Sunday, February 07, 2016

Wish You Were Here

It's still far too soon to start picking the next President of the United States. We still have to decide who wins the Super Bowl and the Grammy for the Best Record of the Year. Best Record, by the way, is different from Best Song, and if I have to explain it to you then you haven't been watching enough awards shows. A whole baseball season stretches out before us in addition to the second half of the NBA season. There are a whole bunch of major awards to be handed out still, including Best Bear Mauling in a Feature Film at this year's Academy Awards. It's not a sprint, ladies and gentlemen, it's a marathon studded with pop culture distractions designed to keep our eyes off the silliness going on up and down the campaign trail.
Now that both Ricks Perry and Santorum have suspended their campaigns, and Rand Paul packed it in, pickings are getting a little thin on the Republican side. Lindsey Graham will head back to the Senate, hoping that his voice will still be heard above the rustling being made by all those other rats scrambling to get of their sinking ships. Erstwhile third wheel Democrat Mitch O'Malley is headed home for Maryland where his governor's chair is probably still warm.
Finding venues big enough to hold some of these lollapalooza debates will now be considerably easier. Easier than finding arenas with the capacity to hold all the pyrotechnics, lasers, and Styrofoam bricks necessary to mount the production of Pink Floyd's The Wall. I mention this because Ohio's Governor John Kasich has announced that part of his plan to unite us as a country once again is to reunite the surviving members of Pink Floyd. It's all a part of his campaign's insistence on avoiding the "doom and gloom" rhetoric spewing forth from the Cruz and Trump camps. Considering Governor Kasich managed to turn his slightly less dark vision into a third place in the Iowa Caucus, he may have a point. He may have tapped into that heretofore overlooked voting block of conservative stoners.
In the meantime, as others are packing up their tents, the Kasich tour of the Americas rolls on. I do wonder, with his fondness for things less doom-y and gloomy which Pink Floyd album he finds brings us the best vision of our future.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Mixed Nuts, Mixed Results

Did anyone catch the results from the Iowa caucus? I did. Ted Cruz won. Scrooge McTrump came in second. Billionaire iconoclast with all those big endorsements Donald J. Trumplet failed to win. Sarah "Tina" Palin couldn't save him. Feuding with Megyn Kelly and skipping that last debate didn't have the effect on which he may have been counting. All those big numbers in the polls didn't turn out to be the safe haven he was expecting. All the sports metaphors that could be mustered about how this is still preseason and those caucuses decided by a coin flip don't decide anything. Champions are made in November. When the wind blows. And the snow flies.
What makes the Iowa caucus special? It's first. After the past year and a half of tub-thumping and posturing, this is actual voting, even if it does involve milling about a high school gymnasium or finding the correct side of the Gas 'N' Sip to stand on if you prefer Fiorina to Rubio. Which I believe was also a double play combination for the '36 Red Sox.
I digress. It's been a long election season already, and this first flurry of ballots probably don't mean much. Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan share something with Donaldo McTrump, aside from an insatiable lust for power: none of these men won the Iowa caucus. It should be pointed out, however, that this corollary cannot be extended much further. There are lots of winners and losers of the Iowa caucus who have not gone on to win much else. Bob Dole, Mike Huckabee, these are some previous winners. Rich Gephardt? And what about this "Uncommitted" fellow. He came in first a few times on the Democratic side. I wish I could have had a chance to vote for him (or is it her?) in the general election.
For now, the most important point is this: Donald Trumpuh lost. Sure, we could make the finer point that he came in second, but he didn't win. I am sorry to say that this little bit of news put an extra spring in my step and made global warming feel a little more like a manageable problem. Somebody out there has been taking notice. All of that sound and fury signifies nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, but second place. Now the challenge that awaits us all is how we can start unraveling the sweater that Ted Cruz is knitting. Or maybe we can expect that by the time the real election comes the Donald and Ted show will still be stuck in the cornfields of Iowa, arguing over those last few sticks of fried butter.
On to New Hampshire, but don't tell those guys.

Friday, February 05, 2016

How Do You Get A Giraffe Out Of The Theater?

