Friday, July 30, 2010


I've had a lot to say in the past about boredom and what passes for 'entertainment' in our society. This Op-ed in The Guardian today is a must read, especially for people who are so ready to embrace Attention Deficit Disorder as a common 'condition' among children:

Thursday, July 29, 2010


We take such liberties with those we love. Why is it that, at a random point in our relationship, we suddenly decide that our way of doing things and our choices must be those of our partner? Maybe, for some of us, that perspective, that we must know best at all times, was always present- dormant, simmering, ready to spring to life as soon as we decided that we'd achieved a deep enough level of intimacy with another person to be able to start influencing their lives on a regular basis.
The reasons for this egoic projection onto the ones we love are usually important in order to cease its continuance but whether or not we ever understand why we project our fears and desires onto others, the unavoidable, sometimes unpalatable truth is this:

We don't know what's best for someone else.

That can be a tough one for some of us, this writer included. How about this doozy:

No one's path is the same as ours, nor is their way of walking it.

Would we want it any other way? Would we want someone telling us how to live our lives,  judging and criticizing us for doing things our own unique way?

Of course we can have good ideas and suggestions for others that may help them to make optimal choices related to the expansion and richness of their lives, but ultimately anything we can tell someone else has to be personalized by them, for it to be of functional use. We all potentially have wisdom to share that may be of benefit to someone else, but even in the event of their receiving it, they still must internalize, personalize it and make it their own and therefore will apply it in their own way which by necessity will make its external manifestation different to ours.

This is the miracle of individualization. The miracle of life manifesting itself in untold, infinite ways. No drop of water will flow in exactly the same way, given the freedom to move in any direction. When we live from this perspective, fascination can flower within us and judgment swiftly ceases to be an exercise worth indulging in; instead, we open our minds and hearts to the reality as it is of others, not as we think it is supposed to be.

I took surfing lessons a year ago and two moments, repeated over and over again out on the water, stood out to me. The first is how patient the other surfers were, sitting out there on their boards. Having caught a wave, they would then return to their spot and wait. Just wait. I marvelled at all of these people, quietly and contentedly looking out to the horizon, their faces soft and peaceful. It seemed to me that they had accessed that inner state of acceptance. No amount of inner argument or screaming at the gods would bring them catchable swells any sooner. I asked myself, "how many of these people will get in their cars and start blasting their horns at other drivers? Exhale in frustration at amber lights turning red? Stew in dissatisfaction over something concerning their partners, friends, family?" What would it mean, I wondered, to take this easy respect and acceptance of the moment into their daily lives?

The other phenomenon that occurred, was a high degree of fascination. This, to me, is one of the most valuable and rich states of being that we can achieve and, sadly, is most often lost as children move into adolescence and adulthood. A heightened state of aliveness arising from a fascination of and excitement about the living moment, the reality occurring all around us right now that is wholly unique. For the surfers, each wave would bring its own challenges and opportunities. They could and did not want to take any moment for granted; no wave would be exactly the same, and they wanted to experience the journey of each uncommon ride fully. This may sound obvious but what would it be like to live more of our day to day lives in this state? To embrace the notion, which just happens to be absolutely true, that no moment is like any other. No person is unlike any other. No choice the same. No perspective.

We rise to these heights occasionally- in moments that we perceive to be of great import, either due to events that we find desirous or dangerous. But it is the moments in between that may matter more: really hearing our lover when they express who they are in each moment, seeing our friend as if for the first time, taking every possible opportunity to let go of all the noise and be sensually mindful no matter where we find ourselves. A greater practice of this art will allow us to feel more alive and to sense the immense potentiality of every moment that is given to us. It is the paramount antidote to 'same shit, different day.'

Acceptance. Fascination. Wonder. May we all be as curious and non-judgmental now as we were when we were children. We live in a world that has swung in the direction of defensiveness, cynicism and an all too frequently jaded view of life. But the joyous, spontaneous, fascinated part of us that is always ready to dance is always present, even when seemingly buried. It is present in us all right now, no matter how many 'cares and responsibilites' we may think we own, or whatever reputation we think we need to protect.

Cynicism grown from life's challenging, difficult lessons transforms into wisdom and vulnerability and openness from something perceived as weakness into great assets, allowing us to have richer, more meaningful inner lives.

We need only make the choice.

Monday, July 26, 2010


I had a disturbing dream last night.

I was sitting at a table with two strangers, discussing the plot of a movie. I can't remember its name but I do know that things were getting pretty heated as the two people sitting with me tried to convince me of the film's deeper meanings as I, dizzy, attempted to appear enthusiastic and interested in the discussion.

No, wait. That wasn't a dream. I know it wasn't, because I had my totem with me. It's a stun gun, and when I jam it up my toosh and press the button, one of two things happen. If I I jump three feet in the air and howl with pain, I know I'm dreaming. If I wake up in my bed in an intense state of arousal, I'm probably awake.

Damn.  I shouldn't have said 'probably'. Now we're back to square one. 

