The Principled World According to Dick Cheney

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“From kindergarten to graduation, I went to public schools, and I know that they are a key to being sure that every child has a chance to succeed and to rise in the world.”
– Dick Cheney

In high school, I had a tutor, and she was a nice enough lady, even if she was narrow minded, conservative and a tad too religious for my tastes. But, this was Centerville, Ohio and to expect a tutor who was an intellectual progressive would have been to believe in unicorns. Even after all this time, one of her lessons still resonates with me, the difference between principle and principal.

I had made that grammatical mistake in a paper I had written and she pointed out “the easiest way to remember the difference is that a principle is a belief and the principal of your school is your pal.” While I became instantly aware of the difference, under no circumstances was my high school unit principal, Mr. Durnbauugh, my pal.

If white collar marginalization is the adult equivalent to waterboarding, then high school is a teenagers introduction to both marginalization and torture. And every Monday morning in high school I was blasted with that as I would wake up with the dread of knowing I would be met with a pink slip from my homeroom teacher telling me to go visit Mr. Durnbaugh. It’s not like I was some sort of hellion who was blowing things up, mouthing off to teachers or truant to the point of expulsion, I was way too high to care about most of that stuff. Come to think of it, weed was mostly responsible for those visits. It would seem that at one point during the previous week, one teacher or another would report me for being “out of sorts” (stoned) or tardy (pot heads are not known for punctuality). Those were my only infractions, outside of typical sullenness, which wasn’t a punishable crime at that point. Invariably, I’d walk into home room, not even sit down, grab my pink slip and go visit Mr. Durnbaugh. Who would dole out Saturday school to me. And for those of you wondering if “The Breakfast Club” was real, it did exist. And thanks to Mr. Durnbaugh, “The Breakfast Club” hit pretty close to home for me when it was released.

Thankfully, the guy who monitored the 7a-12p Saturday school sessions was my sophomore English teacher, who either liked me or was afraid of me, I never knew and never really cared because I was usually WAY too high and felt the punishment was beyond silly. While he was militant with the other kids about doing school work, I usually got a pass reading whatever rock and roll biography I had my nose in or the latest issue of Rolling Stone. Once and while he’d stop at my desk and say “At least make it look like schoolwork.”

But neither Mr. Durbaugh nor that Saturday school monitor were my high school teaching nemesis. That title belonged to David Mark Fife. This guy was barely out of college when I had him for freshman science. Mr. David Mark Fife, with his nicely trimmed beard, solid button down shirts and knight ties and wide corduroy pants, would zero in on me daily and, while I was a wise ass, I am not sure I was deserving of much of the sarcasm of verbal accosting I took from that guy. Little did I realize that I would become as hated to him as Osama Bin Laden was to Dick Cheney.

Back then radio was much different than it is today. And in the little suburban sanctuary of Centerville, Ohio anyone under thirty lived and breathed by the local AOR station, WTUE. This predated the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and syndication so radio stations and their DJ’s were pretty tailored to their markets. And the morning shows were the centerpiece of information, music and humor for cities outside of major metropolitan areas. At WTUE , Jeff Curry and Dan Pugh (who would later find success as ESPN God Dan Patrick) were ours and it just so happened that Jeff Curry was my half brother.

One of the more popular characters created during that time was Waldo Snivels, a dweeby sort of guy who was always unlucky at…everything. Well, they had created a storyline where Waldo met a woman and fell in love. So in the final storyline for the character he fell in love and was to get married. Obviously, given Mr. David Mark Fife’s age, and our class discussions about Waldo, I knew he was a fan of the morning show. The Friday morning before Waldo Snivels Monday morning nuptials, I made a bet with Fife that Waldo wouldn’t get married. Mr. David Mark Fife took the bet, not knowing my inside line. OK, I probably shouldn’t have made the bet, but I wanted to one up the bastard, even if it was only for a Snickers bar.

Monday morning came and during the morning show the Mayor of Dayton had run off with Waldo’s bride, leaving him alone at the alter. So, I walked into Mr. Fife’s class with way too much confidence and announced to the class, and a fuming Mr. Fife, that he lost and owed me a Snickers bar. Unbeknownst to me, someone had told him that my half brother was one half of the creative team of the morning show and after class he pulled me over to the side and from clenched teeth seethed “I don’t owe you shit you little bastard. You knew ahead of time what was going to happen.” He was pissed and I knew enough to shut up.

A few months later while we were all outside for a fire drill, I reminded him he still owed me a Snickers bar and he pulled me aside and said “You’re an asshole Higgons, that’s all you’re ever gonna be, you know that?” Apparently, he was still angry and again, I knew enough to shut up.

My sophomore year I ran into Mr. David Mark Fife in the hallway where he blocked my passage and said to me “Take a swing at me Higgons. I’ll give you a free shot. Go on, just take one swing at me.” This was after lunch so I was pretty high and didn’t take the bait, “No way, I hit you and you expel me.” He smirked and replied “Exactly.” I recall nervously laughing and walking around him, not knowing if it was a joke or not. Either this guy really hated me, had some serious rage issues or I was just a master of cutting sarcasm at 15. Somehow, the first two ring most true.

This was the era of overhead projectors and I knew Fife had all his notes on scrolls and I knew where he kept them. So one day after school in my junior year, I decided to go stealth on Mr. Fife and steal his notes. Well, I didn’t take them so much as just relocate them to another drawer in his classroom. Obviously, the next day there was quite a commotion during first period as Mr. David Mark Fife was in a state because his notes were missing. Being that my class was next door, he came in and asked if anyone knew anything about where they might be. I raised my hand and suggested “Maybe someone just moved them into another drawer in the classroom.” He stared at me and quietly stormed out of the classroom.

The last semester of my senior year it all came to a head. I had gained a little more confidence, surliness, and was beginning to relish in my anti-authoritarianism. I was walking by the lunchroom where kids sat for study hall and a friend threw a piece of orange at me. So I picked it up and threw it back at him and from behind me came “You throw like a girl Higgons, now go pick it up.” I turned and there he was, Mr. David Mark Fife. I replied, “What? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t throw anything.” and kept walking.
“Go pick it up,” he said.
“No.” I said as he trotted up to grab my arm and swung me around.
“I saw you throw that, now go pick it up.”
“I didn’t throw anything and I am not picking up anything.”
“You can go pick it up or we can go to Mr. Durnbaugh’s office”, Fife said.
“Fine, let’s go”, I turned and headed towards the office with Mr. David Mark Fife in tow.

We made it to my princi”pals” office where Mr. David Mark Fife and I argued quite vociferously about what had happened with the orange. (Yep, the absurdity of this all still rings true to me.) It finally ended with me yelling “Why do you even bother to teach if you hate everyone so much?!” Sensing this was a millisecond from becoming a physical fight, Mr. Durnbaugh quickly ushered Mr. David Mark Fife out, saying “We’ll talk later”. He came back in to discuss what happened and I told my side of the story to my “pal”. Someone threw it at me, I threw it back. That was it. Durnbaugh asked who threw it first and I said I didn’t know (I wasn’t then and am still not, a rat). So he called my father and arranged for a meeting with the three of us the next morning.

The next morning as my father, Mr. Durnbaugh and I convened to recount the “orange incident”, I was given the choice of one week of out of school suspension or two months of Saturday school. When I asked what would happen to Mr. Fife, I was stonewalled. Feeling unjustly prosecuted, I opted for the out of school suspension because I felt that would ultimately be less painful. My father strongly suggested I take the Saturday school. He used the argument that “You don’t want an out of school suspension on your transcript.” Given my transcript and the college counselor’s sage “He shouldn’t go to college” advice, I’m not entirely sure it would have mattered all that much.

But then I got to thinking (it really is amazing how much quicker you can think without doing a wake and bake) and decided the Saturday school option was clearly the better choice because the assigned Saturdays took me through the end of my senior year which meant that Mr. Durnbaugh couldn’t add any more on my Monday morning visits for being high or tardy. Ultimately, I went with Saturday school…besides, I had just started a killer Bob Dylan biography.

So, what’s the ultimate point of this story? None, really. I just felt this story is marginally more interesting than the documentary “The World According to Dick Cheney”. If you watch this doc and are looking for some insight into the former Vice President, you won’t find it. And the truth is, I don’t think there is much to the man. He was, for better or worse, a straight shooter throughout his entire political career.

The only thing I took away from this documentary is that Dick Cheney was a deeply principled man and he was never interested in being anyone’s pal. And while I am diametrically opposed to him in every political and philosophical way, I couldn’t help but find myself fascinated by his steadfast commitment to his principles. It really is admirable. I mean really admirable. Sure, his ideals and principles have cost trillions of dollars, tens of thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of lives overseas, shattered our international standing, etc. but he did stick to them. And in politics, that says a lot.

The only thing “The World According to Dick Cheney” left me wondering was what if his principles were different. What if he had actually used that steadfast commitment for good rather than duplicitous back stabbing politics, power, war mongering, torture, war profiteering, bastardizing the constitution, illegal incarceration, lining the pockets of Halliburton and the rich, etc. well, then maybe we’d all have been a little better off.

As for Mr. David Mark Fife? Well, that son of a bitch still owes me a Snickers bar.

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I am the middle class.

Do you know how I know this? I am broke.

I realize it’s trite to be prattling on about income disparity and the 1% versus the 99%. Incidentally, a more than viable term that has somehow sadly devolved into a punchline. As trite as it may be, it is still relevant. And no matter how exhausted we become of the discussion, it is not one that should disappear.

To be honest, I am a capitalist so I believe that there will always be, and should be, certain class distinctive markers. It’s the way capitalism works…when it works as it should. Because it is not working as it should and thanks to the deified Ronald Reagan and his aggressive push towards privatization and “trickle down” economics, those class markers are more like chasms. The type Nik Wallenda may be prone to walk across.

Look, it’s also not just Reagan. Virtually every President since then, REGARDLESS OF PARTY AFFILIATION, has had a steady and firm hand in the manipulation and eradication of the middle class. Even Obama is turning into just as much of a stooge as those that came before him (and I’m a left leaning democrat).

Those of us who grew up in the middle class remember it differently. Or at least I do. I don’t recall the middle class being the whore to the upper classes and patron to the lower classes. It seems that we have gotten the short end of the stick.
Stuck up you know where.
Repeatedly. 06agenda-chart2-blog480

I sometimes wonder what it will take for Americans, and ever increasingly, citizens around the world, to realize exactly how hard that stick is being jammed up into us. The chart above shows very clearly how little the middle class has been able to accomplish since 1980 (11% growth verses almost 200%?!). The password is disparity.

Adding insult to injury, according to the AFL-CIO, in 1982, the CEO to worker to pay ratio was 42:1. OK, high. But I understand that. I’m honestly OK with that. In 2012 the CEO to worker pay ratio was 354:1! I am not OK with that.

It seems to me that when we look at CEO pay we should be using some of the same practices couples use in establishing what they are willing to do in the boudoir. “OK, yes I will do that, but I won’t do that!” Why can’t we have a say in what a CEO makes? Could the same be applied to corporate pay “OK, yes, I will pay that, but I won’t pay that!”  Do we go one step further and institute a corporate “safe word” when things get outta hand? My safe word is Nickelback.

Look, CEO’s, typically have to answer to people that I wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire (Wall Street pricks). And the good ones juggle multiple tasks, have a distinctive vision for their organization(s) and work hard. I have no illusions about them being the best people in the world, but they do deserve to be paid.

My issue is not with most CEO’s being deserving of the money. My issue is that why does anyone in any leadership role feel that it is OK to take a 13-15% annual increase in pay when the front line workers are only getting a 2.5% – 5% increase?

Is it “leadership” to take more than your workers get? It would seem to me that a true leader, one being remunerated in both salary AND stock, would forgo ANY salary increase as long as their front line workers had to feel the pinch. Maybe a “leader” finds a way to issue stock in place of an annual increase? Maybe a “leader” offers another week of vacation? Maybe a “leader” LEADS.

Or is the new model of corporate leadership “take what you can get and fluck the rest”? If that is the case, I am storming the supply closet for post-it’s, pens and highlighters.

Shouldn’t I just be thankful I have a job? Yes. On most days I am. I’m thankful to have a mind numbing job that keeps me so far removed from interacting and networking with anyone who could perhaps help me achieve my professional goals. On second thought, let me restate that, I am thankful for a paycheck. What I would like to be thankful for is a career.

Of course, that then begs the question, are careers rapidly being replaced by jobs?

When my living expenses are increasing at an aggregate of 17% year over year and my cost of living increase (cleverly disguised as a merit increase) is a fraction of that, how am I to reconcile that sort of inequality? Am I just supposed to take it on the chin and say to myself “That’s just the way it is buckaroo”? Am I just supposed to numb myself? Turn on the latest marathon of whatever Real Housewives of blah blah is on? Log onto Facebook and get engrossed in peoples petty lives and issues that have absolutely no bearing on me in any way? Down a bottle of wine and pretend I am being cultured when I am really just masking my own sadness? No, I don’t think that is the answer.

All of those escapes are privileges. Being able to earn a liveable wage to sustain a decent life is a right. I should be able to save some money, pay my bills and go home to have a spirited and lively discussion about my day. Instead of going home constantly juggling and moving money around to pay bills and walking home beaten and broken, praying there is enough hot water to wash away the misery of the day.

