Thursday, April 29, 2010


A couple of evenings ago Victoria and I finally sat down, girded our loins and put in the DVD of Food Inc.

I had the nauseating pleasure of reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (co-producer of the film and featured throughout) a few years ago. It told me what my stomach and central nervous system already knew: that  most of the packaged, industrialized food we eat is really just a bunch of rearranged chemicals. Then it proceeded to educate me on subjects I knew very little about, such as how most of our food reaches our plate.

The interesting thing is that the book didn't change my behaviour. The jury is out on whether the film will. This is not a criticism of either- they are both outstanding pieces of work and couldn't have done more or pitched a better tone to achieve their goal, namely to raise consciousness. The reasons behind my lack of action in changing my eating habits have everything to do with me. I suspect it all comes back to denial. Ernest Becker, an American cultural anthropologist, wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book called The Denial Of Death, where he postulated that all civilizations were basically a buffet against a deeper awareness of our own mortality. Certainly in our western society we see it in the way we treat our elderly and an all-conquering lust to stay 'young'. We can all fall victim to the idea that we'll do whatever the hell we want today and deal with the wreckage tomorrow- that mentality is the very dynamic that allows us to pollute our planet and endanger future generations.

In the case of our eating habits, that denial is also very much in effect. The more obvious manifestation of it is seen every day: grossly unhealthy people continuing to indulge in everyday habits that later on in life will threaten their existence. These people, although terribly unwell on an internal level, will not change their habits until that internal sickness makes itself known to them in a catastrophic way, with doctors warning them of imminent and mortal danger if they don't alter their diet.

The less spoken of denial, one that is just as important on a daily basis, is the denial of our emotional and spiritual wellbeing that takes place when we constantly put toxic materials into our bodies. The problem here is that the denial of our own feelings will probably take place before we eat junk food, because if we were in contact with those feelings as we made a decision on which foods to eat, we might consistently go in another direction. I have experienced in my own life the sensation of rushing to eat junk food; it's as if I knew that if I stopped, cleared my mind and considered the choice, I'd probably turn away from it.

Just as a key to not overeating is to have a sensual awareness of how we feel when we eat in order to know when our stomachs are telling us we've had enough, the decisions we make long before the food is on our plate or heading to our mouths must come from a more heightened state of awareness. Ignorance is no longer an excuse, unless we were claiming ignorance of the physical symptoms that arise every single time we eat chemical garbage. I won't go into what some of those symptoms can be; they will be obvious to anyone checking in with their bodies after they gorge on processed food.

This is something that I've needed to practice more in my own life. Although no one would ever diagnose me with an eating disorder, that doesn't change the fact that I am indeed a binge eater and that binging habit is directly connected to how I feel. When I find myself feeling too much discomfort, sadness, fear or anger over a certain issue, I will often turn to food to assist me in burying those feelings. Food (almost always combined with television) has been a way for me to become unconscious. I have often said facetiously that I wished I had a sexier addiction, for make no mistake: food has been (and still is, on occasion) my way of 'blissing out', of getting high- immersing myself in what a former therapist called 'the feelgoods'. As I recline on my couch, turn on the television on and surround myself with pizza, soda, chips, ice cream and anything else I can fit on the coffee table, it is clear that I am drugging myself into oblivion with food. And considering the fact that they are filled with chemicals, 'drugging' (although a clumsy word) may be more appropriate than we know.

The other problem is that even when we do manage to turn to supposedly healthy food, it may no longer contain the enzymes, vitamins and other essential nutrition that it should. I have noticed, especially here in the US where farming regulations on pesticides and soil erosion have been gutted in the last 30 years, that no matter where I eat, whether it be at a high-priced gourmet restaurant or my local cafe, that everything tastes the same. Or more accurately, it tastes of very little at all. Only when I buy from farmers markets or organic purveyors do I rediscover the satisfying flavours and aromas that can be found in fresh, healthy foods.  Growing up in Australia my father would always throw a carrot at my brother or me to eat and we were happy. I've tried eating carrots from the supermarket here. I guess carrots are no longer meant to be sweet.

But enough about carrots. Food Inc is a terrific documentary, taking its cues from An Inconvenient Truth in its clever, creative use of graphics and its tonal balance: the movie introduces just enough horror to hopefully spur the viewer into action after it's over but not too much to lose its audience halfway through. Just as I've long believed citizens need to have greater involvement in and awareness of how their garbage is disposed of and that disposal's ramifications for the environment, I also think it's time for people to know exactly where their food came from, how it was delivered to their area and what the hell was put in it or on it. Maybe we wouldn't be so quick to eat that strip of bacon if we knew how the formerly alive animal it came from, with intelligence superior to our dog, was killed. We should also be better informed of the practices related to chemical processing that take place in our frozen food. The frozen 'food' section of our local supermarket becomes a terrifying place with a little information in our back pocket.

I urge all of us to read Fast Food Nation. To watch Food Inc. To go to the website. To pay just a little more for organic food. To eat a little slower and be a little more mindful of how different foods (and their quantities) make us feel and maybe to redefine what we consider to be a 'treat'.

Your dietary choices in the supermarket and in restaurants are a vote. Let's kick the junk food merchants out of office.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Remember what excites you. Think of these things, those friends, and the adventures that can be yours. Focus. Care. Fantasize. Imagine. It's all so near. Speak as if you're ready. Paste new pictures in your scrapbook, on your vision board, and around your home and office. Physically prepare for the changes that you wish to experience in your life. You've done this before. You know it works. You're due for an encore. It's time to amaze. That's why you're there."

- this was a note I received today from this website. It's a new age, inspirational/self development site that offers to send daily messages 'from the universe'. Sometimes silly, sometimes right on point and exactly what I need to hear on a given day. 

Monday, April 26, 2010


I want to conduct an experiment.

Let's continue playing baseball games in large stadiums, with just a few amendments.

First and foremost: no extraneous noise. That's right- no drums, no thumping, no techno or meringue music blaring at inopportune (or opportune) moments. No ground announcers spewing out useless drivel, no sexy music chosen by hitters as they come up to bat. 


