Thursday, October 18, 2012

GOP Campaign Songs

Mitt Romney today:
"Hey, girls, remember the words to that old Willie Nelson song? It's one of my favorites:

Maybe I didn't pay you
Quite as equal as I should have
And maybe I will not grant your
Lady parts health care I could have

If I made you feel second rate
Now my spin is: I was kinder
You were always in my binder
You were always in my binder

Remember I didn't hold your
Schedule between five and nine
Made flex hours so you’re
In your kitchen right on time

I’ll save you from that planned parenthood
Take control of your vagina
You are always in my binder
You are always in my binder

Tell me,
Tell me who treats bitches finer
Give me, give me
One more chance to keep you in a binder

Paul Ryan's song: Folks, remember Bobby Darrin and that old song "Splish,splosh"? It goies like this:
Splish splosh, I was washin' clean pots
Long about a Saturday night
A rub-a-dub, just pretendin' as I scrubbed
Thinkin' everything was alright
Well, I had intended to, pretend to feed the poor
Found a locked up, closed soup kitchen
Then forced in the door, and then, uh,
Splish, splosh... I took my photo op
What does it really matter if the homeless folks were gone?

I was a-splishin' and a'sploshin'
Simulating washin', draped in a white apron
Shameless photo fakin', ooh yeah!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Road Trip With My Dead Mother

another rewrite:

Mom had been dead for a while, and we were driving to New York with her in the back of the van.

In the rear view mirror I saw 9-year-old Allie thrust her head forward, face flushed.   “Why does Grandma Margaret have to be right behind me!?”

My wife just showed me her eyes that said, “Your mother.  You explain.”

“Allie, settle down,” I said.  “She’s in the storage area, under ALL the luggage.  At least after this she won’t be on the shelf in the closet any more.  And you can move up closer to us, you know.”

When I was little, riding in the station wagon, I liked sitting in “the way back”, the third bench seat that faced out the rear window - still in the car with my mom, but far enough away to be alone in my bizarre thoughts, narrating my life to some imaginary friend.

My daughter chose the very back seat of the van, and even her discomfort at being so close to her deceased grandmother did not overcome her desire to maintain independence from her parents.

We had picked up
 Mom from my sister in Las Vegas.  Mom didn’t want a regular funeral – or, at least, hadn’t mentioned it recently - so we had a private memorial service around the coffee table at my sister’s house.  My mother’s last years had been in this house where she helped raise my niece.  Mom was then handed off to me and my wife and daughter.  We were assigned to return her remains to her hometown of Niagara Falls to be buried.

First we had flown her to Cincinnati, which would have pleased her only because she loved airplanes and flying.  We packed her in the big suitcase, because (even pre-9/11) we weren’t sure about the rules for putting a heavy, sealed, wooden box of ashes in the overhead.

But we didn’t take her immediately to Niagara Falls. I was gainfully employed so I couldn’t take time all at once to vacation in Las Vegas with my mother’s remains and then run off to New York with her; that’s why we left
 Mom in the closet of our house in Cincinnati for a year.   Now we were driving her to her grave as the first leg of our tour around the state of New York.

Allie never had a sibling and wasn’t used to competing or sharing. I hadn’t wanted her to start distracting me from driving by yelling from the back of the van, “Grandma’s looking at me!” or, “Grandma’s touching me!” or “Why does grandma Margaret have to be right behind me?”  I wished she felt more affection for my mother.

One evening, eight years earlier, when my niece was 9, she and my sister and my mother had gone out to dinner.  My mother had wondered aloud if the bathroom in this kid-oriented pizza joint were clean. 

“Sure, Grandma, you’ve been in there before.”

“I have not,” mom said with arms folded and mouth set firm.

An argument ensued until my niece said, “Okay grandma, you always say that sometimes you forget things.  You probably just forgot being in these bathrooms.”

Mom had glared back, “I may forget the things I’ve done, but I never forget the things I haven’t done.”

