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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

BOOK REPORT: THE SECRET LIFE OF THE LONELY DOLL: THE SEARCH FOR DARE WRIGHT

THE SECRET LIFE OF THE LONELY DOLL: THE SEARCH FOR DARE WRIGHT
Jean Nathan
Picador


I used to not even think about memories. They were things you just had like a pair of tennis shorts or a punchbowl. You didn't think about them till you needed them and when you did need them, there they were. You'd take them out, use them and eventually they'd find their way back where they came from where they waited to be called upon again some other time. They didn't change while they waited. They just became dormant like those weird sea monkeys that come dehydrated in a package till you add water and they come to life. By the way, just now I couldn't remember what those things were called and had to google "add water dehydrated sea animal alive" to find out.

Needless to say, my memories don't operate as they did when they were fresh out of the box. Nowadays, my brain tends to function in a much more random way. I'll find myself unable to remember the name of the Britain's prime minister but then I'll see a color combination that reminds me of a shirt I had when I was in second grade. I'll remember every detail of the shirt down to which seam frayed first and what it smelled like if I wore it in the rain. And yet had I not seen that color combination, that memory would never have been recalled, instead gathering dust under heaps and heaps of other useless information in some forgotten wing of my brain, a dehydrated sea monkey in my head.

My memory perrformed just such a trick on me a few weeks ago when quite by chance I read a review in Boldtype of Jean Nathan's biography of children's author Dare Wright entitled The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright. The article described what was Miss Wright's claim to fame, authoring a series of children's books (starting with 1957's The Lonely Doll) that follows the adventures of Edith, Mr. Bear, and Little Bear. The stories are illustrated with a collection of black and white photographs taken by the author. The three characters are represented in the photos by inanimate objects; Edith is a doll and the bears are Steiff teddy bears.

Edith. Teddy bears. Black and white photos. Something was stirring way, way back in my mind.

I read on. A synopsis of The Lonely Doll followed.

Edith is lonely. She prays every night for some friends to come and play with her. One day her prayers are answered. Enter Mr. Bear, the authoritarian, and Little Bear, the troublemaker.

Certain chemicals were mixing in my brain.

One day, Mr. Bear, having errands to run, leaves Edith and Little Bear at home alone. The two play dress up and use a lipstick to write disparaging assessments of Mr. Bear's worth on the vanity mirror. Upon his return and discovery of this, Mr. Bear harshly scolds the two scamps and exacts his revenge by taking Edith over his ursine lap and spanking her ruthlessly.

Bzzzzzz! Bzz, bzzzzzzz! Electricity has been achieved. An archived memory had been rousted from my cranial annals and sucked through a pneumatic tube leading to the front of my brain.

"I remember that book!"

Sister Leslie had it. It had a pink and white checked cover and it was big and square and Edith was on the cover with her legs splayed out and I remember how scary it was seeing Mr. Bear exploit his physical advantage over defenseless Edith.

And something else. You could see Edith's underwear in every single photo.

Not unlike a bear who's been prematurely stirred from its hibernation, the memory came out roaring, demanding acknowledgment, attention, and respect, demanding that more memories be pulled from the archives lest it be left as alone and friendless as Edith was at the book's beginning. So I thought about it some more. I remembered having looked at the photos countless times, inching my eyes over every detail, every shadow and highlight, every gradation. I remember the poses being somehow simultaneously lifelike and fake, as if the poses accurately created the illusion of the characters' weight and balance—Mr. Bear's position and the angle of his outstretched arm really made it appear as though he were about to deliver a stinging blow to Edith's half exposed cheek, and Edith did look like she was being quite effectively restrained, pinched between Mr. Bear's other arm and leg—but the photos lacked any sense of motion, any sense that this was something that was actually happening. It seemed more like a dream than a story.

The memory of this begged further investigation. So I read Ms. Nathan's book and discovered what is truly one of the most tragic stories I think I've ever come across, that of Dare Wright herself. Born in 1914 to well meaning if not well equipped parents, Dare and her older brother Blaine spent their young lives moving from one place to another. Dare's mother Edie, an artist who had given up the opportunity to travel and study in Europe in order to marry Dare's father Ivan, was trying to establish herself as a portrait painter in Youngstown, Ohio. Ivan, an actor turned drama critic (a tubercular leg left him unable to perform on the stage), proved unable to keep a job and equally unable to keep from moving the family in search of the next employment opportunity. That, coupled with chronic bouts of alcohol abuse eventually resulted in Ivan's departure to his native Canada. He took Blaine with him and left Edie and Dare to fend for themselves in Ohio. Dare was only three years old and her father's abandonment and the subsequent forced estrangement from her brother left in her a deep, deep wound that she would spend the rest of her life trying to heal.