Just quiet. Stillness. Because let's face it, most of the time that's what we're all witnessing on the field.

It's remarkable how so many of us are conditioned to throw large amounts of our money away on what we're told is 'entertainment'. 

I'm not going to even pretend to be objective here. I understand that one person's idea of fun could be someone else's worst nightmare. Having said that, I will still propose that this game that so many in the US, Latin America and Japan seem to love may actually be something of a bore. 

Yesterday we drove out to the horrifying area that is Anaheim, California to watch the Angels play the Yankees. We were a trifle late, arriving sometime during the second inning. We plopped ourselves down in our cramped seats, put our oxygen masks on and attempted to find the field from the gaudy heights of section 518, all for the terrifically reasonable sum of thirty five clams per seat. Once settled in, a familiar feeling started to rise within me as I stared down at a field on which several men stood, lifeless, waiting for something to happen. It was all something akin to a quiet work day at a construction site- the only difference being these fellows were being paid gazillions to do their standing around. This feeling, as hard as I tried to ignore it, wouldn't quit. Finally I had to accept its presence and attempt to understand its essence.

It wasn't difficult. I was feeling embarassment. The kind of embarrassment one might feel six minutes into A Night At The Museum. It's the shameful sense that this is all a little silly, and not in a fun way. I'm all for guilty pleasures but please, let that which is indeed guilty include the pleasure part as well. As I winced from the loud noises, the vastly overpriced, horrific food, the latent monosyllabic aggression that seemed to be oozing from the (mostly) men surrounding us, I sought in vain for the actual reason for enduring all of this. Surely there must be some kind of physical poetry occurring on the field before us, a pulsing, oscillating contest on display which would mitigate all the pollution being flung at me. 

Nope. Just a bunch of millionaires mostly standing around, with the occasional flurry of short-lived activity. Similar to watching squirrels in a tree. And I can do that at home, for free, in silence. 

The reason why so many bells and whistles need to be attached to these events is obvious: they're not really that fun or exciting. Actually, they're boring. So my initial proposal stands: take away the noise pollution, only serve health food, get rid of the glorifying narrative that attempts to turn overgrown children who hit and throw a ball into 'warriors' and 'heroes' and find out just how interesting the sport really is.

Imagine all that could be done with the money combined with the emotional and mental energy spent on this stuff. We could feed the hungry. Educate the ignorant. Replant the deserts.

Such change can't happen all at once, but maybe we could consider channelling just a portion of all those resources elsewhere. Just a teeny bit to start with.

Because as of now, we're getting scammed. Royally. And staying bloated and mute in the process. 

Saturday, April 24, 2010


What a week. Put on your leotards and let's get going.

The widow of TV magnate Aaron Spelling has decided to sell her 56,500 square foot home outside Los Angeles. She wants it to go fast so she knocked down the price: 150 million dollars- the most expensive home in the world currently for sale. Candy, as she likes to call herself, has decided the house is 'too big for just me'. Such a shame daughter Tori left. No more conversations like this when her friends would show up:

"Is Tori around?"
"Absolutely, dear. You'll find her smoking crack in bathroom no.23 in the Southeast wing. Take this GPS Navigator and call me if you get lost."

You do have to respect her desire to downsize. Twenty-seven bathrooms seems a little superfluous. Let's see if she can knock it down to 30,000 square feet and 12 bathrooms.

Surgeons in Barcelona completed the first ever full facial transplant this week, muscles and all. Remember the Nicolas Cage/John Travolta movie Face Off? Well, it's done. Exciting. The only problem is the only face they've been able to recreate successfully is Alan Greenspan's. With a Castilian lisp. Horrifying.

In China they're using 'deodorant cannons' to fight the stench of landfills. This is a brilliant solution- reminds me of the Baroque aristocracy who never washed; they simply continued to cover themselves with more and more powder to cover up the pong. The ultimate smelly head in the sand. How does the deodorant cannon work? Roller or spray? The organic kind that works for about five minutes or the super powerful chemical variety that leaves you with that nice, sterile, cancerous smell? It might be time to rethink the bottomless landfill idea.

A beach in North Carolina has banned thongs. Bravo. The beach is no place for exposed flesh.

A 12-year old boy saved someone's life using the Heimlich maneouvre that he learnt from watching Spongebob Squarepants. The person was having some kind of fit from watching too much Spongebob Squarepants. Tip your waiter, try the veal. Just don't choke on it in my presence. I don't watch that hyperactive junk - and neither will my kids.

Now for some of the news that enraged me. Lang Lang, one of the world's greatest pianists (I had the pleasure of seeing him live this year- dazzling) 'amused' the crowd by playing a piece on an IPad. You can be as disgusted as I am by watching it here. If you find yourselves giggling in wonder while watching him as most of the audience was in the auditorium, shame on you. The whole thing reminds me of this wonderful Leunig picture:

You know what's more thrilling than playing piano on an IPad? Playing a fricking PIANO. 

Arizona has passed their new immigration legislation, called the Arizona Nazi Germany Klu Klux Immigration Reform Act. This will open the door for police officers (not immigration officials- but have no fear; these cops have been renamed "peace officials" by the racist, fascist governor Jan Brewer) to enter the home of anyone that they may suspect is 'illegal'. They can also stop one of these 'suspects' anywhere and ask them for documentation. Sound familiar? North Korean travel agents are now advertising Arizona vacations and they're going fast- the slogan is catchy: "Come to sunny Arizona. Oppression without the Bad Weather."
Racial profiling has always been here. But now it's official policy, folks.

I drove around for about six hours yesterday trying to find the address of a recycling center in the middle of an industrial Angeleno suburb to drop off my recyclable material that had been accumulating for the last couple of weeks. I'd been reduced to this because my apartment building doesn't have recycling bins. I've called the city and asked them to speak to the manager- no dice. The man's too busy smoking 2 packs of Marlboro reds a day at an age north of 60. I guess the fate of the world isn't foremost on his mind. You know what happens to garbage that isn't recycled?

