Reporting, Recording and Relaying - But Always Telling It As I See It

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Go For The Coffee, Stay For The Lobotomy

Earlier today, I was either the unwilling participant in a sociological experiment or the accidental victim of a voodoo mind trick.  Either way, it’s the last thing you would expect when simply buying a coffee.

Not far from my home is a 7-11.  On mornings when I am too lazy to make coffee or on my way back from the gym, it’s my regular and convenient stop.  I know where everything is, even the good lids for the coffee cups. 

Over the years, I got to know the employees, so when someone new or different is working in the morning, I tend to notice.  This was the case this morning.

I was in line behind another customer.  I usually try to pay attention to what people are buying because you see the most interesting combination of items being purchased at convenience stores.  It’s not unusual to see someone with a can of cat food, a pack of Marlboro's and butter.

Today, I was standing in line with my small coffee and (since it was a gym day and I refuse to pay $50 for a protein drink) chocolate milk with no regard for what the guy in front of me was buying.  When I put my items on the counter, two things happened almost at once.

First, I didn't recognize the girl behind the counter.  And two, she watched the guy in front of me walk out of the door, turned back to me, and said, “I don’t trust him.  He didn’t look me in the eye once.”

It was the savviest mind control trick of all time.

Now, if your spouse or a friend says this, well, no big deal.  You have probably already established some communication norms that simply override this sort of inane comment.  However, if a stranger says this, you are given over to a state of obligatory obedience.

You certainly do not want someone to think you are not trustworthy, so you want to establish, instantly, eye contact.  On the other hand, by doing so, you are rendered completely conscience of this eye contact, which leads to a state of utter and overbearing self-awareness, a feeling that is as awkward as it is paralyzing. 

Normally, paying for my items is a massive, non-event.  Today, it was an excruciating exercise in psychological stability.  I was inundated with questions.  Was I looking her in the eye enough?  Too much?  Christ, have I even fucking blinked?  What is she going to say about me to the next guy? 

By the time I got to my car, my heart was racing and my brain was scrambled.  I immediately shot-gunned the chocolate milk, glanced into the store and pitied the person who was short on cat food, smokes and butter. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

The War On Christmas (Gift Exchange With Random People In Our Lives)

Is there any way we can cease and desist on the Christmas gifts we purchase for the ancillary yet important people in our lives?  Does the neighbor up the street really need a pound of organic coffee?  Does your friend’s son really need an iTunes gift card? These purchases are slippery slopes of giftdom that once started, prove harder to stop than Barry Bonds at a Balco tent sale.

Bonnie and I were involved in several of these unfortunate transactions this year.  And by “Bonnie and I” I really mean, Bonnie.  If you exclude beer and lap dances, I haven’t bought something for my guy friends in, well, ever.

From what I can tell, there are basically two categories of this gift exchange pandemonium.  There are the people that you exchange gifts with every year because somewhere in the past this tragic tradition was started.  From all appearances, barring death, this will go on for life.  Unless this gift is cookies or something edible, chances are this gift will suck or be useless.  It will be exchanged over hugs, probably. Then, you will wonder how you can re-gift it. 

But, at least with these people you pretty much know something is coming so you can be prepared.  The second category is even worse.   These are the people who unexpectedly show up and give you something – catching you off guard.  It’s almost like a pesky rash after a trip to Tijuana – you hate to admit to it, but you know you have to do something about it.  In these cases, the desire of a woman to reciprocate is overwhelming.  They won’t think twice about making a trip to the store in a blinding snowstorm to pick up a raspberry/vanilla/spruce candle plus $200 for a gift bag and tissue paper to wrap it in.  Goddammit, they will not be made a fool!

It’s time we bifurcate* in our gift giving.  Spouses (significant other if you are getting regular sex), kids and parents should all get gifts for Christmas.  Friends, neighbors, kids of people you worked with three years ago who you made the mistake of getting something for and now can’t stop – all these types of people – no gifts.  None.  If you are really bent on doing something nice for them, leave out the Christmas letter in your card that will surely bore them to tears.  I kid, everyone likes reading about family ailments and the welfare of your cat.  Siblings are tougher.  There remains a lot of pressure to buy something for your brothers and sisters.  I say they get axed as well.  In reality, you probably don’t even like some of them so it will be easier to leave everyone out.

