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!

Left of the Dial*

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
– Socrates

What’s that saying “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”?

or is it “What the fluck”?

Either way, today I am launching my first digital magazine entitled wait(er). As the name suggests, it is a magazine devoted to stories about the front of the house workers of the restaurant industry. It would seem that television has gone to great lengths to make the back of the house employees, like chef’s, superstars. I might suggest those shows are disrespectful to the true culinary artisans, but that is another argument.

Somehow waiters, waitresses, bartenders, busboys, hosts, etc. have been left out of the small tube mix. It’s not that there isn’t any lack of dynamism among the workers, there is. Something tells me it has more to do with the fact that so many of the FOH workers are most certainly not ready for prime time.

I should know. I was one of them for over ten years.

If you read my post yesterday, you got a sample of what wait(er) is. “Losing the Gamble” is my article for the inaugural issue and available for free by clicking on that link.

The editorial objective of wait(er) Magazine is simple, to provide a home for good stories from, for or about those people in the service, or “serve us”, industry. Some of those will be first hand accounts, some will be profiles, I’m developing some profiles of organizations. There will be solid journalism and there will be loads of snark. As a result of my secondary objective, to provide a home for new and developing writers, there may be grammar hiccups to start, but we’ll get them ironed out.

I hope you will share in the excitement…by doling out the .99 cents a month!

About two weeks ago the idea came to me and I decided to test the water, as it were. I cast a net across craigslist placing ads in San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, New York, New Haven, Austin, Houston, Minneapolis/St.Paul, Chicago, St. Louis, and a few others, looking for writers. The response and feedback was overwhelming. I thought maybe, just maybe, I was onto something…I dunno, we’ll see.

I can tell you that I received emails from writers of all sorts. Bloggers, experienced journalists, high school kids, recent graduates, et al. and it seems that a lot of people have either worked or work in the “serve us” industry and were eager to share their stories. wait(er) Magazine will provide them an avenue to do that.

I recently sat down with myself to ask me a few questions that I thought people may be curious about.

Why wait(er)?  I dunno, the image popped into my head like that and seconds later I though, “Yea, that looks and sounds kind of cool.” Seriously. Oh sure, I could pontificate about some sort of significant meaning behind the parenthesis and lower case, but I would be making it all up. I’m too tired to go down that creative rabbit hole. I honestly just thought it looked cool.

Why not waitress(es)?  Truthfully, that was a concern but in the research I did (albeit, extremely limited) I realized that waiter is not defined as gender specific, we assigned it the masculine property.

So, just restaurant workers?  No, of course not. Barista’s, fast food employees, food truck employees (please I’d like anyone to explain that phenomenon to me), pretzel cart guys, I don’t care.

Why digital and not print?  My last name is Higgons, not Newhouse. I don’t have the kind of scratch, or access to it, to bankroll a print magazine. Besides, then I would have to move to an advertising based model and frankly, I see no need for that. Personally, I feel we are slammed with advertising everywhere we turn and it would be nice to escape from it now and again.

Trust me, you don’t really wanna open up the advertising business model discussion with me. I have thoughts.
Suffice it to say, digital made the most sense personally and economically.

Did you read everything that was sent to you?  I did. I still am actually. It’s just me right now. Well, the dogs and cats try to help, but they’re not literate beyond “sit”, “get off that” and “shut the fluck up” and they have enough trouble with those. So yea, I read everything and will continue to.

Did you edit as well?  I did and admittedly, that is not a strength of mine. So, you may see a few mistakes here and there. There is beauty in perfection and imperfection. If anyone knows someone willing to do some editing, pro bono or at a seriously reduced rate, contact me!

Did you pay the writers?  Yes. Well, not as of this writing, but I am going to. I think it’s important to pay people what you can for their creative efforts and time. I get doing stuff for free, but having done a lot of free work, especially writing, over the past five years, I wanted to be able to offer writers something, other than a venue, to recognize that I value their work.

I felt vindicated today when I read an exchange between journalist Nate Thayer and The Atlantic. They wanted to re-purpose a blog post of his…for free. They claimed to be out of money to spend on digital. They further went on to say they only pay 100 dollars. The Atlantic. COME ON! Thayer has been getting some flack about his stance, but I think he’s right. Free is fine if you are starting out but eventually you gotta get paid and you deserve to get paid.

Anywho, yes, I am paying the writers. It ain’t much but it is what I can afford, with the promise that as wait(er) grows, so will the rate.

Are you getting paid?  No. I’m bootstrapping everything so it’s unlikely I will see any personal returns for some time, if ever. For me, it’s about the experience and constructing a hive of like minded individuals.

How much did it cost to start?  None of your business. More than I have but not enough to stop me from doing it. That is one of the true joys about them Internets, you can go from concept to fully realized vision in two weeks and not break the bank. And look, I am a firm believer that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. This just feels right.

Where do you see yourself in five years?  Go to hell, this isn’t an HR interview.

Is there any type of story you are interested in?  Nope. Not at the moment. Pitch an idea. All I am looking for is honest stories that are told well. Leave the revenge piece about a shitty manager or owner for the blog.

Does everyone have a story to tell?  Oh yea! If you have worked in the food “serve us” industry in any capacity for longer than two weeks, you have at least ONE story. And if you don’t have ONE story, then you either weren’t paying attention or weren’t working hard enough. People are crazy and, eventually, they go out to eat.

Will you share all of your stories? All of them, no. I did that work for a long time and am thankful for the experiences and the living it provided me. Truth be told, it’s a job like anything else and it had its routine. BUT when it went bat shit crazy, hilarity ensued, especially in hindsight.

In a restaurant, it’s not just a Power Point slide malfunctioning, it was usually something far worse. It’s those bat shit crazy stories that still make me laugh and shake my head. Let’s be honest too, the story behind some manager who builds an epic PP deck only to have it malfunction is just never going to have the legs of a story about trying to explain to a customer why there was a spider in their salad or kicking someone out of the bar because they haven’t tipped you in four hours.

Will you tell a story in each issue?  That is not my plan. I didn’t create it so I could relay my own personal experiences. I have a blog for that. If I feel they fit, sure. If I feel the need for content, sure. Mostly, I am looking to build the hive.

wait(er) Magazine is for other people to share their stories and to give new writers some exposure. Front of the house staff are a unique group of people…and we’re everywhere. In the restaurant business, after a busy night (actually after any night) you would go drink and talk about your shift. I’d like wait(er) Magazine to be the bar you went to with your fellow workers to commiserate. Sometimes you’ll laugh, sometimes you may get angry, hopefully never cry; hell, sometimes you might learn something but above all else, I am simply hoping you’ll enjoy it.

How often will you publish wait(er) Magazine? A new issue will come out the first Tuesday of each month…to start.

What platforms is wait(er) available in?  Currently, just web subscription, Kindle, MOBI and EPUB. Apple iOS is forthcoming, but they require one issue to be published before submitting it to them for approval. I suspect iOS will be available soon. I’m reticent to give a time frame. Follow us on Twitter @writermag, Facebook, Google+ or on WordPress, for all the updates, etc.

Any last words? Never any last ones, but I will leave you with these:

“We learned more from a 3-minute record, baby
Than we ever learned in school
Tonight I hear the neighborhood drummer sound
I can feel my heart begin to pound
You say you’re tired and you just want to close your eyes
And follow your dreams down
– Never Surrender
Bruce Spingsteen

CLICK ON THE WAITER AND SUBSCRIBE!

Waiter Issue 1

* – The phrase used to mean something, sadly now it doesn’t. Nonetheless, this is a nod to a constant source of inspiration for me, The Replacements.

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.

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.

The Wild One, Forever

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN AND POSTED MAY 2011.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

The hours that were yours, echo like empty rooms
The thoughts we used to share, I now keep alone
I woke last night and spoke to you,
not thinking you were gone
It felt so strange to lie awake, alone
No Regrets
Tom Rush

So, here I find myself banging on the keyboard with the one woman who won’t leave me (mother’s don’t count), my cat Lulu. I am not saying she may not split if I let her out the front door, but she’d probably just go far enough to chase birds. Lulu and I share that in common, we both chase birds and both seem to end up in the same chair, alone, listening to all kinds of sad bastard music. Currently spinning on the digital Wurlitzer is the master of romantic verisimilitude, Tom Petty and his appropriately named Heartbreakers.

The X is still gone. She said she would think about what she wanted. I foolishly believe she may actually be doing it. Those of you who think I am a cynic or negative, I defy you to find someone with my degree of optimism. What cynic would really get back together with the woman who pounded on his  heart once before?

Here the Lu and I sit, listening and thinking. Sure, I hope she is thinking about the relationship and just how foolish her reasoning was for leaving, but the reality is in what she said and not in the tears she held back. “You’ll never be what I want you to be” followed by “I love you.” Seems conflicting doesn’t it? It’s not. I know she loved me. And this time around I felt it. But, I do think she sold the whole relationship short. Sometimes when you short the market you win (see Goldman Sachs) and sometimes you lose (see everybody else).

The truth is I never will be what she wants. Not out of malice or stubbornness, it’s just that the ideal person for her, or for anyone, does not exist. You love the whole person or you don’t. Love is all encompassing and not selective. You can’t pick what you love about someone any more than you can pick who you love. She doesn’t understand that…yet. She will. Yes, there is behavior I could have modified and changed. Most of it I probably would have over time. Could she say the same thing?

“They call you the wild one, said stay ‘way from her
Said she could love no one if she tried”
The Wild One, Forever
-Tom Petty

I met her four years ago at a friends birthday party. The funny thing about the party is that I knew no one. They were all up and coming comedians and I wasn’t. I had been drinking…a lot, and had forgone dinner in exchange for one more pint of Guinness.

It was about midnight when we finally met. I had spent most of the night talking to one girl thinking I could sweet talk her into coming home with me, but she flatly told me she would never date a white guy. She looked pretty irritated when I said “Who said anything about dating?” Furthermore, who says six hours of drinking removes any charm?

Now, I recall talking to her, but I have no recollection of any formal introduction and certainly had no idea what the hell I said. After meeting her, I remember three things. The first was when I was talking to her, my buddy who’s birthday it was called me over and literally said “be careful with that one dude”. I had no idea what he meant. The second thing I recall was drinking scotch on his roof and smoking a cigarette. And the third was going to a bar and closing it out. I remember not having any idea where I was and her offering for me to stay with her. OK, so that’s four things.

