Tuesday, November 30, 2004

My Wife Cheats on Me

I can't trust her. Our agreement was, since we spent so much money taking her 93-year-old mother around Scandinavia in September, that there would be no gifts this anniversary and no gifts this Christmas -- indeed, a general cutting back on gifts as far as the eye can see -- until we pay off the debts suffered (and in my case all debts are a matter of suffering) on our trip.

Last Saturday was our wedding anniversary. How commemorated? No nothing, not even a meal out. We would have had a meal out, but piling a meal on top of a huge Thanksgiving -- a meal which is still trailing leftovers like a particularly gorgeous comet -- seemed more sentimental than sensible. Now, we did go to the symphony, but that was an accident, a coincidence from our buying a season subscription: "Here's some money. Send us some tickets for whenever."

That is how I buy my symphony music, which on one hand must cause composers of music now alive to tear at their hair, since see the philistines for whom they must compose! "Yeah, whatever you got. I'll listen." But on the other hand if too many composers of music now alive persist in composing music no one particularly wants to listen to, then I am not their bane, I am their godsend. "He don't care," says the girl chewing gum in the box office. "Send him some tickets for that thing where they don't even play, they just sit there and mope, shifting in their chairs, which creak to contrapuntal effect."

Off point. I do tend to go off point, always taking the rant less traveled by (and that has made all the difference).

We went to the symphony but not in a spirit of celebration. If the symphony had not followed so close to Thanksgiving, we would have had a delicious post-symphony supper at the Top 100 Bay Area Restaurant! half a block from the symphony's doors. We have done that before, and it is a wonderful -- if dyspeptic -- experience, since how delicious, how almost naughty, is the idea of a late supper after expensive live music, what I call peacock music since it is performed by men in handsome tuxes and women in various kinds of drab and inappropriate dark clothing. It is cruel and wrong that female players of classical music do not have a default wardrobe choice that displays them to advantage!!!

I'm ranting again.

Since it was: a) so near Thanksgiving; b) so comparatively near to that great hemorrhage of coin called Mama Visits the Herring People, we did not tarry at the Top 100 Restaurant for a late supper. What a glum evening of subdued pleasure.

So on Sunday my wife gave me an anniversary card. So sweet: "All my love from your tango girl." And on Monday she gave me a fine Italian sweater. "I was just walking by the store," she said, "and you looked so nice on Saturday night in that other fine Italian sweater I gave you last Christmas."

She cheats. I'm a bastard.

No no, says the wise reader: You're a stupid bastard and more than that you're a lucky bastard.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

In Praise of Darwin's Cat (I Was Going to Call My Blog "I Am the Beautiful Stranger," But the FAA, the FDA and the FFA Complained)

Perhaps the best way to deal with this announcement is through Q & A.

Q: Exactly what was wrong with Us Tarzan, Them Jane, which was the title of this blog for less than a week?

A: First, let me thank you for taking time away from your small but key role in the James Bond movies to be with us today. Now, to your question. That's what I asked my wife when UTTJ was greeted with lack of enthusiasm and some downright hostility. She said it was the fact that if readers took the name at its word, it seemed to say this was a blog about the emotional gulf between men and women, a gulf that resulted from men's baser, or at least less refined, nature. It also suggested this was a "manly" blog, i.e,. a blog aimed at male readers.

Q: And neither of these things is true?

A: Neither of these things is true. My choice of that name suggests the dangers of casual irony. You say or write something because you assume your listener or reader understands how that comment is contrary to what you're about and thus the listener or reader has the insider's pleasure of understanding that what is said is not meant literally, that, in fact, it's meant contrarily. It's even more opaque than that. It's like little suburban kids in baggy pants, pretending they are hip-hop ghetto warriors. There's a "Yes, I am, No, I'm not, but it's your fault if you are not able to tell the difference" quality to this kind of wordplay. There's a smirking quality in this kind of irony. It's characterisic of so much modern conversation. (Pause) The name didn't work. The fun -- if fun there was -- did not compensate for the confusion.

Q: And you think Darwin's Cat is less confusing?

A: Does it confuse you?

Q: Hmmmm. Darwin's Cat is familiar, tantalizingly so. I'm pretty sure I've heard it before, but I can't place the source, and that embarrasses me a little. It could be the name of some kind of some famous thought experiment, like Schrodinger's Cat, or it could be a British children's game or a famous brainteaser or a poem by Ogden Nash or -- and this is probably it -- the name of a science fiction novel or, more likely, a book of elegant but accessible science writing by someone like the late Stephen Jay Gould...

A: Like Gould's "The Panda's Thumb" or Carl Sagan's "Bocca's Brain." Yeah. That's why I picked it. It sounds as if it has more historical or philosophical resonance than it actually does. If you Google it, you will find pictures of a number of cats named Darwin and what is supposed to be a three-handkerchief book called "A Cat Named Darwin." You will find a passing reference in a vitamin ad to the fact Darwin apparently noted deafness in white cats. That's all you'll find. Darwin's Cat is apparently a unique name for a blog. Which is more than I can say for "A Blog to be Named Later" or "Blog is My Co-Pilot," both of which I liked. I don't think anyone else is using Darwin's Cat.

Q: Well, if it has no philosophical or historical resonance....

A: I did not say that. I think putting Darwin in the name of my blog positions me culturally just as putting a Darwin fish on my car bumper would. I hope it does, anyway. Darwin rules and superstition drools, etc. Now, the cat part is something else again. If referring to Darwin is a kind of specialized, though not an esoteric, reference, my mentioning kitties is an effort to drag in millions and millions and millions of like-minded blog readers. Personally, if you put the word "cat" in a blog title, I am likely to take a look, hoping there are some lovely kitty pictures. It's interesting how "Friday cat blogging" became popular on some liberal political sites in the last year or two, and that suggests a connection between proud independent animals and proud independent political thought. Or maybe it doesn't. Maybe it just suggests cat lovers see the world as a kind of big Star Trek convention, metaphorically speaking, and always want to break out their Spock ears, also metaphorically speaking. I know I have sometimes gone to a blog with the word "cat" in the title just to reassure myself cats are treated with respect on that blog. To love is to dwell in madness. I speak here as a cat person.

Q: (Long silence) There's no verb in your new blog name. Headlines should have actions verbs.

A: A blog title is not a headline, which is a title that tells us something about a particular piece of writing. A blog title is a label -- one of my old editors used to tell me to beware of "label" heads but this is not a head -- that may or may not tell you something interesting about the ambition and intentions of the blog. I am thinking the name of a blog functions like the name of a rock band. Most of the time the name doesn't really matter. It's the music that matters. Most of the time the name is secondary. I understand there are exceptions, like The Dead Kennedys. I could have named this blog The Dead Reagans, but that would not only be impudent and imprudent, it would also suggest a political agenda or emphasis this blog doesn't have. Actually, using the word Darwin does suggest a political inclination -- a kind of background radiation, as it were -- but I'm thinking that any damage that the word "Darwin" does to this blog by warning away readers, the word "cat" will more than make up for it.

Q: Did you seriously consider other names?

A: Yes. Some of them are listed in the comments after Renaming Controversy Rages, Threatens to Divert Attention From Bush's Fascist Coup. But the one I was most seriously considering, which I have not mentioned elsewhere, was Last Exit to Oakland, which is obviously a play on "Last Exit to Brooklyn" by Hubert Selby. It was one of those books I read in the Sixties that had an impact on my thinking in the sense that it encouraged me to think. That is, it was so terrible and dark and bleak and unforgiving, it was a useful corrective to my way of thinking at the time. "Miss Lonelyhearts" by Nathaniel West had a similar effect, though many critics apparently consider "Miss Lonelyhearts" a comedy, though I wasn't laughing. I had had such a sheltered upbringing, religiously narrow but also culturally narrow in every way, I "learned about life" more through books than through, well, Life! It seems accurate and no exaggeration to sat that some books pulverized my view of things. I would read them, but I wouldn't really think about what I read at the time of reading, if that makes sense. Then, gradually I would unclench and let myself think about what I had read and how it had affected me emotionally. The emotional effect had already happened, but only later would I actually think about what I had read, as the dust of the destruction of my preconceptions settled. To call this blog Last Exit to Oakland would have been a kind of self-referential homage. But, oh, is it a bleak book. Thinking about it 40 years later is still disturbing. Hey, I'm still in denial. And if anyone actually got the reference and recalled the book, it would have suggested a very negative image of Oakland. I decided to go with "Darwin's Cat" and to hell with it. When it comes to blog names, first do no harm, right?

A: What if your several of readers don't like this name?

Q: I will be flattered by their concern. But as the poet said, "A blog by any other name would smell as sweet -- as long as the name is not unduly ironic."

Saturday, November 27, 2004

A Lazy Saturday in Old Oakland Town

Time for some Oddz and Endz. Now that there's a fever pitch of interest among the readership concerning the new name of this blog, I have to keep up a rat-tat-tat of posting so that no child is left behind, if that child "comes to the manger," as it were, looking for spiritual sustenance.

Right now top contenders for new name are Porky's VI: The Return of the King and I Am Joe's Liver. But they are still counting votes.

I read Peter Breinig's obit in the Chron today. He was a photographer there when I arrived back in the last century, and I remember him well because he drove very fast, which mattered because in those days Chronicle reporters and photographers rode together on the way to most assignments. Now, I gather, this is far less common, either for reasons of efficient dispatch of scarce resources or because the reporters complained. Peter did drive fast. I recall his asking, when we were on I-5 in the Central Valley, that I look out the window -- and up -- to see if I could spot the small CHP airplane that monitored speeders.