That was one of the first clues - a few years before Mom was diagnosed with dementia.  Allie had never gotten to spend much time with her because of the distance between Las Vegas and Cincinnati. As Mom spiraled down, she still knew who Allie was, but Allie didn’t know who Grandma really was.

Until she got sick, she was the grandma that, when visiting, fell asleep in our living room while reading and snored really loudly. She was the grandma that revealed to Allie where Dad had learned to make those horrible puns. But she was also the grandma that taught Dad to make delicious mince pie.

When I was little,
 Mom told stories about growing up in Niagara Falls during the Depression and about her dad who worked on the railroad and her brother who became a big deal at G.E. in Syracuse, NY.

She told us, “When I was 16, my mother walked into my bedroom, said, ‘Margaret?’ and then died from a stroke.  Mom told us that then, anxious to go into the world, she was resigned to taking over housekeeping for her dad and brother. She told us how her dad liked mince pie. She told us about her best friend, Helen, whom she still kept in touch with “back home”. Mom told us she had bought a plot to be buried in there.

So Allie sat in the back of the van with her dead grandma behind her, traveling to Niagara Falls, New York. This was the US side, not the touristy, honeymoon destination in Canada and it looked like it had not changed since the 1930s. Best Friend Helen was still living in the house she was born and grew up in. Some of Mom’s other friends also still lived in town.

We bought a grave marker and buried Mom while everyone told a few stories of the old days. “Margee always made us laugh.  She was smart but had to work to help send her goof-off c-student brother to college because he was a man.  She got stuck in this town an extra couple of years – kind of like she got stuck in Cincinnati this past year.  Margee was adventurous and eventually traveled around Europe after WWII while we all stayed safe here.” They told us Mom was a good friend and beloved.

When I was little, I knew some of that, but mostly
 Mom was just Mom, going to work after my dad left and stuck driving the station wagon, making pies, telling me to eat my vegetables.

Literally and figuratively our family members have not been all that close.   I’ve tried to stay close to my sister and secure Allie’s relationship with her aunt as well as her one cousin on that side.  As we drove away from Nagara Falls, I vowed I would pass on these new stories of Mom to Allie so that Grandma is more than that box of ashes haunting her from the back of the van.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Street Accounting

The first week that I did street accounting down by Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, it did not go well.  The problem was my location, or, really, the location of the juggler who deposited himself beside me. 

I arrived just after dawn on a Monday morning when the chill of the fog enveloped the wharf and when the seafood and sourdough vendors were just setting up.

In a sunny spot I set up a black metal card table and folding chair.  I put a solar powered calculator on the table and laid a fedora, gray with a black band, upside down next to it.

A Chinese man, setting out trays of ice, which would later hold rows of crab, came over and said, “You are too early.  No tourists come by now.”

“I need time to warm up,” I said, spreading my payments and flexing my annuities.  Before, when I did office accounting, I was always early.  Street accounting deserves the same dedication.

I sat and listened to the gulls cry and the water lap against the piers and the fog horns bleat.  I smelled the ocean salt and seaweed.  I watched the fish being laid on ice, their scales shimmering and balanced.

An hour later the other performers started to show up: a few mimes, a human jukebox, a magician, a contortion attorney.  I don’t know if the juggler picked the spot right next to me as a challenge or because he always set up there or because it was shady.

The juggler set up an eye-catching red table.  I took this as a negative sign.  I extended some friendly terms and he ignored me.

The tourists got out of bed, had breakfasts and began to tour around; some bundled against the chill air, some went about in shirtsleeves.  I felt comfortable in my charcoal suit with a starched white shirt and gray tie with black stripes.

The juggler wore seersucker slacks and a loud purple shirt. 

Families, couples, and groups stopped and surveyed the clam chowder, crab salad, grilled fillets being offered.  Some bought snacks, some bought loaves of sourdough, some pondered what they would come back for later.

People stopped and watched the entertainment.  They threw money in guitar cases, hats or cardboard boxes for the ones they enjoyed.  The juggler had put out an antique cash register that was filling up with bills.

