gone.
It was finally time for me to "do my thing".  
All my fears were gone when I saw Pam Dixon was laughing and happy as I walked into the room. She had seen my act at a night club in town and knew my work. A tremendous weight lifted off my consciousness. She asked me to do a specific bit she liked, I didn't have to read the script and I got the job.
But wait for it, here is the real story.
Months later I found out why Pam was in such a good mood after the terrifying elevator experience. It seems she was stuck  for an hour and a half inside that elevator with a comedian who kept her laughing the entire time. I wanted to thank that guy, he saved my audition and didn't even know it, but no one was sure who he was.  After years of sharing this story with ABC executives I learned the young comic's name. It now makes total sense how he would have been able to riff on a terrifying real life situation and calm down even the most anxious elevator passenger. He was a comic/actor coming to ABC for an pilot meeting on a show called Mork and Mindy. A year later everyone knew the name Robin Williams.
I never got to thank him personally. It is now, humanly,  too late, but I suspect he is now aware of my gratitude. 
As you were,

Monday, August 10, 2015

"Playing with your Nuts?"

Three Shells and a Pea
I was reminded of a story from my SOAP days last week in a very obscure way.  Turns out that the actress at the center of this story is a friend of a friend.  These two friends of mine reconnected during the reunion of a theatrical company they were both involved in.  Some how they "Kevin Baconed" their way into the realization that she and I were friends as well.  
I don't want to call her by name without her permission, so with no names I will recount the story.
My friend Harry taught me the "Three Shell Game" while I was working on SOAP.  I found I had an aptitude for the "trick" and got very good at manipulating the Pea and the shells.  I would say I became obsesses with it and would practice nonstop. I even invented a "move" with the shells that Dai Vernon (affectionately known at the Magic Castle as the Professor) said had never been done before. 
Now during a television show filming, unless you are in every scene (which was never the case for my character) there are times when you have to wait around till it is time for the scene you are in.  During this down time I was usually practicing my shell moves up in the dressing room. It was during one of those times when this happened. 
There was an actress on the show who was only in the scene I was in so it meant we were both waiting.  She and another actress friend walked by my dressing room and asked what I was doing. 
"What are you doing? Playing with your nuts?" she said.  Score one for the actress.  But this comment led to me ask if they wanted to see a "trick". They did.  So I began to do my shell routine.
Not to give away secrets but, you can't win the shell game, at least not the way I play it.  There is no time when the pea is not under my total control. It can be under any shell at any given time and all three at once if that is my desire.  The pea in the game is not really a green pea but a small rubber ball specially crafted for the game, and it is the ultimate secret to the effect.  
The routine went on for some time and my actress audience was completely baffled. They guessed wrong when I wanted them to and guessed correctly when necessary.  There was never any legitimate choice in the performance.  But one of the actresses got more and more frustrated by the effect.  She really thought there was a way to beat the game, and eventually she found a way.
At one point I looked down at my close up magic mat.  There were the three shells but no pea.  I had done nothing with it; I looked all around and on the floor to see if it had rolled off the table, but nothing. From the body language of one of the actresses I knew she had taken it.  I joked around waiting for the  pea to be returned to the game, but it was not forthcoming.  I finally got serious and said that the pea was special to the game and I did not have another.  "Please give me back the pea." I said sincerely.  Nothing.  She showed me her hands, she was not hiding it but I knew she took it.
Finally after all value to the theift had been depleted she admitted she took the pea. I asked her in the nicest, "you got me" tone to give it back.  She said she couldn't she swallowed it!
I laughed and said, "That is a silicon pea and it has been rolling around on this dirty mat for some time. I don't think it would be very healthy to ingest it."  I figured she was still punking me about swallowing it.  But I was wrong  she did swallow it.
This put an end to my practice and my ability to do the moves that evening and for several more days after that.  It took me a long time to craft another pea with just the right consistency to perform the moves again.  But after a few trials and errors I was able to replace the missing part of the game. 
A week later it was filming night again.  I sat in a makeup chair getting my working face applied.  There was suddenly a tap on my shoulder.  It was the actress who swallowed the pea.  She said, "Hold out your hand."
I did,  and with that she placed the missing pea in the palm of my hand.  
"Here is your GodDamn pea. I knew I would get it back eventually. But if you thought it was dirty before, it really is now."  And she walked away. By this time everyone knew the story and knew what I was holding in my palm.  They also knew intellectually where that pea had been for a week.  The makeup lady made me go to my dressing room to wash my hands and get rid of that "thing" immediately before she would continue. 
Now, there are two ways percieve this. First, she didn't really swallow the pea, but hid it in her dressing room and waited till the perfect time to "recover" it as a joke on me.  The other way to see it is, well, I don't really want to go into the implications of recovering it if she did swallow it.    
I still have the pea, sterilized and in its own plastic pill bottle.  Although I will never know for sure where the pea was for a week the memory of the story has eclipsed my need to know.
Either way the joke was on me; I still laugh about it and think of her fondly. The story would mean more if I used her name but her kids might not want to know that much about their mother's former life.  But now I have said too much.
For you Phil.
As you were, 

