No Man Is an Island, But Sometimes He Should Be

The restaurant is nice, too nice, really. The table cloth is starched and the portions are tiny. The staff is well spoken and the service exceptional. I'm very familiar with such surroundings yet never quite comfortable. It's the kind of place I've spent too much time in as an employee and very little as a customer.

After a nice dinner I found myself in for quite a shock, my own fault really, for having failed to anticipate. Working so long in this industry, I always used the staff toilet, the sterile cubicle by the back door and never the palatial, sharply decorated customer facilities. And what did I find there that raised my ire? I found a man standing the the restroom waiting to attend me. Don't misunderstand, he was a fine fellow, polite, well spoken, amicable, competent. He ran the water for me, offered me a towel and cologne. I'm sure he's exactly the kind of person one would want doing these sorts of things. Except, I don't want anyone doing these sorts of things at all.

I don't trust bathroom valets.

I don't mean the individual people that valet in bathrooms and I don't mean the profession, itself.

I mean I don't trust the cultural impetus that says we should have valets in our bathrooms. It is to each person to be an autonomous being and to make there own way in the world. Ergo, there are some things that each and every person who is able should have to do for themselves. Making one's toilet is at the very top of the list. Moreover, these are activities in which I do not feel comfortable being offered assistance.

I don't trust the people that want to be waited upon in the bathroom. It's fine to have someone else cook and bring you your food, make your coffee, wash your clothes, mow your lawn, pump your gas and the like. It is perfectly reasonable if one is too busy, lacks the relevant skills or simply chooses to pay someone else to perform these tasks. In the bathroom, though, we should draw a line. What person feels that they are so important or so entitled to luxury that they cannot be troubled to turn on a faucet or to dry their own hands after taking a piss?

I don't like that presumption. More than that, I don't like going somewhere and having it presumed that I might make that presumption. I like it even less when I do go to such a place and want to wash my own hands I'm somehow considered out of line for wanting to perform my bodily functions and the requisite cleaning in private.

I admit that I'm not all that classy a guy but that I can fake it for a few hours at a time. If this is what upper-crust is supposed to be, I'll just have pizza.


The Long WInter's Nap

I have some trepidation about winter and spring holidays. Too much of this part of the year has been rent and wrought with heartache and loss for these months to be anything but sorrowful and bittersweet.

We buried my grandfather on Christmas eve.

I am reminded of my first lover and first betrayer on her birthday: Christmas day.

I faced my first bullet on new years' eve.

I nearly lost my leg the first week of February.

My best friend from my college years passed away this Valentines' gone.

There is something deep an ominous in the coming and going of winter. There is something eternal kept in the souls of those that passed in the dark season. The cold makes the difficult memories all that harder to salve. The nights are long and the things that try our souls seem so much more immediate.

That said, it is still the time of gifts, trees, feasts and family. It is the one moment in all the year when everyone agrees on what is important and that thing is not profit, not career, not sports, not politics, not any half-designed victory but rather the immediacy of kin, kinfolk, the giddy joy of children, the touch of a lover in cold nights, the roll of a full-feasted belly and the rememberence of times past.

This time of year will never be easy for me, but that does not at all diminish it's meaning.

To the boys of the NYPD choir, still singin' 'Galway Bay.'

Happy Xmas. Brightest Blessings.


Shelter'd Under Paper

I was four and I had stumbled into my father's workshop. My father was a puppeteer, a master of wood and silk and string. I had seen all of his shows, the dance of shapes and styles, the characters of mâché and feathers come to life. Now, I was in the room where the dancing had stopped.

My mother was mortified. She had heard anecdotes about children who had been scarred by encountering such a sight, friends and animate educators dangling, motionless, lifeless, powerless from hooks upon the wall. She had heard of children damaged for life, concepts of life and death, of reality and fiction trounced, compromised by a casual stroll into a puppeteer's work space.

In fear for my future sanity, she made my father take each one down and show it to me. The Dogon-inspired puppets he turned inside out so that I could see the control rod and the slot for the operator's arm. The rod puppets he would hold low and manipulate so that I could clearly see him animating the head and arms. The more complex characters with machinery of his own design he carefully dis-assembled and demonstrated. Over the next week he had me sit with him as he carved, stitched, painted and practiced with an entirely new creation.

I'm told that, when some people meet me for the first time, they experience a sort of disconnect, a feeling that I am not of the same culture as they are, as if I were born in some far-flung and alien land but had no accent. I understand this feeling; I simply do not share the concerns of most mundane people. I'm not interested in the same things. I don't approach the world the same way. Perhaps this is part of why.

When I was very young I rarely had a crib. I slept in road crates as my parents' company performed. My mother never worried about bumps and bruises as I played pop-warner sports nor that I would be bullied on the playground. Rather, she worried that our livelihood would become a toddler's house of horrors. Others had fathers that would play catch with them when their friends weren't around. I had a father that could conjure them from scraps of wood and cloth.

So, yes, I imagine I do seem a bit different, but at least I'm not emotionally scarred.


Ain't the Kind of Place to Raise Your Kids

Imagine that you were asked to go to Mars. Suppose NASA came to you and said that you are uniquely qualified to join the first colonization mission to the red planet. You will be compensated financially. You will receive all the training required. The work expected of you is rewarding; it interests you and is compatible with your current skill set. Simply, it's an all around good gig.

There's just one catch; it's a one way trip. The mission is for colonization, not exploration. You are creating a permanent toe hold in space. You will grow old and die there. You will be buried in rust-colored soil.

Would you still go?

Lately I've been meditating on the spirit of adventure. What makes someone break an aviation record, ski across the arctic, plumb the depths of the oceans, summit the word's highest mountains or crawl to the depths of the planet's interior? More mundanely, what makes people hike the Appalachian Trail, cross the continent by motorcycle or train as a pilot? For that matter, what makes me do What I Do?

There is something momentous in these people, the trail blazers, the consummate adventurers. There's a sliver of it in us more prosaic picaroons. But, I don't know what it is. It might be an insatiable curiosity, a burning need to explore, a perpetual boredom, an addiction to experience or a pathological disdain for all things average. It's probably these things and many others combined in differing measure in each person.

Whatever it is, most people don't have it. When asked the above question most people say no. A large fraction say a vociferous no, frightened, unsettled by the very idea. When offered the opportunity to do what no one has done, to go where no one has gone, to do do anything outside their narrow band of experience, to do something incredible, the overriding bulk of humanity would rather just stay home.

Where is the spirit that pushed us out of Mesopotamia, across continents and oceans, to the furthest reaches of the Earth, the highest mountains, the driest deserts, the densest forests? What happened to climbing the mountain just because it's there? Where is the drive that put us on the moon? I used to think that it lived deep in the heart of each person, waiting to be awoken, but I don't believe that anymore.

Maybe I've been watching too much Discovery Channel and spending too much time on TED.com. Perhaps I'm a little too enamored with Richard Branson and Bear Grylls. Maybe I've just reached the stage in life where I have to watch all of my old friends surrender their dreams and abandon their ambitions to the harsh expectations of middle-class upbringing.

What's so seductive about security?

People need more adventure. The soul craves peril and the spirit needs experience. For the sake of the world's psychic wellbeing, everyone needs to get out and do something that excites them, amazes them, scares them. And I mean real exploits, not manufactured stunts. Weekend rafting, manicured campsites and tandem skydives don't cut it. We should live in a world full of Shackletons, Hillarys and Yeagers. We should live in a world of people that, when asked the above question, would all say yes.

So, what would you say?


My (Old) Problem with the Coming (Last) Election

I was trawling my old drafts the other day when I came across this. I never posted it because, sometime in October of '08 I started getting a little optimistic.

If any of my fellow progressives are of the opinion that this November's electoral contest and presumed Democratic victory are going to change anything, allow me to disabuse you of that notion. Neither Clinton nor Obama, once in office, will do anything to curb the the unchecked power of the executive branch that has been established over the last seven years. The constitution will remain in torn bits upon the floor no matter who is elected and no one is going to reach for the tape.

There will be pretenses, surely, but nothing with the weight and permanence that the situation demands. We might see a much-touted executive order vowing a certain mode of presidential behavior, one that does not carry the force of legislation and that could be rescinded quietly if it were ever to get in the way of a party's agenda. There's sure to be some words about temporarily retaining such privileges to more easily undo the damage of the previous administration and thus, no change. All we can really hope for is that the new guy or gal won't be as terrible as the last one.

This is the legacy of the W years. Neither major party is going to give up this expanded executive power when it's their guy in the round room. The nonchalance with which the Republican party abused it's power only becomes an excuse for the Democrats to do the same. The public is going to have to be much more vocal about making its will known if we still want to have a country in another generation.

