31 July 2009

1979 ... The Summer Between

Languid onshore breezes are blowing this afternoon here in Los Angeles. The palm trees, some 100 feet tall, grow with a certain katana blade shape because of these winds. As sometimes happens on windy days, I think back to earlier childhood times. It's the rustling of the wind in the fronds that sort of lulls me to daydreaming, and remembering, and ignoring the article I'm supposed to write (for JustLuxe.com); the one that sits on my desk, mocking me, waiting for another ham-fisted attempt by yours truly. What shook loose from the palm trees today, though, was a memory from 30 years ago. The summer of 1979 was an odd and ungainly one, transformative for me and my friends in a lot of ways.

This was the summer going from jr. high to high school. When bodies became long and thin, and parents worried a bit more about where you were, what you were doing, and more importantly, whom you were with. This was the summer/era of going from disco to punk, Carter to Reagan, from boyhood to wanting manhood. From innocent indolence to focused fury of pubescence.

Most of the time during the summer of 1979 I worried about being "big" enough to play football (my dad said I wasn't allowed to play b/c he thought I was too small. I can actually remember exactly where we were as I teared-up silently, staring out our Cutlass Olds). My core friends didn't play football, so I didn't perseverate on the topic too long because they wouldn't hear of it anyway. I was able to participate in the other things we were doing that summer -- like playing poker late into the night; camping out in backyards; swimming in pools and at the beach; joy-riding on my brother's Ducatti when my parents were in Europe; sneaking out and riding skateboards at 2am when my parents were sleeping in their room upstairs above mine -- and decided to let my body determine on its own if I was going to be able to make the team (which I finally would, thank God).

A huge pastime, obsession, constant reminder for us, as one could imagine, was girls. Just about anything to do with girls was on our minds: our best friend's sisters, their moms, the lady who gave out cookie samples at Von's Grocery, the Farah Fawcett poster (RIP -- the actress not the poster). We had several very mature freshman/sophomores who (unfortunately for them and fortunate for us) weren't old enough to drive and so had to stick around our neighborhood in the canyon that led to Malibu, nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains like a kitten in the crook of an avacado green couch.

One of the girls who received our affection and attention was the niece of a legendary rock band drummer (who would die the next year, as all rock drummers seemed to be doing back then). She had a sizable German Shepherd who needed to be walked every day, twice a day, on account of the rather sizable "her-shitza-poopoos" (as they say in doggie German) that her mom was getting tired of cleaning up.

Ms. Barbie, with her shock of auburn hair, would walk that dog up and around the hilly streets of our tract, and the half-dozen of us boys reported on her whereabouts as regular militia spying on enemy troop movements. Whether we were playing football, shooting hoops, riding our skateboards up the 10 ft ramp we built at the end of the cul-de-sac, or just sitting on the wall next to the pomegranate tree eating our purloined fruit, when she would sashay by, we would think up any excuse to make small talk with her. We even tried try to shake her hand with our purple stained fingers, and she'd just sort of laugh at us. Now that we were all good and embarrassed, she'd keep walking, telling her dog jokingly, "watch 'em!" Looking back to 1979, that was not a bad way for a matriculating 8th grader to spend a summer.

The other girl was Tammy. Tammy looked 23. When you're 13, and somebody looks 23 ... well, let's just say nobody ever talked to Tammy. Not even the next year when she became a water girl for the football teams. Tammy was TNT, nitroglycerin, and C4 all rolled into one sophomore ordinance shell. She was rarely around because the junior and seniors routinely picked her up to go to the beach. She'd wave, though. Just sort of smile, shake her blond hair, and flick her fingers in our direction. Either she was waving, or something was stuck on her finger. I think she liked being noticed, and was probably waving to us, even if it was a silent soliloquy of "so long, suckers." And we were. Suckers. For her and for Ms. Barbie.