We’re all adults here, I think we can surmise what happened next, even if no one can recall it. In the morning, I tried to sneak out because I had a writing workshop to get to, but she convinced me to stay…well into the afternoon. As I was leaving, I got her phone number, wrote in on my hand because I had not yet grasped the idea of putting someone’s phone number DIRECTLY into my cell phone. I was on the fence as to whether I would call her.

I knew we worked for the same company, so I checked her work stuff out. Did the requisite Google searching and the like. I did a little internet recon (myspace, etc) and decided to email her at her work because, in what will come as no shock, the phone number got all mucked up with sweat and grease and was illegible by the time I got home. I emailed, she replied and we agreed to have dinner. Although she would come to admit later she almost bailed on that date.

Blah blah blah, we fall in love, we move in together, we fight, it goes poorly, she asks me to leave (it was her place), I leave but stay in the neighborhood because I naively think she will come to her senses. All of that happened in the span of about 14-15 months.

We broke up and I began acting out, like ya do. Mostly just drinking too much and going into some very dark places emotionally. Fortunately, I have good friends who pulled me out when it looked too dark. I eventually righted myself and moved on. It’s the only option. Well, it’s the only option I considered.

About 14-15 months go by and she initiates contact with me again after seeing a photo of me on my web site with my then girlfriend. You see, while she may not have wanted me, God forbid someone else want me. I was with someone, it was a fine relationship and I just wasn’t terribly interested in moving backwards in my life. She doggedly pursued me. “Let’s get coffee.” “What time are you taking the train in the morning?” , etc. In no great surprise, the relationship I was in spiraled downwards and I ended it…poorly.

“Baby, time meant nothing, anything seemed real
Yeah, you could kiss like fire and you made me feel
Like every word you said was meant to be
No, it couldn’t have been that easy to forget about me.”
Even the Losers
-Tom Petty

For the longest time, I read that song that HE was the loser and today for the first time it dawned on me that SHE was the loser. “No, it couldn’t have been that easy to forget about me”, for years that line never registered. And you know what? Today it sounded clearer than it ever had in the past 30 years.

So the X and I reconvened and do you care to guess how long Act II lasted? If you guessed 14-15 months, you would be correct.

The X attacked this second round of the relationship with a ferocity I had never known she had. She wanted me, me. She wanted a future with me. I, because I am an optimist, bought it hook line and sinker and am a sap. I believe in the power of love (damn you Huey Lewis and your News). I made it a little difficult at first because I had never gotten back together with someone after that amount of time and there was some blood under the bridge. Wrong girl at the right time, I suppose that about sums it up. But I was dumb enough to think she was the right girl at the right time.

I had said the only way that it would work is if we were honest…and we were. We talked openly and honestly about everything. I don’t think she withheld too much from me. It was good and more often than not it was great. We talked about kids, we talked about places we would go, things we would do. We made love, we had sex, we fucked. We laughed, we cried, we sat in silence. We did things, we didn’t do things. We had a relationship. Apparently, we were having two different relationships.

I’d by lying if I said it was all great. It wasn’t. We fought, sometimes viciously, but we always righted the boat. It would take one of us (usually it was me) to clear the air by clearing the head and putting perspective on what the real problem was. Intelligent discourse is something I can get on board with, even when it comes to emotions. Yes, it may take a day or two to get there.

It’s funny to think about it. I have been in love a few times and I have loved some terrific women. And everyone has “the one that got away”. Well, all things being fair, there is a reason why everything ends and time taints your ability to see those reasons. So in some cases, what we see as “the one that got away” may, in fact, just be the one that ended before it got tragic and sad.

I’ll end up some story the X tells her kids. The one about the older guy she dated and who “got away”, how “he was maybe a little much too handle, but he was good and treated me well. He really loved me.” She’ll tell her girls to not make the same mistake. And they will, we all do. She’ll tell her sons to treat their girlfriends the way I treated her and they will…and then they won’t. The circle will never be broken, it’s the way of this sort of thing.

In a previous post I had mentioned that my parents represent a spirit of rock and roll because they have stuck it out for almost 50 fucking years now! And no, maybe their relationship is not perfect (whose really is though) but they made the commitment to one another and come hell or high water they have slogged through it. And THAT says more than a thing or two to someone like me.

Here we are, about 16 months after our reconciliation (is it just me or is this 14-16 month thing a trend) and it’s done…again. I love her. That will never change. I want her. I desire her. I want her to want that with me. But she feels there is someone else out there who is going to fulfill her in some way I don’t. And I suspect that is true. I also suspect it will last for less than two years. I’m not entirely convinced she will ever know the meaning and value of what it means to be in love.

Love is what it is, a word. It’s the emotion behind it that defines the word. And unless you can understand and wrap your head around that emotion, love is, and will always be, just a word. Love is also the easiest part of a relationship.

The government has the military industrial complex and those outside government have its romantic equivalent, a relationship. Both are expensive to maintain, contradictory, invariably involve some degree of deceit and covert activity and always end with people getting hurt.

“You better watch what you say
you better watch what you do to me
don’t get carried away
Girl if you can do better than me
go…yeah, go
But remember, good love is hard to find,
good love is hard to find,
you got lucky babe
you got lucky babe, when I found you.”
You Got Lucky
-Tom Petty

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, pop star for the broken hearted. I mean really, the songs are unending, “Stop Draggin My Heart Around”, “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, “Straight Into Darkness”, etc. Some broads really put their hearts through the ringer.

The Lu and I sit and write and listen to the sounds of the people who could put this sort of thing to music. The type of music that resonates with everyone. Rock and roll knows A LOT about a couple of things and one of them is love and lost love.

The X is still gone and I don’t anticipate her return. I anticipate a call when she sees me with another woman or in 14-16 months, whichever comes first. Life is about choices and you can’t always make the right one. And with love, you never know if it’s right. You only know when it’s wrong.

Maybe I am just wrong for her. I’m no saint and I sure as hell am not the easiest guy to get along with, but I am real. I am always me. I stopped trying to be someone I wasn’t in my early 30’s. I don’t want to hurt anyone and I don’t want to hurt and I find that the easiest way to do that is to be honest. Honest with myself and honest with those close to me.

She has an ideal in her head, don’t we all? The X owes it to herself to see if that person exists. I never said she was the right one for me, did I? No, I simply know I want her. Big, big, BIG difference. I never promised I’d spend the rest of my life with her, that would be a lie. I know I WANT to, but I can’t say for certain. If I made that promise, rest assured that is what I would strive for, but to make it now would be a lie.

Who knows, maybe that Hollywood ending of true love forever exists for her. But my experiences, my friends experiences, every artists experiences, every musicians experiences, every writers experiences, tells me that love has more to do with work, compromise, acceptance, understanding, hurt, empathy, respect, pain, tenderness, support, understanding, laughter and ultimately sacrifice and so much much more. And all of those can change on the drop of a dime.

When you fall in love, and I mean true love, you strap yourself in, put your helmet on and go for the ride.

Lulu and I both share a love/hate relationship with birds. Both are bipeds, but one has literal wings and the other has figurative wings. I pine for them out in the word while pines for them through the window. While our desires are similar, something tells me our motivations are different.

Nonetheless, I think perhaps I will join the Lu and just look at them through the window for awhile.

“Birds”
Neil Young

Lover, there will be another one
Who’ll hover over you beneath the sun
Tomorrow see the things that never come
Today

When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go

It’s over, it’s over.

Nestled
in your wings my little one
This special
morning brings another sun
Tomorrow
see the things
that never come

Today

When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go

It’s over, it’s over.

Brooklyn Film Festival Review #4

Dragon Girls

According to Inigo Westmeier’s bio, the director of Dragon Girls, he has some serious cinematic chops. He studied at the Film Academy in Moscow, did his graduate studies at Baden-Wuttemberg Film Academy and even had a scholarship to study at the UCLA Extension Entertainment Studies Department. That’s not too shabby of a background in film studies.

Dragon Girls is his first feature film. Here is the synopsis of Dragon Girls:

Dragon Girls’ tells the story of three Chinese Girls, training to become Kung Fu Fighters, far away from their families at the Shaolin Kung Fu School, located right next to the Shaolin Monastery in Central-China, place of origin of Kung Fu.Three girls in a crowd of 26.000 children, under pressure to conform to the norms and structures: they are turned into fighting robots and yet, if you look behind the curtain, you see children with dreams and aspirations.

OK, seems interesting enough. I mean, I like documentaries and the idea of 26,000 students studying Kung Fu was moderately interesting. Right?

Wrong. From a purely narrative point of view, the idea was the only interesting thing.

After 65 minutes of Dragon Girls, about 60 if you count the two times I nodded off, I had a critical decision to make. The Clash said it best, “Should I Stay or Should I Go”. I sat there for a good five minutes wrestling with that. Certainly, I have an obligation to acknowledge the work of Westmeier and be respectful of it. There’s a responsibility to readers to provide a fairly objective review of the film. What to do, what to do. I finally decided I had been respectful enough and had enough information and decided to walk out.

In full disclosure, I did not pay to see Dragon Girls, so I walked out of a free movie. However, I can assure if I had paid for it, the result would have been the same. And to put this into perspective, the last movie I walked out of was Yentl, in 1983.

Over the past 30 years, I have seen tens of thousands of films, some painfully horrible, but I’ve always managed to push through them to find something worth watching. Not so with Dragon Girls. Simply put, I just didn’t care about the girls or anything that was happening on screen.

Making a documentary about paint drying would have more narrative structure than Dragon Girls. Apply the paint, watch it dry, and see the results. BAM, three acts.

Now, I am not going to say everything is bad with this film because that is not true. Westmeier was both the director and cinematographer and there are some stunning images and some fantastic wide shots of the students practicing. There are some terrific choreographed shots of the students as well. And if I had to judge Dragon Girls solely on aesthetics, it is above average.

Unfortunately for Westmeier, I have to consider narrative and this movie doesn’t have one. I found none of the students that were interviewed engaging enough to stick around to find out what happened. In short, I didn’t care.

Documentaries, as a genre, are not supposed to provide a thrill a minute. But, by and large, there is always a structure and some sort of narrative. In documentaries, almost more than in a narrative film; you need to care about someone or something. The film maker has to engage the viewer somehow. Regrettably, Dragon Girls has a serious lack of engagement and nothing to care about.

Westmeier, and his crew, should be applauded for the accomplishment of Dragon Girls. I can’t begin to imagine the logistical and political headaches that accompanied the shoot. China’s reputation as a militantly insular country and extremely confrontational nature with foreigners could not have made this feat easy. In fact, I’d bet that story would be infinitely more interesting than what I saw in Dragon Girls.

Unlike most people, I hate being too critical of someone’s creative work. Aside from some nice shooting, I just couldn’t find anything interesting about the story. Well, I found no story.

