Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Alternative Lifestyles

Elvis is alive. But you probably knew that. Or maybe you just suspected it. As inglorious an end as it may have seemed to have the King pass away on his throne, the news that he had faked his death came as sweet relief to his millions of fans. Not that cheating the grim reaper resulted in a world tour or a flurry of new recording. Instead, Mister Presley chose to leave the public life behind to take it on the road in the most inconspicuous ways.
Or maybe it was all a lot of hooey. I have heard of people who use the question of Elvis' mortality as a litmus test for relationships. Some believe it's probably best to pair up based on shared beliefs. For example, those who believe that Jim Morrison did not overdose in Paris, but rather he chose to live out the rest of his life after the age of twenty-seven without a care for how he looked in a pair of leather pants. Jim could grow his beard or cut his hair and write bad poetry  He didn't have to be the Lizard King or dance on fire. He could just go out for a cheeseburger or two and keep to himself.
Or maybe not.
Keeping our celebrities alive is a relatively new conceit, whereas the tragic early death of stars has been a mainstay in pop culture for decades now. James Dean. Janis Joplin. John Belushi. Kurt Cobain. The idea that this final leave of absence was really more of a sabbatical than a final destination was kind of a corollary to all the conspiracy theories that floated around all those poor unfortunate souls. It makes us feel better, I suppose, to feel that somehow it really is better to burn out than to fade away, but not all the way out.
That's why I have decided to believe that there is a Celebrity Relocation Program. They are the ones who staged the elevator incident with Prince, who is now taking a much deserved break and is probably going door to door handing out copies of The Watchtower to his neighbors in Minneapolis. Under an assumed name. With the requisite Unabomber hoodie and shades. David Bowie is living somewhere in the countryside in upstate New York, just a few doors down from John Lennon. Every so often Amy Winehouse drops by to borrow a cup of sugar for the pie she's baking. Chris Farley is waiting and he's hungry.
It's so much nicer than the alternative.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

The Root Of Some, If Not All, Evil

Bruce Wayne inherited his fortune. He is the heir to a fortune estimated at nearly seven billion dollars. This wad of cash was built over hundreds of years by his family before him who were merchants and then shipping tycoons. Eventually they diversified into manufacturing and chemicals, expanding their empire and their influence until young Bruce was the sole beneficiary of all that multiplying millions. How does Bruce choose to spend his ever-expanding bank? Well, there's the Wayne Foundation, which is dedicated to the elimination of trafficking and exploitation of children. A bachelor himself, Mister Wayne continues to find ways to make his money work for him and his community. He has even adopted a young ward, Dick Grayson who was orphaned like Bruce at a young age, and helping him find his way in a cruel world.
Tony Stark is also a child of wealth. He grew up in the shadow of his father, the founder of Stark Industries. Howard Stark was a mega-capitalist in the style of Howard Hughes. Except instead of aircraft, Stark's diversification ended up making piles of cash in the weapons industry. Young Tony grew up in a world that went boom. When his father passed away, that's what Tony Stark inherited. It wasn't until he had his own up-close and personal interaction with shrapnel that he began to reconsider building his roll with things that explode. His focus on alternative energy sources and artificial intelligence, some say, has helped him "privatize world peace." That, and he's Iron Man.
These multi-billionaires have found ways to move their bank accounts around in ways that give back to the world around them. Though there is no solid evidence, some suggest that like his Big Apple counterpart, Bruce Wayne is rumored to have connections to Gotham City's vigilante crusader. Fighting crime and subduing evil in a very hands-on way shows how dedicated these gentlemen are to leaving the world a better place than how they found it.
Donald Trump's net worth is estimated at just a shade below Stark and Wayne. What is he doing to make the planet safe? Well, let's just say that he isn't building bat caves or designing suits of armor. He reminds me less of a super hero than - well - Lex Luthor. Which may explain that whole hair thing.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Consumptive Nominee

