Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Big Game

Sunday night means I'm visiting my folks and it's time for us to go to King Cole's for a round of gin and tonics.
Distant sirens wailed as we parked.
"That'd be funny if it was coming to King Cole's" I joked, "Frank's cooking got another one!"
It wasn't funny when it did come to King Cole's. The ambulance pulled up. EMTs ran in.
"I guess we'll have to go somewhere else," I said.
"Nah," said my dad. "I don't smell a fire. We can still go in."
"With an emergency going on!?"
"Hurry up," My mom said. "It's cold out here."
I was sure we'd be thrown out at the front door, but the waitress flagged us in. The place was packed with Super bowl watchers and only one table was available.
The former occupant of the table sat ten feet away, surrounded by medics.
"They think she's having a stroke," the waitress said. "Three gin and tonics tonight?"
EMTs and a crowd glued to the superbowl screen. blocked my view of the victim. Collapse anywhere else and you draw a crowd. Collapse in a bar and no one notices. She probably had to call 911 herself. Even the paramedic guys were stealing glances at the T.V. Not that I was any better then them. Football bores me. I was gawking.
It was weird. A few months back it was my mom being hauled off in an ambulence with a sroke. Now she with us, back to normal (mostly), in the same seat of someone else who'd just been yanked into a their surprise medical crisis. Tessts, needles, procedures, paperwork, pills, physical therepy, disability and possible mortal danger awaited. Meanwhile Mom was squeezing her lime into her drink, chit chatting and blending in with the world of Everyone Else.
Fate can be such a smartass.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Mahagonny Mutant

A few years ago I feel in love with a wacky opera from the early 1930s called The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. A cynical spoof about greed and disillusionment. The characters are shameless bastards, driven by pleasure and money*. Several self destruct. One is excecuted because he can't bay his bar tab. His friends, while sentimental , won't lend a dime to save him. A murderer bribes his way into a "not guilty" verdict. Stuff like that. It has a crass and cartoony element that keeps it from being too preachy or depressing- but it does make one think about the ugly side of human nature.
A two minute clip can be found here. Note the "Seek the truth and ye shall be dissapointed" sign.
In 2005 I bought the cd and played it over and over. In time it became my own personal soundtrack, associating songs and musical passages with things happening in my life. When I discovered the Los Angeles Opera was producing it, I was over the green moon. My parents and I catch a few operas each year, and I told them they just had to see this one!
I waited over a year for it. Yesterday we went.
The opera house was packed. The orchestra started. I couldn't' believe it. I was really here! I was seeing my favorite show. My show!
I watched the first act like a giddy kid in a fun house ride. They'd done a good job! Singing, staging, acting, costumes, casting.
"So howdja like it?" I asked my folks, at intermission.
"It's okay," my mom sighed, "I hope the second act is better"
"Me too," said Dad.
As the lights dimmed for the second act, I noticed conspicuous clusters of empty seats. People had walked out! Were they crazy?
Maybe I was the crazy one. The cackles at the funny parts came from sparse corners of the audience, including a few souls behind me that were having fun. Everyone else stared in silence.
My mom kept up the "is it over yet?" nudges. I tapped her at the final note and she clapped with enthusiasm.
"You liked it?" I asked.
"No!" she said. "I'm glad it's over!"
"Yeah," Dad added. "I was about to climb up on stage and kill the protagonist myself. I don't usually agree with the Nazis but I'm with them on banning this! I couldn't wait for it to end"
"The people behind me liked it," I said,
Mom disagreed. "They probably were just pretending to like it, to look sophisticated."
I felt like a mutant. How come I fell in love with a show that most people disliked, if not hated.
Why was I so out of step with everyone?
If anyone out there likes this show let me know. We can form a support group.