Dragon Girls clocks in at 90 minutes and is about 75 minutes too long.

Dragon Girls completed its run at the Brooklyn Film Festival on Thursday.

Originally published 6.7 on The WG News+Arts site.

Brooklyn Film Festival Review #3

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes

Movies are about suspension of reality, well the best ones are. I can’t say that Francesca Gregorini’s film Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes is one of the best ones but it is pretty damn good.

Here’s the synopsis:
Emanuel, a troubled girl, becomes preoccupied with her mysterious new neighbor, who bears a striking resemblance to her dead mother. In offering to babysit her neighbor’s newborn, Emanuel unwittingly enters a fragile, fictional world and becomes its gatekeeper.

Yep, it is your standard indie fare. Writer/Director Francesca Gregorini and Cinematographer Polly Morgan have created a deft ambiance that embraces the viewers like a well worm blanket. From the beginning, despite what happens, we know it’s going to eventually be OK.

The film is almost devoid of all modern appliances like smart phones, computers, and televisions. The only real signs of modernity are mass transit and one lone car, an old Volvo 240. Without the modern distractions, it lets us now that Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes is about characters and story, there’s a novel idea.

One Sunday three or four years ago I went on a Netflix binge of the British drama “Skins” and was floored by all of the performances. As I poked around to find out who the hell this Kaya Scodelario, who plays Emanuel, was. I quickly discovered she was one of the leads on the British “Skins”. Turns out, the show was a breeding ground for extraordinary young talent, Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, the Mad Max reboot, the upcoming X-Men, and yes, the kid from About a Boy), Joe Dempsie (HBO’s Game of Thrones), Dev Patel (HBO’s The Newsroom, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) are some of that cast that have since made the transition to Hollywood. I suspect we will soon be adding Scoldelario to that list.

In Gregorini’s Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes, Kaya Scodelario delivers a simply stunning performance as the 17 year old Emanuel. Here the British actress dons an American accent to play the snarky teen who struggles with her life because her mother died during her birth. While we’re introduced to her in voice over and this is a little silly. However, once we get by that, we can’t help but immediately be taken in by Emanuel’s charm. The voice over simply lets us know that we’re about to encounter a brash and snarky lead character.

As Emanuel, Scodelario plays her with empathy well beyond the characters 17 years, but it works. Again, it’s a movie, so we must suspend reality. Some of her laser sharp one liners are unbelievable, but her delivery allows us to shrug that off. The fact that we can ignore some of Emanuel’s aplomb is a compliment to both the performance and direction. As the namesake of the movie, she is in almost every scene and carries the story flawlessly. A story driven movie like this demands an exceptional performance and Kaya Scodelario does just that.

Jessica Biel is in the throes of a Hollywood trajectory that, unless she manages it well, could very easily erase the talent she has. Earning her wings (pardon the pun), and tabloid star, on the extremely under appreciated WB series “7th Heaven” she has gone on to star in a number of big Hollywood movies; the types of which punch lines and car explosions are more important than dialog. Like Ulee’s Gold and Elizabethtown before, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes is the type of character driven movie where Jessica Biel shines. Her performance here as Linda, the neighbor with the secret, shows exactly why she is in that Hollywood trajectory (I just hope it doesn’t land her on “Dancing with the Stars”).

When Linda first shows up, before she even utters a line, you notice her wardrobe. Biel is attractive to begin with but here the loose, flowing, beautiful and bohemian (apparently, the one product placement is Free People clothing…that’s a joke) clothes add to her natural beauty and add an element of ethereal quality to the character of Linda. Biel plays Linda like she wears the clothes, loose, earthy, real and beautifully.

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes also stars Alfred Molina as Dennis, Emanuel’s father. Alfred Molina is Alfred Molina, he could read YouTube comments and I would pay attention. He’s brilliant. Always.

Perpetual scene stealer and all around go to guy for any genre, Jimmi Simpson plays Arthur, Emanuel’s dorky friend at her medical supply/pharmacy job. Here Simpson has shed his Liam Mcpoyle robe (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and is wearing his big boy clothes and his drama cap, along with his Warby Parkers. As Arthur, it is his job to  play the lone “bad” guy in the movie. And he is anything but a “bad guy”.

Arthur eventually goes on a date with Linda. At the end of this date, with Emanuel downstairs listening to the baby monitor, it is Arthur who tasked with informing Linda of just how crazy she is.

It’s a scene that works so well you’ll get cranky about how it emotionally disrupts you. In just a short time, you’re emotions will be righted again. It’s that warm blanket that Gregorini sets up early in the film coming to cover you. That little emotional pinball game is not easy to pull off and is evidence that everyone involved in this film brought their A game.

So, what is the truth about fishes? I honestly do not know. I’m flummoxed as to the metaphorical significance of the title. I’ll leave that for the smarter folks.

So what makes Emanuel so protective over Linda’s craziness? I’m not telling.

I will tell you Emanuel refuses to bond with her stepmother but has such a longing for a mother figure that she embraces Linda, who resembles her own mother. I will tell you Linda’s crazy is revealed fairly early as Emanuel and she are developing their friendship. Emanuel first ignores the crazy and then teeters on embracing it, completely cognizant that she is jeopardizing her own sanity.

The ending is exceptionally beautiful as both Emanuel and Linda are able to bury their respective pain and crazy. Indeed, the scenes leading to that beautiful moment once again require that suspension of reality, but if you can do that, you will be rewarded.

There is a scene shortly after the “crazy” reveal, and before the ending, between Emanuel and Dennis where he firmly says to her “Emanuel, you don’t know what is in other people’s hearts!” She quickly replies “No I don’t but I know what is in mine.” I know it sounds cheesy and in lesser hands than Molina and Scodelario’s it wouldn’t work. But Emanuel’s simple retort is so truly moving. It makes you wonder if only more people stopped trying to think about what others may think and may do and were focused on, and motivated by, what is in their own hearts, how much better off we would be.

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes is one of those films that no major studio would make. And that is sad. It’s one of those movies that movie buffs and saps, like me, tend to enjoy. It’s also one of those movies the re-charges me and makes me realize that there are really talented film makers like Francesca Gregorini out there creating. It’s one of those movies that force you to forget the dreck that some of these performers have been in and reminds you that they are where they are because they are talented (and not necessarily who they are married to). It’s one of those movies that, if you can, you should see.

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes concluded its Brooklyn Film Festival run last night.

Published 6.5 on The WG News + Arts site.

Open Letter to Netflix Haters

May 29, 2013

Dear Netflix haters,

I’d like you all to step away from your keyboards and close your blog window. If you work for an outlet hating on Netflix, take a break and get some coffee or have a smoke. Breathe, relax.

Let me say right up front, I am not a Netflix apologist, employee or shareholder. So, I have no vested interest in what follows.

It seems to me that so many of you Netflix haters are hell bent on seeing their demise. Over the past year, Wall Street ANALyst’s and a huge chunk of traditional media coverage of the company has done nothing but take the piss out of what they are doing. One must obviously acknowledge the monolithic misstep last year of splitting the company and then the piss poor handling of the ensuing aftermath. They paid the price for that, literally. I think everyone can agree on that. We can also acknowledge that it may be best to keep Reed Hastings on a shorter leash than he may like, but I suspect he is smart enough to know this already.

OK, so why is everyone so hell bent on slamming Netflix?

  • Because they are doing things differently (no one likes a rebel)? No, not really.
  • Because they are bucking the system (no one likes a smart rebel)? Nahhhh.
  • Because they are doing it well AND they are winning (believe it or not, we as a society don’t like winners. We reward them, but seldom like them)? Getting closer.

If only it were that easy, but this being the world of multinational corporations, it’s not.

You see the way broadcast media works is, in a word or two, fucked up. We just finished the annual circle jerk (upfront) here in NYC where all the networks preview their fall schedules. “This is the time of year when the most powerful ad execs in the nation stand in line — line! — to get into Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center to hear the pitch…”(1) Even though traditional broadcast viewership continues to trend downward, this annual shit show continues to generate billions of dollars and all networks see year over year increases. (1) Seriously, it defies all logic.

In and of itself, that isn’t TOO horrible. That is presented like any convention, right? Sort of. It’s the lack of transparency that’s a slap in the face. You see, at a convention, you can bounce around and more or less see what everyone is charging, because it’s more or less universal. During the upfront, most advertisers are not aware of what their competitors, or ANYONE, is actually paying because it is all one big ass secret.

The core principle of a free market (which many of these CEO’s would claim to be advocates of) is to let the market decide what the rate would be…for everyone. Under the auspices of the free market, a 30 second unit for Ford in a popular show should, in essence, be in the ballpark of a 30 second unit for GM.

It’s not a free market if CBS says to Ford “I’ll charge you 10,000 for 30 seconds in ‘Two and a Half Men’ but you can’t tell anyone.”(these numbers are totally made up for simplistic reasons, I assure you they are INFINITELY more) and then goes to GM and says “I’ll charge you 100,000 for 30 seconds in ‘Two and a Half Men’ but don’t tell anyone.” The current foundation of media buying is anything but a free market, it is the very definition of dictatorial.

In all fairness, there have been more open systems tried (Google comes to mind) but they failed. They failed because they weren’t encouraged to succeed. There is much more money in the dictatorial model.

For a better understanding to the bullying or dictatorial market that is the upfront, read Jim Edwards article “A Secret Cartel Keeps The Dying Broadcast Industry Afloat“.

The price determined for these commercials is pure speculation and, from the pitch to purchase, the price is directly tied to the fictional rating system known as Nielsen. Simple facts, Nielsen has about 24,000 set top ratings boxes around the country. There are well over 115,000,000 television sets and well over 300,000,000 US citizens. Even for a non-math person or data analyst, I can tell works out to be a pretty small percentage. Furthermore, Nielsen does not factor into account colleges or universities, prisons, etc. where television viewing is tantamount to water.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! Nielsen, the networks and advertisers are still trying to tell us that the 18-49 demographic is the most important demo, or “key demo” (they even have the data to back it up..HA). First of all, that is a HUGE spread, 31 years! A generation is typically defined by 25 years. That 18-39 demo is like the FBI’s worst profiler “Well, he or she is a white, hispanic or black male, anywhere from 18-49 with long/short sandy brown hair or possibly not, anywhere from 5’0” to 7’0″ tall.” Secondly, millenials and Gen X’ers (that is the 18-49 demo) are not brand specific and our viewing habits are changing daily. They’re certainly not the same as the baby boomers. And thirdly, any half wit can tell you boomers are the “key demo”.