Of course some of this is my fault. I didn’t have to go to college. OK, I didn’t HAVE to go to TEN of them (it’s true, I went to ten colleges…I was a little rudderless as a youth). I didn’t HAVE to get my Masters Degree. I don’t HAVE to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. And believe me when I say, I am one of the lucky ones! I’m aware of this. But does luck always come at such a cost?

Honestly though, I’ve never been one to discount my own role as being a broke middle classer. I definitely am accountable for some of it. If I can stand in front of the mirror and say to myself “Dude, you’re partly responsible for this” why can’t the “leadership” of companies do the same? Why are we in the middle class constantly being asked to bear the brunt of the tomfoolery and shenanigans of the pricks on Wall Street and their idiot cousins in the corner office?

NICKELBACK!

Some people may read this and say “Yea, you’re right but what can we do? It’s the way it is, ya know?” Bullsh*t! I have some thoughts but if I had all the answers I wouldn’t be banging things out on this keyboard. I can say for certain what we can NOT do. We can’t let this go on. And whether it is in the next five years or fifty, it’s gonna change and it is not going to be pretty.

As a guy working for a Fortune 500 company with a Masters degree, I really shouldn’t be contemplating a second job tending bar just to squeak by. I’m not saying I am entitled to more, I don’t believe that. I am saying we are all entitled to opportunities that can lead us to a comfortable existence, one of OUR choosing. That is a right. In fact, it is a defining principle of both capitalism AND democracy (both of which are on life support here in the states). As the middle class continues to be hacked away at and beaten into non-existence, we accept less and less of the rights we are entitled to because “It’s just the way it is”.

When can we all say it together?

NICKELBACK!

The Other NRA

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN WAIT(ER) MAGAZINE
SEPTEMBER 3, 2013

The current federal hourly rate for tipped employees stands at $2.13. You are reading that correctly and yes, it is September 2013. That amount reads $2.13, U.S. dollars. In fact, it has been at that amount since 1991. You can pick your jaw up off the ground now. In all fairness, while that federal amount has remained frozen, the ultimate minimum wage burden has been pushed down to a state level. And the states vary in how they handle tipped and non-tipped minimum wage employees. If you are scratching your head, wondering how the Federal baseline can be so low, you can thank the NRA.Nope, not the National Rifle Association, the OTHER NRA, the National Restaurant Association.

Thanks to 2012 Republican Presidential candidate, and former National Restaurant Association head, Herman Cain, it’s quite conceivable that it will stay at $2.13. You see, way back in 1996 during minimum wage increase negotiations in Congress, then NRA honcho Cain said, “We (the NRA) won’t oppose the overall minimum wage continuing to go up as long as the minimum wage for tipped workers stays frozen (wait for it)…forever.”

Can’t you just hear the diabolical chortling?

One can’t ignore that the National Restaurant Association is the tenth largest lobbying firm in the country and they tend to lobby on the conservative side. Why the head of a lobbying firm (Cain), and not an elected official, was able to wield this sort of influence should alarm you. It probably doesn’t, but it should. We all know the influence that lobbyists have on Washington D.C. lawmakers and the prevailing cynicism about American politics tells us this sort of manipulation is nothing new.

There is something inherently Dickensonian about strong-arming Congress in 1996 to keep the federal tipped minimum wage frozen…forever. Seriously, every time I read that I hear evil echoing laughter in my head. It’s like thinking that the pre-dream sequence Ebenezer Scrooge was an amazing capitalist and not just a raging asshole.

As anyone reading this probably knows, Herman Cain, and the other NRA, were successful in their lobbying endeavor…and throwing a huge chunk of the American public into poverty in the process.

The restaurant industry has so many elephants in the room that it would be a Sisyphean task to address them all in one article. But a good one to start with is the hourly wage.

Servers rely on tips to live. It’s worth noting that when tipping was first introduced in this country, it was met with “impassioned and organized opposition”. In an NYTimes article by Paul Wachter from 2008, he states that “tipping is almost antithetical to the democratic ideal because it truly began as an aristocratic practice, a sprinkle of change for social inferiors”.

However, when the aristocrats aren’t around to sprinkle the change; it’s that hourly wage that the wait staff rely on. It helps offset those days. Well, it should anyway. I once worked at a restaurant where I had to rely solely on a shift wage because there was literally no, and I mean NO, bar service. The only food I got were the two shift meals. I barely made enough in shift pay for gas to get to work. Rent was always late. It was horrible.

According to the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, 7 of the 10 lowest paying jobs in the United States are restaurant jobs. With 10 million restaurant workers in the U.S., is it any wonder that the poverty rate among restaurant employees is three times that of the non-restaurant workforce? Did you know that food servers use food stamps at double the rate of the U.S. workforce?

By virtually every statistic imaginable, it would appear as though the aristocrat’s are not holding up their end of the bargain.

There is a small, but growing, movement among independently owned American full service restaurants to do away with tipping entirely. In some cases, it would mean the elimination of the tip entirely and the service cost being rolled into the menu. In others, it would be simply presented on the bill to the customer, and the customer is then responsible for the total amount.

What a dream it would be to go out to dinner and simply pay the bill; to not have to break out the calculator or an abacus to do some sort of math calculation that must somehow factor in an approval rating while fitting in with social mores.

While unlikely, eliminating a tipped environment entirely would certainly allow for a more consistent and livable wage among tipped employees. The amount servers make per shift vacillates and, as we all know, bills like rent and food don’t. Unfortunately, the majority of tipped employees work for large restaurant corporations and these corporations are closely tied to, and big supporters of, the NRA. This affiliation and steadfast commitment to keeping the status quo, at $2.13, all but insures that the poverty rate for servers will remain at three times the rest of the United States.

As corporation coffers continue to swell as the majority of us sit, unemployed, underemployed or double employed, through this glacially paced recovery, the employment within the restaurant industry continues to grow. According to restaurant.org, after hitting a 17-year high in 2012, 2013 “will represent the 14th consecutive year in which the restaurant job growth outpaces the overall economy.” Read alone, an amazing statistic. Paired with the fact that food servers generally exist below the poverty line, not so amazing.

It seems to me we can kill two birds with one stone by simply raising the minimum wage among tipped employees.

One bird we could kill would be the bloviating about welfare abuse. It would seem to me that if tipped employees live below the poverty rate at three-times the non-restaurant workforce and food servers use food stamps at double the rate of U.S. workforce, raising the rate on a Federal level from $2.13 would help alleviate that and the bitching.

The other, more esoteric bird, is that this adjustment would have a profound impact on such a large amount of the population that it would go a long way towards moving us back towards the democracy we were set up to be. An added bonus is that it would move a large number of people from poverty into the middle class.

If the restaurant industry continues to grow as projected, simple math tells us that with addressing this issue in some capacity, more and more people will sink into poverty and ultimately rely on government services.

There is plenty of blame to go around on how far we have slipped as a culture and a democracy. And certainly there is plenty of blame within the restaurant industry as to why it grows and yet its employee’s standard of living does not. One could start by blaming the tenth largest lobbying firm in Washington D.C., the National Restaurant Association, for wielding such power as to keep the Federal minimum wage for tipped employees frozen at $2.13, forever. That just defines new degrees of absurdity. And if a total re-alignment of the industry and the eradication of the tipping standard is not possible (and they’re not) than it’s up to the corporations to step up and take responsibility for their staff.

Yea, I guess we all know how that ends up.

Keith R. Higgons is the publisher and editor of wait(er) Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @krhiggons and on the web at keithrhiggons.com.

Additional Sources:

Department of Labor Chart

ROC United

Resaurant.org

IWW

Photo reprinted without permission under Creative Commons License.

UPDATE: Not affiliated with The Other NRA by Steven Rosenfeld published 8.27 on AlterNet. Linked here to billmoyers.com

 

Why The Replacements Matter

Yesterday I saw a glimmer of hope for future generations. I was perusing the stationary/book store, in the bowels of Rockefeller Plaza, on the prowl for unneeded reading material. I found nothing…came close, but decided against the Peter Criss autobiography. I settled on purchasing a few unneeded Moleskin booklets, a package of three for 8.95, how could I go wrong? As I went up to pay I heard an all too familiar tune. A song that caused my heart to almost stop. Could it be really playing here? Was I in some way to hip independent film? Did I break the time space continuum? As I walked up, playing just loud enough for those who knew to know was “I’m In Trouble” by The Replacements, from their first album Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash.

Trying to deconstruct why The Replacements are one of the most important bands in rock and roll is an exercise in futility. If you don’t understand them by now, you never will. That’s not an indictment against you or your taste (OK, maybe against your taste). It’s not that their music or lyrics are in the same esoteric zip code of Frank Zappa or The Grateful Dead. They’re not like that at all. In fact, the ‘mats are as welcoming a band as you could hope for…as long as you can stomach alienation, sarcasm, snark, love and rebellion.

I chuckled and said to the clerk “It’s not every day I get to hear the ‘mats in a store.” Truth is, even when they were a full time working band you seldom heard them…anywhere. I used to get in trouble for playing the piss out of Don’t Tell A Soul when I worked in a record store during my Rob Gordon days. Since their break up almost 22 years ago, you hear them even less than seldom…if that is possible.

Nonetheless, hear they were playing a live version of “I’m In Trouble”…in 2013…in some tiny paper product store in Rockefeller Plaza. The kid, barely 25 if I had to guess, and I looked at each other and smiled. He said “Yea, this is from this weekends show in Toronto.”
“Oh, yea, that’s right they are doing those three festival dates this year.”

To a Replacements fan, a reunion seemed almost always likely to happen, but we just never knew when. They had reunited for a couple new tracks for a Best Of album a few years ago. And the new songs were pretty disposable. They weren’t bad, they just didn’t seem into it. But then they reunited last year to record some material for their former guitar player Slim Dunlap who suffered a serious stroke awhile back. Songs for Slim is an ongoing project where artists cover some of Slims songs and release special packages to help pay for his care. The first in that series was a reunited Replacements. And on this EP they sounded reinvigorated.

I said to my new found kindred ‘mats friend “I wanted to go to the show in Chicago, but it didn’t work out. I guess I will have to hope for a full fledged tour.” He handed me my change smiling and without gloating said “Yea, I’m going to the Chicago show.” I about fell to my shoes. The lineup for the upcoming Riot Fest in Chicago is a Gen X’ers wet dream: Bob Mould, Public Enemy, The Pixies, Mission of Burma, et. al.
“You bastard” I replied jokingly. I took my changed, shook my head and smiled, “Enjoy the show.”

The Replacements are more than just the folklore of drunken debauchery. They’re more than Tommy Stinson playing bass for the current incarnation of Genu-n-Roses. They’re more than Paul Westerberg’s self imposed exhile in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. They’re more than Chris Mars paintings and art work. They’re more than Bob Stinson’s death. They’re more than Slim Dunlaps stroke. They’re more than their history, real or embellished, and they’re more than their music.

Purists might argue that it is not the Replacements without Chris Mars and there is some legitimacy to that. Purists might also argue that they were never the same after they kicked Bob Stinson out. To that I would say, with all respect to the memory of Bob Stinson, that’s probably a good thing. The soul of the band has always been Tommy and Paul. So as long as it’s them, it is really the ‘mats. Is it perfect? No, absolutely not, but The Replacements were absolutely never ever about being perfect.

Obviously what makes The Replacements significant is the music. The names of bands they have influenced is ridiculously long and ever growing, thankfully. Listening to Paul Westerberg grow from wise ass punk to pure songsmith is one of the greatest rewards in music. Seriously. From the start, their songs straddle the fence of brilliant and tragic. Their songs, their music and their career are probably best summed up by Westerberg’s own song “I Don’t Know”, off Please to Meet Me, “One foot in the door, the other on in the gutter”.

What makes The Replacements matter is their connection with the fans. I mean, the fans. When you find someone listening to The Replacements you know, you just know it’s a kindred spirit. Whatever walls you may have up immediately come crumbling down. There is a calmness that comes over you when you run across someone listening to them, it’s like an auditory Xanax. For some reason, and it’s hard to truly explain in a blog post, when you meet a fan you just know you have a connection that will transcend the music.

I’m not entirely convinced this is something the band set out to do, but it’s what they did. I’m not even sure it is something that could be done by design. They accomplished what every band dies to do. they connected with their audience. And they still do. Sure, they embraced the beer swilling jocks, the angry punks but longed to talk to the kid in the back shouting out to hear “Skyway”. Those where they people they played to.

No, they never got the huge record sales they deserved, but somehow, that seems fitting. It’s not like they didn’t try, they did. In their own way. A video of just a speaker playing your song as your first video, for your first single off your major label debut at the height of MTV (they really did play videos once) and at the dawn of the college rock movement in the early to mid 80’s was probably not the smartest career move. But it was uniquely, purely and brilliantly The Replacements.

Watching that video you can almost hear the record company snarling, pissing and moaning because they knew what they had. They had a band,  the band, that could have defined a generation. You can almost hear the band sitting off to the side drinking their Mickey’s saying “Flcuk you fellas, we’re doing it our way.” The Replacements were the epitome of rebellion when we needed rebels the most. And maybe they didn’t define a generation, they influenced generations.

So, why do The Replacements matter? They’re not good looking, they have a reputation for being prickly, they’re not a perfect live act (Westerberg always forgets lyrics), they’re not super stars, they’ve never shied away from their foibles and missteps and often times, embraced them.

What makes them matter?
The Replacements are me.
They’re you.
They’re real.
They’re honest.
They’re human.
They’re not Gods.

They’re just The Replacements.