We didn't go to San Francisco just to see Super Bowl City. Fog City has so much else to offer. There are plenty of other lines in which one could wait while visiting Baghdad By The Bay. My brother, my wife and I had made the trek to take in some theater. We had the opportunity to buy overpriced NFL swag, but we stayed for a performance of "The Book of Liz." It marked the official end of the Christmas season, as these were tickets purchased for my brother as a present, as he is a fan of all things Sedaris.
I enjoyed the play: eighty minutes of sarcastic David Sedaris wit punctuated by his sister Amy's jokes about flatulence, as described by the theater company's director before the show began. I watched with amusement, but was distracted by what I could only describe as the intimacy of the production. We were downstairs in a room that compressed about one hundred seats into one side of the room, which left the front row to dangle their toes precariously close to the lip of the stage that was made obvious mostly by the lights and the black tape that marked its edge. The audience sat in the dark, in rows, behind this tape. We sat quietly and passively while the actors cavorted about on the other side of that tape. I was aware of transitions between scenes, accented by the raising and lowering of those lights, as well as the pointed story points that came along with them.
Then I drifted away still further, wondering about the people behind the biographical sketches on the back of the program. Were these intentionally pithy blurbs written with the intent of reflecting back the nature of the play in which they found themselves? I thought of the subtitle I had seen recently on a commercial for one of those fantasy sports sites: "These are real people. Not Actors." The assertion seemed to be that actors could not be real people. There are no people like show people, after all.
That's when I started to feel bad for those folks on the stage, real or not. When the show was over, were they going back to their studio apartment, getting an hour or two of sleep before they had to get up and work a shift at the local convenience store until it was time to head back to the theater where rehearsals for the next big show have gotten underway. They have forsaken friends and family all in the name of their craft. Their closest connections are the ones formed on that stage. Underneath the lights.
There was a time when I thought I might make my living as an artist. A writer. A poet. An actor. Or anyone of the muse-driven types who live for that moment, that phrase, that scene, that perfect shade of umber. I was glad I got to go home with my wife and brother, waking up to the next day with a list a mile long of things I had to do. Sure, I miss the bright lights and the chance to be a star, but this is close enough to fame for me. Right here.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Fuzzy Memories

I have a whole category here on this blog about things past: nostalgia is the label I apply when I feel the tug of days gone by. There have been a lot of them. Sometimes I feel as though this blog is the place where my memories go when I have grown tired of lugging them about. It gives me a link to those stories about "the olden days" that I used to try and squeeze from my parents. Before Al Gore's Internet. Before instant media gratification, followed almost immediately by media frustration. I feel the need to write this stuff down as it comes to me before it returns to the burned out section of synapses that all those wild times and scary moments get banished to after they have been trotted out one too many times at dinner parties.
This past weekend, I sat in my living room across from my younger brother. Younger, but still over fifty. We shared in the big tin of popcorn and peanut M&M snack mix he brought, as he always does. I offered him something to drink, as I always do. But I didn't offer him a Coke. I didn't have any to offer. Part of my kidney stone induced prohibition on things that might bring on anything that even resembled the pain and suffering brought on by too much phosphoric acid. So, instead of a cola, we had some iced tea.
And we talked about the way things used to be.
He reminded me of the two liter bottle stunt that I was prone to pull before my innards became a repository for calcite. It put me back in a frame of mind that I remembered from when I hopped on the sobriety wagon. Back when I used to spin tales of drinking and drugs. When I shared legends of debauchery that were intended to ring in not just caution to those who might be foolish enough to follow my path, but just a little bit of glory for surviving some of those really bad choices I made. Chugging a two liter bottle of Coca Cola now seems every bit as regrettable as those beer-soaked nights. The hangovers from my twenties now feel infinitely preferable to the trips to the emergency room brought on by that soda habit.
Or maybe I'm old enough now to understand just how destructible I really am. Every morning when I get out of bed, I wonder how I used to do that with a head full of straw and a stomach full of churning green steam. Every time  bounce back from one of those kidney stone episodes, I used to do that same "never again" speech I used to throw around on those bleary Sundays. Now it's cold turkey. I'm sure that stock in Coca Cola will take a hit, but I feel I've done my part over the years to give them a base upon which they could build their plans for world soft drink domination.
So my brother and I shared some iced tea and talked about the olden days.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The Distance