Peter misled me about the balance between vice and virtue at the Chronicle. This was in 1980 when I had just come from Atlanta Magazine, where our relationship with some of our advertisers was as cozy as that of Fox News and Georgie von Bush. I never paid for a vacation during my years at the magazine. It wasn't that someone was stuffing cash in our pockets, which would have been vulgar. It's just that some developer/advertiser always had an empty condo or some airline a free ticket and a hotel room if we required a fresh perspective geographically speaking. We were like every other publication in all places in all times. That is, there were always some holes in our coverage, those holes based on friendship, sympathy or a simple desire to have a place to stay during that long weekend in Charleston, South Carolina. I have three words for you, you children who have come to this (my electronic knee) to hear the wisdom.

She Crab Soup.

But my point is that no one is pure. The difference between damnation and paradise is always one of degree. Look for the light; walk toward the light. Or to put it another way, you can't live on automatic pilot.

Any way, right after I joined the Chron I went out on a routine business profile with Peter as my driver/photographer. A guy had started a mail order operation. (It's still around.) I made the talktalk, Peter clicked, and it was all very nice. Then Peter commented on some Seiko watches lying on the subject's desk. They were early LCDs with many features. Our subject said that they were returns and that they couldn't be resold and that we should do him a favor by taking them off his hands since otherwise he would have to throw them away.

Peter said, "Oh no. We would have to pay ... something."

The sum of $25 was mentioned. This seemed wrong to me -- the transaction, not the sum -- but Peter wanted the watch so I acquiesced, as fine a word for "wimped out" as Mr. Webster has on offer. I still have my watch in an old cigar box, as a reminder of my learning curve. Learn I did. What I learned was not that what I had done was unethical -- uh, I had been knowing that -- but that these new Chronicle chums were not always to be looked to as guide or mentor. I never did anything that egregious again, though I never declined a drink from an eager publicist either, understanding that to refuse would have been depriving labor of the opportunity to earn its keep, a chain of compensation starting with the publicist and extending all the way back to the hills of Tennessee where the elixir known as Jack Daniels Black is dipped with golden ladles from shimmering pools in hidden grottos.

I applaud the fact that today, which is in many ways a better day, fewer reporters take fewer drinks from fewer enemies. This is an advance in virtue though not in pleasure. Whether it is an advance in wisdom is not a subject to be covered on a lazy Saturday.

Friday, November 26, 2004

I Ate. Therefore, I Groan

The day after Thanksgiving is a heavy day at our house. Nothing moves. It is like a battlefield, complete with carcass. Posthumous honors to you, Gunga Turkey.

The job of the holiday is the promotion of social discourse through gluttony. Stuff your face, mumble something about sports, politics or sex and ask for more. Stuff, mumble, ask. Stuff, mumble, ask. Stuff, mumble, ask.

Such a meal in such a country as ours is like going up to a high place and staring at the city or the countryside. It is a shared view. I once read that the construction of the Eiffel Tower produced feelings of solidarity among the Parisians. People were somehow impressed by the fact that so many were seeing the city in the same way in concert. So it is with our great holiday Thanksgiving. Stuff, mumble, ask. We are one people.

I did commit a faux pas. For all the best reasons, I gave up smoking my beloved cigars several years ago, but this holiday I bought a box of Don Diegos, figuring my smoking a few and giving away the rest would do no harm, probably wouldn't be the biochemical tipping point that would push me into disease. I had been planning a fine after-dinner cigar all week. Time came. I offered the cigars around, had one other taker, pulled the cellophane, clipped the ends, fired up the lighter and only then asked if anyone objected. This was pretty much pro forma. I respect -- I applaud! -- all the homes here in California where smoking is forbidden. During my lifetime, I have seen the tipping of that point, the change from smoking as a right to smoking as a shame, so that smokers are timid and abashed, asking permission to smoke outside your house as a flasher might ask permission to stand in your yard opening his raincoat to passing school children.

But this is my house, smoke-free month after pristine month. Not yesterday, however. I asked only to be given permission. At that point, I learned that two of our friends hate, really and with great and specific focus, hate tobacco smoke. It was the moment for the great and gracious gesture, either delicately stubbing out that very first glow, the burgeoning fire, or -- if I were in the mood for the fine gesture -- crushing the darn cigar to shreds in the ashtray, showing not only appreciation for my friends but momentary if hypocritical solidarity.

Well, hehhehheh. No I did not. The long draw of the mild smoke, quickly (very very quickly) followed by the exit of the friends.

Thanksgiving is all about friendship except when it isn't.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Renaming Controversy Rages, Threatens to Divert Attention From Bush's Fascist Coup

"Bemused" is a wonderful word, often misunderstood and misused, but it is fair to say that my wife was bemused by my decision, solemn to the point of anguish, to rename my blog. My interest in this blog -- which is to serious writing and the pursuit of scholarship as collecting roadkill is to a career in taxidermy and/or haute cuisine -- is something she approves of, as women have always approved of the trivialities with which their men absorb their manly energies the way cat litter absorbs motor oil dripping from an ageing internal combustion engine.

That was what I was driving at with the new blog title, "Us Tarzan, Them Jane," capturing as I thought it did the playful yet poignant image of men standing in an inarticulate clump, yearning after those brainy things in leather mini-skirts who are so helpful in teaching us which of those among our acquaintance verge on the homo sapien and which, not to put too fine a point on it, are so much monkeyshine. I thought a little retro stereotyping was just what was needed to get this blog Out There, picking up links (insert "missing link" joke here when phrasing is perfected) and generally parachuting behind enemy lines in this the age of Bush Triumphant. The road to a new Democratic majority begins with a thousand first steps and this, I thought, was one.

But MackDoggy, one of the exclusive circle of original readers of this blog, says it's a stupid name and that Petri Dish would, in fact, be better. Am I not correct in supposing a petri dish is place for the growth of bacteria? Pretty small dish? Pretty insignificant bacteria?

Well, you readers out there other than MackDoggy, tell me what I should do. Is he just a one-man exit poll, premature and misleading, the judgment of which will be contradicted when the lunch-pail crowd and the soccer moms get their 56K modems fired up and running? I am ready for the verdict. I will shift with the wind. How about a playful, even sportive, name like "...and A Blog to Be Named Later"? It's late at night. I'm drawing a blank here.

Help me out. Think of the children. It's always about the children, damn their black little hearts.

That Was the Blog That Was

"Us Tarzan, Them Jane" is a rebranding of HMB "Column*which", which was itself a rebranding of the blog formerly known as "Is This a 'Column' Which I See Before Me?" In the case of the latter two, I prefaced everything by saying: No, what you are reading is not a column -- in particular, it is not a newspaper column because this is not a newspaper. This is a blog, one of millions. Think of Poe's "purloined letter." Whatever I put in this space is being hidden in plain sight -- or so I wrote back in May 2004.

I created this blog because, as a mild-mannered professor at a great metropolitan university, I have certain responsibilities. I am expected to produce scholarship, and the project with which I have toyed these many years is an examination of the contemporary U.S. newspaper column. One way to do this, I thought, was to do a "column" myself -- the quotation marks making clear that it was not a column at all -- and so explore the nature of column-making from the inside. If you have seen the movie "Alien," you will have a better sense of my basic methodology.

That's what I said.

It's worked. I have pages of notes and ideas. But a change has taken place. I now do the blog for the fun of it, for the pleasure of expressing myself and having a few people -- mostly friends, I admit -- read what I write. Recognizing what has probably been obvious for some time, I will now see if acknowledging that this is just another Guy and his Blog changes anything in the way I write and in the way what I write is received.

This sounds like yet another experiment! Maybe I should change the name of this to The Petri Dish.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

I Have Never Watched the Macy's Parade. Does That Mean I'm Not a Man for All Seasons?

I like Thanksgiving. It is a holiday you can handle on your default setting, by which I mean you don't have to think about it, or more to the point, there is no aspect of it you have to avoid thinking about. At least, that's how it works for me. I have a collection of memories all of which are more or less pleasant. They are varied. Got some family memories from childhood, got some travel memories because we haven't always stayed home for Thanksgiving. Got some anniversary memories since every seven years or so -- leap year makes a difference though I've never bothered to figure it out -- our wedding anniversary falls on Thanksgiving, so we have some mildly comic memories of trying to find a place to celebrate. About 15 years ago we gave up, throttled back our sentimental attachment to a particular page on a particular calendar and "seized the date," as it were, celebrating our wedding day at a time of our own choosing. The anniversary police have utterly ignored us.

We have had Thanksgivings at the homes of friends, and we have entertained friends as well. There's never been a pattern, but Thanksgiving is not so urgent, so definitive a holiday, that we feel any particularly need to do it one way. Its origins are murky, even questionable. It's more an excuse to have a holiday than an actual holiday, if that makes sense. You don't need to spend more than 30 seconds thinking about it. Give thanks? Why not? In fact, sure. I've never had a late November so grim it seemed inappropriate or evasive to "give thanks."

I am a lucky man, so thank you blind chance.

This year we are having a "big table" -- six friends, which means not just turkey but ham, an elaboration for which I am happy to have an excuse. Eight ferocious Bush haters will be together, three of whom interestingly enough are from The South, that part of the country whose residents are supposedly so misunderstood by outsiders. We know your secrets, my dears, and some of them aren't very nice. We were you, but now we aren't.


