Sunday, July 24, 2016

You Gotta Have Heart

There are a lot of people who will miss Garry Marshall's work behind the camera. I grew up in the seventies. I watched Happy Days. I watched Laverne and Shirley. I watched Mork and Mindy. I watched Mork and Mindy carefully. I lived in Boulder. I used to give directions to Mork's house to tourists, anxious to soak up the zaniness that seemed to permeate that address and the streets and shops around it. To be precise, this was actually Mindy's house, and it seemed as though she was merely a tenant there, keeping primarily to the upper floor while her newly discovered Orkan friend hung out in the attic. On a trapeze. Zany. Zany enough to periodically run afoul of their downstairs neighbor, Mister Bickley. For the first season, anyway.
I watched Happy Days, because we all did, but I cared about Mork. I cared enough to have my own set of rainbow suspenders. I cared enough to make The New York Delicatessen a regular stop because, as the t-shirt reminded us, "Mork and Mindy Eat There." 
They didn't really. Every year or so, during the run of the series, a crew would pop into town and shoot some exteriors. Mork didn't really live there. Or eat there. A couple times Robin Williams came to Boulder for those shoots, and things went a little crazy for a day or two. It was zany. And then it was over. Mork went on to make movies. So did Garry Marshall. I really enjoyed The Flamingo Kid. I didn't get a job as a cabana boy because of it, but I did sharpen up my gin rummy game. I wasn't as enamored of Pretty Woman as everyone else seemed to be, but I was happy for Garry's success.
And I was amazed at the talent that he seemed to surround and be attracted by him. Not just Robin Williams, but Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks and Bette Midler. And Albert Brooks. One of the funniest things I ever saw Garry Marshall do wasn't written or directed by him. He was just there, acting. He was the casino manager in Lost in America, the guy who listens mostly patiently to Albert Brooks pitch his idea for an ad campaign that will bring back the nest egg that his wife lost in an overnight gambling binge. The Desert Inn has heart.
Garry Marshall had a lot of heart, and he wore it on his sleeve, especially if it got him a laugh. Garry yukked it up on the Terra. Aloha, Garry.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Security Blanket

"I was thinking today of the pine cone security didn't allow me to take into the Primus concert.
I wasn't meaning to throw it during the show, and all these years later I would agree with the decision security made that evening.
The thing that brought that pine cone to mind was the story of heightened security surrounding the convention this week. Even fruit was not allowed in the vicinity.
Bottles, no.
Back packs, no.
Guns, OK.

Funny stuff."
This was the email I received from my younger brother after the second day of the Republican National Convention. He was referring to a show we had attended back in our youth. It came at a time when we were both acclimating to our roles as responsible adults. On the way in, he was stopped and asked to relieve himself of the seed pod he was carrying. He does that. He's an artist. The things he picks up find their way into his art. The pine cone might have found its way into an installation if not for the confiscation of the woody fruit by the well-intentioned security detail who most certainly saw the projectile potential of such an object as being reasonably high.
It should be noted that this incident occurred in advance of the events of September 2001. All the danger that existed in that pine cone was in the imagination of the guy in the windbreaker who had jurisdiction of that doorway. As we were both more interested in seeing Primus than we were in causing a scene over a strobilus, we surrendered the pine cone. This concert was in Colorado. Before Columbine. Before Aurora. Before what we carried and how became a more visceral concern. 
Now we pass through metal detectors to go to concerts. My backpack is searched on the way into Disneyland. You weren't allowed to take a backpack into the Convention Zone in Cleveland. I don't know what the rules were about pine cones. Probably the same as those covering buckeyes. And fruitcakes
Funny stuff. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