Why do people fall into the trap of thinking that there are hidden meanings and little treasures encoded into films like Inception? They did it with The Matrix, they did it with Star Wars and of course we all remember the ghost in the background in that scene from Three Men & A Baby (don't try to act all cool by feigning ignorance). People, get with the program: Christopher Nolan is laughing at us. He didn't re-invent the wheel here; anyone see the final episode of Dallas? For my early-20s readers, many apologies- you can probably order it on Netflix. Laugh if you must, but I don't think it's hyperbolic to say that the finale of Dallas will tell you everything you need to know about Inception. It also explains why Larry Hagman played the lead in the film. They're getting really good with makeup these days- I was wondering why Leo looked so jowly.

There is no deeper meaning to Inception. Heck, even Christopher Nolan doesn't know what the hell is going on here. Nor does he need to. In this era,  'cool' trumps anything else. If you don't believe me, just ask all the chumps who stood in line for the Iphone 4. In that example, cool even trumped having a phone that friggin' works. They're actually making a movie about a guy ( Larry Hagman has signed on to play the role) who buys a cool new Apple phone that takes him to another dimension from which he can't return because the phone crashes. It's called Reception.

The title is also strange to me. The definition of 'inception' in my trusty online dictionary reads: 'the act of graduating or earning a university degree, usually a master's or doctor's degree, especially at Cambridge University.'

....huh? Can't be right. I must be dreaming. Where's my totem? Shit. Victoria's not here. She's my other totem. Here's how it works. When I'm about to drop down into the very exciting, dangerous third level, I always have her present. When I need to know if I'm dreaming or not, I simply find a chair and sit down right next to her. I then proceed to rise. If she stays silent, I know I'm still dreaming. If she asks me to get her something from the kitchen, I know I'm wide awake and irritated all at the same time.

But back to our friendly writer/director and his choice of title for the film. There might be more to this after all. I just did some research and bingo. The man actually went to University College (fishy name, for starters) in London. Clearly resentful of not ever having gone to Cambridge University all those years ago. Furious, in fact.

So furious that the entire film is a f--- you to Cambridge's most famous graduate, Sir Isaac Newton.

Remember Newton's  First Law of Motion?

"Every body will persist in its state of REST (creepy).... unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it."

In the words of Homer, wow. How petty is this guy Nolan. Can't even obey the laws of gravity and simple physics. Has to disrespect someone just because they went to a better university, while trying to sell us on a completely false definition of a word. 

But for the sake of all you fans of the film, let's go along with the idea that 'inception' refers to the act of implanting an idea in dream state in order for it to take hold in reality upon waking. Here's some real world evidence of inception. I have even discovered the actual phrases that were suggested to these people in their dream life:

Lindsay Lohan:  I mustn't drink and drive. I must drink before I leave the party.
Barack Obama:  I can work with Republicans.
Le Bron James:  South beach, roller blades, hairless, latin men in thongs.
Tom Cruise:  I'm straight.
Tom Cruise:  Katie's smirk is not annoying.
Tom Cruise:  I'm five feet ten.
Tom Cruise:  I'm straight.

Just a few to tease you with. There are countless examples. Feel free to leave comments with your own if you've managed to decipher them. It's time to pull the rug back.

Victoria just asked me to get her more coffee, and I haven't even gotten up yet.

This is getting ridiculous. 

Pictures, from top:

Larry Hagman as JR, in Dallas, and brilliant as Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception.
Isaac Newton:  Dissed.

Friday, July 23, 2010


It's a well-worn maxim that every difficulty in our lives is also a lesson, an opportunity to grow and expand as human beings. That has certainly been true for this writer over the last two weeks.

Around two and a half years ago, I moved into a lovely apartment in the Hollywood/Los Feliz area. The rent was cheap, the apartment spacious, the people friendly and, for the most part, quiet. One of the most luxuriant aspects of the place is the pool and central area, also called the 'patio' by our curmudgeony building manager, a flowery turn of phrase for a guy such as he. My girlfriend Victoria moved in a year ago and our apartment, on the ground floor, looks out onto the pool, the trees, the modest yet well-tended desert gardens, some ancient, moribund beach chairs and, most importantly, a table under an umbrella surrounded by four chairs.

I point your attention to the table and chairs because they happen to sit directly outside our bedroom window. As a result, any conversation had by people making themselves comfortable there is heard by my girlfriend and I, in the finest detail.

For as long as I've lived there it hasn't been an issue. People in the building like to use the pool intermittently; often the two children from a studio upstairs will use the area as their playground, which is fine by us- they don't fight very often and collapse into hysterics even less frequently. With most of the tenants in the building being working people who seemed to enjoy coming home to a quiet living environment, harmony and relative tranquility was generally the rule.

That all changed a couple of weeks ago. It was as if some unconscious mechanism inside me could sense that a steep learning curve had presented itself. Two young women who I didn't recognize were sunning themselves on the patio. Two others were seated at the table, drinking beers and kicking back. In an instant my apartment building morphed from living space to resort. In my eyes, anyway.