Some years ago my wife and I went through a period when we spent Thanksgivings at the big table of a couple we knew and liked, but then the friendship started to ebb. It wasn't like a souffle that collapsed -- poof! It just sort of slowly deflated, and the evidence of the change could be seen at Thanksgiving. When first we were invited, we were high up the table, near the host and hostess. But then we started to slide lower and lower in the seating arrangement until we weren't even in the same room -- though we were at the same table. It was a phenomenal table, capable of remarkable, even unnatural elasticity, like the Bush vote count in Florida and Ohio.

Finally, we were demoted to the pie squad, those folk who came in late, just for dessert, like lepers invited in for the crusts and lesser crumbs. Continents have drifted apart faster than that friendship came to an end, and it's convenient to have this set of markers. Still it's as pleasant a Thanksgiving memory as any other. Good food, good talk, then the forgetting and the letting go.

Thanksgiving is not a holiday with that intense a level of expectation -- with one exception. I do expect that if you cook, either for yourself or for friends, there must be turkey and there must be turkey leftovers. This particular association was established for me when my family lived on Rugby Boulevard in Roanoke, Virginia, for the first ten years of my life. We lived next door to my mother's parents. A concrete sidewalk ran directly from my backdoor to my grandparents' backdoor. My grandfather had it poured when my parents built their little white house, more or less at my grandfather's direction. At night I would run up that sidewalk to my grandparents, run in my barefeet and pajamas not because I was afraid of that particular dark in that particular backyard but because I did not want to step on slugs. Running meant bigger steps and a mathematically diminished chance of landing on a slug, and I had also decided that the sudden flattening of a slug with a quick nasty splat was preferable to the relatively more prolonged crushing that went with walking. The sensation was different, I promise you it was. Bedroom slippers and a flashlight were not options, though I cannot imagine why I decided they were not. I apparently liked the risk of the thing. Strange but so, as with so much of childhood.

The point is that, naturally and inevitably, we had Thanksgiving, and many other meals, with my grandparents. Everything about the Thanksgiving meal was immense: the scale of the table, the number of guests, the amount of food. For days and days afterward we ate sandwiches of leftover turkey on white bread with mayonnaise. It was as if the passage of time, the ever-growing gap between preparation and consumption, concentrated the excellence of the turkey. Thanksgiving itself was a kind of sensory overload, too hectic to absorb. But those turkey sandwiches were the essence of the holiday, the distillation. An old lady in a long dress and an big apron put my sandwich on a plate as big as a manhole cover and set it in front of me together with a 6-ounce Coca-Cola in that squat beautiful bottle.

It was the best moment and is the best memory. Today the Thanksgiving meal itself with our friends will be the pleasure. But the sandwich the next day will the moment when I remember all those people around that table more than 50 years ago. All in all, they were sad people, my Southern family. Thanks I did not grow up to be them. Thanks that at the time I thought they, like me with my sandwich and my coke, were utterly simple and content.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

It Was Like the Charge of the Light Brigade Except with a Happy Ending

My best boss ever is visiting us this week. He's retired now from CNN where he worked for 20 years winning Emmys and Peabodys and the attendant bling, you know, the mantel candy, but I worked for him before that, when he was editor of Atlanta Magazine for a year or two. He's not out here for pleasure. He's freelancing, working on a documentary on wine-making during Prohibition. We give him a bed. If he comes back from Napa with too many pounds of wine, we do what we can to lighten his load.

Since I am on sabbatical and don't get out much -- this austere life of the mind is all very nice but it never taps me on the shoulder and suggests slipping out for a mid-afternoon drink -- my blog topics tend to run inward, much too upclose and too personal I'm thinking.

As Larry said about the current state of television news: "You don't have stories about real people anymore. You have one talking head saying to another. 'You have a navel. Let's talk about it.'"

Navel-gazing. Bad for the posture, bad for everything. So here's an emissary from both my past and from the real world -- yes, here is a Topic:

My fingers get started, dragging my brain along. First thing to deal with is just why he was my best boss ever, for so I thought of him after three months on the job and so I have continued to think of him these 25 years since. But why?

My brain, bouncing and complaining as it is dragged over the cobblestones, is forced to get specific. I am startled by my own conclusion. Larry was my best boss ever because he did things as an editor and encouraged me to do things as an editor that were clearly going to get him fired and were certainly going to get me fired -- if I didn't agree to replace him and do it all the owner's way. But I refused to agree to what I considered to be a betrayal of my friend (all right!) a defiance which (I concluded) was equivalent to giving up my place in the lifeboat because that certainly was an iceberg dead ahead and coming up fast.

Let us pause while I admire myself very much.

Though I was 35, I was still kind of pure in a stupid way. But you should remember that I had spent six years in graduate school getting my Ph.D. The natural and necessary growth of bitterness and envy -- isn't that what they mean by emotional IQ? -- had been retarded, you might say. I was all about truth and beauty, yes I was.

So, having declined to backstab, I went looking for work and was offered a job in California and my wife said I have designed buildings for humidity, I can design buildings for earthquake, too, so what the hell ...?

But that is not the point. This is not about the irony of the better outcome. The point is that Larry taught me to defy power at some personal cost, and he gave me the chance to exhibit loyalty and integrity while having insane amounts of fun.

As I tell my journalism students, one of illusions implicit in so many discussions of journalism ethics is the idea that, once you have formed an opinion on right conduct, anyone will care what your opinion is. If you have some authority, you can act on your conviction. But if you are a grunt reporter or a subeditor, sometimes the only right action you can take is to quit, or to politely refuse and get fired for insubordination.

I wonder if I would do that now? I think probably not. I think I am now a punk, an old punk worrying about a comfortable retirement. But once upon a time in Atlanta, Georgia, I was not a punk.

I had actually been at Atlanta Magazine, which was a city magazine started by the chamber of commerce as a way of marketing the city, for two years before Larry arrived. The editor who hired me quit when the chamber sold the magazine -- but not to him. (Thank you Norman for hiring me. A copy editor with a Ph.D. in English? Overkill.) My next editor was a brilliant drunk in the last stages of his brilliance and his addiction. (Thank you, Jim, for letting Dick and me run things while you went to ruin. You got the credit, while we had the semi-responsible pleasure.)

The brilliant addict crashed, though not because Dick or I melted his wings. And in came Larry, who had the idea that a city magazine should be subversive. Imagine if you will the magazine's Map of Zip Codes, which showed where our readers lived. They lived in Atlanta's white neighborhoods and white suburbs in the north and to the north of the city. They were prosperous and conservative. As far as the staff was concerned, they were the Not Us.

Larry said, in effect, our hand will be quicker than their eye. We will embed what they should know in what they want to know and so the world will be if not saved at least bent toward salvation.

Or perhaps he meant that we will mess with their minds until someone catches on, and -- being journalists and thus itinerants at heart and being men of talent and resilience and thus indestructible -- we will move on to our next opportunity to spread truth and laughter. He was never that clear. He led by example. We were a mishmash of content, with stories on big houses and backyard barbecues next to raw black-and-white exposes of prison conditions and wife-swapping in the Unitarian Church. We did a cover on Martin Luther King Jr. and followed it with a cover that showed Tree Rollins, a large black man who played center for the Atlanta Hawks, being served breakfast in bed by an elf-like white man. The background was white, the bed and the bed clothing were white, the clothes of the elfman were white.

All this vexed and puzzled our owner. He had moved his 25 trade magazines down from New York City to escape the unions, and he had bought Atlanta Magazine the way you buy a table for eight at an event supporting some obscure charity, to consolidate his place in his new community. And here's more backstory. When the chamber sold Atlanta, it agreed each and every month to pay for and to distribute 6,000 magazines to its membership.

Larry did something else a good editor does. He shielded us from the owner. He filtered and diluted and deflected the owner's demands. Perhaps, at the owner's "suggestion," we profiled the owner of some local chocolate chip cookie store or sent a reporter looking for a cat in the owner's neighborhood that looked like Groucho Marx. We were swaying but not breaking.

Then, I did us all in without intending to. It was, of course, inevitable so I am glad that at least it was spectacular. I was working with a writer named Maxine Rock, a tiny woman with big red hair and an earnest style. We were talking about something else when she pitched one of those by-the-way story ideas. In the library at Georgia State University where I believe she taught parttime, she heard a student explaining to another student that his parents were gay and what that meant to him.

A story? she asked. A story! I said. I loved being quick, emphatic and supportive. Encourage the writer and get her moving and then ask.

I asked Larry.

Always have someone behind the big door who can say No, if a No is suddenly needed. but for this one I wanted a Yes. I had not read this story elsewhere, and I knew Maxine would write it right up to the edge of boring, which was exactly how it should be written.

Of course a story!! Larry said. Never a doubt, no hesitation.

The finished piece was dry, matter of fact and balanced. It was very earnest. It was not a story that made you worry about what these people were doing in the dark. But Peter the art director, who was Larry's hand-picked guy, was an artist at heart who really did believe in Flannery O'Connor's notion that to the deaf you shout, for the blind you draw large and startling pictures.

We made children of gay parents our cover story -- Larry and Peter made and I said sure -- and Peter illustrated it with a photo of two brawny hands clasped, his own beautiful ten-year-old daughter, torso only, that torso apparently naked, standing behind those clasped hands. (Time Magazine had a similiar but softer cover that appeared well after our cover.) I was about to say that today it is difficult to imagine the impact this cover had at the time in the city of Atlanta. But when you think about the controversy around gay marriage right now, perhaps you can imagine it.