I should have trusted myself and posted this when it was relevant.


'Tis Better to Reign in Hell

"First, I want to say that the food was excellent," he said, slurring a bit. That's a good thing for a restaurant manager to hear. The fact that it was preceded by a "first" is bothering me a bit, though. I keep listening. "But at our table we've got three corporate attorneys, two brokers and a vice president for a fortune five hundred and I've got to say that the service was piss poor."

Now, this bothers me. I manage a restaurant* so it behooves me to make people happy. Poor service makes customers unhappy. What the professions of six of the eleven people at the table matter, I don't know, but displeased customers are displeased customers.

The complainer, who I should reiterate was a bit tipsy went on for a bit, alternated between compliments on the decor, and the food and laments on the service. Most of his complaints seemed to revolve around my server not being impressed enough by this customer's station in life. He used the worlds "Two million dollars in annual income," at least four times in five minutes.

I comped him a beer, carefully apologized without ever using the word "sorry" and then let him stagger off to contemplate his wealth. Again, leaving a customer unhappy is a bad business move but what on earth makes this man think that bragging about his party's income is going lend more urgency to his complaint?

I understand mentioning the possibility that, if pleased, he might spend a good sum of money here; that makes sense, But, to allude to your financial standing as often as you blink makes me think that you might not be the caliber of person that I want in my restaurant.

*I wrote this several years ago whilst in the midst of my old career.


A Recent Conversation on Facebook

White Lightning: When did "compromise" become such a dirty word? I was under the impression that that was the idea of our system of government. There are politicians on both sides of the aisle who are engaging in a war to advance their own agendas, and the only casualties will be the American people. I hope their constituents remember that. Also, I think puppies are cute. That's right, I said it!

Tall Knife Guy:The only thing better than puppies are American puppies who are willing to put aside their differences and work together for the benefit of our nation.

White Lightning: I think my voting record will show that I've always been pro-puppy. Even when it wasn't popular in mainstream politics.

Tall Knife Guy: I seem to remember a time when you were leaning towards a more pro-kitten agenda, but I like that you have been able look past the partisan politics on both sides.

Thomas: It's also important to remember that we are not just a nation of Puppies and Kittens but also a nation of Fish, Reptiles, Exotic Birds and Pot-Bellied Pigs and that they are Americans just as much as any other non-biped.

Tall Knife Guy: Cripes, can't we have have one political discussion without dragging all the minorities into it?

White Lightning: There may have been a couple of occasions, during college, where I was in the vicinity of a kitten and I may have stated that the kitten did not smell overly offensive, but I did not inhale! As for non-bipeds, I welcome them to our culture, as well as they follow the legal immigration process. Or if they complete two years of college or serve in our military.

Thomas: Then, Sir, do you support a repeal on the NLNL (No Lizards with No Legs) policy that has been the rule of law in the Armed Services for more than twenty years? Is it not time that Serpentine Americans be allowed to serve openly, with pride and dignity?

White Lightning: A good question, an important question. I believe NLNL is an outdated policy and should be repealed. However, in a time of war, when so many reptiles will have to serve so closely together, I feel it is not the time. I feel many Lizards will be weary of having their legs ogled by Serpentine Americans, whether those fears are valid or not, and that could have a negative effect on morale.

Tall Knife Guy: This is getting a little too left wing up in here.

Thomas: Which brings us to the very important topic of the Avians with Asymmetrical Disabilities Act.

Such was my day.


Your Real Daddy Was Dyin'... But I'm Glad We Talked

Is it not enough to love the world?

Is it not enough to be content with one's self?

Can we not subsist on our own dreams and the manifestations, for better or otherwise, thereof?

We have been given, told, sold and shouldered with a lifetime of middle-class, white-bread, generation-old expectations that tell us that we should want the things that our parents and grandparents had.

The truth is that our grandparents were simply glad to have survived the first half of the last century and our parents were so entitled as a generation to never know to want something else.

Mine is the first generation never to be told that we will do better than the generation before, that we cannot expect to make more money or live in a better world than that left by our fathers. We have inherited responsibility, expectation and guilt without being given promise or purpose and we've not bothered to speak up.

We need not struggle for salary and success. We should not have to prove ourselves to a power structure that keeps aging but not dying. Our desires, our ambitions, our plans should not have to be passed over and approved, but we keep finding that this is the case, nonetheless.

By virtue of this moment in history, the time when the largest, vainest and most entitled generation ever born, the generation that birthed us, grows old in step with constantly extending possibilities of human life expectancy, we will be left with nothing but scraps and vinegar from a table that should long have been abandoned, cleared and reset.

Why do we not get the chance to remake the world in our own image? Why do we not get to define the terms of our own adulthood? Why does the moment when we assume never seem to come to pass, not in terms of authority, not in terms of creativity, not in terms of generational significance? Why do we always seem to answer to those older or younger than we but never to ourselves?

We are the generation that will never inherit and we should be much more pissed about it than we are.


Sweep the Leg, Johnny

Several times a year, some major league athlete/asshole does something profoundly stupid and socially unacceptable. They issue a public apology, give an interview with a major sports news* outlet about how the situation got away from them. They get suspended or fined by the league and they get some sort of token legal punishment. There are several hundred hours of commentary on the twenty-four hour networks but that's pretty much all there is to it: some chit-chat and a slap on the wrist.

Notice, though, that these overgrown teenagers never really get hurt, not in the literal sense. Commercial athletes are, by virtue of their profession, in very good physical condition, highly confident and of larger than average stature. Generally speaking, they're not the kind of guys that get their asses kicked in public.

For a few months during my junior year in college, I bounced at one of the toughest clubs Atlanta. (This connects, I promise). Most such establishments hire steely-faced men better than six and a half feet tall to marshal their patrons. This makes a certain degree of sense. Your run-of-the-mill bouncer type is intimidating and can, without being overtly hostile, get what he wants out of people simply by his imposing size and threatening glare. This works very well if you need to inspire fear in belligerent frat boys. However, if you club is full of disenfranchised skinheads, bar-wrecking urban motorcycle gangs and South American futball hooligans**, then you have a plurality of your clientèle that is constantly itching for a fight and that probably knows how to win one. Simply being big and mean-looking doesn't cut it with any these people.

During my time at the club our security staff consisted of one former prison guard, one Marine reservist, three former cops, five discharged Army Rangers, and five part-timers that all had day jobs as martial arts instructors. One of those part-timers was a one-hundred and five pound woman named Liz who I once saw shatter a cinder block with her bare hands. Then there were a half dozen college kids like me that were all aspiring bartenders or DJ's. Most of us didn't know how to handle people when we first got hired but the "fifteen brass men" brought us up to snuff pretty quickly. Nobody on our security staff was taller than 6'1" and we were very good at marshaling an inherently violent clientèle, even when outnumbered.

Well-trained bouncers can easily marshal a person, even a person that outstrips them in size, without causing injury. That is unless the person being marshaled is gunning for an all out fight and is sober enough to actually have one. That usually ends with the instigator taking a ride to the hospital.

What happens if one of these pampered tough guys from the world of multi-million dollar emotional children were to get in a row with someone like one of my old colleagues. What if they got in a fight with someone with the experience and wherewithal to competently fight back? Suppose a star NFL quarterback were to swing a broken bottle at my old friend Liz and ended up with a shattered kneecap, a blown-out elbow and thirteen fewer degrees of peripheral vision than when he arrived? Exactly this did happen to a pipe fitter. He spent six months in jail for assault and, when he tried to sue the club, he lost and was successfully counter-sued.

I doubt it would come out that way if the pipe fitter had been a nationally famous athlete. Sure, he might have spent the night in jail or in the hospital but he wouldn't have actually done time. His suit probably would have been successful and, though his athletic prowess is probably insured through Lloyd's of London, he'd be awarded a million dollar judgment against a working class woman who was only defending herself against a man thrice her size.

People wonder why I hate sports so much.

*"Sports News" might be an oxymoron.

** This was on Sundays, Thursdays and Saturdays, respectively. Ska night, 80's night and Brazilian Carnival night.


The Food is Terrible and the Portions are so Small

"I'm sorry, but we just don't have anything for you."

Those are hard words for a waiter, someone who makes their living by providing for others and by winning their good graces. Unfortunately, it was what I had to say.

This family was of middle-eastern descent. The mother wore a hijab. They asked polite but in-depth questions about how our kitchen was kept. They were clearly Muslim and devoutly so.

"Do you take issue with food that is fried in the same oil or cooked on the same surface as haram?" I asked.

"No, we can't have any of that, I'm afraid," the father said.