My fedora remained empty.

I did not let it stop me.   I balanced books and ledgers left and right, debit and credit, asset and liability.  I gracefully cascaded numbers from the gross receipts to the bottom line.  No one looked. 

Everyone is drawn to the juggler because juggling books is illusion and fantasy.  The juggler took 10 liabilities and 1 asset and made them appear to balance.  He produced impossibly large and heavy bottom lines that were unsupported by sub ledgers.

People applauded and filled the juggler’s till.  It went on like that the whole first week.  On the third day, when I showed up at dawn with my folding table, chair, calculator and fedora, the Chinese man walked over once more.

“Why do you stay?  You don’t get money.”

I took a string of numbers and fashioned a pair of loopholes, trapping my index fingers as in Chinese handcuffs.  “Karma brings equity,” I said.

Saturday and Sunday were busier and the people covered the wharf.  There was such a crowd watching the juggler that some people were forced to the margin and could see only my ordinary street accounting. 

I amortized a loan and made balloon payment animals.  A child begged her mother to give me a dollar and the women did with a scowl as she edged toward the juggler.  The child’s eyes glowed; her mother’s were vacant.  The juggler made some debts seem to disappear.

On Monday the police came; they cuffed and arrested the juggler for fraud.  They asked if I would make a statement and I produced a quarterly report. 

The Chinese man came over and shouted to the tourists, “This is a true street accountant.”  A woman looked over and then brought me her checkbook.  I balanced it effortlessly.  Her face shone as she settled a dollar in my fedora.  More tourists followed. 

There was equity.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Wah-Fy Connections

If I had a list of things I thought would surely never happen but then they do, I could cross a one big one off today:

#47: Sit on a bench outside a motel in Yellow Springs, Ohio, use my computer to call my office in
         Beijing, China and interview a woman for an accounting job – CHECK.  DONE.

I had wanted to interview this woman from my office in Cincinnati, Ohio last week, before I went on vacation.  Sitting in a multi-story office building in a large city such as Cincinnati, makes more sense for Skyping across the globe with our subsidiary in China.  Cincinnati is a city that exists in the 21st century.  Yellow Springs is a semi-rural area straddling US Route 68.  I feared that my vacation here in YS would put me too far outside the reach of the world wide web, seeing as the village also straddles the 1950s and 1960s.

 Also, I admit that I just wanted to concentrate on the writers’ conference I am attending and not have work obligations.  The problem was that our HR person in Beijing got sick and so I had to arrange the interview for this week.  Beijing’s time zone is 12 hours ahead of Ohio’s, so the best arrangement was to make the meeting for 9 a.m.  in Beijing, which is 9 p.m. here.

A futher complication is that I am staying in the Red Roof Inn in Springfield, Ohio, a bustling metropolis north of Yellow Springs that has at least two more traffic signals than YS and twice as many gas stations (two in total). 

Just past the check in desk, this Red Roof Inn has an indoor pool, filled most afternoons with a gaggle of children playing Marco Polo. Directly across from the pool is the elevator, into which the wet children troop when their parents bring back dinner. The lobby air is a pungent mix of chlorine and damp, moldy carpet. Each time you enter the elevator, it reeks of the signature scent of whichever fast food the parents just got from the drive thru cluster at the corner. Exiting the elevator you inhale the residual cigarette stench of previous visitors; but your smoke free room has been washed clean by Fabreeze. The view from the window is a dead lawn burned by the Ohio heat wave and beyond that a road and then the Comfort Inn where all the Red Roof residents wished they had stayed.

What I’m saying is that this is not a high end place.  And their wifi connection is less reliable than the non-smoking policy.  I know, these are First World problems and I shouldn’t complain.  I’m just explaining why staying in this particular 2 star joint was an obstacle to my interview plans.  I could not even get to my Facebook account to find out what my friends were eating, so Skype was definitely not going to work.

