Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Objectify

Barack Obama: One of the worst presidents of all time, or the worst president of all time? Discuss. Don't worry if you can't make up your mind right away, there are plenty of folks around willing to help you out with that distinction. Karl Rove would be one of them. You remember Karl. He was the Deputy Chief of Staff during the George W. Bush administration and has been a Republican political consultant and policy adviser since the earth was cooling and he crawled from the slime on flippers that would eventually evolve into opposable thumbs. If anyone would be a good judge of history, it would be this guy, right? Right. Very right.
Karl Rove says we are now seeing "the real Obama." Apparently it has taken most of two terms, but finally our collective eyes are open. “I think today the president is governed more by what is his true vision and view of the world, in part,” said Rove.“He views America as not a power for and an influence for good. He does believe the world is a better place if we withdraw and allow people to settle their own matters in whatever way they intend to settle them." Karl wants to know: “Name me one foreign leader that jumps to mind that you think the President of the United States has a good relationship with?” He then went on to name David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Okay, but who else? Certainly not that guy in Russia. Or the guys who are running ISIS. And whoever is in charge in Iraq. Unless we're currently bombing them. That's the real Obama.
Then there's the matter of the press. According to James Risen, Barack Obama is " the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.” That's because the Obama administration renewed a subpoena, that was initially issued in 2008, that asked Risen to reveal his sources for his book “State of War,” which included classified information about a failed CIA plot against Iran’s nuclear program. That CIA plot took place during the Bush administration. Before the worst president of all time came into office. The Bush administration that had a guy named Karl Rove working for them. I'm not sure about this, but I don't think it's been a generation since that subpoena was first issued.

Well, okay Karl. We'll settle for "one of the worst."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Once Upon A Time

This summer I learned how to make a time machine. It makes sense that I discovered the secret in my mother's garage, back in Boulder, Colorado. It also makes sense that it had been there all along, I just forgot to look for it: that big box of home movies. By quick estimate, there were one hundred sixty reels of regular and super eight film in the box that had been moved from one location to another over the decades, and they were all transferred to digital video in a process that took over three weeks.
There was a time when I fooled myself into believing that I would someday acquire a projector and take the time to view all of those hours, or that I would suddenly find myself burdened by an excess of time during which I could put all of that which Kodak had so lovingly preserved onto discs that would last another fifty years. Moving pictures of the first Christmas at our new house. My first visit to Disneyland. The forty-seventh family reunion.
It was an odd experience, sitting there in my grownup living room, watching events take place again in another place in another time. That's what I usually do in my living room, but this was different because it was me cavorting back and forth across the screen, wearing clothes that I can only vaguely recall, but doing things that I have spent years recalling from photographs. Suddenly, the motion of these pictures allowed me to fully connect to that past. I remember the warmth of the sidewalk out front of my parents' house. I remember the smell of the grass near the end of the yard where my mother had her rose garden. I remember the sky. Blue, gray, orange, pink, incandescent. All of those trips to the desert southwest. All those sunsets. I tried not to pay attention then, since my father cooing about the colors in the west were my first memories of rolling my eyes. Now those eyes can see what he was talking about. And taking shaky Super Eight movies. When he was pointing his camera at us, and begging us to show up for posterity, there was no way I could possibly have known how thankful I am today that he did that.
It's my childhood. It's my neighborhood. It's my brothers and I and the kids on our street going about our lives. It's aunts and uncles showing up for one more Christmas. Cousins taking us on another trip to the zoo. It all really happened. It wasn't a dream at all. As it turns out, it was the stuff that dreams are made of. Amazing.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Endorsements

Writing a blog every day doesn't give me much of a leg to stand on when it comes to my aversion to social media. Here I am, after all, being social with my media. And yet I continue to rail against Facebook and Instagram and all those other outlets for whatever happens to be on the minds of those who choose those outlets for whatever it is that happens to be on the minds of those. Which is also why the revelation of my involvement with LinkedIn should be cause for those of you who are prone to such actions to climb to the highest height and shout "hypocrite!" Or you could just pull out your smart phone and tweet it.
All of this is to say that I am seemingly powerless to avoid the somewhat narcissistic tendency of our current culture. What I have to say is important and I need as many outlets as I can manage to share it. Okay, I may be overstating this for dramatic effect, but that's what gets clicked upon, right? I ask this rhetorical question in the sly anticipation that it will cause some sort of response from anyone or everyone who reads it, which I suppose limits its rhetoricality.
LinkedIn: that's why I'm writing this. A confession of sorts. I got involved a few years back because it seemed like a great way to stay connected to those who shared common goals and interests, and I could eventually parlay all this connection into career advancement. I wanted to believe that I was being a clever professional who could network with other clever professional types in order to further my plans for world domination. Oops. I probably shouldn't have stated my goals so plainly for all to see. Or maybe I really don't know how joining LinkedIn helped me get a better job that would allow me to eventually dominate the world. Or my corner of it. Sure, sometimes I would get nice messages from people with whom I had worked at other times in other places. I was on Facebook without all that Facebook stigma. This was professional, after all. And every so often I would get job listings in places like Iowa and Massachusetts, encouraging me to spread my wings and take a chance on moving my family and my base of operations to some foreign land where there were opportunities for people just like me. I have clicked on a few of these, and I have been flattered just to think that someone might consider me worthy of such a leap. I am flattered in the same way I am flattered by the "endorsements" from other LinkedIn users of my various skills and abilities. I have yet to be endorsed for writing pithy blogs, but that may just be an oversight on the part of those who find themselves drawn to my circle.
What i did get from LinkedIn was an e-mail. It came with the header, "This company hires the most creative writing majors." Curious, I clicked through. I wanted to know what I had been missing out on for all these years. I thought creative writing majors were school teachers. You mean there is another avenue? Tell me, LinkedIn, what is it? According to them, the third place employer of creative writing majors is New York University, which didn't seem like that big a leap for me. The second went to Examiner.com, which made me wonder if I was missing an opportunity to share my writing with a wider audience in some dot com way. Anxious for the big reveal, I placed my mouse arrow over the box that encouraged me to "see the top employer." I clicked. Since you don't know what I saw, I will tell you: The number one employer of creative writing majors, according to LinkedIn, is Starbucks. Thanks for that endorsement, LinkedIn.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Totally Worth It

