Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ho, no! It's the holidays.

I made it almost the whole way through.  Christmas was in sight and I'd managed to keep my spirits genial and bright throughout the season, no matter how much repetitive Christmas music I heard on the radio, no matter how disgruntled my family became, no matter how much extra work I was doing.  I was surprisingly relaxed and of good cheer.

Then I went to The Whole Foods.

Just by itself, that isn't a bad thing.  I've been shopping at my local store since it opened and I've been there around the holidays, so I pretty much know what to expect: a crowd of holier-than-thou entitled patrons short on patience and long on sharing their opinions.  What I didn't expect was the employees at the bakery counter, and their attitude.  They ignored me first, then walked away from me to complain amongst themselves about how my daughter had put her hand on the counter, then came back to the counter and treated me as if I were holding them up from more important things.

I've worked retail Christmases in the wine trade and the book trade and I never, ever, treated a customer the way those two men treated me.  I know how bad it can be on the other side of the cash register but I also know that no matter what, you never lose your cool with a customer and the customer is always right.  Every other store employee was courteous and helpful.  Add to that the fact that the bakers' behavior was nonsensical: if they wanted us gone so badly, then ignoring us wasn't going to make that happen; my need for bread wasn't going to evaporate just because these guys were inconvenienced.

I tried to make sense of this experience on the way home through the cluster-bomb of holiday traffic.  What, exactly, was their problem?  Had I somehow done something to bring on this reaction?  Was there a way to rationalize this all with the holiday season?  Where exactly, does it fit, with the message of Christmas?

For me, the over-riding through-line of religion is: don't make someone else's life worse for having met you.  So, these guys clearly weren't with my program.  Rather, they were of the bitter retail school where they're too good to be doing their job, they're meant for better things, and the customer is always an inconvenience.  As I drifted to the checkout line and out into the night, I wondered how out of touch that attitude is in a country with unemployment at the current rates.

The next day, I realized something, though.  I had restrained myself at the store.  I hadn't stomped off to demand to see the manager and demanded apologies or tried to somehow dump back on the bakery guys.  Although they had shown me none of the holiday message, my Christmas spirit was actually intact.

Good luck keeping your balance through the season.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Little Thanks

In the few hours before it's officially Thanksgiving here in America, I'm trying to engage my personal attitude adjustment function.  You know, that little mental switch you make to allow just a little decompression from work, family, politics, and every other stress factor I seem to carry in the tendons of my neck.

I'm usually only moderately successful at relaxing, so my mental switch is actually the size of that circuit breaker in Jurassic Park.  I am making an effort, though, because no mater how trite it sounds, it's good to step back a little from your own life and count the blessings.

Don't get me wrong.  Everyone has struggles, some more profound than others.  I've got my share, but they'll still be there after the holiday, so I'm making the attempt to focus on the good stuff for the immediate days ahead.  I'm as guilty as everyone else of taking some basic things for granted and perhaps I've got to be working harder on being thankful.  I've got a family, a job, a place to live.  The number of people I've helped in life is larger than the number of people I've harmed.  I've got some really good friends.

While it's probably part of human nature to constantly strive for more of everything (probably a throwback to times when basic resources were scarce), it's worthwhile to take a look at just what we have.  I have many things.  I am blessed.  I hope you can feel the same way.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Post Season

Wait, wait, what?  There's still post-season baseball going on?  But the two best teams in baseball are done, so that doesn't make any sense.  What do you mean there's port-season baseball?

What it means is that there were a couple of young, hungry teams, who played as if every single out were an elimination out, and they proved that a lot of heart can overcome staunch professionalism and experience.  The Phillies (I'm not going to talk about the Yankees, because they are beneath contempt, and there's no shortage of New Yorkers to do their post-mortem) spent a season doggedly pursuing their only stated goal: the World Series.  Despite injuries, a shallow bullpen, and odd managing choices, the Phillies did what they needed to do: win 2 out of 3 games, over the course of 162 games.  They did it professionally, which is to say, like any good businessmen, they put on their suits, they clocked in, and did what they were supposed to.  But... oh, but for that one big question...

Were their hearts in it?

It sure didn't seem that way for most of the season.  When mid-season trade Hunter Pence is the only guy looking like he's having any fun, that should be a signal to the manager that something's wrong.  The team has now morphed into a group of paycheck players who have been hired to win a world championship, and every move the "employees" make seems to have that unspoken job performance rating attached: if I don't win will I be playing for the Phillies next year?  When you're worried more about what you stand to lose than what you stand to gain, you're never going to beat the teams that play like they have nothing to lose.

