Sunday, June 12, 2016

Second Hand Therapy

 I need a teapot.

Please don't get too invested in that idea. You will be disappointed.

Still, I need a teapot. Two weeks ago I had a very nice teapot. Well, I had a teapot that fit my very specific requirements. I like whistlers. Don't judge me I just like it when they whistle. I also want a kettle with a lid, which can be a problem. A lot of whistlers on the market these days only have the neck with a tight-fitted cap which facilitates the whistling. The combination of a wide, equally tight-fitted lid and a whistling neck isn't always the easiest thing to find.

But, like I said, up until two weeks ago, I had one of those. It took me a few years to find it. Besides those specifications, it had to have the right look. Simple, clean, classic – it can be a troublesome equation and I'd solved it. Then, my wife, my love and companion of +20 years asked me to move out and, as is her nature, very efficiently organized our divorce.

I take kitchens very seriously. I'll drive a POS vehicle for years and never give it another thought but if a kitchen I'm associated with is out of order in any way, I will not rest until the problem is rectified. So, in packing up my belongings, I could not bring myself to remove the perfect kettle that I'd found for that kitchen, even if it left me without one.

Which brings us back to the frustrating truth that I need a teapot.

This afternoon I stopped in on a local 2nd hand shop to find my teapot. In the meantime, my friend, Beth, was asking me to explain fractions to her. (We can talk about my choice of friends later.) I think I helped but, whether I did or not, I entertained myself by sending her some silly pictures of the stuff I found in the shop. I found a rack stuffed with bad ties and snapped a picture with the caption: All The Ties! There was a basket full of thin vases for $5. My caption for this was: I was hoping for a bag of dicks but a basket of vases will probably work.

I'm clever. My friends are lucky to have me.

There is an extensive collection of old, classy clothes in one section of this shop. I'm not what one would call a classy dresser but I like to slow down and admire the racks when I'm there. There's a wall there with nothing but ladies' hats. It's really stunning. I texted: All The Hats and lifted my phone to get the best angle to capture the amazing array of hats.

Just as I was just about to snap the picture...

Wait, first this. Among the beautiful, generations removed clothing and accessories I spotted the piece I would have to have. It's a heavy, cotton weave messenger bag. It's 70 years old if it's a day. It's busted to hell, worn and shredded on every corner. Still it's well made and despite it's state, there isn't a hole or flaw in it that would challenge it's functionality. As I admired it, I felt something in a side pocket. I stuck a finger in and pulled out a buckeye. How do I not buy that right then, right there?

Well, because my cash on hand was a dollar short, that's how.

Oh, well, I thought, maybe I'll come back later and grab it. Then I saw the hats...

I was ready to snap the picture when, from around the far corner, stepped a woman. At first, I truly believed that I was seeing one of the comically comely mannequins that the proprietors like to scatter throughout the shop. She was slender yet shapely and wore a snug, silk dress that would have been the jewel of the classic, outdated collection in this shop. It was tan, the color of stained pine, with a floral print in reds and greens, slightly and beautifully faded with age.

She was younger than me but I won't venture a guess how much. She had a beautiful smile and so happy eyes. Her skin was the blackest of black, gorgeously threatening to make the exquisite silk dress seem drab.

I never got that perfectly framed picture of the wall of hats.

Instead, after seeing my fellow shopper, I fumbled my phone/camera. It shlooped out of my grasp like a bar of soap. I juggled it for a few moments and finally lost the game as it clattered and broke open in a box of old post cards. The woman glanced at my antics and smiled as I tried to make a joke while gathering the pieces.

Pulling myself together as best I could, I headed for the nearest exit.

After driving a few blocks, I decided two things. First, I must have the buckeye bag. Second, I must offer to make dinner for my new beauty. Never mind, that I'm floppy, grey-haired old white dude with a scruffy beard and inability to speak to humans. It was just the necessary thing.

I found an ATM so I covered the cost of the bag which, I'm pleased to report, is now mine. After buying it, I found her and showed it to her. I showed her how it is so busted and told her how I like that. Then I showed her the buckeye. She didn't understand the significance but was engaged and listened as I told her about it. Then, I told her that I would like to make dinner for her. She was very nice and wisely declined with, “I doubt my boyfriend would appreciate that.”

I laughed – not nervously – and said, “Yeah, I suppose not.”

She smiled, warmly, and told me she appreciated the offer, even adding that it was flattering.