*I don't buy into the "capitalism = bad" notion that this show hints at, but agree that people
can be greedy jerks, using the system to cheat and exploit others.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Nothing is Certian but Death and Crackers

"All my friends die or go crazy," observed Frank, a friend, as he and another friend, Lila, waited for our burgers.
It was true. He'd buried many, and watched others self-destruct. The current crazy-goer was Coco, his desert dwelling pal who'd gone from manic to incomprehensible in recent months. We had discussed the uncertainty of the future. Where would our next jobs be? Would all the work go overseas? What would we do? That lead to the uncertainty of Coco's future.
Self absorbed slob that I am, I couldn't shake the "all my friends die or go crazy," line.
I was his friend. Was I doomed?
To sweeten the irony, Lila was in between chemo treatments for cancer (not to be confused with my other pal who survived lymphoma. What going on!? I must be a carcinogen). We'd gone out for lunch because this was a day she felt well enough to enjoy food. She was responding well to her treatments, which meant that the cancer had been evicted but endless side effects and secondary infections had replaced it. Some cancer treatments are like swinging a bat around a china shop to kill a fly. You kill the fly, but you take half the inventory with it. Was Lila doomed?
Or maybe we'd go crazy. Both of us had loons perched in our family trees. Maybe our crackpot potential (crackpotential?) was what attracted him in the first place. Our budding lunacy. I'm certianly a bit wacky alreacy. Uh oh.
Will the prophecy come true? What's in store for me and Lila? The reaper's scythe or the kook catcher's net?
p.s. to "Frank" and "Lila": Thanks for permission to tell this!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Chicken Strips

As I dipped the tip of my fried chicken strips into the ranch dressing, it occured to me. Was said chicken strip, in life, from a girl chicken or a boy chicken? Note that this didn't stop me from enjoying them. I'm sure if I were the size of a bug and crossed that chicken's path, I'd be chicken chow.
I asked a few other people (who knew I was no vegetarian) if they pondered the gender of their meat dishes, but the looks I got back suggested this wasn't good small talk. Whoops.

Photo credit :
Thanks, Pinprick

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Bouba and Kiki

Show someone two shaps like this. Ask them which is a "Bouba" and which is a "Kiki." Almost everyone says the curvy one is a Bouba and the sharp one is the Kiki.
What is going on? No one knows for sure. Some say it's because the letter "B" is bloblike and the letter K is sharp. Or maybe "Kiki" sounds sharper than "Bouba". Interesting how we associate concrete properties with abstract things like sounds and letters.
Something just occurred to me.
Like a lot of people, I associate colors with words, letters and numbers. If I actually saw these colors when I looked at text, I'd have what's called Synesthesia .
I don't have it.* On paper letters look black (or whatever color they're printed.) It's different in my mind. B is a warm green and K is a a cold blue. Look what colors I happened to choose for Kiki and Bouba.
Come to think of it, the green scheme of my blog is similar to my mental color of the name "Namowal". Are all my artistic decisions actually being run by a mental quirk? What other decisions (aesthetic or logical) are steered this way?

edit 9/11
*Actually, it seems I do have it. According to the now expanded wikipedia article, you don't have to actually see the colors- association counts too.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Confessions of a Weirdo

There's two kinds of weirdos. Kind one is the one who goes out of his way to be weird. He's the one who deliberately dresses and acts nutty. Perhaps for fun, perhaps to make a statement. Then there's the sap who doesn't try to be weird but it happens anyway.
I'm the second type. I never go out of my way to say or do something strange. It just happens. It's like I lack the normal meter (normalmeter?) in my head that knows what's socially acceptable and what's not.
For example, it wasn't until I was in my twenties where it finally clicked that when someone asked how I was, I was supposed to answer and then ask them how they were. It wasn't that I didn't care. In my head I was answering a question. I figured they'd tell me how they were if they wanted to. What a charmer I was. About ten years ago I learned that you were supposed to look someone in the eyes when you talked to them.
Not that I'm an outcast. I get along fine with others. Except I'll say something that I think is normal and get feedback like this:
  • "What a thing to say!"
  • "You're a trip!"
  • Rolls eyes and gives a can-you-believe-this-idiot look to friend
  • "Huh?"
I'm not trying to be crazy, crass or goofy. It just happens.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dear Friend