_____________________________________________

If you have never heard The Replacements, start with Please to Meet Me, then work backwards, then go forwards. PTMM is just brilliant. Some may say start with Tim, but I find the production on that album a little too tinny for me. Great album, but for my money PTMM captures them perfectly.

Below is a video from some crap ass awards show (the statue was actually and Elvis) where they perform “Talent Show” off Don’t Tell A Soul. While the introduction is certainly tongue in cheek, it about sums up the industries attitude towards them.

They bleep out this line “We’re feelin’ good from the pills we took” because the band wouldn’t change the lyric for the live telecast. So what did they do? They changed this line “It’s too late to turn back, here we go” to “It’s too late to take pills here we go“. God bless them.

New Tax Code Promises K-Y Deduction

I just finished reading an article in the August 5-11 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. Some interesting articles in there. The cover story is on whether or not Marissa Mayer can save Yahoo, there’s an interesting read on the Russian version of Facebook, Vkontakte, an article on some leadership lessons from Walter White, the character that actor Bryan Cranston plays in the television show “Breaking Bad” and a slew of short information nuggets.

Like this one on page 25 entitled “An Actual Vault to Hide Senators’ Secrets.” In short, Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana and Orrin Hatch, the Republican from Utah, are working on rewriting the new tax code. The first real rewrite since 1986. Actually, its not so much a rewrite as wiping the slate clean and starting form scratch. And in typical political fashion, it’s rather f’ed up.

     “They proposed sweeping away the tax codes thousands of loopholes, then asked their colleagues to submit written requests for the deductions they want put back in, assuring them that the requests would be kept private. Th response: silence. Senators didn’t want word to leak that they’d supported special tax breaks.

To combat the silence, Hatch and Baucus came up with a plan worthy of the George W. Bush regime.  The Bloomberg article has a leaked memo from July 19 that promises to keep the lawmakers tax code “wish lists” private.

Just in case you’ve been in a coma for the past 20+ years, most tax laws currently in place do not favor the middle class. Even in 1986, the tax breaks had very very little impact on the middle class and have slowly been hacked at and eroded to the point where almost any tax break or loophole is exclusively for corporations or the rich. The really rich, not the kinda rich. The “own an island” rich.

Let’s briefly recap before we move on. New tax code being written from scratch. Scribes Baucus and Hatch reach out to fellow lawmakers asking for their tax code wish list. No one responds. In an effort to get them to cooperate without reprisals from lobbyists, voters or other senators, they have developed a way to keep their “wish lists” secret, a vault. Literally.

Yea, yea, sure the process is interesting that they’ve developed to keep the stuff safe. Fine. Neat. Vault, whoopee. But the method or repository isn’t the story. It’s the fact that these wish lists will be kept secret and physically locked up for…wait for it….FIFTY YEARS.

FIFTY F’ING YEARS!

Let me break that down. New tax code being written. Lawmakers can submit which tax breaks and loopholes they want to keep in.  They can submit their wishes in complete secrecy. Those wishes will be locked up (seriously) and kept from the public! For 50 years!

For a little perspective, the Senate’s internal records are sealed from public view for 20 years, documents on the presidents nominees remain secret for 50 years as well as Senate investigations. Tax reform falls under none of that.

Now that authors Bauscus and Hatch have established some bipartisan trust, built off the promise of secrecy, senators are responding. The idea of trust being built from secrecy is almost too much for this ironic brain to handle.

Let me go off topic for a moment and remind you that there are over 15,000 registered. registered, lobbyists in D.C. and only a little over 500 elected officials. Now, math being what it is and all, tells us there are about 30 lobbyists per one elected official. I am gonna go out on a limb and say that none of those lobbyists represent the interest of the middle class.

Try not to forget that our country, the United States of America, was established to avoid unfair taxation. Does the phrase “No taxation without representation” ring a bell?

Senators Hatch and Baucus are positively stoked to have reached an agreement that has yielded in excess of 1,000 pages of secret suggestions about tax code reform. Or as Hatch said in the article, “I think it was just a good offer to get people to open up more…” Hey assholes, if anyone had the promise of complete secrecy for 50 years, they would open up too!

As the article states, “Only in the U.S. Senate would hiding information the public has every right to know be considered ‘opening up.'”

I honestly don’t give a shit which side of the political fence you sit on, whether you are a tree hugging liberal, a democrat, a steeping tea party member or a republican, having the lawmakers of our country build an entire new tax code in COMPLETE secrecy is not a democracy. It is the very thing our forefathers were trying to get away from! We should absolutely know how our “elected: officials are contributing to the writing of the code to insure they have not been completely co-opted by lobbyists or corporations.

There is a scene in the 1972 John Boorman movie “Deliverance”, starring Burt Reynolds, where co-star Ned Betty is assaulted by some moonshine making rednecks. In the scene, he is called a little piggy and made to squeal like a pig, “Squeal! SQUEAL!”. If you’ve seen the movie, you know the scene. If you haven’t seen it, you should, (long before Burt Reynolds was a punchline or ironic guest star, he was the biggest movie star in the world). A benchmark movie in American cinema.

Make no mistake, unless we know who is contributing what to the writing of this new tax code, you and I will be made to “Squeal! SQUEAL!” There is no way lobbyists have our interests at heart. And with a ratio of 30:1. the only way we get heard is to rise up in unison and let our lawmakers know that we know.

Unless we do something, this new tax code will be so painful that there won’t be a vat of K-Y large enough to ease the pain. Can we seriously sit idly by and watch corporations and the wealthy LEGALLY hijack and write the tax code while our representatives are allowed to cowardly hide behind a veil of secrecy…for 50 years!! That ain’t right folks. Just ain’t right.

Bitch to the rich, patron to the poor, welcome to the middle class!

I couldn’t find the article I pinched a bunch of this information from, but if you do a simple Google search, you will find tons of information.

Who is my Senator?

Sign Petition at Change.org.

The algorithm is gonna get you…but probably not.

Cover letters are boring.

I take it upon myself to make them less so.

Writing cover letters for jobs sucks. I can think of only one thing worse when looking for a job. Actually reading cover letters. But then, when it comes to eye torture like that, I think the Human Resources (ahem) professionals can handle it. It is one of their job functions, right? Or do they outsource that now too?

No matter the job you have, if you are not looking, you’re lying. I’m looking. As such, I have to send these introductory missives, along with my resume, in the hopes that the two documents will find their way through the algorithmic labyrinth that is the modern day job search.

Because my father was an HR executive, you would think I would know better and be all formal and proper in my cover letter approach. You would think that…and you’d be wrong. Of course, the truth is I do know better, but cover letters suck. And the hard fact is that they rarely make it into the spindly fingers of a Human Resource person.

Now you may be thinking I am shooting myself in the foot with writing a cover letter where I inject a little personality. Maybe I am. BUT, if someone actually reads it and looks at my resume and then calls me in for an interview? Well, they certainly know they are getting someone with, at a bare minimum, a personality. How many times do these HR (ahem) professionals bring someone in because they went to the right schools and have the right credentials only to discover that the person ends up being a horrendous fit into the culture? My cover letters serve as a way of introducing my personality and if they are interested, they’ll proceed to my resume to gauge my skills.

What follows below are a couple of cover letters I sent out recently, And if you read them and find yourself asking “Did he really send this as a cover letter?”

Yes. Yes, I did.
Seriously, how often do you get to quote Gloria Estefan in a cover letter?

COVER LETTER #1

coverletter.br

As I look over this one above and the one below again, there are a couple of mistakes and a couple changes I would have made to tighten them up. And maybe I could have done that here in order to make myself look better, but alas, I think it’s best to see these letters as they went out.

Some of you may be wondering what my success rate is with turning these cover letters into actual interviews. It’s low. Very low. Not zero low, but low.
But these days, in New York City, in my industry, to do what I want to do, without a connection or Ivy League education, I am not convinced my success rate would be much higher.

Given that most cover letters and resumes usually end up in some sort of digital employment purgatory (note to companies, you all need to seriously re-think your digital hiring process…BrassRing, still? come on!). I decided to have a little fun with my cover letters and exercise some creativity. Think about it, if they’re interested after reading these, then I know it’s the type of company I would want to work for.

So yea, I sent this one too.

(I obviously redacted any libel information)

COVER LETTER #2

coverletter.vc

STAY TUNED…MORE TO COME!

Words of Encouragement From Yours Truly

I was asked to send a friend some electronic encouragement last week. So I did.

*****y,

I trust you are getting all settled in to your new place. Waiting for the housewarming party…

Word on the street is that some twat at work is bothering you. Here’s the deal sweetheart. People suck. No way around it. My favorite comedian, the late Bill Hicks, said this of the human race, “We’re a virus with shoes.” Probably not what you wanna read first thing in the morning…sorry about that. The upside here is that this person is ALWAYS gonna suck. You see normal people have moments of suckiness but we eventually move past it. It sorta comes and goes…with normal people.

It’s true, we suck to some people, that’s the hard truth no one ever tells us growing up. We’re taught to believe we can do anything, be anything and we’re taught to believe we aren’t assholes. The truth is, we are….sometimes. But people like this jack ass that is giving you grief…they’re always assholes. They’ll never be able to acknowledge it, accept it, let alone escape it.

Dr. Suess wrote a book about it:
http://keithrhiggons.tumblr.com/post/57146814992/if-it-werent-true-it-wouldnt-exist

Some people plod along in their life and achieve varying degrees of success (however one defines it) and never realize they suck. They’re clueless. Fortunately, these people are ultimately harmless. They’re like a declawed house cat. Sure, they may have a little bit of power, but at the end of the day, they’re pretty innocuous.

Of course there are some people who know they suck and just don’t care…those people are scary. Typically they’re sociopaths, politicians, mid-tier entertainment executives or B-list celebrities. You should attempt to steer clear of those people. They’ll fuck you…and not in any way you want.

Here’s what I can tell you about this person that I have never met. Likely it is her own insecurities that are manifesting themselves in the way she treats you. I suspect it has very little, if anything, to do with you. The truth is that there is nothing you will ever be able to do to have her overcome her shit so that she is less shitty towards you. You may be able to have moments where she is nominally less shitty but that is all they will ever be. Moments. Cherish them.

My advice to you would be to pity her. She sucks. She’ll always suck. She literally can’t help it. Try not to let her bring you down or make you angry. Letting someone like that have any influence on your emotions is pointless. That type of person has but one goal and that is to make you, and everyone around them, feel bad. I assure you, it has virtually nothing to do with you.

Maybe someday the American Medical Association will recognize what I call GSD (generalized suckiness disorder) and develop some sort of treatment plan. Until that happens, we are on our own and will have to use our own diagnostic and treatment guidelines.

The other thing to keep in mind is that you suck too. Not all the time and probably only a fraction of the time, but you do. To know that about yourself and accept it allows you to push past the grief this idiot is causing you because you can find solace in knowing she sucks ALL the time and you only suck a fraction of the time. It’s all about empathy.

Also,, don’t cry at work. Just don’t. That may seem like a flip statement, but I assure you it’s not. There is nothing wrong with crying. Nothing. I’ll cry watching “Two and a Half Men”, mainly because I can’t believe a show that crappy is still on the air and is still successful. Just. Don’t. Cry. At. Work. If you have to, go hide. Don’t let anyone see you. It’s an emotional response most people don’t know how to respond to privately and even less so publicly. And sadly, unless they’re tears of joy, they’re seen as weakness by far too many people. You also never know when a Gypsy might be lurking around to steal them (they’ll steal anything). It’s best to just avoid crying at work all together.

Keep in mind you’re not gonna be there forever. You’re still so young so this is just a stepping stone. Treat it as such. Work, make the connections you need to make to get to where you want to be. As you go on that journey, remember this person. It will allow you to recognize the signs when you see them again (and you will). It will remind you that you too can have moments of shittiness yourself. Mostly it will remind you to never ever treat someone the same way. Don’t ever be that person that does crap to someone because it was done to you. I can’t tell you how often I have heard “Well, that’s what happened to me.” It’s a pathetic attitude, it’s wrong and just perpetuates the cycle.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” said Ghandi.
It is that simple.

Above all else enjoy yourself and don’t let this person bring you down. She’s just not worth any energy you spend thinking about her. She sucks. She is always gonna suck. Don’t let her general suckiness disorder disrupt your goals, your skills or your desires.

Fuck her kid. She ain’t worth it.

Much love,
Keith

George Saunders gave the commencement address at Syracuse University this year.
I won’t spoil if for you, but it is worth reading.

We need more kindness.
We need more kind people and less sucky ones. 
http://nyti.ms/14DN0yv

Our Shadows Taller Than Our Souls

For the umpteenth time, I was watching Heart perform Led Zeppelin’s classic “Stairway to Heaven” from this years Kennedy Center Awards ceremony the other day. And again I was blown away, simply astounding. Apparently, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant thought it was pretty good too with all three at some point exchanging smiles and nods. At about 3:35 you even see Robert Plant mouth the words “Not bad” to Jimmy Page. The big finish with the choir wearing Zep’s late drummer John Bonham’s signature bowler hat was enough just enough to bring tears to both Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

I got to thinking that when Led Zeppelin was at the peak of their power, this was a band that was not only known for their music but also for their epic drinking and drug use, strong attraction to underage girls (most notably guitarist Jimmy Page), alleged ties to the occult and folklore about the misappropriation of a Mudshark in Seattle (NSFW).

The mighty Zep set the gold standard for what would become the era of sex, drugs and rock & roll. I suspect if one could hop in a time machine and go back to 1974 and tell them that in 28 years they would be receiving a Kennedy Center Award, I have no doubt I would have received a right good ass kicking from either Peter Grant or Richard Cole, probably both.