"Then, I'm sorry, but we don't have anything for you. The pork sandwich and the burgers are cooked on the same flat-top. The pork ribs and the steaks are cooked on the same grill. We cook the pork egg rolls in the same fryer as the chicken and everything else. You could, perhaps, have a green salad, but I have to warn you that we have chopped bacon on that kitchen station. I'm really very sorry."

The father started to get up and his family followed suit. He shook my hand and said, "No, don't be sorry at all. Thank you for letting us know. I'm sorry we can't eat at your restaurant."

They left smiling, albeit without having a meal.

The general manager saw them leaving and pulled me aside. I explained what had happened and he took me back to the office and admonished me never to do such a thing again, indeed that I would be written up if I ever told customers to leave the restaurant.

Their religious proclivities do not matter, he told me. If I hadn't told them the configuration of our kitchen, they would never have known. They're being overly sensitive and I'm costing the store money by coddling them. According to him, we're there to make a profit and not to cater to "every religious fringe crackpot that walks into the place."

I'm glad I don't work there anymore.


Man is a Giddy Thing

I don't often get startled by a twist of phrase, particularly not by song lyrics. I'm too widely read and too jaded. Once in a while, though something leaps out in a moment of half-paid attention.

Love it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
There is a design, an alignment, a cry
Of my heart to see,
The beauty of love as it was made to be

From Mumford & Son's Sigh No More.


In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle

I cannot sleep tonight.

I normally sleep like a narcoleptic rock that's recently had a concussion. I fall asleep after only a few minutes and you'd have better luck rousing Kurt Cobain that you would have waking me.
I can sleep through storms, traffic noise, neighbors' parties and street concerts.

One Saturday, when I was in high school, my stepfather suffered a mild heart attack just after dawn. My mother woke me for the fifteen seconds it took her to tell me what was happening, that I shouldn't worry and that she would call me after the ER doctor had seen him. She tells me that I asked if I should come with them and that she said no, though I honestly don't remember the conversation because I was really still asleep. I then proceeded to sleep through an ambulance and three fire trucks, with lights and sirens on, pulling up to the house, a half dozen EMTs tramping through the house, dragging a stretcher up the stairs to my parents' bedroom and hauling my stepfather out through the garage. I slept through my mother calling three times from the hospital. I only woke up four hours later when my parents returned home and actually shook me to wake me up and tell me that everything was okay. I'm not heartless; I just sleep that deeply.

I own four alarm clocks. It takes that much to wake me up.

And I cannot fathom why I can't sleep a wink tonight. Nothing's on my mind. I've no deadline looming and no personal crisis to contain. I'm good for money and pretty much happy all around. Things have been going pretty well for me lately, save a bump on my bike but I'll heal from that in short order. I got plenty of sleep the last few days and I'm not hugely off my circadian rhythms but here I am looking dawn in the eye on a one cup of coffee day and I'm not even drowsy.



The Secret to Low Budget Film Making

Actually, the two secrets.

I've worked on a number of small shows, from the simply low-budget where I was paid on the lowest tier union contract, the one specifically crafted for producers that don't have any money to throw around, to micro-budget shows where I was paid less than I would make frothing cappuccinos, to all deferment shows where I was paid nothing at all.

Some of these productions ran like well oiled machines; some were agony for producers and crew alike and this had next to nothing to do with available funds. Despite all the warnings from college professors and indie rags about the difficulty of getting a good crew for little money, it's not actually that hard provided you do two things right.

Film crews, even crews full of seasoned professionals, will strip naked in the winter and crawl miles over dirty broken glass* provided you remember two things: food and paychecks.

Simply, you must feed your staff. You must feed them tasty, hot, professionally prepared, abundant food and you must feed it to them on time, everyday. No matter how small your show, find someone with experience on big movies and have them handle your catering and your craft service. Do not be afraid to spend and even waste money in this regard. If it comes to a choice between catered meals and a second camera, or a fancy crane or an expensive location, put your cash into the chow. It will save you money and time in the long run.

The Crafty table must be stocked with hot coffee, bottled water and an abundance of beverages and snacks every minute of the working day. Lunch must have several hot choices, as well as salad, side-dishes and other accouterments and there must be enough of it so that the entire crew can eat as much as they want without risk of running out. Your crew must be able to sit down somewhere warm and dry and have a full thirty minutes to eat. Lunch must be served six hours from general crew-call time and not one second later. Do not serve pizza. If your shooting day goes more than twelve hours, you need to serve an additional meal. You should also serve breakfast if you can afford it.

The reasons for this are two fold, first, food keeps your crew well-fueled. Set work is physically grueling, emotionally taxing and the hours are horrendous. Making sure that your people stay fed, caffeinated and hydrated ensures that they will have the energy and the will to carry out your vision. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it makes your crew feel valued. It is the most obvious, most visceral thing you can do to let them know that their hard work is appreciated. It goes a lot further than a pep talk or assurances of how great the finished movie is going to be.

If you have any real budget to speak of, you will have a professional crew that expects to get paid. Paychecks must be delivered on time and they must be correct to the penny. There is no wiggle room on this. While the popular conception of American film shows us a world of glitz, glamor and wealth, the truth is that most people in the industry are working-class mercenaries that are doing it to make a living. They are probably taking a steep pay cut and enduring a major headache by working on your project. You have to show that you respect their experience and participation by paying them the correct amount and paying it to them when you say you are going to.

If your project is truly micro-budget and you are either paying your people a token stipend, (I did a show for $20 a day, which worked out to about $1.40 and hour), or if your crew is entirely volunteer, you must make up the difference in pay with food. The less your people are getting paid, the better you have to feed them.

This post is probably a let down to those of you that googled independent film making looking for tips on how to get your movie picked up for distribution or how to get slots at prestigious festivals. The truth is, how well your crew is treated, how much faith they have in you as a producer or director and how committed they are to your project, affects the entire endeavor. Keeping your crew on task and moving efficiently by force of will alone is going to burn you out, turn you off to your own work and make you unpopular with the very people that should be most behind you. Keep your people full and properly compensated and your production will be a thousand times easier.

Heed my advice, food and paychecks. Everything else will take care of itself. Here endeth the lesson.

*This is a metaphor any hyperbole. Do not actually ask a crew to do this.


A Quarrel, Between the Present and the Past

The woman at the table beside me is fairly old. I'd peg her for mid to late eighties, though in the the new millennium, one can hardly tell. Some people seem elderly at sixty-five and some are vital and young as they approach a century. I only guess her age thus because she's sitting with a sixty-something woman with all the trappings of an aging baby boomer who keeps calling her 'Mom.'*

The younger woman is sensibly dressed in a style quite fashionable and appropriate to her age. She has a short-chopped hairstyle that is business-presentable but will morph into old-lady-puff inside of a decade. She has all the speech patterns, mannerisms, posture and bearings of level-headedness and passing authority. It's easy to imagine her as a department administrator, a case supervisor or an assistant principal; she's someone's boss, but no one important. She's been nursing the same glass of white wine for more than an hour now.

The mother, though, is something else entirely. Gruff in manner, abrupt in mannerism, she sports a beaten up mens' work shirt, loudly-colored sneakers and she curses constantly. She's dyed her hair dark and wears it long despite her obvious sheaves of years. She entered with a banjo slung over her shoulder and, from hearing her talk, she's in a bluegrass band and has been for most of her life. She's something of a rascal and it's hard to imagine her as anything sensible at all. She's finished four Amstels since arriving.

Though with affection, the younger woman treats her mother with some obvious distance and more than a little impatience as if she were senile, which she clearly is not, or perhaps an unruly child that has chosen to behave for an afternoon. The mother chafes at her daughters admonition. They see eye to eye on nothing at all and are used to this immutability.

I am forced to wonder how one such woman could produce another that is so clearly different. Perhaps the daughter was raised by her father or by her grandparents. Maybe being straight-laced and professionally sensible is a daughter's way of rebelling against a libertine mother. She could be adopted.

I have heard that we are all doomed to become our parents but, in this case at least, that is not the case.

*This particular utterance, "mom," though I've been hearing it all my life, has always sounded a bit awkward to me. Having spend my earliest years in England, I call my mother "Mum," despite having lost all the other apprehensions of an English accent. My American relatives never called my maternal grandmother, the Matriarch of that side of the family, 'mom' either. She was always "Ma" to her four children. To me, "mom" is an alien word spoken by others to others.


And Some Days...

...you find yourself on an unswept porch wondering how many ducks the devil would take into a bar. You'd slept into the afternoon, waking just in time to see the dapple light of decaying afternoon in autumn. You take a long walk only to find that you're destination won't see you until Monday and you resolutely decide not to worry about winter peering ominously at you from the other side of November. For just one moment, you sip tea and wonder if it might all turn out okay and then wonder why these moments seem to happen less and less as each year goes by.