The chamber pulled their 6,000 subscriptions, and we lost I don't know how many regular subscribers. The owner was furious, though I concede that he did not fire us all on the spot. I think that, as a New Yorker, he was not going to be pushed around by the rednecks and the crackers. Also, we pulled back, rebalancing the book, going for more stories about the local music scene and Burt Reynolds. But it was clear it was only a matter of time. I had my conversation with the owner's son: Would I take over for Larry and be the publisher's man? No. Out went the resumes.

When I told Larry I had taken a job at the San Francisco Chronicle, he said, "If you leave this magazine, I leave this magazine." This is classy. This is how people should talk. Of course, he knew that if I stayed it wouldn't be for long because we would both be going anyway. Three months later he quit, too, and has done so much better since, as have I.

In my magazine writing class, I show my students the cover of Tree Rollins, his smile enormous, being served in bed by his diminutive white houseboy. And then I show them the Atlanta Magazine cover from a little while later, when the new "team" was on board. It shows a blonde woman in a white silk dress climbing out of a limousine while her black chaffeur, his smile as wide as Tree Rollins, holds the door.

I wouldn't have wanted to be the editor who assigned that cover. And I really wouldn't have wanted to be one of his underlings, nodding in agreement.

And here, in order, are the four covers of which I speak.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Friendly Fire

Is the wife of a friend also your friend?

No, neither automatically nor necessarily. She does have "most favored acquaintance" status until proved otherwise, but I won't say such a person is a friend until the signing of the treaty and the exchange of pens.

Actually, I mean until the exchange of serious and thoughtful conversation with the friend not present. Sometimes that never happens. (Hmm. Maybe that's just as well.)

Fine. There are worse things than not being a "most favored acquaintance."

Why has this problem in nomenclature trod its nasty crop circle into my field of dreams, my blog? I can give you reasons if you want reasons. One is that the wife of a good friend -- or so I think of him though it's not like we've exchanged decoder rings -- just lost her job. Sometime very soon I am going to write a column about job loss, since the 40th anniversary of one of my firings is just around the corner. It's quite thrilling. There were hints of industrial espionage. In the course of that essay to come, I thought I might mention my friend's wife, and thus the question of right reference arose, for my mind ever grinds away at the challenges of taxonomy.

Is the phrase "a friend's wife" somehow sexist and dismissive, as if she must be identified by her marital status? No, I have female friends of whom I might say, "There's my friend's husband. He only looks like her father -- though that would make her a troll, too, wouldn't it?"

So that's not it. And I am pretty sure it's not as if the "she" in this story would be offended by my calling her my friend. I don't suppose. I don't think so. Gee. I really don't know her well enough to know if she would be offended, an area of ignorance upon which I have just stumbled that suggests this problem is not a problem at all.

No no no. The reason I am sparing of my use of the word "friend" and that I fret about such use is that my father referred to everyone he ever talked with or shook hands with or saw across the street at a considerable distance as his friend.

"I want you to meet my friend," he said and said and said again.

My dad was a blue-collar guy who always had some kind of business going on the side and who, when all the numbers were added up, lost money at all of these businesses. But he was always hopeful. He was always hopeful because he was convinced that he was one of God's favorites (and so we discover reason ninethousandsevenhundredandseventeen why I dislike George Bush) and he thought that everyone he met liked him very very much.

His lawyer was his friend. His doctor was his friend. People to whom he owed money were his special friends. People who cheated him out of money were his very dearest friends, or so it seemed to me.

So "friend" is a word I am hesitant to use. It is one of the special little rotten spots of paranoia in my worldview.

Funny story, though. At my dad's funeral, I got up and -- rather than talking about how today he was in Heaven with Jesus since I figured today he was in the hard cold ground with all the forces of incipient putrefaction -- I talked about how he had persevered in spite of his business failures and had never given up. That was pretty much all I had to say.

These comments resulted in a stream of people getting up and saying, in effect, he had so been a good businessman. (And was in heaven. Blah blah blah.)

Later, when my sister and I went through my dad's papers we discovered that some of these people had first-hand knowledge of just how bad a businessman my dad was.

Were they his friends, then? I prefer to think of them as his unindicted co-conspirators or his enablers or just possibly a couple of his creditors in the last throes of self-delusion.

I wasn't his friend, just his son, there at the end, mystified by his checkbook and terrified by his tax returns, trying to clean up his messes.

And all those people at the funeral who did not have the first clue, either the candlestick in the billiard room or the wrench in the hall, saying:

I was your father's friend.

Thank you for letting me tell you this story. I feel better. Whoo. I think I'll blow my nose. Plphutttttt. Thanks for listening.

I consider it



Saturday, November 13, 2004

On Weekends, We Row Over to Hawaii

People from little bitty places have a hard time thinking about this long tall drink of water known as the state of California. People from little bitty places on the far side of the world in particular have a hard time thinking about this happy (if somewhat lightly moored) fragment of the earth's crust without refracting it through the lens of dreams and envy.

Thus, on the BBC news website today I noted the headline: "U.S. Beach Bodies Killer Convicted." I immediately clicked through, eager as always for news of Southern California mayhem. But -- now that you have been thoroughly prepped and the situation carefully framed -- you, Dear Reader, immediately understood that the story was about the verdict in the Laci Peterson murder.

Here's the second sentence from the story:

The headless and limbless body of Laci Peterson and the decomposed remains of her foetus were found washed up on a San Francisco Bay beach in April 2003.

Grimmer writing than I expected from the Beeb -- and that subliterate headline! -- but my point is that referring to the shore of the Bay as a beach misrepresents, at least in terms of connotation, how we live here. A beach is a place of sand and warmth. Perhaps if it is winter, a beach has a bittersweet quality because it is, for the moment, not a place of warmth. Good friend ocean is momentarily inhospitable, but as the seasons turn, it will offer itself to you again and it is that implicit contrast that gives piquance, and thus the power of metaphor, to a winter beach.

We do have beaches in the Bay Area, places where people tiptoe into the water at summer's height and then scamper out again. Beaches are where we sit to watch the surfers in their wet suits. Beach is a word best used among ourselves unless we want to feed the notion that residents of the San Francisco Bay Area are living in North Malibu.

Simple fact is the bodies of mother and baby were washed ashore.

A shore. The shore.

That's the correct tone, rich in the sad ideas of flotsam, jetsam and the cold indifferent sea giving up the dead.

A note for the poets among you. Substitute the word "beach" into the following and see what you get, in addition to fracturing the rhyme.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly, grim, and ancient raven, wandering from the nightly shore.
Tell me what the lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore."
Quoth the raven, "Nevermore."

I concede "Dover Beach" is no sunny prospect. But I'll wager the typical Brit in this age of TV illiteracy, when he thinks of U.S. beaches, thinks Miami and Annette Funicello, not Dover and Matthew Arnold.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Game of Cat and Mouse is Not a Game to the Mouse

Unless we catch the mouse using a live-capture trap -- and I'll get on that soon or at least by tomorrow -- the mouse will die. Oliver will kill the mouse. He spent much of yesterday sitting in the lower study on the square in the rug that says Pasta Peaachallo Genova looking at the filing cabinet that the mouse is probably -- and, to Oliver, certainly -- using as a refuge.

Oliver is serious about this. He has sacrificed valuable sleeping time to sit on the rug looking at the filing cabinet. He is motivated. Suddenly the phrase "unblinking stare" comes to mind. He doesn't seem malevolent. He is very very intent and quite patient. I have only seen him that patient when he is sleeping, though perhaps "patient" is not quite the word in that instance. He works very hard at sleeping.

Now that he is on the case, he is vigilant. My word, Oliver, don't let me interrupt you.

We knew we had a mouse several days before he did. My wife pulled out the sliding cupboard in the lower study and found that something had gnawed through the plastic wrapper on the shortbread crust suitable for Frenchified fruitified delights and eaten a little of it. She immediately decided a rat had done so, but I argued that maybe it was a weird kind of crumbling and perhaps an associated expansion of gases....

I was in denial about the whole thing. But there was collateral evidence, the kind rodents leave. I preferred to think it was a tiny little mouse. I hoped it would eat and run, if indeed a mouse it was.

A mouse it is. (Or a rat. I prefer to think not.) Suddenly yesterday Oliver was sniffing at the cabinet and, digging in, positioning himself for the long haul. I was irrationally pleased at his new initiative. For in some ways a cat is like that useless child who lives in the basement and spends his free time on the Internet and doesn't even date, though you wonder what kind of woman would have him if he did date and you really aren't sure you want to find out.

A cat is like that, though more decorative and not given to playing music loud or smoking... Just what are you smoking down there, Mister!

When one of these underfoot residents of your home shows focus and purpose, you are naturally pleased. It's killing a mouse. At least, it's something.

All day yesterday I would wander down to check on the progress. I even brought Oliver a snack (dry cat food; field rations), so he could eat without relaxing his guard. He ate like a warrior, his head pointing ever toward the filing cabinet.

He was still there when he went to bed last night. This morning when we woke up he was in bed with us. This is as it should be. He needs his rest. Perhaps, yesterday was too intense. Balance in all things, you know. Indeed, I am writing this using my laptop sitting on the sofa in the living room with Popcorn pressed against my right leg and Oliver to her right, his side pressed against the bottom of her feet, This is unusual. Oliver is chronically afraid of Popcorn, and he never curls up so close, much less with actual touching.