It ends up smelling like Degree Arctic Fresh.

Pictures, from top:  Candy's home: offensively absurd.
                                   Michael Leunig's "TV Sunrise".
                                   A Chinese landfill.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Recently I finally became a whole person.

This act of spiritual confirmation occurred the moment I entered the gates of the famous Santa Anita raceway on a stunning saturday afternoon in the cultural heart of the northern hemisphere known as Arcadia, Southern California.

Yep, folks. I went to The Track. The Santa Anita Race Track, to be specific. One of the shrines of horse racing in North America.

Did I leave with pockets stuffed with cashola, arms raised in giddy triumph? Let's forget about winning and losing for the moment. Nobody goes to the races to win money anyway. Maybe you didn't get the memo, but gambling ain't for winning. It's for frivolous fun and judging by the people I saw on show that day, it can be the kind of frivolity that takes your house and most of your socially acceptable clothing.

There were some characters on display that day, that's for sure. As someone who can not currently call himself an ex-con, I felt out of place.

A quick digression here to discuss some of the better horseracing movies that have been made. If you want to get a feel for the kind of human being that seems to proliferate at the Santa Anita, you might want to give
Let It Ride a try. Richard Dreyfuss captures that particular blend of charm, sleaze and manic despair that I experienced perfectly. You can positively smell him through the screen. What else? Well, for a slightly more idyllic version of the event, Seabiscuit comes to mind. Love that movie. Rocky on four legs. Then there's The Black Stallion, a movie about a boy who is shipwrecked and saved from drowning by a horse. What a premise- how did the writer come up with that? Wouldn't a dolphin have been a more sensible choice? Can horses even swim? Anyway, the film has the obligatory climactic race at the end (I won't ruin the suspense by telling you who wins). A note of warning: if you're planning to run to the nearest DVD website after reading this post to order the movie, make sure you don't order the, uh... other Black Stallion. The easy way to differentiate between the two movies is to view the posters: the horse has the smaller appendage. If you like the movie (the one with the horse), you can always have more of the same joy by watching The Black Stallion Returns. What a film. Who said sequels couldn't be wonderful? In this one, the horse is retired and overweight, drinking and carousing every night, over the hill. The boy talks him into coming out of retirement one more time to fight a Russian and against all conceivable odds he- hang on. I'm getting my actors mixed up. Forget it.

Australia has also had its share of equine heroes. Phar Lap (also immortalized in a movie of the same name) was our version of Seabiscuit. The horse was so unbeatable it was thought to have been fatally poisoned by rival trainers. It won 37 of 51 races and in 1931 set the track record while winning the Agua Caliente Handicap, at the time the race with the largest purse in North American racing history. While the autopsy conducted soon after his mysterious death was inconclusive, the coroner did make an unexpected discovery: Phar Lap's heart was abnormally large, allowing the horse to sprint at its top speed throughout an entire race, explaining how he was able to continuously mow down his opposition from seemingly impossible positions, well back in the group heading into the final turn. He was not speeding up; the other horses were simply slowing down. The heart now sits on display at the Australian National Museum.

But enough of the education. Let's get back to the Santa Anita, a lovely old racetrack with its own long history, none of which interested me or my friends as we swept through the gates and headed to the betting area. We had bought our form guides on the way in and now it was time to study and I had no doubts, based on my perusal of the different histories and form of the horses in Race 1, that I would win a motza (Australian for "a lot").

Just to be sure, however, we then went to view the horses. They do a little parade outside so that the punters have a chance to get a little "inside" info on the horses and/or jockeys. Wait a minute... does Hasty Trend look a little morose today? Cross him off. No Cream Or Sugar just gave his jockey some attitude... they're finished. I came away from the viewing with absolute certainty of my winner for Race 1.

His name was Warren's Operator. I liked the way he strolled around the paradey-concoursey-viewing thingy area. He was sleek; muscular legs holding up a toned and ripped torso, veins bulging... I started to fantastize about Warren's Operator and I going parking... but sexual fantasy aside, I was positive this horse would win. I checked the odds: 30-1. Hmm. The guide said he "appears an outsider". Well, darn it- haven't we all surprised the world at some time in our life? Weren't outsiders dangerous? Didn't they sometimes sweep in and take the whole pot? Warren's Operator winked at me as he walked back to the stables to meditate and limber up. We were connected now by fate; nothing would get in the way of our triumph.

The short version of this story is, of course, that Warren's Operator....



As his flaccid, sloppy body and its four left feet drooped across the finish line, I joined the long list of crushed souls who had thrown their ticket down in outrageous disbelief. This horse had conned me. That surreptitious wink that he'd thrown my way didn't promise romance and boundless treasure; it was an evil horse's inside joke, only known to him and Satan: they had found another sucker.

I wanted to bury my head in Victoria's arms and sob. This was only Race 1. Nine more to go. As the day went forward, I watched my hard-earned tumble down the gurgler. Junkies, deadbeats, fat and smelly losers and drifters with no talent or initiative surrounded me. Ladies and germs, these were not my fellow gamblers.

They were the horses I bet on.

Pocatello Wild Kat, Sweet Patricia, Yankee Frankie, Screamin Express.

Movable dog food, the lot of em. This was false advertising at its finest. "Screamin Express" should have been renamed Broken Down Piece of Crap That Stops at Every Station. Hard to call during the race, I know, but at least it would have been truthful.

Horse racing is not a sport, people. I'm convinced of this. It's a leisure activity, kind of like poker with circus animals. Actually, I would put it more in the professional wrestling category. I'm sure all the jockeys and trainers are out the back laughing at us. "Go ahead Joe (everyone involved in horse racing has to be called Joe, Frank or Tommy to get into the union), you win today. My nag needs a rest anyway. Just leave the suitcase in the trunk of my Cadillac on your way out."

Bums, morons and gangsters, the lot of them. The wiser among us want to ban horse racing, citing cruelty to animals.