I Would Walk Five Hundred More

I wrote this a few years ago after an accident that nearly cost me my leg but never posted it. I guess it's time.

"Can I help you?" I keep getting asked.

Not at a store or in a restaurant or some other establishment where "Can I help you?" indicates a culturally sanctioned business arrangement. No, people keep saying this to me because I look like I actually require assistance.

I banged up my leg a week or so ago. It's all my own fault and I had it coming. I'll heal up pretty well, save for a scar, in another week or so. In the meantime, my knee is badly swollen, making walking awkward and a bit uncomfortable. This being the case I am temporarily using a cane and ambulating with an inelegant gait. This has led a number of people, mostly strangers but even a few friends, to exercise their limited samaritanism and offer to help me move about, again and again and again.

It's not that I don't appreciate the good will of those around me. I do, in fact, appreciate it very much. I'm privileged to have so many people about me on a daily basis that are willing to concern and even inconvenience themselves on my behalf. On the other hand, I'm injured, not crippled. I need to move about under my own power, without assistance, because I should be the one to deal with my own inadequacies and I am the one who should deal with the consequences of my own actions.

The big issue, really, is one of pride. Permanently injured or not, to suggest that one is not capable, as offering help does, bruises the ego. It is important, to me at least, that everyone understand that I am not less of a person because I walk with a different stride or because I need to pace in a circle every so often to keep my knee from stiffening. It is vitally important that I prove to others and to myself that my injury, however temporary, can't keep me down. It hurts, just a bit, when someone insinuates, even unintentionally, that I may be less than who I was two weeks ago.

It's not that I'm ungrateful. It's that goodwill doesn't always take the form of charity. Sometimes goodwill needs to be faith in someone one's ability to overcome.


Half the Man I Used to Be

We have been hearing for years about how society's expectations of women are unreasonable. And, they are. Women should not be expected to be the nymphomaniacal, perfectly understanding, macho, waifs they are often portrayed as in normative popular media, both mother and lover and somehow perfectly not either. Women, as a group, have every right to disapprove of and rebel against stereotypes and I applaud every such effort.

I hear very little said, however, about the unfair expectations regarding men. While the female image of perfection is often unattainable and therefore unreasonable it is exactly that, an image. The female ideal of perfection is, in large part, a physical ideal.

The expectations of men, however, are pervasive and invasive, reaching into every aspect of a man's life. Moreover, these expectations, emotionally, intellectually, professionally, financially and spiritually are every bit as unreasonable as those expectations heaped upon women. A man is expected to be a feminist and respect the equality of women in all things but is still put upon to open doors and buy drinks. Men are supposed to chagrin the objectification of women, to be unconcerned with sex, but are still expected to be world class lovers. Men are expected to be sensitive and open to the needs of others, compassionate and understanding, but men are also expected to keep a level head and never need such understanding themselves. Men are to be sensitive and understanding while never complaining about being the butt of jokes about body hair, toilet seats and shaving scum.

A man is required to suppress violent and competitive urges but is still expected to defend his mate and his family and be professionally and financially successful. Additionally, a man is charged with the second hand success of his mate. A powerful male lawyer, for instance, can date or marry a waitress and her looks or her charm are enough justification. On the other hand, an equally as successful woman does not have leeway to do the reciprocal as the man's level of success reflects upon her. Women can take credit, by proxy, for the success of their husbands but men cannot do the same regarding the success of their wives.

Men are supposed to express their emotions, unless those emotions involve fear or uncertainty. Men are to be tender and gentle but are never to cry and are still the ones expected to go downstairs with a golf club in hand if there is a burglar in the house. Men are to be rugged but metro, carefree but dependable, brave but sensitive, uncompromising but understanding.

On top of all this, the male body image is changing and, much like that of women, is becoming unattainable. We are now constantly barraged by pictures of swollen, abs, slab-like pecks and chiseled jaw lines. At some point in the last decade someone decided that it was no longer enough for a man to simply be healthy but that he had to be some sort of Greg Louganis - Marky Mark - LL Cool J - Adonis but was disallowed from being a workout obsessed muscle man, since that's just too macho.

I am not trying to make this a man versus woman argument. I confess that women probably have a tougher time of it. The fact remains that the expectations of modern manhood are hardly effortless.

What I really want to know is why, in a world that constantly complains about its own superficiality, is my gender supposed to manifest such a plethora of irreconcilable traits, being provider, victor, father, friend, defender, confidant, brother, teacher, therapist and soldier when we still cannot be relied upon to put the toilet seat down?

At least that last one I have mastered. Damn I'm a badass.


The Queen of Hearts is Always Your Best Bet

The couple at the table beside me at the coffee shop is on a date, by all accounts of eavesdropping, a first or a second date. They're both decently good looking people, educated, articulate and they seem to be getting along famously.

But, oh-sweet-Jesus does everyone sound like such gits on a first date? How do two obviously intelligent people go on at such length without saying anything of substance? They've been at it for an hour. Granted, they now have an exhaustive list of statistics about each other: place of birth, alma mater, names of siblings, professional history, favorite foods, sports teams of choice but what they haven't done is actually get to know one another. It's like they're both on the worst job interview of their lives, every word guarded, every statement tailored not to offend, every laugh deliberate.

They haven't even tried to challenge one another. Neither of them have said anything that might risk the other's umbrage. They've not exposed the tiniest parts of their soft emotional underbelly, so to speak. And, when crafting a relationship, this is something a couple should do right out the gate. Sure, one risks being wounded, risks spreading one's secrets but is that not better than spending a dozen more dates or the balance of one's lifetime with someone unrealized as a stranger?

The worst part is, they're probably going to go out again and again and again. They'll probably end up married and buried without ever having unpacked each other's hearts.

I can't take it. I'm putting my headphones on now.

submit to reddit


You've Got to Have a Little Grace

At the coffee shop today the radio went from the Los Lobos' 1980's remake of "LaBamba" right into the Weird Al Yankovic classic, "Lasagna."

I was transported back to my childhood, to the two or three times each year when my mother and I would drive from Atlanta to Milwaukee. I was in junior high school and had a real penchant for grunge and heavy metal, before someone decided that alternative rock and hair rock were antithetical. My mother, an ardent fan of Carol Carpenter and Celine Dion, and I had the requisite disagreements about music on the sixteen hour drive.

Ultimately the only things were could agree on were Weird Al and Jim Croce. This music has, in the years since become, a point of bonding between us and remains the only non-seasonal songs to which my mother and I both know the words.

As it turned out, the barrista had a nearly identical childhood experience. Curious.

submit to reddit


The Imperfect Storm

They told me there was going to be a storm tonight. While I'll admit that there was a bit of thunder, if that's what passes for a storm these days, then I'm disappointed.

I've had a bit of a love affair with storms since I lived in the midwest as a child, since just after I was old enough to stop being afraid of them. I'm not interested in storms in any scientific sense. My fascination is purely aesthetic. I love the flash and the rumble, the trickle and the splash. I like to sit just outside the reach of the rain and simply experience the grumblings of he atmosphere. That's when I get my best thinking done.

The meteorological community promised me an "autumn storm." I got medium showers with thunder no louder than my stomach when I skip breakfast.

Somebody owes me some weather

submit to reddit


Autumn and Discontent

I never used to check the weather. It didn't seem to matter. The sky would do what it did and there wasn't much to to be said or done about it. Then I took up movies and skydiving, two things that are often dependent on the machinations of the atmosphere.

I checked today, as I've taken to doing, and saw that, come Monday, the high won't break seventy degrees.

Summer is finally over. The sweltering, sweaty, sticky, sizzling, scalding, steaming, oppressive, torrid, energy sapping, soul crushing, unrelentingly hot Georgia summer is finally coming to an end.

I despise heat. Summer revolts me. Say what you like about baseball, barbecues or bikini's, I'll take the long dark winter. I feel slow in summertime. When I exit an air conditioned building the heat and humidity slap me like a pillowcase full of fresh ash. They hang about me like venomous cloud. Clothes cling. Blacktop softens. The very air gets lazy and stupid even as it ripples and rises.

Soon, though, I can let my front door hang open. I can cross the street without acquiring a slick of perspiration. I can put the top down on my car without the shoulder belt drawing a diagonal of sweat across my chest. I can stand outdoors without getting feverish. I can be comfortable without machinery.