Perhaps, the dynamic of the household has changed. Perhaps, Popcorn understands that for all the long hours of yesterday Oliver was on the job, ready to confront Nemesis wherever it arose, which in the case of yesterday was behind the cabinet in the lower study.

Maybe this is a World War I moment and Oliver has rotated himself out of the trenches. The sofa is Paris, and this a respite from the horror. Popcorn is his cher mam'zelle.

I have never felt safer. If not captured and executed, the mouse is at least contained. A line has been drawn in the study. I am sure that Oliver will be returning shortly to the rug in the study. With his eyes closed, he is making plans, fitting tactics to his larger strategy.

It is a simple fact determined by either map or compass that the lower study is oriented to the west to collect the warm afternoon sun.

Thus, I may report that, for now

all is quiet on the western front.

Update: Oliver has not resumed his post. Is he a deserter? More likely, after a good night's sleep wedged between my wife and myself, he simply forgot about the mouse. Or maybe he killed it and ate it in the dark of the night. There's no mouse in the live-catch trap. On the other hand, the live-catch trap is an unimpressive mechanism, so the absence of the mouse in the trap does not guarantee the absence of the mouse elsewhere. When the situation becomes definitive, it will be mentioned in dispatches.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Us Tarzan, Them Jane

Well, look at this. One of my Chronicle stories from the late 1980s was reprinted as a "Chronicle Classic" in September while we were out of the country.

There's a short story by John Galsworthy called, I think, "Quality," about a shoemaker who dies in utter penurious obscurity. There is almost nothing to say about him except -- and I believe this becomes a kind of refrain -- "He made a good boot." Indeed, the point seems to be that he made his boots rather better than they needed to be, given the reasonable prices he charged and his ignorance of what we would today call marketing.

There is pride in craft, even at its most obscure and disposable. Now, I reread this story from back in the day.

I made a good boot!

This story (excerpted here) was published in The Chronicle on Aug. 15, 1988. The IBC members celebrated the group's 25th anniversary in San Francisco recently, visiting SBC Park for the Giants-Mets series -- and sampling its beers, which they pronounced "way overpriced."


Michael Robertson/Sunday, September 12, 2004

As far as the four members of the International Baseball Conspiracy are concerned, friendship means never having to say you're thirsty.

Yes, they drink beer as an integral part of their endless journey through the great cities and the great ballparks of America. They drink beer before, during and after the baseball games they have flown great distances to watch. They drink it slowly and thoughtfully, like connoisseurs.

Mike Phillips is positively dreamy when he recalls the beer hawkers wandering through the stands in Milwaukee County Stadium in 1982.

"Four kinds of beer," he says. "Plus bratwurst. Beer and brat."

This season Phillips, Pat Miles, Tom Olkowski and Ron Schukar made the Bay Area the site of their yearly rendezvous because they liked the look of the A's.

Olkowski and Schukar live in Denver, Phillips in Bozeman, Mont., and Miles in San Francisco. This is the 10th summer the four have met in a big- league city. They like baseball. They like beer. They love each other. These trips are part of the care and feeding of their friendship.

Mostly they play it for laughs, not encounter-group anguish. Four days in a large American city. Four days of baseball. Four days devoted to sheer bumptious fun, to cultivating "a little of the little boy in us," says Schukar.

Each year, Phillips' wife sends along small gifts for each of the group, and this year she included a letter in which she announced that IBC really stands for "Incessant Beer Consumption."

"Our wives are all supportive of this," Olkowski says. "Even Pat's. Before the divorce."

If anything, the friends feel their trips make their other relationships better. Olkowski is a clinical psychologist. A steady stream of men passes through his office with the same complaint. They are successful. They may have good relationships with women, but they have no male friends. And they are lonely.

Simply put, American men aren't very good at being friends on anything other than a superficial level. They may connect at work. But, as Miles puts it, "once the project evaporates, the friendship evaporates."

It isn't about drinking, really. It's about gratitude for something special.
The high point of each excursion is "dress-up night" on Saturdays, this year at Bix in San Francisco. They put on their best clothes, go to a fine restaurant and talk honestly about the events of the past year and their hopes for the year upcoming.

"We talk about the painful things," Olkowski says.

"It's not enough just to play out adolescent locker-room fantasies of buddyhood," Schukar says. The chemistry of male friendship -- "beer, lies and dirty stories" -- may never change. "These are all things we should never give up. But there has to be sensitivity, too. The problem is so many guys can't get beyond locker-room talk."

The lesson of the IBC is simple, he says. In matters of friendship, "people assume a lot. It's like since we have the equipment to communicate, we'll communicate. Since we have the equipment to be friends, we'll continue to be friends. In this period of time, we are all so busy and life is so hectic, friendship has changed. You have to work at it. You don't have to go halfway across the country to nourish friendship. But you do have to be willing to say, 'I like you, I had a good time with you, let's do that again.' "
Most American men like to play it so cool they're left out in the cold. "Risk," Olkowski says for the third or fourth time. "Friendship is more than luck."

P.S. for today, which is November 10, 2004. So I'm saying this to the guys I haven't seen in a long long time, not since back in the last century and in some cases far longer: Bruce, Trum, Schuyler, Jerry, Al, Tommy, Lowell, Buck, even Bob, you crazy goat farmer:

I like you. We had more good times than I can easily remember. It's been a while since I said this, more than a sentence ago. I like you.

And for the guys in the league and at work and some of you I just somehow ended up knowing... Oh, I like you, too. I guess I owe you a drink even if I don't owe you a drink.

Which makes sense to men, as much as anything does.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Election's Over. Time to Laugh and Laugh and Laugh Some More

Last week in my comments on how three San Francisco Chronicle columnists dealt with the aftermath of the election, I said that, in general, Joan Ryan was the one of those columnists I would most like to have coffee with based on their personae in their respective columns spun out over time .

In the course of those remarks I misspelled the name of Chronicle columnist Debra J. Saunders -- which could suggest a simmering attraction but probably not. Checking out the correct spelling on sfgate.com, I discovered the Big Page O' Chronicle Columnists. Boy, there are a lot of them -- 49 in all, with a link to Sports, where their numbers cloud the sky like the migration of the Passenger Pigeon.

Singling out just one of them for coffee talk kudos is like major league baseball giving out a single Golden Glove for all the fielding positions. It misrepresents the nature of the game. And when you consider that limiting the pool of possible prize winners to extant columnists is to lose the historical context that is necessary to a full understand of the essence of excellence in column writing ...! I mean, think of the Chronicle columnists from just the last 20 years that are no more: Charles McCabe, Adeline Daley, Stan Delaplane, Herb Caen, Steve Rubenstein, Art Hoppe, Alice Kahn, Susan Parker, Lowell Cohn, Adair Lara, Stephanie Salter, Glenn Dickey, Tom Fitzgerald, Jerry Carroll and, of course, the great William Tecumseh German. (Also, there was the chess columnist. What was his name?)

For an award to have meaning, all these grand old fish must be pried off the wall and thrown back in the pool of eligibles.

With all this mind, I give to you the ballot for the First Annual Count Marco Pantheon of Chronicle Columnistic Excellence.

Vote early. Vote often.

Which Chronicle columnist would you most like to:

* have a beer with?
* share a bong with?
* have a one-night stand with?
* have a long weekend with?
* love, marry, divorce acrimoniously and hide your assets from with ?
* be marooned on a desert island (considering the fact you might be rescued and you just know the darn columnist will write about it so you don't just want accuracy, you want sympathy; in fact, I think we can dispense with the accuracy) with?
* repopulate the world after a nuclear holocaust (which could be depressing so I would pick someone jolly) with?
* discuss your 401k with?
* cater a bris with?
* knock over a liquor store with?
* operate a liquor store with?
* go bowling with?
* tear down Bush yard signs with?
* stuff a turkey (i mean in the company of, not actually forcing them inside the body cavity) with?
* sing a duet with?
* have a threesome with?
* listen to a gospel quartet with?
* bite Phil Bronstein on the foot with?
* have a tattoo of on your keister...with?
* tell knock knock jokes with?
* piss and moan about things until the bus comes with?
* make a cunning set of pillow slips to give your rumpus room a whole new look with?
* sit silently until the feeling goes away with?

You may suggest additional categories. I believe we are just scratching the surface.

Monday, November 08, 2004

It's Not Goodbye, George. It's ... Whatever the French Word is For Goodbye

In one of the many many stories about the number of Americans inquiring about emigrating to Canada after Bush's victory, I stumbled on a link to a website that allows you to take a brief prescreening test that Canada administers to would-be immigrants.

You need a 67 to show you are the right stuff, or so the website claimed. I scored a 66, getting zero points for age and zero points for not having a job lined up. If I had said I could read and write basic French, I would have scored 68.

Bonjour, mes amis. El Presidente Bush est un hombre loco....

Maybe I can get points for attitude.

Update: If I can just get a little French down (Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques), see what good things can happen:


It seems that you have either met or exceeded the current pass mark of 67 points for migrating to Canada as a Skilled Worker, and you would therefore have a good chance of being successful in this application based on your skills, qualifications and work experience.

25 points for your education
0 points for your age
18 points for English/French language ability
21 points for your work experience
0 points for arranged employment
4 points for adaptability

68 total points

P.S. My crucial "adaptability" points come from my "accompanying spouse or common-law partner’s level of education." That is adaptability, the ability to have hooked up with someone who can support you if you can't get a job in the Great White North. You aren't a leech, a gigolo, a parasite: You're just "adaptable."