You bet it's cruel. For the animal writing this essay today, once was enough.

Pictures: from top, Santa Anita racetrack, 1908. Richard Dreyfuss
in "Let it Ride", Paramount Pictures, 1989.
Bottom: Phar Lap's heart, Australian National Museum display.

Monday, April 19, 2010


My father is coming into town in a couple of weeks. I booked three tickets for the Angels-Yankees game in the wastelands of Anaheim. But something strange is occurring inside me: I'm feeling fear.

Let me take you back to where the motivation for this essay begins. My brother and I went to see the great film score composer John Williams conduct an orchestra that promised to play all of our favorite old time classics: Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, get the idea. I love those old blockbusters. Unfortunately it seems the folks who made Harry Potter got to John before I could, because none of the aforementioned movies were played until the very end; in the meantime we had to sit through a whole sackload of pieces from all 22 Potter films plus a few others about which nobody cares. I'm sure the trumpet players were of the highest quality, but spare me another tune from Catch Me If You Can.

But I digress. It may not have mattered what Mr.Williams chose to play that night. By the time the actual music began to play my brother and I were not in a mood to listen.

Picture this: we're sitting there in the Hollywood Bowl with eighteen thousand other enthusiastic movie geeks, under the stars on a balmy evening, waiting to be swept back to our childhoods by the genius of John Williams, when we're asked to rise for the national anthem.

Something important to understand here is that even when I'm in my home country of Australia I rarely rise for the national anthem. While I'm certainly capable of feeling pride in my country (mostly for reasons that have nothing to do with me: the beaches, the food, our cricket team) I am not a believer in any kind of 'patriotism'. Whether or not most citizens of affluent nations are ready to admit it, we are living in a truly global community- unfortunately we're not yet at the point where we're prepared to actually take care of eachother as a global community. But that's a post for another day. To return to the issue at hand,  I have little time for standing up to pay respect to a song that glorifies the theft of land and the genocide of entire cultures.

As a result, while not begrudging others' desire to stand for an anthem and putting their hands on their heart, I have sometimes decided to stay put in my seat. Not always; on some days I don't feel like offending people, which invariably happens, especially in the US, where ideas of patriotism and its more insidious stablemate, nationalism, are more prevalent. On that evening in the Hollywood Bowl, as repugnant as I found the notion of playing the anthem at an artistic and cultural event, I chose to stand. One would assume that would be enough.

It wasn't. I was wearing a cap and a gentleman, separated from me and my brother by his partner, told me to take my cap off. I gave my slightly ironic stock response: "it's a free country". I turned back to the orchestra and suddenly was stunned to feel a hand grab at my head and rip my cap off. I turned to see the gentleman staring forward, singing along to the anthem, my cap scrunched in his hand, out of my reach.

My response to this act of aggression and my feelings about that response are irrelevant. The important act, for the purposes of the theme of this post today, had occurred- I had practiced my right to respond to the playing of the national anthem in my own fashion and someone else had decided I should not be free to do so. By forcibly removing my cap from my head, this fellow had demonstrated a failure to see the latent irony and hypocrisy involved in behaving like someone from nazi Germany or communist China while singing a song about 'freedom'. I, on the other hand, had felt that hypocrisy acutely; it began an inner dialogue and internal conflict that continues to this day and is especially triggered by an impending visit to a sporting event and the inevitable question that will arise when the stadium announcer will once again make this dreaded announcement:

"Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the singing of our national anthem."

The question is this: to rise or not to rise?

There are two easy answers, depending upon your point of view. The first will come from all those who may believe to be themselves patriotic citizens and who therefore will almost certainly demand that anyone present at the singing of the anthem must rise (and take off their cap). Lumped into that first group will also be the people who simply follow the rules and norms of the society in which they were raised, not challenging any of that society's rituals or behaviours. Those people will probably fall into two sub-categories: those that simply lack any awareness that they are being conditioned to behave in a certain way. Then there is what I suspect to be the larger subset: those who may have certain disagreements with some of the decora and edicts that surround them yet are too afraid of the consequences that may result if they were to practice non-cooperation.

The second answer will be just as clear for the opposing side who, like our patriotic first group, hold a passionate belief which might be articulated similarly to what I initially expressed in this post. These people have decided that their protesting opinion will find expression at every opportunity; they will never rise for the anthem under any circumstances. They will make their voice heard in every conversation, believing that any idea of "appropriateness" is simply an excuse to avoid conflict and ramification; they will meet the myopia and jingoism of our society with a matching passion and vigilance that will not rest.

Those are the easy answers.

Then there is the answer that is harder to find... that of the middle.

I know an extremely intelligent woman who lives her life by the rule of always thinking for herself, of never embracing an idea without first challenging it and deciding whether or not she agrees with it. One could never accuse this woman or being afraid to speak her mind or not acting independently. Yet this same woman, who happens to be vegetarian, will eat meat if she finds herself offered it at a dinner party. Her reasoning is simple: she has been invited to the event, has agreed to come and therefore will accept what comes with that experience.

This is not to advocate blind acceptance or the consumption of food that one may find offensive, for whatever reason. It is simply to raise awareness of the possibility of choice.

Are there times when those of us who protest everything to the point of obsession could abstain? Almost certainly. Is it also true that the rituals, norms and behaviours that come with a given society or group should always be open to challenge and protest? Absolutely.

The pendulum at this point in time has swung wildly too far in favour of slavish adherence. It is only with this thoughtless compliance that governments are able to pursue violent and selfish policies which destroy the lives and cultures of others who do not share the same values and beliefs. In those circumstances we find must voice and challenge the status quo. It is our duty not only as citizens but as compassionate human beings.

Having said that, the colours in other less urgent circumstances will have greyer shades. While practicing compassion can be a wonderful reason to protest, challenge and not cooperate, that same compassion can be accessed and expressed when we find ourselves with another awareness: that sometimes our protest is for us and us alone, done for an inner satisfaction with ourselves, and sometimes at the expense of others' joy or comfort.