Before too long I was out there, standing over the two women, lying on beach towels. I asked them if they lived here and who they knew in the building, all the while acutely aware of how I must appear to them: stern, humourless, paranoid. We've all known someone like that; I never imagined I'd ever seem to be that person in anyone's eyes. But my protective instincts had been aroused. My sense of peace was being threatened.

In halting English adorned with a thick Russian accent, they told me they were staying with a woman in the building, a woman that I knew. I retreated, unsatisfied. I felt like Gandalf in Lord Of The Rings, when he discovers the presence of the Ring. Dark forces were mounting, and I was powerless to stop them from bursting through my living and bedroom windows.

Finances must have been scarce for these people, for I discovered that the woman they knew, Nadia, was allowing them to stay with her in her studio. Further evidence of their limited resources came in the form of their never seeming to leave the building: morning, noon and night they could be found lazing on the patio, much to my growing distress.

I could continue with this tail of woe, relating to you every little vexation that proceeded to occur, from late nights of loud conversation well past the allotted patio curfew to strangers showing up from other buildings with pizza, beer and static-spewing radios which conspired to familiarize me with the latest Russian chart toppers, but that would turn this column into a tedious,  glorified vent and that, dear readers, is not the subject of this post today.

What is at issue, and what has been my challenging opportunity for growth, is once again experiencing how easy it is to deeply personalize a neutral event, and how much suffering that can cause.

For it is clear that, at a guess, most people in my building have not had the same response to the presence of these three young ladies on vacation from Russia. The reasons for that will be varied: possibly (or probably) many of my fellow tenants don't possess the same sensitivity to noise or desire, however unrealistic, for a more or less constant state of peace and quiet in the common areas of the building. Possibly some of them feel as I  do, yet do not feel the need or are not prepared to confront the problem directly. Others, I am sure, are simply wholly indifferent to the situation.

So, as the days went by, days containing discussions with the people in question and demands for them to respect the peace of the building and the rent-paying tenants in it, I came to the fundamental question: what if these people were not going to return to Russia in two months, nor change their behaviour beyond tiny concessions on the fringes? What if despite the alerting of management, the raising of voices and the summoning of the police, I would continue to find them outside my window upon waking in the morning and resting my head on my pillow at night? How might I ever reclaim a state of inner peace?

Once I began to focus on that question, the answer made itself available. I would have to change what this event, which was beginning to consume my thoughts and feelings on a daily basis, represented to me.  Once again I had returned to a truth that may not seem satisfactory to us in the heat of the emotional, irrational moment, but nonetheless always sets us free:

None of this was personal.

These people were not sent here from Russia to disturb my peace and torment me. Their actions were not designed to disrespect me. Nothing could be further from the truth. The worst one could say is that they were entirely, blissfully oblivious to me. Their intent was to spend two months of fun and frivolity by the pool in Los Angeles. I, on the other hand, interpreted every laugh, every word, every splash and buzz emitted from their radio as a slight against me. That somehow these people were taking something from me and me alone and the only way to peace was to eradicate them, annihilate them, make them wrong, change their reality by making them disappear. I needed to win. For peace. For self-respect. To end the pain.

Sound familiar? If you are lucky enough not to have been caught in that web of inner conflict, you surely can recognize it in the world around us, in the dynamic between lovers and ex-lovers, co-workers, competitors in business or politics and most evidently in masses of people represented through organized religious sects, communities and nations. One person's reality is taken personally by another and the conflict begins and here was I, beginning my own little war in my tiny corner of the globe.

Some believe that the reason for the continuance of most large scale conflicts and many smaller ones stems from an appetite and desire for victory, revenge and ultimately validation and vindication which outweighs the desire to end the suffering that these conflicts create. I don't believe this to be true. The problem lies in the misguided notion, taught to us in so many unspoken and, unfortunately, spoken ways, that inner peace resides in vanquishing that which we believe to have caused us grief in the first place. But the event itself is always outside us, impersonal, a projection emanating from a neutral person who is acting from inside their own deeply personal, subjective prism. It is only when we choose to believe that their actions say something true and valid about us, that we feel and engage in conflict. Therefore, nothing from without is personal unless we make it so, whether it comes from a stranger who knows nothing of who we are or a loved one (or hated one) who we feel understands us deeply.

This is not to say that behaviour should not be challenged. Nowhere am I advocating the passive acceptance of all conditions and actions. Far from it. We all must decide in each moment what will bring the most inner peace. Sometimes it will mean asking somebody in the firmest possible way to keep the noise down. In other moments it may require more drastic action. But in many moments it will also mean reminding ourselves that what others do says absolutely nothing about us and proceeding from that place always with a view to what will be the most harmonious action in the long term that will most allow us to accept the situation facing us in that moment.

This is a lesson I am engaged in even at the very writing of this today. As I type these words I hear, as on every other day, the laughter and conversation of these young women probably visiting these shores for the first time. They have been made fully aware of my feelings, as has the manager of the building. My sense of peace today will be contingent on my ability not to block them out, but rather to accept their presence as a benign entity, saying absolutely nothing about who I am. The struggle is no longer with a force without, but within.

The good news is that it is now a conflict that is completely within my power to end.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


The Democrats are doomed in November.