Sunday, November 07, 2004

From the Land of the Midnight Thumb

By which I mean we are now going through the slides we took in Scandinavia, and in too many of them the best looking thing in frame is some part of my hand that got in the way. As for the rest of the space in each photo -- a void of darkness and gloom.

I am not speaking metaphorically here. I mean there's nothing there. One possible excuse is that it rained. A lot. Also, I don't really understand how to work the camera, which is an old-fashioned SLR, pricey and thus imbued with many mechanical frills and possibilities, all of which are capable of shifting the final image just that much further wrong.

All the emptiness! Looking at our pictures, I feel like a priest taking confession from a series of French intellectuals.

In the few pictures that contain at least some information, you have a cap of washed-out grey sky with dark silhouettes of looming shapes beneath. So far our re-experiencing our trip photographically is the opposite of what usually happens. Usually you sit down you look at your pictures you think, "I really did not appreciate what I was seeing at the time. Thank you, Mr. Kodak." Vacation pictures at their best (if that is not a contradiction in terms) are a crutch, you see, a supplement or a footnote. But in the case of our photos this time, our pictures are a kind of homoeopathy, which (as I hardly need to remind you) suggests the tiniest and most infinitesimal amount of something -- the essence of badness -- triggers something very good.

The very absence of content in our pictures is a stimulant to memory. This is what I mean. I push the button on the slide projector. On the wall there is Nothing except a black looming something with a kind of crenellation at the top.

"Russian Orthodox church in Stockholm?" I say.

"Probably the stave church in Norway," my wife replies. "Unless it's that girl on a bike we saw in Copenhagen."

"If so, she seems to be making an obscene gesture," I say.

"I think it's the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki," my wife says.

"In which case that's you making the obscene gesture," I say. (True story. Only place in Helsinki we saw cops.)

Each picture, each terrible picture, encourages us to re-experience the entire trip, sharpening memory, drawing it out of us, providing a Rorschach that teases out of us details we had forgotten.

This won't do for the slide show, though. Through indirections we may be finding directions out as we reexperience our trip through the series of missed opportunities that our photographs represent. But I want to have a slide show! I want to bring a small circle of friends into the warmth of our living room and, well, show off. If you have a handful of nice images -- as few as 60, I would say -- and you imbed them in a sprightly narrative in which every architectural marvel is juxtaposed with some embarrassing anecdote involving food or currency exchange, I think your friends forgive you. And perhaps they learn a little something?

Did you know that "bjorn" is Swedish for bear? See that brown splotch there next to what looks like a sock? That's a bear, or, as the Swedes would say:

A bjorn.

Repeat it as if this were a Monty Python sketch.

A bjorn.

Personally, I always like going to people's slide shows. We have some friends who are talented amateur photographers. Some of them go interesting places, and I like a bit of a travelogue. It's a big world, you know. And at a slide show, usually there are drinks and food, sometimes a buffet even because the wise host for a slide show understands exactly who is doing whom the favor and adjusts the catering accordingly.

Our friend Jefferson says I am living in a dream world. He says people despise slide shows. He's never been to a decent one or known anyone -- other than us, and he thinks we are lying -- who enjoys that devil's brew of botched photos and incoherent narrative.

I think he is saying that finally a slide show is a power trip (and he doesn't mean a Power Point trip) in which the conventions of acquaintanceship demand an acquiescence to illusions of competence when it comes to picture taking and storytelling.

And I say: Okay. I can live with that.

Consider this your invitation to Eyes Wide Shut: A Long Evening's Journey into the Scandinavian Night with the Robertson Family.

Details to follow. You can run, but you can't hide.

Friday, November 05, 2004

No More Politics, I Promise

That is the pledge I make to myself and to those of you reading over my shoulder. I created this blog to serve my research into the dynamics of column-writing, not to try to set myself up as a pundit. Research on the psychology of pundits is fine, but let's finish up our thinking on general interest column writing first. Back to business.

Also, punditing hasn't increased readership. I say this to my literally several of readers: The brand is back, smaller and quieter, as furry and friendly as a small animal.


My wife smiles. "Look the innocent flower but be the serpent under't," she says.

No baby, no.

scratch my belly

will purr for catnip

A Butterfly Explains the Absence of the Hurricane (This is a Reference to Chaos Theory. If You Don't Get It, Call Me at Home.)

A friend of mine went to Florida to get out the Democratic vote. Here's his email describing the experience. How to describe it? Disquieting is good.

There are some things y'all may find interesting (albeit also unsettling) -- and some personal thoughts that are perhaps licensed from my commitment and work to defeat the Slimeball Bush.

I don't believe I've ever experienced -- EVER -- the spectacular
ignorance, pandemic disorganization and profligate incompetence that I found
in the Kerry campaign offices in Tallahassee. (And remember that I've been
in entertainment and the performing arts -- where occasional spectacular
stupidity is a given -- all my life. This was much worse than the worst of
that.) Before we went, (a friend) who was part of the contingent which went to Columbus Ohio, and I attempted to prepare each other for the probable disorganization and ineptitude that we would each encounter. And we determined to not let that anticipated eventuality deter us from simply integrating ourselves to best ability -- whatever the obstacles -- from our intense desire to change the course in Washington. I was not at ALL interested in "showing someone up," coming on strong or self-importantly, or otherwise disrupting what was going on. Coming in during the last ten days precluded doing anything more than quickly analyzing where I might contribute the most good and figuring out what I could do to accomplish that expeditiously and efficiently. And if someone else was sent over to help out, oversee or even "clip my wings" -- well, fine. We were intent on NOT allowing anything to be irksome or any petty difference to interfere -- if need be I would pull back, kiss this or that ass, and simply be a soldier.

Or lemming, as it were...

If you who are my friends read my every-couple-of-days, intended-to-be-humorous email dispatches critically, however, you probably sensed that organization was sorely lacking in Tallahassee. And that was indeed profoundly the case. And so I took on Suwannee County. Indeed I wasn't kidding in the email dispatch: they really DIDN'T know that Suwannee County -- the fourth largest in population of the 14 counties in the Tallahassee district -- was theirs until just two days before I arrived. Meaning that it wasn't until just nine days before the election that anyone (me) had even set foot in the county or telephoned a single partisan there. The only "contact info" they could supply was just one
name -- that of the former deputy-chair of the Demo party there. No one knew the name of the actual departed county chair, nor did they have even a phone number for the departed number two -- all they had was her name. On my second day -- after my friend from NYC ... and I realized that poll observing was really a kind of make-work assignment, albeit indeed a necessary one -- I struck out to connect with someone, ANYONE, who might help bring in Kerry voters. When I returned to Tallahassee to report that
I'd found the leadership in the African-American churches, a locally developed voter registration organization, and the local NAACP, I was met with looks of perplexed amusement and cocked-head interest. Turns out no one had ever -- in all the many weeks and months preceding my arrival -- ever thought of making such contacts in ANY county outside of the immediate Tallahassee area! There was not a single Spanish-language K-E piece in the Tallahassee HQ -- while the Repubs had bi-lingual pieces in all four Suwannee County hispanic churches.


Now folks, this ain't rocket science, and I ain't either Karl Rove nor
James Carville. Connecting with the black churches ain't all that
innovative an idea, and I know it. But it apparently WAS to the Kerry staff in Florida's capital city. I spent days and days begging, cajoling and lobbying to get just $250 to
spread out among those churches to help finance gas for church vans to pick up and deliver voters on election day. And despite the fact that Terry McAuliffe himself (the Demo Party National Chairman -- you've seen him on CNN and Nightline, etc) came through to speak to everyone, and I heard him brag that this election was different than every other presidential election in history, "because we have matched the Republicans, dollar for dollar. We can do anything and everything we've ever wanted to do!" -- and this is a direct verbatim quote -- I just couldn't get that money! After knocking myself out for four days, each evening pulling the sleeves of whoever I could, and each day phoning back and forth from Live Oak, I was finally and VERY begrudgingly given two $50 Shell credit cards. That was it. (If any of you had seen the wall-to-wall TV advertising by both campaigns in Florida, and experienced the negligible impact these efforts were by then reduced to having, you'd have agreed that it would've made FAR more sense to simply pull ONE SINGLE SUCH AIRING -- and take that money to finance gas for every single church van from Jacksonville all the way across the panhandle to Pensacola! Sure, the vans would've been out ferrying people anyway. But just THINK of the difference in motivation and actuality if we'd added a full tank of gas to each one -- along with the esprit involved in being directly tied to the candidate's presidential campaign!) I personally raised another $120 in donations from friends in Tallahassee.

And -- if Dick Cheney can draw 16,000 people in Lake City (mid-way
between Jax and Pensacola) as he did -- and Bush draw 25,000 in Gainesville
25 miles farther south -- WHY was there never a single one day whistle-stop
bus tour done by, say, fellow Southerner John Edwards -- or even John
Edwards wife? Or Kerry's kids? Or ANYONE connected with the ticket across
the panhandle of Florida? You think there's no votes there? Well, sure, it
was going to go to Bush anyway -- but NOT by 100%!!! Ignoring the panhandle ENTIRELY (excepting only for Tallahassee/Leon County and adjacent black-majority Gadsden County) was just plain stupid. Arrogantly myopic. Incompetent.