My generation and the generation below me are constantly being told we don’t save enough and we don’t spend enough. You know what? WE DON’T MAKE ENOUGH TO DO EITHER! The baby boomer generation is roughly 78 million strong and controls a big chunk of the wealth in the U.S. (2) so to argue that x’ers or millenials are the “key demo” is to deny that fact, and it’s both ignorant and severely short sighted.

Netflix is a subscription based model, so they are not beholden to Madison Avenue. And the subscription based model not only turns its back on the the ad supported model but also proves to advertisers and networks just how archaic their business model is. People are fine paying for content that excludes commercials. Hell, HBO taught us that eons ago…before it was snatched up by a multinational.

Netflix has been able to attract some a-list talent, which television has great difficulty doing, and they’ve created some pretty good original programming, which television is also having great difficulty doing. And nothing pisses networks off more than competitors success.

“Lilyhammer” was a nice introduction to the Netflix original programming sked, David Fincher’s “House of Cards” was just shy of brilliant, “Hemlock Grove” was a misfire for me, but apparently it did well. And now “Arrested Development”. I am halfway in and it’s a welcome reminder of just how smart the show was and is.

To expect “Arrested Development” to be GREAT would have been foolish. It’s very good and it’s still INFINITELY better than any of the dreck commercial networks try to jam down our gullet.

Netflix is not beholden to Nielsen. At all. They don’t even need to release the number of views for their shows with their quarterly statement, or at all. One could easily argue Netflix is not being transparent with that information. How dare someone not be transparent to the all might multinationals that own cable and broadcast networks! They would never do such a thing…oh wait, they already do.

Netlix releases their subscription information and right now it hovers just under 30 million, all paying on average 9 dollars a month. Now, even for a non-math guy, I can tell that is a pretty substantial revenue flow.

So why is everyone hating on Netflix?!

One, traditional broadcasting got caught with their pants down and they are not handling the transition to streaming very well. In fact, they’re acting like Lars Ulrich did with Napster. In other words, like rich little jack asses throwing tantrums because they thought they were impenetrable.

Two, Netflix’s success is a reminder that traditional broadcast media is being shown up by a young non-traditional upstart, or rebel. And they’re succeeding without their help. Soon, the networks will take their toys (aka programming) and go home. Instead of acting like petulant children, and they had half a brain, they would strike an alliance with Netflix.I mean a REAL alliance, not just an agreement for Netflix to broadcast the first three seasons of “Murder She Wrote”.

Thirdly, there are no less than three industries that Netflix is fucking with, Advertising, Media Buyers and broadcast networks. And those are some powerful players. Almost every major player in those industries is either owned by a publicly traded company or IS a publicly traded company.

This may come as a shock to you, despite the use of the word “public”, publicly traded companies don’t really have the public’s best interest in mind. And yes, that probably includes Netflix.  So, there is simply too much money, spread out over too many places, going into too many pockets for a simple streaming model like Netflix to be wildly successful. It won’t be allowed.

Lastly, Netflix won’t play by traditional rules and release viewership information. And boy does that make media companies and media watchers angry! You can almost see the steam coming out of their heads. I don’t personally believe Netflix to be deliberately withholding information to be jerks. I suspect they will provide that information in time, but in our instant gratification, narcissistic society where we must measure success IMMEDIATELY, any delay infuriates people.

The truth is, nothing Netflix is doing is traditional, so the archaic, or traditional, rules of broadcast television don’t apply. And instead of highlighting all Netflix is doing correctly like the programming, development, handling the bandwidth,  etc. pundits and spoil sports alike are focused on the crap that only matters to a few. And when the few get angry, they PUNISH people. The Netflix stock price has certainly seen its share of punishment over the past 18 months.

So to you Netflix haters, I say “Go ahead, hate away. I’m not gonna stop you.” All I ask is that you take a good look as to why you are hating them. Instead of acting like pouting prissies, explain your reasons logically. Because logically, Netflix is doing a much better job than most other media companies whose shit scraps you lap up as “genius” and “progress”, when more often than not, they are neither.

Sure, Netflix does some dumb shit and makes some wonky decisions, but as far as moving towards a definable future for broadcasting, they’re looking ahead versus trying to cram the old broadcast business model, and content, down our throat.

As a fan of quality, uninterrupted shows available when I want to watch them, there is no better provider than Netflix. I’ve tried a fair number of them and for my money and my time, Netflix does it best. I doubt it will last forever, media is a serious state of flux, but for now:

Rock on Netflix!

Links:

1 – Edwards Article – http://tinyurl.com/pjlxvww
2 – Boomer article – http://tinyurl.com/oujbbxy
3 – NYTimes article – http://tinyurl.com/oqg7hv7

Circle Jerkin’

“You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go.
You lead by going to that place and making a case.”

— Ken Kesey

The annual broadcast network, advertising and media buying circle jerk known as the upfront is underway. Yesterday saw both NBC and Fox release their fall 2013 schedules.  Today, ABC releases their schedule and tomorrow it is current network king CBS’s turn, and for those who care, Thursday is the CW.

These four days are traditionally the time when the majority of advertising is booked on each specific network, based upon their programming. It’s the way the business has operated pretty much since…well, it’s the way it’s always operated.

It’s also been a time when all the programming executives get an opportunity to self flagellate their brilliance in front of an increasingly skeptical advertising community. In the case of NBC, skepticism from the ad community is now bordering on outright hostility.

No other broadcast network in history has had a more difficult time than NBC trying to regain some of their viewership. They continue to stumble and make programming decisions that not only baffle advertisers and viewers alike but also leaves them scratching their head wondering what on earth is going at the once blue chip net. For a few years I was convinced NBC was on a path to deliberately broadcast the worst television shows to attract viewers.

Maybe something is afoot at the Circle K though. Since the Comcast acquisition, NBCU CEO Steve Burke has cleaned house, from the top down, and got rid of a lot of the human detritus left by Jeff Zucker. I might argue there is more to be done, but I digress. In so doing, Burke and Comcast made a solid commitment to re-building their NBC prime time schedule and re-building the bridges that Zucker and team so cavalierly blew up…repeatedly.

After watching their upfront presentation yesterday, I am happy to say that it appears as though NBCU CEO Steve Burke and NBC Programming head Robert Greenblatt might actually be on the right path. They’ve done what no one thought was possible, a really good job.

I honestly didn’t think there was any hope for NBC at all but to my utter amazement, they presented a nice slate of shows. NBC presented a really comprehensive and interesting schedule. Here is a list of some of the new shows:

Million Second QuizUnscripted and stupid. I may be wrong here, but this looks absolutely ridiculous. If ever there was a show pitched from a cocktail napkin, this is it. I’m not going to even describe it. If you want to know, waste your own time and look it up.

The Michael J. Fox ShowScripted Comedy. I have to be honest I was beyond skeptical about this show. NBC ordered a complete season without a pilot. It seemed like a huge gamble based on Mr. Fox’s illness. It also seemed like a desperate grab to go back in time. BUT, from the trailer I saw, it looks really funny. I laughed out loud twice! Michael J. Fox is still incredibly charming and very funny. I suspect the Parkinson’s jokes and storyline may get old quick but provided the peripheral players are able to hold their own and support Fox, this show should really work.

Shame on NBC for flagrantly using their other news programs within the context of this show. It’s contrived and extremely hollow, I hope they re-think that. Aside from that gripe, this show actually looks really good.

About a Boy – Scripted Comedy. Based on the Nick Hornby book and the Hugh Grant movie from 2002, this just looks dumb. It won’t work. Nice try and may achieve some modest success in the short run, but this will eventually be a dud.

Sean Saves the World – Scripted Comedy. Sean Hayes plays a gay dad raising his teenage daughter. Linda Lavin plays his mother. No one does befuddled gay guy better than Sean Hayes and Linda Lavin is always a nice treat, it’s just too bad this is the vehicle they chose. NBC appears to be fixated on branching out and capturing the gay audience and expect this show to go the way of The New Normal, that is to say, cancelled.

The Family Guide – Scripted Comedy. Blind divorced dad J.K. Simmons gets a guide dog and young son feels replaced. Jason Bateman and David Schwimmer are producers with Bateman providing the voice over. I like this for a number of reasons, J.K. Simmons is always great, it has a dog, Jason Bateman is involved and so is the diverse and always fantastic Harold Perrineau. Unfortunately, the day they announced the series order, lead actress Parker Posey quit. That is an awful sign, but presuming they get a solid replacement, let’s all hope for Mary Louise Parker, this could actually be a break out hit.

NBC also didn’t acknowledge Posey’s departure during the upfront (HUGE faux paus… sure, everyone already knew, but they should have owned it, acknowledged it and moved on.) It’s nice to see NBC still hasn’t lost their ability to stick their head in the sand.

Nonetheless, this could actually work…mary louise parker, mary louise parker, mary louise parker…

Undateable – Scripted Comedy. Unwatcheable.

Ironside – Scripted Drama. Blair Underwood recreates this 1970’s classic. Much like most shows in the cop genre, this is entirely resting on the cast. We all know the stories and the formula by now. The success of any of these shows rests solely on the cast and how they can make it resonate with the audience. Could go either way, Blair Underwood is extremely likeable but buying him as a paraplegic is going to be a tough sell.

Blacklist – Scripted Drama. This is the show getting the most attention and deservedly so. It looks good, has an interesting story line, a mysterious angle and it has James Spader playing crazy! Spader plays the world’s most wanted criminal, who turns himself into the FBI and offers to give up everyone he has ever worked with in exchange for working with a newly minted agent whom he seemingly has no connection. The “blacklist” in question contains the names of 20 of the world’s most wanted criminals (I suspect most will be Chinese, Hispanic and Russian).

If NBC has half a brain, they’ll get in front of this show and nail it down for an entire series run of 20-30 episodes, long enough to capture the people on the “blacklist” and then wrap it up. If they did that, this could be a defining moment in NBC’s history.

Don’t look for that to happen.

Welcome to the Family – Scripted Comedy. Look for a divorce from viewers.

The Night Shift – Scripted Drama. Medical show. Trying to recapture ER. Not gonna happen.

Chicago PD – Scripted Drama. Spinoff from Chicago Fire. Again, all dependent on the stories and the performers. Could work given the appeal of Chicago Fire. Unlike the flagrant crossover in The Michael J. Fox Show, these two shows would do well to air back to back and have a ton of cross pollination.

Crisis – Scripted Drama. Here is the official logline:
When Washington’s most powerful players are pulled into an international conspiracy, an unlikely puppeteer will bring everyone from CEOs to The President of the United States to their knees by threatening the things they hold most dear.