Burdened with such grief at such an early age, many children act out, sabotaging themselves or others or both, an innate reaction to perceived injustice. Dare did not. Instead, she withdrew. While her mother painted in their studio, Dare was left on her own to play quietly by herself. Edie gave her a doll to play with and Dare would spend hours playing dress up and making up stories centered around the doll. The doll's name was Edith and she would one day become famous, known as The Lonely Doll.

Dare grew into a stunning beauty, tall, thin and blonde. Encouraged by her mother, she became an artist in her own right, learning to draw and paint, eventually teaching herself photography and the art of film development. She moved to New York City to study. She modeled for national magazines, appearing on the cover of the May 1951 issue of Cosmopolitan. But her success failed to give her any independence from her mother nor did she ever pursue it. Edie and Dare became a single entity, living in their own fantasy world of dress up and make believe. This world served to protect mother and daughter from the dangers and heartaches that certainly awaited them outside the confines of their studio.

That is not to say they were reclusive. Edie welcomed, indeed beckoned all types of media exposure for herself and to a certain degree her daughter. But when the reporters were gone and the party guests had left, the two retreated to their own particular, homemade version of reality.

Out of this fantasy world was born the Lonely Doll stories, all of which centered around the theme of loneliness and Edith's abject fear of being abandoned. Dare was Edith. They even looked alike. Mr. Bear was Dare's father and Little Bear was her brother Blaine. In life, Dare wanted only to be with them again as a whole family. Mr. Bear's power is born of the constant threat that he will leave Edith alone, taking Little Bear with him just as Ivan had taken Blaine when Dare was three.

Dare's aching for her lost father and brother was soothed by an eventual reunion but the relief was short-lived. Dare's wedding engagement to an RAF friend of Blaine's ended tragically when a plane crash ended her fiancé's life. Dare would never marry.

One by one the people in her life dropped away. Her father died, then her mother. Blaine, suffering from cancer pleaded with Dare to come see him one last time, but she couldn't bear it. When he died, Dare's worst fear became her reality. She was truly all alone in the world. Before long she descended into a world of alcoholism and mental illness, sleeping on the streets, alternately befriended by and brutalized by New York City's homeless.

How fragile humans are. Without each other, we have nothing. We wither away into madness or poison ourselves to death. Pain is survivable. Estrangement is not.

Stories are told and sometimes they entertain, sometimes they provoke contemplation. And some stories affect you. This book affected me.



Ms. Nathan's book is incredibly researched. I have no doubt that I would be unable to produce such a thorough accounting of my own life story, never mind someone else's. My memory's just not that good.

PREVIOUS BOOK REPORT: THE OTHER SHULMAN

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

SNAPPED ON THE WAY TO WORK TODAY

Purple seemed very important on the way to work this morning. First, there were these suspicious characters at a red light. No heat? Unabomber fans?



Then there was this joyful Bug-lover in Burbank.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

MOVIE REPORT: WALK THE LINE

WALK THE LINE
Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon
Directed by James Mangold


It's the rare bio-pic that succeeds in breaking away from the standard formula of "child suffers adversity, rises from obscurity to become famous, turns into a jerk, almost self-destructs only to be saved and reborn." I wish I could say Walk the Line," the story of Johnny Cash's early career and relationship with June Carter is such a film, but I can't.


THE PERFORMANCES=GOOD
I especially liked Reese Witherspoon who haven't really liked in anything since Election. As the smart and tough Carter, Witherspoon turns in the movie's most convincing performance highlighted by her answer to Cash's marriage proposal on the bus. How rare and refreshing it is to see characters talk the way actual people actually talk.

Also good, as usual, is Joaquin Phoenix as the man in black. Phoenix effectively depicts Cash's extremes, sometimes downright meek, as when he proposes to June on the bus, sometimes strong, as when he tells the suits at Columbia that despite their objections he'll play Folsom State Prison, and sometimes outright violent, as when he goes Chief on the dressing room sink. And damn, if Phoenix doesn't turn his face into Cash's. Shapeshifter?

Robert Patrick is also good as Cash's menacing but ultimately weak father Ray. Tortured by his shortcomings, Ray can't help himself when it comes to putting his son down. Patrick deserves more meaty roles like this one.