Most of my mail isn't mine. At least 3/4 of it is junk for former occupants. One of them, "Joe Smith", gets official stuff too. I spend more time writing "please forward or return" on his mail than I do writing my bills. Either Joe is in jail, in hiding, or in the ground.
A glossy card for Joe caught my eye. The mailbox equivalent of a pop up window.
"Dear Friend," it says.
Yeah right. Anyone who calls you that via mass produced, mass mailed cards is not your friend. More original than "Dear Valued Customer". Still, "Friend?" I don't get it. Even your enemy will take the time to write a personal note to attach to the rock he sends through your window.
I suppose when "Dear Friend" gets old it'll be "Dear Best Friend", or "My Darling".
Who was Joe's ersatz friend? What does he want?
Why, it's Philip Morris, hawking Marlboros and Virginia Slims.
One never knows, but there is a chance that Joe is missing their "special offers" because previous special offers helped do him in. Some friend.
I don't know what happened to Joe. Still, I wonder how many people who lost a spouse to smoking got this card?
"You're still eligible to receive special offers so keep an eye on your mailbox for the future," it says, I don't know which is more ironic- "still eligible" or "the future". Tacky!

Doodling in Dreamland

I had fun last night. Wacom tablet in hand, I sketched and tinted a cartoon for an upcoming entry, listening to act 2 and 3 of Madama Butterfly. I'm not being sarcastic here. When I get "in" to a drawing, even if it's one of my crap cartoons, I'm in another world. Same with music I like. I was half way to Fantasyland, watching Cio Cio San, Pinkerton, Goro and the rest of the Madama Butterfly gang have it out.
Later the irony hit me.
  1. It was Valentines day
  2. I wasn't on a date
  3. I wasn't unhappy about this
  4. In fact, it didn't occur to me.
In other words, everyone else was out having fun with someone else and I was geeking away at my computer listening to music that nobody else listens to and was not even aware that something was wrong with the picture. At least I could have been unhappy, perhaps commiserating with Cio Cio San who waits in vain for her love to return. Not me. I'm so clueless. I'm doodling in dreamland.
Does this make me a loser? Am I a loser if I don't feel like a loser?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump

I'm fussy about art. I never cared for landscapes, portraits or bowls of fruit.. I want some action. A story.
Like this Joseph Wright painting:
In the old days there was a brief fad of putting small animals in a bottle, sucking the air out, and watching them die. Entertainment's half way point between bear baiting and the Jerry Springer show. This was technically a science demo, the same way that "COPS" is a public safety show.
What prompted this family to do this to their pet? Were they sitting around bored in the drawing room when Crazy Uncle Willy jumped up and said "I know! Let's play Pookie-in-the-Bottle! Sarah, fetch me the air pump. Eddie, get Pookie out of his cage."
I like how everyone has a different agenda. Uncle Willy has the woo-look-what-I'm-doing look. The young girls are horrified. Dad is probably telling them, "Pookie is asphyxiating. Can you say 'as-phy-xi-ate'?"
The lovers on the left aren't concerned about Pookie or the wonders of science.
The story ends with a question. Will Pookie live? Will they let the air back in? He looks like a cockatiel, which had to be an expensive import in those days. Couldn't they have sent Junior out to catch something more common? A mouse or a frog? Maybe Uncle Willy specializes in destructive science demos. He probably blew up the barn last week.

To me, this painting is like fate. You're Pookie. You're in the bottle and Uncle Willy and friends are running the show. Most bystanders don't care what happens to you and the few who do are powerless to help. What will happen to you....?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Grasshopper Charlie