Here is how that logline translates: Someone kidnaps a bunch of rich Washington D.C. kids (from a yellow school bus, as if anyone believes rich D.C. insiders kids travel to school like that) in order to get back at CEO’s and the Washington elite. While no one likes to see kids suffer, perhaps NBC missed the memo, no one gives a shit about Washington politicians or over paid CEO’s. Absolutely arrogant in its premise and I’ve no doubt this show is DOA.

Dracula – Scripted Drama. Starring the exceptionally talented Jonathan Rhys Meyers (seriously dude, fire your team), this show just looks silly. A big period costume drama about Dracula. DONE and DONE and DONE and DONE…ENOUGH on the re-treads! Maybe a mini-series, fine. A PERIOD PIECE ABOUT DRACULA ON NBC! Ugly attempt to capture the Downton Abbey phenom…with vampires. Awful.

Believe – Scritped Drama. JJ Abrams & Alfonso Cauron. Blah, blah, blah, something about a gifted girl, they travel, some guy saves her and everyone is touched along the way. It could work, but not a long term show. This would be another show I would suggest NBC sign up for a specific number (I’ll say 26, two seasons of 13 ep’s) and then call it a day. If they do that here as well as with Blacklist, these two shows could help re-establish the network as both visionary and a destination for good content.

Don’t look for that to happen.

These are some of the shows I saw during their presentation and after listening to everyone and sitting through their respective pitches, along with the dreadfully unfunny taped pieces; I have to say NBC did a great job. I don’t think this is the type of slate that will put NBC back on top. However, it is the type of slate that indicates exactly how hard Burke, Greenblatt and company have worked over the past 18 months in doing exactly what they said they would do, invest in creativity and talent. Keeping your word and delivering is a sign of true leadership, well done!

Sadly, NBC, just like all the other nets, have their nose so far up the advertisers’ asses they can’t wrap their head around the future of broadcasting. I’m not an idiot, I get it; there is a ton of money to be had in this world of advertising sponsored television. And, wait for it, “it’s the way it’s always been done.” (YAWN)

Look, there is a place for this business model; it is just no longer with scripted shows. Sporting events, talk shows and unscripted shows have that sense of immediacy that prompts destination viewing and will always work hand in hand with commercial advertising.

In case you’re not paying attention, we’re moving toward a world where scripted shows will be viewed en masse. And no matter how hard each of the networks tries to jam that ad sponsored model down our gizzards, it’s simply not what we want. I’m not saying it’s going to happen next year or even in five years. I’m certainly not saying networks need to embrace the Netflix business model. What I AM saying is that it would behoove them to take it under consideration. SERIOUS consideration.

For example, let’s just say NBC decides to take my idea to book and market Blacklist as a complete show. We’ll say 26 episodes. Sure, air it on the network with the 12-15 minutes of commercials and get the revenue (at least until you accept the inevitable). But THEN, charge advertisers for the privilege of being the SOLE sponsor on a commercial free digital replay on the NBC site (preferably not the NBC site because it sucks). This way, everyone gets what they want.

OR Partner with Netflix and charge them the premium for the commercial free web replay. But do this while the story is moving forward. In the case of Blacklist, maybe you do the commercial free digital replay after each person on the list is caught. Just don’t wait 12 months after the first season!

Re-think your model for chrissakes.

Yes, there is Hulu and Hulu Plus…but, Hulu sucks. TV Everywhere has been fumbling along but shows no signs of gaining any real traction because it is confusing as all hell. Amazon is still a wildcard. HBO Go and Showtime Go are solid players. Even though Wall Street keeps yammering and hammering on about how Netflix will eventually fail, I am extremely suspect about their analysis and motivation. More their motivation.

At the end of the day, all the networks, despite their efforts to own and control the digital distribution, are simply going to have to partner with either Google, Apple, Netflix or Amazon and embrace this commercial free model. It’s the cod liver oil modern media in transition.

In the case of NBC, I would strongly urge them to start the process now. The network was built upon forward thinking vision but, with the bungled shenanigans of Jeff Zucker (good luck CNN!), they lost in less than ten years what it took almost 100 to achieve.

NBC finally has an opportunity to recapture that which built the company, true leadership and real vision. With the NBC upfront yesterday, I felt something unusual for the first time, hope…and just a small tingle of pride.

Simple Things

JOHN LENNON

“Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.”

“Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.”

“As usual, there is a great woman behind every idiot.”

“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.”

“Love is the flower you’ve got to let grow.”

“Music is everybody’s possession. It’s only publishers who think that people own it.”

“My role in society, or any artist’s or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.”

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”

“If being an egomaniac means I believe in what I do and in my art or music, then in that respect you can call me that… I believe in what I do, and I’ll say it.”

Hot Dogs and Hamburgers

“The secret of the man who is universally interesting is that he is universally interested.”
– William Dean Howells

I love John Mellencamp. In the mid 1980’s, after he had shaken the God awful Johnny Cougar moniker, he proved himself to be a brilliant, socially conscious American singer/songwriter on par with Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

To me, he was the definitive songwriter, more than Springsteen and Dylan. I worshiped the guy. During my senior year of high school, as I was facing an out of school suspension for a retaliatory orange throwing incident, I quoted Mellencamp’s “You’ve Got To Stand For Something” off Scarecrow. My father and I were negotiating some sort of equitable punishment for returning fire with said comestible and I was becoming more and more irritated with Vice Principal Durnbaugh’s firm footing that I admit complete guilt. I said “Fine, give me the out of school suspension. I didn’t DO anything and you’ve got to stand for something or you’re going to fall for anything.” In my head, it made complete sense and was pure genius. How could I possibly be punished after throwing that bit of genius down on the table? The two adults in the room just stared vacantly at me.*

While my musical tastes have certainly changed over the years, from an early 90’s dalliance in Brit Pop to a heavy grunge addiction to a deep exploration of the Americana movement of the mid to late 1990’s, I have always found Mellencamp a reliable home base when I needed to reconnect with what matters most to me, honesty. While he is not an overtly personal songwriter, Mellencamp writes extraordinarily well crafted honest social commentary, disguised as songs, about the trials and tribulations of what it is to be a working American.

Over the weekend, I read that on June 4th Ghost Brothers of Darkland County will be released. His first foray into musical theater, written with Stephen King and music production by T-Bone Burnett. I streamed a few songs and found them to be exceptional with an audio aesthetic on par with the more recent T-Bone Burnett productions. Now, while I suspect the content of the musical is probably too dark to ever make it to the Disneyfied Great White Way of Broadway, one can hope. In any event, in honor of the upcoming release, I’ve spent the past few days re-visiting my Mellencamp home base. While there, I noticed something. Something I knew all along but this time it clicked differently.

John Mellencamp has been in the “Serious Business” of music for well over 30 years now and it wasn’t until “Pink Houses” that people began to notice there was a more political side to him. He wasn’t just an ill tempered artist from Indiana, he was actually an insightful and intelligent wordsmith. With the release of  Scarecrow in 1985, he captured to tone of America and he got pissed. With Scarecrow John Mellencamp all but stood in the center of a mid-western wheat field and screamed “SHIT IS FUCKED UP!”

For most of my adult life through today, he continues to chronicle the plight of the average American. Mellencamp is still active in Farm Aid, an annual benefit for American farmers (to date they’ve raised over 40 million dollars used to pay the farmer’s expenses and provide food, legal and financial help, and psychological assistance). And he is still singing about how you and I are getting screwed. All these years on and he’s still standing in the wheat field screaming “SHIT IS STILL FUCKED UP!

Oh sure, he’s a rock star and probably has a fair amount of money. Although with three divorces and five children, I’m not entirely sure how that’s possible. Invariably, cynics and critics will grouse and grumble saying “Oh, he’s just another rich lefty rock singer”. Fuck ’em, let ’em bitch and moan.

He’s an artist and like any good artist he’s done what he’s supposed to do; hold a mirror up to society and provide social commentary. John Mellencamp just happens to be talented enough that he can place his observations into well crafted songs that people like. He worked hard to achieve his success, he continues to work hard. He’s extraordinarily gifted and undeniably in tune with what it is to be American and some of the inherent struggles that entails.

You’d think that over the course of his career that things would have changed, that they would have gotten better. You’d think that maybe John Mellencamp could stop doing Farm Aid, maybe write some ridiculously happy songs about harmony and equality and finally come in from the wheat field after screaming “SHIT’S OK NOW!“.

Well, you’d be wrong to think that.

All you need to do is look at the facts:

  • The Gini Index, or Gini Coefficient, used by economists to measure inequality within nations designates a score of zero as perfect economic equality and a score of one (1.0) being perfect economic inequality. The most recent Gini calculation (2005-2010) has the United States with a Gini index of .47, a 20% rise in income disparity over the past 40 years. A .47 Gini index is on par with both Mexico and the Philippines.(1)
  • The total business revenue of the top 200 corporations in the Unites States has risen from 21% in 1950 to 32% in 2009.
  • The six largest bank holding companies (JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley – some of which had different names) had assets equal to 64% of the U.S. gross domestic product (as of third quarter 2010).(1)
  • A confidential 2006 Citigroup memo claimed America had become a modern-day plutonomy where “economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few”.(1)
  • In 2011, Advertising Age concluded “Mass affluence is over” and the top 10% of Americans account for nearly half of all consumer spending.(1)
  • Economist Timothy Smeeding states “Americans have the highest income inequality in the rich world and over the past 20–30 years Americans have also experienced the greatest increase in income inequality among rich nations.”(2)
  • Data from tax returns show that the top 1 percent of households received 8.9 percent of all pre-tax income in 1976. In 2008, the top 1 percent share had more than doubled to 21.0 percent.(3)
  • Between 1947 and 1972, the average hourly wage, adjusted for inflation, rose 76 percent. Since 1972, by contrast, the average hourly wage has risen only 4 percent.(3)
  • Economist Jeffery Sachs developed a commercialism index to judge the advanced nations on how commercialized their media and cultures were and then compared that to overall public well-being and the common good. The United States topped the list as the most commercialized and most socially backward. (1)

If you are anything like me, you are acutely aware of how fucked up things are. Continuing to list facts about inequality becomes an exercise in futility. And it’s not just here in the states, you can see this growing influence around the world.

I’d like to believe that no one is naive enough to think that John Mellencamp, or any artist, has all or even some of, the answers. Hell, even Mellencamp admits as much “I’m using my art to comment on what I see. You don’t have to agree with it.”