THE DIRECTION=NONDESCRIPT
James Mangold took few, if any chances.


THE MUSIC=EXCELLENT
Yes, Phoenix does a great job capturing elements of Cash's style. But more than that, it's the quality of the songs themselves that shine. It makes you want to listen to the real thing which leads me back to...

...a movie like this comes about when filmmakers don't try to do anything more than is required. In a word, they're lazy. The formula is there, written down in Hollywood's lab book. Add this to this and a little of that, mix it up and pour it out. And when I see bio-pics about someone interesting, I sit there in the dark and wonder why they didn't just make a really good documentary instead. Why, if they knew a story was worth telling, do they then have to superimpose it on a reconstruction that at best will look like a serviceable imitation?

That's just me. I know people like movies like this, but that's part of the problem. It's not just the studios that are lazy. It's the moviegoers, too. Like infants, they like their formula. They know when to be happy and when to be sad before the actors even tell them. This kind of movie is more a ritual than a piece of entertainment. Through its predictability, people find reassurance. Everything is lined up and as you like it. It's frustrating because I don't want films to reassure me. I want them to challenge me. Throw me a bone. At least give me something to think about. Walk The Line didn't. My time would have been better spent listening to some actual Johnny Cash music.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A TURKEY STORY

Click here for a worrisome Thanksgiving story from a worrisome little boy – me in 1973.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

CASUAL SATURDAY?

Nothing says Thanksgiving like telling other people what to wear.

Do you people out there who don't work in offices realize how absurd office culture really is? I'm not sure you do. You need to read the following email our office manager sent to the entire company and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

DVD REPORT:
ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS:THE MOTION PICTURE

ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS: THE MOTION PICTURE
David Bowie, Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder, Woody Woodmansey, Mick Garson
Directed by D.A. Pennebaker


Dopey from red meat, red wine, sugar and other assorted chemicals, Cindy and I and friends Julia and Chris sat down last Saturday night for an evening of rock and roll history. Through the magic of DVD (we should never lose sight of the fact that it IS magic), we consider ourselves lucky, lucky, lucky to have taken in the final concert of a genuinely legendary band in D.A. Pennebaker's Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture.

Filmed July 3, 1973, this is David Bowie at his most creative, most outrageous, and most, well, most most. How can someone so slight be so enormous?

Two words for this concert movie. It rocks. And not in the "Thanks for writing up that proposal, Bob. You rock!" way. But in the hardcore-rock-and-roll-Les-Paul-through-a-Marshall-stack way. As Ziggy, Bowie is the stage general, strutting and posturing in multiple costumes, spiked orange hair and makeup that depending on the lighting makes him look alternately cadaverous, beautiful, and like a little alien friend sent from outer space to spread the word of his existence. The costumes are glamtacular. Onesies, capes, boas, togas, tunics – Chris observed that it was more outrageous than anything you see nowadays. He's right. Now where's my Geritol?

But Bowie is only half responsible for the aerospacial level of rocking taking place here. For 89 minutes, the massive bravado of Ziggy runs head on into the granite boulder of Spider guitarist Mick Ronson, or should I say Mick Fucking Ronson. Coloring every tale of oddity told by Ziggy, Ronson paints a backdrop of distortion, power and melody. These guitar riffs are Classic with a capital "C." "The Width of a Circle," "Moonage DayDream," "Suffragette City," "Ziggy Stardust." Watching Ronson and Bowie is like watching two tectonic plates scraping against each other during an earthquake, neither willing to yield to the other. Ronson constructs a glossary of rock and roll poses and licks to which countless successors have liberally referred.

Also appearing are Trevor Bolder (bass), Woody Woodmansey (drums), and Mick Garson (keyboards), I believe for a combined screen time of ten seconds, eight of which consist of a rock battle between Bolder and Ronson which ends with Bolder scurrying back into the darkness on his side of the stage.

Obviously, I liked this movie and now consider it a "must-see" not only for music fans but also for fans of Pennebaker ("Don't Look Back," "Monterey Pop") who here has created yet another classic nugget of rock history that should be preserved forever.