A few weeks ago I wrote that the Grasshopper and the Ant fable was hooey. I know too many people who do everything right yet get crushed. Ants. I also know a few people who break rules and laws, yet thrive.
Grasshopper Charlie, a relative, is one such fellow. He has more balls than a pachinko parlor. Charlie doesn't bother with such trifle as "laws", "honesty," or "other people's feelings." That's Ant stuff.
I first learned of his mischief when he lost the house he shared with his wife and kids thanks to gambling binges. Of course it wasn't his fault, he said, because he was an addict. He straightened out, got religion, and even wrangled a new home for his family.
It an act. He'd found new suckers to leech money from and was gambling (and partying) on the sly. When his wife caught him, he said it wasn't his fault. In fact, it was her fault, he said, because she was a nagging, annoying wife (whom no one else would want) who drove him to it. She bought it.
A few incidents later she barred him from her checking account. He called her, from work (so he claimed) begging to have access again. He truly needed just a little bit to save his business, he claimed. She agreed, telling him to go easy, as she needed most of it to pay their daughters school tuition.
Guess who couldn't pay for her daughter's tuition that month? Charlie drained the account. What's worse, he spent it at a strip club. When caught, Charlie shrugged and said it he was "entertaining clients." She threw him out.
My brother and I figured he'd scheme his way back to her. Perhaps he'd feign religion again. We joked that he'd probably come to the door dressed as a minister to enhance his credibility.
He showed up at her door clutching a bible the size of a phone book. A thick gold cross hung from his neck. He'd gotten religion for real this time, he claimed. She bought it.
After a few more rounds of getting booted from the household and crawling back, Charlie picked up a new hobby: DUI collecting. It's not his fault, he explains, it's his mean nasty awful wife (whom no one else would want) who drove him to it.
At least he's getting caught! I thought. One thing that steams me about Grasshoppers is their ability not to get caught. At last, one would pay.
Or will he? I hear he hired a lawyer to who specializes in getting people out of DUI charges. If the scheme works, Charlie won't be punished, nor will he have it on his records. In a way, he's buying himself out of trouble. Amazing. His lawyer must be a Grasshopper too. What kind of guy earns a living by making sure repeat drunk drivers stay on the streets? How many Ants will get killed thanks to him? Scary stuff.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


This is my cockatiel, Tosca.
He's pretty. He sings. He's an evil little bastard.
Tosca bites. For fun. These aren't love nibbles. He'll grind his beak into you and draw blood. He'll eagerly climb on my hand and tear into a pinch of skin. If I make him perch on a stick he leans over and bites my hand. For awhile I thwarted him by curling my hand into a fist so the skin was too tight to pinch, but he discovered softer skin say underneath.
I'm pretty sure his dream ambition is to put out one of my eyes.
I used to have a civilized cockatiel named Quasi. I bought Tosca so he could have a friend. This new "friend" was such a brute that I had to get him a separate cage. During out-of-the-cage playtime Tosca's favorite game was to sneak up on Quasi and peck his tail. He persisted at this even though it typically resulted in Quasi whipping around and chasing him off the perch. Quasi kicked Mr. Bucket last year. Now I'm stuck a pet who threatens me each night when I have the audacity to put my hand in his cage and change his water cup.
Why do I feed him and keep his cage clean? I don't get it.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Leper Legs

"C'mon," my friends urged. "Lets get pedicures,"
I didn't want to at first. Why pay all that dough to paint nails that spend most of the day stuffed in old Keds? The lure of soaking my feet in warm soapy water changed my mind.
"Sit here," the lady said, gesturing to the padded chair with a foaming moat at the base. I obeyed, feeling like a princess (or at least a duchess) as I rolled up my jeans.
Then I remembered what was under them.
Last weekend I'd stomped around outdoors in shorts and flipflops and came home riddled with bites from the knees down. Scratch-or-go-crazy bites. My calves were splattered with sores and scabs. The lady did a backwards double take- the kind where you see something startling, catch yourself mid reaction, and pretend there's nothing wrong. I'd gone from princess to Leper Queen in three seconds.
Afterwards I rolled my jeans down and was a princess again. Or at least someone in a princess costume.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

B.S. 2600

"Order a bottle today!" the radio blurb says, "B.S. 2600 helps you lose weight and feel great. Feel the burn. B.S. 2600 is used by athletes and models!"

Let me dissect this.

"B.S. 2600..."

Twenty years ago this would be called something like VitaWow, Fit'n'Trim or MiracleSlim. Cute names. Not B.S. 2600. It has that scientific, medicinal ring to it. I'm supposed to think Sounds like serious stuff. It must really work!

"...helps you lose weight and feel great..."

Please tell me someone wasn't payed to come up with that line.

"...Feel the burn..."

Or that line.
Where, exactly do people who take this elixir feel this burn? (I'm not sure I want to know.)

"...B.S. 2600 is used by athletes and models!"

Oh, athletes and models. People well known for their intelligence, discretion and judgement. People who also happened to be fit and trim long before B.S. 2600 came along.

I don't think I'll "order now" any time soon.