For the majority of his career, he has been showing us time and time again how screwed up America is while still maintaining his pride in being an American. He’s been able to infiltrate our ears, our minds and our hearts with his observations. John Mellencamp is doing what artists do best, getting us to think.

For the majority of his career I’ve just enjoyed the music and agreed with the observations. But this week something changed, something clicked and the question I’m left thinking is, what are we prepared to do to change the course?

If you believe
Won’t you please raise your hands
Let’s hear your voices
Let us know where you stand
Don’t shout from the shadows
Cause it won’t mean a damn
“Now More Than Ever”

– John Mellencamp

Sources:
1 – http://tinyurl.com/cubm2e4
2 – http://tinyurl.com/2o3hb8
3 – http://tinyurl.com/7xmtqh5

* – I acquiesced to long term Saturday school punishment after my fathers argument that an out of school suspension would have damaged my college eligibility. With a 1.9 GPA, I’m not sure how much more damaging it could have been.

Digital Pet Rocks

“The challenge is to manage the Web in an open way-not too much bureaucracy, not subject to political or commercial pressures.
– Tim Berners Lee

The Internet was developed to communicate. It was not created to be a media tool. When we speak of “new media” that is not the Internet or the Web. That refers to the companies that populate the Web. And many of them seem superfluous. This  transmogrification from what the Web was in the beginning to what it is now, and the even more frightening thought of what it will be in the future, should be alarming to all of us.

I recently read an article comparing the Internet with the advent of the automobile. Both are revolutionary and  with them came the idea that they would free America. Cars were to be the thing that brought America together, made us one, yadda yadda yadda. The same pitch was given about the Internet.

One hundred years later, no one can deny the importance of the automobile but at what price? The automobile business, and its ancillary industries, has killed millions of people, oil has been the source of countless wars, both covert and overt, toppled democracies and propped up dictatorships and on and on. What will they say about the Internet in 100 years?

Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the internet was created by hippies. Free thinking and idealistic individuals who didn’t, and still don’t, want the legacy of their creation to be in hands of soulless individuals, also known as corporations. Its original purpose, to serve as a free and open source communication tool, is being hacked away at by corporate monoliths who have no intention of keeping the Web free and open. They want to strangle and subjugate it. The corporations have but one goal, to capitalize on it and reap the most revenue to boost that line item on their quarterly reports. We’re not there yet and we can’t end up there.

We all know the internet is huge. How huge? Tough to say for sure but one could easily make the argument that it represents Moore’s Law…on steroids. For those of us that happen to believe in democracy AND capitalism (and yes, those things are, or should be, completely independent of one another but lately they seem to be one and the same), as big as the Web keeps getting, the smaller it seems to become. You see, corporations are beginning to realize how to strangle the Web and monetize it and we are letting them. For example, the top 10 web sites account for 75% of all pageviews in the United States(1) and of the top 10 web sites only one (Wikipedia) is not built off a profit driven model.(2)

Because of the Internets rapid expansion and the myopic pace of government and partisan politicking, lawmakers couldn’t figure out how to regulate it. Actually, they still can’t. So, in the words of famed free market economist Milton Friedman, the government chose to “Let the market decide.” Given more and more media consolidation and the corporate expansion into “new media” coupled with their powerful lobbying arm, who do you think benefits, at this point, from any potential regulation of the Internet?

I have nothing against making money. In fact, I quite like it. What I take umbrage with is the Internet turning into a place where the sole purpose of creating an Internet business is to be bought out by one of the bigger Internet companies (we all recall the Internet bubble bursting, so IPO’s are out and Acquisitions are in). In and of itself, I firmly believe access to that creative freedom of the Web is awesome. The one simple and great truth about the Internet is that it completely democratizes creativity and if you can make a buck at it, great. But I see so many start ups and think “Why is this necessary?” And, more often than not, they are not necessary. They’re nothing more than digital pet rocks.

In the latest issue of Wired Magazine, they highlight some of the start ups that are located around the Wired SF offices. Among them are Wcities (spent some time on the site and while I consider myself pretty Internet smart, I can not determine what they do but they have some blue chip partners/clients), Cloud Prime (A cloud messaging service, which marries big buzz “cloud” with instant messaging…yea, don’t see the relevance of that, but I do see an acquisition in their future – SalesForce anyone?), Grockit (online test preparation…um, how did the more established companies miss the boat on this one?). Frankly, it’s worrisome that some of the best minds today are creating these types of companies. Wouldn’t it be a lot cooler if some of these minds put some of that intelligence to helping keep the Internet open by building services and/or tools that benefit all of us? For free?

Franco Berardi writes “At a certain point in the development of the application of intelligence to production, the capitalist model becomes a paradigmatic cage, constraining intelligence in the form of wages, discipline and dependence.”(3) The creation of many of these digital pet rocks were to gain entry into the Internets “capitalistic paradigmatic cage”. More simply, the Internet is slowly turning into one giant free market Pac Man game where start ups are built for the sole purpose of being gobbled up by Google, Apple, Yahoo, Facebook or Microsoft.

Can the Internet be saved? Yes, but only if we want to save it. The Web is big enough that it can house both corporate concerns and serve as a model of democracy. That’s on us as users to make happen. Admittedly, saving the Internet requires work. Every last one of us is stretched so thin on time, energy and patience (thanks to being slaves to feed corporatism…and ourselves), it then becomes how to fit the necessary work into our schedules. Allow me to submit a few ideas:

  • Be more discreet with the tools you use.
  • Share less. Please.You are only hurting yourself and helping them.
  • Spend less time on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Don’t be so quick to hop on the latest digital trend or social media application.
  • Create your own web site using a free service (yes, like WordPress. Yes, they gather data on usage but are transparent.)
  • Read a book.

To the entrepreneurial minded, instead of looking to the short game for a quick pay day, why not play the long game and create to change? We’re right around the corner from a day when the monolithic corporations simply won’t let you create business’ as easily as you can now. Soon, very soon, unless we change direction, that low barrier to entry we all love about the Web won’t be there. It will be too costly for any Tom, Dick or Harriet to start a business. But also, wouldn’t it be a lot cooler to think about how to make things better for everyone and not just how can to create something Google will buy from me?

Stop making digital pet rocks.

In and of themselves, these simple tactics independently won’t crush or alter the growing corporatization of the Web. However, cumulatively, they will have an impact on the two things corporations are most concerned about with the Internet, data and revenue.

Look, I understand this is a gross over simplification of a very complex concern, but unless we change the direction of the Internet it will become just another media outlet for multinational corporations to repress and retard our thinking. From where I sit, there is already way too much of that.

A sledgehammer is to the totalitarian government as media is to a democracy.  The Internet is the last bastion of democracy. Let’s make sure it stays that way.

References:
1- http://tinyurl.com/cvemeg2
2- http://tinyurl.com/6c53k5b
3- http://tinyurl.com/cqbgbkf

My Dog Is A Jerk

Rufus 1

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.
– Roger Caras

My dog is a jerk. Now look, I’ll be the first to admit Rufus had a tough start in life, what with Parvo and double pneumonia. He was also kept in isolation during his treatment so he never got to make friends and has difficulty doing that now. I’ll also admit his breed, Pit Bull, can be both energetic and troublesome. But seriously, how much longer can I keep making excuses for him?

You know that feeling you get when you are super excited to do something? You have that level of energy that makes you feel like you could win the gold medal for the decathlon? That excitement you had as a child on Christmas Eve? The exhilaration of taking the first spoonful of your favorite ice cream flavor? Yea, he’s like that…almost all the time.

After hogging most of the bed and covers during the night, he jumps to life very early in the morning. Typically, about three hours before I need to be at work. He hops off the bed, does his morning shake and then comes to my side of the bed and starts staring at me. He doesn’t bark, sniff or cry he just sits a few inches from my face and stares at me. To be honest, it’s pretty creepy and far more jarring than any alarm clock.

I grumble while I get up, trying to explain it is much too early and curse him seven ways from Sunday. I fumble around with my clothes and make my way downstairs. He’ll usually race past me and wait impatiently at the bottom of the stairs while I plod my way down. When I try to explain to Rufus that I need to use the bathroom before we go out, he looks at me blankly. I suspect he is wondering why I simply don’t use the myriad of fire hydrants, street signs or garbage bags in our neighborhood.

Grabbing my coat and trying to take the four steps to his harness and muzzle, while he frantically paces around my legs, is a daily reminder of the Albert Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus. After a terse one way discussion about how he can’t go out without these things, I get him muzzled and harnessed and it’s off to the elevator. The pre-dawn hour means we’ll have an express ride down the eight flights, which is good considering he seldom likes to share the elevator space.

Getting off the elevator and out the front door almost always results in a fear that one day Rufus is going to rip my arm out of its socket. And so our morning sojourn begins.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn is typically loaded with people during the day so these morning walks are a time when we have it all to ourselves. No baby strollers, no skateboarders or bicyclists, no tourists, and thankfully, no terrified looks at seeing Rufus with his muzzle on. It is on these walks we both get the quiet and peace that is so often lost in an urban setting. It makes us both so much more appreciative of what we actually have. More importantly for Rufus, he gets to survey his doggie kingdom, get his scent on and do his business. He transacts a lot of business on these walks; he’s like a four legged hedge fund.

As we walk around the multitude of apartment buildings already here and those under construction, past the hip stores selling over priced dungarees, we’ll occasionally run across a bartender closing their bar after a night of millennials who had consumed too much Pabst Blue Ribbon. After all the detritus has been examined and the signage and garbage bags have been appropriately sniffed and marked, we will make our way home. As we get to our corner, Rufus will usually stop and look back as if to say “Yea, this is going to be a good day.”

We’ll come back upstairs to wrestle and growl at each other for a few minutes while the cats look at us with complete contempt. Eventually, I tell Rufus that I need to start getting ready for work. Trying to explain the concept of work to a dog is like trying to explain the musical importance of Supertramp. As I walk into the bathroom to shower, he’ll sit at the foot of the stairs and look at me as if to say “Come on, call out sick, we’ll hang out”. I simply shake my head and say “I can’t buddy, I have to go to work” and then I close the door and start the shower.

As for Rufus? He doesn’t wait at the door so when I come out we can have a few more minutes of discussion and play time, no no, not him. He goes back upstairs, hops on the bed, burrows under the covers and goes back to sleep.

That is why my dog Rufus is a jerk.

Guest blog post published on Pet Center News.