Lest anyone reading this think I'm scapegoating, understand that I was
saying this days BEFORE the election, when I thought we were going to WIN.
AFTER the election -- in the Tallahassee, Charlotte and finally San Francisco airports, and on the planes between them -- I ran into many other volunteers, and I asked for their experiences in Florida. Not one of the 12-15 I spoke with -- NOT ONE -- had a single word of praise -- a SINGLE word of praise -- for the Kerry-Demo offices in Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Lake Worth, Orlando, Delray Beach or Tallahassee where they had worked. Now maybe some of these people WERE scapegoating at this point -- but certainly not ALL of them!

Apparently, most Kerry offices were run by 21 and 22-year old poli-sci
majors taking a flyer -- people who were well-intentioned, surely, and
WANTED to do good work -- but who were near-totally inexperienced in ANY
kind of organizing work. The main room-slash-bullpen in Tallahassee was a
mad house. I STILL don't know -- and again I was effectively The Guy for
the fourth largest county in the district -- precisely WHO was responsible
for what there.

With my own shows and projects, the VERY first thing I will do is print
up two general sheets: one with the names, job-responsibility-slash-title
and contact info for whoever has been assigned at that point, and a general
time-line sheet of important dates and coming events, obstacles, deadlines,
etc. Both these sheets will change and need to be updated, modified, added to and refined PROFOUNDLY over coming weeks. And they ARE. At K-E HQ, there was nothing. Volunteers would walk in, wander and hang for several hours -- and maybe or maybe not find something to do. Something "last minute" that should've been done days before.

And in a big room like we had it's also a good idea to have signs --
magic marker on cardboard is fine -- of who gathers where, and who is
working UNDER this or that sign. Canvassers gather here, drivers here,
outlying county early vote observers here, Leon-Gadsden observers here --
etc, etc. We worked out of what more-closely resembled a downtown
intersection that had the traffic lights and street signs removed. A pen
for scores of chickens without heads.

ALL political campaigns must be cluster fucks that get worse as election
day approaches and new people arrive. That's gotta be a given. But simply
packing bags for election day "poll greeters" was an on-again, off-again job
that sat UN-done many times when I walked past that "area."
(BTW, I myself am also Absolutely Determined that every single piece of
promotional printing is gone -- distributed -- by "show-day", in this case
meaning election day. We, however, had boxes and BOXES of door hangers --
hyping early voting with the location address in this or that particular
county -- sitting in the back room. It was Friday -- six days after I got
there and with just a day and a half of early voting to go -- that someone
gave me ours. But boxes and boxes for other counties just sat there until
the end, NEVER issued, NEVER used. Wasted.)

The above is SIMPLE stuff! OBVIOUS stuff! Producing 101 -- or perhaps
"Campaigning 101" -- kinda stuff. And totally not understood in Kerry Tallahassee HQ.
In short the Kerry campaign in Tallahassee -- and apparently all across Florida -- was a trainwreck of incompetence and bureaucratic ineptitude.... I'm sorry to have to report it.

Since Tuesday, many people I've talked with have tried to paint a better
face on the Tuesday election loss. I've received emails and talked with
folks who say we'll win in the end, the pendulum swings both ways, there's
this or that "silver lining", etc, etc, etc. (One assertion is that,
historically, second terms are more difficult for a president. Well, Bush
may PERSONALLY have a difficult second term -- but so what? And who
cares? -- because the Republicans will have a fucking FIELD DAY politically!
There is NOTHING to stop the extreme right wing now!)

Prepare ourselves for Chief Justice Scalia, and two or even three more
Clarence Thomases. (I'm one who's thought it frankly doubtful Rowe v Wade
would ever be over-turned. I don't think myself alarmist -- or at ALL
conspiracy-inclined, for that matter. But getting rid of R v Wade IS,
indeed number one on Scalia's agenda -- he's criticized it countless times.
And with Bush probably naming two or three new Supremes, I'm now no longer
so calm.) It's the end for all time of the estate tax, meaning a permanent
"aristocracy" and the end of even a semblance or attempt at a level economic
playing field. National health insurance postponed at LEAST four years
more -- and "mine fielded" against that eventual initiation. The end of
Amtrak. Assault weapons on the street everywhere. Time-and-a-half overtime
pay taken from countless working people. Media consolidated so profoundly
that no matter WHAT laws are later passed to dilute them, the monopolies
will be grandfathered in. (Unless one somehow believes we'll get actual
trust-busters into office one day -- because that's the kind of Teddy
Roosevelt-ish indignant crusading it would require to dismantle them. And
how likely is THAT?.... "Grandfathering" existing inequities on the other
hand, and "sunsetting" laws the right wing can't just prevent (like the
assault weapons ban and media ownership caps) is the "politic" gentleman's
way of our era -- though nothing really gets accomplished....) A possible
draft, a possible end of the NEA, except as a shell so they can't be accused
of actually killing it. (Not that I personally mind gutting the NEA, but
99% of all liberals WOULD.) Worsening and widening the gap between public
schools (the schools for poor folks, single moms and minorities) -- and the
rich, parent-donation funded suburban white schools, who additionally will
get vouchers for their so-called "Christian schools".... Head Start
programs and after-school programs left as empty rooms -- again, so they
can't be accused of actually killing them -- without any resources

The list goes on and on -- AND ON. This ISN'T just Slimeball Bush
getting a mandate, this is 55 Republican senators -- in a senate that was
ALREADY a hollow shell of toadies on the left and zealots on the right.
This is a right-wing steamroller!

It is a true disaster. A spectacular, indeed -- and this is NOT
hyperbole -- an earth-shaking, historically-pivotal CATASTROPHE....
It's so FAR beyond Reagan. So far beyond what these truly MEAN and --
to use the following term with all deliberate intent -- EVIL people were
able to accomplish in their first four years.

And in the above litany we haven't even MENTIONED the environment, or
the spectacular recruiting "gift" a Bush second term gives outfits like Al
Qaeda, all the millions of jobs that will be shipped overseas, and disabled
access and job safety programs that will be gutted. No, I can't at all see anything here allowing me many moments of lightness or gaiety. What's happened is a literal, incontestable and unstoppable catastrophe for America and the world.

Yet, indeed, "on the plus side" -- and here even I myself will indulge
in a bit of perverse silver lining -- the Bush re-election will mean a more
rapid decline of the American empire. This is kind of "the worse things
get, the better things get" arrogant and elitist thinking, admittedly. But
it IS true that with Bush and his arrogantly incompetent co-conspirators in
control, American power will over-extend and all remaining international
political capital and goodwill will be thrown out the window. Good -- in
the long, LONG run -- for the rest of the world.

But at home where I live -- in the country I love -- we will have the
further institutionalization of mean-ness and greed as legitimate social
values. The rich WILL get much, much richer -- and the poor will become
less and less able to rise above veritable servitude. Those of us in the
working and middle classes will rely more and more on dual incomes to remain

In short, we get the continued demise of the American Empire -- but also
the continued decline in the American Dream, the American Ideal...
Slimeball Bush, Scumbag Cheney and Sleazebucket Ashcroft or his
replacement: now strengthened with a "mandate"....

No, not good. Not good at all....

We must not accept any of it, can not "compromise" on what is right, be
"good losers" in the fight for what is just, fair and compassionate.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Three Chronicle Columnists Take Their Morning-After Pill

What is the stated purpose of this weblog? Oh yeah. By thinking and doing, I explore the nature of newspaper column writing in these United States.

A question that came to mind yesterday was: How do columnists decelerate or change the subject or roll with the punches or wave the bloody flag of conquest when the determining event has taken place, i.e., the election is over and there is no longer a bloody thing anyone can do about it.

Obviously, not all columnists have to adjust or acknowledge. Most columnists plow blithely on, sailing "large" with the wind squarely behind them because they are apolitical, either in subject matter -- stamps, quilts, sports -- or by nature.

I have no doubt thousands of general-interest columnists simply ignored the election, at least the partisan side of it. Maybe they said, "Go out and vote." Maybe they said, "When it's all over we are all one nation." These are evasions and placeholders, immediately to be forgotten as the writer intended.

Many columnists, however, paid a great deal of attention to the election, some because they are (duh!) political columnists but others because part of their signature, their voice, is honest talk about their own personal politics, as about all things personal. Here's the problem for both the pol-cols and the activist/generalist: How do you come out the other side, when the thing is done and you no longer need be urgent or apocalyptic.

Something has happened. You were ranting on and on about it before it happened. So what's up.

I note three examples in the Chronicle today, each fascinating in its way.

The least fascinating is Joan Ryan. I like Ryan as a columnist, though there is nothing intriguing about what she does. She has very little attitude, no particular stylistic flourishes, no public neuroses. If George Bush is supposedly the politician Americans want to have a beer with, Ryan is the Chronicle columnist I would most like to have a coffee with. She is a thoughtful liberal, intense without being hysterical. You can tell she was once a reporter. She seems to know things. What she says is always real, usually pretty smart. She never seems to let the possibilities of the metaphor or the invective dictate how she says something.

Today, she writes a predictable column, utterly predictable perhaps, but one I read in its entirety because I agreed with it in its entirety, and probably that is its function in the paper, to sum up with calm and with intensity what many readers are thinking.

This paragraph sums it up:

It is a confounding time to live in a place like the Bay Area. Watching the returns Tuesday night, and listening to voters across the country, I saw that John Edwards was right about the two Americas. But the two Americas are not divided by money but by belief systems that have drifted so far apart we barely recognize each other anymore.