1979 was the year that "Magic" Johnson won the NCAA basketball championship (and was coming to L.A. to start showtime) and John "the Duke" Wayne passed away. That year, 1979 and thereabouts, was weird because there was a couple of serial killers on the loose in Southern California. One was targeting women, and the other young boys. The police found the body of one 14 or 15 yr-old boy in a dumpster at the end of the street by where we rode our skateboards. I can't remember exactly the order of these events, but it happened something like this, I swear. We (3 or 4 of us) were riding in an old abandoned skatepark near the 101 fwy, and a creepster dude stopped his VW van and asked if he could take some pictures. Nick (who looked like Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) said "sure" and proceeded to take his shirt off like a total a-hole and ride around one of the bowls (looks like an empty swimming pool) working up a good lather of sweat. Greg and myself (and I think my little brother) immediately got out of the bowl and told Nick to "Come on, dude! We gotta go!!" Nick, thank God, eventually got out and came over to where the rest of us were standing with disbelief on our faces. We then ran like hell to get back home, thinking we saw that VW van at every turn and corner. That night I happened to tell my friend John about the creepy-creep; his dad (unbeknownst to me) happened to be on a special California task force looking for this serial killer of young boys. Before the next morning, every kid at that old skatepark had been interviewed by the task force, the vehicle identified, and the creepster photog taken in for questioning.

Turns out he wasn't the guy, but, thank God, they did manage to catch the guy. He was convicted and became one of the first murderers to be put-down by the renewed death penalty in California.

That summer was also noticeable for the slow, yet rhythmic death of disco (you could dance to it). People were actually spray painting "disco" with an exclamation on the bottom of stop signs, reading "STOP disco!" Music is such an important conduit for transporting us back to those sepia memories of our youth. I actually like certain disco again, e.g., KC and the Sunshine Band ("party hand" in the air, y'all!). That summer of 1979 also showed the remarkable growth of punk. Man, did I love the music of the late 70's and early 80's: The Ramones, The Police, Devo, The Buggles, The Talking Heads, The Cars, X, AC/DC, Aerosmith, and Steely Dan.

Those awkward moments of junior high were about to become awkward years in high school. When the Ayatollah would toss out a Shah, and an actor would toss out a peanut farmer from the presidency. When the West would begin to face the challenge of radical Islam. The times were changing with Disco, the "Duke," and avocado green and burnt orange interior design colors all passing their stale dates. KROQ was becoming cool, yuppies were being born like litters of puppies, and interest rates were starting to come back down to earth. Everything was old, yet it all was new, too. Good ole 1979.

27 July 2009

A Baker's Dozen for the Boys

Not to put too familiar a spin on FatScribe (the ole "porkster"), but I'd like to share a few insights gleaned over a lifetime's worth of living, living well, half-living, behaving boorishly, and occasionally sucking the life out of a party.

My kids are the salt of the earth (please, Lord, let that be true for the remainder of their lives), and I'd like nothing more than for them to avoid the mistakes and obnoxious behaviour of yours truly ("Do as I say, encourage, aspire boys, not as I, occassionally, boorishly behave!").

These little nuggets of "things noticed" are not in any way the "official" guidelines for my sons who are (way too fast) becoming inured with the good life we have here in Southern California and all of its distractions, delights, and dalliances. This week and next they have been or will be whisked away to church camps in Big Bear and a little mountain range in Central California. Inured be damned; it's time for them to be removed from LA's climes and environs and enlightened and run ragged at a brisk pace for seven long glorious days ... allowing our young charges to be, once again, returned to their family exhausted, but in a good way, with nary a sign of an X-Box, cell phone to text on, DS GameBoy, or Nickelodeon.

I may not be quite the dandy from the above photo, but I do offer a day-old baker's dozen of FatScribisms. So, here goes:

1. Never, under any circumstances, get a credit card before graduating from college. Period. Especially when mom or dad will most likely offer an assist during this time. Unless of course, either of them are asking you for a short term loan against their 401(k)'s which are disappearing quicker than Houdini in a Scotland Yard jail cell.

2. When the guidelines from the pharmacy say "do not take while operating heavy machinery," there's a good reason for it. Remember Grandpa's 1999 Silver Corvette? No? Well, he does. He's like an elephant that way. 'Nuff said. I said enough said!

3. When you are much older, and you're waxing eloquent, enjoying the sound of your own voice, in general hogging the conversation at a bar or restaurant with several female friends, I suggest you stop. Rather, immediately ask in a serious tone, "Enough about me. Tell me, what do you think about me?" If they laugh, continue on your bit until spent, sated, or satisfied that you are in good stead. If not, look off beyond their eye-line and say, "Oh, isn't that Godfrey Jones from Gimblesplat and Whosits? Pardon me, ladies." And then exit straight-away for a regroup drinkie-poo.