Long pants, long sleeves, jackets, heavy blankets, mulled cider and lower electricity bills. I can't wait.

submit to reddit


Empty Glasses, but a Tear-Filled Eye

I'm giddy today. I can't begin to tell you why but I'm just all sorts of smiles. Everything seems so jolly that I just want to laugh out loud. If I were to go to the movies I would have to see a comedy because I might laugh in a serious drama and make everyone think that I was a nutball and ruin their night out. If I'm out in public I need to have a book or the funny papers in front of me in case I chuckle then the folks around me won't assume I'm insane and laughing at nothing.

In truth, I am laughing at nothing. I'm laughing just because today seems like a good day to laugh.
There's no real reason for this. There's been no particular windfall that would make me feel this way it's just one of those days when it seems like everything is going to be okay.

I can only hope that I'll have more such days and that everyone else will as well.

submit to reddit


Got my Vaccination from a Phonograph Needle

I like what I like and I don't feel the need to justify myself to others.

I recently had some friends over for an evening of Full Contact Drinking Trivial Pursuit[TM]. Not content with the sounds of banter, question&answer and the aggressive guzzling of Miller Highlife, the Cham-pag-nay of beers, I plugged my MP3 player into the stereo and let the music play.

Now, I have eclectic taste in music. I don't mean that the way most college radio DJ's mean it: music so obscure and so unlistenable that, though varied in it's sonic stylings, only other college radio DJ's will acknowledge as music at all. I mean that I listen to a bit of just about everything from Boston Punk to German Industrial to American Classic Rock to Hair Metal. I even listen to a bit of those three most reviled genres, Country, Rap and Top 40.

While several of the gathered friends complimented me on the depth and range of my aural offerings, one or two were so profoundly offended by my choice of songs that they could not help but repudiate me for having, "the most abysmal taste in music" they'd ever heard. They weren't even college DJ's.

Now, I'm not going to besmirch my friends' taste, though one listens exclusively to 80's era punk and classic metal and the other prefers experimental trance, but "most abysmal taste in music"? Really?

The people who champion their own tastes as superior to another's are generally either cutting-edge early adopters of tomorrow's fashions or self-styled experts on the fashions of yesteryear. One group tends to be wrong more often then they are right but lack the memory or self-conciousness to ever admit it and the other has the benefit of history to inform them.

Sure, Disco was probably a bad idea but without it we wouldn't have modern club music. Hair Metal was pretty ridiculous even in it's own time but remember that it was the dominant template in American rock for more than a decade. Folk music gets popularly reinvented every decade or so only to be trashed in the interim lulls but that style and form keeps coming back, generation after generation. What so many aspiring taste makers never seem to realize is that whatever traits make a song or an artist popular, enjoyable or historically important are probably unrelated. Put another way, more people bought Ratt's Out of the Cellar than ever bought a Ramones' album. If they were to realize, they'd probably be pretty pissed.

But, what's it to them? We've only decided in the last generation that pop music is anything other than entertainment and then only because B'Boomers have pushed to historicize the music of their coming of age above others forms. While it's okay to say, "I hate this song, can we skip it?", it's quite another to say, "My largely arbitrary and generally fickle ascriptions of artistic value are superior to yours such that I question your judgment and moral capacity."

So, that said, I'm going to listen to Flogging Molly, Johnny Cash, VNV Nation, Aerosmith, Queen, TMBG, Dresden Dolls, Big&Rich, Depeche Mode, Carol King, Tupac, Patti Griffin and Kelly Klarkson in succession if it pleases me and I'm going to listen to them loudly and all the self-styled shepherds of acoustic propriety be damned.

submit to reddit


I Came Here for Forgiveness; I Came to Raise the Dead

My coffee shop closed.

I'm told that the owners had a drag-out with the landlord and decided to part ways. They're remodeling a space a few doors down with plans to reopen in the winter but that's not for months yet. So, the squat brick building where I've read, written and regaled so much these past five years sits dormant and I go elsewhere.

The new digs are okay. It doesn't have the art-house feel, the sense of careless disregard, the essence of happenstance that the other place had. The other spot was for the young and disaffected and for people who pretend so. It was staffed by tattoo'd twenty somethings that all had other plans. It had a wide facade and they often left the windows open so the air and the sounds of the thoroughfare could waft through. None of the shelves matched and they were constantly being rearranged in a vain attempt to make the place feel symmetrical. The food was terrible. The internet was slow and the whole place was strangely loud of spirit, even when it was completely silent.

This place, by comparison, has an air of responsibility to it. It feels every bit as deliberate as the old spot felt accidental. Everything is more closely planned. Everyone's tone is more hushed. Nobody smokes on the patio. The space is long and narrow, presenting only a sliver to the street. The doors seal tight to preserve the air conditioning. Everything is stacked neatly and even the chairs at the high-bar seem mis-matched on purpose. The staff is more presentable and much cheerier. It certainly feels cleaner in here.

Just as the other spot was full of artists aspiring to despondence, young floaters who spent more time eagerly expounding on their current projects than they ever spent working on them, this room is full of dutiful professionals and determined students, pecking at laptops, reading reports, studying textbooks in practiced silence. The customers around me at the old place all seemed, regardless of their numerical age, to all be younger than I. Here, they all seem older.

Are these two different places or are they two different life eras manifested in brick and mortar, in steamed milk and pastries, in roasted beans and flavored syrups? Is it only a city block that separates these two establishments or is it the divide between youth's dreams and adulthood's duties?

When I first started going to that, now vacant, coffee shop, I was different. I was still in college. I was eager, mean, expectant and terrified of the unknown future. I worked long hours at a job I hated because I didn't know what else to do with myself, because I'd not yet carved out a career. I dallied long hours at that coffee shop in impassioned discourse with other eager, mean, expectant and terrified twenty-somethings about all the books we'd yet to write, the movies we'd yet to shoot, the worlds we'd yet to conquer.

Five years on, I find that I'm one of those dutiful professionals pecking away on a laptop, just as eager and expectant but not quite as mean. I find that I'm still terrified of the future though not for the unknown of it but because I have witnessed the consequences of capricious and fickle fate. My words are softer and fewer and I find that I talk as much about things I am doing and things I have done as those that I am going to do.

It is perhaps best that that place closed and left me caffeine-homeless. Such transitions force introspection and punctuate the chapters of one's life. I don't quite know when I changed but I know that I did and it took the shuttering of that business to make me realize. When the old place reopens, I will go. But, will I stay? I find I've come to like this new place, the orderliness of it, the age, the practiced silence. Five years ago I would have hated it but that was five years ago.

Also, this place serves beer.

submit to reddit


It's Just the Way the Medication Makes Me.

Here's to crazy.

Here's to the Midtown Majorette. Here's to that lone lunatic who's idea of fun is to dress up in a hybrid tutu/drum major's uniform, hoist a baton and prance about piedmont park tooting his whistle and marching in time to a beat no one else takes the time to hear.

Here's to the old guy on Ponce with the bicycle shorts and the massive schlong.

Here's to New York's Naked Cowboy.

Here's to street preachers and guys on cartoon bicycles. Here's to the end is nigh types and buskers and the cross dressers that don't shave their legs.

Here's to all of you that make life that bit more colorful, even if you are all a bunch of nutters.


submit to reddit


The Fundamental Lessons of Skydiving pt 5

Bad things will happen and you must be ready for them.

A cutaway is inevitable. While there are a number of things you can do to minimize the likelihood of a malfunction, it cannot be avoided altogether. No matter how good your packing technique or how flawless your body position, one day you will experience a major malfunction and you will have to ride your reserve. It is only by internalizing this unavoidable eventuality and by learning to tell a nuisance from an outright equipment failure that you can ensure your survival.

Moreover, understanding that bad things will happen also means preparing for the consequences. Cutting away usually means losing your main canopy and the hundreds or thousands of dollars you've invested in it. Cutting away also has a set of risks that must be evaluated whilst dangling from a malfunctioning parachute: altitude, decent speed, possible canopy entanglement, landing pattern, RSL or no RSL*? These are all factors that have to be considered and rehearsed in detail before you get on the plane.

Wise, measured preparation and swift action under pressure are all that separate a reminder of your mortality from a demonstration of it.

* A Reserve Static Line and it's sibling, the SkyHook, are safety devices built into some parachutes that automatically deploy the reserve canopy in the event that the main canopy is jettisoned. There are good reasons to have them and good reasons not to.

submit to reddit


A Suicide Rap - We've Gotta Get out While We're Young

This is a strange day.

It seems that I've said this on each of my last several shows but this gig isn't closing out as usual.

I've gotten used to being that last man out, that single soul left to shut down the facility, to send back the office rentals and to walk through with the landlord. There's something cathartic about it, about walking the ghostly halls once so abuzz with the clatter and cacophony of movie making. I like the spiritual punctuation of locking the door behind me, ending the project with the loose ends all tied, knowing that that chapter of my professional life has been proofread and sent to the archives of my career.