Boston Marathon

boston-marathon-bombings

“Humanity should question itself, once more, about the absurd and always unfair phenomenon of war, on whose stage of death and pain only remain standing the negotiating table that could and should have prevented it.”
– Pope John Paul II

I don’t think I could officially call myself a blogger unless I expressed some sort of feeling about the bombings on Monday at the Boston Marathon. So, here goes…it sucks and I am truly sorry that yet another tragedy has befallen our country. My heart goes out to the people who lost a loved one and those that were injured. And I don’t think enough thanks could be expressed to those that helped the hurt ones. Patton Oswalt said it far better than I could.

Whether you believe this to be a terrorist attack, either foreign or domestic, or some sort of governmental conspiracy, you’ll have to accept that we may never know the truth. The odds are that you will choose a narrative that fits your own personal belief system or one that you were raised with. Sound familiar? It’s getting to a point in America where knowledge gathering is beginning to look a lot like religion in that you go to the sources that subscribe to your beliefs.

Thankfully, there are tons of media outlets to choose from to get your (mis)information from. And in times of peril, like Monday’s bombing, the media turns to experts. The sad fact is that there are simply too many media outlets for any sort of true “expert” to cover and we’re left with news producers scrapping the barrel, willing to except almost any dolt as an expert. What follows are some  “experts” who recently appeared on some of the “trusted” news outlets:

ON CNN:
Former Lubbock, Texas Sheriff Tex Jackson was an “expert” because he once had a car explode in his driveway. And in a shocking display of Zuckerness, CNN ran a lower third during the interview of the coyote (of roadrunner and coyote fame) getting blown up.

ON MSNBC:
14 year old Bryan Watson was an “expert” because he lost his right hand when he put an M-80 in a beer can.

ON CNBC:
Goldman Sachs SVP Levon Jenkins, III was an “expert” because he once ran the Boston Marathon.

ON NY1:
Stacy Levicciochi, a 24 year old actor from Staten Island, was an “expert” because she was going to run in the Marathon but missed her flight.

ON NBC:
Brian Williams had an awkward interview with Watertown, MA Mayor, Jesus Jones, who actually may have been an expert. No one is sure because NBC just kept running a video loop of the bomb going off coupled with Brian Williams incessant “Uhmmms” and it created a trance like feeling for viewers.

ON CBS:
Shrieking MA DMV worker LaTonya Freeman, who kept bellowing “Lordy, Lordy, Lordy, they blown up my baby.” (no indication she or anyone related to her ran or was injured).

ON C-SPAN:
Surprisingly, no coverage. Only coverage of a senate vote to extend the Patriot Act to include Drone Missions on American soil.

ON THE CHRISTIAN BROADCAST NETWORK:
Pat Robertson ordained his cameraman, Tony Maloney an expert because of his two tours of duty in Iraq. Apparently, Robertson got the phrases “Worked with comestibles” confused with “Worked with combustibles”. Things got strange when Maloney asked Robertson to bless his avocado.

Across the radio and the web, celebrities and news actors weighed in:

Glenn Beck:
“President Obama was seen by that trash can two hours before the explosion. FACT!”

Alex Jones:
“THOSE OILY TOWEL HEADED MONKEYS WORKING FOR THE CIA DID THIS AND I CAN PROVE IT! LET ME TELL YOU WHAT, IF ONE OF THEM WALKS 500 FEET WITHIN ME, I AM GONNA SHOOT ‘EM. I’M GONNA STAND MY GROUND!!!”

Rush Limbaugh:
“Has anyone heard from Darnell, I am out of Oxy…and the femi-nazi’s…WELL THEN GET ME SOME SCOTCH GOD DAMMITT!”

Keith Olberman:
“Is anyone out there, because I have something to say.”

Westboro Baptist Church:
“God hates faggot runners.”

The list goes on and on, sadly. Fortunately, with the wide range of media and opinions, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding one that fits your belief needs.

As for me? Well, I’ll wait until I gather some more information from across the media spectrum, and globe, to try and sort out what I think. But I am fairly convinced we’ll never really know the whole truth.

While the talking heads and media pundits definitely need more help, right now, all I am really concerned with are the people who lost someone or who are hurt. And to those people, my heart and prayers are with you.

The Lowdown on an Upright Citizen: Comedian Anthony Apruzzese

From the April 15, 2013 Williamsburg Greenpoint News + Arts:

Showtime3

The Lowdown on an Upright Citizen: Comedian Anthony Apruzzese

by
Keith R. Higgons

Comedy is as much a part of the DNA of Brooklyn as country music is of Nashville. The list of comedians who have called Brooklyn home reads like a history lesson of the hysterical: Mel Brooks, Larry David, Woody Allen, Jackie Gleason, and current late night warriors Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon, among countless others. Hoping to one day count himself among those names is Williamsburg resident Anthony Apruzzese. He is currently blazing a trail in the super competitive world of comedy with his improvisation/theater/sketch late night talk show at the Upright Citizens Brigade East Theater called Showtime with Anthony Apruzzese.

READ MORE AT THE WG BY CLICKING BELOW:

WG logo

New Yorker Cartoons Debunked April 8, 2013

header_logo

” Even the interpretation and use of words involves a process of free creation.”
– Noam Chomsky

I have lived in New York City for years now and I am still not sure whether reading The New Yorker makes me a snob, an egg head douche, an old fart, someone keenly interested in good, albeit somewhat snotty, writing by east coast blue bloods ivy league twats or just someone who wants to have a look at what is going on in the area. But one thing I DO know is that the cartoons they scatter throughout the mag are sometimes odd, sometimes interesting and sometimes so wildly esoteric that if you admit you don’t understand it, you feel dumb and if you admit you do understand it you are more than likely lying.

For years, I found the cartoons just plain silly, but over the past few years, for whatever reason,  I have begun to understand them. I think. At the very least I have been able to apply some semblance of my life view to them which has allowed me to enjoy them a little more. When all is said and done though, I think the cartoons represent, what I can only presume, is The New Yorker’s demographic. Which from what I can tell is somewhat educated (both traditional and non-traditionally educated), white, middle class and above, left leaning folks.

I selected a few cartoons from this weeks issue (April 8, 2013) and provide a couple of different interpretations.

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LOVE, Part 1

bed

 Interpretation #1 – Marriage and relationships are hard, regardless of gender preference. So anytime you through two people together in close quarters they are bound to fight and sometimes the distance manifests itself in the boudoir. My guess is the illustrator was trying to show that it has been 97 days since the last intimate contact took place in that bedroom. 

 Interpretation #2 – A less likely interpretation would be that the illustrator was making a statement about a serial sex offender in recovery. This interpretation carries less weight as it seems anathema to the New Yorker’s high brow humor approach.

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LOVE, Part 2

lifeTHE CAPTION: “Boy, I hope we never end up like this.”

 Interpretation #1 –The illustrator, without showing the contents of the plate, is indicating that all the food has flooded into each other, making a statement about gentrification by stripping each food of its plate independence. The joke being that the woman hopes she doesn’t loose her independence while being in this relationship.

 Interpretation #2 –The couple is dinning at a cannibal themed restaurant.

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 Cost Efficiency

spoon

THE CAPTION: “The hotel is full, but I’ll see if I can work out a spooning arrangement for you.” 

Interpretation #1 –In an effort to cut costs, big hotel chains are now randomly pairing up people to accommodate more travelers. As the “spooning” comment indicates, all the rooms with two double beds must be full leaving just the rooms with king size beds. Rather than turn the road weary traveler away, and loose the revenue, he offers the new “spoon” package.

 Interpretation #2 –The hotel clerk has placed secret cameras in one room and is in the process of filming an adult orientated “spoon” fetish series for Cinemax.


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Capitalism, Part 1

capital

THE CAPTION: “It may be the rood of all evil, but it’s also the root of all this.”

Interpretation #1 – A wealthy, guilt ridden, left leaning corporate 1%’er tries to rationalize his accomplishments to his cube dwelling 99%’er college buddy.

 Interpretation #2 –The guy is just a dick.

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Capitalism, Part 2

lackey

THE CAPTION: “This is Abramson, our new pinata.”

Interpretation #1 – Abramson is the new corporate HR executive or PR executive, either way, his future looks grim.

 Interpretation #2 – Abramson is the token new state university recruit at the all virtually all ivy league Goldman Sachs, in which case he may, in fact, literally end up a pinata. 

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Doctors

dr

THE CAPTION: “It’s either conjunctivitis or twin pools of desire .”

Interpretation #1 –A favorite source of humor for The New Yorker, doctors. This is an attempt at trying to find the lighter side of medical practitioners. Clearly, the doctor knows what it is.

 Interpretation #2 –The doctor is making a pass at the patient.

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Millenials

process

THE CAPTION: “Nobody asked me about my process.”

Interpretation #1 –Millennials are often keen to extol what they do and how they got there in order to receive as many accolades as possible. Completely oblivious to the fact that no one may even care.

 Interpretation #2 –Actually, I am pretty sure that is whats happening here, the only thing missing are the tattoos.

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Nostalgia

noogie

THE CAPTION: The Noogie Kings

Interpretation #1 –The offspring of the original Noogie Patrol.

 Interpretation #2 – What became of Curtis Sliwa and the Guardian Angels.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Racism

catTHE CAPTION: “Look who’s moved in next door.”

Interpretation #1 –A guarded, yet clever, approach to the undercurrent of racism that permeates New York, and most communities across the country. The two fish represent the ruling white class while the cat in the fishbowl represents every non-white. A bold statement New Yorker, well playedwell played.

 Interpretation #2 –The fish represent every non-white culture and the cat represents the pending gentrification of their communities.

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Esoteric

bearsInterpretation #1 – Bullying is the premise here. You’ll notice there is only one seat available for the bear to fish through the sun roof and with the neighborhood bear bully on his way over,  either the other bear is coming over to rob him of his catch and/or chase him away from his fishing spot. Either way, it looks like the sitting bear is going to have his paws full.

 Interpretation #2 – A sublime statement about global warming because bears are usually hibernating during winter, so the image infers, despite the snow, that it may not be winter. As the bears are ice fishing, this is presumably a pointed remark about climate change.

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2013 Goals

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”
– Aristotle

Recently, I had my 2012 performance review with my supervisor and it went strikingly well. I mean I’m not shocked, they usually go pretty well. Despite the accolades and praise, the fact that my “merit increase” is less than any sort of applicable cost of living increase negates any sort of verbal praise (and I’d hate to see how lower ranked colleagues fared). Sure, it beats not having a job and it beats a sharp stick in the eye (most definitely) it was still pretty sad, not quite as sad as the reason I was given, but more on that next time.