A recent poll found that over half the country thinks President Obama is a socialist.

Over half.

The President and his administration can take a lot of the responsibility for this collective malaria on the part of a large portion of the US electorate.

But before we get to that, let's first aim our guns at the pollsters. Because remember, these polling companies are businesses, and as such, they need to constantly be coming up with juicy stuff that will attract headlines, just like the one I'm discussing today.

When are the pollsters going to show some integrity? I have news for you- whoever took this poll was in on a dirty little secret that no one in the media ever talks about when speaking of the President and the public's perception of him as a 'socialist'; it's a secret that would threaten to make the whole subject a little less sexy. Would you like to know what the secret is? No? Tough. I'm going to tell you.

Most of the general public don't even know what the word 'socialist' means.

That's the twist here. I think Barack Obama would be quite content to be  called a socialist, even to use the word himself in his political discourse if he felt the word was being used appropriately.

But of course, it isn't. 'Socialism' is now on the same polemical scrapheap as 'liberal', or the words 'gun' and 'control' when joined together. The right wingers have done a marvellous job; just as they managed to equate liberal with weak, wasteful, naive and even gay, they have long since made socialism absolutely synonymous with communism. I hear that in Texan schools the two words even come right after eachother in the dictionaries provided for the students.

So let's look at the two, shall we?

A summary of The Oxford Revised Second Edition definition of communism reads this way: 'a political theory... advocating a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person is paid and works according to his or her needs and abilities.'

Hmm. And socialism? Let's take a gander at that: 'a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution and exchange should be regulated or owned by the community as a whole... socialism has been used to describe positions as far apart as anarchism, Soviet state Communism and social democracy.'

Ain't that the truth, Oxford. That's exactly what Fox & Friends (many, many friends) have been doing- brainwashing people into believing that a social democracy- exactly what the United States has always been, similar to every other Western industrialized democracy in the entire world- must mean people standing in lines for bread and the great, unwashed proletariat coming to tear down your mansion and behead your entire family as well as all of your servants.

But socialism, as defined by the dear Oxford, sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Something any sane person could get behind, right? The community owning certain enterprises better left untouched by private profiteering and regulating the rest for the greater good? A very good formula for peace and prosperity for a large share of the population.

And guess what? When most Americans are asked questions with a tad more nuance related to these issues, they usually feel the same way. So instead of asking powder-keg, tabloid-style questions designed to produce results that will be talked about by the models and actors posing as news anchors on cable and network news, pollsters could actually be of assistance in illuminating the political landscape of this country and giving all of us a better reflection of exactly who we are and what we stand for. Here are some questions that might produce a slightly different impression of the average American voter:

  • Do you believe every American child should have access to a decent public education?
  • Are you in favour of the very richest in this country paying a lower rate of tax than yourself?
  • Do you think the nation's air, water and soil should be clean?
  • Do you think corporate lobbyists should have greater access to Congress and the Administration than the general public?
  • Should a citizen have to bankrupt themselves and possibly lose their house if they get sick?
  • Should every American citizen, including you, have a fair chance at having a job with decent conditions, a genuine living wage and the chance to send their children to a good university at an affordable price?
  • Should the general public have access to intelligent, impartial news broadcasting entities that are free of heavy corporate influence?
I am convinced that if people chose to answer honestly, they would probably give answers that would lead us all to the conclusion that wait, most US citizens believe in a social democracy, a blending of private enterprise with public regulation and State providence in the areas of education, environmental and economic protection and health care, to name a few.

But we won't see that. Because it requires nuance- on the part of the 'news' and polling organizations who are less interested in the truth than they are in making a profit for their shareholders. But we can't put all of the blame on them. It also falls on us, the citizen. Most of us are conditioned from a young age not to probe beneath the surface, to challenge edicts, decrees and perspectives that are supposed to be accepted as fact. Somewhere along the way we all decided that capitalism and socialism had to be mutually exclusive. Many others have known better, from the Founding Fathers through to FDR and, I suspect, Barack Obama.

So where to go from here? The Democrats, most of whom have long since been bought many times over by Wall Street, refuse to call the Republicans by their true name: Rich fatcats serving the needs of fantastically wealthy corporations at the expense of the poor and middle class in this country who, nuance-challenged as they are, just want to kick out whoever's in office and get someone else, even if it means a return to the policies that broke this country in the first place. And while President Obama remains well spoken and polite, little will change before November.

So here's what you do, Mr.President. You take a leaf out of Alan Grayson's book. Remember him, the Congressman from Florida? During the healthcare debate he went onto the floor of the House with a presentation that declared that the Republicans' answer to the healthcare problem was for poor people to "die faster". No, it wasn't pretty nor was it particularly fair but the spirit of it was right: in effect, what Mr. Grayson was saying in flashing neon lights was: "THESE GUYS DON'T CARE ABOUT YOU."