You see, in the 1970’s Led Zeppelin was the biggest act on the planet and accordingly, they were public enemy number one among the “establishment”. In Ohio, where I grew up, it was believed they were just one step away from the dark lord himself, Satan. In fact, I recall my 11th grade English teacher, Mr. Grueber, echoing the fanaticism of fundamentalists and telling us that if you were to play “Stairway to Heaven” backwards, you would hear a message from the devil.

Unless Satan sounds like a warbly Robert Plant being spun backwards, there is no message. I ruined my version of Led Zeppelin IV trying.

The band dissolved after the untimely death of drummer John Bonham. While they considered hiring a replacement, ultimately they realized that Bonham, and what he contributed, was irreplaceable. Over the years they have reunited periodically for different events and with the passing of time they’ve proven that maybe, just maybe, all that hype was just that, hype and that Led Zeppelin was really just a killer rock band. Albeit one  with healthy predilection for drug and alcohol abuse and underage girls.

Time grants forgiveness for past transgressions…for most things. If any band or artist proves that it is certainly Led Zeppelin.

Band drummers like John Bonham are, without question, irreplaceable. But there is a difference between a band drummer and a studio drummer. A studio drummer must be infinitely more flexible stylistically and mustn’t be afraid to be assertive in their contribution to the song.

When one thinks about modern studio drummers who helped shape the sound of modern day rock music, in my mind it can be narrowed down to three, Hal Blaine, Jim Gordon and Jeff Pocaro. All three transcended the role of sideman or hired hand. Hiring any of them was like recruiting a band member for the term of the session, not just a guy who could keep time.

All three helped shape the vibe and sound of every song they contributed to. Blaine is most famously known as a member of the Wrecking Crew, studio wizards who helped Phil Spector create his “Wall of Sound”. Jeff Porcaro was most notably the drummer for the band Toto, but is considered to be “one of the most recorded drummers in history” until his untimely death in 1992.

Sandwiched between Blaine and Porcaro is Jim Gordon. Gordon earned his chops as a session drummer in Los Angeles, playing the gigs that Hal Blaine couldn’t make. Gordon played on anything and everything and right after graduation from high school, he took a job touring Europe as The Everly Brothers drummer. Building a reputation as an inventive and reliable session drummer in the late 1960’s was no easy task and Jim Gordon did it, in spades.

After touring with Delany & Bonnie, he went off on Joe Cocker’s appropriately named Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. When that tour ended he lined up session work on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. While that music is not necessarily music of my era, I am enough of a student to recognize that is a trifecta of rock & roll awesome. Hell, just to have survived those three things would have been an accomplishment, let alone actively be a creative participant. Perhaps most importantly, the principle backing band on the Phil Spector produced All Things Must Pass ultimately became Derek and the Domino’s, led by God himself, Eric Clapton.

It’s hard to believe that the classic we now know as Derek and the Domino’s Laya and Assorted Other Love Songs was largely ignored when it was released. Clapton refused to market it as an Eric Clapton album so record companies did what record companies did (and still do) best, acted like petulant children and retaliated by not marketing it. Funny thing though, fans of music are far smarter than record honchos give use credit for, and even though the album was not heavily marketed, Laya and Assorted Other Love Songs quickly became one of the most definitive albums of the early 1970’s. The band’s signature song “Layla” was written by Clapton and Gordon is still a rock & roll staple. Besides the brilliant and instantly recognizable guitar intro and Clapton’s anguished pleas, it is Gordon’s piano coda that haunts this song and makes it one of the most sorrowful pieces of music in rock &roll.

Jim Gordon was not just a drummer, he was a genius. Maybe not by MENSA standards, but when it came to rock music in the late 1960’s through the mid 1970’s there was no one better. Even after Derek and the Domino’s imploded, Eric Clapton considered him “The best drummer in rock and roll” and used him on every solo album through Slowhand.

While Jeff Pacaro may have the title of “the most recorded drummer” there can be no doubt that Jim Gordon was arguably first in quality. The list of albums Jim Gordon contributed to is as long as it is varied. He effortlessly floated from genre to genre, from Mel Torme’ to Merle Haggard to Linda Rondstadt to Steely Dan to Carly Simon to John Lennon to Harry Nilsson to commercial jingles to Muzak and everywhere in between. Jim Gordon set a platinum standard for what it meant to be not just a session drummer, but a drummer as musician. Gordon’s ability to jump from genre to genre so aptly and impact each song so perfectly was almost schizophrenic. There’s a reason for that.

Jim Gordon is schizophrenic.

And on June 3, 1983 Jim Gordon’s illness overcame him and he killed his mother.

He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 16 years to life and has been incarcerated in California since 1984.

However, Jim Gordon’s story is more than just his illness and his crime and his music. It’s a cautionary tale of drug abuse as well as an indictment of the medical establishment at the time, Los Angeles authorities and the permissive nature permeating the entertainment industry. To dismiss Jim Gordon off as “crazy” is simple minded and negates both his illness and egregiously undermines his creative contributions.

Has enough time lapsed that we can re-examine Jim Gordon independent of his crime? In no way I am suggesting ignore his crime. It happened and it can never be understood, condoned or forgotten.

In our society, mental illness of any kind makes people nervous. Mental illness is a kind of societal leprosy. To acknowledge it in any fashion is to immediately become ostracized. Something as complicated and messy as schizophrenia is exponentially worse than depression or bi-polar disorder. There have certainly been advances in comprehending mental health issues and as permissive as the entertainment industry is, it generally still ignores mental illness and certainly doesn’t tolerate murder. It’s not surprising that many of Gordon’s colleagues and friends turned away from him after he was arrested and convicted.

Gordon is currently in prison and considering he was just up for parole for the fourth time and denied it, I am not entirely sure he will be released from prison any time soon. And I’m in no way asking anyone to ignore or forgive his crime, but 30 years on, he is paying for it and, I hope, getting treatment for his illness.

The music that Jim Gordon created and contributed to literally built the foundation for an entire genre of music and came to define an entire generation. While it may be the drummers plight to remain in the background there are those that truly rise above and deserve a more critical examination than those who can simply play to a click track and keep 4/4 time.

Jim Gordon contributed too much to be so easily dismissed as “crazy” or forgotten so simply. What we know as fact is that he killed his mother, he is genuinely ill and he was without peer for the period of time he was a practicing musician. We also know that his story is tragically complicated and made even more tragic by slowly letting his creative contributions continue to slip away.

Has enough time gone by that we can look at his work independent of his crime?

I can’t make an argument for parole and in no way presuppose any sort of award or admittance into any “hall of fame”. I just think that maybe we can take another look at his work and see where it fits into the pantheon of rock & roll.

There will be those who may think I am comparing murder to whatever misbehavior Led Zeppelin may or may not have participated in.
I am not. The shenanigans of young spoiled rich and polluted rock stars hardly compares to a schizophrenic committing matricide.

There will be those who think that I don’t believe Led Zeppelin deserving of the Kennedy Center Award.
That is wrong. I love Led Zeppelin and think that they deserve all that they have received and continue to receive. For my money, second only to The Beatles in rock & roll significance.

There will be those who think I may be dismissive of the other surviving Gordon family members or want to forget his mother, Osa Marie Gordon.
I am not. What the entire Gordon family has experienced is something no family should ever have to experience.

There will be those who think I am a Jim Gordon apologist.
I am not. I have no illusions about what he did. He bludgeoned his mother with a hammer and stabbed her. That is fact. I also know schizophrenia wreaks havoc on not only an individual but also a family and ultimately, a society.

But isn’t Jim Gordon more than his crime? Isn’t he more than his illness?

A cursory look at the music Jim Gordon contributed to is simply jaw dropping. I think it’s time that the man get some critical analysis of his creative collaborations. As more years go by both he and his legacy continue to be marginalized.

And that is just another tragic layer to an already epically tragic tale.

Further Study:

You’re So Vain – Carly Simon
Yep, that is Jim Gordon on drums. For my money, after the lyrics and Carly, the third most important part of that song.

Jump Into the Fire – Harry Nilsson
Find a better groove, I dare you.

What is Life – George Harrison
Proving that he was Hal Blaine’s equal, Gordon plays drums on George Harrison’s first solo album, produced by Phil Spector.

Layla – Derek and the Dominos
Easily one of the most pained love songs in rock history. if you don’t want to hear Eric Clapton’s incessant whining, you can go to 3:10. Gordon also earned a Grammy in 1992 for Clapton’s shuffle re-do on his Unplugged album (Gordon was in prison and unable to attend).

Doctor My Eyes – Jackson Browne
Jim Gordon played on the original from Jackson’s debut album. This video is from 1978 and that is Jim Gordon playing drums. By all accounts this is the last complete tour a healthy Gordon was part of.

I will try to post a better version of this article when I can find one. But this is sort of the definitive Jim Gordon article written by Barry Rehfeld for Rolling Stone magazine…in 1985.

Jumping the Shark – Part 2

“Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that is used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery, which is usually a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of ‘gimmick’ in a desperate attempt to keep viewers’ interest.”(1)

The phrase comes from an episode of the television show Happy Days when the Cunningham family, along with Potsie, Ralph Malph and, of course Arthur Fonzerelli (aka The Fonz), flew from Wisconsin to Southern California for a vacation. While the exact plot escapes me and I really don’t wanna go down an IMDB rabbit hole trying to find it, I can tell you it was a two part episode where The Fonz ended up having to water ski and jump over a shark (in his leather jacket of course), ergo the phrase.

For better or for worse, but mostly better, the phrase has entered the vernacular of American culture.

Just last month I posited a thesis that crowdfunding had officially jumped the shark when actor James Franco created an Indie Gogo campaign in order to raise $500,000 for three films based on his short stories. While incredibly narcissistic, Franco’s campaign can now play second fiddle to Spike Lee, everyone’s favorite conduit of vitriol. Franco and Lee join the already funded Zach Braff as the reason the cow that is crowdfunding has officially been tipped. Combined these three people have an estimated worth of 80 million dollars (40 for Lee, 20 each for Franco and Braff) and while I doubt those numbers are 100% accurate, I suspect they are in the relative ballpark.

The reason for the re-visit to this post is that I want to address something that is absolutely beyond reproach. You see, Spike Lee is getting shite for starting a Kickstater campaign to raise 1.25 million dollars to fund his next film. Whatever you think of his politics, his sports teams or him as an individual or artist, he is what a good artist should be, challenging. So why does Lee starting a Kickstarter campaign upset so many people? Is it the dollar amount? Nah, can’t be, Braff was asking for 1 million and Franco asked for 500k. What could it be? I mean, nobody blinked when Zach Braff and James Franco started theirs. In fact, they were almost applauded.So I am left wondering, how is Spike Lee any different?

Oh wait, that’s right, he’s black. THAT’S the difference! It’s absolutely tragic but I think the only reason people are up in arms is that Spike Lee is a talented, outspoken, opinionated black artist. Look, I am in NO way a Spike Lee apologist. However, I do think he is one of the most intriguing cinematic artists working today and I think the criticism he is receiving about his Kickstarter campaign is racially biased.

And because race seems to matter, I’m a white guy.

Nobody blinks an eye when the two white guys do it and then the talented loud black man does it and he’s an asshole? Bullshit, all three of them are assholes and none of them should get a pass. What they are doing is wrong and I am vehemently opposed to name brand celebrities abusing the crowdfunding platform to finance their projects when they have more than enough money themselves!

John Cassavetes financed his movies through his acting and re-mortgaging his house time and time again. In the process, Cassavetes created some of the most compelling cinema in history, and blazed the trail for American independent cinema. The very same trail all three of these knuckleheads plod down on. Zach Braff, James Franco and Spike Lee are deeply indebted to Cassavetes in ways I doubt they even know (except maybe Lee, he was a true student of film).

Francis Ford Coppola personally financed Apocalypse Now and nearly went broke, and crazy, doing it. If two of America’s premier directors weren’t afraid to put their money where their mouth his, why are these three guys trying to get get funding? Let me reiterate, they are all millionaires many times over.

Of course, this type of fundraising wasn’t around when Cassavetes was alive or Coppola was in his prime, but that’s not the point. The fact of the matter is that they put their money to work for them creatively so they could maintain the control and vision.

Crowdfunding, at its core, was created to provide people access to funds so they can pursue their dreams, whether it’s a tech start up or a short film. Additionally, it allowed people who wanted to participate in the creation of something the ability to contribute what they could. Both kickstarter and Indie GoGo highlight what makes the Internet so incredibly egalitarian.

When you get the likes of Lee, Braff and Franco coming in shilling for money, it ruins the whole idea! In what should come as no great shock, the majority of the people using the crowdfunding platform do NOT have access to a major film studio, or venture capital or come from a wealthy family. This doesn’t make them any less talented or less creative; but prior to Kickstarter and Indie GoGo it just made them more frustrated (I am deliberately ignoring Donald Trump’s foray into crowdfunding ).

Earlier this year, the creators of the television show Veronica Mars created a Kickstarter and raised well over 1 million dollars to fund a feature length movie of the TV show. And while I was a bit taken aback, it made sense because despite a rabid fan base Veronica Mars had no potential of ever being brought back to television. And no studio, in this day and age, would ever back a movie of a show like that..that’s been off the air for six years. So the creators decided to do it on their own. Kudos to them, THAT makes sense.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I used Kickstarter a year ago to fund a web series I created. And through the kindness of many supportive people, I was able to reach my goal and realize my vision. Even despite what I raised, I still contributed more than half of the overall budget, so crowdfunding is a resource, not a solution.