I Give A Shirt

I have a lot of t shirts. So many, in fact, that  I have a hard time finding the particular shirt for which I am looking and then tend to veer off and pick one that matches my mood or the occasion as closely as time and my patience allows. Tomorrow,  after all,  is another day. I expect that I will get a chance to wear that certain shirt at some other possibly even more appropriate moment.
Or so I hope.
Considering the certainty of at least one hundred eighty days a year that I am encouraged/required to wear the "business casual" uniform of an elementary school teacher, it surprises me how easy it is to access that muscle that twitches every time I see that "free t shirt" offer. Why would I need any more t shirts than I already have stuffed in my burdened IKEA dresser. I expect the main reason my Malm has yet to endanger any of us by tipping over with all that ballast I have stuffed into those drawers. There are years of personal history stored on the front and back of shirts, some of which I have forgotten. Sporting events, movies, and lots and lots of concerts. Some of these are thirty or more years old.
Why am I holding on to these relics? The simple answer is within that question. For me, these are touchstones. They are the memories of days gone by. When I look at the back of one of those tour shirts and pick out the city where I saw this show or that, it brings that evening: find your seat, find the t shirt stand, enjoy the concert.
A whole bunch of times.
If I cared to, I could probably paint a pretty accurate picture of the last three decades of my life by laying out all those shirts on a floor somewhere. It would have to be a pretty big floor. That's just the ones I have tucked away in drawers. Years ago, I went through my collection and culled the ones that I stopped wearing because they were too worn or too small. My wife offered to make a quilt of these treasures, and I offered up a few of the less-tired shirts to my son in hopes that his shoulders could carry on the legacy. Of course, he has his own collection, documenting his journey through his life.
So many shirts. So little time.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


I received a gift certificate for my birthday. It was for Barnes and Noble, a "bookstore." Some of you may not be familiar with such things, as they are becoming as scarce as "video stores," which would require a whole separate discussion about things like "physical media" and "DVDs" and so on. I was in Barnes and Noble to buy books, since that was probably the intent of my brother-in-law when he put that little plastic card in an envelope and wrote my name on it. A very considerate act, and not just because he spelled my name correctly, but because it meant I could go forward with the process of selecting just the right reading material for myself, rather than having that awkward moment of deciding how to accept a gift that might be resting on my dresser for several months without cracking the spine. I could pick the book or books that I wanted to read.
I did not pick the books that I should be reading. I walked past hefty tomes of classical literature and manuals on how to fix this or that real or imagined problem and went straight to the Stephen King shelf. Shelves. Maine's Master Of the Macabre holds down two and a half shelves, with just a copy or two each of his dozens of titles, most of which I have already purchased and consumed in the style of fast food, a comparison the author himself has made. In the summertime, I eat more cheeseburgers. I read Stephen King.
Somewhere on those vertical feet of possibilities, I found what I was looking for: the sequel to the book that began my summer vacation. In paperback, which meant that I still had credit left over to buy another volume or two, depending on where I looked next. I considered turning just a degree or two and finding the third book in the Bill Hodges trilogy, but since it was recently released, it would have meant going over my allowance. It occurred to me then that if I went home and navigated the B&N website that I could probably have downloaded both stories in some cyber-version that I could negotiate on to one of the electronic devices we have hanging around our home, but being the son of a printing salesmen who spent a summer or two working in a bindery amid the roar of printing presses, I remain attached to the physical ink and paper.
I walked over to the Humor shelves, and stared at the titles, many of them written by comedians I recognized and I wondered if I would enjoy reading a couple hundred pages of their comedy bits after enjoying their standups or sitcoms. I picked up a few of these and opened them to scan a random page or two. Amused, but not captivated, on I moved. There had to be another book out there that could capture my attention, one that friends and family had been telling me that I should read.
But that was what I was trying to avoid: Should.
I found myself standing in front of the clearance table. All items marked with a red dot were fifty percent off. There were plenty of authors that I did not recognize, with glossy covers that had once been big sellers and were now part of the inventory purge. Mixed in with these disparate books were a number of impulse items: toys, for lack of a better term. Book lights and pop culture artifacts, including a twelve-inch action poseable Walter White action figure, complete with Heisenberg hat and shades.
I did the math in my head. If I bought the Stephen King and the Breaking Bad toy, the total would come within pennies of the amount of my gift card. The cashier reminded me that since the action figure was a clearance item, there would be no exchanges or refunds.
That's okay. It was a gift.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"Common Words"