That's the tone you and all of your representatives must take, Mr. President. It's time for the fireside address to come back- except it won't be by a fire. It'll be at the homes of people who can't afford to have their illnesses treated due to the lack of an affordable public coverage option. It'll be in hospitals where people are dying of emphysema due to pollution in their cities, pollution that is allowed to remain thanks to Republican opposition to clean energy bills and stronger environmental protection legislation. It'll be at unemployment lines where people spend fruitless hours looking for decent blue collar jobs that have long since disappeared overseas due to the 'free' market and a lack of government oversight and regulation that would work to keep industry alive in the US, the kind of regulation that Republicans and corporate-bought, right-leaning Democrats kill before it even has a chance to breathe.
You, Mr. President, with your persuasive intelligence, mellifluous voice and quiet strength,  would rail at these senators and congresspeople every single night, putting their pictures up on the screen, listing their campaign contributors and focusing on the thousands of votes they have cast in their political careers protecting the rights of Big Business at the expense of the rest of us.

Would it work? I have no idea. But at least you and your party would be going down swinging, in addition to finally calling out these people for what they are.

But, in the spirit of Colombo, I have one more question, Mr.President:

If you do ever decide to go on that kind of attack, what are you going to do about your campaign contributors?

Maybe it's time to have coffee with the folks at Goldman Sachs and the rest of the bad guys who are keeping the campaign coffers full and tell them you want to break up. Move on. It's not them, it's you.

Because I think you yearn to be free, Barack. You're like Jack Nicholson's character Nathan Jessop in A Few Good Men. You want to tell the truth. And in spite of what the pollsters might be telling you...
we can handle it.

Pictures, from top:   Alan Grayson- the right idea.
                                 Jack Nicholson as Nathan Jessop, A Few Good Men, 
                                 Columbia Tri-Star Pictures, 1992.




Thursday, July 8, 2010


The Russians are in custody.

Don't be scared.

You can let your child leave the house again. Even send them back to school. 

The bad guys are behind titanium bars.

We got 'em.

What were these evil superspies doing, I hear you ask?

What an inane question.

They were spying, people. That's not cool. Actually, they're pleading guilty to "conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent." That is so, way uncool. Don't these Ruskies know anything? Any actor who's played a KGB villain in a James Bond movie can tell you that if you want to act as a foreign agent- in fact, if you're not ready to play the part but are still only just in the conspiring stage (leafing through the dailies, practicing in front of the mirror, putting on a feeble Soviet brogue in restaurants), you have to register. Guys, come on. Get with it.

But let's say for argument's sake that these strapping fellows are actually spies. That they meant to do us morally upright US citizens (and residents, in my case) harm. I guess that's possible. Well, then guys... you still have to let us know! Please, by all means, be an agent, be foreign, but goddamn it, fess up!

Here's how it's supposed to go. It's not complicated. Work with me here. You board the Aeroflot airbus at Domodedovo, cyanide pills and microscopic camera safely stored where the sun rarely shines, and we're not talking Siberia. A quick hop across Europe and the Atlantic, involving the standard spy-on-a-plane fare:

  • 29 vodkas on the rocks, with no drunkenness or subsequent hangover thanks to a special pill designed by the Russian equivalent of Q. His name is Ӛ. Nice guy from what I hear.
  • The mandatory faceless sex with a steward in the bathroom. No orgasm, though- she accidentally hit the flush lever. You know that flush in the airplane bathroom. It sounds like the end of the world. Farewell, erection.
  • Having settled back into your seat in coach (it hasn't been the same since the KGB disbanded- the new Foreign Intelligence Service doesn't even have half & half in the office fridge), the friendly, morbidly obese American tourist forces you to casually snap his neck and pull his Minnesota Twins baseball cap down over his face after talking too much hockey and saying you bear an uncanny resemblance to Howie Mandell.
  • After sneaking into business class to avoid the soggy gases now escaping from the Minnesota Twin's doughy, decomposing corpse, you recline in your seat to enjoy the assorted Latest Hits! movies available on every Aeroflot flight.
  • Having been thoroughly moved by The Bridges of Madison County, thrilled by Mission Impossible 2 and amused by the latest, pathetic actor playing James Bond (you make a mental note to Google this Pierce Brosnan guy when you land), you recline in your seat and fall into a deep sleep.
  • A loud commotion back in coach wakes you with a start. As the flight crew races past, you hear something about the smell of death and horrific, noxious gases. Breakfast has just been served.
The rest of the flight proceeds uneventfully, aside from finishing things up with the steward, sans flush. She gives you her number and tells you to meet her in the hotel bar. You smile, say your goodbye and silently wish for a time when gay spies didn't have to keep up appearances. Not that it would help during a flight- male, gay flight stewards don't come along every day.

So here is the moment of truth. You have landed. You have disembarked. Now you are waiting in line at customs. As you near the front, you see your man: buzz cut above a chiselled jaw and thick, military neck. Photos of he and his marine core sweetheart on the desk. American flag lapel. Mikhail Gorbachev dart board on the glass partition behind him. A Minnesota Twins coffee cup next to him.   Damn.

But wait. You're not going to lie. You're going to follow the Pentagon's rules; play by the book, for Marx's sake.  You're going to tell the truth this time, and do something never before attempted in the entire history of US-Russian espionage, something that will create sudden, irreversible change in how things are done:

You're going to register.