It’s also not a bank!

Look, I understand the desire and need to have artistic control over your projects. I get it, but these three yo-yo’s have more than enough money to fund this stuff themselves! And even if they don’t want to do that, am I truly to believe that they don’t have access to people who do have the money and who would willingly fund them? Come on!

What they are doing strikes me as extremely predatory. They are tapping into their fan base and I am guessing most of their fans sit smack in the middle class, or lower. And asking them to pony up their hard earned dollars just seems wrong to me. Are these three guys that arrogant or clueless about the struggles of the very people they are asking to contribute? If they are truly that disconnected from society, I would seriously question their artistry and integrity.

Again, let me be clear, these guys are MILLIONAIRES!

Oh, come on Keith! It’s not that much money to contribute.” You’re right, it’s not and it is yours to do with as you feel. But they have enough money to pay for it! Why should you?

Oh come on, you’re being hyper critical of this.” I am being critical, yes. I’m also being honest and realistic, which I don’t think the three of them are being to themselves or the people funding their projects.

Well, aren’t they raising awareness to crowdfunding?” Sort of. They are, but what they are also doing is diminishing it’s impact on the struggling artists and creators who truly need it to realize their own vision. I mean, can’t you just hear the cynicism of the next guy looking to raise money for his feature length film? “Pfft, who does this guy think he is, Spike Lee?” Also, the people they are bringing to the site are not likely to go poking around to find other projects to fund. They will be in and out. So yea, they are sort of raising the awareness but I don’t think they are benefiting the community. Ultimately, isn’t it the community that matters?

How would you feel if GE started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for research and development on a new airplane engine? Would you contribute to that? Oh, no, you wouldn’t? Why? IT’S THE SAME DAMN THING HERE!

And I’m not saying all celebrity crowdfunding campaigns are bad or unnecessary. The Veronica Mars campaign was a good thing. Personally, I’d like to see some more Whitest Kids U’ Know stuff so they should start a crowdfunding campaign. I think this is a great avenue for someone like Terry Gilliam, who has a horrendous time getting financing for his films. The fact is there are tons of artists, both known and unknown, with whom I would have less of an issue with. But these three knuckleheads? Nope, not buying it.

But even more than that, I disagree more with the blatant racial bias against Spike Lee. The two white guys, Braff and Franco, did it before him and escaped unscathed and Spike Lee is being vilified? Again, I have to call bullshit.

While I remain vehemently opposed to any of them doing this, I can say that of the three, Lee is the only one with the true depth of talent that only comes with experience. And of the three, his project seems less like a pet project.

I’m not entirely sure what the answer is. You can’t shut guys like this out because that goes against the nature of the whole idea. But maybe they could do a better job of explaining why I should give my money to a millionaire to fund their project? Maybe they take some of the funds they raise to support a smaller short film for a struggling artist? Maybe they promise to crew up with other film makers who have used Kickstarter? I honestly don’t know the answer but I think there absolutely has got to be a conversation around what to do when millionaires come asking for money.

What’s next Michael Bay on Kickstarter braying for 200 million dollars for another crappy Transformers movie?

Crowdfunding has officially jumped the shark…again.

Sources

1 – http://tinyurl.com/82qca

Hole Hearted

Originally posted elsewhere, May 2011.

Rock & Roll, both the music and the lifestyle, is pretty much predicated on three things, having a good time, falling in love and falling out of love. I might even submit that all music, nay art forms, are built on those three things. But alas, it is the heartbreak that seems to yield the most poignant and powerful manifestations of art. Certainly the most accessible.

From Mozart to the opening riff of “Layla” to the pied piper of broken hearts Tom Petty, when we hear certain songs our emotions can go from gut wrenching sadness to anxious tears, and if enough time has passed, to the head nod of recognition. The music world is full of the heart shattered downtrodden. Flying well below the radar is Schuyler Fisk’s “Who Am I To You?” off her debut album The Good Stuff. The album may be a few years old now but this song charts among the best of the “sad bastard” genre.

Quiet lies beneath the blue moon, you couldn’t say much less now could you? It’s on your mind, it’s in your eyes.

No matter what lengths we go to hide the way we feel or what we are thinking, it shows. In gambling it is called a “tell”, in medicine it is called “presenting” and in relationships it is called “the end”. If you’ve been in love more than once, odds are you have spent time at “the end”.

When you are staring at your partner wanting to shake them and just scream “TELL ME”, you don’t. You can’t. More often than not, you don’t want the answer. You quietly sit and wonder if they’ll try to work it out with you or if they’ll leave you. Sadly, more often than not, you know the answer.

They may think they are protecting you with their silence and distance, but they’re not. Being open and present in a relationship is the heavy lifting in a relationship. It’s the work beyond the love, it’s the work no one tells you about and movies don’t show you. If you can’t do the heavy lifting, you’ve got to try if you want to stay.

And if you don’t want to stay?

Silence delivers the fatal blow in relationships.

“I was here lying down (or I feel locked out)
My head so conflicted
Everything I am
I’m contradicted
I’m so caught up
I can’t let you go
I need to know
I need to know”

You feel the loss from you skin through your bones to your soul but you’re desperate. You’re pleading with them to break the silence so you can know one way or the other. All too often where there was once tenderness and love there is now only anger and resentment. One wants to know and doesn’t know and anger because the other knows and doesn’t want to tell.

To be in love is to experience an all consuming series of contradictions.

If it’s not me you need to sleep beside. If I’m not the thought that’s always on your mind. If I’m not the reason you dream at night.

You can’t really choose who you fall in love with. Sure, you can choose who you date. And if the dating goes well you build to a point where you end up thinking and dreaming about the person. You get butterflies in your stomach before you see them. You dress to impress. You fix your hair just right. You take extra care of yourself.

You do things. For them. Unasked. You want them to be so into you that they can’t take their mind off of you. That’s the first part, the dreamy part, of love. You imagine a future together. You picture everything you do and everything that you are with that person. You project the love out years and years. Beyond the awkward “firsts”, beyond the brunches, behond the shitty movies, beyond the fights, beyond the kids, beyond the suburbs, beyond the weddings, beyond retirement, beyond the beyond.

But sometimes life takes over, the love fades and if you loose that imagery or it stops and you can’t see beyond the disagreements, you should go. You need to go. Sure, you can hold out hope the feelings will return. You can push through and find a place to rest, but at what cost? At whose cost?

Love can often be selfish but you can’t be too selfish and waste your partners time while you drag their heart and emotions through the mud. If the person that you love is “not the thought that’s always on your mind“, you must be both selfish and selfless, let them find what they need so you can find what you need.

Can there be a more painful break up then the one where you don’t want to but know you need to?

I’m awake but you’re still sleeping, not some secret you’ve been keeping…Soon the sun will come to save me.

When you are first in love the sunlight of daybreak brings hope and optimism. It brings another opportunity to right the wrongs, it shortens the path towards tomorrow. You’re one day closer to where you want to be with your partner.

When love gets all wonky, as love often does, you lose sleep, you lose your hunger, you lose all feeling and it takes everything to not lose your mind. It always seems that the person least connected will always be the person most likely to sleep through it all. But then maybe they’ve been sleeping all along?

And in the end, it is that same sunlight of daybreak that brings the light of hope and optimism to give you the strength needed to pick up the pieces and move on. In spite of all the pain and all the hurt, there will never be anything more optimistic than daybreak.

History has given us some amazing love songs, running the gamut from new love to gut wrenching heartbreak, too many to name. And now we can add “Who Am I To You” by Schuyler Fisk to the list.

WHO AM I TO YOU by SCHUYLER FISK

Now get in the pit and try to love someone.

Williamsburg Brooklyn is the epicenter of cool. I mean a cool beyond normal cool. Remember that guy in high school who was really cool, almost “too cool for school”? Yea, Williamsburg is cooler than that guy.  In fact, Williamsburg is so cool, I have coined a phrase for it, it’s “kelvin cool”. So cool it’s hot.

Ten years ago, I moved back to New York City. I spent three years living on the Upper East Side, the epicenter of both old and new money…along with recent college graduates, it’s a weird juxtaposition. As a rule, New Yorkers pick on the UES but in its defense, it does have some of the best thrift stores. I enjoyed my time there and never quite understood all the hate.

At the coaxing of an ex, I left the UES and moved in with her in the Williamsburg area about seven years ago, specifically Greenpoint. Seven months after that, she sent me packing. Immediacy and “the great recession” kept me in the area. Trust me, I didn’t stick around out of any sense of belonging or love, I just had to find a place, quickly.

Now despite having many of the tell tale markers of the cool guys in my neighborhood, the tattoos (bonus points for my first tattoo being older than most current Williamsburg residents), the advanced degree (points removed for not being from an Ivy league), the Frye boots, the beat up Chuck T’s, the snap shirts, the t-shirts, both weathered and crisp jeans (points removed for them being Old Navy jeans and not some no name $200 jeans). It’s worth noting that I have always dressed this way, I just seem to come into fashion every 15 years or so.

I’ve got a job in one of New York City’s “big five” employment industries (media, finance, food, health care and education).

Also indigenous to the area is the mufti-hypanate creative, of which I am one. I write, I’ve acted in theater, film and television (that’s me in the back), I’m a published playwright (not even self published, I’m in some obscure compilation), I’ve written and directed short films, I am a publisher and entrepreneur. And the icing on the cake? I even have the required therapist and accompanying anti-anxiety prescription (for me, you don’t become a New Yorker until you officially have a prescription for an anti-anxiety drug).

I am modern day Williamsburg, sans trust fund and ridiculous sense of self worth and entitlement.

Unfortunately for me, on most days in Williamsburg, I still feel awkward. You know that feeling as you step onto an escalator that isn’t working*, you sort of misjudge the steps a little?  Those first couple of steps are a little clunky and awkward until you work out the normal step to stair ratio…yea, that’s what living in Williamsburg is like for me…all the time.

Even though I have adopted Williamsburg as my home, I don’t feel it has adopted me.

Now that is not to say I have been deliberately marginalized, I haven’t. My awkwardness probably says more about me than about Williamsburg.

While there are some really terrific people in the neighborhood, the community is experiencing a rapid and robust influx of assholes. Now look,  I am typically not one of those people who pisses and moans about things changing. I understand change and, often times, I welcome it. It’s just that the nabe is becoming more and more populated with jackwads.

It’s been my experience lately that everyone puffs out their chest and extols the value and virtue in what they do. As if that is all that they are, as if it is all that they have. And unless you work for, or are part of an identifiable brand that they know of, you will generally be dismissed. For example, if I say I work at Comcast I will get this response “Oh Christ, I hate them! Their customer service is awful!” If I say I work at Comcast owned NBC I will get this response “Oh Christ, what is the deal with that network? Do you know Tina Fey?” If I say that I publish a digital magazine or that I have produced a web series, I will get a vacant stare. The same type of stare you get when you show a dog a card trick.

As awful as millennials are, and they can be pretty awful, they recognize new media. They’re just quick to talk right over you about their own awesomeness.

After the current soul sucking  millennials have had their trust funds restricted and they are forced to move back to Greenwich, CT to work for their fathers hedge fund or they’ve married out of Sunday brunch at Egg or their parents have finally pulled the plug on financing that “free trade” cosmetic shop, I’ll probably still be Williamsburg.

And when the Gen X’ers, who bought during Williamsburg’s junkie years (because home ownership and child bearing are the crowning achievement of a life), and their forward thinking, name dropping, “my work defines me” brethren have sold their apartments; well, those that haven’t mortgaged them to the hill to pay for their heathen offspring’s private education. When the Gen X’ers finally get tired of saying  “Oh my Gawd, I remember when Williamsburg was blah blah blah“, I’ll still be here.

And as horrible as those two groups are, I shudder to think what follows. If history is any indication, it will be wealthy Chinese and eastern block oligarchs, who may, in fact, be worse!

The only real upside I can see for the pending Chinese and eastern block oligarch influx is that they are traditionally lacking pretense…or if they have it, there is a HUGE language barrier that I am unlikely to overcome.

I suppose you are probably wondering if there was a specific incident that triggered this post. Nope. Over the course of my time here, at one point or another, I have met a fair representation of the people that make up my adopted home of Williamsburg Brooklyn.  I’ve had great conversations with people and I’ve had conversations with self obsessed people who look at me as though I were speaking some African tribal language. Being that I don’t know any African tribal languages (although I am sure there is someone in Williamsburg offering a class) I am left to surmise that I just can’t relate to some of these people. I guess I’m just not cool enough.

I mean, I am never going to be cool enough to live in Williamsburg, I accept that. And I won’t let self obsessed or narrow minded jackwads stop me from doing what it is that I want to do. I guess, I’ll just keep fumbling my way onto this non-working escalator knowing one day it will start working and the awkwardness will stop.

“You can look for answers, but that ain’t no fun…now get in the pit and try and love someone!”
– Kid Rock

* – The late comedian Mitch Hedberg would say that it is impossible for an escalator to be broken. If the escalator isn’t working, they become stairs.

Somedays You’re the Bird. Somedays You’re the Statue.

My last post was about the exquisitely awful SyFy Original movie Sharknado (be sure to catch the re-broadcast on SyFy this Thursday at 7pm eastern). And then I got to thinking that maybe, just maybe, Sharknado is more than just a movie, more than just an event. Perhaps it is a metaphor for what’s been happening to America. Think about it.

