Monday, May 25, 2015

Interegrets

David Letterman said he felt like he missed out on Al Gore's Internet. Compared to guys who showed up in his wake, like Jon Stewart and either of the Jimmys, Dave didn't have much of a virtual presence at all. Sure, he had a web site. So most plumbers. What he was confronting was the way we get our entertainment these days. There are plenty of amazing and amusing bits from the Letterman vaults, one of which he chose to showcase on his farewell show: Dave Works At Taco Bell. It was those kind of filmed pieces that took the late night talk show off on new tangents, to places they hadn't been with Johnny Carson or Jack Paar. His celebration of the ordinary, including his own mother, made watching her son's show a great big inside joke.
Back in the day, before DVR and twenty-four hour news, before point and click to review what had happened just moments before, there was staying up late to see what happened after everyone else had gone to sleep. When he moved up an hour and jumped to CBS, that secret society diminished still further. What seemed anarchic after midnight was being sponsored by Chevy and on after your local news. To be sure, Dave had earned his spot at the grown-up's table, but it also meant that he was no longer the upstart. There was no Monkey-Cam. Things didn't tend to fall from five story towers. NBC held on to Larry "Bud" Melman. Letterman and his staff had to make funny in ways that would appeal to those who might be persuaded to switch from Jay Leno if only to see a little hipper musical guest. Then Jimmy Fallon showed up and hired the Roots as his house band. And he got Bruce Springsteen to play himself in the inspired "Whip My Hair" duet with Neil Young. And the lip-syncing and general goofiness that pushed those boundaries once pushed by Dave. All ready for uploading with a Twitter feed that filled in the blanks for anyone who might have missed the show as it streamed through whatever portable device they might have connected to at the moment.
Just like bookstores stopped being just down the street, late night comedy might have a brick and mortar location from whence broadcasts originate, but it now blooms and flowers on Al Gore's Internet.
It makes me pine for those days when I went out with my brothers and my flashy new camcorder, some thirty years ago, and we ran over water balloons as big as a coffee table, and wandered around the University of Colorado asking strangers all manner of questions as "Mister Curious goes to Campus." We were making comedy, without the intent of putting it on a computer network for millions to view. We were having fun. Amusing ourselves. The thumbs-up we got all came from people who watched the tape in our living room. Do I regret never sending any of our tape to Dave and getting a chance to appear on "Stupid Pet Tricks" with our dachshund Rupert doing animal impersonations? A little. But mostly I am glad to have had the chance to laugh along, from the inside, for thirty-three years. Vaya con carne, Dave.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Nor Free Lunch

Basketball has this thing: free throws. When a player is fouled or, for those who are less familiar with the game, mugged on the way to making a basket, he or she gets a chance to toss the ball through the hoop without being interfered with in any way. Unless you count those panting, sweaty folks lined up on either side while the attempt is made or the thousands of screaming fans urging you to "miss" or take up some other line of work, like masonry. It should be noted that the fifteen feet from the free throw line to the basket has remained constant for the time since the game was invented. The addition of a three-point line didn't change things, since each free throw is only one point. Because they are a gift, after all. An award. Sorry about that, we're going to give you a chance to make good on that attempt you were making when that rather rough looking fellow from the other team hopped on your back and started pounding on your forehead. That would make it hard to get the ball through the hoop from any distance. Here's a free throw.
In baseball, if a batter makes the mistake of standing in front of a ninety mile an hour fastball, he or she can be awarded a free base. That player is given a "walk" to first base. This is not a point, but if enough of these are strung together, they can turn into points, or "runs" even though the players who receive them tend not to break out past a brisk trot on their way down the base line. That is, if they are able to make the trip at all, depending on how and where the ball made its impact. It's a gift of ninety feet, like it has been for more than a hundred years. Way back in the late 1800's, Hughie Jennings made a career out of those free passes: Two hundred eighty-seven HBP. It took nearly a hundred years for anybody to get close to that, when Craig Biggio leaned in for two hundred eighty-five. Over time, was it worth it? In his last season, some in the baseball community ridiculed Biggio for not going for the record. Not exactly the type of thing they make movies about.
In the upcoming NFL season, what was the equivalent of the free pass and free throw will be made less of a gimme and more of a gotcha. The extra point will be kicked from the relatively safe distance of fifteen yards away. Safe, but not exactly sure, since the ball used to be placed on the two yard line. There were still extra points missed back in those days, way back last year. But not very often. That's why the brain trust that is the front office of the National Football League decided that there should be no easy play. Suddenly that chip shot that hovered at the ninety-nine percent will be moved back to something more like ninety percent. The reasoning behind this measure is to try and convince more teams to try the riskier two-point conversion which will still be placed at the two yard line. In which case everyone in the stadium including the opposing defense will know what is about to happen. More competitive? Maybe. More fascist? Almost certainly.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The N Is For Nowledge