You're next.  You head to the counter,  and here's what happens:

"Good day, sir. Passport, please."
"Certainly. Go Twins."

 Pause. Blank stare.

"What's your business in the USA?"
"How long will you be here?"
"As long as it takes to get my hands on critical military and state secrets."
"How long does that usually take? Ballpark."
"Hmm... how does a month sound?"
"Your tourist visa's valid for 3 months, so that'll work fine. "
"Cool. Maybe I'll have time to get to Vegas. Us spy types are mean poker players. You ever play Petrozavodsk Hold'em? Scintillating stuff."
"Never had the pleasure. Where will you be staying while you're here."
"All over West Hollywood."
"Excuse me?"
"Ah.. Los Angeles. I don't have an address yet. I'm a spy. We improvise."
"Got it. Well, this all checks out. Good luck with the state secret thing."
"  'Preciate it. You have a beautiful country. Really glad we got with the whole capitalist thing and can work together."
"Me too."

You start to walk away with a light skip, awash in contentment. His voice stops you. Uh oh. You turn, fearing the worst.

"One last thing. Has anybody ever told you that you look exactly like Howie Mandell?"

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Ever since I arrived in Los Angeles, I have been scolded, berated and chastised by friends and strangers alike over my negligence in not taking a trip up to Big Bear, a mountain region 90 minutes northeast of LA. Most popular as a skiing destination in winter, Big Bear also features mountain lakes for boating, trails for hiking and of course a multitude of scenic areas for camping.

So it was with a healthy dose of excitement that Victoria and I decided to spend our Saturday in that part of the world. It was Independence Day Weekend and a patriotic feeling was swelling our hearts; we wanted to explore this great land, wrested from the smelly British and taken from the Native Americans and the Mexicans by force. With that backdrop of adventure, heroism and manifest destiny seamlessly blended with cultural genocide and mass land theft, we set off.

The journey to Big Bear allowed me to view some suburban areas heretofore unseen by the writer and, in retrospect, better off left alone. The San Bernardino Valley is a wonderful place to raise your children if you like choking smog, endless cookie-cutter houses that line up like identical pieces of beige lego and a smorgasboard of strip malls to choose from, which is critical because Subways and Jamba Juices do vary enormously from one store to another. All of this is set in front of an incredible backdrop of mountains- I say incredible because although they lie only a few miles to the north of what amounts to a huge suburban concentration camp, they cannot be seen due to the pollution.

Having passed through that nightmare, our spirits lifted as we began our ascent toward Big Bear. The weather was refreshingly mild as we finally put the windows down to take in the fresh-ish air, bidding farewell to the dull, heavy layer of airborne filth covering the valley below. Victoria decided to bring a little bit of Los Angeles with her, blasting all and sundry with her horn as she passed slow-moving drivers trundling around the winding road, set amongst sheer cliffs promising certain death to anyone plunging into the abyss below. "Put your teeth back in, old timer!" She bellowed at an elderly man, whose smiling face melted into sadness as his ego and weekend were simultaneously crushed. "Learn how to drive, humanoid!" She screamed at an acne-ravaged teenager, driving with what appeared to be his girlfriend, a young girl now suddenly looking to greener romantic pastures in the face of her now former boyfriend being so effortlessly humiliated on the open road.

So it was with some relief that we headed into Big Bear Lake, one of the bigger towns in the area, ready to take in the sights, fraternise with the locals and enjoy some lunch. American flags abounded as we cruised down the main drag. I felt vindicated- the location on the plane ticket said 'United States'; but one could never be sure these days. Thank heavens for these wonderfully orienting flags, confirming that yes, I was indeed in the US of A. Having experienced the drive out, I was beginning to suspect that I was in fact living in war-torn Beirut.

Our first sighting of the lake was downright disturbing. Upon its shores was the same horrific slice of suburbia that I thought I'd left behind in San Bernardino. Soulless houses lined with the token wood siding, packed against eachother,  ruining what would have been a tranquil shoreline, usually so inviting to a visitor. What is the point of a lake if one cannot have access to it? Of course, later there would be many places where one could walk down to the lake (and venture out onto it), but once again private development of formerly pristine natural areas had succeeded in adding to their beauty its own unique brand of ugliness. This was where people so desired to visit? Big Bear was off to a bad start.

Further along, we came to the town center, an assortment of shops and bars, many of them draped with a Wild West motif, which seemed appropriate, given the demographic amidst which we were walking. I casually hid my Star of David necklace, fearing a mountain-high pogrom as I put a protective arm around Victoria, who in turn slid a protective arm around me- she had recently seen Deliverance and, noting the average length of the beards, thickness of the beerguts and fullness of glaze in the eyes, had decided that the person in danger of deflowerment was me.