Worse yet, you're not going to have any fun.

It's tiring watching a group of overpaid guys play a game -- a sporting game, but a game nonetheless -- and have them wear their grim professionalism ALL THE TIME.  Why?  What's to be grumpy about?  They are the few, the chosen ones for whom genetics and circumstances have allowed a perpetual childhood playing America's greatest game, and they're unhappy?  If your heart's not in it, if every game isn't the World Series and a sandlot game combined in your head, then it's time to walk off the field.

As the Phillies endure the long, cold winter, and shuffle the chips around in search of the dynasty that almost was, they need to consider that fun is what it's really supposed to be about.  The fans don't want to see emotionless robots on the field, we want to see a team.  And when it costs over $100 for a family to go see a game, even in the cheap seats, you owe us not just a team that's playing the odds over the 162-game spread, but a team that plays as if every game is the last, with the joy and fierceness of champions.

It is, after all, baseball.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene 2011

Irene from my front porch, during the storm, then the morning after.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hunkering Down

As hurricane Irene lumbers its way towards landfall on the US Eastern seaboard, it seems the news media has created its own perfect storm event.  The media, in all their glory, likes nothing better than an impending disaster.  At this point, they can indulge in all the "worst case scenario" hypothetical animations they want, with none of the actual damage having taken place.  All the shrill fear-mongering, with none of the price of actual damage and bodies.  These major storm events are a bonanza for the news/entertainment industry, because, if everything goes as they predict, they get to double-dip: they have material to report now, in the run-up, but they can also report on the disaster -- should it happen -- for a good long time.

All the screenwriters out there should also take note of the coverage, because one of the keys to making all thins non-stop storm coverage work is the ability to track the storm in real time and give you "landfall" estimates.  That's what we call a ticking clock, and every media outlet makes use of them in this type of event, despite the notorious inaccuracy of meteorologic forecasting.  That ticking clock gives you a built-in window, a race against time to get prepared for the storm.  That creates tension and makes for good viewing.

I know this sounds cynical, but...

I caught a rumor on the net this morning that the township adjacent to mine is recommending residents re-locate during the storm.  That seems more like panic to me than prudent storm preparedness.  In our Philadelphia Western Suburbs, we're a good 40-50 miles from the coast, it's unlikely that the storm will be hurricane strength by the time it gets here, and it's 36 hours away (at least).  This kind of hysteria is generated by a 24/7 media looking to fill the endless hours of broadcasting, and a public with unlimited access to information feeds that do little more than churn the same statistics for hours on end.  As imminent as the threat is, there's been plenty of warning, and the storm is only moving at 14 MPH.  We know it's coming and events aren't developing that quickly.

Now, pay attention here: I AM NOT advocating you don't evacuate when you're told to, nor am I saying you shouldn't take the storm threat seriously.  You may, however, want to take the media a little less seriously.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Business of China

One of the prevalent dichotomies of our current society seems to be our hypocritical relationship with  China and in the past few weeks, in the aftermath of the debt-limit debacle and credit rating crisis,  someone should highlight the true weirdness of our relationship with the largest remaining communist country.

In the wake of the market upheaval, there were at least two major public rebukes from China about America's debt, one of which was directed to the Vice President.  Let's ignore for a second how America's largest note-holder, China, rebuking us while holding almost a quarter of our foreign debt, is a bit like shooting the golden goose.  You notice they didn't offer to forego debt service in our time of troubles, as a way to help us get through the crisis.  Let's ignore for a second China's repellant human rights record.  And while we're at it, let's just totally ignore the whole communist/totalitarian ideology.

That sounds like a whole lot of willful ignorance to me.  Why do we do it?  Because we import more from China than from any other country in the world.  They buy very little from us; the trade balance is tipped so far in their favor it's ridiculous if you stop and think about it.  What's really funny though, is that they're essentially loaning us money to buy products from them, then collecting interest on the loan, then publicly rebuking us for borrowing money.  And we, as a country say, thank you, sir, may we have another?

Why?  Because the stuff's cheap, and we don't care where it came from.  We'll look the other way on all the issues I mentioned above, just so we can pad our dens with stuff we don't need.