Nonetheless, I thought some of my personal goals for 2013 were pretty awesome, increase departmental and interdepartmental communication, morale boosting and a redistribution of interdepartmental talent. It was brought to my attention in my review, and made clear that those goals are not necessarily part of my day to day job. This is odd because I communicate across no less than three different departments and I know there are a host of people in my own department who have the knowledge I need to help me function more efficiently, but alas, I was informed that my goals didn’t really fit my title. These were, in fact, potential changes that people of a different professional band would make and perhaps I needed to amend my goals (I declined to do so). Or in less official speak, “Shut up Keith, it’s not your job. We’ll tell you what to do to make your job easier, even if we don’t do it and don’t really know what you do.” The archaic top down management style knows best, I kneel before its all knowing power. However, conspicuously absent from the discussion was perhaps the most important of all my 2013 professional goals?
My spork analysis.

This is from my review:

To help offset any cost associated with my other goals, I have developed one cost saving measure that not only saves money but also lessens our departmental carbon footprint. We use both plastic spoons and plastic forks in our kitchen and by simply switching to plastic sporks (a combination of the spoon and fork for the unfamiliar) we can save over 500% monthly! Based on the most recent Staples catalog, the following information revealed:

spork2

We can no longer ignore the flagrant abuse of corporate finances by purchasing BOTH plastic spoons AND forks! ONE case of 1000 sporks results in over 500% in savings.
In this economy, we must, as a department, lead the charge on cost saving measures while maintaining our civic responsibility.

Sporks, save money, save time, save the planet!

I can freely admit this last proposal was about 30% tongue in cheek. The remaining 70% was in earnest. We’re always running out of things in the kitchen. Plates, spoons and forks are always the quickest to go whenever the sporadic allotment arrives. In fact, just yesterday it was brought to my attention that we are again out of necessary provisions. A colleague came over to this side of the office (a more arduous and security riddled task than it sounds) to pick up a paper plate that she just happened to know was in the conference room over here. There were no paper plates  in the kitchen so the next obvious place was the conference room…on the other side of the office…of course. And from personal experience, trying to eat Lucky Charms with a fork is both a physically and emotionally draining task.

In all fairness though, somewhere around the halfway mark of my review I started tuning out and began singing the lyrics to “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” in my head. For over 30 years now, this is my go to song in times of stress and I need to escape mentally. For equally as long, I STILL can not figure out how Johnny won that battle.

Can a corporation be insane?

nbc-broken-peacock“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
– Albert Einstein

Like any kid growing up in the Midwest, I had big dreams. And while my brother had dreams of being a cop or a stuntman or hockey player, I always knew I wanted to be something different. Something BIGGER. In no particular order I wanted to be:

  • A rock star (I always had the temperament just lacked the discipline to develop a skill)
  • An actor (After seeing Henry Winkler in Heroes, I was sold)
  • A writer (Reading John Steinbeck’s The Pearl and John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire changed my life…what does that say about me)
  • An A&R guy for Columbia or Atlantic Records or Warner Brothers (John Hammond was a hero)
  • For a brief period, a corporate executive (Until I discovered weed and realized I lacked the pedigree, and grades, to get into an Ivy League school)
  • A film editor (I would argue a good editor is more important than a good director)
  • An NBC employee (Two generations of kids were raised on NBC programming)
  • A restaurateur

I knew I couldn’t do all those things, but I knew one place I could potentially do all those things, New York City.  NYC is known for housing many industries, legal and not, and three of the larger legal employment arena’s are Finance, Restaurants and Media. About ten years ago, I moved here with two duffel bags of clothes, one suit and about 500 dollars. It sounds like a cliche’ but it’s the truth. Within two weeks I had landed a temp job at a company called Georgeson Shareholder working in one of the most arcane subdivisions of financial services (proxy solicitation) that it hardly bears defining. That temp job led to permanent employment as an Account Manager there doing a job I simply could not wrap my head around.

Eventually, my misery led to ultimate frustration so I simply quit. I quit without having another job prospect but knowing I could fall back on my skills as a waiter or bartender in the short term. Two days later I landed a job at a place called Tupelo Grill, located right across from Madison Square Garden. Of all the restaurant jobs in my day, this one was the best. Only open Monday through Friday and as long as there was something going on at the Garden, you made amazing money and you were done by 10pm. As far as a stop gap job goes, there was none better.  Two years in NYC and I had already conquered two of the three industries it is known for, Financial Services and Restaurants. I set my sights on Media.

As luck would have it, just as I was getting bored with Tupelo Grill, an old friend asked me if I wanted to work at NBC. He didn’t glorify the position at all and told me straight up what it was. It didn’t matter to me; I had always wanted to work at NBC and figured I could springboard from whatever department it was. I knew all I needed was access and then my insane talents would take me to where I wanted to be. I immediately began planning my career trajectory and jumped at the chance for the job at NBC, in the ass end of television.

When I was hired, their prime time dominance was slipping and my goal was to get to the Programming Department, either here in NYC or in LA, I didn’t care. They needed fresh blood, they needed creativity, and they needed ME! Luckily for them, they already had the chrome dome midget mind of Jeff Zucker who promptly fired programming head Kevin Riley to make room for, not me but, the silver spooned idiot child Ben Silverman. And thus began a complete and total dismantling of what was once a creative and ratings juggernaut.

Zucker and Silverman spearheaded the NBC descent into the cellar of television ratings and programming that remains unparalleled in television history. An accomplishment…of sorts. I would argue that these two knuckleheads were dyslexic because they seemed to have reversed the idea of “shoot for the stars” and as opposed to going UP in the sky with good programming they were going DOWN towards the earth’s core with shitty programming. In any other industry, a performance as disastrous as Zucker’s would have been met with almost immediate termination and yet somehow he remained through the Comcast acquisition. My suspicious mind tells me that Zucker held onto his job because he had pictures of either Jeff Immelt and/or Bob Wright with a pre-op tranny in Bangkok. I can’t prove that…yet.

So Comcast acquired NBCUniversal and the best part about that was the spin. They tried to pitch it as a “merger”. Now I didn’t go to an Ivy League school like the upper echelon of GE, Comcast and NBC, but it seems to me when a company purchases 51% of a company, that is an acquisition and not a merger, but what do I know? Comcast has since purchased the remaining 49% so it would seem to be a acquisition now.

Not surprisingly, after an acquimerger of this size comes a changing of the guard. And new head honcho Steve Burke grabbed the bull by the horns and did his best to instill confidence among the rank and file, like me. He assured all of us that he would make the right moves to restore NBC’s luster, to create shows and products across all networks we could all be proud of and believe in. He didn’t mince words, he said it would take time and money and he seemed ready and willing to make the tough decisions. And for about ten months he did all of that and came to define leadership. He cleaned the executive suites and replaced them with either people loyal to him or, seemingly, competent people. Perhaps the smartest thing Burke did was push out Zucker and his minions (Silverman had already been neutered and replaced with talented but rendered impotent Jeff Gaspin). While Gaspin and Silverman held the title, it was no secret that Zucker drove the bus. Burke didn’t then, and doesn’t now, appear to suffer from the same degree of narcissism or micro-management as Jeff Zucker, which points to his leadership.

Once the Zucker mess had been sorted out, Burke brought in former Fox and Showtime head Robert Greenblatt to replace Jeff Gaspin and head up what had become the very definition of epically inept, the NBC Programming Department. Greenblatt was an interesting choice because he has a mix of programming moxy which includes both shite and blue chip television work (Melrose Place, The X-Files at Fox and Weeds and Dexter while at Showtime), a successful run on Broadway as a producer (9 to 5) and a seemingly solid commitment to return NBC to dominance. By all accounts across the board, a solid, if interesting, choice.

To date, dominance has not been any part of the NBC brand. If you follow these things, you’ve been left scratching your head wondering what the hell is going on here. Trust me, we all are. Seriously. Sure, last fall we did well. For some retarded reason people watch The Voice and we had Sunday Night Football, so that makes sense. But the scripted shows were, and continue to be, simply awful. Animal Practice, 1600 Penn, Do No Harm, the continued spiral of Smash, the failed Dane Cook comedy and honestly, the list is too long to mention.

If you think about it, Greenblatt and Silverman (Gaspin didn’t really do anything) have proven only moderately more successful than me, and I haven’t programmed ANYTHING!

Is Must See TV dead? Yep. It should be. What NBC should do is hold a funeral for it, bury it so we can all move past it. I’m not kidding either. Create a spectacular show where all the stars gather together and have a New Orleans style funeral for Must See TV. If we were to do this, we could let that era go and so could the critics and the public, instead of holding out hope that NBC can regain those years and those programs. It’s time to properly celebrate their existence and MOVE FORWARD. And what better way to do that then to celebrate the Must See TV life?

I still believe in NBC and while I have a modicum of pride about working here, it is rapidly disappearing. However, I don’t feel that hitting the panic switch and doing a corporate shuffle is the right thing. People want to see stability and if you keep replacing the head of programming, no clear network vision will ever be defined. And while the other networks may think Greenblatt is the anti-Christ because he came from cable, he’s not. He understands vision and diversity but for some reason, he’s not sticking with it. My guess is he is too accommodating coupled with the heavy influence of Creative Corporatism.

Some thoughts:

  • Getting rid of Jay Leno is a no brainer and having Jimmy Fallon replace him is also a no brainer, but not now. Leno has to go but the mishandling of this is just imbecilic.
  • Yes, Matt Lauer has to go. Sorry Matt, your number is up. People fear change but you can’t let fear dictate any progress.
  • NBC Spin department, stop the bullshit, OK? Even a six year old knows moving “Smash” to Saturday is NOT a strategic move but really a move towards extinction.
  • Create shows with a defined arc. No need for a show to run 8 seasons if it doesn’t NEED to.
  • NBC Programming, take chances. “Hannibal”, really? Come on. Stop dumbing down the shows. The public can take some intelligence.
  • Writers and show runners are not brands, they are creative people. Diversify your creative pool for God’s sake. And if you feel you already do, do it MORE!
  • Stop relying on the same agents and managers for pitches and shows. There is a SHIT TON of creativity out there for you to harness. Go with your gut. Fight for vision.

Sure, I’ve accomplished one of my childhood goals by getting a job at NBC, albeit at the ass end, and even with my rapidly disappearing pride, I hold out hope. I hold out hope that NBC can do better and hold out hope we will be able to show that. But the way forward is not constantly looking in the rear view mirror.

I don’t pretend to know the intricacies of programming because, well, I don’t work there…yet. And as I write this thinking back to when I was hired it’s funny because even after all these years, NBC still needs fresh blood, they still need creativity, and they still need ME…but my gut tells me they think they have all the answers already.

If corporations are, by law, people, then NBC is surely insane.