Having hidden any sign of my Jewry and removed my shirt from my pants to cover up my firm, shapely derriere in order to make myself more resistible to the local orthodontically-challenged male population, we decided to venture into the Cowboy Express Steakhouse for some lunch. Victoria's mouth began to water at the sight of all kinds of black and white photographs on the log-cabin walls depicting the glorious slaughter of peaceful herbivores for her imminent dining pleasure. Any salivation was duly halted, however, by the sight of stoic, moustachioed men with large guns standing in front of old saloons, men who looked frighteningly similar to those that we passed on our way to this fine culinary establishment. Dryness of mouth reigned.

The first sign of danger came on the heels of our drink order. We were happily seated under a large, shade-bearing confederate flag (I immediately felt cozy- my comforter cover bears the same symbol) when the waitress came over to take our drink order. I sensed I'd made a mistake as soon as the words, "I'll have a Cosmo, heavy on the cranberry" came out of my mouth. Victoria's shoulders slumped as we watched the waitress give me a second look before heading over to a barrel-chested, woolly gentleman wearing overalls and a flannel shirt who sat watching by the jukebox. As the waitress whispered in his ear, pointing me out on the patio, I felt like a fugitive seated at a bar whose image comes on the television, being forced to watch as recognition dawns on each of his fellow patrons' faces. My ensuing response was also in line: run. But Victoria was next to me; no man can afford to be a coward in front of his girlfriend. That can come later, when she's not around.

So I sat tight, under the glare of this beast from another age. I snuck another glance and by this time he had put a toothpick in his mouth, sending it on vertical loops between his lips. I felt myself being hypnotized. Luckily the spell was broken by the waitress returning with our drinks to take our order. My beloved Cosmo, however, was nowhere to be seen. In its place, next to Victoria's beer, was a tumbler of translucent brown fluid. This was dumped in front of me with the words, "Jedediah thought you'd do better with this." I stared, mouth agape as the glass landed on the table. Victoria took a sheepish sip of her beer, awaiting my response which she knew would undoubtedly involve the overturning of tables and a maniacal, raised voice.

"Thank you, ma'am."

Not the time or the place. Jedediah would get his. In the meantime, it was time to order. Victoria ordered a burger while I hesitated, perusing the menu.

"Do you have any vegan meals?"

The waitress took a quick look at Jedediah. Then back to me.

"Uh... we could put extra lettuce and tomato on the burger."

I looked up and into her bored, vacant eyes. Was she playing with me? Because I could have dealt with that, even appreciated some good old urban, downtown sarcasm at a moment like this, a little sprinkle of Letterman thrown into my Davy Crockett experience. But no. She was trying to help a lost cause. Trying to rescue me. But I was too deep into a state of shock to grab the lifeline.

"I'll have a burger, medium, meat on a separate plate, please, no bun, salad instead of fries, no dressing, oil and vinegar on the side."

What?? I asked Victoria after the dumbfounded waitress had walked away. My reasoning was clear: she could have the meat tomorrow. Why waste it? But my love wasn't appeased. I had let her down. This was my chance to channel John Wayne, and instead I'd summoned early Woody Allen. This was a mess. To add to my vexation, Jedediah was once again receiving an eyewitness news update on the happenings at our table.  An almost toothless sneer was beginning to form on his cracked, tobacco-slimed lips. I was starting to think about everything unfinished in my life when Victoria nudged me.

"Let's get the hell out of here," she whispered. My head whipped around with a faint crack.

"What?" I asked. "But we just ordered!"
 "I don't care. This isn't gonna (her anunciation is perfect, but 'gonna' works better for action sequences) end well. Let's just leave a 50 on the table and blow this popstand."

She didn't really say popstand. And I didn't have a fifty. With a wearied sigh, Victoria pulled a 50 dollar bill from her wallet and stuck it under the mouldy ketchup bottle. "Let's get outta here!" She hissed. Jed was still sitting near the jukebox, which was too close to the exit. The patio was too high to leap off. I needed a distraction. Life can be strange: all day my wits were absent. Meatless burgers and cranberry-heavy Cosmos had abounded. But in this moment, genius finally arrived. I stood up, pointed to the street below and shouted:


Chaos ensued. A primal, vengeful scream emanated from Jedediah as he jumped off his bar stool and sped out into the street, along with the rest of the staff and some patrons wielding deer carcasses. Victoria and I filed out with them, sprinting away from the place, only stopping once we'd reached the corner. We chanced a look back, to find Jedediah throwing his arms in the air in frustration, his grimy overalls billowing in the wind. To this day I am convinced I caught his stench on the breeze as we retreated to our car. That smell is keeping me awake at nights. But that's for another day. Victoria and I, heading out of town, had escaped with our lives. Big Bear had opened its arms to us and we had come eerily close to being another picture on its walls. Victoria had also managed to snag back the fifty clams from under the ketchup bottle as we bolted out of there.

As we passed through San Bernardino on our way home, its confines suddenly seemed a little friendlier to the eye. With the accent on little.

Don't get me wrong. Big Bear is a pretty place. But Red Neck might be a better name.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I wish I could tell you, dear readers, that there is some compelling, mysterious, sexy reason for my absence. I've felt your pining- just as one proton simultaneously responds to its sister proton's oscillations, I also cannot help but be affected by your collective emotional state. I feel your longing. It's time to return to public life.