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may wish that he had picked a different locale for him and his brother to go blowing things up. Last week, Mister Tsarnaev was sentenced to death in a Boston courtroom for the crimes he committed back in 2013. If they would have picked a city in Iraq, the brothers might be hailed as heroes, or at least as martyrs to the cause. Instead, Dzhokhar will be held on death row until the appeals process has run its course. Now twenty-one years old, it is likely that the convicted killer of three will be an older man before the clock winds down on this particular show, leaving lethal injection as the only way out of prison after being found guilty on thirty counts, seventeen of which carried the death sentence. In the eyes of the law, Tsarnaev just can't be dead enough. 
If the brothers had chosen instead to kill and injure runners at the Nebraska Marathon, however, things might have gone much differently. That is because this week Nebraska lawmakers gave final approval to a bill abolishing the death penalty with enough votes to override a promised veto from Republican Governor Pete Ricketts. Life in prison? Not a problem. But since no one has been executed in Nebraska for eighteen years, the challenge to this new vote seems slim. As red states go, it's a pretty interesting swing, made possible by the realization that having a death penalty and using it are two very different things. The cost of maintaining the endless appeals and the moral objections that many people both liberal and conservative maintain may mean the death of the death penalty. After all, what good is sentencing someone to death and they end up dying of old age before you can poison them?
I kid the Nebraskans, because it is my birthright as a native Coloradan. The embarrassing part here is that Colorado continues to keep execution of their prisoners as an option, even though only one person had been put to death since the reintroduction of capital punishment back in 1977. Boy, is my face red. Even if my football team's colors are not. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Name Game

It is nice when things live up to their reputation, and even nicer when they live up to the label they place on themselves. Take for example SPECTRE. These are the bad guys in James Bond movies, and if you weren't up on your acronyms prior to this, you should know that it stands for "Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion." It gets a little verbose, but the initials paint a nice, scary picture. You probably wouldn't call these guys up for a donation to UNICEF, however. These guys were just a little more accessible than SMERSH, or Spetsyalnye MEtody Razoblacheniya SHpyonov, translated roughly: Special Methods of Spy Detection. James knew what to expect from these guys, in part because they really existed. The same cannot be said of the foes of the Men from UNCLE, THRUSH. The United Network Command for Law Enforcement regularly locked horns with the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesireables and the Subjugation of Humanity. When you're making up teams for world domination, it's nice to know for which side you're being issued a lanyard
That's the nice thing about Hollywood. They will do us the favor of calling bad guys what they are. I don't expect that when Adolf Hitler was scribbling on the back of his binder back in high school,coming up with cool names for his Third Reich, I don't expect that he figured that the world would hear "Nazi" and immediately connect them with all the evil that they would eventually embody. The National Socialist Party sounds pretty benign, after all. Maybe it was the flag. Or the uniforms. All of which brings me to the Bandidos. You might recognize that name as the affiliation of bikers who got into a pretty ugly shootout in Texas where nine people were killed, eighteen injured and one hundred seventy were arrested. Pretty rough weekend, even for Waco. But maybe it should have been expected. Not unlike the reaction Hells Angels used to get, back in the day. All the brawls. All the way out parties. Lock 'em up and throw away the key. When Cassocks, Scimitars, and Bandidos show up in the same place, you should probably expect trouble. 
Satan's Sidekicks? Grim Reapers? Coffin Cheaters? I'm guessing that showing up with your colors flying would pretty much put the local constabulary on high alert. Or at least put in a call to the folks at SHIELD, whatever that means. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Out Of Print

My father wasn't in the ad game in the sixties. He sold printing. I spent my early years imagining that he was some kind of executive paper boy, wandering from office to office with newspapers he carried in a briefcase and made deals with his subscribers to buy even more newspapers. This was because I had seen a black and white photo of my father in his youth, carrying his big canvas sack with "Daily Camera" printed across the front, and I assumed from the way he lovingly discussed his ascent into the printing business that he had worked his way into a better dressed, upscale version of the job he had when he was a teenager.
It wasn't that simple, but then again, maybe it was. He used to look wistfully off into the distance and talk about the ink that ran in his veins, having moved from his first paper route on what was then the outskirts of Boulder to the press room of the local paper and eventually to the offices of a publishing company where he would regularly return to the press room and kick it around with the boys in the back. It was from these press rooms that my father dragged home reams and reams of paper, some of it in sample pads, other times he would bring home end rolls that were far too short to be used for a full press run but unimaginably long for any kid who wanted to roll it out in the living room. I drew on all of it. All that I could, that is. All that blank paper was an invitation, not unlike the blank pages that eventually lured me to writing on them. It was my avocation to fill them all.
Meanwhile, back at the office, my father's career had a nice, hometown Don Draper feeling. There were business lunches and cocktail parties. There really was a briefcase, and most mornings that I can recall, he put on a suit and tie to go out into the world to sell printing. More to the point, he went out into the world to sell the printing services of the publishing company for which he worked to those who might need them. This is how I learned about Celestial Seasonings. My father worked with this hippie kid, Mo Siegel, to print up boxes and advertising posters for his herbal tea company. This was about the time that Don Draper's story came to a rest, but the seventies were a very heady time for my father's printing business. If it were left to me, I believe I would set the fictionalized TV version of my publishing company drama in the 1970's. That's when he moved on up to the Ford Granada for the company car, Fine Corinthian vinyl.
And eventually, there was an office affair, one that sent my father spiraling off into career trouble as well as divorce. When my father went to meet his maker, he was still working on his third act. He was trying to find his way back home. That never happened, but he left behind a lot of memories. And reams and reams of paper filled with the drawings of my youth. It was an interesting ride. Maybe not Don Draper interesting, but pretty good for a paperboy from Boulder, Colorado.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Missing