Now, if you take this stance, a difficult one, I know, you may have a few awkward moments next year. Suck it up.  Like that rash from Tijuana, learn your lesson, take your antibiotics and stay out of the whorehouses.  And let’s be honest, you really have no need for a tub of hot cocoa mix anyway - and neither does anyone else.

*I read this word last night and was determined to use it like a motherf&$#er in this post somewhere.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I Act In A Commercial - And Of Course Kill It

I know many of you have been wondering, “How is Dave’s acting career going?”  Well, let me tell – it is incredible. 

Coming off my killer performance in The Slaughter Of Good Ole Richie (This film is in very limited release.  Like, you gotta be in my son’s TV Production class to see it limited release), I was asked to star in a commercial for Kid Away. 

You’re probably thinking, “Wait, isn’t doing a commercial after a film a step back?”  To that, I say, “Talk to my son’s teacher.”

Anyway, the shoot was taking place on a Sunday afternoon.  As such, I was appropriately hungover from a party at our house the night before.  This adds a ton of street cred to my career.  It creates a “Is he going to show up?  Will he be sober?” vibe that keeps everyone on edge. 

I have cobbled together four unedited scenes, and the following is some back story on each to let you in on a bit of tradecraft.  This is sort of like “The Actors Studio” but way cooler and more intimate.

Scene 1 – I was directed to show “max frustration.”  Arguably, I may be showing “max constipation.”  However, there is no doubt – amongst anyone – that whatever I am showing is definitely “max” something.  This is just raw emotion people, deal with it.

Scene 2 – For a lot of actors, working with children can be a challenge.  It’s plain to see that not only am I up for the challenge, I fucking embrace it.  Those little ones will be talking about this opportunity for years to come.  God bless ‘em.

Scene 3 – One man, one camera, one line.  Raw, eloquent, daring.  The crew was speechless after this one.  It can be embarrassing sometimes.  I swear people were moved to tears.  It's cool if you want to watch that part again.

Scene 4 – (This scene took a few minutes to get going because the two actresses, upon seeing they were wearing the same outfit, had to say things like, “Oh my god! We are wearing the same thing!” and, “I LOVE yoga pants!”)  Timing was everything in this shot – and I have no idea why my hand was buried in my pocket.  (A subconscious nod to Alanis Morissette?)

I know you probably aren’t often granted this sort of access – this sort of “behind the scenes” (quotes intentional) stuff.   So, you’re welcome. 

Here’s the bad news.  I’m retiring.  Or more accurately, I’m being forced into retirement.  I was informed today the next project is something called Stop Motion.  Wikipedia defines that as, “an animation technique to make a physically manipulated object appear to move on its own.”  This would have been perfect for me the night of the party.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Where I Totally Own My First Appearance In An Independent Film - With Video!

Both of the boys, as part of their TV Production class at school, were required to write, storyboard and shoot a five minute film.  It was an awesome project made even more awesome by my insistence that I have a part in both.

Dylan’s Film, Zoo Copz, was an action piece.  Unfortunately, I was only given one line. “We’re out of gas!”  I tried to punch up the script by suggesting that I say, “We’re out of fucking gas!” but I was told in no uncertain terms – no.  However, after a discussion with the production team during which I heard, “He has to drive the getaway car, he is the only one with a license,” I was given the role of stunt driver.  This meant that I had to peel-out, or whatever I could muster out of my 2004 Escape, in the cul-de-sac.  We even posted security and crowd control to make sure no little kids were hurt.  I did a great job.