Rounding this great big curve into what will likely be a summer of discontent, we are inching closer to what we refer to as "the presumptive nominee" for both major political parties. "Presumptive," since we can only presume that the object set in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. Ask Wile E. Coyote about that one if you're unsure. The current schedule has the Clinton and Trump trains pulling into their prospective stations mid to late July. Democrats will be popping by Philadelphia in late July, and Republicans will have their gala a week before in Cleveland. I suppose the nice thing about all this presumption is that the swag dealers won't have the same concerns that major sports championships have when they have to find a place to get rid of all those Carolina Panthers -  Super Bowl Champions shirts. I do have a fond memory of my father's Jesse Jackson for President tee, but he was always a bit of an outlier.
Then there's a little matter of grammar. I found myself wondering about the difference between presumptive and assumptive. Both mean taking for granted that something is true, but the degree of certainty is what sets them apart. Presuming is more authoritative. Assuming, as we all know, makes an ass out of u and ming. In the world of politics, we presume that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for president. We assume that Donald Trrrrrump will be running on the Republican side. This is primarily because at this point, we can't really know what Donald and his minions will do right up until the moment the coronation takes place.
Sorry. Did I just say "coronation?" That may be hyperbole, but that is precisely the kind of verbal thrashing about that is bound to take place leading up to the moment where the powers-that-have-been in the Republican Party give up the reins of their tired old party to the billionaire Oompa Loompa who may just be running for president as a part of a new reality TV show: performance art. If that's the case, I applaud mightily, but I don't think that's how it's all going to go down. I assume that's not what is going on.
I presume that the path for Ms. Clinton will be a little more direct, in spite of Mr. Trumplet's suggestion to Bernie Sanders that he run as a third party candidate. Or why not just cross to the other side completely and give up your votes to the master of all those celebrity apprentices? Sanders supporters are currently being courted by the architect of the wall, but that may be a bit of a stretch. At least that's what I presume.

Sunday, May 01, 2016


I am a fan of comic books. I wouldn't call myself a collector, since I haven't bought or sold a comic in years. I have hung on to a large box of what could be considered by some collectibles in vinyl covers. I find myself poring over these in our basement from time to time when I am down there looking for a box full of Christmas decorations or T-shirts I thought had gone missing. I thank my older brother for having the foresight to protect my comics, the ones I held onto, way back when I moved to California. It is through his efforts that I have a preserved legacy of my youth spent looking through the racks at convenience stores and smoke shops. The comics I bought back in the day weren't from comic book stores. Those came about in the eighties, and by then I had already amassed the sequential issues I would own.
For the most part.
I had a subscription to Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider Man, not to be confused with The Amazing Spider Man. I made this commitment in my teens to one title because I was invested in Peter Parker the person, not the super hero. I was always impressed by Marvel's commitment to characters who happened to have incredible powers, rather than caped crusaders with incredible powers who occasionally interacted with normal humans. It wasn't a stretch for me to connect to Peter and his youthful angst as he worked through the struggles of being a nerd who just happened to have the proportionate strength and agility of a spider. I stuck with Spidey for years after that, even though I didn't renew my subscription. I picked up an issue (ish) here and there, happily noting how much things changes while staying the same.
And I grew up.
As a young man preparing to get married, I tried to lift the way Peter Parker proposed to Mary Jane Watson and drop it into the real world. It didn't work out too well. My own proposal to my wife took a bit of rewriting and negotiation to make it work in three dimensions. Years later, when I saw the romance between Pete and Mary Jane unfold on the big screen, I was swept up again. I started buying action figures from the Spider Man universe for my son. Then I decided to roll out the old comics to get him hooked. He had the toys. He had the movies. He looked with great appreciation at the art and stories I set in front of him. But he never made them his own.
It wasn't until Robert Downey Jr. showed up as Iron Man that the Marvel Universe opened up completely for him. He still didn't buy the comics. That is not how his world unfolds. He doesn't wander through the aisles or racks, thumbing through the stacks looking for that title that had eluded him for all these years. He has Al Gore's Internet. He keeps track of the wikis and the release dates and the spoilers in ways which the Mighty Marvel Bullpen could never keep up.
Next week, Iron Man squares off in theaters against my first comic fixation, Captain America. My son and I haven't had much discussion about which side we come down on, but the lines are already somewhat crudely drawn.
But there is a bright side.
Spider Man makes his first foray into this movie world with the rest of the Avengers and their hangers-on. I got a text right after the first TV spots showing Spider Man mixing it up with the others, cracking wise. It was from my son, quoting a line that came straight from behind the webbed mask: "Hey, you've got a metal arm! That's awesome!"
We can't wait.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Terminal Velocity

