Sunday, June 14, 2009

Entertainment for one

I jumped in my car in a rush to get to work and DID NOT NOTICE that the neighbor's little dog…I don't know what you'd call it….looks like a hairy doorknob and not much bigger…pushed-in face and under bite...had jumped in my car right when I opened the door. It cowered on the passenger front floor, unseen by me. When I started up the engine, it jumped up in my lap, but I didn't know what it was, it seemed like all of a sudden my crotch came alive with a wild and hairy life of its own. I hit my head on the ceiling and pelvic-bounced the dog onto the car horn which freaked him out as he bounded, vomiting mid-air into the back seat.

Last year I was, once again, racing to get to work on time and I pulled my coat off the hanger in the hall closet, threw it on and raced out the door. I had recently bought a new car which I loved, but the reviews of it said the seats were not all that comfortable. I thought they were. So here I am driving to work and feeling like the back of the seat isn't so comfortable after all. This gets me to wondering if it was the power of suggestion that is making me feel uncomfortable in the seat, but then I think, nah, I'm not that suggestible…am I? Then I'm thinking that my coat isn't that comfortable in this seat, so maybe the way the seat curves is making the coat tight on me, or maybe the seat belt is ratcheted too tight. Anyway, I get to the office parking lot still with this head full of weighty what-if scenarios. I get in the elevator, which is mirrored all around and notice that my left shoulder is three inches higher than my right shoulder because the wire hanger is still inside my jacket.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Canned laughter

By far the most magnificent achievement of the 20th century was the invention of canned laughter.

If you are not familiar with the term, it’s the laugh track on television situation comedies. You know, someone makes a wise crack on a TV show and immediately you hear laughter coming from nowhere.

This is powerful stuff!

The only reason it didn’t win a Nobel Prize is that no one took canned laughter the last 9 yards and actually canned it and brought it to market. Yeah, in a can. With a pull tab.

Imagine some hairy hot head is about to open up a big damn can of chainsaw strength whup ass and you beat him to the draw with your can of laughter.

Game over!

Earthlings, especially in developed countries, tend to take the world at its current market value and move through life satisfying a long series of material desires. Since we are so much bigger than anything we can physically possess, every purchase is followed, eventually, by a letdown. A small can of laughter should be included in every product package, like silica gel.

Funerals need canned laughter.

When the reverend gets up in the pulpit to eulogize the deceased with a pious tear-jerker, get ready with aerosol cans of laughter to waft a chuckle over the congregation.

When he starts to go for the heart-of-grief strings with a line like, "and God said to her, 'Helen you've loved your family without reservation for eighty years, will you now walk with me for a while?” open a few cans and let pockets of scattered laughter arise from the pews. As the minister builds his somber oratory of beautiful sadness, roll industrial-size kegs of laughter down the aisles. Laughter, being highly contagious, will catch hold of the congregation. Even the minister's tone will wobble. Eventually everyone is doubled over laughing into their tears. The deceased will be sent on his way not with a wave of collective anguish but with a gut-busting whoo ya!

Someone walking by the church would think it's an Irish funeral.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Taking it with you

In a pub in Galway, Ireland – The King’s Head, I believe – I was at the bar reloading my camera, a Leica M6. 
The fellow next to me remarked what a nice camera it was and said, “I’ve a lovely camera too, and I’ve had it for thirty, forty years now. When I die, I’m leaving it to my grandson. Maybe he can get a little money for it.”
I thought about that over a sip of Guinness, and said to him, “If it’s about money, then take the camera with you when you pass. Send back pictures. He’ll get a lot more for those.”
That’s the thing about photography, if you could take one thing with you when you die, most folks would choose a camera.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Guinness, tea and the vesper bell

Once I was in Dublin.

Dublin 8 to be more precise, out near the Guinness plant. I had some time to kill so I ducked into a small pub. Workingman’s place. Salt of the earth and all. Nothing at all fancy. Short bar. Four men at the bar, each nodding over their Guinness like old dray horses dozing over oat bags. I got up on a stool amongst them. At a table behind me was a sharp old man in tweed (think Paul’s grandfather in the movie Hard Day’s Night, but much smaller and older), sipping a hot tea. He and I were the only ones sober.

So I order a Guinness and the guy to my right raises his head when he hears my accent and says, “Where are you from?” and that gets into a general pub discussion of my trip. I told them that my wife and I had a list of things we wanted to do before we went back to the U.S. and one of the guys asks did we get everything done on our list. I said, well no, still working on it, whereupon the tea-drinking tweed-wearing old guy behind me asks what’s left to do. And I said, well, it’s a bit of a vanity project but I was hoping there’d be a poetry reading at Trinity College I could participate in.