4. Oh, btw, never actually say "drinkie-poo."

5. And, whilst we're on the subject of "never," never do underwear ads. And, especially never, under any circumstances, including threat of personal bankruptcy, do underwear ads and say the word drinkie-poo. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

6. Become gloriously skilled at the art of the awkward silence. When someone is behaving ridiculously, saying crass things, or otherwise gossiping about others, say nothing. Do not fill in the gap of that moment when they realize they've stepped in it, especially if they are on a rant directed at you. Let them stew in it for a good long while. This non-conduct by you can only mean one thing to them: you are a person of substance and character -- one who is not drawn into foolish behavior, especially if this mean-spirited buffoonery is aimed toward a colleague or friend or, yes, even yourself.

7. Okay, now that you've taught someone a lesson, be gracious. Always be gracious toward others, even the folks who can't stand you (and, yes, even those you can't stand; though this number should be few). This is a tough one to get right, but since we have a good God who takes us as we are, we have no excuse do we?

8. Remember: Small people talk about people. Average people talk about events. But, great people talk about ideas, no matter what your mother said about me at the Great Pumpkin Festival. Wait, I think I just broke all three there. Like I said, tough to get your arms around these. Quite.

9. When you're dating or married or walking your mother or elderly grandmother back to her car, ALWAYS open her door. Period. Do not worry about what a feminist columnist, some misguided, misogynistic blagard, or your girl friends say. You are your own man, and you are a gentleman, and this is your rule. Well, it's actually my rule, but I've given it to you, so there you are my boy.

10. A "booty call" is not calling Trader Joe's to order more Pirate's Booty. Nor is it acceptable behavior by you or your brother. However, your receiving late night calls to help out a girl friend is okay, but know that when your grandmother said, "nothing good happens after midnight," she was right. Besides, you'll have "write-on" essays to grade for the Harvard Law Review in the morning.

11. Don't put off what you can do today. Do this and you will own the world. Dad doesn't actually do this one, which is why he sort of only has a lease on a small corner of the 'hood, and is 90-days late with a nasty balloon payment coming due very soon.

12. Do not run with the bulls in Pamplona. It's only fun until someone gets hurt.

13. Become an expert in at least ONE thing. The Renaissance man is very cool in theory, but won't make you any real wealth, except in your love of knowledge and learning and tons and tons of books that will sit and collect dust. I know of which I speak, I have the student loans, dusty books, and speak perfect, fluent, Renaissance Italian, with exactly 160 lire nel mio acuenta. Regardless, my boys, "with all your getting, get wisdom," is the best thing to chase after.

25 July 2009

An Open Letter to "Open Letter" Guy

The 25th of July, 2009

To Mr. JGregg (aka, FatScribe):

Re: Your Open Letter to the 44th President of the United States of America

Dear Mr. JGregg (if that is your real name):

Thank you kindly for your missive, dated 23 July 2009. It is always a welcomed delight to receive communication from my fellow Americans, even the conservative kind as you so obviously are. I believe, and this administration believes, that communication is a two-way street (see how that works, right there?), and we encourage transparency in this the most transparent of all White Houses.

First, Mr. FatScribe, or perhaps I can just call you Fat? Since I'm nothing if not familiar. First, but I repeat myself, we cannot have you using the presidential seal on your website willy-nilly like that. Now that you've used it on your "open letter," I can't very well use it on mine now can I? So, no more using the official imprimatur of this very important office.

Secondly, you mention that your kids are of the same mixed-ancestry as mine. Either your kids are white or black, but they cannot be both. As I have chosen to identify with my black ancestry, as have my power base, so too your children must choose which ancestry they identify with. So, for instance, I've looked at your website -- in fact, so has the Secret Service, thoroughly, I might add -- and it appears that your brood are not at all like me. They're more of a cafe au lait color. So, perhaps you should consider helping them identify with their white parentage over their parentage of color? This is not an official edict or fiat of any sort (yet), just a friendly suggestion to help your family promote racial harmony. What I'm saying is like what Martin Luther King said about ... wait, it's not at all like what Dr. King said about the "content of their character." Oh, well, let's forget that part and chalk it up to TOTUS being down.

In your rather wordy remonstrance, you characterize yourself as having waited 100 days before responding to my administration. Now, that's where you made your mistake, sir (if you are a sir). You got to get after it pronto when you're going to steer the ship of the U.S of A. completely into uncharted waters. I and my administration hitched up our pinstriped pants and we got after it, but good, right?! But, you mentioned a lot of that in your letter to me, so we wont have any tautologies here in this letter right here, here.