There are these things called "Darwin Awards." If you are not familiar, it is a collection of those things that don't necessarily prove the evolution of our species, or any other. Instead, they are a way of tracking just how effectively we can ignore our programming and progress to say and do incredibly stupid things. There are plenty of sub-categories in this wide-open competition, but so many of these individuals who are working so hard to prove that Darwin was wrong were doing so on a dare, or to do something "just like the movies," it's disappointing.
Sure, the argument could be made that a percentage of the folks who find themselves in the running for each year's top prize are doing their idiot best to make their name surge to that pinnacle of Al Gore's Internet fame. Or infamy. Oscar Wilde would have loved the message boards. The opportunity to rise above the general anonymity of the online world may be reward enough for some. To this end, I blame the brain trust behind "America's Funniest Videos," or as I prefer to call it, "America's Funniest Pending Litigation." You can hear the voices ringing out, "It should say on the label: Warning - wading pool not for use as parachute."
And then there's the Mythbusters, who may have been high-minded and careful to remind us at the beginning of each episode that these are trained experts and not to try anything they attempt at home, but the number of seed that were planted in tiny minds is probably impossible to comprehend. Not the least of which would be the cannonball Adam and Jamie sent through a house in Dublin, California. What we do because we didn't fully understand or prepare is the stuff that winds up on television. Or YouTube.
There is a whole corner of the virtual world set aside of massive fails. Video evidence of which makes for thousands, if not millions of views. There have always been crowds of teenage boys willing to sacrifice potential fatherhood for a chance to ride that perfect rail or launch themselves over their parents' house via some hyper-slip-and-slide. And there's always someone hanging just off to the side with a smartphone waiting for their buddy to look up as the dust or canola oil is settling and say, "Didja get that?"
Just below this barely defensible "we wouldn't put it on if there weren't people dumb enough to do it in the first place," there is the "we are making it easier for people to lower their expectations of themselves" response. Then there's this: Snapchat has a filter that shows how fast your phone is moving. It's all a part of the too-much-information world that gives you the opportunity to confound people with posts that say five hundred miles per hour when traveling cross country by jet after weeks of posting five miles an hour when running around the block. The borderline evil part of this is how it immediately turns into "how fast can I make my phone go?" Christal McGee's phone was going one hundred seven miles an hour when the accident occurred. The one in which she struck another car with her Mercedes, causing permanent brain damage in the driver of the other car. Brain damage may be discussed during the pending lawsuit against Snapchat and McGee for creating an environment where going fast wins you prizes. Not real prizes, mind you, but that instant gratification that only emojis can bring.
I suggest a different strategy, if you really want to find out how fast your phone can go, drop it out of a window. You can decide if you need to follow it.

Friday, April 29, 2016

What's On?