Who knows if there's a boyfriend. It doesn't matter. There's not a version of that scenario where she accepts. There are hundreds of versions of that scenario where I don't ask the breathtaking woman in front of me to spend some time. I rejected them and at no stage of the process did I lose my mind to dumb fright.

I've known my wife since I was 20; we've been together almost as long. To repurpose a line I think I heard in some TV dramedy, we had 21 amazing years in a nearly perfect relationship and then a year and a half suffering through hell together.

At 43 I'm back to single and I wasn't sure how I'd handle it. Thanks to some second hand therapy today, I think I might be okay.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Turn Signals or The Increasing Entropy of Common Human Relations

Turn signals are great. They’re so simple. They explain so much while being the easiest thing to understand. There’s no written language to understand to understand a turn signal. They communicate a pure, often important message to others. There is no nuance to a turn signal and the information delivered by a turn signal is only ever beneficial to everyone involved.

Most people who know me in real life consider me to be quiet, introverted, thoughtful and, overall, a bit of an asshole. That’s all probably pretty accurate but mostly because there aren’t turn signals. Human interaction is incredibly complex and I get it wrong almost every time. It would be so much better if motivations, needs and desires could be communicated in the same purely binary principles of the turn signal. Instead, we’re meant to receive a raft of spoken and unspoken information to understand each other.

Eye movement, posture, facial expression, hand gestures, personal space, tone of voice, verbal infliction and a whole mess of other subtle and not so subtle clues are continuously being delivered in even the simplest of conversations. Heap on top of that individual, familial and cultural differences mean that nobody is working with the same unspoken vocabulary. The whole thing is further complicated by the fact that spoken words, meant to be the most explicit form of communication, rely on living and therefore always evolving languages. None of it - definitions, word order, sentence structure, etc. - is static.

I just want to know if you’re turning left or right but somehow we’re involved in a heated conversation about the pros and cons of tapioca pudding. Is it any wonder I spend most conversations watching and listening? Receiving, interpreting and filing the information that I think is being delivered is often overwhelming. Then developing and delivering a clear response makes a complex situation nearly impossible. Is it any wonder that I spend most of my time actively avoiding conversations?

There aren’t many people I would count as close. There are a lot of people I like and, not always concurrently, admire. There are far fewer with whom I feel capable of communicating. I think those unfortunate few probably to find me exhausting.

Despite appearances, I do crave human interaction as much as anyone else. When I think I’ve found it, I quickly overload my new victim. Making matters worse is the fact that I’m almost always wrong. I haven’t established successful interaction. More often I’ve found someone who, for whatever reason, finds it in their interest to try to exchange ideas with me. I find myself in situations where I think I’m building a friendship or affection where the other person might simply fulfilling a specific need. Once done, I’m left wondering what happened to my new buddy.

I’m not saying I’m a victim or this is a situation unique to me. I imagine this is a universal experience and I’ve probably been on the other side of that situation quite a few times. I do think I’m less aware of it than most. Human relations are always a negotiation and most people understand that instinctually. I find I don’t and I have to stop and make myself understand that what I think is a fast, new friendship was, actually, a transaction.

Whenever I really put my mind to these matters, I almost always decide that I have Asperger syndrome. If I do, I’m on the functional end and there’s probably not a lot of benefit in knowing. Fortunately, I do have a few people in life and they’ll have to do.

I just wish the rest of you assholes would wear turn signals.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Shakespeare in the Writers' Room - Totally True History of Stuff You Should Totally Believe, for Reals!

This is an installment in the occasional series Totally True History Stuff You Should Totally Believe for Reals! It is researched, written, curated and maintained by Beth D. Carter and me. You should totally believe everything here because it's totally true, for reals.

For years the television industry has kept the lid on what I’m about to reveal. Careers may be at stake and reputations irrevocably damaged by what I am about to share but, in the end, the truth is always better than a lie. The mistruths behind the television show Cheer must be brought into the light.

Scholars and television executives alike will deny this. They will call me a whack-job and smear my name. As I’ve researched this I and my family have been threatened but I remain committed to the cause. I will make public supportive evidence in coming weeks. Today, I only intend to present a brief summary of what I’ve found.

In order to understand the import of these facts, you need to be able to conceive how it’s even possible. The first time one hears that William Shakespeare wrote the ‘80’s sitcom, Cheers, it may seem like pure fiction. But that most unlikely of facts is 100% true.