I'm going to stop numbering my points now because I'm not sure how long this is going to go, and I'm not sure about how to properly say "seventhly" (damn, TOTUS being down). But, I digress. I appreciate your support about throwing out the first pitch. Wait. Ha! I just thought of something sort of funny: If Michelle threw out the first pitch, she'd be the first lady throwing out the first pitch. But, I digress again. Anyway, you didn't make fun of my mom jeans, so I won't make any comments about your profile pic, or your film reviews, or the fact that you stopped following me on Twitter.

Look, Fat, we have a lot to agree to disagree about. Let's just agree on finding some common ground here where we can move forward together on ... I know, crickets, right? How to fill an awkward pause. Hmmm. I've got it! I'll stop using the bullly pulpit to make pronouncements off the top of my head regarding race relations and things where I don't know the facts, and you stop writing supposedly serious "open letters" to my office. Agreed? Solid.

Warmest of regards,

[Here the 44th President of the United States has affixed his signature]

24 July 2009

An Open Letter to President Barack Obama (No. 44)

23 July 2009

The Honorable Barack Obama, President of the United States

Dear Mr. President --

I am a politically conservative father of two sons (both of whom have the same racial makeup as yourself), and although I grew up in a suburb near Malibu, I have chosen to live in the inner city here in Los Angeles, California, since graduating from law school and my divorce. I have always believed that race-relations was and is an issue of import for us Americans living in a post-civil rights era, an era replete with great Americans like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Bobby Kennedy -- these men who stood for a transcendent ideal and paid the ultimate sacrifice for their beliefs. Indeed, I believed that your election might once and for all obviate the need for my friends on the left to continue their harangue of "a brother can't get a break" some 40 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act.

I waited 100 days before commenting on your administration and its policies (see here, and here) as a sign of respect for you and the office that you hold -- an office that I esteem highly. When you walked out to throw the first-pitch at the 2009 MLB All Star game, it angered and disappointed me to hear anyone booing you at such an event. You and the office deserve respect. However, I believe in respectfully disagreeing, as well, and so I say "pace professore."

While I had high hopes for our first person-of-color American President, I feel it incumbent to now publicly comment that your radical leftist worldview is going to harm, potentially irreparably, our country both now and more importantly for future generations.

First, sir, you are saddling our country with a deficit 400% greater than what has ever been seen before. Your spend and subsequent tax legislation for the bailout was so full of pork that reportedly only 30% of the "porkulous" bill will actually get into the economy to make any fiscal impact. Many of these "shovel-ready" projects are actually graft going to like-minded and fellow-travelers of the left to line their coffers and placate their ilk. Sir, we are a country that is tantamount to a meritocracy. Excellence is rewarded, not community organizing. Hard work is what is required, not skin color, party affiliation, or worldview, to become successful in our amazing country. Tens of millions of people arrive legally on our shores for generations to become productive, tax-paying, proud Americans. They don't need "big gobment" to tell them how to find a job, deposit a check, and mentor the next generation of hard-working citizens.

Secondly, you are attempting to reshape our economy into a socialist utopia which has never existed and more importantly has never succeeded. The road of history is littered with former Soviet-bloc countries that tried and failed what you seemingly are attempting now. China and Russia are only alive because they are a hybrid of despotism hiding behind the curtain of capitalism. Mr. President, you have a phalanx of leftist leadership (viz., Majority Leader Sen. Reid, Speaker Rep. Pelosi) that gives you near bullet-proof majorities in the Senate and House to pass almost any legislation your administration deems important. If your administration passes health-care reform or cap-and-trade (the hidden tax against so-called carbon footprints), you will have succeeded in doing what no foreign or domestic enemies have been able to do: cripple the greatest country in the history of world.

Finally, Mr. President, I reject your worldview (and seemingly of those close to you) that is embarrassed by our country. Rather, I chose to educate my children in a manner that is open about our country's foibles and warts and shortcomings, yet praises our multi-century run atop the nations of the world in protecting human rights, providing quality of life for its citizenry, and preserving our allies' way of life around the world. You traveled around the world criticizing America for its abuses, almost apologizing to radical regimes for America's existence. Sir, when you are abroad, it is my belief that you should yield to no man (or former President) in your pride of Old Glory and all that it represents. I promise sir, when you're traveling around the globe to have your back; I trust you'll have mine by remembering the home team. Unfortunately, your criticism of the Cambridge Police Department and defense of Harvard Professor Gates is but a recent example of your hidden disgust for America writ large.