Ryan mirrors our thoughts, with perhaps a little extra polish on the mirror. And there it is in the newspaper, which comforts and reassures us. We are not alone. It is predictable but welcome all the same.

In sharp contrast, read Jon Carroll's column for today. His subject matter is ... bizarre. Carroll is "political" often enough to have a reputation as a bit of a lefty, a champion of the left even. His positions are often clear, usually sort of prettydarnmoreorless clear, but his voice is always ringing in your ears. His ideas even at their most serious are always leavened or gilded or tweaked with his essential playfulness, his overweening or overbearing or overarching attitude.

(Just like me in the preceding sentence. I could have said what I had to say more simply and probably more clearly, but I never miss a chance to style. Like Carroll.)

Carroll's day-after column plays with the notion that he bought a new carpet for his bedroom and -- like the flutter of the butterfly's wing here and the resultant hurricane there, as in chaos theory -- that act rippled across the economy and caused Florida to vote for Bush, making him president. The execution of the idea is clever but a little mechanical, since it's just one joke playing itself out. But it works in the context of the column over time, the constant of inconstancy in that you can never predict exactly what Carroll's idea or his approach or his execution will be.

Now, we could talk all day about how Carroll's approach is in its way as reassuring as Ryan's. He will not be oppressed by the seriousness of the moment. He turns it to a joke. He asserts his individuality, his existential supremacy to externality. He does not give a flying fuck, not today anyway, when others are moping. Again, this is the -- forgive me Strunk and Mr. White, too -- the magic of the newspaper. It is a balance of parts. A pinch of Ryan and a soupcon of Carroll: Voila!

Third Chronicle column of note for today.

Very fascinating.

I am referring to that of Debra J. Saunders, the Chron's resident conservative, whom I usually find unreadable. I read Will for his arch style, Safire for that quirky, insinuating voice, Novak because I don't personally know anyone who is actually evil, and it takes all kinds. I generally read the first two or three paragraphs of Saunders and stop because what she writes seldom seems very smart or very articulate. My impression is that in the runup to the election she had a lumpish, shrill and uninformed enthusiasm for George Bush. But as I said, for me her column has always been a bronc I just can't stay on.

Surprise today! She has a columnful of bullet points suggesting things that Bush, having "failed to unite a country soured by political division," could do to prove himself to be something (my words for the rest of this sentence) other than what he so obviously is.

What recommendations! Fire Ashcroft. Promote gay unions. Nominate "acceptable conservative jurists" to the Supreme Court. Raise fuel standards for U.S. cars!!

In my opinion this is utter utter fantasy. Bush will do none of these things. It's as if she is suddenly changing the terms of her pre-election argument, abandoning continuity in sudden favor of common sense, laying the groundwork for opposing him, not embracing him. Here is discontinuity between her recent columns and her triumphalist moment. I guess I'm pointing out a change in tone, a commensensical one replacing that of the paranoid enthusiast.

This may not be fair. Three paragraphs of Saunders and I'm gone. Usually.

Fascinating collection of Chron columns today in toto, though. Ryan is grim but stalwart, Carroll is winking and finger-snapping, Saunders is there with a nervous twitch saying whathaveidone?

Update: Here's a second thought. Saunders could have gloated, of course, and maybe she wanted to, but that might have gotten her tires slashed. Some of us are a little sad, and some of us are a little scared.

Where the updating never stops: A friend, knowing nothing of today's post, gives Carroll a look and puts the boot in:

What the hell is he doing? He can be so good when he tackles issues like the horror few are facing, and what does he do? One of his fucking reductio ad absurdum columns. That pissed me off so bad that I've vowed to write a letter to the Chronicle. I did not need a useless piece of wasted space like that on this day.

And a final word from the man himself. Jon Carroll writes:

Well, part of it was how quickly it had to be written. I was mostly reacting to the pervasive gloom, and figured I could say something more pointed when I knew what the hell to say. This is one of the lessons: If you don't know what to say, don't say it.

And an update to "Where the Updating Never Stops":

I'm glad you posted my comments, but had I known you were going to I might have put a bit more thought into it, or at least fixed the typo that has "we" appearing as "few." And I might have added the fact that I am a long-time fan of Carroll's column--have long saved it for last when I read the Chron, was way upset when they cut him back to three days.And while we're at it, what's Carroll's excuse for Friday's column on Ashlee Simpson? He had another 24 hours to come up with "something more pointed," and he punted again. Who the hell cares about Ashlee Simpson or her "more famous" sister? We just got our hat handed to us by a bunch of Christian fundamentalists who are bucking for a Jesus jihad. Everyone I talk to is in mourning, looking for answers, a new direction, a modicum of hope. Hell, I'd even take a good kick in the pants. But don't try to talk to me about lip-syncing celebrities at a time like this.

The really last final word posted on 11/11 that no one will probably read anyway since there are no rearview mirrors in blogworld: Jon Carroll said in a frank and cordial exchange of views with Column*Which that he would analyze the recent election in his column when he had something to say about it and not just to say something about it because he had a column to write, i.e., space to fill on deadline. Now, he's writing about the election. It is a characteristic of Carroll, whether consciously intended or simply intrinsic, and thus inevitable, that his voice consists not only of his style but of the nature of his content: Call his opinions quirky, off-the-wall, contrarian or freshly insightful. Some/many of his ideas seem his own and not a regurgitation of the mainstream or the obvious. And that's where he is today, or so it seems to me. Maybe he is simply collecting and presenting a thread of ideas from the Internet and from personal conversations and thus he actually is a compiler and not an originator. If so, he's mining and refining a thread I am not exposed to. Map props to the mad king, whatever the circumstances.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Anybody Else Want a Piece of This?

I just bet my wife twenty dollars that we will never see Arnold Scharzenegger on national television telling the world that Jesus Christ is his personal savior. My wife says: a) he still thinks he can be president; b) you will have to proclaim Jesus Christ as your personal savior to become president of the United States, at least for the next generation; c) a+b= JC is my PS says Conan.

I say no. Arnie is like the Beatles. He's bigger than Jesus.

Well, That Was Special

The good news is that I have just freed up some time to work on my scholarship, listen to music and read fiction, popular and otherwise. After Bush was first "elected" -- ah, the power of quotation marks around a single word -- I quit watching TV news of any kind for almost a year, until 9-11 really. I simply could not stand seeing Bush's face or hearing Bush's words or hearing him talked about in tones other than contempt. I read my several newspapers and used the Internet and got necessary information without the pain.

Now, my wife and I will do that again and will be all the calmer and better for it.

And NEVER AGAIN will I spend election day prowling through the moderate-to-liberal blogs trying to become an Early Knower. This is one of the addictions a journalist acquires, though it's not limited to journalists. Back in my Chronicle days I loved to come in an hour early just to scan the AP basket in the computer system. Though there is seldom any power in knowing things a few minutes before everyone else, there is the illusion of power. Mid-afternoon yesterday, I was hopeful. But then I remembered how the exit polls misled in Florida four years ago and I thought, "This is deja vu all over again."

And it was. I do wonder how far we will go toward theocracy. I have written about it before almost as a way of innoculating myself against my own fear. Sometimes one exaggerates for the simple pleasure of knowing it's an exaggeration: "I have expressed my deepest fear and, having said it, I see that it goes too far."

I make no predictions here. I simply wonder if this loose confederation of fundamentalist Christians and conservative Catholics will be able to make this a "Christian" nation? I am happy that I live in a liberal enclave that will be able to resist those forces if, indeed, that happens -- resist at least for a time.

So much could derail the Christian right: a military disaster in Iraq, an economic meltdown. Those things could also strengthen it as well. We need a strong man for hard times! I don't know what will happen, but I'll bet you twenty dollars that whatever happens I won't like it. You may not either in spite of that smile on your face today. We'll see.

And look at this. I have already had a visitor to this blog today, one referred by a Google search for "moving to Canada." I was number five with a bullet!

Eric's Blog: Move to Canada?
... Move to Canada? Gian and Anthony are planning on getting married in Canada; and they're thinking of staying. Hell, I've thought about it; if Bush gets reelected ...eric.everydaylies.com/archives/ 002925.php - 12k - Cached - More from this site
525 Reasons to Dump Bush: #341 - Top Five Things to be Thankful For
... 5. Bush won't invade countries that he can't pronounce, thus sparing Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and particularly ... If Bush gets reelected, I just might move to Canada. ...www.525reasons.com/archives/ 000495.html - 6k - Cached - More from this site
LP: State Dept. Changes Seen if Bush Reelected, Powell and Armitage Intend to Step Down
... to step down even if President Bush is reelected, setting the ... Middle East conflict, a move that some State Department ... leader that can't even maintain friendly relations with Canada ...www.libertypost.org/cgi-bin/ readart.cgi?ArtNum=20172 - 44k - Cached - More from this site
Views on political news from Canada and America ... concludes "even as these people move, like sleepwalkers, towards a distinctly ... and that a reelected Bush would be willing to pull out ... Google News Canada. C-NEWS. The Mop ...cathiefromcanada.blogspot.com - 69k - Cached - More from this site
... If Bush is reelected, I expect him to do bad things. If ... talked about moving to Canada if Bush is reelected. This is speculative. We would move under certain circumstances ...jmichaelrobertson.blogspot.com

Back to today's post: Would we really? Drop in occasionally. Drive by the house if we don't answer the phone.

Update: Just got hit by a Yahoo "moving to Canada" search. This is suggestive. As a public service, here's a link on emigrating to Canada.