Times are good for film makers in Atlanta, though, and a new project from the same studio is moving into this space directly on our heels. Thus, I've not sent back the copiers or the furniture. I've not cleaned out the kitchen. I'm not going to lock the door behind me. All I'm doing is closing the vendor accounts, tidying the office and changing the sign on the door. On Monday a new Production department strolls in, takes over the vacated desks and resets the clock.

I'm left to float in the void of idleness, without a gig and bereft of the neat coda that normally concludes a job.

No complaints, though. The next job will come soon enough and I will be redeployed to the front lines of the celluloid campaign. I should enjoy the R&R while I have it.

Good gate. Moving on.

submit to reddit


And Some Days...

You find yourself among the musty stacks, wondering if such places ever change. You can't find a coffee shop that's still open, though you're napping on your feet. Someone tells you that they miss the insects from where they grew up and you find that old friends can still be who you thought they once were.

submit to reddit


The Fundamental Lessons of Skydiving pt 4

Stay humble.

Skydiving is the only sport of which I know in which the more experienced one is, the more likely one is to hurt one's self. This holds true even when the numbers are normalized for total number of jumps. Put another way, on any given skydive, a jumper with one thousand jumps is statistically more likely to be seriously injured or killed than a jumper with only fifty.

The reasons for this are myriad. Veteran jumpers fly smaller, faster, more aerobatic canopies. They attempt more ambitious dive flows. They deploy at lower altitudes, fly canopies in formation* and perform aggressive hook-turn landings at high speed.

Simply, their level of experience allows them to attempt more dangerous things. This is fine, provided the level of danger does not exceed the level of experience and provided the jumper does not come to assume that they are invincible.

The number one killer of skydivers is operator error. For that matter, the number one killer of people is operator error. Whether it's things that can kill you instantly, like driving too fast, mixing recreational chemicals and, yes, skydiving or things that can kill you slowly, like smoking, overeating and a job you hate, if you ever want to have the wisdom of old age, you have to know your limitations.

*We call this Canopy Relative Work (CReW). It is arguably the most dangerous discipline in skydiving and it might be the most badass thing on Earth.

submit to reddit


The Fundamental Lessons of Skydiving pt 3

If you ever stop being nervous, quit.

As I approach my seminal 100th jump, the jump widely considered to separate the casual jumper, the dabbler or the mid-life crisis thrillboy from serious skydivers, I am still consistently having butterflies on the ride to altitude. I know and have experienced how safe the equipment is. I am familiar with all the procedures and I am proficient in all the aspects of safe jumping but I can't shake that feeling in my gizzard each time the plane lifts off.

Recently, I approached the most experienced jumper I know and asked if this was normal.

"I always get butterflies on the ride up," he told me. "If you ever stop getting nervous, quit."

This man, who I consider something of a mentor, has fifty skydives for every one of mine. He has a master rigging certificate and an AFF Evaluator rating, two of the most difficult certifications in the sport. He's been jumping for longer than I have been alive, starting out with military surplus gear and borrowed football helmets in the mid-seventies. He still gets nervous on the climb to altitude.

His point was two-fold, first, that we do something that would be, if not for our equipment, our training and our wits, outright suicidal. When you stop worrying about the consequences of failure, you've begun to believe that those three things are infallible; they are not. Forgetting this can be fatal.

More broadly, though, anything worth doing should challenge you, thrill you and, yes, scare you. Trepidation, whether fear for life or fear of failure, should accompany any worthwhile endeavor. If it does not, you've ceased to grow and should move on to something else before your actions become rote, before you get bored, sloppy and stupid.

submit to reddit


The Fundamental Lessons of Skydiving pt 2

The second installment in my ongoing series about skydiving's effect on jumpers' psyches is about one of the least discussed lessons of the sport. Though we don't talk on it much, it is one of the starkest realities, one of the harshest truths one can learn in both freefall and in life at large.

You are on your own.

When I took my A License oral exam, there was a particular question that, by the SIM,* I got completely wrong but that the instructor gave me credit for anyway. "Who is responsible if a jumper exits into a cloud?" was the question. Per the FAA, the pilot is responsible for picking a jump run that is free of clouds. My response, though, was "I am responsible, because I choose whether or not to exit the aircraft."

He meditated for a second and said, "That's not actually correct, but I like your answer better."

And that's the truth of it. Ultimately, you and only you are responsible for your own safety and those moments in the air when you are most likely to find yourself in life-threatening danger are precisely the same moments when no one will be able to help you.

All movie antics aside, once you wave off and reach for that deployment handle, you are too far away from other jumpers and too short on time to receive assistance. Any malfunction of the canopy, any wrestling of the winds, any complication on landing, you and you alone have to handle.

What can be really scary is that, even while you're utterly alone,someone else's mistake can harm you. They could be a low-puller that didn't see your wave off and that falls directly into you. They could ignore lower canopy's right-of-way or forget the direction of the landing pattern and cause a mid-air collision. In any of these situations, you're in trouble, and there's still virtually nothing that the other person can do to help if you're not prepared for the situation.

As with virtually everything else, you have friends and comrades but ultimately you have to know to count on yourself. Confidence in your own skills, training and discretion is the only way to ensure a safe and successful trip across the sky.

*SIM stands for Skydiver's Information Manual, one of several publications by the United States Parachute Association that details regulations, recommendations and procedures for all aspects of jumping. It is the closest thing to a bible that the sport has. It is available online if you'd like to take a look at it.

submit to reddit


The Fundamental Lessons of Skydiving pt 1

I don't know a single skydiver that can't say skydiving has fundamentally changed their life. Whether introducing them to a new community, challenging them beyond their assumed limits or just giving something to brag about, everyone comes back down from their first solo jump with a different worldview than the person who went up. So universal is this that there is a monthly column in Parachutist magazine called "How Skydiving Changed my Life."

What's interesting is that the life changing aspects of jumping seem to be different for every skydiver. For some it instills confidence and allows them to overcome adversity. For others it provides them with a second family. For others it is a profound escape, a feeling of freedom that trumps all other forms of distraction.

Still, there are certain lessons, certain aspects of the skydiving experience that become ingrained in all jumpers' characters. First among them:

Ambivalence Kills.

You must either do, or do not, never something in between.

This is best exemplified when landing a parachute. Once you begin to flare the canopy (engage the brakes) for landing, you can't let them up. If you flare too early, or too aggressively, you can stall the canopy, in which case you will fall straight down and will probably have to do a bracing, rolling landing*, and even then you still might still hurt yourself.

On the other hand, if you release a partial flare, the canopy will surge forward, gain speed rapidly and send you face first into the ground, which will send you to the hospital if it doesn't kill you outright. Once those toggles start to come down for landing, they can't go back up.

This is, by virtue of happening on landing, the most often observed such example. There are others.

Cutting away a malfunctioning parachute is an all-or-nothing proposition. When you reach your Decision Altitude,** you have to know, not suspect, not hope, but know that your canopy is land-able. If it's not, you have to know to chop it or you're in deep trouble.

Moreover, if you've made a mistake, and stayed under a malfunctioning canopy for too long and are now below the safe deployment altitude for your reserve, you have to commit to that mistake and ride the malfunction down. A partially inflated canopy can slow you enough to only injure you but a fall with no canopy at all is certainly fatal.

Reaching out an arm for a partner in freefall rather than flying your whole body towards them will cause you to backslide and put you further away from that person than when you first reached for them.

Failing to commit both hands when reaching for your deployment handle makes your wind resistance asymmetrical and can put you into a spin that will twist up your suspension lines as the canopy comes out of the bag.

I almost forgot the single most important decision a jumper makes. You have to either exit the aircraft or land with it because once you're out, you're not getting back in. Well, unless you're this guy.

This lesson, like all good lessons, speaks to everything we undertake in mundane life. Do something or do not do it. Commit to every action. Commit to every inaction. Mistakes are forgivable, failures of will are not. If you are going to fuck up, fuck up like you meant it.

Here endeth the lesson. Pull Low, Hook Low.

*This is called a P.L.F. - a Parachute Landing Fall. It's a standard maneuver that we all learn.

** Decision Altitude is the height above the ground at which you must cut away from a malfunctioning parachute in order to have time for the reserve to safely deploy. It varies depending on the experience level of the jumper and the kind of canopy they fly but it's usually in the 2000-2500 foot range.

submit to reddit


"I Have Killed my Captain - and my Friend"

If one were to ask a thousand Americans to make a list of the most well known quotes in the history of science fiction, a few statements would predominate. "May the Force be with you," would probably be on every single list. "There can be only one," "E.T. phone home," "A robot may not harm a human being, nor through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm," and for anyone who groups fantasy and SciFi together, "One ring to rule them all and, in the darkness, bind them," would come up again and again.