Monday, November 21, 2005

MALICE IN THE HEAD

The following email was sent from our office manager to the entire company:


My reply:


The response:

Friday, November 18, 2005

BOOK REPORT: THE OTHER SHULMAN

The Other Shulman
Alan Zweibel
Villard


If I recall (a contingency only a fool would underestimate), there was a class I took in high school called "The Nature of Man" taught by the esteemed English department head and tennis coach Brooks Goddard, he of the dashikis, the Volvo wagon, and the one cigarette a day habit. The reading list included Crime and Punishment, MacBeth, Sanctuary, and Heart of Darkness - heavy-duty stuff even for a senior. As usual, I had trouble keeping up with the reading, probably because I was too busy going to Worcester to see the
Joe Perry Project
at E.M Loews or driving lap after lap of what became known as the Fat Circuit from Bailey's Ice Cream in Wellesley to McDonald's in Needham to Store24 in Newton. Despite the distractions, I was drawn to Mr. Goddard's ultimate question: "Does Man have free will?" That is, do we live the lives that the universe conspires to hand us, or do we determine our own path unfettered by outside influence? As you can imagine, for a kid on the cusp of adulthood who simultaneously felt repulsed by the insipid blandness of mainstream adult society (aka, "the normal life") and yet somehow certain that happiness lay waiting to be discovered somewhere in my future, Mr. Goddard's question couldn't have been more relevant. Lacking direction, passionless except for my Led Zeppelin, Hendrix and Ozzy bootlegs, I was just aware enough to see that if I did have free will, then the sooner I started exercising it, the better, lest I sign for and accept the standard-issue life and nothing more.

As soon as the question was posed, I had a pretty good idea where I came down. But I felt it was important enough to warrant some deliberation. So I deliberated on my way to see the Kinks at the Centrum, I deliberated as I did doughnuts in the Babson Reports parking lot, and I deliberated while I carried bags of housewives' groceries out to the Benzes and Jaguars outside Roche Brothers.

Yes, we have free will. Each of us determines through a series of choices which life we ultimately live. Some choices are big and have more impact. Should I marry this girl? How will I support myself? Should I have children? Some choices...not so much impact, but impact nonetheless. This was my answer.

So granted, Alan Zweibel may have been preaching to the choir as I read his new novel, The Other Shulman this week. Nevertheless, I found myself captivated by this tale of a man who, sodden by the comfort and wrinklelessness that the steady routine of his life affords him, retreats into a mid-life chrysalis and emerges to recognize not just his self-inflicted limitations, but his remarkably expansive potential as well.

Shulman is a middle-aged stationery store owner in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Outwardly, he's very content in a routine that keeps time chugging along, demarcated only by the ever-revolving stock of holiday cards in his store. But Shulman's got problems. His feet of clay have disappointed his wife to the point where they live sexlessly. He weighs 248 pounds. To top it off, a mega stationery store called Stationeryland is opening soon on the other side of town. These circumstances and the situations they produce force Shulman to get up off his considerable ass and fight for the kind of life he knows he deserves. Described here it sounds trite, but through Zweibel's born-and-raised-a-New-Yorker pen, Shulman's struggles are treated with a soothing balance of humor and pathos that reassures the reader that life itself is constantly teaching us how to live. The paths are laid out right in front of us, but it's up to us to choose the ones that will bring us the happiness we seek.

My eyes and skin and brain are twenty plus years older than they were when Mr. Goddard asked, "Does Man have free will?" and although in general I stick by my original answer, I have learned that fate, destiny, the stars, luck, whatever you want to call it, does play a big role in the lives we lead. Not a day goes by that I don't find myself thinking about how lucky I am. There’s no way I'm entirely responsible for all of my good fortune. Back in the eighties, fresh out of college, my friends and I were told that finding a job takes a certain amount of luck, but we were encouraged to "make our own luck" which sounds like fodder for a lame Successories poster but I must admit I've seen just that happen time and time again. In The Other Shulman, one of the characters advises Shulman with a quotation from Goethe: "At the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to assist you." I believe that's true. Or do I choose to believe that’s true?

PREVIOUS BOOK REPORT: LOGAN'S RUN

Thursday, November 17, 2005

SNAPPED ON THE WAY TO WORK TODAY


NO PRESSURE HERE
It's just that I feel that since I bought you this Acura SUV, it's only fair that you reciprocate. This car cost a lot of money and I had to talk to strangers. You know how private I am. It's not easy for me to deal with society the way the rest of the world does. Anyway, my point is I think it's only fair that since I bought you this car that you should do something for me. I've given it a lot of thought and decided that while you are on this earth, you should publicly pledge your allegiance to me. OK?


