Drooling on the Pillow

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Surprise, Surprise 

Appropriated from Cootiehog.

Your Political Profile

Overall: 80% Conservative, 20% Liberal
Social Issues: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal
Personal Responsibility: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
Fiscal Issues: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal
Ethics: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal
Defense and Crime: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal

Silly me. I never realized there was such a thing as Liberal ethics.

Radio Disney 

It's the least original thought in the world that your life has a soundtrack, or a series of soundtracks that are more evocative of particular moments in your life than anything else. I Heard it Through The Grapevine puts me in one place on one day with one girl if it's by Marvin Gaye and 700 miles away with a different (much nicer) girl if Creedence Clearwater is doing it.

These days I have an eight year old and the soundtrack of my life is Radio Disney. I've gotten so that I don't mind it so much. I fear though, that the reason I don't mind it so much is that constant exposure has fused the cord that locks your heart with particular tunes. The upside of that is that whatever horrors she listens to in her teen years won't do as much damage. See, I'm a half-full guy.

Here's the playlist for Radio Disney: oldies, 20%, desecration of oldies by children who have no idea what they're singing about, 30%, beardless suburban lads keeping it real by rappin' round the 'hood, 20%, young women whose vocal cords appear to be attached to dimmered electrodes, 25%, and hook-filled pop tunes by people who know what they're doing, 5%.

I'm perfectly okay with arriving at the 'Dumb kids listen to crap' point in life.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Point of the Muff 

Jim, at Parkway Rest Stop, and I, at this here thing you're reading, have each had a few posts recently about a common topic; what happens to a performer when things go wrong? The 'thing' going wrong may be simply a bad performance, an accident, or an entirely outside agency. There are differences between these experiences, but the feeling, I think, is curiously the same. When things go pear shaped while you're performing you're in a uniquely vulnerable position. And it's true whether you're a stand-up, a mime, a polka band or the Royal Shakespeare.

The first time you find yourself suddenly in the weeds -- perhaps you've forgotten a line, or an actor whose entrance is ten minutes away has walked onstage -- everything goes white. It's a massive dose of fight-or-flight adrenaline and the urge for flight is sometimes irresistible.

I was in a play once when a piece of scenery fell revealing the ingénue changing costume behind it. Even with a goodly amount of laughter to give us time to assemble ourselves the guy onstage with me turned and said, in character, "Arthur (my character's name), I have to leave the stage." He turned and walked off the stage out the door and went home. We replaced him the next day.

Fortunately, improvisation (aside from freaks like Robin Williams) is learned. With experience that initial shock of white becomes dimmer and slower and the adrenaline helps rather than hinders thought. You find yourself scrolling through all the possible fixes and escape holes in a matter of seconds.

But doing a play is like time travel. The actor's present, in a sense, is the end of the play, but every night you travel back in time to the beginning and make the journey back to the present. And like anyone who's ever seen a time travel movie, the actor is aware that you have to be careful making changes while you're in the past or the future will be very different. If someone’s skipped ahead a few pages and left out the part about the dead baby, people are going to be wondering why he got shot in the next act.

In those moments when you're deciding what to do about a missed entrance or someone saying a line from the end of the play you have to consider the damage to the narrative line of every option you consider. Robin Williams may be happy (and able) to go from the point of the muff to an entirely new ending, but with the playwright in the audience it's really not an option.

Acting is a difficult job. The craft part, building a character, is a process of careful thought, planning, research, organization, repetition and honest self-evaluation. The artistic part is an entirely different skill set involving fearlessness, imagination and daring. Accountant meets cat burglar. But neither element makes it across the footlights without a third element that I believe is the essence of talent. That is the ability to shut down the ego, become transparent and give yourself unreservedly to the audience.

I was no genius actor. I think I was pretty good and I know I got to that place a number of times. But I've had the experience of being out there, naked as a jaybird, all my defenses willfully stripped away, the spotlight right on my melon. And. No. Idea. What. The. Next. Word. Is.

It’s really an out-of-body experience. You’re floating up there around the fresnels saying ‘C’mon, buddy. You can do it. C’mon.’ But like I say, it's mostly a matter of experience. If you don't have it you're going to crash and burn. If you do no one will ever know there was a glitch.