It is at these crossroads where I have often found myself. We need not always scream from the rooftops; we also need not always follow custom. Maybe the only true independence that we will find for ourselves is an embracing of the capriciousness of swimming in the middle, of being truly in the moment when it comes to making those decisions. Sometimes we will stand and never surrender in our expression of our beliefs; sometimes we will gracefully allow ourselves to move with the current in order to preserve harmony, either on compassionate grounds or even for self-interest or preservation. The person who ends up being in a position to influence millions would be short changing the world if they had given up that opportunity due to an egoistic need to be heard by whoever happened to be present in a given moment. A broader perpective is sometimes necessary.

All of those among us, whether they be Gandhi, Rosa Parks or Nelson Mandela, or you and I, have felt and expressed every aspect of our humanity in different contexts, from acts of cowering fear and hopeless timidity to moments, however lasting they may be, of surging empowerment and enormous courage. Anyone who says they haven't been cowardly or brave in their lives is either being fraudulent or self-oblivious.

But a greater internal and external harmony may be achieved by understanding that the expression of opinion does not always equate to bravery- sometimes it equates to egoism and self-indulgence. Additionally, our decision to keep our feelings to ourselves does not always equate to cowardice: sometimes it may equate to a compassionate choice to preserve the contentment of others about who we care and the overall peace and tranquility of the immediate environment that surrounds us.

It is a dance, involving all issues around integrity, care for others and our sense of justice and what is or isn't a force for good.

A dance that I hope will be performed by more and more of us with each passing moment.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


There are so many fields of endeavour in the world we live in today in which we can take part.

Most of us have a clear path in this society: find a career, calling or vocation that we're passionate about and strive to be as successful as possible in that chosen field. Usually the most obvious material reward for this success is money but there are other benefits: public recognition/adoration/adulation (also known as fame) and a sense of being 'established' in our community with all the perks that come with that level of status. Beyond all that of course is being able to do a job we enjoy at a high level with other dynamic, vibrant people which brings
its own satisfaction.

So we strive. We seek to excel, to impress others, to have them offer us positions of power in our careers where we can make choices and in effect do whatever we like- work with our favourite people, have prominent positions on 'important'  projects that excite us and so on.

All of these things are, of course, pleasurable to us. Who doesn't want to be universally recognised as being eminent in their field? Who doesn't want to have so much money that they never have to be burdened by financial concerns and instead can see the world and live in great comfort and luxury? Who doesn't want to be involved in the most vital, exciting affairs of the day in their chosen careers?

This daily striving, dreaming, thinking and taking action is a positive force. Human beings, like any other organism, have an inbuilt purpose. We may have moved away from strictly primal drives and reasons for being but make no mistake, those very drives are at the heart of why we go out into the world to stake our claim and in the absence of those goals, many of us would feel purposeless and sink into morosity. These activities give our lives meaning.

And isn't that the issue at the heart of all of our searching and movement? To find meaning?

I have had a busy week in my own career life. I have spent a full week offering my work to others, seeking to be taken on board their projects. During that very busy week, I was on a high. My work was of good quality and well received. I found myself walking out of meetings grateful for the time I had put in and with a huge sense of satisfaction and fulfillment arising from the fact that I had been true to myself, put the time in and managed to contribute something worthy to the discussion.

However, as soon as the work was done, that joy began to be eroded in the absence of any response. The people that had viewed my work had taken another direction. They had not called to congratulate me, to affirm me, to offer me a position and as the time passed my eyes continued to stare even harder down that long railroad track, peering for a train to emerge in the distance, on its way to take me to golden fields.

The particular train I was seeking never showed. I continued to look backward, now reminiscing over past successes, anything to fill the empty space where the silence was.

It didn't work. That niggling feeling of despair and meaninglessness grew. I began to wonder why I didn't feel good anymore and why I wasn't working. All I wanted to do was stare at the television.

How had I gone from being so creative, proactive, positive and driven to such a state of inertness? This wasn't an issue of not getting the job. It was beyond that.

Yesterday I said enough. It was time to first examine the problem and then change my perspective and behaviour in order to rediscover the spirit I had felt in the previous week.

The answer I found was not new. It is the same truth I have never been able to dodge, as much as my ego has tried.

All of the things I mentioned at the beginning of this post today are indeed wonderful. Accomplishment and achievement in our world is important, because we live in that world with others and expansion is necessary and part of what does give our life meaning.

But deeper than that is the daily practice of our lives that reinvigorates the spirit. That does not have to be a massive, monastic undertaking. It simply means that we have things in our own lives, independent of the forces of the outside world, that we return to which give us meaning. It is tending our garden, whatever that garden may be: our relationships with our family and friends; a meditative practice, either mental or physical; creative acts that satisfy us in quiet ways, such as taking care of our home or maybe personal creative projects which may end up bringing us broader outside success but are not reliant on others' involvement in order to exist and to grow. These projects, of which we are the creator, are the very things we to which we can return our attention and concentration when we sense that we are falling into the cycle of 'waiting'.

Ultimately, we discover that all the commercial success and recognition we could ever have will never replace the meaning of a daily devotion to something that has meaning to us, regardless of how others may perceive us. The paradox is, of course, that when we have fully connected to our own sense of spirit and meaning in our lives on a daily basis, the very success we so desperately seek does arrive; the form of that success, however, is unknowable in a given moment. We just have to trust that its shape and quality is absolutely appropriate for us at that point of our journey.

I spent a week in full joy, enthusiasm and, maybe most importantly, wonder. Those feelings left me for a while as I began to anticipate the things that would result from all those good feelings.

Back to the drawing board. Pass me the crayons. Who doesn't like drawing?

Monday, April 12, 2010


It's a bad start to the week.

The Universe gave me attitude today.

I was going through my normal Monday routine: get out of bed with a Ben and Jerry's hangover from our regular Sunday night movie screening (2012... sensational stuff), make some coffee and inject it into Victoria's veins to avoid total chaos breaking out in our household and then sit down in front of my aging, wheezing laptop (high time for the people at Apple to begin sponsoring this blog) to check my email and read about the Mets' latest defeat.