I was explaining my internet interview dilemma to Mary Thomas, one of the board members who run the conference and a long-time friend of mine.  I said, “Really, what I’d like to do is go back to my room and just have the internet connection fail and then we’dhave to postpone the interview.”

Mary Thomas cocked her head and said, “Well, our motel has quality wah-fy, so you can come on over to mah room and make your call.” It is only Mary Tom’s charming Kentucky accent that made that sound like a slutty come-on.  She cocked her head, not to be seductive but because, at 5 feet tall, she needs to get a better angle to see MY head, a foot and a half above hers.

The Yellow Springs motel is a very quaint little roadside motel with only 12 rooms in a line at the back of the parking lot, right on US route 68.  Mary Thomas took me to her room and said, “Would you like a cold drink?  Maybe a gin and tonic?”  I think she knows me too well.
She grabbed some Cheezits to provide sustenance and said, “Let’s go sit in the gazebo until it’s time for your call.” 

“You’re a wonderful hostess, I said,”

“”Well, it’s not much.  As my sister says, she’s the one who puts the ‘ho’ in ‘hostess’.”

Again, this was all just southern hospitality. There was no flirtation going on; nobody bothers to flirt with me.  Besides, Mary Thomas is good friends with my wife (as I am also) and MT’s daughter was right in the next room. 

Nevertheless, to avoid any appearance of impropriety between a conference student and a board member, when the time came to call, I sat outside, alone on a bench, logged into  Yellow Springs Motel’s very reliable wah-fy and brought them into the 21st century.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Case of The Fruity Iced Tea

We were sitting in the gate area of the Cincinnati airport, waiting for our flight when the 4 TSA agents came up. They were clearly there on business – it wasn’t quite as dramatic as, say, “The Wire” when the cops come into the courtyard at the low-rise apartments and everyone yells “five-oh” and scatters – but these four officers came in and “took positions”, definitely there on business.

One stood with his back to the wall by the door to the jetway, one moved somewhere behind me, one gave the lowdown to the gate agent and the fourth questioned “The Witness”. The Witness was a woman about my age, seated opposite me. She spoke to the agent as they both looked at someone somewhere behind me.

I turned around and there they were, obvious terrorists: bearded men, modestly dressed women wearing head coverings, clearly members of a fundamentalist religious sect.  Yes, Mennonites, presumably bearing weapons of mass consumption. Ultimately the Mennonites boarded unmolested but I kept my eye on them throughout the flight to San Francisco.

Meanwhile, in a coffee shop in Santa Monica, California, a waitress took a few partially filled ketchup bottles and poured them together to make one, apparently just opened, “fresh” bottle.

My wife Karen and I were travelling to San Francisco to begin a 30th anniversary trip down the coast, visiting friends and family, and engaging in the seductive and salacious acts of gluttony. After eating our fill in the San Fran area, we drove to Carmel and stayed in the hotel we visited on our honeymoon. From there it was short trip to the Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, a boardwalk held together by a row of alternating gift shops and restaurants.

The restaurants must have had word that we were coming because they all tried to entice us into their establishment so that they could advertise that the Bunyans had eaten there What each restaurant had done was set up a table with samples of their clam chowder. At each table we’d get a coupon for a free appetizer or a discount at the Earring Barn. They acted like they did this every day for everyone who walked by, but I’m sure it was set up for us.

Cabo’s Cafe had really done their homework. As we downed the clam chowder sample, the young woman serving it up informed me that they had 2-dollar draft beer. Seeing that she had set the hook, she yanked the line and pulled me on board: “and we have deep fried cheesecake.”

 Karen was disappointed though. She prefers iced tea over beer – plain, brewed iced tea- but all they had was raspberry flavored.

Just then I saw a familiar figure: a bearded man with a blue shirt and pants held up by suspenders.  The Mennonites did not leave us in San Francisco; they followed us down the coast. Well, they might not be the same Mennonites; who can tell them apart? But I saw them again in Monterey and spotted them at various places we stopped throughout Big Sur. What would a peaceful religious sect want from us?