When you are conducting a press conference, sir, you are by definition wielding your bully pulpit, a powerful tool that not even Harry Potter can access. When standing behind the Seal of the President of the United States, you are speaking on behalf of 300 million of your fellow Americans. Discussing supposed racist conduct and the "stupid" behavior of a local police department has consequences far beyond the East Room you were occupying, sir. The East Room is not the dinner table, Mr. President. You don't throw out there for general news consumption your ideas about race (no doubt colored by your years at university, in academia and community organizing) without all of the facts. And, now that you have the facts, you owe an apology to the officers on scene who arrested Prof. Gates. In fact, the one officer who was black, said you deserved "a mulligan" because we all make mistakes. The problem, Mr. President, is that your conduct belies an ever-present belief that America is a racist institution, capable of the parade of horribles at a moment's notice. You don't need a mulligan, sir. You need a week running a business; you need several ride-alongs with the LAPD or Inglewood police departments; or, even better, you need to read a few books by Hernando de Soto, F.A. Hayek, or Milton Friedman.

With respect,


23 July 2009

One Man's Illicit Penumbra is Another's ...

I noticed right away her standing in the corner of the restaurant bar. She was with a cadre of admirers, mostly local surfers and cool consultant MBA types from Pepperdine who were working for hip (and over-hyped) Internet companies. Her ex-boyfriend (whom I suspected of actually being her current beau) was playing pool in the next room with a sniper's view of what she was doing. She said she would expect me, but only half-believed that I would show up. I don't know why I did. I didn't know why I was doing a lot of things that year.

Malibu and the South Bay have a lot of nouveau riche restaurants that are as expensive as their names are pretentious. Then there are the sushi, wine bars, Tex-Mex (those Texicans make good eats) and Thai numbers that are really quite good and reasonably priced. I was broke (even the local hobos had a net-worth greater than mine) and I was bummed: the perfect alchemy for a nasty case of depression. No money and nothing to distract you from your misery. What could make that killer combo worse? How about going for the trifecta and dating someone that works for you and is 14 years your junior. Gawd, was I feeling old. Just a few klicks on the south side of 40, and now with this "dick move" that I was about to make, I was truly on my way to becoming a cliche in his late-thirties.

If you're depressed, out of work, in relationship hell, do not pig pile onto your misery by having strong drink. You are writing yourself a prescription to make bad decisions. What's our baseline here for measuring bad decisions? How about this for our evening's barometer: Drinking and driving? (we're clearly at dumb.) Getting into a bar fight? (moving onto bad now.) Inviting a beautiful family friend to a nice sushi dinner when you know you might end up "running into" and then making-out with a 24 yr-old consultant, who works with your division, in the bathroom? (Ding-ding-ding. we've arrived at TDM -- total dick move.) Throw the entire hodge podge into the works and you have my night from bad decision hell.

But -- and here's the nasty, ugly, and profound truth of it all -- when your life is suckey, and fate is pissing bucket fulls of ouch and woe's me onto your head, you sometimes feel that you're owed and entitled to a good time, darn it. That little man in your pants (or your purse, or your hat-box, or wherever it is you keep your id) who sits on your shoulder from time to time in his little red devil costume with the bifurcated tail, shouts into your ear, "You need to buy another $150 round of drinks for all these people -- the ones you don't know and will never see again." Or he tugs on your elongated lobe on the other side and whispers, "The "W" is the coolest hotel in L.A., and you're supposed to flirt and jest and wear the nearest lamp shade as soon as is humanly possible. You're a recent divorcee; act like it, J.G.!"

Your intoxicated syllogism slots itself into your dome thusly: If I'm miserable I am owed this good time, and the little man with the pitch fork is encouraging me, and if the beautiful babies are laughing at my jokes, and if my car goes 100 mph at 2am with the windows down, then yes I will have one for the road and drop off my oldest and dearest friend at her hotel and then drive back to the newest and vapid 24 year-old's condo at 3am because she tucked her address into my pocket and her tongue into my ear whilst we were waiting in the bathroom line at the sushi house overlooking the Pacific. There, you now have your second profound truth (I'm feedin' ya pearls here, Franky! Pearls!) or at least well-worn maxim for this piece: Misery loves company. I wanted her company, and I found out that she was miserable and alone and wanted mine (that is to say, my company), as shocking as that sounds.