Unless you are completely tuned out you know by now that George Zimmerman was acquitted of the senseless slaughter of teenager Treyvon Martin. While the acquittal came as no surprise to me it seems that the rest of the country has forgotten that Florida has a law in place that is all but state sponsored murder (to be fair, more than half the country has some semblance of the stand your ground law). Frankly, I was surprised it actually made it to trial.

Now look, there is no physical evidence to suggest that Zimmerman’s life was truly in danger, so the rational mind can only conclude that this was murder. Unfortunately, rationality and jurisprudence seldom go hand in hand.

Realistically,  Zimmerman could have said Treyvon Martin was a shape shifter and had arms made of machine guns. Since he took the liberty of shooting Martin dead, we don’t have any evidence to prove or disprove Zimmerman’s theoretical claim. If Martin were indeed a shape shifter he would have shifted back when he died.

I think we can safely presume Treyvon Martin was not a shape shifter.

So, does Zimmerman’s act mean he is a racist? It certainly is a big old giant flag that he might be. And maybe we can’t say concretely he is a racist,  we can say he is a big giant idiot. George Zimmerman is the very reason we should have stricter gun control laws, but that is a different argument. From where I sit, this isn’t, and shouldn’t be, about race. There are racial components to it, yes, but this whole thing is about a law that needs serious reconsideration. The stand your ground law.

Since the acquittal, people are crying for the federal government to step in and seek justice for Teyvon by putting Zimmerman on trial at a federal level. NO NO NO! Convicting Zimmerman is NOT the answer. Outside of jail he’ll spend the rest of his days as a social pariah and living with the fact that everyone knows that he shot a kid in cold blood. Inside of jail, the Aryan Brotherhood will protect him and treat him like a hero.

Do not look for justice through the legal system. Seek justice for Treyvon Martin by challenging the federal government to force each state to overthrow the god damn law. It’s a horrible law. Wouldn’t the memory of Treyvon Martin be better served by being the catalyst for changing a law? I certainly think it would be. Of course, such a move by the fed’s would challenge each states sovereignty, but maybe it’s time for the federal government to grow a set of balls and start doing something other than lining their pockets and those of their corporate sponsors and the 1%’ers. No?

It should come as no shock this Zimmerman pig fluck took place in Florida. The state has a long and storied history of being…well, of being Florida, the skid mark of America.

In my lifetime I may not have seen anything quite as apocalyptic as a Sharknado but I’ve seen some truly messed up stuff:

  • Horrible miscarriages of justice. The Rodney King  and OJ Simpson acquittals immediately come to mind.
  • Snot nosed Ivy League Wall Street twats making billions by all but puncturing a whole in the global financial world and then crying to the Federal Reserve Bank (a convoluted corporate structure that is a FOR PROFIT institution) saying that they needed about one trillion dollars of taxpayers money. Periodically returning to the teet of the Fed when they needed more money.
  • Student loan debt is now a larger part of American’s debt structure than commercial debt.
  • We’ve all but created an entire generation of indentured servants. Shouldn’t education be a right and not a privilege?
  • Our government has experienced a corporate coup d’etat as corporate lobbyists outnumber elected officials by +/- 30 to 1. Make no mistake, we live in a corporatocracy, NOT a democracy.
  • Kids and young adults have gone into grade schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges and senselessly slaughtered innocent people.
  • We’ve heard this time and time again, but the rich keep getting richer. And not little by little, we are talking about double digit percentage increases in personal wealth.
  • The middle and lower classes have experienced no growth and any wage increase parsed out is offset by tax increases or service rate increases.
  • We had the largest period of economic expansion only to be obliterated by a blue blooded man child who stole the election (once again, thanks Florida) and then got us entrenched in two wars. One we are still mired in. Any expansion we experienced had the air sucked right out of it after 9/11. Yes, 9/11 did change everything.
  • The same man watched as a city under water screamed for help, turning New Orleans into his own personal LARP (live action role play) game of the TV show Survivor.
  • We continue to be the worlds leading jailer. Why are our prison rates growing when crime rates are going down? Why do we feel the need to spend money on prisons, but cut education and care for the middle and lower classes?

I could continue this list for days and still not come close to having a thorough list of offenses that have rained down on America over the past 30 years. Are any of them as cataclysmic as a Sharknado? No, absolutely not. But there is a difference, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest a Sharknado could ever occur outside of a SyFy Original Movie.

Sadly, if you look around you, you will see nothing but evidence of a 30+ year metaphorical Sharknado.

Religion and blind patriotism are the opiate of the masses(1) and part of being an American is having some sort of blind flag waving pride in our country. But I’m not blind and I don’t have that same sense of pride. Perhaps being an American is less about patriotism and more about optimism. Maybe being an American is about believing we can do better.

Maybe being an American is more about seeking justice for Treyvon Martin not by prosecuting George Zimmerman, but by coming together to change a law to insure that there will never be another Treyvon Martin.

Maybe being an American is believing that we can create a technology that allows us to accurately forecast a Sharknado and make any necessary adjustments so that should such an atrocity occur, we can respond accordingly.

I dunno, I’m just sayin…

1 – Karl Marx

One Word…SHARKNADO!

About six years ago I was introduced to the wonderful and whacky world of SyFy Original Movies. They say you never forget your first…and its true, Mansquito was my first SyFy Original. Curiously though, this movie is now called Mosquito Man. Since then it’s been a cacophony of ridiculousness Ice Spiders, Sharktopus, Two Headed Shark, Chupucabra: Dark Seas, Frankenfish, well the list goes on and on. The titles of these movies almost always leave little to the imagination and are always awesomely insane. So anyway…

Last night I came home from walking the dog and wanted to watch a little television. I stumbled upon SyFy and saw a movie called Sharknado. SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! I froze. I had no choice. I had to look. Seconds after tuning in I saw Ian Ziering on the phone with Tara Reid. Clearly there was no turning back.

Sharknado!

Now, you might be asking yourself “What exactly is a Sharknado?” The answer is not as simple as you may think. Sure, in keeping with SyFy Original tradition, the title pretty much spells it out…mostly. SPOILER ALERT Sharknado is a tornado…filled with sharks. A deadly combination to be sure. While I missed the beginning so I am unclear as to what environmental disaster was responsible for tornado’s sweeping across Los Angeles, I can say with almost complete certainty it was a combination of pure idiocy AND the polar ice cap melting that caused the flooding that resulted in sharks being in tornado’s.

Shardnado was written by Thunder Levin, which I am guessing is not his real name. “Thunder” is the type of name you give yourself when you move to LA. “Hey guys, not for nuthin, but can you call me Thunder from now on?” He probably just kept the Levin on to keep getting jobs or he didn’t want to disappoint his mother. Based on the dialog, I might venture a guess that Thunder Levin might not be a person at all. It’s probably a bunch of SyFy marketing people who wrote the script via Power Point.

What makes this movie better than most of the SyFy Original Movie fare (and trust me, that is saying something) is Sharknado’s absolute dedication to lunacy. The premise is beyond ridiculous. The dialog is just awful. Truly, truly awful. The film making itself is barely a notch above film school. And the acting is pretty lazy overall. And yet, everyone is absolutely committed to bringing their B game, and unwittingly, all those negatives somehow turned positive.

On a whim, I decided to hop on Twitter and announce I was watching this movie. Low and behold, the Twittersphere was absolutely blowing up about Sharknado!

Normally, I think tweeting during television shows or movies is self indulgent and pretty dumb. As I scrolled through the myriad of #SHARKNADO tags and literally laughing out loud, I realized this was more than a movie, Sharknado was an event! And I actually think tweeting during the movie enhanced my Sharknado experience. It was like hanging out with your wittiest friends cracking wise about a ridiculous movie. Dare I say it even felt, social.

Everyone watching and tweeting about Sharknado elevated the movie from being pure shite to wonderfully sublime. This must be the synergy thing networks have been prattling about and trying to cram down our throats for years now. Here it was in full effect, enhancing the experience! But, I am fairly certain this was unplanned…which is probably why it worked so well, even on me.

Oddly, it seemed like everyone who was watching this movie was tweeting about it.
Actor Wil Wheaton tweeted “”We lost the night to #SharkNado? What the hell is that?” – every non-syfy network executive tomorrow morning.
Actor Michael McKean chimed in about 3/4 of the way through asking “Am I really missing a movie called Sharknado?”
Screenwriter Damon Lindelof, actress Elizabeth Banks and comedian Patton Oswalt got into a three way pitch for Sharknado 2.
Even Mia Farrow was tweeting about watching Sharknado, she even sent a picture!

However, I think it was comedian Patton Oswalt who said it best “No way is Sharknado as entertaining as the Tweets about it. Congrats @SyFyTV You’ve created a new way to watch movies.” And he’s right. Tweeting during this movie heightened the pleasure in its absolute insanity, in the best way possible.

You’ll have to pardon my cynicism, but I feel pretty comfortable saying that this Twitter-pooloza was not planned by NBCUniversal or the SyFy folks. Of course, that probably won’t stop some mid-level marketing twit from attempting to milk credit and a promotion from it (he’ll probably get it too).  And if history has taught me anything, it’s that NBCUniversal and SyFy will take the Sharknado experience and kick the living shite out of it by trying to capitalize on it. ESPECIALLY if they didn’t plan for it. This will, of course, inevitably fluck it up and suck the joy out of the synergistic experience. My advice to SyFy? Just leave it alone. Let your viewers have this, you don’t need to monetize every single God damn thing.

Is Sharknado the zeitgeist of modern television viewing? I think it might just be.

And until the Twitter SyFy Original Movie double punch gets ruined, I think I found the best way to spend Thursday nights. Next weeks SyFy Original promises to be simply explosive as Frankie Muniz and Barry Bostwick star in BLAST VEGAS.

Some great Sharknado related links:

Here are some great Sharknado tweets put together by Bruce Floyd.

Article on Sharknado from cnn.com

Totally awesome and spoiler alert ridden post from EW.

LATimes covers the Sharknado pandemic here.

Losing the Gamble

First published in wait(er) Magazine, July, 2013.

My first job when I moved back to New York City, ten years ago, was working in a subsection of the financial services industry. Getting a root canal, sans anesthetic, would be less uncomfortable then trying to describe the banality of that job and industry. Suffice it to say, I was miserable.

Against almost everyone’s opinion, I up and quit after about 18 months without a back up job. Well, I gave two weeks notice but in keeping with company protocol, they didn’t except it and terminated me immediately. Apparently, they were worried I would steal valuable industry secrets or their clients. Christ, I didn’t know any secrets (if I did, I certainly wasn’t aware of them) and the thought of stealing clients never crossed my mind (until they said it).

I was happy to be leaving with what was left of my pride.

Having about ten years of restaurant experience behind me, I figured that was my best bet to keep me relatively solvent. So the day after I quit, I suited up and armed with a lead from a friend of a friend, I made my way to Penn Station.

Specifically, One Penn Plaza, to a place called Tupelo Grill. Holding the managers names, Aaron, the General Manager and Ethan, the Manager, I popped in to try and speak with them around 3pm. The hostess gave me an application and went to get one of them. It was Ethan who came up and introduced himself to me. We shook hands and I handed him my resume and completed application. He looked it over and asked me, “Do you have any New York City experience?”

Now, this was not the first time in my life I had heard this question. And frankly, it pissed me off then and even now as I write this, it still irks me. So I shared with Ethan why that question annoys me, why it usually means nothing and is a pretty transparent intimidation tactic.

Sometime in the mid-90’s I moved to the Upper West Side and went out looking for restaurant work. At this point I only had a few years experience, but I had been part of a serving staff of a newly opened chain and had been part of a three man team that opened a very successful restaurant outside of Waterbury, CT. I had a fairly solid grasp on the business, especially front of the house operations.

Nonetheless, every single restaurant I went into asked me the same damn question, as they looked at my resume, “Hmm, do you have any New York City experience?” Initially, I was embarrassed that I didn’t and would trip over my rebuttal. With each rejection I grew more and more annoyed. After a week of rejections, I went into Lexington Bar and Books and sure as shit, the guy looked at my resume and asked me “Hmm, well do you have any New York City experience?”

I snapped and retorted, “What exactly does that mean? I mean you can clearly see that I have experience bartending at two restaurants that did between three and four million dollars annually. Volume is volume whether it is in New York City or Des Moines, right?” He was a tad taken aback and silently nodded in agreement. Long story short, I got that job. It lasted all of three hours, but I did get that job (that’s a story for another time).

Ethan took in my tale, smiled and said “Those guys at Bar and Books are assholes anyway.” I’m still not entirely sure if they were assholes for hiring me.

As this was just as the whole foodie craze and the “everyone must know everything about food” crap, he asked if I would be willing to take a test. I shrugged and said “Sure.” It’s not like I had anything else going on.

Looking back, it was maybe seven or eight questions but I distinctly remember one:

Name three kinds of mushrooms:

1.     Good
2.     Bad
3.     Psilocybin

I got the job.

After two lunch shifts training, I was thrown into the fray. I quickly realized that Tupelo Grill was easily the best restaurant job I had ever had. The managers Aaron and Ethan were great and totally supportive, the staff was a lot of fun and easy to work with and the owners were non-existent (for the most part).