Well that got them all up high in their seats and the fellow to my left says, “Well, let’s have a poem then!” and I said, Ah naw, and the guy two over to my right says, “Oh, listen to him, too good for us is he? We’re not the Trinity snoots he wants to impress.” 

I said, “Naw, it’s not like that. I’m just not very practiced at reading, you know?”

Well they kept after me and so I pulled out my notebook, which included a copy of a poem I had written some years previously in Ojai (California).  And with a bit of embarrassment I read it aloud:

Vesper Bell

The sun is rust and servants

seeking secret masters

follow down a dusky road

where a dead tree lifts its claw

to wavelengths of crow crossing

still bright, breathable air

and just now

the far red ridge turns blue

but against the window

your face glows cool,

your eyes collect warmth

like the moon

gathering daylight.


Through these small recognitions

I have witnessed the palette of your being

and in my daily acts of passage

I have loved you the more,

not simply for your beauty

but simply.


Ok, I finished reading and there was a silence in the pub. Then the man on the left says, “Well, that was that, then.”  


 The tea drinker pipes in, helpfully: “I understand poetry today isn’t the same thing as it used to be. I read that somewhere I believe.”


I buried myself in my Guinness and was down to the foam when the fellow immediately to my right leans over to me with a puzzled face and says quietly, confidentially, “So…she was a tart, you’re sayin’?”


A life without humor

Any "humor" you might detect in my blog is something you are putting there yourself.

I was stricken at an early age with a tragic loss of all sense of humor. I became "hard of humor" when I was 3 years old. On my third birthday, my parents were run over in a pedestrian lane by a very small car containing 8 clowns, 2 mimes, four racks of cream pies, a dozen seltzer bottles, 14 bicycle horns and a bucket of greasepaint.

Everyone died.

Not my parents, the people in the car. My parents miraculously sustained only minor scratches and mild blunt trauma.

But after knocking down my folks, the car lost control and rammed through the front door of a fireworks factory.
Skyrocket Division.
That's when things turned ugly, well, actually kind of beautiful for a while. The fireballs went on for hours and it was like the evening got pushed back with all the exploding lights streaking up into the heavens and lighting up the streets and the parked cars. I thought it was for my birthday party.

Finally the factory completed its melt down and the townsfolk got a grip and, needing someone to blame for the "no circus is coming to this town this year or ever-again-year" travesty, they fingered my family and that led to our fugitive life as clown killers.

That's the story behind my Dad's nitrous oxide addiction and the beard my mother grew.

To this day I can't tell a joke. I'm told by some that this unfortunate incident is itself "humorous." I wouldn't know. I guess it is an "in the eye of the beholder" kind of thing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Interpretive Zen

Last Saturday I was walking around a Pasadena furniture store. It was one of those trendy shops with creatively repurposed vintage chairs and tables. Big price tags. 

An idea struck me, don’t know where it came from, but as soon as I got home I set up a two foot square wooden picture frame flat on my dining room table. Under it I had a sheet of copper. I poured sand into the frame so that it was filled and flat.

 I’m going to do a Zen garden thing on my dining room table.

 I dug around in my office and found a Matterhorn-looking rock and stuck it just off center in the sand. I got three small, smooth stones and placed them randomly in the sand. Then I got the rake we use to comb the long loose hair out of Garbo, our cat, and made wave or vector lines in the sand.

 This is a recitation of earth in its own vernacular, I am thinking: how it whispers in its bones.

 Or wait, it is an essay on repercussion, how the bounce-off ripples from the large stone – let’s think of it as a land mass, or hmm, all civilization – overwhelm the smaller stones which are barely able to offset the pattern that beset them.

 Let’s call it the womb of global synergy. Yeah.

 And, ah! A small piece of wood, let it arc above the sand, sinking at both ends below the surface. A human lifetime. A fallible accent in the celestial voice.

 Hmm, perhaps I am actually building a schematic of the soul itself. How cool is that!

 When I was done, if “done” could ever be a condition for such dynamic work, lines were neatly and fluidly flowing around the rocks and wood and I felt I had perhaps opened a portal onto a "Big Sur" of existence. I felt very Yahweh-like except I had to go off and run errands.

And when I got back, lo and behold, a great calamity had been visited upon my work. The sand had been swept to one side as if by a might wave. The smaller rocks scattered, the arc of wood--no more!  

 The great promontory rock, beacon of reckoning that reached to the very limits of reason, flung off like a pebble and beside it, sand rose into a huge dune as if to say, “gods come to this”.  