This went on for about three months, the misery and the wanting and the intoxicated logic and logistics. We ate out and drank Starbucks every morning on the way to work like an old married couple, and went clubbing vis-a-vis my quickly depleting funds like two college kids thrice nights weekly. She watched me play the court jester and I watched her smoke like a European model and we hung out with those with much trendier wardrobes than mine. We went to Laker games in VIP style. She was hit-on/insulted by Ozzy Osbourne at The Ivy, "Ooh, Sharon, look at that lil' strumpet!" I was sleeping less than 4 hours per night, and frankly because I had a bit more training at this frenetic pace than she, I held my own for about a month or two. And then like every marathoner knows (I am somewhat familiar with this because I've seen the Olympics on television), you hit the mother of all walls that only the most skilled can work through the pain and the nagging little voice that says, "What the hell have you been doing with your life, you stupid miserable bunghole, poor excuse for a man!?!" Yes, the wall talks to you and hurls insults at your drunken visage resplendent in 20-something hottie vigor, because the better part of your senses has been squandered like a biblical bowl of porridge sold off to a hairy, red-headed twin.

By the end of our supposed romance, I had given her: 17 of my favorite dvd's that I doubt she appreciated; a yellow Waterman fountain pen that she would lose and I would steal back; one lame arse trip to a lingerie shop; and one piercing on her left nostril by an "artist" named Rimshot (I kid you not). I regret a lot of this time in my life, but, not the learning (I'm all about the acquisition of wisdom, dear reader). Sure, I was embarrassed by hanging out with someone so young, but not half as embarrassed as she must have been being seen with one so mediocre and, gulp, fast approaching middle-age. Yet, no one even knew we dated; it was all on the "DL" as the kids say these days. For a bit I thought, "So this is how Bruce Willis must feel?" ... or at least Seth Rogen. And, now I just sort of cringe at how I behaved. Our time together floats in my memory like an illicit penumbra for one summer's sunset and then faded off into the surf like an old man looking for his dog Lucky that died 10 years earlier.

18 July 2009

Whip It ... Whip it Good

Diablo Cody completely dumbfounded me with her script for "Juno." Smart, funny, sassy, and if I'm being honest, too clever by half. I mean, all of her characters were quick with a quip? Fast on the follow-up; strategic with their sarcasm? But, I loved it anyway, as I'm sure did most of you, dear readers.

Which brings me to Ellen Page in Whip It (adapted by Austin native Shauna Cross from her novel Derby Girl). If you've seen any interviews with Ms. Page regarding her work in Juno, or any of the work she's done since, you recognize that here's an actor that will be around for as long as she wants. I can honestly predict that one day (and perhaps not in the too distant future), she may call the whole thing quits and head off to grad school to become a doctor, or supreme court justice, or some professor in a dusty classroom in an Ivy League institution practicing the liberal art of historicism. She is that talented, articulate, and if she leaves the acting profession, wise and indeed perspicacious.

Supposedly, Drew Barrymore has directed Ellen in her latest film (opening in October, I think). This looks terrific, sort of like Rushmore the movie meets Suicide Girls the website. In this clip (above), you'll notice that Ellen Page is rockin' a Stryper t-shirt (Christian heavy metal) in one of her scenes, and you'll even recognize Austin native Andrew Wilson (brother to Luke and Owen) which is perhaps why I thought of the Wes Anderson film Rushmore (Wes and Owen met at UT in Austin). If I can get a sneak look at this film, I'll write an early review for FatScribe. Either way, this film is getting my $13.50 (plus, $28.00 for snacks, and $3.00 for parking, and $21 for gas money). Really looking forward to this one. Did you know it's directed by Drew Barrymore?

17 July 2009

On Route 66 and the Cyber Hwy.

Jen Zahigian (blog linked here) is a talented photographer whose work has been featured on NBC (and elsewhere) for their New York weekend guide. She was recently in our little corner of the world (a quaint little 'burb called Los Angeles) and dedicated the above postcard to all of us (okay, we had to share 1/3 of it with the city of Miami). Her oeuvre includes roadside images steeped in an aged and worn patina of backwater stops and once-great towns longing for better times.

Jen is on holiday traveling along Route 66, and she's sending in to her blog some of her pics for us to preview. I had a former boss (the GM of my legal research division) who made a cross-country trip on his $50k Ducatti motorcycle (along with his wife who was on her sweet ride, as Napoleon Dynamite would offer). My diminutive boss was the type of guy who controlled every conversation, and the minute the discussion no longer centered on him, he would walk away with nary a word or, more likely, fire a last word parting shot across the bow of whoever occupied the speaker's chair. Good gawd what an interesting guy. Plus, he couldn't stand me if truth be told. And, I genuinely like the man (honest!). I think it was a very New York/very L.A. thing that was the problem.