There's one other quote, perhaps the only one that approaches the near-universal recognition of the Star Wars saga's most famous utterance, that would be on nearly every list. This would be Star Trek's most famous statement, Mr. Spock's trademark line, "Live long and prosper."

What few non-Trekkers know is that these iconic words do not exist on their own. They are, in fact, the customary response to another well-wishing. It is the "you're welcome" to a "thank you." It is the "alaikum assalam" to a "assalaam alaikum."

The complete exchange is, "Peace and long life." Replied with "Live long and prosper."

I can think of no other pair of mantras, no other statement made between equals that is more beautiful or more elegant. It's true, similar statements, nearly identical utterances have been enshrined in the world's vernaculars for eons, from the Arabic statement quoted above to the "Peace be with you" that opens so many Catholic services.

Star Trek, though, introduced this idea and popularized this expression not as a statement related to religious liturgy nor even as declaration of brotherhood of nation but as the perfect articulation of good will made under the auspices of perfect logic. Here is this idea that, by virtue of originating with a purely logical, mathematically trained and atheistic character, is stripped of it's superstitious baggage and it's tribalist undertones. Within it's fictional context, it is the ultimate statement of benevolence and amity because it is intoned by characters who are bound by neither blood nor creed, who share no common distinction beyond sentience. It is a mutual approbation by characters who are of different species.

Well versed fans will counter that the Vulcan Salute, the "V" shaped hand gesture that traditionally accompanies these words,* is lifted from rituals of Kabbalah. This is true. It is also a point of Hebrew mysticism so arcane that even most observant Jews were unaware of it before the publication of Leonard Nimoy's autobiography. I don't think this fact diminishes the fundamental beauty of the statement.

This is one of those moments in popular culture. This is a catch-phrase from a television show that speaks to the best parts of us. It underscores our understanding of universal brotherhood. It highlights the fact that we can only enrich ourselves by wishing well to others. We should all wish each other so well.

Peace and long life.

*Legend has it that William Shatner cannot execute this gesture without putting his fingers into position with the opposite hand.

submit to reddit


The Wisdom of Pop Culture - An Introduction

Popular culture is artistically bankrupt, so the common wisdom goes. When it is not preoccupied with the irrelevant, the inane and the sensational, it is bound up in the trite, the banal and the self-satisfied. At the same time, self acclaimed stewards of artistic legitimacy seem obsessed with all things bleak and dispiriting. The heart of the artist, we're told, is the one that knows pain, despondence and lack. Cultural critics insist that we must choose between the vapid schmaltz of prime time television and the intellectual agony of the gallery or salon.

But, this is a false choice. Wisdom, revelation, growth of spirit, antagonism of intellect are all abundantly present in the best works of popular culture. Granted, the majority of what we see on television, read in magazines and consume over the internet is garbage, but so is most of the stuff hung on the walls of art galleries, read aloud in coffee shops and performed under the lights of black boxes. Occasionally, though, for-profit television, top forty radio and pulp paperbacks offers us a glimmer of something both positive and profound, something that can lift the spirit, something that can teach us about ourselves.

I need to disclaim that I'm not really talking about Pop Art, those works that are afforded intellectual esteem and that garnered a place in popular culture at large because of this esteem. The works of Warhol, Dali and even Hundertwasser are obvious examples. They are a different animal altogether. I'm also not talking about those bits of historical Americana that have been retroactively elevated to the level of art, the recent addition of the "@" symbol to the MOMA and a recent touring exhibit of toy robots, for instance. I'm talking about mere entertainment, about distraction and fluff.*

I've been meditating on this often lately, on these rough-found diamonds amid the vast wasteland and on how they are so often ignored, dismissed or their wisdom unrevealed. I'm starting a new series of posts on exactly this. The idea is simple, find those ideas, those memes, those manifest moments in popular culture that say something truly beautiful. I'm not looking for hidden gems. No, I'm looking for works of popular culture with which any American-raised adult would be familiar. These are creations that teach us something positive about ourselves and that are generally not considered "high art" by the people who claim to understand such distinctions. John Lennon's "Imagine" springs immediately to mind but I feel that's a little too obvious.

I'm going to be working on this for the next bit. If you have any particular ideas, let me know.

*Now, if you want to make the argument that there really is no discernible or definable border separating High Art, Pop Art and Mass Media, you're probably right. This doesn't change the fact that the distinction is implicitly made in the minds of a plurality, if not a majority of people that lack a degree in cultural studies.

submit to reddit


This Is My Least Favorite Kind of Post

And I'm kind of sorry that I'm having to make it at all but I feel I've got some explaining to do. When reading other blogs, I'm often frustrated by posts that interrupt the flow of ideas to give a laundry list of complaints or equivocations about the author's mundane life. That said, I'll keep this brief.

This blog is not widely read but I like to think that it is well regarded by those that do read it and, for my recent silence, I owe an apology to everyone who has honored me with their time and attention. I've now worked three movies back-to-back-to-back with only bank holidays and a four day weekend at New Year's as respite from the work I do love, but that demands more than most are willing to give. Ten uninterrupted months of seventy-plus hour weeks, combined with the emotional weight of relationship tribulations, an ailing parent and the sudden passing of one of my dearest friends has left me creatively drained.

Beginning next week I will avail myself of some well earned time off and I hope to regain my creative composure shortly.

Any blogger who claims they only blog for themselves is a liar. Acting without an audience is just a game of pretend. Music without listeners is naught but a tree in the forest. A film without eyes to see it is firelight in an empty cave and a blog without readers is less than a diary. So thank you to everyone who has kept checking back hoping for a new post and thanks to everyone who will continue to read into the future. My rut is nearly over.

Thanks for sticking with me.

submit to reddit


And Some Days...

You get tired in the late afternoon and nap until midnight, only to find yourself awake in the wee hours with naught to do but smell the air, ignore the cacophony of traffic and wait for the promised rain.

submit to reddit


I've Been Letting the Blog Slide a Bit of Late

To hold everyone over, here's an oldy but goody.

Tom's All Encompassing Theory of Life

This may be the only bit of legitimate wisdom I have ever produced.

Everyone has those days, the days when things just don't come our way, the 'mamma said' kind of days. Our lottery tickets loose; every light is red. Keys break off in locks; passing cars throw up unavoidable walls of water as they pass through puddles. We find that everything in the fridge has gone bad or that our checking account is five hundred dollars short. The computer crashes and the car won't start. We're the target of everyone's venom. So many things can go wrong in a given day that we're bound to have crappy days from time to time. It's something we just have to learn to handle.

In the interest of staying sane, I have concocted a method of coping.

When those days happen, when you're tempted to say, "Wow, my life really sucks today," stop and list for yourself all the reasons that your life sucks. I mean the real reasons, not the minor complaints or the life excuses, not "I got lemon juice in my hangnail, whaaaaaaa." No, I mean, "I lost my job." "I got locked out of the house in the rain." "My favorite pet died." "I got rear ended on the freeway and the guy drove off before I could get his tag number." "I discovered I have leprosy," etc. List for yourself all of the real reasons why your day or your life is so bad. Go into excruciating detail to the point that a potential listener might be overcome with despair at the pitilessness and pain of the world.

Then, once you've done this, you need to contemplate a single idea. Internalize this concept as it might be your only defense against the onslaught of worldly trials. Once you've listed all the reasons that your life sucks think about how much worse your life would be if you were forced to add to the end of that list, "And, I am currently on fire."

Nothing will seem that bad after that.

Contrawise, you may have a day where you say the reciprocal, "Wow, my life is really great!" You land the big promotion. You get home in time for your favorite show. The kids are calm and happy. The test comes back negative. You win at cards and the world generally agrees that, whatever it is, it's not your fault. When this happens, you can get some perspective by listing for yourself all the reasons that your life is good in much the same way that you previously listed the things that were bad. As before, go into frightening detail to the point that some theoretical listener would be overcome with despair at the knowledge that their life will never reach the level of perfection that yours has.

Then, once you've done that you, again, need to contemplate a sigle idea. Think of how much better your life would be if you were forced to add to the end of that list, "And, I am currently receiving oral sex."

Things won't seem quite as good as they had a moment before.

Now I know what you're thinking. "Tom, what if I were, perchance, already A) receiving oral sex or B) on fire?" I bet you think you're pretty smart you smug little shit. I have pondered this at great length and come to the conclusion that if you are either A) receiving oral sex or B) on fire, then that is the wrong time to be taking personal inventory. The thoughts in your head at that time should, in both cases, be dominated by animal instincts and guttural noises.