 And half emerged from the sand’s peak, a single cat turd.

 I am still rethinking the whole thing. 

Monday, May 18, 2009

10 minutes at Costco, a lifetime of reflection

The Christmas before last  I was at Costco, that membership wholesale everything chain, walking through the huge airplane hanger size aisles with the towering shelves looking for a pressure washer. 

One of the things I love about Costco is that you can walk out of that place with a big, hot, freshly roasted chicken, a pressure washer, a liter bottle of Patron tequila, a computer, a 4-pack of underwear and a 52 inch LCD TV. Is this the land of the free or what?

 Anyway, I came upon two Buddhist monks—short swarthy men with shaved heads and brown robes—in one of the side aisles trying to wrestle down a HUGE and unwieldy wall clock from a shelf above them. This clock is probably five feet in diameter. I’m wishing I had a camera because well, you know, TIME is, Buddhistically speaking, an illusion. 

One of the monks, staggering backward, rolls one eye in my direction and jerks his head as if to say, c’mon, help a guy out, would ya?  

So I joined in the struggle in a take-charge sort of way, but I went in assuming the clock would be very heavy, however, it turns out it’s light, just hard to manage and the top of the clock packaging is caught on some wire on a shelf above us.  

I overcompensated and gave the whole deal a mighty, manly yank and the three of us, locked to the clock and each other, lose our balance and slowly sag to the left, collapsing in a robed heap while the clock smacks into the other side of the aisle, knocks down some aerosol cans for flat tires, and one can goes spinning out of control, ruptured and spraying and rolls between the legs of a woman of advanced age and delivers a sticky pinkish payload straight up her skirt. She’s standing there with this I’ve-been-violated-in-a-shockingly-intimate-way look that's kind of hard to forget once you've seen it.

The clock was bent in half, not unlike something Salvadore Dali might have dreamed up. As I struggle to my feet, I catch an up-toga view of one monk's really, really droopy brief-style underwear. I remember hoping that this strange sight wouldn't become a permanent Christmas memory.   

I got up and said, well, time flies, haha, but no one is listening. Someone is wiping down the old woman. A crowd has gathered.  Everyone is yammering at the same time the way people do when they are confused about who is to blame.

My work was done. I left. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

One picture is worth a thousand words?

Not this picture. I just don't see a thousand words in it.

Backing the currency of images with a word standard is pretty unworkable anyway. You can't trade a photograph for a thousand words in any marketplace I know of. And why would you?

The word is all that separates "prehistoric" from "historic". It is the prime accelerator of civilization's events.

Although the word is an incredibly advanced and enduring bit of technology, it works seamlessly at very primitive levels. Words can be carried around in a head, unarranged, then processed with a pencil and paper or even more basic, just say the words out loud. Talk is the wireless transmission mode for words.

Pictures have an unarguable force and immediacy. We do a lot of our thinking in pictures. But our emotional response to a picture is drawn not from our experience of life, but how we've defined it, and that constantly amended reality comes about mostly from the words we exchange with others.

Words make it possible to communicate across the ages and to aggregate understanding. A good thing too because, beliefs aside, we all started this life with no idea how we got here.

I've spent many years exploring the Southern California and Nevada deserts and the petrogylphs of the Paiute and Shoshone tribes who lived there for thousands of years and died out, I think, about 800 years ago. They never developed the concept of a written language, and now almost nothing is known about their lives and their culture. They lived for thousands of years in a circle of harsh sand, never knowing an arable, affluent environment was only a few hundred miles away.

But they sure left a lot of pictures behind.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Life and Death Computing

 Truth is simple once arrived at, but the approach to it can be complicated.

1. Life is made up of moments, beats, brushstrokes. It's where we create continuity toward a knowable future.

2. Greater speed and efficiency will lead to a better condition, never a worse one -- assuming a worthwhile purpose.

And so I try to avoid the root evil in life: procrastination.

Two mornings ago I had a great opportunity to dawdle over coffee and succumb to the allure of Too Much Internet Input. But instead I wrapped up the project I was writing, logged off and took off for work, flying down the freeway.

-- Suddenly, a horrible tearing wail of agonized metal --

In my rear view mirror:

-- an SUV sideways with a front end exploding like a shop manual diagram. Sparks shooting out from the undercarriage. Windows bursting into hailstones.

-- a sedan bouncing off the middle guard rail, tire rubber flaying fast off a front wheel rim.

-- a thump on my roof and a cell phone sliding down my windshield and onto the freeway. It must have launched forward when someone hit their brakes.

The vehicles were totaled, the inhabitants rattled and bruised.