This hydra-headed approach to life is not particularly new to Americans, though.  The very same people who lionize the greatest generation and their efforts during WWII, never see it as ironic that they hustle on down to the Wal-Mart to buy lots of cheaply-made products from a totalitarian regime that undercuts American industry via its industrial practices.  While at the Wal-Mart, they also lament the fact of the disappearance of "main street America", ignoring the fact that their shopping habit is what actually killed the main street.

What is most remarkable about China rebuking us, though, is that they would be economically up shit creek if we took a pause from our delight with their exports.  In 2010, we imported approximately 365 Billion dollars worth of "stuff" from China.  Hmm, that looks a lot like a billion dollars a day we buy from them.  Imagine if you went five days without buying anything from China (granted, it would be hard to do), that's 5 billion dollars.  People would notice that.  Policies could change.

Maybe we wouldn't have to look the other way quite so much.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rules of the Road - 2011 Edition

I know I've had a few choice words about driving over the course of my blogging, so I'll do my best not to repeat myself, even though some of my road rules apparently need endless repetition because some of you obviously haven't been paying attention.  Before you embark on the great American motorways in search of a cheap vacation, make sure you understand all the basic rules of the road.

  1. Yellow lines divide lanes.  This is America, you should be driving on the right side of the yellow line.  Yellow dividing lines are not optional simply because you bought a gas-guzzling SUV the size of a zeppelin.  If you can't follow the lines, you shouldn't be driving.  As with coloring, you can say outside the lines is "creative" but it mostly results in a bloody mess.
  2. Parking lots.  They also come equipped with dividing lines.  If you can't fit your car in, you might want to reconsider your lifestyle choices.  Basically, if you can't park it, you shouldn't be driving it.  Also, handicapped parking spots are marked for the handicapped, not for the chronically late.  Your scheduling issues make you incompetent, not handicapped.
  3. Light jumping.  WAIT YOUR FUCKING TURN.
  4. Self-delusion.  Everyone thinks they can work their smart-phone and drive.  No one can.  Read the stats, tell your kids, and put down the phone.  I'm guessing that text isn't really worth dying for, or killing someone else.
  5. Courtesy.  Being on the road today is like sitting in on a congressional budget debate, only with 1200 lb cudgels.  If you've got rage issues, perhaps you should address them somewhere other than behind the wheel of your car and misdirected at the poor schlep who's also trying to get home on time.
  6. Motorcyclists and bikers.  Yep, you're right, you're entitled to the road, too, but that also means you have to obey the same rules as the rest of us.  You know, lights, stop signs, yellow lines (see #1 above), and courtesy.  You also might want to think back to basic physics class and lessons on mass in motion, before you let your road rage out on someone in a car.  I saw a guy on a chopper spit on a car the other day.  I gave the car driver big props for not simply backing over the moron.
Alternatively, you jump on some kind of public transit and avoid this crap altogether. 

But of course, this is America, where we violently defend our right to gobble up every bit of fossil fuel to fill our oversized cars to lug our overweight kids to the Wal-mart and buy them some soda at the best discount around.  I shouldn't complain, I suppose.  At least Coke is still made in America.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Down Time

Let's talk the pleasures of summer.  In many ways, I have a fantasy life, because I still have many of my summers free.  Just the word "summer" conjures up images of sweating glasses of icy drinks, the sound of the ocean, the smell of grills, the bleeping sparks of lightning bugs.  You think of long, lazy afternoons; a melt of time stretching into the hazy, humid dusk. Days at the pool, nights at the drive in.

But... but.

If you're a bit compulsive, with a control freak twist, going from a jam-packed schedule to a suddenly open-ended vacuum presents it own particular challenges.  Trying to do it with a couple of pre-teens who take delight in creating mayhem just makes the fun more... pungent.  In other words, long, unstructured days can cut both ways.  I'm trying to force myself to relax, to take time to read a few books, not stress about all the stuff I should be doing around the house.  I tell myself that no matter how much the offspring try to push my buttons, there's going to come a time when they don't want anything to do with me, so I should try to let it flow off my back.