Last week was a pretty tough one. The deaths of Lauren Bacall and the already much discussed Robin Williams would be significant enough, but that was just the pop culture icing on the cake that included the continued strife in the Middle East and North Korea lobbing missiles around while the Pope was visiting South Korea. It wasn't a fun one. Thank heaven that it included some good news.
I received an e-mail from Ms. Elizabeth Johnson, on behalf of the Financial Intelligence Centre, letting me know that they "have been working towards the eradication of fraudsters and scam Artists in Africa with the help of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) United Nations (UN), European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and FBI." I have no reason to doubt Ms. Johnson, since she's obviously on the up and up, since she spells "Center" with the "e" at the end. That along with the fact that she's working with all those acronyms, it looks like there's finally going to be some action here. Their goal is to share all the money that has been recovered from all these scam artists to the victims around the world. There is a problem however, as Ms. Johnson explains: "...identifying each victim is a huge task, based on these, the committee decided to carry out a computer random draws." My e-mail just happened to come up on one of the had disks of the scammers, so it turns out it's my lucky day! 
How lucky? "(M)aybe you have been scammed or not, you are therefore being compensated with the sum of $320,000.00 USD(Three hundred and twenty thousand united states dollars)." Again, who could doubt the sincerity of someone who takes the time to spell out the number of dollars that I am eligible to receive except the most sincere and committed government employee? Not only that, "We have also arrested some of those who claim that they are barristers, bank officials, Lottery Agents who has been sending you SMS on your phone that you have won a lottery which does not exist." Wow! Good work, FBI-IMF-UN-EU-MOUSE! Now all I have to do is wait for that payment to make its way to me on a pre-loaded ATM, Visa card. Well, first of all I need to contact a Mr. Rain Ado, Transaction Manager, who needs just my full name, postal address, age, occupation, and cell phone number in order to send that great big chunk of money on its way to me, where it belongs. 
Wait a second. I was all comfortable dealing with Ms. Johnson. Now they want me to start connecting with "Rain?" Isn't this what got me into trouble in the first place, back when I sent that money order to Nigeria to some guy named "Mister Ado?" Wait. That wasn't me. I never sent anyone anything, so I would really be getting something for nothing. If I didn't know better, I would think this is some sort of scam. I'm glad that I've got Elizabeth Johnson looking out for me. That hundred and fifty dollars to pay for the shipping on my ATM Visa card will be totally worth it. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

TS

Forgive me the opportunity to return to the subject of Robin Williams' untimely death once again. "Untimely" because it is one of those things that I didn't imagine having to deal with. I am guilty of imagining how I might cope with the passing of those closest to me, but I never met Mister Williams. He was a stranger in both noun and adjective. He thought and moved faster than most rooms full of six-year-olds.
It never occurred to me what all that frenetic energy and chaos was about until I had to reckon with the "off switch." That's because I had become comfortable with the idea that Robin Williams was a survivor. John Belushi wasn't. Bill Hicks, Mitch Hedberg, Phil Hartman: For various reasons, neither were those guys. The fact that part of me wants to launch into a bit about how it's probably best that they didn't stick around longer so they could fade into obscurity doesn't feel right. Being funny is hard work. I know, because when faced with the choice, many years ago to have that job, I chose a different path.
But I am pretty sure that all those guys and a dozen more men and women who made me laugh in profound ways pushed me to become a teacher. This is especially true of Robin Williams. For better or worse, the kids who have spent time in Mister Caven's classroom have endured my own personal brand of standup comedy five days a week for the past seventeen years. I'm lucky. I've got this captive audience. When I bomb, I know I need to go back and rework my act for the next class, but it's all still improvisation at its heart. That's what I became aware of as I watched the flurry of images and video bits from more than thirty years of Robin Williams' career. In so many ways, he was still working out those favorite bits: Shakespeare, childhood, substance use. Like a musician, you could hear themes that never got fully played out. He was still working for that punch line.
Well, he got there. It took a little longer than some of his contemporaries, but it came. My wife and I mused over whether there would be some cosmic rim shot and we both would suddenly get it. Only it's not funny "ha ha." It's funny "sad." This one left a mark.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Back To The Egg