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Weak End

Contemplation forth toward the next installment of TWIAS by Jay Johnson, wordsmith.

Friday, August 07, 2015

The Ding-a-ling Brothers GOP Circus

"He wears a mask and his face grows to fit it."
Calling this Fox television show a debate is like calling the "Jerry Springer Show" the news.  It was a circus without the thrill of the acrobats. And as with every circus when the clowns take over the ring, it is chaos. Each clown trying to do their own thing and upstage the others for attention.  Some have well rehearsed routines which they mash into any space that becomes available. But nothing of substance is ever accomplished, the clowns are there for one reason,  to kill time so the real performers can get ready for the next act. Unfortunately in this circus there was no "next act", only the extreme actions of a bunch of pompous posers.   
The three Ringmasters of the circus attempted to make the circus as much like an open audition for "American Idol" as they could.  They even sat at a long table in front of the "candidates" with their backs to the audience hurling carefully chosen "questions" at the panel.  They all took on the role of Simon Cowl. Of course, Megyn Kelly, clich√© punchline to a blond joke, asked the question about "respecting women" to Donald Trump. Trump basically denied calling any women Fat pigs, dogs, slobs or animals... except Rosie O'Donald.  It was a talk show answer that didn't fit the pretend assumption that this show was serious.   
In fact all three "moderators" (including Chris Wallace and Bill Bier) were acting not as journalists but as provocateurs.  The questions did not solicite information about how they would make a good president, but the questions were designed to ignite snarky remarks toward each other.  No one really stumbled with a Rick Perry "Oops" moment, but no one stood out as a clear leader either. They each stuck to their stump clown routines that were too well rehearsed.  As all politically themed variety shows the guest talked more about what others have done wrong rather than what they could do correctly. 
The way it worked out Donald Trump took up the most time with 11 minutes. Jeb Bush came in second with 8 monutes. Rand Paul had the least amount of time with just over 5 minutes, (most of that time spent yelling over Chris Christy). It is telling that in a two hour show none of the "prospects" got any more than `11 minutes to state their qualifications. Although in my opinion Jeb Bush had too much time.  He is the most boring person to run for President since Millard Fillmore.  So what was learned from this Circus experience?
Here is my take away from the Circus. Whomever wins the Presidency from the GOP will have a very, very busy first day of their administration.  Out of all the candidates in the ring who were asked the question, "What would you do the first day as President?" none said they would do anything progressive.  Their answers were about what they would immediately undo. Repeal Obamacare, repeal the Iran Agreement, defund planned parenthood, medicare and entitlements, amnesty for illegals, were some of the immediate things that would be repealed "day one". Earlier at the "happy hour" warm up circus, Rick Perry said on his first day he would bring a whole bottle of white out. (As a side note, "white out" was used back in my college days to correct mistakes made on a type written page. It was a big deal before computers. It is a reference that is as dated as most of Mr. Perry's ideas about government) 
On Lindsay Graham's first day he would immediately declare war on Iran and send troupes back to Iraq, and several would begin construction on a fence to keep out Mexicans.  Marco Rubio was the only one who realized that not every person coming across the border illegally is Mexican. Being of Hispanic origin he knew there are more countries to our southern border than just Mexico.  
Ted Cruz got to preach for a few minutes. Cruz has a voice that sounds  like a cartoon character to me. What he says is even more cartoonish than his voice.  Adding to his surreality is a style of speaking that more and more has the rhythm and cadence of  a "fire and brimstone" minister. 
Second most boring to Bush was Dr. Ben Carson. There is a tendency to confuse his total lack of leadership qualities for intellect. He is so unqualified to be in the running his oblivious style makes him appealing to those who are tired of the slick well rehearsed personalities of real politicians.  I was told one time, "Never confuse silent stupidity for intellectual contemplation."   
As the tent was coming down and the elephants rounded up the pundits began to dissect the show. Most reported the event from the perspective of Donald Trump. In fact though 
Trump got double the average time on the circus stage, he got more than that proportion of coverage after the fact.  It all seemed to hinge on the first question asked to all the clowns.  "Would you support the candidate chosen from this process."  Sounded to me like it was the oath given to prospective members of the Nazi party. Only Donald Trump was honest enough to say he would not pledge allegiance to the Party.  To me it showed his honesty and independence.  He would not blindly follow an unnamed person as leader just because he was of a certain political party. 
Focus groups seemed to have cooled a little on the Donald, talking mostly about Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina.  For me, I heard nothing that made me want to join any one's circus wagon. It was all about what they would "undo" not what they would "do" for the country.  We have had 8 years of the government getting nothing done, what these clowns want to do is repeal anything that was done during that time.  
Do we really have more than a year left to hear the same BS?  Apparently so.  It seems this circus has decided to not leave town. That may be a good thing because there didn't seem to be anyone who was ready to run away and join. 
As you were,