I must doff my cap in his direction, though (2,800 miles east in NY) because whilst he was on Route 66 he would, from his Blackberry, send these wonderful vignettes of life on the road, filled with descriptive prose and colorful passages where you felt as if you had indeed met these folks he wrote about. Now that I think about it, my GM may have hated my guts b/c I sent around our L.A. office a little JibJab video featuring an elf singing with ole Bob's head (my GM) on this rather jovial elfin visage, replete with green feathered cap. Probably not, though.

So, anyhoo ... take a look at her blog (or her website here) and if you like what you see you can click on the links to purchase these unique nostalgic photos online (and get them framed if you'd like!). And, in honor of her (and my former GM's) trip on Route 66, I offer this following suggestion: watch the movie "Cars" from the guys at Pixar. It is an amazing road-trip film, that slows us down to appreciate life off the beaten track; plus your kids will love it if they haven't seen the movie yet.

Have a great weekend!

13 July 2009

Code-shifters Unite! "Oh, No You Di'int!"

I am afraid I "di'id," err, I mean I do, "code-shift" that is. Code-shifting (sometimes called code-switching) is a long-standing tradition of those amongst us who can be having dinner with our friends from the ole neighborhood (the ones called "stinky", "nails" and "princess" even though their names are Steve, Theo and Paulie), and with a "wait one" finger in the air to our pals we can take a call from a senior editor at The Times to give a comment on the Secretary of State's recent gaffe regarding an overseas speech which seemingly is at cross-purposes with current White House policy. We'll use words like "statecraft" and "hegemony" with Mrs. Senior Editor, and then when we hang up we'll use words like "bite me" and "that's what your wife said" to our pals who were mocking us brutally whilst we were on the phone. (Did you notice, btw, that I used the words "amongst" and "whilst" when its clear that I am a simpleton from SoCal? Now that, dear reader, is an affectation and not code-shifting.) Now ... wherest was I?

With our business colleagues on the road we mock-n-curse each other and the naughty competition with a toolbox rich with colorful insults, and then we insist that our youngins riding in the back of the car on the 2-hour ride to San Diego not say "sucks" when "stinks" will suffice. Or as Kate Hepburn's mom in The Philadelphia Story (1939 or thereabouts) said to her youngest, "Don't say stinks, Dinah. Say 'smells,' but then only if absolutely necessary."

I can see both sides of this controversy (it's only controversial because I say it is ... I want this article/website to have some substance after all) because on the one hand, it's axiomatic that we should all behave in a consistent and principled manner toward our fellow man (but not the fallow man, damn him!). This seems to be at odds with the code-shifting crowd's natural wont, but, upon deeper examination, not so much. We ALL code-shift. When we talk to our kids; when we speak to our child's homeroom mom; when we go on job interviews; when we're on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien; and, yes, even when we go to church.

There are lines that we shouldn't cross to be sure. If you are personally offended by cursing or sarcastic humor, then by all means behave consistently across each population of your friends (and here is where I take the 5th, dear friends). However, I am willing to bet that even amongst your most ardent of anti-swearers, there are phrases or slang that you feel comfortable using and yet would not venture to use that same vocab at the PTA meeting. See my meaning? Catch my drift? Are you pickin' up what I'm laying down? Code-shifting is natural and I believe helps grease the wheels of communication.

"How so?" you ask. First, it puts all at ease. When you speak formally toward your octogenarian grandmother, the one whom you still call "grand mere", she feels at ease, and believes that her 80-some odd years on this earth were not in vain, and that sending you to Smith Colllege (her alma mater) was in fact not good money after bad. When the President (Mr. BHO himself, the grand pubah of community organizing) talks with White House groundskeepers or staffers around him (say, Kal Penn, formerly of the hit series, House) he will in his inimitable way put them at ease and probably reference the Chicago White Sox's (his favorite team) recent win against the Nationals. This is how it works with those who are naturally gifted in this regard. They seek to put others at ease, yes, but secondly, it primes the pump of information. People talk more when they feel that someone is actually interested in them, but especially if they can relate to the person addressing them ... and that someone is you and I.