I will admit that there is one possible situation that my theory cannot encompass. So, perhaps I should not call it "Tom's all encompassing theory of life as I confess there is a singluar situation in which this principle cannot apply. If you were to ever find yourself simultaneously receiving oral sex whilst on fire, then you have reached some sort of zen-nirvana-yin-yang-dharmic perfection that I am not wise enough to address. I'm just not prepared to comment on that eventuality. If anyone finds themself in this situation, please comment or email so I might complete the theory.

I am confident however, that any of the readers of this blog will probably not encounter that situation so you can now sally forth into the big bad world, knowing that you are prepared for nearly anything, confidently armed with Tom's very nearly all encompassing theory of life [TM].

Here Endeth the Lesson

submit to reddit


Following Akela

I think I was seven. It was the end of the year Cub Scout meeting, the one where all the dens of a dozen kids each came together into a pack of two hundred and filled up the local high school cafeteria. Most of the pack meetings were pretty boring. They were dominated by business announcements, calendar reminders and other items of note only to our parents.

This one, though, was the big one. This was the graduation meeting at which we would all be promoted to the next level in scouting. I was a Wolf at the time and I was excited about moving up to Bear, the level at which we started doing real scout stuff like hiking and archery rather than morality skits and macaroni pictures.

The WeBeLo's made the ceremonial crossing of the bridge and were given their Boy Scout hats. The Bears were given their WeBeLo patches and scarves. Then the Wolves came up to receive their Bear patches, each boy from each den called by name to deliver the Cub Scout oath and shake hands with the pack leader.

Except for me. They never called my name. I was not asked up to receive my patch and I did not shake hands with the pack leader and when my den had all stood up, I was left alone at our table, still wearing the accoutremonts of a Wolf Cub and doing little but wonder why.

What had I done wrong?

I'd completed every exercise in the scout book. I'd attended every meeting, done every project. I'd earned the longest chain of conservation beads in my den and more silver arrow points than any but one other boy. Sure I came in second to last in the Pine Wood Derby and I wasn't well liked by most of the boys in my Den, but that should have been of no consequence. Cub Scouting isn't supposed to be a popularity contest.

It seems silly now but scouting mattered to me. The son of an overworked single mother and speaking with a pronounced English accent, I had struggled at such a quintessentially American, father/son activity as scouting. Despite this, I'd done well in scouts that year and I was, rightly I think, proud of myself.

But, the rest of my den marched forward and were each in turn awarded their Bear patch and were applauded by the rest of the Cub Scout pack while I sat, obvious and alone, without that honor and without an explanation.

A week later, after making quite a row with the local scouting administrators, my mother discovered that she had transposed two numbers on the check for the next year's dues, effectively post-dating it. My mother, who worked fifty-five hour weeks while raising a budding super-villain of a child, was up late doing bills and, as was the style back in England, wrote the date DD/MM/YY, rather than MM/DD/YY. The twelfth of April became the fourth of December, the BSA didn't get their forty-four dollars and I was held back without so much as a phone call of inquiry.

I did get my Bear patch, a month later, without ceremony or apology. It was simply handed to me in afterthought as I left a weekly den meeting. That was when I began to realize that I was a bit of a pariah in scouts, rather than simply unpopular. Apparently our predominantly Catholic midwestern town had trouble stomaching success on the part the English kid with the divorced single mother. The following year, my Bear year, I'd finished every project in the guidebook by Christmas, had more silver arrow points than anyone in the pack, won the Pine Wood Derby and then quit scouts before the last pack meeting of the year.

Granted, the tribulations of my scouting career are trivial in the face of others' much more substantial adversity and I'm probably being self indulgent by bothering to think of it. It is funny, though how some things stick with you.

I learned a lesson that day, perhaps the first truly adult lesson of my life, a lesson far removed from "to do my BEST for GOD any my Country." I learned that the world is not a meritocracy, that circumstances often conspire and that the actions, omissions and prejudices of others can hold more sway over one's success than one's own efforts. I learned that the Cub Scout motto, "Do Your Best," sometimes counts for fuckall.

In retrospect, I think the words of Teddy Roosevelt count for much more than a thousand occasions reciting the Cub Scout oath. "The boy who is going to make a great man must not make up his mind merely to overcome a thousand obstacles, but to win in spite of a thousand repulses and defeats."

submit to reddit


Rule #2 - Double Tap

Rawkstar and I went to the pistol range yesterday. Lacking my enthusiasm for exiting airplanes in flight, she insisted that we find an exiting hobby that we could to together. So, we took up shooting sports.

We've not been at it long. We've only gone to the range together a half dozen times or so but she enjoys it a lot and, for her experience level, is on her way to being a shooter of some skill. Her pattern is tight, her stance solid, her hands steady. She's actually a better shot than I am, though for the sake of my pride it tell myself that that's because her .22A is much more manageable than my 1911. At 25 yards, both of our patters were decently tight. Neither of us is going to qualify for the FBI but we'll both be okay in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse.*

I did notice something the last time we were at the range, something important in regards to this post from a few weeks ago. Excluding the guy in the stall next to us, who I garner is an ex-cop that likes to keep his skills up, nobody else in the place could hit a fucking thing. Seriously, we're talking about the firearms' equivalent of broad side of the barn here. Of the eight occupied lanes, only the two of us and the cop could consistently hit what we aimed at.

Were these novice shooters? No, they all talked the gun talk and they had all brought their own weapons. Granted, there was a guy a few stalls over that was obviously coaching his son, but I really got the feeling that his son had been shooting since he could first talk. Everyone there seemed to be a veteran shooter and not a single one of them had a pattern that would garner a Boy Scout merit badge, let alone a confirmed kill. Most of these people had no pattern whatsoever; they couldn't put two slugs within six inches of one another. At the same time, Rawkstahr and I, who've not fired five thousand rounds between the two of us, can each put half the clip in a target's vitals every time. I even triple stacked, a rare achievement for me.

Was this a fluke day and everyone else was off their game or was I right in my previous post and most gun owners are yee-haw types who care a lot more about getting off on shooting guns than on actually being competent to shoot one?

*In addition to the usual bulls-eye and silhouettes, our range offers several varieties of Zombie targets. Aim for the head.

submit to reddit


Everyone's Irish Today, Except Those of us that Aren't

Granted, I'll take just about any excuse to raise a pint and perhaps a bit of hell along with it, but I'm not much a fan of St. Patrick's day.

Though it's not a holiday of any spiritual significance, for Pagans, this might be the least auspicious day in the year.

Apparently, a number of people think that St. Paddy's is Irish Independence day, akin to our 4th of July, England's Guy Fawkes' Day or Mexico's Cinco de Mayo (which isn't Mexican independence day either but that's another post entirely). Those people are idiots. It's nothing of the sort.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig, the seventeenth of march, is the anniversary of the death of an English-born, French-educated* former slave turned Catholic zealot that led a campaign of Xian conversion throughout Ireland in the late fifth century. Bishop Patricius' notable intellectual achievement being the use of the shamrock as a visual aid to teach the Xian concept of holy trinity.

His famous miracle of "driving the snakes out of Ireland," the very act that ultimately canonized him as the patron saint of that country, is a euphemism for his systematic conversion of the nobility of the island, ending the influence of the Druidic orders and disenfranchising the Animist peasants from their governors.

So, drink up to the memory of this culturally genocidal theocrat, and give a nod to your Pagan friends with the knowledge that, while we're raising one as well, we're all drinking to forget.

Oh, and if you pinch me, I'll fucking stab you.

* To be precise, neither England, nor France, as we understood them today, existed at this point in history. Patricius was born an Angle or a Briton and studied for the priesthood in Gaul.

submit to reddit


I am the Screen, I Work at Night

Crew call was 18:00 hours and they will be working hard through the night, lunch at midnight, camera wrap sometime just after dawn, weary eyes and welcome beds come morning rush hour.

I'm not with them, as much as I would like to be. I've worked many such nights. I did one show that was nothing but. Since that time I've traded my career on location for the life of the production office.

The junior-most of administrators, I arrive shortly after my colleagues have had lunch and remain until the wee hours of the morning. Someone has to be here, you see. Like a flotilla upon the sea, the shooting company on location needs a connection to port, a single voice on a telephone waiting to take messages, deliver documents, record milestones and sometimes to extinguish fires.

I can't do much besides wait. All our vendors are closed on east coast and the west. No deliveries will arrive until morning. The accountants and gate keepers have all gone home to whatever semblance of a regular life this industry can offer.

And I am here, alone, a single sentry soul amidst a quarter million square feet of production space, left to stoke the braziers and email the wrap report.

It is the life I have chosen, and proudly so.

submit to reddit