At the original Globe, costume and set design took a lot longer than in today’s theaters. The time between act one, scene two and act one, scene three could be as much as 20 minutes. Shakespeare could see that his audience would get restless and many would wander away. Most plays ended with half the audience they started with.

So, under the pen name Christopher Marlowe, he wrote silly little 15 minute vignettes about clownish oafs who were hanging out in a pub. His actors for these little pieces were stage hands in their street clothes, sitting at the bar, talking and joking in base language. The little side stage never changed and the costumes didn't matter so it filled the time perfectly with no real extra effort.

Problem was the pub scenes became more popular than the plays. The situation flipped. People were bored, wandering around, starting fights during the proper play. They were waiting for the pub scenes and didn’t care about Henry V, Much Ado, Hamlet...

This infuriated Shakespeare so he buried the vignettes and tried to start a whisper campaign about that hack, Christopher Marlowe.

In 1958, archeologists unearthed the manuscripts in a wooded area near Kensington known as the James Burrows. Once they were cleaned up and transcribed, it became clear that what was once thought to be just a rumor was, in fact, reality. The CHristopher Marlowe William shakespEARE, or CHEARE, plays were real.

The stories were brushed up for the sitcom to be more modern but the actual dialogue remained true. More than 85% of the words said on Cheers were originally penned by the Bard himself.

Parks and Recremation

A friend of mine asked me to write her obituary.

Camilla Parks's vast and varied contributions to the progress of humankind began several decades before her birth when she invented the photoscopic device that bears her namesake, the camera. She would later describe the pre-embryotic revelation that would lead to the creation of a tool that could transfer light images on to treated film thusly: “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could save the shit we see on paper?"
It was this simple observation that marked the beginning of the amazing career and, later, life of Parks. The noted inventor, woman of letters, world-class phrenologist and all around awesome dude would go on to delight and astonish all citizens of the world from great thinkers and political leaders to those dumb-fucks who just sit around eating dirt. What is up with those people?!
Born to Mr. and Mrs. Harriet S. Tubman on exactly the right day in the twentieth century, Reginald Archibald Peachpot would later change her name to Camilla Park after reading a really interesting book about Haley’s comet. She changed her name to Camilla Parks after the birth of her second child stating, “Wulp, I guess we’re plural, now.”
It was her heroics during the Battle of the Bulge that first landed Parks in the national spotlight. Her Sometimes You Gotta Contract campaign swept the nation and is widely considered responsible for TV shows such as Laugh In and 60 Minutes by most historians. Stephen Ambrose said, “It was a heady time for Parks. Her ability to balance work and family life was a true inspiration for the nation.” He added, “Is that what you needed?”
Once, after a phone call, Parks was overheard saying, “I really wish they’d stop calling me.”
Parks is survived by her loving family and that beef she put in the refrigerator to marinate yesterday morning. Her last thought was, “There’s no way they’re going to cook that steak right.”
She will be missed.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Of Lips and Levis or How the Book Was Way Better Than the Movie

A little over two decades and a thousand years ago I took some time between being a dumb teenager and being a slightly less dumb twenty-somethinger. One station of my rumschpringe involved a small video rental in Hanau, Germany. It was located near a US army base and exclusively carried VHS tapes formatted for American video machines. I worked there, for cash, for a solid three to four weeks.

Hang on, this is going nowhere, I promise!

The ground floor had the standard – if spare – selection of movies: comedies, drama, etc. I don’t remember a lot about it but I don’t think there was a new releases section and the movies in stock on that floor rarely saw any action. The real business was upstairs, the porn section. It was packed tightly with, very possibly, every porn video available at that time.

I had one coworker who was really neither much of a worker or a co. I’m almost convinced her name was Ziva. Like the owner, she was Israeli – not Jewish, she often reminded me. Also, like the owner, she lived in the Israeli – not Jewish, she insisted that I understand – section of Franfurt. It was never clear to me how she commuted to the store in Hanau. She would simply be there when a moment before she hadn’t been. Later, she would unhappen just as mysteriously. Come to think of it, I don’t remember her being anywhere but at the cash register, languidly checking out soldiers as they slid in and out with their porny treasures.

Yeah, I heard it. I’m not changing it.

She was short and impossibly thin. Her features were a collection of angles, all of which pointed and seemed to slide to her perpetually pursed lips. Before each enunciation, of which there were very few, she would slowly kiss with the quietest of smacks what I can only assume was an invisible fairy always floating just in front of her, ready for its next blessing. It was easy to focus on that mouth when dealing with her. Besides being directed to do so by the rest of her face, it was better than looking in her black eyes. She had the second deadest pair of eyes I have ever encountered. To look at them for any longer than just a glance was to feel the room grow colder by at least three degrees.