THE RALSTON RULES
Oh, sure. There are lots of places you can have your hair done in North Hollywood. Anyone can wash, rinse, cut and blow. But that's not what Kurt Ralston's about. Kurt Ralston's got his own set of rules. Rules about freedom of expression and freedom of choice. And when you set foot in Kurt Ralston's, well, you best be prepared to play by those rules. Because at Kurt Ralston's, you don't get a hairdo. You get an experience. The Kurt Ralston experience.


THE DOCTOR'S DEMISE
After the hearing and dismissal, Dr. Jeanns had no choice but to change careers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

NOW WE KNOW WHO WE ARE

A new slogan has been gracefully draped across our nation, bestowing upon our citizenry a chance to define itself anew. It's a phrase that allows us to move beyond mistakes that may have been made, beyond the blaming and name-calling of the past and settle in a new place where all Americans can share a common identity. It resets what it means to be American at a time when this diffused nation aches for unity. A single declaration, simple and focused. It says it all, folks. And it came from W's own lips. Let's say it all together, shall we?

"We do not torture."

Finally, we know what we stand for. It seemed impossible, but the bar has indeed been lowered.

Responding to criticism and speculation that the CIA is maintaining secret prisons for the purpose of holding terrorism prisoners, President Bush told reporters last week in Panama, "We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice. We are gathering information about where the terrorists might be hiding. We are trying to disrupt their plots and plans."

"Anything we do to that end in this effort, any activity we conduct, is within the law," Bush said. "We do not torture. And therefore we're working with Congress to make sure that as we go forward, we make it possible, more possible, to do our job," Bush said. "There's an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again. And so, you bet we will aggressively pursue them. But we will do so under the law."

He still doesn't get it. He still thinks that by definition, the White House is always right and that if people object or resist or even question the administration's motives or actions, they are divisive at best and treasonous at worst.

Look at the language.

"Anything we do to that end in this effort, any activity we conduct, is within the law."

That sounds like the end justifying the means to me, a dangerous and, I cringe at my own words here, un-American approach toward governing. That's business as usual for W. If he doesn't like the way the game is going, he changes the rules. Then he says that's the way the rules have always been, and if you don't like it take off your uniform cause you're off the team.

How does he get away with it? And how, incidentally, does one make something "more possible?"

There are indications that the truth may finally be catching up with W. His approval rating is at an all-time low. The indictment of the Vice President's Chief of Staff Scooter Libby may lead to charges of conspiracy within the administration. Red-staters are turning a little pink and violet on their way to purple. From there it's just a few small steps across the hue scale into full-blown blueness.

But I'm ahead of myself here. There's a long way to go yet. The next inauguration isn't for another three years plus. Donald Rumsfeld was right. We are indeed in for a "long, hard slog."

In any event, at least we're blessed to have this new slogan, this re-identifier, proud but not boastful, a simple fact we can all rally around. Once again, with feeling. All together, now.

"We do not torture."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

BOOK REPORT: LOGAN'S RUN

Logan's Run
William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson
Bantam Books


In a successful bid to pass the time during a recent flight to Boston, I read the futuristic science fiction thriller Logan's Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. To my surprise, the book bares little resemblance to the 1976 movie version starring Michael York and Jenny Agutter. Even more surprising is how little that bothered me.

Watching the movie has always been about camp, an exercise in kitch-appreciation. Logan's ever- escalating panic, the improbable fashions, the sparking and exploding cardboard sets make us laugh because they seem so ludicrous. One imagines the filmmakers feeling really good about themselves, congratulating each other on their ability to create a startling new world, horrifying in its efficiencies. Ooooo! Maybe it's the clarity that time's intervention provides that makes the movie seem silly and fun rather than insightful and deep.

Come to think of it, the movie is really just about seeing Agutter and Farrah Fawcett in those skimpy see-through shred-threads.

The book is cool. It's most successful when it paints a picture of life in the 23rd century. Logan, a policeman committed to the pursuit of runners, citizens who upon the occasion of their 21st birthday defy the law by fleeing their compulsory state-ordered execution, decides to become a runner himself. He meets up with Jessica, another runner, and together they set off in search of the possibly mythical "Sanctuary" where people are free to grow old. Before they tip their hands and become known fugitives, Logan and Jessica weave their way through a society committed solely to the physical pleasures of youthful folly, ducking into peeping-tom parties, bars where hallucinogens are served, and weird glass brothels. It's the detailed descriptions of these venues and the people who frequent them that kept my interest. In such a setting, just about any story would be compelling.