 While this was going on, the waitress in the Santa Monica coffee shop surreptitiously repeated the ketchup consolidation routine.

 Next we stopped in Santa Barbara and went to a restaurant on the beach where I could sit with my feet in the sand and eat fish tacos: a life-long dream realized. And had some sort of IPA beer and Karen was again disappointed; this place has only passionfruit flavored tea.

We also visited the winery where our niece worked to supplement her income while she completed her PhD in psychology. Wine and Psychology to me seems to be a good pairing.  Our niece is quite knowledgeable about wine and has gained a lot from personal experience with it. She told us "I almost never drink hard liquor anymore, except I have a bottle of vodka in the freezer, but only because I got it from a woman whose cat died." The subject changed before that whole sentence could be diagrammed and deconstructed.

Our last stop was in LA. I arrived with a massive headache. My secret headache remedy is a big hamburger, some fries and a large iced tea We went to a coffee shop in Santa Monica where I was sure I could get real iced tea. You would think that is something easy to find, but in California, it is not. All the way down the coast, at every restaurant we went to, Karen would ask for plain brewed iced tea. “Sorry we have only mango (or “paradise” or raspberry or passion fruit or avocado or salsa) flavored tea.” The Santa Monica coffee shop was the one with “paradise” iced tea.

 Regular, caffeinated tea being the key to the headache cure, we ordered hot tea and a glass of ice. The waitress paused, pen poised above her pad and then wrote it down. She brought over the tea, followed by our food, with a bottle of ketchup for the fries.

It appeared to be a just opened, full bottle of ketchup. But inside, the months old tainted portions from various bottles had the begun to ferment, building up renegade strains of botulism, e coli and assorted bio-hazard gasses. I don’t know which of us the assassination attempt was meant for, but it was Karen who picked up the bottle first, taking the bullet like James Bond’s girlfriend.

She twisted off the cap and the gasses exploded, propelling sour ketchup across her purse, her clothes and her lunch. The waitress quickly disappeared, probably to go into hiding and avoid telling her bosses that she had failed to stop us from drinking real iced tea.

As I munched my French fries and watched Karen clean herself up and get a new plate of food, I started to wonder: Why does California not want us to drink iced tea? Are the Mennonites who are following us actually agents of the state in disguise? If Karen gets sick, what are the net assets of this coffee shop worth and how would I change the menu after we own it (besides adding real iced tea.)?

It was then I began to formulate my idea for a screenplay. A couple, celebrating their 30th anniversary, drive down the coast of California searching for real iced tea, as creepy, albino, Mennonite, state secret agents attempt to stop them.

The story opens with a young woman saying, "I almost never drink hard liquor anymore, except I have a bottle of vodka in the freezer, but only because I got it from a woman whose cat died." That is my opening line to hook people in.

Mennonite secret agents, romance and an old woman with a dead cat and a bottle of vodka, exploding ketchup: my new movie will have it all. Oh, I'd throw in a subplot about “rekindling the magic” or some Nicholas Sparks crap like that, to bring in the female demographic. The lead characters would have some Harry-Met-Sally-romantic-comedy sort of repartee, like debates about whether it’s “iced tea” or “ice tea” and is it “exploding ketchup” or “exploding catsup”.

There would not be a lot of sex in the movie because, while we enjoyed it, the video aspect of 30-year anniversary sex is probably not a big box office draw.

 Who would play me? I’m thinking John Cusack, who, according to imdb “is, like most of his characters, an unconventional hero. Wary of fame and repelled by formulaic Hollywood fare, (he plays) underdogs and odd men out--all the while avoiding the media spotlight” which describes me to a “T” and he looks exactly like me.

My wife would be played probably by Andie McDowell, who could be her twin, though I could see Helen Hunt or Jodie Foster in the role. But I’d have to give a screen test to Penelope Cruz, Megan Fox and some other younger women just to be sure I had the right person.