Tuesday, August 04, 2015


How does Art rank in The United States of America?  At what value do we hold Art in this country?   What value does Art have in the world of commerce and consumerism? Is Art a frivolous endeavor?  Is Art necessary in our educational system?  
What are The Arts anyway? Isn't Art just a collection of valuable paintings and old music and dance?  Isn't Art just playing around, dreaming your life away? Why would we promote much less provide for Art in our country, or our lives? 
Art is but the outward expression of the individual, Liberty means the right to express yourself freely and without fear of repression. Art can not  flourish when there is no freedom.  Art is part of the American dream, but we Patriots have forgotten the real freedoms this country was founded on.  Hardliners want to tout the idea that the country was founded on Christianity.  It was not.  America was founded on "freedom of religion".  Freedom is the key word in that phrase and as Americans we have many more Freedoms that are specifically outlined in the bill of rights.  The reason people came to America was the Liberty to be Free.  Why, as a nation, do we not stand on the principal of Art?
Art is the expression of dreamers. Dreamers show what the world is like in the abstract realm of imagination.  Art is the physical expression of this abstract imagination. Nothing happens unless it is first imagined. Albert Einstein said," Imagination is more important than knowledge."  It is easier to find labor that can execute an idea of imagination than to come up with an original one.  Construction may be the cheapest and easiest part of the process. 
Americans "out source" labor to make a product, but just because the Apple Watch is made in China... the idea is American.  We will always be able to find cheap ways to make something. How to do something is easier than knowing why we do it.  The world is waiting for dreamers, imagineers and artists to tell us what to make.    WHAT do labors manufacture but the ideas, designs, and dreams of the Artist?  America prides itself on being the source of creative, useful and profitable ideas. But where do these ideas come from if we do not encourage Americans to dream.  If we do not awaken the artist inside of everyone we are doomed to only be labors.
The first things to be cut from a lean educational budget are the Arts.  The theory is: "Art is not real education." When cutting back on the funds to educate, what is unnecessary?  Band, Art class, Drama class, Choral groups are all taken away before other classes that are deemed essential.  I would say, Art in the educational system provides the reason to study the rest of the essentials.   
What good is knowing anything, if you are not encouraged to use that knowledge as a tool to dream about something better?
Looking around at the world you see dictatorial regimes controlling the people by controlling their education. Educated people ask "why". The Taliban does not teach Art. Art is not valued because it allows the people to dream.  Isis has been responsible for destroying artifacts, architecture, antiquities and art from thousands of years ago when they conquer a region. If you can destroy appreciation for Art you can control the destiny of the people. 
America sends soldiers to fight and die to protect the idea of Freedom and Liberty.  But Freedom and Liberty are fundamental to Art. If we are not fighting to keep the Freedom of Liberty and Art in our own country, what are we dying to protect?  In the simplest of terms Art IS the American dream.  
As a country we are loosing the educational battle on the basics.  How much more inadequate are we at educating Americans to dream since Art education is the first to go? 
When Americans can be more proud of the imagination it produces than the weapons it manufactures we will have something to protect. It will truly be a country "with Freedom and Justice for all" when we realize our greatest weapon is the imagination of our Art... or the art of our imagination.
So, support the Arts, even if it is nothing more than getting that saxophone out of the closet and playing it again.  Change the world one artist at a time.  
As you were,