But what happens if you just suck? It happens. Your dog died, you have the runs, you're hung over, something has temporarily put the role out of reach. The audience hates you. They want you to die. They think you've stolen their money. At the end you get the soft, furry crackle of golf applause. If you're lucky.

In that case it helps to be a bad actor because you're used to it and are probably unaware of the antipathy. If you're just having a bad night, though, it helps if that ego you stripped off to perform is large and healthy when you strap it back on. You take off your makeup thinking about what you did wrong. You consider how to fix it while getting out of your costume. Then you go get a drink thinking 'That audience was a bunch of morons.' It's why survivors in this business tend to have, let's say, a lot of self-confidence.

You see young actors who seem like sure things. Handsome devils with tons of talent, loads of confidence, pockets full of connections. Then they're gone like frogs in a frost. I think it's usually one too many bungee jumps that chases them out. They like the rush, but they thought it was going to be a pretend rush. They don't like being really scared.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


I was gone almost the whole day to the main office getting recertified for AED (heart defibrilation) and CPR. So if any of y'all are feeling a little fluttery just give me a call and I'll be over to put you to rights.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The History Channel 

Just a brutal day. The hardest crises to fight through are the manufactured ones. I was at work at 6:30 this morning and got home about 8:00. In between were assholes, incompetence and hysteria.

Moving on.

I spend a lot of time on the History Channel. And I enjoy reading true crime. Mostly old ones. Real old ones. But anybody doing something awful gets my attention. Just to give you my perspective, Lizzie did it and so did Bruno. James Earle Ray did it, but he had a lot of help. Lee Harvey did it with no help.

Tonight the History Channel did the Lindberg kidnapping and the scamps gave me a turn by playing around with the despicable Ludovic Kennedy's notion that Lindberg was responsible. What a maroon. It's one thing to play stupid with the JFK assassination, but it they're going to go simple with the crime of New Jersey's century I might actually start writing letters.

They righted their ship with modern forensics proving beyond doubt that Hauptmann did write the ransom letters and the 16th rail did come from his attic. He might have had help, but Bruno Hauptmann was up to his neck in it. He was at the crime scene, at the cemetery, had the ransom money and was righteously executed.

Good job.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Now Batting, Seymour Butts 

I'm watching the Yankees game and Seattle has a guy warming up in the bullpen named J.J. Putz. The Yankee announcers pronounced it very carefully, as if there were two or three umlauts scattered around there.

I'd be afraid of a guy with a name like that. You gotta figure he was averaging three fights a week through high school.

Unless he grew up in North Dakota.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Making Room For A New One 

Yesterday I got into a jam with a partner. It was his fault, really, but as anyone knows, that's about as meaningful as Bill Clinton feeling your pain.

He called me three separate times to scream, curse and vent. I took it, yessired him and, by the third time, I got the impression he was starting to process the possibility that the error might have been his. We went into the 'let's put this behind us' mode. That kind of thing happens in any hierarchal organization. Getting shirty with a partner, even when he's wrong, especially when he's wrong, is your ticket to the streets. You feel a little small, you're pissed, but you take it and go on. It really doesn't get to you.

I was never in the military so I never got reamed by one of the pros with the stripes. I don't count football coaches as none of them ever got personal with me except in a transparently motivational way. The only time I ever got dressed down so far it hurt was in the tenth grade. I had a history teacher named Mr. Scheidt who was a gifted, brilliant teacher. He'd been a Marine in Korea, had a basket full of degrees and had studied at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton. What he was doing teaching history at Brick Township High was probably a sad story and I'd love to know it. But he gave me my first taste of mental rigor and excited me intellectually for the first time in my life.

In my sophomore year he convinced the powers that were to let him begin a Chinese language program. I signed up and did great the first year. He started to talk to me about the programs that would open up for me if I kept it up.