You can tell me that not getting distracted on the computer had nothing to do with getting me out of the house faster, ahead of that accident. You can tell me that even suggesting such a thing is ridiculous. I will not argue with you.

You can say, “S#!% Happens” – fine.

And it's silly, I know, but I can't shake the notion that procrastinating puts me into someone else's time continuum facing consequences I would never see coming.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Shadow Boxer

This photo doesn’t remind me that our greatest victories are over our own limitations but it seems to say that to others who were not with me when I took it.

The image reminds me that in the realm of human behavior sheer lunacy can jump like jack from the box when you least expect it.

I've always been shy about taking a stranger's picture on the street. Street photography requires a certain social skill set or a complete lack of it. Some photographers slip in and out of crowds, smoothly and swiftly charming individual portraits out of bystanders and move on. Others bluntly shove a camera in someones face and click away.

Street photography offers evidence of life on Earth. It is hard to view a good street shot without contributing some emotional response.

Street photography is an art of recognition.

And with those lofty sentiments firmly embraced, I approached this fellow who was vigorously shadow boxing against an overpass wall in Central Park, New York City. Swings, swipes, triple jabs, rope-a-dope shuffles, feigns...he was pure disco with a bullet. I hung back about fifty feet and took a few shots at maximum telephoto, which was about 100mm with that camera. But I wanted to get in closer and I did.

20 feet.

The shadow boxer's head snapped my way as if he took a roundhouse right but it was me he was looking at. His face crumpled up into a bellow of rage and he stooped to pick up something that looked for all the world like a jockstrap with a rock in the pocket.

Now he's running straight for me, swinging this thing. I take off and the chase is on. I look over my shoulder, he's gaining on me, but some ball bearings fly out of the jock pouch and the shadow boxer stops to pick them up.

This is why I am alive today to tell the tale.

So you can look at this photo and see nobility in the conquests of demons within. I'm OK with that.

Just don't get too close when the process is running.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

How many marketing guys does it take to hammer a nail?

A few years ago I was at work, banging a nail into a wall so my designer could hang a photo of her husband and kids ( I was a Director of Marketing then and more given to kindliness) and one of the IT guys (Help Desk) walks by and says, “How many marketing guys does it take to hammer a nail?”

I thought about it, as it was a fair question, considering IT guys want to know stuff nobody else is even aware of. I came up with an answer and in doing so I hope I’ve furthered the progress of information technology.

Determine the quantity of marketing manpower sufficient to drive a nail with a hammer.



One marketing person to develop a toe-in-the-water concept of driving a nail into something.

Two more to flesh it out with demographic-friendly parameters.

One more to add the “Wow Factor”.

Another one to present a “what if” scenario to management.

And yet one more to bang out a look & feel campaign in three flavors.

subtotal: 6 staff.



Hello? Nail?

People, people, listen up!

"Nail" was last week. Don’t task me with ”nail”. It is so not anti-gravity.

Pipe it out to Mumbai or give it to the pro bono guys but we totally have a creative synergy sharing huddle on crisis identity in ten minutes. Clean slates! Clean slates!

Total: 0 staff.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Missing "data" and insurrection against the occupying powers

When computers invaded and conquered our planet late last millennium, they gave us the word “data” to ease our transition from evolved species to subjugated race.

“Data” sounds dry, perfunctory, replaceable. When I hear the word, I think of IBM punch cards from the 60’s.  Or a torrential bit stream flow of glowing green ones and zeros coursing through a fiber optic cable.

But as every inhabitant of the occupied territories of Earth knows, our memories, labors, thoughts and achievements have been broken down into “data” and stored with a great leap of faith by us on electronic media. Hopefully for all eternity.

But in the whirl-a-gig world of operating systems, “data” – let’s call it like it is: pieces of our life –sometimes gets around all existing safeguards and is accidentally erased in an unrecoverable way.

And then we discover how unrepeatable some events in life really are.

 Sure, business files can often be rebuilt with some success. All you lose is time, money and sometimes repute...or your job. But seize-the-moment creativity never seems to come together again in quite the same way. And getting photos back? You got a time machine?

 My subtle little insurrection against the “datatizing” of humanity is to install a software program that recovers all deleted files, makes them easy to find and gives me the ability to securely delete files I really want gone forever.

I had to look around for a good one. Check it out.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The art of coincidence

Folks say only a fool who flunked math would risk cash on a lottery ticket. They said the odds against winning big are astronomical.

Maybe so.

But I say that every moment of our day is awash in odds beyond comprehension. Life is a near infinite mesh work of intersections, figure-eights and parallels and the probability that any given second would configure itself the way it does is something no one would ever lay a wager on.