The time has come to talk about the elephant in the room. Actually, the elephant isn't in the room right now, but that's kind of the point. The elephant will soon be leaving the room. That's really the issue. And it's not really an elephant we're talking about here. The subject in question doesn't have tusks or communicate in infrasonic tones too low for our hearing to detect, though that might explain some of the challenges that occur when teenagers get ready to leave home.
Oops. I gave up my metaphor there, didn't I? Yes, I'm writing about my son again. I'm going to keep writing about him because he is the most important work I have done on this planet. I am proud of the way I have cobbled together a life for myself and managed to find my own way to adulthood, but I had some pretty good help on the front end of that. I took the shove my parents gave me way back when along with all the wisdom and expert advice they had to spare and applied it to my own life journey. Here I am, getting ready to shove my own little birdie out of the nest, and I can only hope that I managed to impart a fraction of that knowledge to my own offspring. Sometimes I feel like a filter rather than a font of wisdom, straining to find meaningful lessons to impart to a young man who seems to have learned more than I will ever know.
How did that happen? I was going to be the one who carried him to the car at the end of a long day. I was the one who still listens to the story of every day's adventure, waiting to cap it off with some fatherly words that would bring it all into sharp focus. I held his hand when we crossed the street not just to keep him safe, but to remind each other that we were there for one another.
Now we need to find new ways to do that. Long distance, the phone company when there was just one phone company, assured us is the next best thing to being there. I have tried to soothe my wife's worries and calm myself with this idea. Our son is not moving away. He is expanding the home in which the three of us live. His room won't be down the hall anymore. It will be down the road a few miles. It will make those good night hugs and kisses a little harder to negotiate, but I expect that we will manage. There is a lot of love invested here already.
The love is not a doubt, but the rhythm of that love is going to be hard to replace. Waking him up at noon on a Saturday or six on a Monday will no longer be in my purvey. I won't be shouting at the back of the house to turn that racket off and go to bed, unless it is my wife's racket which may be the thing that makes this whole thing work. It will be quieter by a third, and I will miss that. I have already in the past few years, as his high school life full of activities and social events took him to new places and different schedules, over which I had little or no control.
I couldn't hold his hand as he crossed all those streets. Now I have to know that he knows to look both ways. I have to believe that he knows how to hear those low rumblings that only he can sense. It is his father calling. Be careful. Be kind. Be smart. Be clever. Be safe. Be where you need to be. Be gone for a while. Be missed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Main Event

Things Mitt Romney couldn't win: The 2012 Presidential Election, Dog Owner of the Year, and the Heavyweight Championship of the World. I suppose you have to admire his vision. He aims high. He tends to miss wildly, but that doesn't mean he won't keep trying. In this latest escapade, he fought former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield in Salt Lake City last week. After two rounds of showcasing more footwork than fisticuffs, Mitt threw in the towel before anything really awful could happen. Or maybe the awful thing is that it was allowed to happen in the first place. The good news is that a million dollars was raised for CharityVision, a group that aims to restore vision to those with curable vision loss.The fight was held in Salt Lake City, partly because that is the location of the charity, run in part by one of Mitt's many sons and partly because of that whole Mormon thing in which the Romneys also participate. It made the $150,000 tickets a little easier to move for the black tie (eye?) gala.
I think this is great, by the way. When someone can take their celebrity status and turn it into something that benefits others, I'm a fan. Take the Justin Bieber Roast, for example. While I was disappointed that this event did not end with the sacrificial flaying and incinerating of Justin, to raise bail money for teenaged drag racers, I was glad to know that he was putting his stardom to practical use. At a certain point, once you've bought and sold your own personal island in the tropics, you start to look for places for your excess cash to flow along with that of your friends and associates. And whenever possible, ask your fanbase to contribute as well. 

Sometimes it takes a little extra push, but this is where I think Mitt missed the fundraising boat. If it were left to me to organize a charity boxing match for Mister Romney, I would have asked for some of the forty-seven percent of Americans he claimed never paid taxes to pony up a few bucks to spend a few minutes in the ring with the once and future chief executive. Instead of buying a Lotto ticket for the next few weeks, why not step into the squared circle with the guy who insisted that these were the Americans "who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it." This might take more than a couple rounds to get through all the folks who would like to take a shot at Mitt, but for a hundred dollars a shot, you could probably raise a matching million dollars pretty quick. Especially if they took the show on the road. Places like Baltimore, for example. Detroit? I imagine there are a few of that percentage hanging out here in the Bay Area who wouldn't mind paying to take a swing at Willard Mittsimmons Romney. For charity.