The conversation I have had with several people over the past week and a half goes something like this: "Are you going  to the Super Bowl?"
"Nah. I've got a pretty comfy couch."
"But it's right across the bay," they are baiting me now.
"And the nachos at my house don't cost fifty dollars." I'm not giving in.
It goes on for a moment or two longer, and the reality sets in: The thirty nine miles between my front door and the gates of Levi Stadium could be traversed, traffic permitting, in less than an hour. It is by far the closest geographical proximity I might hope to experience. My son, who understands the value of a hot ticket went online to see if he could wrangle his father a seat to the big  game. He came away with  three thousand reasons why it is the thought that matters and his father's everlasting respect. Thirty-nine miles and three thousand dollars meant it was possible, but not likely that I would be sitting in the stadium watching my team playing in the spectacle of all spectacles.
Admission to Super Bowl City was free. It was also only thirteen miles away, right at the base of the Bay Bridge. A couple of Bart stops. And no one  was more excited about making  that trip than my wife. We had a trip to San Francisco on our itinerary anyway, so we figured we could stop by the football Mecca, just to check it out. We took my younger brother, the sports fanatic, along with us. Okay, he's not so much a fan as a good sport. He went along to see the crowd, and he wasn't disappointed. When we came up the stairs from the underground train, we found our way to the line that would let us in. We passed heavily armed police and went through metal detectors, emerging into a land of Bud Light stands and a myriad of NFL logos. The three of us made our way through the throng, stopping long enough to ask some of the orange-jacketed volunteers questions. "Who won  Super Bowl VIII?" "Who's going to win Super Bowl L?" and "Where do we buy stuff?"
We were pointed in a general direction, where we found the longest line in all of Super Bowl City. Hundreds of the faithful were queued up in front of a semi trailer, open on one side, with merchandise flying out of it as fast as the credit cards could be swiped. Did I say "fast?" There may have been some part of this experience that flew by, but as people pushed through our line on their  way to lines that  were actually moving. My wife and  brother stuck with me as we crept ever closer to the spot where I could  exchange my hard-earned money for official Super Bowl merchandise. We made friends with those around us. My brother and I chatted up the lady in front of us who turned out to be not just a Forty-Niners fan, but an Elvis fan from way back in 1969. Talking about  The King helped us wile away the minutes, hours, days we spent there in line. My wife struck up an  acquaintance with  a lady who was sipping Cabernet from a plastic cup. She worked in downtown San Francisco, and was there getting a sweatshirt  for her niece. My wife started to make a deal where we we might get her to come back during the week when it wasn't so busy. And there might be more merchandise.
While we waited, and watched, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and all manner of memorabilia was pulled down from the wall behind the six harried concessionaires. They weren't being restocked. The closer we got to the open windows, the more people seemed to pause and shop, looking for that  one particular  item. I just wanted a hat. I wanted proof of the time I spent in Super Bowl City. When my friend the Elvis fan got her black and gold sweatshirt, I waited one more time for my chance to participate in the true spirit of the Super Bowl: waiting. The gentleman who was changing his order, adding and subtracting pennants, pint glasses and beanies as he could have been completing his transaction happened to be the guy behind whom I was stuck. Then his card wouldn't go through. Nor would the second. He loudly insisted that he had over fifty thousand dollars in his account. How could  this be?
Simple enough. It was all part of thee plan. At last, I was able to pay for my paltry purchase, and I headed with my wife and brother to the exit. We didn't go on the zip line or take in the big stage where Chris Isaak would soon  be performing. We fled.
We walked out of Super Bowl City with our lives, and memories of what happens when you close blocks of a major metropolitan area for weeks at a time to sell beer and give everyone "an experience." We walked up the hill to our theater date, leaving visions of the Lombardi Trophy behind us. Later that night, as we walked back to the Bart station, I spied a sporting goods store, where I was pretty sure  I recognized a hat next to the cash register. Upon entering, I walked over and looked at the price tag. Same hat, five dollars cheaper. And what was even more apparent to me, there was no line in which to wait.
I laughed a little. The laugh that said, "Well, how about that?" I couldn't be bitter about my journey. It was my choice. I didn't force anyone to join me, and no once force me to make it. There was still a week left until the Super Bowl, but I had already made my trip.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Goodbye, Mister Chips