Coincidence happens all the time, but there is an art to it. Let me explain by way of a true story.

Please follow closely.

On the second day at a new job, I was walking briskly down a hall and carrying a half a mug of still warm coffee. As I rounded a corner, a woman who was walking backwards, away from a conversation she was ending with someone, backs right into my chest. Almost at the same moment, a guy behind me who had just entered the hall from an office tripped and fell forward against my back.

Now watch this in SLOW MOTION:

The woman is first jolted by being abruptly stopped by my body.

My arms, by reflex, swing forward and wrap around her.

My right hand tips the mug onto her blouse and dumps coffee all over her.

My left hand touches her where only a husband should.

She begins to twist toward me.

The second jolt hits her as the guy behind me slams into my back on his way to the floor.

Two things happen almost immediately: 1) Coffee sprays out of my mouth, wetting the side of the woman’s face. 2) Inexplicably, cheesecake floats up from behind me and travels over my right shoulder, lightly breaking up on her head as she completes her twist to face me.

So far, only one second has elapsed.

Still to come was me falling on top of the woman and the guy behind me sliding face-first on his bagel, plugging his nose with cream cheese and doing a jerky cartwheel over both of us and into a wall.

No one was hurt!

So this is the coincidence. The woman was born in Peoria, Illinois, the guy was born in Logan, Utah and I was born in Port Chester, New York. All of us began life in separate decades. Our biographies had no prior common points and we had never met before.

And yet on that day, we performed a highly orchestrated and intricate act of physical intimacy at a moments notice, unrehearsed! We didn’t think about it, we just did it.

A lottery ticket is only a dollar.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Life 101

In my last blog I revealed a major scientific finding: we are not alone. I'd like to address this new blog entry to all those people we now find ourselves surrounded by.

Howdy. Welcome Neighbor.

I hope y'all are settling in OK. I'd like to offer you a few facts to help orient you. Wish I had 'em when I got here. All I got was Howdy Doody on a black and white cathode ray tube, and some of my friends say it shows.

There are only three facts you need to begin with:

1. The little pink cardboard boxes usually contain donuts.

2. Late last century, computers took over Earth.

3. It's all good.

Don't let #2 cause you any consternation. They came in peace and had us assemble them and build their refinements. Lacking self-awareness, they are not perfect and some of the things they produce are a little off. Like when they tried to create humans via computer generated imaging. They came up with androids like Paris Hilton and nearly caused a black hole.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mind blogging discovery

After exhaustive research spanning centuries and the use of what's called "super-analytics" applied to a composite of all databases that ever were and projections of all that will be, scientists have made the controversial discovery that we are not alone.

Right, shook me up too.

According to them, there are other people on this planet besides you and me. Lots of them, they say.

I have to confess that now and then I wondered if all those cars on the freeway didn't each have a meat center to them.

I'll have to rethink the Internet now. Apparently there are real human beings at the other end of e-mails and the World Wide Web is not just some complex system run amok for my amusement. Or yours. Does this mean that professional wrestling is actually real?

Hello, where did you all come from and why are you here?

Y'all will need computers. They've taken over the planet so you have to have one.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Everybody is always on a computer. Get used to it.

Yeah, I drive to work enclosed in a mobilization computer powered by an internal combustion engine.

I decipher traffic lights that are actually the blinking ends of a massive computer network and use the information to follow a protocol by which I expect to avoid physical impact with other such mobile computers.

At a time in my life when I had expected to glide gently into my senior years with a softly vignetting memory, I am instead having to juggle countless passwords, user names and personal identification numbers. Friends expect me to tweet, twitter, google and blog. Keyboards are important: I speak with my fingers most of the day.

Yes, I often send e-mails to the person in the next cubicle. Not even sure anyone's there.

My phone comes with a 108 page user manual. It can send photographs to Kazakhstan and I'm sure it roams around the Internet without me. I turn it off at night because, well, call me old fashioned but I just don't trust it. Some mornings I wake and my phone is powered up and cheerfully reporting on the day's weather. It's creepy.

My point is that the computer is how we roll these days. Don't know when they took over, but it was a quiet and bloodless coup and unless our environmental sins pull the Big Plug on us, computers are inextricably woven into our common existence.

And so I keep my home and office computer running as best I can. Sometimes I think when I perform maintenance on it, I have been subtly maneuvered by my machine to do so. I don't like to go down that dark alley of thought for therein lies madness. I just keep my machines running well and perhaps they will be kind to me when us humans are gathered up and routed to a central processing unit.