Enough nonsense. Let's debrief.

It's been a busy week. Where to start? How about nowhere in particular?

The Retirement Of  Larry King.

Finally. This man is one of the most over-rated television 'personalities' to ever foul up the airwaves. Talk about wasting a public platform. Just another reason I adore Rachel Maddow- her arrival on MSNBC assisted in accelerating the decline of Larry's already dismal ratings. There is only room for one old, decrepit Jewish man on television- me in 30 years. But I'm getting ahead of myself. What will CNN do with the 9pm timeslot? As it stands, their current team of anchors (Fareed Zakaria excepted- his show GPS is one of the smartest and most understated in cable news)  makes Fox's people look like Nobel laureates. I have some ideas:

  • To Catch A Predator 6 featuring Larry King - MSNBC and CNN team up to follow Larry as he looks for his next wife.
  • CNN Smackdown! - Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer, Campbell Brown, John King and the rest of the drones  have to wrestle for the right to stay at the network. In a janitorial position.
  • Diff'rent Strokes Reunion Hour - The guy who played Willis performs monologs for 60 minutes.
  • Queer Eye For The Straight Guy - Anderson Cooper moves in with Wolf Blitzer, gives him a shave and a wax, plies him with Cosmos and E and eventually turns him. Ratings soar, Anderson is excommunicated from the gay community and Wolf lands the lead in a Broadway revival of Gypsy.
 Le Bron James' Free Agency Adventure

I have an idea. It may not be legal, but at this point I don't give a hoot. It's called collusion. Why don't we collectively decide, as a society, to do something better with our money than giving gobs of it to monosyllabic, egomaniacal, misogynistic young men whose greatest contribution to our community is throwing a large rubber sphere through a steel rim attached to a frilly little white net?
Enough already. NBA owners: take the hundreds of millions you're going to throw at all these free agents and spend it on funding for arts schools in poor and working class neighbourhoods. Maybe we can start affirming that poor black kids are good for something other than enriching sporting teams. As for the rest of us, let's leave the stadiums empty and the TV off for a year and seek other forms of entertainment. More lovemaking will occur, novels will be written, museums will fill up again and just maybe the oil will get cleaned up.

 General McChrystal Got Fired

Aaah... very original, Mr.President. David Petraeus. Never saw that one coming. Of course McChrystal had to be fired. Reminds me of the time the woman I was seeing told all our friends that I was a lousy lay. Too fast, she said. Okay, number one: in the words of Christopher Durang, wanting sex to take a long time is sick. Second, as I explained to every single friend, once I'd hunted down all 472 that my then girlfriend called,  in matters of sex I am not "fast"- I am efficient. If my lovers need more time to get their work done, that's not my problem.
But I divagate. The point here is that this guy slagged off his boss in a public forum and had to go. As far as his replacement... why is it that we hire generals to oversee these campaigns? If Obama really wants to end matters over there, shouldn't he put someone in charge who doesn't have a strong vested interest in seeing it continued? It is simple logic which suggests that military folk, especially those who have been entrenched in that arena for decades, have little interest in a genuine, lasting peace. Wouldn't that mean they'd all be out of a job?

For a coherent analysis of the actual situation confronting us in Afghanistan, read Bob Herbert's op-ed this week in the New York Times:

As the old Vietnam anti-war slogan goes:

"Fighting for peace is like fucking for chastity."


Tea Partiers Are Idiots

Yes, I know that title is reductive, it's judgemental, it's simplistic and it's absolutely spot on.

Having said that, early members of an emerging Nazi Party may have been called similar names by the very people they ended up carting away in trains, so we should treat this sub-sector of our society with a little care. I don't believe for a second that this fringe element has increased markedly in number- the real problem here is that it has found a way to legitimize itself and therefore has a heightened capability to attract the lesser-educated and bigoted among us who, in spite of their limitations (limitations often placed on them due to conditioning by parents and their immediate environment), would otherwise have made more rational political choices. It's up to the media in addition to all of us to correct lies and false propaganda when we come into contact with it; unfortunately, most of the corporate media is all too ready to embrace the neanderthalic grunting of Tea Party candidates as educated discourse. Luckily, ladies and gentleman, enter Chris Matthews, of Hardball fame:


The World Cup

I have had it with the dives. These fellows, when lightly tapped by an opponent, behave as if there is well-aimed sniper fire coming from the stands, finding a home in the middle of their rippled torsos. I haven't seen this much useless, shameful, shambolic diving since BP last tried to fix the leak. It must stop. I suggest a new colour coding system: the Pink Card. If these fellows like falling to the ground in hysterical tears so much, upon receiving the Pink Card they will be suspended, bound and gagged and forced to watch Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias over and over again, without sleep, until they see the error of their ways. Problem solved.

Trust me. I know all about falling to the ground, overcome with deep, convulsing sobs.

My team is Australia.

Enough said.

Pictures, from top:  Larry King, public menace.
                          Petraeus... awful hair.
                               A gargantuan tea cup rocket that will carry away all bigots and oil company executives.
                               Another soccer player shot in the back. Tragic.