If you try code-shifting -- even if you feel silly at first -- then you'll begin a life-long journey of knowing our fellow man if not in a deeper way, then perhaps in a richer one. Greatness in this regard can indeed lead to accomplishing great things. Let's consider President Lincoln, from poverty to becoming arguably one of the greatest writers ever; President Truman (also from humble beginnings, he worked at a men's clothing store); Frederick Douglas, the former slave who became a leading abolitionist, is another personal hero of mine, who crossed color lines, even in his marriage, and could chat with Presidents and paupers alike; Queen Elizabeth is also said to be excellent at this and has met well over 500,000 people in her life time. She might not dap you up or high-five you, but she can ask you about cars (she was a mechanic during WWII), sheep, dogs, and anything else considered to be "common." Former President Bill Clinton was especially strong-suited here, although his touch was a little too common if you know what I mean, but I digress into truth. Sorry.

To my way of thinking, the single best modern example I can think of in this regard, is business leader extraordinaire, Richard Branson. Completely without guile (from news articles and his books that I've read, at any rate) and is just unabashedly immune to bruised ego syndrome. That is the downfall of so many leaders, viz., not considering that others may be right or at least should have a voice (insert here, Mssrs. Steve Jobs, Al Gore, certain religious leaders, et. al., for examples of impolitic behavior and those without code-shifting abilities). Branson flies around the world and has a beer with mates (aka, his employees) in Australia, the US, and the UK with abounding aplomb. He has meetings on his Necker Island with world leaders as well with equal ease. Indeed, he receives the FatScribe code-shifting award for 2009. Well done, you, Sir Richard!

And, that is, after all, what code-shifting is all about, viz., the common touch, the kind that Kipling wrote about in his If: "If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings -- nor lose the common touch." Even the Apostle Paul said "I become all things to all people." I think his point was that we have to reach folks where they're at if we want to be their friends or at least help them understand where we're coming from. That's the essence of code-shifting. I've been seeing a lot more of it recently, and that to me is a good thang!

06 July 2009

True Blood, Fangbangers, and Southern Goth

FatScribe is pleased to post the following guest piece by Caleb Garcia.

What makes True Blood tick? How does it work so well? Based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries by New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris, True Blood is an intelligent, ensemble, character piece containing intriguing themes and large ideas executed through confrontations between characters and provocative story telling.

Six Feet Under creator and producer Alan Ball is the showrunner behind this HBO network drama (his second for HBO). Ball, the Oscar winning American Beauty scribe (and a personal favorite as far as brilliant screenplays go), brings the familiar theme of misunderstood outsiders and sympathetic heroes into a more dangerous world of mystery and sorrow through the southern gothic genre, seen here as the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana.

The town is set in present day America but with a twist: thanks to a Japanese-made synthetic blood called “TruBlood” many vampires are living in the open as citizens, integrating with mortals or “mainstreaming” as the vamps have dubbed it (talk about your contretemps in Bon Temps, LA). The central vamp mainstreamer is Bill Compton, a clean-cut, former Confederate gentleman-soldier, committed to a nonviolent existence, even if it means ingesting less-than-appetizing synthetic blood. Bill’s the archetypal outsider and at this narrative’s core is a love story between outsiders. Central protagonist and resident mind-reader Sookie Stackhouse falls for Bill in a ‘love conquers all’ forbidden romance for the ages. But, in true Shakespearean tradition, obstacles aplenty are thrown in our lovers’ way in the form of secrets, prejudices and societal pressures that hinder their developing relationship.

It’s important that, like Stephenie Meyer and the Twilight series, Harris writes the central romance from the non-vampire female perspective. Where True Blood succeeds over Twilight (my knowledge limited to just the film version) is the balance of strong human characters being equally, if not more, interesting then the central vampire players. Although we discover that many of the characters are more than what they seem, it’s the human element, the relatable heart and soul of True Blood that stirs the emotion and makes its impact.

Sookie, like Twilight’s Bella, is taking a risk by being intimate with one who craves her blood. Her attraction then is key to understanding the vampire as the quintessential bad-boy. Gone are the leather jackets, Ray Bans, half lit cigs and motorcycles. Bill represents a different type of strong and dangerous man, the powerful dark-side protector who is ennobled by dealing with a multi-century alienation and ever-present feeding urges, even against those he may care for. Or as Roger Ebert once lamented in his Twilight review, “Why do girls always prefer the distant, aloof, handsome, dangerous dudes instead of cheerful chaps like me?