A few months back, I was straining my spine to pat myself on the back for the way I had managed my cable TV account. I had utilized my connection with the Customer Loyalty department to haggle my way back down to what I felt was a reasonable price for seven hundred channels, about a dozen of which I watch with any frequency. Or fidelity. I had grown accustomed to a certain amount of "premium" in my channel lineup, and I wanted to believe that I could find a way to afford Home Box Office, HBO to us insiders, and Showtime was the cherry that my friends at the Customer Loyalty department dropped on the top of this video sundae. I ate it up greedily until this past Sunday. That is when the HBO and Showtime dried up and went away.
As it turns out, somewhere in the midst of negotiations way back around Super Bowl L, the deal that was made turned out to be a three month conditional deal. Just a taste. To keep me on the line. Going Cold Turkey with my expanded cable lineup would be untenable after I had established viewing patterns and favorites. My son, and many others, would scoff at this notion, pointing out that all that programming that I am so desperate to have come pouring out of that coaxial cable in the wall is available through all manner of methods. The least of these would be an antennae that would allow me to get a great mass of airborne signals that I had been avoiding for more than twenty years. The idea of twisting rabbit ears and moving things around until the picture was not a scattered mass of pixels did not appeal to me, having recently suffered through this experience with my mother-in-law's entertainment center. I had taken it upon myself to free her of the bonds that shackled her to the cable company along with its attendant fees. Free at last, except for that whole mess about tuning in her favorite channels.
I am a child of the video explosion. The MTV generation wasn't exactly me, but I got it. Television that never went off came in handy for a college student, and when I found myself working in a video store, the deal was sealed. I couldn't just turn the thing off.
And so, last Sunday, when the HBO and Showtime stopped, I called my buddies at Customer Loyalty. They were oh-so-sympathetic, but the line where it said "limited time offer" was lost on me. I wanted to keep the deal I had. The nice man on the other end of the line told me that I was free to send comments to the Vice President in charge of Customer Relations, and so I did.
The phone rang an hour later. It wasn't the VP, but one of his underlings. Still, it was a step up the food chain from all that loyal customer smoke and mirrors. This was the real deal. I imagined that this call wasn't coming from that endless row of cubicles but rather from a nicely appointed office. A vase with fresh cut flowers at the corner of the desk. This is where I wanted to make my stand. The rhetoric I got was of a higher and less rehearsed caliber. This was a customer service professional. I was soothed and then told that I could look forward to a whole year of those shows and channels I had come to love. Then I would be free to renegotiate with a special note on my account that said I was due a half-price deal on all that TV that I barely have time enough to watch. When I hung up, I felt used, but happy. I had gone fifteen rounds with the champ. I had gone the distance.
When I came home the next day, I was getting HBO and Showtime. On the bedroom TV, but not in the living room.
Back to the phones.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Pick Your Path

Maybe you really do have to be a rocket scientist to avoid some of the most common pitfalls in our American society. As Ben Carson has recently exhibited, being a brain surgeon may not have enough attendant brilliance to keep one from embarrassing oneself in public. The good doctor took all that education and mixed it up with his street cred and hoped to push himself out into the raging torrent that was the Republican Presidential field. He probably should have brought a paddle. That his campaign lasted into March certainly makes him more credible than non-brain surgeon Jeb Bush, but maybe a deep understanding of the mechanics of what goes on inside our skulls isn't what really matters to the race for the White House. It could be all about the Benjamins. Not the Benjamin Carsons. And you might think that a brain surgeon might have the kind of money that could be thrown around in some sort of concerted effort to become president, but those kind of dollars are found more regularly in the war chests of tiny-handed real estate moguls and cuckolded former Secretaries of State.
So what good is being a brain surgeon if you can't get elected President? That could be the reason Jethro Bodine chose to give up that particular career path to pursue his dream of being a double-naught spy. If your uncle is a billionaire oil tycoon, you can have your pick of what is out there, and running for President was pretty far down the line for the Clampett nephew. It could be that there is some sort of corollary to the "those who can't do teach" rule that suggests that those in the most desperate need of brain surgery become brain surgeons.
Take for example fourth year neurology resident Anjali Ramkissoon. She of the viral video shot back in January showing her assaulting an Uber driver in Miami. Doctor Ramkissoon made a scene for the pervasive camera phones as she screeched and tossed things around until the police showed up. The driver chose not to press charges, but the damage was done by the viral video: the doctor is no longer "in." The local hospital will no longer be requiring her services.
Maybe she could get some work as a medical consultant for the Trump campaign. She'd fit right in.