There are a couple of odd twists at the end of the book that don't add much to the story and seem a bit clumsy but for page-turning purposes, this book fits the bill.

Monday, November 14, 2005

SNAPPED ON THE WAY TO WORK TODAY

Sometimes I drive through Griffith Park and Toluca Lake on my work. If I reach a certain traffic light when it's red, I sit and wait for it to turn green facing this guy.

Friday, November 11, 2005

SEXY JUNK MAIL

The actor who played Conan the Barbarian is also the Governor of California.

Gas costs three dollars a gallon, we're at war with the oil producers and yet every day I'm surrounded on the freeway by gi-normous cars with names like Armada and Hummer.

The woman who anchors the local news here in Los Angeles delivers the news standing in a mini skirt, stilettoes, and healthy cleavage and is also the host of a game show called So You Think You Can Dance.

It's a world gone mad. And now there's this.

The company I work for sends out marketing material through the US Postal System. This week we received a "Prohibitory Order" because someone found the envelope that contained one of our pieces offensive. Here's the letter...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

YOUR STUPID MINDS!
STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!

I do a lot of things. Some of those things are just plain stupid. Not irresponsible-stupid but is-there-a-fucking-brain-in-your-head-stupid. Based on some of the things I've done in the past the past week, I'm pretty sure an objective observer would conclude, "Yep. No doubt about it. This one's one of them stupid ones." Most of this week's errors were social in nature. So let me issue a general apology to all of those who are paying now in one way or another for my recent mental deficiencies. I'll get to you individually in person.

This all came to mind this morning when I realized that I had congratulated someone on a milestone which was actually reached probably back in July. Altogether now..."D'oh!"

Other great brain cramps from my past include:

• My big English paper at the end of senior year of high school, the culmination of my achievement, proof that I was a learned scholar properly prepared for the challenges of higher education was entitled "Loneliness in the Works of Tennessee Williams" – a fine analysis indeed except that "loneliness" was misspelled throughout all twenty pages.

• Working as a prep cook at a restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., I needed a place to put a clean cookie sheet. The cookie sheet rack seemed like just the place so I shoved it in one of the slots, inadvertently shoving another tray full of delicate pastries out the other side. Forty ex-desserts lay shattered on the floor. The baker who got there every day at 3:30 AM had spent about three hours making them. In shame, I handed in my chef's knife days later.

• As an online production editor at a magazine I once deleted a year's worth of back issues from the network. Gone, as in no backup. Realizing what I had done, I went for a two hour walk hoping that when I got back the files would have miraculously reappeared. No such luck.

Sometimes I wonder how I even get through life.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

WHICH WAY DO WE GO?

Years ago I decided that there are two words I REALLY hope are not on my tombstone. One is "shark." The other is "impale." Over Sunday dinner at brother-in-law Bill and sister Kim's house, I decided that another term I hope is never chiseled out of that granite or limestone or stainless steel or whatever they make tombstones out of in the future is "avian bird flu."

I've always been fortunate to have doctors in the family. First, there was the OD (original doctor), the omniscient, the omnipotent, hailing from Oxford, Ohio by way of British Columbia, the Monster of Diagnosis, the Master of Prognosis, that throat-swabbing, pinworm-removing, laceration-stitching maniac who we proudly call Dad, my father, the late Dr. Davies.

Back in the day, when my sisters and I required medical attention, first and last stop was always my parents' bathroom. Our own little medical center right there over the garage. It seemed normal at the time. In fact, nowadays when I'm snooping through the drawers in the exam room at my doctor's office (they must know we do that while they keep us waiting for half an hour, right?), I'm always a little surprised when I don't see my Dad's Ace comb and bottle of 'Lectric Shave next to the tongue depressors and rubbing alcohol. Back then when injuries were sustained, triage was performed (if multiple parties were involved) followed by initial diagnosis, a plan of treatment and finally the treatment itself. There was no receptionist, no insurance cards, no weird paper gown. Just me and Dad and the injury/sickness itself.

I liked it that way. No fuss, no muss. Dad knew what was best as far as everything else was concerned so why should the well-being of my body be any different? At least that was my attitude until July of 1985. Having contracted my first and thankfully only urinary tract infection – the origin of which I will not go into here other than to say when breaking up with a girlfriend, it's best make a clean break and sever ALL contact at once so as to avoid any sort of relationship overlap – I went to the only doctor I'd ever had: good old Dad. I urgently told him the symptoms. While not dispassionate, he listened somewhat indifferently, nodding as he held the bowl of his pipe between his hooked index finger and thumb. The smoke used to jet out of the corner of his mouth with every nod like steam shoots out of a locomotive.