Certainly, all those things made the job great, but what made it excellent? The two reasons that matter most, the hours and the money. You see Tupelo Grill was in One Penn Plaza (a big office building) and across from Madison Square Garden (the worlds most famous arena). Because of the law offices and financial companies located on the floors above the restaurant, the lunch shifts were amazing! The proximity to MSG meant the place was packed when there was a concert or event at the Garden and pretty empty otherwise. Oh yeah, and the place was only open M-F.

Working one lunch about nine months into my stay there, I got sat a four top. An older guy, whom I recognized and thought to be in his late 60’s, and three of his colleagues who were probably about 20 years his junior.  I knew the guy was in finance because I had seen his American Express Black Card and the name of the company. Nonetheless, their lunch, as near as I could tell, went along without a hitch. The older guy asked for the check, so I printed it and dropped it off.

The guy was a typical 20% guy, so I didn’t worry too much. I saw him place his card in the check presenter card slot and then excuse himself to go to the bathroom. I meandered over and picked it up and took a stroll around my section to check on my other tables before going back to swipe his card and close the check.

I timed it so that I was printing out his check just as he was exiting the bathroom and was on my way to his table. About ten paces before I got to his table I got smacked across the face with a horrendous smell. The smell only got stronger as I approached the table. I’ve no doubt I grimaced and shook my head, but maintained my composure as I presented the check to the table and said “Thank you”.

As I walked back to the computer, one of the other waiters was surveying the dining room when I said “Jesus, it smells like SHIT by table 44.” She looked over and then I looked over just as my four top was standing and we noticed at the same time, it was shit.

The old man had lost the gamble and shat himself.  The back of his finely tailored grey Brooks Brothers suit was dark, wet and no longer grey. OBVIOUSLY, I first fell into a fit of laughter that gave way to embarrassment for the guy and I finally settled on my go to, sadness. I mean there was NO way he didn’t know he shat himself and NO way his cohorts didn’t smell it. And since he walked out FIRST, there was no way they didn’t see it.

Just as I settled on sadness, one of my other tables called me over to inform me that the men’s room was a mess. I quickly put two and two together and grabbed a busboy to assess the damage. The restaurant hierarchy can be a little murky but one thing is almost universally true, busboys and dishwashers may be on the bottom rung but the best managers always slide on the continuum between dishwasher/busboy and front of the house politico. Both Aaron and Ethan were on this continuum.

So the busboy I grab goes in and immediately comes out laughing, shaking his head to the left and right, saying “No, no, not me. Not me.”

Given that reaction, there was no way I was going in, so I went to get the manager on duty, Ethan, to tell him that the men’s room was a mess. I told him what had happened and who did it.

He lowered his head and simply said, “Fuck, not again.”

I was floored, “Whadda ya mean not AGAIN?!”

“Oh, he’s done this before.”

As he and I walked through the server station over to the men’s room, I had transitioned from sadness back to a fit of laughter.

Aaron walked by and tapped one of huddled busboys and signaled for him to follow. The poor guy put his head down as though he were being led to the gallows pole. They both went in and seconds later Aaron burst out of the bathroom laughing, “Dude, you gotta go in there, it’s everywhere! It’s like a shit sprinkler went off!” The poor busboy immediately followed Aaron, laughing just as hard.

They tried pushing me in there, but to no avail. The three of us laughing like high school students or leads in some Farrelly Brothers movie. Once we regained our composure we began to assume our respective positions.

In the absence of Tupelo Grill branded HAZMAT suits, Aaron and the busboy geared up in trash bags and rubber gloves to clean up while I stood sentry, directing men to the handicapped bathroom around the corner.  Before going into the DMZ that was now the men’s room, he asked someone to take the chair the guy sat on and remove it. The remaining two busboys couldn’t get to table 44 fast enough.

I left Tupelo Grill shortly after this crappy incident (seriously, how could you not see a pun coming) to begin a career as a cube dwelling, media drone and while I worked a couple of parties and a few shifts after, eventually the calls to fill in shifts stopped coming.

The last I had heard of Ethan was that he had developed a rather bad cocaine habit and was waiting tables somewhere downtown and Aaron was managing a hotel in China. Tupelo Grill has been re-branded as some Italian Place.

As for the guy who lost the gamble? I don’t know but I’d like to think that with the advances in adult diaper technology, I hope he is out there…and he is wearing them.

Race Relations

“In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
Aeschylus

I know very little about race relations, even today. I knew even less when I was a little kid.

Last night I took a walk to get some ice cream at the new ice cream store in our neighborhood. Not recognizing any of the flavors and fearing they were all “gluten free”* or made with some sort of hippie milk substitute (I shudder to think that that might be), I went with my standard favorite, vanilla. Of course, the word vanilla was preceded by two words I didn’t recognize and seemed out of place in the name of an ice cream, but I figured how could you muck up vanilla?

Thankfully, “Dr. Douchetastics Full Moon Fever Ice Cream Store”** did not.

As I have gotten older, vanilla has always remained my favorite flavor of ice cream and my love affair with it goes back. Way way back.

Sometime between first and second grade, we lived in Minneapolis, MN. The joy of no school in the summer was offset in Minnesota by two things, oppressive humidity and mosquito’s the size of Cessna’s. We learned to combat the heat with ice cream and the mosquitoes? Well, they were a losing battle.

Now, my neighborhood was straight up middle class and we had the good fortune to live right across the street from the municipal park that all the neighborhood kids played in, which made for an easy dash when the ice cream man that would drive by, playing that damn ice cream high treble music.. Of course, this being 1970-something, we were beginning to see black people move into the neighborhood. Thankfully, my family was raised to ignore skin color.

Family folklore has it that when we lived in Virginia, my parents closest friends were black. My mother likes to tell the story of how she and I went to the airport to pick up their friend at the airport. The story goes that we picked him up, he and my mom embraced, and he held my left hand while my mom held my right one as we walked out of the airport together. When I noticed everyone staring and asked why, he said “Well, because I am black and your mom is white.” I quickly retorted “What’s black?”

Over the next few years, I came to understand there was an aesthetic difference but that was about all my wee brain could comprehend.

When the first black family moved into our neighborhood in Minneapolis, I’d like to think my father summoned us for a family discussion over Cheez-Its and martini’s, kool-aid for my brother and I. And at this family meeting, I’d like to think my dad threw down some mad wisdom like “You will find many many different reasons in life to dislike people, but never let skin color or religious belief’s be one of them.”

My lack of total recall tells me the reality was probably just an awkward silence around the dinner table, eating cream chicken and white rice, with my father mumbling about black people moving into the neighborhood and to be nice to them.

Anyway, so it was the summer and I recall all of the boys, including the new black residents, playing at the park. With pods of kids, broken out more or less by age, playing a variety of different games all around the park. The black kids were closest to my age so, by default, they were hanging around with about seven of us neighborhood kids. Again, I KNEW they were black, simply because they didn’t look like me, but I had no idea about prejudice. As far as I was concerned, we were all just kids horsing around being kids…and then the ice cream truck came around. Because we lived right across the street, I flew back home and begged for some money to get some ice cream. My mother acquiesced and handed me a dollar bill and I flew back to the park and the line of kids at the ice cream truck.

I waited patiently for my turn so I could order up my favorite ice cream, vanilla. No Rocket Pop or Rainbow Push Up for me, I wanted ice cream. I got it and went over to hang out with the rest of the boys in my park pod, including the black kids. Now the black kids got their favorite ice cream, chocolate. The intricacies of metaphor and prejudice of our ice cream selections were going to be lost on me, but apparently not on them.

The older one boy chuckled at me and said “Vanilla, it figures.”
I said, “I like vanilla. It’s my favorite.”
Then the boy who was about my age chimed in “Why is it your favorite, because its white?”
“No, I just like the way it tastes.”
The older boy emphatically stated “Chocolate is way better.”
I took the bait hook line and sinker, “No WAY. You don’t know what you are talking about. Vanilla is the BEST EVER!”

This went back and forth for some time and, as I recall, became rather heated. I was steadfast in my defense that vanilla was the best ever. Eventually, the boys decided to head back home. I DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS A METAPHOR TO THEM! Clearly, the boys had been exposed to racism and prejudice so their argument was not one about ice cream.

I’m sure they went home and told their parents about some stupid mid-western racist boy who only eats vanilla ice cream. It’s true, at that time, I did only eat vanilla ice cream. I recall being really hurt and angry that someone couldn’t understand why I loved vanilla ice cream. Suddenly, I didn’t like them. Not because of their skin color though.

For the remainder of the summer I saw less and less of the two boys at the park and when we did see each other, there was always this undercurrent of disdain. When school started in the fall, they would get on the bus, grimace as they walked by me and pretty much ignored me. Thankfully, we were in different classrooms so we had not day to day interaction, aside from the bus. Recess was just a larger variant of the park pods we had in the summer, sans the ice cream truck, so I had no real opportunity or desire to patch things up with the boys. I’m not even sure I would have known how because the fact was, I still loved vanilla ice cream and was fairly certain there was no way to bridge the racial ice cream chasm that existed between us.

Now that I understand what that discussion was truly about, I’d love to able to get in a time machine and go back and tell the boys that the argument was really only about ice cream, but I’m not convinced it would matter all that much. Race relations are still a complex thing, now more than ever. And to this day, when I see someone eating chocolate ice cream, I think of those two brothers and our beef. You just shouldn’t judge people by their favorite ice cream flavor.

Over the years, I’ve certainly tasted more ice cream flavors, but vanilla still remains my favorite.

Christ, am I really an ice cream racist?

*- Fruity Pebbles are gluten free…so, yea. Apparently TONS of sugar is OK as long as there is not Gluten? COME ON PEOPLE!

**- Not its real name.

Faith (not the George Michael album).

“I have learned that having faith is trusting in advance what will only makes sense in reverse.”
– Phillip Yancey

In life, you learn rather quickly whether you are a square peg in a square hole OR a round peg trying to fit in a square hole. If you are the latter, you may just be one of the creative set.

And being creative is no easy task. It’s almost setting yourself up for a lifetime of disappointment. It’s an uphill battle at every turn. The path up the hill is loaded with signs telling you to “turn back”, “you’re not good enough”, “it’s been done before”, etc. So few eventually make it to the mountaintop, not because of lack of talent more because of giving up. The path can take its toll.

You have to have faith and believe in yourself.

In addition to slogging ahead and finding a way around those signs and all the set-backs, maybe you’ve got a day job that sucks the life and soul out of you. Maybe your family and friends are simply too busy with their own life to think about whatever it is you are doing. Maybe you’ve got a significant other who manifests their contempt for you by ignoring the very element that makes you, you. Maybe you simply are not that good…yet. That doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?

You have to have faith. It is that simple.

Of course, there are those who have the privilege of benefactors, be they parents and trust funds or a social network large enough to fund every crowd funding campaign they start. But for everyone else, it’s a lonely, uphill struggle.

You’ve got to have faith, because no one else will.

Now look, having faith in yourself is neither God-centric nor the angry defiant “ME AGAINST THE WORLD” type of crap. If you define faith as God, that’s fine, but the “me against the world” stuff is teenage rebel stuff. Less esoteric to comprehend and juvenile is understanding that faith is simply believing in what you are doing, realizing that if you don’t do it someone else won’t. It’s that faith that gives you the strength to sit alone for hours on end sifting through your mind trying to find a seed to plant, water and grow.

The only thing you have to keep you going is you. You’ve got no one to hold your hand as you wander around in your head, no one to help guide you or mentor you or push yourself forward. It’s not that you lack vision or lack direction, you don’t. And it’s not necessarily that no one wants to help, they’re simply not you. Sometimes all of that crap comes together and overtakes you and you begin thinking, “What’s the point?”

That’s loosing faith. Don’t do that.

You hope that you’re creative voice is maybe, just maybe, loud enough to rise above the noise. And you get cranky that your job sucks the soul out of you, you get angry that your family and loved ones don’t hold you up above their own noise. It sucks, but you don’t stop. Because you can’t stop.

That’s faith.

No one can make you be creative. It’s impossible. And no one forces you to be creative. We may all start as clean slates but when we hit that fork in the road, which path do you take, the well traveled or the less traveled one? Most take the well traveled one. Is the white collar guy who connives and fails his way upward any less creative than the guy sitting alone in a dingy basement painting still life’s? We’ll never know. Which one provides more meaning to the world?

It’s that faith that keeps you painting.

Oh, and you’re gonna fail. You’re gonna make missteps. You’re gonna f*ck up. You’re gonna piss people off. You’re gonna alienate them. You can’t let those things stop you. It’s just creative collateral damage, or commonly known as “inspiration”.

But look, you’re simply never going to stop or silence the critics. If everyone loves you, they’re lying. If everyone hates you, they’re lying. The truth is always somewhere in the middle. The reality is it’s their own fear that makes them judge you. It’s their cowardice that prevents them from taking a risk and showing themselves.

Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who sticks to it and manages to rise above the fray, then those critics will be the first people in your corner wishing you well and patting you on the back saying “I knew you could do it!”, recalling all those “glory days”. To be clear, there is the “glory” in the crappy basement. Where is the “glory” in thinking no one gives a sh*t about what you do? Where is the “glory” in all that isolation? Where is the “glory” in all that “inspiration”? There is none, but you don’t stop because you can’t stop.

That’s faith.

You do what you do because you have faith in yourself and when you are racked with doubt or full of questions, you keep going. You push through because it is only you that can get you to where you want to be. You have no choice. You don’t give up because you can’t give up.

It’s not suffering for art, it’s not pissing and moaning that no one is paying attention, it’s not playing the role of tortured creator. You will suffer, no one will pay attention and you already are tortured, you’ve just got to deal with it.