When all else fails, there's still a tall, sweaty glass of whatever I want to drink.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Finally rolling film today on Customer Service, the short film I wrote.  Check out the blog here:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Shit That Annoys Me Today

Those of you who have ever read this blog understand that that there is no shortage of things that tend to aggravate me.  For the most part, in my daily life, I keep my mouth shut, because no one wants to listen to someone who bitches all the time, no matter how right they are.  Occasionally, a perfect storm of crap comes together and I can't hold in my ire anymore, and it spills out into the blog.  So, today's post.  In no particular order, the junk I find irritating right now:

  1. Saudi Arabia.  Today's NYT reports that women aren't allowed to drive in the country.  Of course, they also can't vote or work (without a man's permission).  If you can seriously name one thing other than oil reserves that should command respect from this country, I'd like to hear it.  I'm all for respecting another culture's beliefs and ideals, but it's ridiculous to treat this kind of institutionalized sexism as anything other than repellant.
  2. Pending public education budget cuts in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the nation.  Let me get this straight.  It's okay to cut programs from the poorest school districts so that we can continue tax breaks for industries?  You're poisoning the future, you're wrong, and you should be ashamed if you support these policies.  If you're too stupid to understand that, then you probably didn't go to a public school.
  3. The Free Pass For Wall Street.  The longer the economy languishes (and by every measure, it still is) the more it irks me that those responsible have suffered very little compared to the average citizens of the country.  Their business-as-usual mentality, while the American taxpayer picks up the tab, is a national crime.
  4. Celebrity Culture.  Our nation's slavish worship of every glittering freak show is turning us into oatmeal-heads.  We're spending so much of our time worrying about what these fools are doing that nobody is actually, well, doing anything.  Write your own book, make your own movie, sing your own song.
Okay, that's it for today.  It's still early so I may be back, I reserve that right.  If you're pissed off about something, or at me, why not let me know?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Stumbling Around

In my recent internet ramblings, my metaphorical hikes through the electronic woods, I came across some blogs with little nuggets of help for writers and artists.  In lieu of any actual thinking of my own, I pass them along to you:

How To Steal Like An Artist serves up a refreshing insight on inspiration and creativity.

Best Blogs For Aspiring Writers is just a list, but a good starting point to poke around for what you need.

Lester Dent's Master Plot is the famous pulp wordsmith's breakdown of how to create a story.

Of course, the best advice -- the advice most frequently ignored -- is to keep writing, always.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Going Japanese

Last week, as the family was winding down from a long day of our usual bickering, cajoling, and rollicking fun, while I was sitting with a glass of wine and a book, there came a sputtering-sizzling-thumping sound, a tremor passed through the house, followed rapidly by flickering lights, a WHUMP! and darkness.  The quiet that only comes when you've lost power.  From downstairs, my son yelled, "I smell something!"  I grabbed a flashlight, and stepped into the basement, only to meet a hanging pall of smoke.  Thankfully, no flames, but still... smoke can't be good.

Ushering everyone out into the unseasonably cold night, we huddled on the porch waiting for the fire department, which came out in force: 5 trucks from at least two companies.  At one point, there were ten fully-geared firemen exploring my house in the dark, trying to figure out what had happened.  They roamed from the attic to the basement.  In the end, they discovered the main cable coming into the house had exploded in the foundation.  The cable burned apart and the breaker tripped, cutting off the mains to the house.  No imminent fire threat, but the electric company shut off service to the house.

The following morning, the house temps were in the low 50s.  Not dangerous, but not comfortable, either.  Everything stayed cool in the fridge, so we were okay on food, etc.  The electrician came in the morning, and power (and internet) was back online before the afternoon.  What's the point of the story, you may well ask.  We were lucky in a lot of ways.  Mainly that the house didn't burn down, but also that we really didn't lose anything, weren't in physical danger, and could get everything repaired in under 24 hours.  That got me to thinking about Japan.  For one night, I was inconvenienced and irritable, but that was the extent of it.  I didn't like it one bit.  My kids were scared, and in our society, a lack of electricity in your home is a very unnerving situation.

Many of those who survived in Japan are dealing with conditions I don't even want to imagine.  Theirs is a life-altering hardship, and it is ongoing.  Just because it isn't at the top of the news coverage any more doesn't mean the situation is over, or their needs have lessened, it just means the media can't make money off of it any more.  Meanwhile, those affected by the quake and tsunami still struggle.  Send a prayer their way, or donate something to the relief efforts.  Below are just two of the many sites that will take monetary donations.

American Red Cross

United Methodist Committee on Relief

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Storytelling Crystal Ball

If you're interested in writing/filmmaking/video games or entertainment in general, you may have noticed some seismic shifts in the way stories are told and the way entertainment is offered to you (Angry Birds, anyone?).  A couple of friends and I discussed the future of storytelling in the first of an ongoing series of podcasts that's just hit the internet.  It's worth checking out, and following all those who are involved.