I needed relief and fast. But Dr. Davies could not be rushed. Once he determined the problem, he needed to look up the proper treatment and dosages in a large red book that he kept for events such as this. Another cup of black coffee was poured and I made another forty futile trips to the bathroom. Eventually he declared that we needed to make a trip to CVS to get some drugs.

"Great! Let's go!"

"Let me finish my coffee."

All of a sudden it was like I was ten on Christmas morning, straining to get to the presents under the tree but held back until Mom and Dad finished their coffee.

Prescriptions were filled, doses were administered, pain was relieved, and thankfully the girlfriend began her long, slow descent into my past.

Dr. Davies, rest in peace.

Fortunately for the remaining, Kim and Bill are both doctors who can be relied upon for sound medical advice. They are most excellent and give it to you straight without restricting their practice to their bathroom. So at dinner I had to ask for their opinions about the hysteria surrounding the avian bird flu and they pretty much confirmed what I suspected. This one probably won't be the one that gets you, but it would be counter to everything we know about how nature works to assume that as time goes on and populations grow and people travel that we won't be subjected to overwhelming, possibly cataclysmic pandemics. Further, it would be counter to everything we know about society and politics to assume that faced with such a situation, the rich will suffer as much as the poor. Like a well-lit mirror, Katrina coldly exposed this condition for the whole world to see.

It makes sense however, that as a race, we will become weaker and weaker with each pandemic wave, until all suffer equally. My white skin, the constancy of my paycheck and my health insurance card can't protect me from nasty viruses forever, especially if those viruses are always trying to figure out a way to get around the bureaucracy of my immune system. Overwhelmed and helpless, my body will fall by the wayside of human history along with all the others. Perhaps we'll reach the point where society gives in to the onslaught of contagions, throws up its hands and allows nature to do as it wishes. No more conquering and protecting of nations, no more philosophizing about the reasons for man's existence, no more sermons, no more praying, no more weekend getaways, no more home improvement, no more Scribbles From L.A.

No more me.

I don't know about you but that's not how I want to go, wasting in a bed somewhere beneath the human race's giant white flag. But I can't decide how I do want to go, although the unoriginal "in my sleep" is sounding better and better. The OD died of cancer. So did Al. That's no good. 2048 Americans have died in the latest war with Iraq. Their deaths are called "honorable" by our president. Maybe, but are they preferable? Religious types say that if you're at peace with your maker, then it doesn't matter how or when you die. Not only do I not know if I'm at peace with my maker, I don't even know who my maker is. Oh, boy. This can't be good.

I guess I'll just keep trying to narrow it down. A morbid process of elimination. A growing list of words and phrases to keep out of any obituary, eulogy, or tombstone that may be established on my behalf. So far, I've got "shark," "impale," and "avian bird flu."

Sunday, November 06, 2005

MEMORABLE MOMENTS OF THIS WEEK'S VISIT TO BOSTON


DEVIANT MOMENT
As I stood in Harvard Square, an earnest looking young man approached me and asked if I knew where the Harvard School of Divinity was.

"Hell, no," I said.



DISCRIMINATORY MOMENT
Brother-in-law John has long hair. He, sister Jackie, Cindy and I went out to a nice restaurant. After we enjoyed a basket of pre-dinner bread, John asked for another. The waitress told him they were out of bread. For the next hour and a half we saw bread not only being served throughout the restaurant, but tossed about carelessly, handed out to passersby on the sidewalk, used for an impromptu game of bocci, juggled by a trio of little people, and set alight atop the birthday cake for little Tyler at the table next to ours. And on our way out we passed a HUGE BIN OF BREAD.

FAVA discriminates against people with long hair and is therefore quite lame.
(Damn good eats, though).

Check out John's band, The Peacheaters.
CLOSURE MOMENT
Nephew Henry took pity on me and my final night of trick-or-treating and gave me a Hershey's bar. Nice. Henry is aces with me.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

FIFTEEN YEARS OF MY BAD HAIR

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I THINK MY TIVO® MAY BE RACIST

Disclaimer: I am aware that describing one's Tivo in human terms has been done before. In fact, I recommend Patton Oswalt's Feelin' Kinda Patton CD for anyone seeking the definitive exploration of this concept.