 I won’t reveal the surprise ending where we find out what the state is up to, because I haven’t figured it out yet, but it involves a showdown with the Governator, Arnold Swartzeneger himself, and a mad car chase on the L.A. freeways.

But we will wind up, as in real life, at the tavern where we had dinner with my dad the last night of our trip. It’s in L.A. and he’s been eating there for at least 50 years. It's dark, with wood panelling and red leather booths. There is a wide selection of steaks and scotch.

 Back then the waitresses were all young buxom women showing plenty of leg and cleavage. We walked in and the place was still exactly the same. The waitresses were too, by which I mean they were the same exact women but with their cleavage 50 years lower.

 The best thing was that the menu was the same; they still served real food and real iced tea.

So, we wrap up this flick with something about returning to our roots and the basics of life and yada, yada, yada, we go home happy and headache free. I figure I can bankroll this feature with the settlement from the coffee shop, if only Karen would agree to fake near-death from food poisoning.

 (This is a true story from a couple years ago that I just rewrote for The Big Reveal storytelling show.)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lo And Behold

I want to admit something that I am so terribly ashamed of but ... I don't know if I can say this ... I didn't even realize this until today ... I have wasted so many years ... so many years ...I discovered it by accident today ... for someone of my generation it's awful ... maybe I should just keep it to myself ... but I want to share it.

Okay, here it is: I never listened to "The Basement Tapes", the album of songs recorded by Bob Dylan and The Band in 1967 and released in 1975. Seriously, never. I never bought the album back then - but I got it on my iPod thanks to a friend who shared a couple thousand sons with me a few years ago. And still I never listened.

It's not like I was listening to bad music back in '75. I didn't buy Captain and Tenille or Elton John's Brown Dirt Cowboy album. I bought Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" and the various albums Neil Young put out and Patti Smith and Jackson Browne and the Eagles - okay, in retrospect, "One of These Nights" isn't a classic, but my point is I wasn't a bad judge of music.

I put my iPod on shuffle all songs today and up came "Odds and Ends". I looked at the album name ... I selected the album and played the whole thing. Then played it again.

The Basement Tapes is one of my favorite all-time albums ... now. But I have wasted over 35 years that I could have been listening to this.

So I'm going to open another beer and listen to it again and start to catch up. Maybe later tonight I'll watch "The Last Waltz" again. (Look it up: greatest concert film of ALL time - directed by Martin Scorsese).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

This American Life

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International,
I'm Ira Glass

And I'm coming to you today to say something that I've never had to say on our program.
Two months ago, we broadcast a story that we've come to believe is not true. It's a story
that got a lot of attention. More people downloaded it than any episode we've ever done.
This is Alice Pleasance’s story about visiting Wonderland.

Alice’s friend, Lewis Carroll wrote a book about her adventures there and a variety of movies have been based upon it. We didn't commission this story, we didn't send Alice to Wonderland.
We excerpted the book that has been selling in bookstores around the country.

We did factcheck the story before we put it on the radio. But in factchecking, our main
concern was whether the things Alice says Wonderland were true.
That stuff is true. It’s been corroborated by independent imaginations of children, studies by marijuana advocacy groups, and much of it has been corroborated by hookah-smoking caterpillars.
But what's not true is what Alice said about her own trip to Wonderland.

The most powerful and memorable moments in the story all seem to be fabricated.
At the time that we were factchecking his story we asked Alice for the contact
information for the white rabbit that she followed around Wonderland China.
We wanted to talk to him to confirm that the incidents that Alice described all happened as
she describes them.

And when we asked Alice, she always said that he had no time to talk to us or even say hello or goodbye, that he was always late for some important date.
And because the other things Alice told us – about Mad Hatters and Englishmen – seemed to check
out, we saw no reason to doubt her, and we dropped this. We didn’t try further to reach
the White Rabbit.

That was a mistake.
Some say this was bad journalism, that we don’t even know the meaning of the word journalism. To which we say that, when we use the word “journalism”, it means what we choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

Next week on our program, “Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass”, which is no relation to me, Ira Glass.