No surprises on the Mets side of things. But when I checked my inbox, I saw my daily message from the Universe and it went something like this:

The recession is now over, Marc.

Good one.

You can take the rest of the week off.

.....huh? At first I didn't know what to make of this. Was the Universe really telling me to unfold the beach chair, pop open the coconut tanning oil and blend up my best batch of pina colada, umbrella included? Surely not... that couldn't be it. One thing I do know about the Universe is that it works hard. What with the constant expansion, the dark matter, black holes, dying stars giving birth to new ones, the whole Tonight Show fiasco, I mean jesus.... to speak in the vernacular of a former waiter, the Universe is in the weeds. It couldn't possibly be encouraging me to revert back to my lazy, sport-watching, ice cream-inhaling, sloth-impersonating self, could it?

The short answer to that, upon review of its missive to me, is no. Upon reading the note a second time, I began to suspect that I was being toyed with. An acerbic tone was making itself apparent to me. I felt vulnerable, exposed. Had the Universe been watching these past few days? How could it, with its massive work schedule, possibly have known that I'd indeed been resting on my laurels, congratulating myself for my recent successes (if you haven't heard about those, you soon will- trust me) and leaving my daily to-do list comfortably blank and untouched as it sat on the one tiny shelf that Victoria has allotted me in the apartment that she occasionally allows me to share with her?

I have no answer to that, except to say: it did know. Worse than that, it was now chastising me for my indolence. Of course the recession isn't over. The Universe definitely keeps up with the news (a big Rachel Maddow fan from what I hear) and knows what an enormous economic shambles we're all in. It would never be so presumptuous as to view the tiniest bit of upward movement on the stock market combined with a few  jobs gained as an opportunity to revert back to irresponsibility and start partying... that's Wall Street's job. 

Then there was the "good one". Good one??? Isn't that what we say to someone in sardonic fashion after they've behaved like an absolute twit at a dinner gathering, or ruined your surprise party, or inadvertently soiled themselves next to us during a screening of Saw 6? Was the Universe really going there?


Folks, I've just been scolded and I must tell you, it stings. I haven't felt this castigated since Anoushka Thompson berated me in 3rd grade for
not letting the rest of the class win during our daily Mathematical Shootout right after recess as I stood triumphantly over the corpses of arithmetically inept youngsters who lay scattered about the classroom. She had pinpricked the balloon of my inflated ego and, as my many therapists (in addition to my girlfriend) will tell you, I've never recovered.                                                                                                      

And now this.

Maybe it's a blessing in disguise. Maybe I needed a good kick in the cods. We all get complacent from time to time.

So, my lovely readership, I'm going to finish writing this essay and put my dang computer down. I'm going to stand up, go over to the aforementioned tiny, cramped shelf (better known in our household as "your area") and I'm going to blow the dust off the top of my pad that serves as my to-do list. I will look at the supermarket that is my life and walk down its many aisles, scanning the shelves for places that need restocking (you too can use dazzling metaphors- I do private coaching). I will flush the rest of that Cherry Garcia right down the drain whether Victoria likes it or not- she only likes the chocolate chunks anyway.

Then I will get to work. I will show the Universe what happens when it gets sassy with me.

And I will prevail over the sarcastic old fart.

(Picture: The Universe.... weisenheimer)

Friday, April 9, 2010


I'm sensing an exhaustion among my readership- too many hilarious, passionate, brilliantly conceived and executed essays on the state of humanity and the primordial ooze from whence it all began. So instead, dear readers, some fluffy odds and ends to usher you into your weekend.

But before we get to said fluff, a recommendation for you on the subject of the state of humanity and the planet it depends on, sans ooze. If you don't know who Annie Leonard is, it's time to find out. She has written a book about consumerism and its effect on our planet called The Story of Stuff. I was introduced to this extremely intelligent, dynamic and engaging woman through an interview on Tavis Smiley last night and am now planning on reading the book; in the                                                                            
meantime, I urge you to visit the website where you'll find all relevant info plus videos of  some of her recent interviews. The woman is omnipresent at the moment. May her audience continue to grow.

Glenn Beck made 52 million dollars last year. Yep, I said million. Manny Ramirez is going to make 25 million dollars for (occasionally if he's lucky) hitting a ball with a piece of wood. Who's paying their wages? We are, by showing up to watch them every day. We live in a mysterious neck of the universe.

I heard a nice quote for all those who are striving to realize a dream and may sometimes experience doubt around its eventual fulfillment:

"Invariably, when big dreams come true, and I mean BIG, there is a total metamorphosis of a person's life. Their thoughts change, their words change, decisions are made differently, gratitude is tossed about like rice at a wedding, priorities are rearranged, and optimism soars.... Yeah, they're almost annoying.

You could have guessed all that, huh?

Would you have guessed that these changes, invariably, come before, not after, their dream's manifestation?"

I'm not sure who said that, but I do know this: it wasn't Manny Ramirez or Glenn Beck.

Dancing With The Stars is a farce this year. Buzz Aldrin is 132, Kate Gosselin has some kind of low-level physical retardation (the mental side of things speaks for itself) and I want to waterboard Nicole Scherzinger, the brazen hussey from the Pussycat Dolls who reminds me of the guy who shows up at a friendly whiffleball game, proceeds to beat the living daylights out of everyone while never making an out and then casually mentions as he's leaving that he played in the minor leagues for ten years. Gee, I wonder who's going to get higher scores: the singer/dancer from a successful pop band or the aging astronaut who just snorted four lines of Cialis out the back to try to get in the groove? Please. After  last week's episode I lit a candle, ate some gelfite fish and put an ancient Jewish curse on Miss Pussycat. If she happens to come down with some kind of noxious, spotty rash during the week you know who to thank.

(Above: Nicole Scherzinger... evil.)