That said, I think my Tivo may be racist.

I love my Tivo. I've had it for a few weeks now and I love it. Or rather, I love the way it does what I tell it. If I say, "Tivo, if there are ever any reruns of the old Dick Cavett Showand if Dick's guest happens to be Jimi Hendrix, then record them and don't delete them until I tell you to," Tivo obeys. It remembers my request and it waits like a cat waits for a mouse to come out its hole. It'll wait forever for that show to come on. Tivo doesn't need to eat or sleep. It has it's orders and it follows them to the letter. That's what I love about Tivo.

Where Tivo gets into to trouble is when it gets impressed with itself. Tivo could take the advice of Harry Callahan who said in Magnum Force, "A man's got to know his limitations." When Tivo tries a little too hard to give me what I want, little quirks in its personality come out, little biases and assumptions make themselves known through its selections of what programs it THINKS I'll like based on what it knows I've already watched. Sometimes Tivo's cleverness impresses me. Sometimes not.

I watched the last 20 minutes of Roc last week. If you don't remember Roc, it was the "sitcom with a racial message" back in the 80s. Mainstream America had a major crush on The Cosby Show and Cliff Huxtable's crime scene sweaters (I think the wool used to make the sweaters was infused with psilocybin to create that mottled, multi-colored effect) The consensus was that TV was finally representing a black family as "THE AVERAGE FAMILY." I think what was really going on was that white Americans had such guilt over the way African Americans had been portrayed in the 70s, it made them feel good to accept a show about a rich, successful black family. So while James and Florida Evans were having Good Times in the 70s despite their poverty and the easy credit ripoffs, Cliff was busy getting his M.D. and Claire was busy passing the bar. The problems were pretty much the standard sitcom fare - little Michael got suspended from school; little Theo pierced his ear - but the settings couldn't have been more different. So when Mainstream America embraced the Huxtables, everyone let out a big "Ahhhh!" and relaxed, basking in the glow of Cliff's sweaters.

"See? We're not racist after all."

But then some grumbling could be heard. A lot of people started to say, "Hey, these Huxtables are doing a lot better than I am. If they're 'average' what does that make me? And you know what else? I'm just gonna come out and say it. Those sweaters are butt-ugly! It looks like Vernon Reid just threw up on a sheep! Why don't they have a show about a poor black family trying to get by in a crime-ridden, drug-infested big city neighborhood? Instead of a doctor, why don't they make the father a garbage man?"

And thus, Roc was born. It was the anti-Cosby.

I'm one of the ones who watched Roc. Not because of anything related to race but because the writing and acting and plotlines were so dramatically over-the-top. Charles S. Dutton, in the title role of patriarch of the Emerson family, dominated with his impassioned pleas for justice. It seemed ike every show culminated in Roc trying to emphatically convince someone of something, puncuated by his most heart-felt, "Dontcha see?" I like watching Roc for the same reason I like watching Quincy. It's SO over-the-top it's compelling.

So as I flipped through channels the other night, suddenly there was Roc. I hadn't seen him in years. This episode found him running for political office. Backed by Tone Loc, he stood up to the gang leader and pledged to "take back the streets." Classic Roc.

Which brings me to why I suspect that my Tivo is racist. I think it thinks that all black people are alike. Like I said, I watched 20 minutes of it and flipped around some more and then turned it off. And that's when my racist little Tivo went to work. The next night I turned on the TV and brought up the list of shows Tivo recorded for me. In 24 hours, it had filled its hard drive with every and any sitcom, drama, or movie that in any way had anything to do with black people. I had three Moesha's, four The Parkers, a Soul Food (why is that even on anymore anywhere), The Tavis Smiley Show, and How Stella Got Her Groove Back. I'm quite certain that had The Cosby Show been on, Tivo would have grabbed that too and said, "See? Black people. You liked those Roc black people so you'll like these black people, too. Didn't I do a good job?"

According to the manual, Tivo is supposed to learn your likes and dislikes over time. The more it observes, the more refined its selections are supposed to be. So for now, I'm giving Tivo the benefit of the doubt. If I learned anything from Roc, it's that racism is a bear and overcoming it takes time and patience. Maybe it's human nature to lump things into groups until we can break the groups down into subgroups and sub-subgroups and so on until eventually we see things as they truly are, individually. Since Tivo seems so human in so many other ways, I choose to believe that the potential for such wisdom lies somewhere within those wires and chips.