During the first shift I worked with her, she stood silent, leaning, watching as the owner showed me around the shop and explained my duties. It was impossible to tell if she were studying us to establish the best, most silent ways to end our lives or deciding which one of us she would fuck and whether or not the Amaretto would be flaming or just wet as she poured over slithering body parts.

As soon as the boss left, she took my attention with an okay. [nyoekyay] She explained to me in exhaustive details how I, as an American could go into the PX on base and buy American Levis while she as an Israeli – not Jewish – immigrant to German economy could not. She went on to explain that the American Levis in the PX were far less expensive than the Levis she bought in German shops. She told me how she and her friends would all like me to buy them the American Levis and they would be glad to pay me…

She was very thorough and mistaken. I didn’t actually have the credentials to make purchases at the PX. I’m lucky I didn’t. I can be breath-takingly na├»ve at times. I believed that she just really wanted the American Levis. It dawned on me years later that she was proposing something of a US army enabled smuggling ring. She never really understood, or perhaps chose not to accept the knowledge that, I could not help her. Her greetings for me, if we were alone, was always, Nyoekyay, I’m wondering, the Levis?

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that little shop. It jumped into my brain today when I saw this meme on Facebook today. That movie and this shop are locked together in my head.

There was a single screen in the store. It was an old TV hung on the wall with a VCR opposite the cash register on which employees could watch any non-porn video in the store. I was there alone one morning and popped in The Breakfast Club. It was a slow morning and I was soon engrossed in the movie. It was during one of the snottier, self-confession scenes that the owner arrived. He stood, blocking my view of the screen and spent several moments watching the bawling teens.

Finally, he turned and fixed the deadest eyes I have ever seen on me. “Are you a fucking psychologist?” [skeeyiekeeawlajust]

He punched the TV off. I’m not sure if he hit a button or if he and the TV simply had an understanding. I just know the TV was punched and the images and sounds stopped.

He turned and vaguely waved in my direction. “File that.”

I brought a book in with me for my next shift. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Delicate Books

Do you have delicate books? I imagine you do. I'm not talking about precious, first editions or beloved writings that have nourished. I'm talking specifically about brittle tomes that have sat on your shelves for years, maybe decades, without being touched. They have yellowing dust jackets with that curious linen covered cardboard hard cover. They are fourth, fifth, whatever printings of classics that you picked up at a library sell off, yard sale, used shop years ago when, upon seeing you said to yourself, yes, for $1.50 I really should own a disintegrating copy of the Federalist Papers.

You do. We all do.

I have several. There are books on my shelf that I'm constantly pulling to remind myself of the distance between basil plants I should arrange in my garden, to remember that Kennedy-Lincoln parallel thing, to remind myself in which play Shakespeare coined the borrower-be thing. Those books get action.

But those other books, the delicate ones, stand true, untouched and gathering dust. I have Schlesinger's Roosevelt series, sure. But, do I touch it? No. I used to yank out that curiously mesmerizing Timetables of History all the time and then Google happened and now it stands, untouched, waiting. Becoming delicate.

Tonight I was looking for a book I know I have somewhere – still haven't found it – and came across a couple of others that grabbed me. The Robe by Douglas and 84, Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff have just been sitting there, waiting. Why do I have The Robe? I have no idea. I don't know what it's about, I have no memory of it being being recommended. I think an old college buddy might have once mentioned a movie called The Robe but that can't be why I have this book. 84, of course, is a delightful movie. If you can watch that film and not fall in love with Anne Bancroft then you and I have nothing more to say to each other. But, how did I find this book and, more importantly, why haven't I read it are questions for which I have no answer.

Both books have grown delicate. The Robe is in very bad shape. The binding is pulling loose and the spine is impossibly stiff. I'm gently working it back and forth. Fortunately, my hands are big enough that I can wrap my palm about the length of the edge. I can roll it softly and gingerly open the pages. Soon I'll open it about 20 degrees and let the pages break apart from the fused block they've become, starting at the center, of course. In a bit I'll be able to let them cascade back and forth as individuals. Finally, still gently rolling, I'll crawl to the front and find out what the hell this book is that I've guarded for so many years.

After that, I may actually read 84. We'll see.