Such a great job, in fact, that Chris gave the role of Mr. Winkle in his film, The Slaughter of Good Ole Richie, to meProduction was a pain in the ass from the start.  Besides some technical issues, the leading lady (and my wife), Bonnie, quit after the first day.  Well, she didn’t quit exactly.  Since we were behind schedule (we are so Hollywood) she had to leave for a business trip.  This meant I had to go to a neighbor and say, “Dude, can I borrow your wife for about an hour for a movie?”  This was met with raised eyebrows.  I assured him there were no sex scenes (that he knew of) and that I would have her back in one piece.  Day two was called due to darkness.  (The production budget for lighting was zero.)

We finally wrapped filming today.  (We had to delay the first scene because the guy behind us was cutting his grass and the noise of the lawnmower was interfering.)  I only had a few lines, but I totally killed it.  In fact, I pretty much owned the entire production.

I haven’t been in show business since I was cast as an elf in 4th grade.  But let me tell you, it courses through my veins.  It was like a re-goddamn-awakening.  I’m 43, but I have no doubt these films will be the start of something big.  Maybe the next Bourne movie.  After you watch the clip, I’m sure you will agree.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Murky Socio-Economics Of School Pictures

It’s time for the annual emptying of the checking account that comes under the guise of School Pictures.  It’s not that we don’t want pictures of our kids, it’s just that we don’t want a lot of pictures of our kids.  Buying school pictures is like paying for twenty gallons of gas and only getting to put five gallons in your tank.

“Only buy what you want,” the uninitiated may say.  I scoff.  It’s IMPOSSIBLE to buy what you want.  The economic geniuses behind the available packages know exactly what you want; therefore, they construct said packages to include “almost” what you want.  This forces you into either buying a package that includes things like a diamond encrusted picture frame, or relegates you to the dreaded a-la-cart section, where an extra 5x7 can require a hardship distribution from your 401(k).

This year we have a choice of seven packages.  At the low end is the “Entry” package, which should be called the “entry package for parents who don’t care about their child” because the only photo you get is a Polaroid picture they take when your kid is in line.  At the high end is the “Ultimate” package which includes a hologram image of your child beamed onto the roof of your house. 

This is Sally, before her parents ruined her
There are all sorts of add-ons and special offers available.  But the one I find most compelling is the “Premium Retouching” option.  For $12 you can have your child’s photo “retouched”, and for free you get to ruin any semblance of self-esteem they may have.  “Sally, remember how we couldn't use you in the family Christmas picture last year because of the acne and yellow teeth?  Well, we are going to get your school pictures retouched!  Finally, a picture that won’t be embarrassing!”  If you think your child won’t be bringing that up in therapy in a few years you are mistaken.

We settled on the “Value” package which means one of the grandparents is getting downsized to a 3 x 5.  I was pulling for the “Family” package only because it sounds like we are truly invested in our kids.  “Oh, we always get the Family package.  It’s just so us!” 

The pictures will show up in a few weeks.  We will liberate the few that we need and relegate the balance to a drawer.  If they don’t fit, we can douse them in that extra fifteen gallons of gas and set it on fire.  Maybe that will drown out that annoying hologram on my snobby neighbor’s house.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Street Artist, A Walking Stick And A Lesson In Living

Olu, pronounced “Oh-Lou”, is a black man in his late fifties with great, rounded shoulders and an easy manner.  He’s a business man, artist and a sage.  Olu sits on a low wall outside of a restaurant in downtown Cleveland where he carves elaborate walking sticks with a folding knife.

Olu and Me in his studio
“That’s beautiful,” I told him as I walked up to him.  Across his lap was a piece of cedar about four feet long and an inch or two thick.  He held it firm in one hand, turning it, as the other gripped the knife and gingerly transformed the wood into an ornate and rustic piece of art.  Where he stripped the bark, the alabaster of the pulp provided a contrast to the dark exterior.

“My raw materials are cheap,” he said with a smile.

“How long does it take to make one of them?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “each one takes about eight to ten hours.  I try to get about five dollars an hour to help with my room.  This one here is about sixty dollars, but I am willing to negotiate.”  Business man.