It’s focus.
It’s perseverance.
It’s dedication.
It’s belief in yourself.

It’s faith.

Jumping the Shark

“It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.”
– Noel Coward

“Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that is used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery, which is usually a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of “gimmick” in a desperate attempt to keep viewers’ interest.”(1)

The phrase comes from an episode of the television show “Happy Days” when the Cunningham family, along with Potsie, Ralph Malph and, of course Arthur Fonzerelli (aka The Fonz), flew from Wisconsin to Southern California for a vacation. While the exact plot escapes me and I really don’t wanna go down an IMDB rabbit hole, I can tell you it was a two part episode where The Fonz ended up having to water ski and jump over a shark (in his leather jacket of course), ergo the phrase.

For better or for worse, but mostly better, the phrase has entered the vernacular of American culture.

Well, I am here to say officially that crowdfunding has officially jumped the shark. Yesterday it was announced that actor James Franco has created an Indie Gogo campaign to raise $500,000 to fund three films based on his short stories. While incredibly selfish, Franco’s campaign only highlights the true nature of this actors narcissism. According to celebrity net worth, Franco has an estimated net worth of $20 million dollars. While I doubt that figure is completely accurate, it certainly is in the ballpark. Nonetheless, fluck you James Franco.

Crowdfunding, or microfinancing for the nonprofits, was created for a variety of reasons, but at its core was the principle of  leveling the playing field to provide people access to funds so they can pursue their dreams, whether it was a tech start up or a short film. In what will come as no great shock, the majority of the world doesn’t have access to a major studio, or venture capital or come from a wealthy tailored pedigree. This certainly doesn’t make them any less talented or creative. So, Kickstarter and Indie Gogo were born (and I am deliberately ignoring Donald Trump’s foray into it).

And they both highlighted what makes the Internet so incredibly egalitarian!

Earlier this year, the creators of the television show “Veronica Mars” created a Kickstarter and raised over 1 million dollars to fund a feature length movie. And while I was a bit taken aback, it made a little sense because the show was cancelled and despite a rabid fan base had no potential of ever being brought back. And no studio, in this day and age, would ever back a movie. So the creators decided to do it on their own. Kudos to them. It seemed to make sense.

Then Zach Braff (net worth 22 million dollars) started a KickStarter campaign to raise capital for a feature film he wrote. To date, he has raised in excess of 3 million dollars.

And now James Franco? Come on!

I used Kickstarter a year ago to fund a web series I created. And through the kindness of so many supportive people, I was able to reach my goal and realize my vision. These guys have a combined net worth of 40+million dollars and you are telling me that they don’t believe enough in their ideas to pony up their own money?! And even if they don’t have enough money, they don’t have the access to people who do have the money? Come on!

Crowdfunding is not a bank.

I don’t know these guys but what they are doing strikes me as extremely predatory. They are tapping into their fan base asking them to pony up their hard earned dollars when they themselves are sitting on enough dough to fund their projects. And what happens should they sell their films and then they go on to make a handsome profit? Is whatever reward you got really going to pacify you? To me, what Franco and Braff are doing is extremely uncool.

They may be perfectly nice guys who are simply looking for alternative ways to fund their creativity. That is what Kickstarter and Indie Gogo are there for, but how egalitarian is this? How would you feel if GE started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for research and development on a new airplane engine? Sure, not as flashy as some movie star, but its the same God damn principle!

It’s pretty manipulative and disingenuous when you have the money to fund your project yourself and yet you are asking your fan base, whom I am guessing are not millionaires, to cough up a portion of their hard earned money.

One could argue that they are bringing attention to the crowdfunding cause by starting their own campaign. And to that I have to call bullsh*t.

There are certainly mid to lower level celebs who could easily use Kickstarter and Indie Gogo to fund their own endeavors  who would be less irritating. The Whitest Kids U’ Know* come to mind because their fan base is rabid and I suspect mainstream access to funds for them would be pretty challenging. Even the “Veronica Mars” thing I get. But two wealthy actors using it to fund their own pet projects? Nope, sorry. It just seems like a crappy thing to do.

From where I sit, if their projects were really worth funding, they should finance it themselves! And if they don’t want to, I get that too, but these guys have access to resources to help them fund it! Why is it incumbent upon their fans finance their pet projects? It’s not.

Crowdfunding has officially jumped the shark.

Sources

1 – http://tinyurl.com/82qca

* – I know these guys and would like to see them do more stuff.

Art imitates art when Barry Zuckerhorn, the Henry Winkler character on “Arrested Development”, physically jumped over a shark in an episode of AD as a nod to the phrase.

In an interesting display of irony, Hein sold his company Jump the Shark, Inc to Gemstar (the owners of TV Guide).

I Stopped Smoking

“They can because they think they can.”
– Virgil

I can’t completely say I quit smoking because the truth is, I don’t know that I quit. To borrow a saying from the 12 Step posse, I can only say I am not smoking today.

The most frequent thing said to me when I mention that I have stopped is not “Good for you!” it’s been “Why now?” Uhh, I suppose, first and foremost, because smoking is bad for you. We can certainly add that it is expensive. I suppose you can also throw in the fact that society views you as some sort of leper.

When I lived in San Francisco, I would be outside smoking and people would circumvent me as though I were evil incarnate. One might think that would have a negative effect on me but it didn’t. It just made me want to run up next to them and make sure my Marlboro exhales wafted in their direction. But being a smoker, I didn’t have the lung capacity.

I lived in Florida for a little over a year and quit while I was there. Even though cigarettes were infinitely cheaper in the sunshine state, it’s too damn hot there to smoke. If you went outside to smoke you’d inhale so much humidity it made cigarette smoke redundant.

When I moved back to New York City ten years ago, I took up smoking again. You see New Yorkers, its citizens, for the most part, don’t seem to care (politicians on the other hand…). I’ve always felt the attitude here was “You wanna smoke, fine…just do it over there and stay the hell out of my way, I got somewhere to be.” I also think living in New York City means your mind is on so many other things and the city is filled with so many other irritants that being irritated by smokers just doesn’t chart very high. It’s usually the tourists who bitch about it. Obviously, these are tourists who have never been outside of North America, where smoking is not a habit so much as a sporting event.

Stopping smoking is not simple, but I certainly was never one of those smokers who lived to smoke or had to smoke. While I enjoyed it, I was fine not smoking, it was just my preference to smoke.

So, how am I doing it? Cold turkey. There simply is no other way. Yes, I am using a patch to help aid in the chemical withdraw. While science and intelligence tells me there was most certainly a chemical addiction, I never felt addicted. For me, it was mostly a psychological thing. I smoked when I was bored, when I needed to kill time and mostly when I was stressed. Boredom is always going to be kicking around, I’ll just have to find other ways to kill time. And the stress? Well, that’s why the good lord created Dr. X, Xanax.

I don’t suppose I am ever going to loose the desire to smoke, the trick will be re-adjusting my response of smoking to the psychological triggers. That’s gonna be the bitch of it all. Re-wiring. Blargh,

One legitimate fear of being a non-smoker is that I will become one. You know the type of non-smoker who randomly fake coughs around smokers or scrunches up their face while frantically waving their hand in front of themselves. Or even the extreme non-smoker who has the gumption to ask “Do you HAVE to smoke here?” I always wanted to be asked that question so I could simply reply “No, but I’m going to.”

Man, I just don’t wanna become that guy. The late comedian Bill Hicks used to joke “I’d quit smoking if I wasn’t so afraid of becoming a non-smoker.”

I’ll be damned if that 12 step thought process doesn’t apply here too. I mean if a drug addict or alcoholic is always a drug addict or alcoholic, I guess I will just have to think of myself as a smoker who doesn’t smoke.

So, why now? Because 30 years of smoking is a long mother f’ing time to be smoking! I’d also started getting a little smokers cough and, truth be told, I know better. Smoking is bad for you. I’ve known that for years. I’d also be lying if I didn’t say the anti-smoking commercials with people talking about losing extremities or showing them shaving around one of those talk holes or watching some devastated mother about to tell her children she has cancer didn’t have an effect on me.

While I can’t say definitively that this is forever, it is certainly for right now.

That doesn’t make me a non-smoker though, it simply means I am not smoking.

Honest

“As you age naturally, your family shows more and more on your face. If you deny that, you deny your heritage.”
– Frances Conroy

Today is my birthday. I don’t say that looking for birthday wishes, I say that as entry into what follows.

You see, I am smack dab in the middle of my life. I mean right in the middle. And with that comes a fair amount of reflection. It’s not necessarily a crisis, I’m not going to drop everything and get a sports car, I can’t afford it. I’m also not going to grow a mustache or become a reclusive Luddite. I’m going to do what I’ve always done, keep plowing ahead doing the things I want to and doing the things that I feel are right for me and those I care about.

What’s interesting as you get older is how you begin to wonder where you came from. Not necessarily the locale so much as the ingredients that make you, you. Of course, I am able to recognize many of my parents traits in myself, both good and bad, but for the past 15-20 years I have often wondered where some of this other stuff that is hard wired into me comes from.

Growing up we moved around and never really spent any time around our relatives. I never had the opportunity to know my maternal or paternal grandfathers and only saw my grandmothers but once a year. When they would visit, for reasons I can’t fully understand, I always sensed a fair amount of weirdness. That’s hard to comprehend as an adult and even harder to understand as a child. But, truth be told, I was too much of a selfish little kid to actually ask either of my grandmothers about my heritage. Sadly, I’m pretty sure I just didn’t care. And because I had very few interactions with my extended family, I was never privy to the stories and folklore.

My fathers’ oldest sister, my Aunt Alice, passed away recently and with her went some of the stories that provided some history and understanding about my family. On the few occasions my family would visit my Aunt and Uncle and the cousins, I would get to hear some of the stories and they would always shed light onto our family’s gestalt; our love of a good story, our tenacity, our tempers (both good and bad), our love of a good drink and our deep love of laughter.

Yea, we were predominantly Irish.

Certainly, there are some Irish stereotypes that I can accept and am apparently hardwired for, like rebellion. And not in the “I’m a rebel, no one understands me!” James Dean kind of way or the tattooed, motorcycle riding, hard living kind of way (I have tattoos and I’ve owned a motorcycle). For me, rebellion isn’t a look or an attitude; it’s a philosophical belief that stands against any injustice, real or imagined. It’s about having as much knowledge as you can and then believing there is a better way. I’m more rebellious now than I was as a kid, if only because I know more now.

It’s been argued I have a problem with authority (I really don’t as long as the authority figure is smart, reasonable and not an arrogant, power hungry jack ass). I’m pretty resolute when I want to accomplish something (or don’t want to do something), some have argued stubborn. Certainly I have other character traits, but as those have been the most repeated, they quickly popped into my head. I’ve also been made aware over the last 10 years that it’s these traits that are not something that today’s Corporatocracy views as admirable.

Obviously, I’ve had these attributes my whole life and I’ve never seen fit to adjust them and I’ve certainly pushed against any outside effort to change them. They’re part of what makes me, me.

While my Aunt Alice served as our clan’s seanchai when we would gather, it was my fathers’ cousin, Cousin Bill, who took to being the family scribe. I recently received some of what he has written about our family history and while I’m still making my way through it all I’ve had more than one or two “A-Ha” moments so far.

My paternal great grandfather, Denis Murphy, was from County Cork Ireland and came to America in 1892. Like his siblings before him, he made his way to New York City. After a couple of different career choices he became a gardener to wealthy families. Over the course of his career, he worked for three families.

The first family he worked for was Jabez Bostwick family. He was the New York distribution agent for Standard Oil and one of its major shareholders. From there, he went to work for Theodore Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill, with his wife Mary Ann Coakley. Finally, he worked for Clarence Day, a financial guy on Wall Street and the father of the man who wrote “Life With Father”.

According to Cousin Bill, his recollection of Grandpa Murphy, who was affectionately referred to as “Pop” or “Boss”, was that he was “very strong, very hard working with a quick temper but also a wonderful sense of humor…who brought a welcome element of humor and irreverence to serve as a counterpoint to the strictness of Grandma Murphy”. That certainly struck a chord with me.

Cousin Bill points out that Rye, New York then, much like today, was a very wealthy community and populated by the rich and powerful and the people who worked for them. The Murphy clan fell into the latter, but no less prideful. And being Irish meant they were Catholic and pretty pious.

As such, Sunday mass was Sunday mass and all the Catholics, regardless of social status, worshiped at the Church of the Resurrection in Rye. While my great grandfather was a working class Irish gardener for the Day estate, during Sunday mass it’s quite likely he would have been sharing a pew with some of the era’s wealthiest financiers and tycoons. Well, those that were Catholic anyway.

“Pop” apparently loved to chew tobacco, and he particularly liked the brand Honest. Cousin Bill recounts one story that makes me beam with pride. He recalls attending mass one Sunday with “Pop” where he “deposited a wad of well chewed Honest tobacco on the church floor between the kneeler and the pew…prompted by his awareness of the affluence that surrounded him in the pews.” Obviously, I never knew “Pop”, but something tells me we have much in common.

Perhaps church isn’t the best place to dispose of chewing tobacco, but really, who among the dandy Westchester financiers and business tycoons would have had the intestinal fortitude to say something to the man known around Rye as “Mr. Murphy” or “Boss” and was known to be one helluva hurling player?

So today, I celebrate my birthday knowing a little more about my great-grandfather, Denis Murphy, and a little more about myself.