Side-splitting, gut-busting, knee-slapping. I endured all that pain while listening to and watching Robin Williams. I came of age in a world of Mork. I lived in the city where he and Mindy set up housekeeping. While it was always a bone of contention for the citizens of Boulder that tourists would flock to Pine Street and the pedestrian mall, searching for the alien from Ork, there was a quiet understanding of just how happy we all were to have captured this lightning in a bottle.
But that metaphor is really just that: you can't hold lightning in a bottle. There was far too much Robin Williams to be contained in the attic of that house on Pine. Or on the half-hour sitcom that he grew to resent, even though it made him a household name. If you lived in Boulder during those years, you had a story about how the frenzy that was Mork and Mindy swept through your life. Like the time I was working at a smoke shop around the corner from that pedestrian mall, and the crowds that gathered in the alley behind it, hoping for a glimpse of some of the zany antics that would ensue when he was in town to do some quick exterior shots. Yes, I know that I have destroyed the carefully hewn facade that was actually created in a sound stage in Hollywood, but for those brief moments, the reality was that this being from another world had landed in my hometown to delight and entertain all who came in contact with him. What a concept.
So pervasive was this feeling that aspiring young comedians like myself adopted the uniform. I had a pair of rainbow suspenders that I wore as both homage and emulation. I memorized every syllable of that rapid-fire delivery, and imagined that this would eventually launch me on the very same career path set by this mercurial jester. The hardest I ever laughed in my life was the nearly two hour long set I took in of his at the Rainbow Music Hall in Denver, right at the height of Morkmania. It never occurred to me at the time just how dark the dark side of all that light might be. It became apparent soon enough. No one was more candid and open about his failures as his star rose ever higher. He wasn't shy about biting the hand that fed him, even when that hand turned out to be connected to Walt Disney. It meant doing time in movie jail, which meant that he ended up with more grist for his comedy mill.
And through it all, he struggled with the part that wasn't laughter. When his friend and fellow clown John Belushi died of a cocaine overdose, Robin Williams quit "Peruvian Marching Powder" cold turkey, or so the story goes. When the steam ran out of this ball of exuberance, sometimes depression set in and the demons would arrive. The way he chose to deal with them was partly through humor and partly through drinking, both of them to excess.
That's because Robin Williams went through life that way: Excess. I have recovered somewhat from the split sides, butsted guts and slapped knees, but my heart is still broken because that feeling that there will never be enough Robin Williams in the world must have been shared with the man himself. Never enough. That's why he left some giant-sized footprints from where he stomped on the Terra. I will miss him in all his guises, and in ever wheezing paroxysm of laughter. Genie, Garp, Mork, friend, father, and member of the fraternity, he will be missed. Here. In Boulder. On Ork. Aloha, Robin.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I Never Knew

I did not expect that over this summer I would find time to watch more than three hours of a documentary about the Eagles. Not the flying raptors, the symbol of this great land, but the rock group from the late seventies. It actually took me longer than that, since I was suffering from a persistent case of telerepetitis which kept me dropping in to the second half of the story, during which the boys in the band lost patience with one another and went their separate ways, only to be brought back together in a wave of feelgood happiness that made the rest of the escapades seem more like the terrific setup rather than petty squabbles between millionaires.
Did I say "petty?" Listening to these guys talk about each other, it certainly doesn't sound "petty," unless your definition includes Tom Petty, who once broke his own hand by punching a wall. And maybe this definition won't quite fit for any of the Eagles, who seemed more intent on punching one another rather than recording studio walls. Except Joe Walsh. He didn't just punch walls. He used chainsaws and other machinery to rearrange the accommodations in his hotel suite. As for the rest of the guys, well, they seemed happy to rearrange one another's faces.
And here's the irony, for me: "Peaceful Easy Feeling." "Take It Easy." Two of the greatest hits of the greatest hits band of all time. All that peace and easy taking feelings didn't seem to extend much past the actual songwriting, with by all accounts wasn't the smoothest sea to sail, either. The Eagle's Lennon and McCartney got along a lot like, well, Lennon and McCartney. But since they also got to decide who got paid, it ended up not mattering as much. Like The Beach Boys before them, the sounds coming out of the studio were always a lot sweeter than the sounds going on inside.
And when it was all over, and somebody had to take a stand, it was the one that brought them closer to the cash. Will they get back together? Sure, "When Hell Freezes Over." I suppose it makes sense that people would pay to see that, just like people would have paid to see the Beatles get back together. Three thousand dollars worth? Of course, this is 2014, and that offer from Lorne Michaels would have to be more like six thousand, especially if they wanted to get Don Felder back in the band. Or maybe Glenn and Don could offer up an additional six thousand just to keep him away. That's the kind of sweet harmony I've come to expect from these guys.