But I didn't. My grades started slipping again in my junior year. I began to feel his baleful eye, but was far more invested in being cool than in finding out if I could be anything more than a carpet installer. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

So. One day he catches me passing a note. In Chinese, of course. It was a smutty, stupid remark on a young woman in the class. He gains possession of the note, reads it. He looks at me with a potent combination of rage, shock and profound disappointment. He takes it to his desk, reads it again. He puts it down and leans back in his chair, deep in thought. Total silence in the room. Five minutes. He picks up the note again and reads through it again quickly. He puts it down, stands up, takes off his jacket, rolls up his sleeves and looks at me.

For the next half an hour he investigated the fact of my assholery in detail. He raised his voice a couple of times, but only when he was unsatisfied with the comprehensiveness of my answers to his questions. He asked a lot of questions. Who was I? What did I want? Did I want to be a jerkoff the rest of my life? Questions like that. He wanted specific answers. After I was broken down enough to try to answer his questions honestly he told me I was a liar, a fool and a cheat. And he told me who I was and who I was not. I think I can honestly say that I learned more about my self that day than I had the previous fifteen years of my life. Because everything he said was true and every word of it was bad. Nothing that I didn't know, really, but nothing that I would have admitted until that day.

I could barely walk out of that room and it took me awhile to stop shaking. It took me a couple of years to make any use out of what I learned that day, but I have a good idea that if Mr. Scheidt hadn't taken the trouble to rip me a new one that day I might very well be laying carpet in central Jersey today. I also have a feeling that if a teacher said the things to a student today that Mr. Scheidt said to me he'd probably be fired.

So the partner today didn't bother me much. I knew I was right.

Somebody mention John Bolton? The one thing I haven't heard discussed is the possibility that whoever he might have hammered deserved it. And might have benefited from it if they'd just sucked it up and listened.

Tax Nerds Alert 

Andrew Chamberlain, of the excellent The Idea Shop (where the dismal science gets groovy), has joined the launch of a new tax policy blog at The Tax Foundation's new, improved web site.

Local Politics 

Tris McCall gives us his picks for the Jersey City mayoral and council races. I'm with him on the races I know anything about. Melissa Holloway for mayor and Bill Gaughan for Ward D councilman.

Huffing and Puffing 

The brandy-new The Huffington Post looks a lot more interesting than I would have thought. Celebrity blogging and Drudge-style linking. It has a great look but it reminds me of the 'flypaper' strategy from the GWOT. Having all the nuts in one place makes them easier to keep track of.

Today they link to an article from Haaretz.com. The headline gives you the reason for the link: Israel Rapped for Human Guinea Pigs. Uh-oh, have they been cutting up Palestinian babies again? It's such an irresistable The Jews Have Become Mengele meme.

The actual story was an Israeli paper reporting an Israeli State Comptroller's report sharply critical of lax oversight by the Israeli Health Ministry over clinical trials at Israeli hospitals. In other words, the kind of thing that happens now and again in a democracy and the kind of responsible, transparent government reaction you would hope for. It's a scandal, but it's only a scandal. Despite the HuffPo's best efforts it's not evidence of The Perfidious Jew. Quite the contrary.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Commonplace Nonsense 

I need some help here.

Richard Cohen's columns are often perplexing. You usually know what he's trying to get at, but they're studded with nonsensical artifacts that stop you in your tracks.

Today I'm stumped.

He seems to be making the case that Lynnde England, the teeny-eyed trooper from the Abu Ghraib pictures, is more sinned against than sinning. Or something.

Then he plops this down in the middle:
And you can see - can't you? - what no one will testify
to: She's homely, and that matters for a woman in
America. She posed for pornographic pictures with
Graner. The discipline of the Army apparently meant
she no longer had to have any herself. This is why
fascism can be so (sexually) exciting.
Okaaay. I'm not sure why being a woofer and in the Army released her from the obligations of discipline or why a lack of same indicates a goose-stepping fetish. Maybe his deep thinking has led him to the conclusion that weak-minded people tend to get into trouble. Exhausted from that cogitation he just took the first opportunity to put 'fascism' and 'the Army' in the same paragraph.

This is the essence of Mr. Cohen's journalism. To the extent his conclusions are original they are nonsense. To the extent they're true, they're commonplace.
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