Future of Storytelling Podcast

Thanks to Paul Montgomery and the Fuzzytypewriter blog and to Dave Accampo for a very thought-provoking chat.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spring Cleaning for the Screenwriter

I've been blowing the dust off some mental stuff and wanted to share a few things with the writers out there, starting with this link:

Writing, as they say, is rewriting, and I think this list is an interesting way to approach individual scenes. One of the main things to remember is: each scene must operate on multiple levels, moving character, plot, and story simultaneously.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Political Calculations

So, I just got my own very personal e-mail from Michelle Obama announcing Charlotte North Carolina will be the host of the 2012 Democratic National Convention and I'm torn between laughing and crying.

Laughing, because it's so cynical a political move. NC and VA were the only southern states Obama carried in 2008. Setting the convention in the beachhead of the South seems pandering and an obvious ploy to curry favor with the rest of the South.

Crying, because the Democratic party can't stop trying to convert the South, which has shown nothing but resistance to every progressive move since reconstruction. The party does not need the entire South to secure the White House and it's high time we stop tailoring an agenda to make it easier to swallow for people who don't want to be part of the party anyway.

It will be an interesting convention, but I'd bet the true face of America will be in the protests outside the auditorium, not with the speeches from inside.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dig This! Tuesday

Time agin for one of my non-posts, which means I post something almost totally devoid of new content. So, here are a couple of things that got my attention from the web today.

You may have noticed in the sidebar to the blog that I have an interest in wine, beer, and booze in general. It intersects with a passing interest in science here--

Finally, in the comic book department, as the nerd world rushes to weigh in on the folding of Wizard, here are some mildly inspired parodies of Batman Covers:
Here ends the churning of other's ideas represented as work-on-my-part.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Shameless Promotions

What's a blog for, after all, except indulging all your own narcissism?

First, let me give a little cyber-ink to the people running the Farce/Film blog and podcast. They give interesting and insightful written reviews of films -- all kinds, not just art-house stuff that never plays near you -- and have a rollicking, rambling, sometimes inebriated podcast that serves up dueling opinions of weekly releases amongst a rotating cast of semi-regular commentators.

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit they are all mostly former students of mine, but if you know me at all, you should realize that doesn't mean I'm cutting them any slack. What I'm saying is: these people are the real deal. As proof of that, when they invited me to sit in on a podcast episode, I agreed. The best students are the ones you want to keep working with, even after the formal Professorial relationship has ended and the Farce/Film group falls into that category. Of course, I claim some credit for them being the thoughtful critics they are, because that's what all good narcissists, er, Professors, do, right? Bring it always back to themselves?

Anyway, the actual shameless self-promotion is when I say -- go listen to the podcast with me in the guest chair. I talk about Green Hornet, Hot Tub Time Machine, Cameron Diaz in underwear, and NC-17 ratings. Beware, we cuss. A lot. We're all adults, even if I knew everyone else when they weren't.

If you listen to the cast, let any of us know what you think, even if you hate it (although don't hate the one I'm on). Follow any of those good people on Facebook or Twitter, and you won't regret it. Follow me on Twitter, and you might.

Monday, January 3, 2011

In The New Year

Ah, that first day back to work after the holidays... the rude shock of being back to work and all the fun being over. No more sleeping in, no more pastries and coffee for late brunch, no more wine in the early afternoon. It's like Christmas shat you out and left you at the curb.

And that's all I have to say about the holidays.

Let's move on to 2011, shall we? I don't even want cast a fond glance over my shoulder at 2010, because, you know, it's over. Forget all the top ten lists, I want to start a clean page and move forward. So much of my life is spent looking back and over-analyzing things I can't change - should have zigged instead of zagged, etc. - that I'm just beaten down with the past. I don't want the baggage anymore, and this is fair notice. If I fucked you over unfairly in the past, I'm sorry, really I am and you can bet I've beat myself up about it, but I just don't care anymore. I want to shake all that off my shoulders and have a little fun. What do you say, 2011?

What does that really mean? It means I want to focus on the things that really matter to me: my wife and kids, my friends, friends I haven't met yet, cooking and wine, writing and reading. I gots to work to pay the man, but you know what? I'm not doing any freebies for the man anymore. I'll work when I'm supposed to, but the rest of the time is mine, so back off.

Ready, 2011? Let's get it on.