As I write this post today I'm sitting on a patio in front of a lovely back yard. Huge lemons hang auspiciously from the lemon tree to my right and blazing maroon bougainvillea surround me on my left. Birds chirp, no clouds beckon to me from a serene blue sky and the faintest breeze causes only the slightest stir. I'm housesitting, deep in the peaceful, irrelevant utopia that is the Valley. There is an eight foot hoop not twenty paces away and at some stage I plan to completely demoralize my girlfriend at a sweaty, erotic game of b-ball which reminds me of a wonderful quote by the late, great Detective Frank Drebbin, Police Squad:

"I like my sex like I like my basketball- one on one, and with as little dribbling as possible."



Wednesday, April 7, 2010


During my travels today I was fortunate to run into an Australian actor I met a couple of years back, Josh Adamson.
After exchanging the usual pleasantries that flow between ex-pat Aussies I asked him how he'd been getting on and he told me of a wonderful development in his artistic life and career.

Josh leaves Los Angeles periodically to act in theatrical productions, both in New York and elsewhere from what I could glean. Sometime last year, sitting in his temporary theatre housing, Josh decided to get a canvas and paint. This isn't uncommon; once rehearsal for a show is over and the production is playing every evening actors who are away from home usually find themselves with little to do during the day and it's at this point that they usually turn to creative outlets beyond acting: music, writing or in this case, painting.

That was around a year ago. After finishing several canvases, Josh started to post them online and get them out into the world and the response was immediate. Galleries started to show interest and before long Josh's work had been seen in exhibitions. Then, recently, he told me he'd been contacted by a gallery in Vera Cruz, Mexico. An area known for high-end art buyers, Josh's work would take up the entire top floor for a month, gaining exposure to lovers of the kind of vibrant work that Josh was creating. They were asking for 30 paintings; Josh had, up until that point, painted 14.

So now it's down to work. It seems that his success as a painter may be about to shoot upward.

But this post today isn't about commercial, financial or even artistic success in the way it's usually defined.

It's about following your impulses wherever they may lead. Listening to that soft voice, whispering to us when we're receptive enough to hear it, that suggests a new direction. It's about rejecting internal and external notions around who we are, what we're capable of and what's possible in the world.

Hearing Josh's good news and seeing his expansion into an area that up until a year ago had been foreign to him tells me that personal, artistic and financial/commercial expansion can occur in a multitude of ways if we have the courage, joy and open mind to pursue our desires -  however illogical, surprising or 'unrealistic' they may seem.

After all, we live in a fluid, dynamic society where a single voice is now able to make itself heard in ways unimaginable before. Just a click and one can see the works of artists all over the world not to mention work from people in every other field of endeavour.
 Stories like Josh's remind us that any thoughts of too late, not good enough or not possible are just resistance and stagnation. It's our job to blow them up through taking action and feeling joy for what we can do now and what we may do tomorrow.

I've left a link to Josh's website below. I hope you dig his work. Others clearly do.

But what's more important is that he did it.

Picture: "Another Workday in the City", 30" x 40" acrylic on canvas.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


No, not the man who comes around every weekend to our apartment building to sell apples*. I'm talking about the charming, strange-looking fellow who works at the Apple store at our friendly neighbourhood mall.

We were there a couple of weeks back to make a purchase at our favorite boutique, a trendy, on-the-cusp-of-the-latest fashions clothing store from Scandinavia by the name of Gap (correct pronunciation is jop). They sell a type of boxer short there that drives Victoria wild when she imagines them on a guy she saw on General Hospital. Anyhoozle, we made our purchase and were returning to our car when I felt a gravitational pull exert its effect on my gal from the direction of the Apple store.

A short timeout for some back story here. At one point in time Victoria and I had, by my standards anyway, a pretty healthy relationship. I cooked, she ate. I cleaned, she re-messed. She itched, I scratched. You're getting the picture, I trust. True symbiosis. Co-dependence at its finest, similar to the kind of relationships dictatorships have with their  spiritually crushed, yet desperately needy populations in certain Central African republics. Victoria needed me, you see, and the feeling of being wanted for my services allowed me a degree of enfeebled self-worth.

That all came crashing down the day she bought her Iphone.

Now- most of you, dear readers, could probably make a solid guess at what my opinions are concerning people's consumeristic obsession with the latest, useless technological toys that overwhelm dinner conversations across this great continent. Let's leave that aside for the moment. I was prepared to participate this time. To share in her joy over her newest acquisition which would, undoubtedly, make her (and by proxy me) a more spiritually whole and, more importantly, cooler person. Maybe if I could master the art of operating this little wizard-in-your-pocket Victoria might let me sleep indoors on the odd night. It certainly couldn't hurt.

The first sign of trouble came when I absent-mindedly went to touch it as Victoria stared at the screen, hypnotised, having just taken the thing out of its box back at our apartment. My fingers were two centimetres from its shiny chrome casing when Victoria's head whipped around and I heard a snarl emanate from her frothy lips that could only have come from the deepest recesses of her primal innards. Her eyes flashed in territorial rage, and for a moment I was back on the African savannah, a small innocent rodent attempting to steal an egg from the eagle's nest. Victoria had disappeared- all humanity shredded as she protected her prized bundle. This was the lizard brain in all its terrifying glory.

I did what all smart males do when threatened by their mate. I retreated, blinking back heavy tears. The pecking order had been established: the Iphone would receive the food, shelter and loving attention. I would get the crumbs.

Then, a couple of months back, we were watching our favorite show/aphrodisiac, So You Think You Can Dance, when a commercial for the IPad came on. Victoria watched, transfixed and the next day she told me she had to go out for a while. Out of curiosity I asked her where she was headed and the response shot back:

"None of your bees wax."

Now, dear readers, all of you must know that when bees wax is mentioned in a relationship, danger is imminent. I decided to follow my love. Our very union was under threat, and I knew where she was going.

We arrived at the mall. Her erratic driving, viewed from three cars back, told me she was in the grip of a familiar ecstasy. She pulled into a parking spot and dove out of the car, on the run. I followed close behind and watched her head into the Apple store. What followed was ten minutes of furious conversation with a skinny, pallid young Apple employee whose dripping lust for my girlfriend flashed to me, on the other side of the promenade, in neon lights. His acne seemed to be flaring a deep, sexualised red and Victoria was playing him for all he was worth.