Monday, August 03, 2015

Encino Hobo

Used without permission
but with the greatest of appreciation.
Yesterday when I was taking Boo out for a walk I noticed a Ralph's grocery cart left at the curb in a residential street. Ralph's is about a mile away from my house on the corner of Ventura and Havenhurst.   I know Ralph's has a truck that comes through the neighborhood periodically to collect the carts that seem to run away and "get lost" but I don't know how often it comes. 
Since Boo and I walk at least a mile when we stroll, I thought it would be a good idea to push the cart back to the grocery store.  I was out for a walk, the cart needed to be returned, win/win. That is, until I set out on my good deed.
First of all a grocery cart being pushed along a residential street makes more noise than you might think. I was attracting more attention to myself and my dog than my usual walks. The rattle made Boo a little uncomfortable but soon she was doing to her business sniffing around for recent Pee mail, left by the other neighborhood dogs.  This was fine for me since I got to stop every few feet and the cart rattle would stop for a moment.  
Now, although I have lived in this house a couple of decades, I don't know very many neighbors. The houses are set back from the street, mostly gated and other than a couple of show biz friends, I am not that familiar with all my homies. This is not unusual in Los Angeles. In a suburb where there are few sidewalks and no real foot traffic on the streets, you just don't connect too often.  The joke is, you never meet your neighbors until there is an earthquake and we all end up in the front yard in our pajamas.  The last earthquake of any magnitude was back in 1994.  We didn't live in this neighborhood at that time. 
This is not to say it is not a friendly place.  I always say hello to others who might be walking down the street or walking with their dogs.  My neighbors are very friendly, especially the dog owners. I have gotten acquainted with several "regular" dog strollers.  
So I was settling in for a normal neighborhood walk,  the only difference was: this time I was pushing a grocery cart.  In my mind there was nothing to it except I was doing a good deed.  Not so with the people I met.
It took me a few minutes to realize what was happening.  I was in my casual "working in the yard" clothes, with a dog on a leash pushing a grocery cart through a neighborhood where the site of a Tesla silently driving by is not unusual.  Ahead in the street I see a man walking a couple of his dogs.  I have seen him before and our dogs have sniffed each other.  I felt Boo straining on the leash to greet her friends.  But, when the guy focused on me he crossed the street and held his dogs back from approaching.  I said "hi" but he pretended to be preoccupied with settling his dogs and did not greet me back.  I was puzzled by this reaction and the reaction of others I met along the way. Then, I realized, they were not seeing a neighbor walking a dog, I was a homeless man trolling the area. There are people who come through the neighborhood on trash day collecting the recyclables from the containers ready for pick up. My neighbors saw nothing but the grocery cart and assumed I was one of those people. 
I smiled to myself because I knew all would have stopped for a moment of politeness if they knew I was one of the neighbors.  I continued the experiment as I encountered several others out walking that evening.   Part of the time Boo and I walked down the very busy sidewalk of Ventura Blvd. In that setting it was easy to cast me in the roll of homeless bum.  No one was rude, they just treated me and Boo like we were invisible.  
The closer I got to the market the more visible I became to people.  At one point I knew people were now seeing me as a man returning the cart after placing groceries in the car, not a man pushing the cart down a street. I even got a "thank you"  from one of the Ralph's employees who was gathering carts from the parking lot.   He had no idea I had rescued that cart from the neighborhood a mile away, but I graciously accepted his thanks.  
After the cart was in its rightful place, Boo and I continued on our walk. 
Stolling back through the neighborhood it was as if I suddenly was lit up.  People were waving, asking if my dog was friendly and passing the evening in kindness.  What a difference a simple cart makes.  In our prejudgement of those around us that cart is the difference between an home owner and a hobo. 
I don't know why we have become a nation of judgmental people.  Who is to say the next guy you see pushing a grocery cart down the street isn't just a neighbor trying to do a good deed? Could even be me and my dog Boo. 
As you were,