Poor Chris Christie. He hasn't been mentioned in this blog for months. Or in very few other media outlets. Not that I aspire to the Associated Press, but  the carnival that is the race for  the Republican Presidential Nomination has its main drag and its side shows. I leave it to you to figure out who the bearded lady is. Currently, Chris Christie is hanging  on to his spot on the edge of the spotlight, still sitting at the grown-up's table, if I can introduce yet another metaphor here. He's trying to keep his place on the big stage, but the odds are against him. Part of the problem could be that he just isn't crazy enough.
That may be why he chose, scant days before the Iowa Caucus, to go on what we have become familiar with as "the offensive." While not nearly as offensive as the petulance tossed around by the Dark Lord of Sith, Trump Vader, the governor of New Jersey let loose with a rant that he hoped might bring him the attention and votes he believes he so desperately needs. He went after Senators Rubio and Cruz, insisting that those two "have never run anything in their life."  That's because they are senators, and they work in the United States Senate, which Governor Christie compared to an elementary school. An elementary school where they tell everyone when to show up, where to sit, and they take  recess. Do we really want the first executive position for these bozos  to have be the Presidency of the United States?
That last bit was supposed to be a rhetorical question, I think. It should be noted that there have been sixteen senators who have become President of the United States. Many of them served as Vice President first,  but there were three of those who went directly from the Senate to the White House: Warren G.  Harding, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Obama. One of  those guys was a Republican. Seventeen previous presidents got their starts as governor of one of these United States.
Five presidents were previously teachers, six if you include that stint Obama had as a professor of constitutional law. And here's what I can tell you: I can't imagine an occupation that would better serve our  next president of the United States. I think it's important for everyone to have a place to sit, and if you have to go to the bathroom,  make sure you  take a pass. Good luck on that one, Mister Christie.

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Sound Of One Gum Flapping

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Even if that enemy will go back to being my enemy when I say its name out loud because it is so very icky to even consider that I could be friends with...that enemy. More on this in a moment.
For now, I have to confess to the utter and continued evil genius of Donald J. Krump. It was his inspired and wicked thought to simply skip a nationally televised debate. Days before the Iowa caucus, skipping a nationally televised debate? What could he have been thinking? It would be easy enough at this point to snark and laugh, making sport of this non-professional non-politician who continues to make blunder after blunder.
But that's not what is happening. This is a guy who can stand up in front of the media and declare"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters." When he made this announcement, my first reaction was: He's finally gone too far. To paraphrase Mister Al Pacino, to whom I believe the Donald owes much of his persona, "He's just gettin' warmed up." Now it could be that Trumpson was suggesting that the disdain that all native-born Iowans feel for the denizens of Fifth Avenue. They all deserve to be shot and killed by a megalomaniac billionaire. Or maybe he doesn't realize that cable TV has finally made it to Des Moines. Or maybe he's just stating fact: Donald Trumply can do whatever he wants now and people will still line up for a chance to bask in the shadow of his hair. How does he stir up more press? By refusing to speak in front of them. 
Like so many other people with the capacity to accept auditory and visual stimulation, I have grown tired of most everything that can be said on any stage that contains more than one political candidate. The suggestion that we might hear anything new at this point is moot to the extreme. How then to expand that message? Take on the medium itself. Donald Trumplich has made more noise by simply finding, ever so briefly, the off switch. 
And now everyone's talking about how Donald Trumpenfelder isn't talking. Genius. Great big creepy genius. So guess who's mad now? Fox News. Poor Fox News. Big Bad Donnie Trumpberg is beating up on the voice of conservative America. Poor Megyn Kelly. Megyn, who once made me bristle with her insistence that Santa Claus is white, is now on that list of folks who have been caught in the whirling blades of Trumpson's rhetoric. Who's next? Who knows. I can only console myself briefly with the sneaking suspicion that I have about all of this being one vast conspiracy, with Karl Rove directing it all from behind a black ventilating mask and tossing around words like "precious" and "yes, yes" with horrible sibilance. 
And things just keep getting weirder.