As he handed the mostly completed stick to me, I immediately noticed the intricate detail of the face.  It reminded me of something you would see on Easter Island or from a market in Jamaica.

“Where do you get the inspiration for the design?”

He chuckled.  “I don’t get inspiration.  I look at the stick and listen to what it wants to be.  Then I just bring it out.  I guess you could say I uncover what is already there.” He grabs another piece of cedar, raw and untouched.  “Like this one here.  I was looking at it this morning and I see a wizard.” Artist.  (Those words have really stuck with me the last few days.  Maybe I am reading too much into it, but I like that idea.)

The Handle
“How did you start doing this?” I knew I was asking a lot of questions, but his story was compelling.

“Well,” he stopped working and looked at me, “Seven years ago I had surgery on both of my knees.”  He pulled up one of his pant legs to reveal a massive scar.  “I could only walk with two canes - hobbling around, mostly.  I was miserable.  One day I asked God what I was going to do with the rest of my life.  So I just pulled out a knife and started carving a few bumps and rings in one of my canes.  One day, a guy asked me where I got that old cane with the design in it.  When I told him I made it he asked if he could buy it.  I said, ‘sure.’  God kinda led me here.  I’m grateful.”  Sage.

There was no way I was leaving without the walking stick. 

While Olu uncovered what was already in that ordinary piece of cedar, I uncovered something that was already there, too.  I uncovered a talented artist who claims he can’t draw.  I uncovered a wise man that is probably often overlooked because his studio is a wall. 

For fifty dollars I have a very fine piece of original art – the only one like it in the entire world.  But it hangs on my wall not as art, it hangs there to remind me that there is a lot in this world to uncover if we are just willing to look.  And of course, it reminds me of Olu.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Adolescent Psychology, Gazelle Livers and Ping Pong

Building your child’s self-esteem is a pillar of adolescent psychology.  Doing so instills your child with a sense of self-worth and confidence, which seem like pretty good traits.  Go ahead – Google it.  I did, and the results all pretty much say something like, “Hence it is not surprising that parents and clinicians want to foster self-esteem in young people.”  To that I say, fuck that noise, especially if it comes at the expense of my self-esteem and self-worth and confidence.

When a badass dad lion in Africa has a son, he isn’t thinking about building up his son's self-esteem, he is thinking that in a few short years that little bastard is going to be competitor number one for a gazelle liver.  You know what badass dad lion does?  He sure as hell doesn’t show his son how to gouge a liver out of a gazelle.  Oh no, he eats every damn liver he can.

All of which brings me to ping pong, which for purposes of this story, will be a metaphor for a gazelle liver.  Over the summer, the boys and their friends have been playing copious amounts of ping pong in our basement.  A month or two ago, I thought I would enter the fray and play them.  I hadn’t played ping pong in some time, but nonetheless, I of course considered myself awesome, certainly capable of beating my two fourteen year olds.  Possessing such confidence, I thought during the first match that I should “take it easy” and then promptly lost 21-8.

“Okay,” I thought, “enough with that strategy, time to show them the mane and the big scary teeth.” And then I lost 21-12.

But once your cub discovers how tasty a liver is, the cat (so to speak) is out of the bag.  So then I determined that to rightly assume my place in the pride, I had to not only just win, I had to completely dominate.  I played ferociously.  When a ball offered itself to be spiked, I not only wanted to smack it, I wanted to crack the ball off of my son’s sternum (after it hit on his side of the net, of course.) 

My record improved dramatically, which is to say I no longer lost every game, just most games.  On the rare occasion that I won, I rocked it.  I talked smack.  I screamed things like, “I’m dominating you!”  And then they would beat me again.

So my new and possibly controversial advice is this.  Kick their ass while you still can.  Don’t feel bad about it.  In fact, relish it. You’re certainly not “fostering their self-esteem” by handing them a liver in a nice patch of tall grass.  And then, when they are better than you, when they routinely beat you at ping pong, pat yourself on the back.  Your kids are supposed to be better than you.