She left soon after and I followed her home. Time passed, life returned to normal.

Until yesterday. The day the Ipad finally became available to the public. You may have seen the news reports, showing hordes of people waiting in line for hours, shrieking excitedly as they left the store with this digital demon in their possession. I had assumed in the days leading up to the big event that it would only be a matter of time until I also saw Victoria on the television, elbowing old ladies out of the way to push in line.

Except that I didn't. Early yesterday morning, before the shops had even opened, I awoke to hear Victoria having a hushed conversation with someone at the door. It was a man's voice, albeit high, squeaky, almost pre-pubescent. The door closed and she waltzed into the bedroom, brand new IPad in hand. Something was amiss. Victoria had her hands back on the strings and was yanking with all her might.

As I write this post, a pair of Gap boxer shorts lie by my side. Readers, they are not clean and worse, they are not mine. I read Victoria's journal today while she was out. Is that wrong? People, we live in an amoral world. Victoria has made her sullied bed. I copied this phrase down from the fluffy pink journal found in the back of her shoe drawer:

"As Lenny heaved and grunted above me, I adopted a phrase used by British colonial wives, far from home and forced to have intimate relations with their new husbands: 'close your eyes and think of England'. Except in this case I thought of you, dear Machine, light of my life..."

The woman had gone mad. She had indeed shtupped Lenny and now had her prize.

How do I proceed? Clearly adults have come to worship toys to an extent far beyond anything a child could be capable of and it is people like me that become the victims of this idolatry. Left behind. Neglected.

Let this be a lesson, dear readers. The moral of this story is clear.

Get a job at an Apple store.

*I WISH someone would come to my door selling apples. Wouldn't that be great??

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Nobody in this country who is prepared to work hard, live with integrity and play by the rules should ever have to worry about a roof over their head, food on the table or the health of themselves or their children. 

Last night Victoria and I ordered pizza from our local joint. After waiting for what seemed like too long we finally received a call from a lady who was outside. She was helping out the delivery guy, she told me, and was outside in her car, having been unable to find our address, which sometimes is difficult to locate. 

In a mild state of annoyance I ventured out to find an older, hispanic lady sitting in a double-parked SUV. Upon seeing me, she became very apologetic at having made me leave my apartment. My countenance softened immediately, which usually occurs when I see an older person who has probably endured challenges in even getting to this country, now probably working long hours for not much money. She gave me the pizza and the coke I had ordered and  I parked them on the bonnet of the car while she was trying to find a pen for me with which to sign the credit card slip. As I sometimes do when pizza takes a long time, I checked the pizza to see if it was hot and was not surprised to find it barely lukewarm. At this point some irritation returned and I asked the lady if the pizza had been brought back to the restaurant because the delivery guy couldn't find my address, something that has happened before. She said no and asked me why. I explained that the pizza wasn't hot and she once again apologised, not however volunteering to return with a hot pizza, a decision which she may not have had the power to make at that point. I told her it wasn't her fault but turned to leave not particularly satisfied with the whole process. As I reached for the pizza, I knocked the soda onto the ground where the styrofoam cup burst. The soda was gone and so was I, thanking the lady and cutting my losses. 

Except that the lady wouldn't let me leave. She became even more apologetic and as I tried to tell her that my waistline would be better off without the soda, the whole exchange suddenly became about something else.

This woman suddenly had tears in her eyes and she was begging me to allow her to bring me another soda. I stopped, stunned by her plaintive voice whispering, "please sir, I will lose my job.". Shocked, I tried to calm her down by putting my hand on her shoulder, but that only encouraged her to plead more intently; she, in turn, grabbed my arm and looked deep into my eyes, as if I were somehow the deciding voice in whether or not she would go home to her family with her job secure. 

"Okay." I said, the sadness of the situation starting to take hold. "If you need to bring me another soda, that's fine."

She thanked me, saying muchas gracias over and over as she got into her car and drove away. I stumbled back to the apartment with cold pizza, no soda and a heavy heart.

Is this the best we can do as a society, a community? Can someone who is prepared to give full effort and be an honest employee with a good attitude really have so little job security? Are employers so happy to so grossly underpay immigrant employees and have them in such fear for their underpaid job just because these employees were unlucky enough to be born somewhere else?

I don't like to dwell on the circumstances of people like the kind lady who delivered my pizza last night - it creates too much internal despair. Outside of solving the political, economic and sociological problems that create the aforementioned mistreatment of people and the resultant fear and despair that exploitation produces, my greatest wish is that every single person on this planet, whether disenfranchised or not, understands that they carry an inherent value simply by the virtue of being human beings

No one should have to beg anyone for their job, least of all a stranger to whom they have been more than kind. Of course not all people can perform all jobs but given a much fairer distribution of wealth, both here in the US and abroad, there should be a job for every adult who is ready to work. Nobody should ever be made to feel as if they are incredibly lucky because they are gainfully employed, let alone ungainfully.

How can this happen? We must stop affirming the fallacy of hyper-capitalism which says that we will be happiest when we have more than the next person. In actual fact, as human beings we are communal creatures and as such we achieve far greater fulfillment when we are part of a healthy, generally more equal whole. Although very wealthy individuals in a capitalist society may apparently feel happy and secure in their riches, they will eventually have to confront the murkier aspects of the very society that enabled them to attain that wealth. It is a mathematical truism that there is only a certain amount of wealth at any one time to go around, and if huge hoarding of wealth is taking place at the top of the pyramid, simple cause and effect will tell you there must be equally massive scarcity occurring on the other end. 

Only when those who possess the wealth and therefore the political power are willing to share more of it can we hope to begin creating a healthier, more compassionate and equal society.

If you are a citizen of an industrialized Western nation who has a job, is reasonably educated and doesn't worry about where your next meal or dollar is coming from, that probably means you.