Just released text of Melania Trumpence's speech to the Republican masses:
My parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily life. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.  I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my Chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”  'Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play. And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake. I shake it off, I shake it off. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that “old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death! Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. I have a dream today. Excuse me while I kiss the sky.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


I remember, some twenty years ago, coming home from my job schlepping books around a warehouse, cresting the hill next to the street where I lived with my new wife. On my way home, coming over that rise, I saw it: A B2 bomber. This great big, bat-wing beast of an aircraft was making a low level pass over my neighborhood. And several dozen other neighborhoods around the Bay Area. It was Fleet Week, and the Navy's best and brightest were on display. On the sea. On the land. And in the air. It was an awesome sight, this great hunk of metal roaring past, just above our heads. It was also terrifying. There was this war machine hanging over my home. It occurred to me then: what would it be like to see two or three of these things, knowing their purpose was all business?
This moment comes back to me over and over again, whenever there are shots fired in anger. Or bombs. Here in America, we are profoundly fortunate in that when B2 bombers fly over our heads, it's a show. Helicopters are seen in ones or twos, with the occasional swarm of news choppers. Drones are in the air to spy on the new Apple campus. More often than not, when troops take to the streets here in the United States, it is in response to some sort of natural disaster.
That's not the way things work elsewhere in the world. Like in Turkey, for example. Friday night, as a great portion of the world was tuning into the news to get updates on the massacre du jour in France, breaking news told us that factions of the Turkish military was staging a coup while their president was on holiday. The eighty-four victims of the Nice truck killing were suddenly upstaged by the one hundred sixty-one dead as tanks blocked bridges and the sky was filled with combat aircraft, jets, helicopters and bullets. Shots fired in anger, and in attempt to claim the government by force, as opposed to the democratic elections that brought President Erdogan into power fourteen years ago. When the smoke cleared, and the sun came up, the putsch was over. The coup had failed. Order, or what resembles order after a night of chaos, returned.
Which is to say: If you are having trouble deciding whether or not to vote in this year's election, because the choices are so bleak, consider the alternatives.

Monday, July 18, 2016


I can remember when hijacking a plane to Cuba was a meme. This is before there were such things as memes. This was a time when hijacking a plane was even played for laugh on TV shows. We didn't call the desperate bad guys who committed this crime terrorists. At that time, we were still somewhat amused by the idea that one bad guy could reroute air traffic at gunpoint.
Thirty years ago, the idea of victims of hijacking being anything but inconvenienced was hard to frame. Pan Am Flight 73 may have changed that. Suddenly, we started talking about "survivors." No more free trips to Havana. It wasn't a question about "when" you would reach your destination, but "if."
Then there was September 11, 2001. Terrorist demands were no longer the currency. No money. No hostage exchange. No calls for the release of political prisoners. Just carnage. Political statements were being made via body count. In one day, box cutters and jet aircraft became weapons. Not long after that, shoes and underwear became potential threats. Air travel was changed forever. Life in the United States changed in the form of concrete barriers and metal detectors and the Patriot Act. The price of freedom was long lines and more questions.
Before that, however, there was Timothy McVeigh. He took a rental truck full of fertilizer and parked it in front of the federal building on April 19, 1995. He lit a fuse and blew it up, taking the lives of one hundred sixty non-combatants, including nineteen children in a daycare center located inside that building. Ryder trucks were now on the anti-terror watch list. Maybe they could have taken a hint from the rental van that was used to try and blow up the World Trade Center back in 1993, but no one wants to have to go through a security check to rent a U-Haul.
The tragedy in Nice this past Thursday will most certainly cement any and all concerns and fears people have about trucks and terrorism. Eighty-four dead. Yes, the driver carried a pistol, but he didn't need it. It didn't save him. The truck did all its terrible damage. It didn't need to explode. Twenty-five tons moving at thirty miles an hour can do a horrible amount of damage. There are a lot of trucks out there.
Be careful.