Monday, May 30, 2005

That Was the Year That Was, or The Year of Living Bloggily

Today is the day of days. This blog is exactly one year old, 365 days, 259 posts, 149,000 words, 7,817 visits. I began this blog in an effort to approximate what it would be like to be a newspaper columnist, which was of course a vain atttempt and a vanity to think it possible since this space in cyberworld is not a newspaper. You can't exactly learn what it's like being a fish by running around the front yard waving your arms in a fin-like way and dreaming of the ocean, though you can try glub glub.

Good job! Enuf, however, is enuf.

A Corpse Flower By Any Other Name Would Smell as Foul

Here's a rare flower for you, currently opening in San Francisco. It's huge; it stinks; now you see it and soon you don't. The lady wife and I went to the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers yesterday, but the the plant was still in previews, as it were. We didn't see the flower or savor its odor. But thanks to the miracle of digitial photography, you are there.

In San Francisco, throngs -- well, they do what throngs do; they throng -- to see the fabulous corpse plant, whose flowerings are separated by years and which smells like rotting flesh. Posted by Hello

Here's a closer better look. Posted by Hello

Alas, it's not open yet. Posted by Hello

Saturday, May 28, 2005

How Tart It Is (And Away We Go)

By the way, I've started rereading Voltaire's Candide. I'd forgotten how bracing its cynicism is, how disrespectful of absolutes and of grief over their absence. I love the "hot" political bloggers who (rhetorically speaking) hack off Bush's legs and watch him dissolve in flames. And I certainly think that "we" are closer to an accurate view of the world -- a view that will at least retard the dissolution of people and systems -- than "they" are.

But it is refreshing to step back and, like Voltaire's Candide on the last page, listen to:

Martin -- "We must work without arguing. That's the only way to make life bearable"

And then say, like Candide (to Pangloss praising the chain of events that brought them to this moment in this "best of all possible worlds") -- "That's true enough, but we must go work in the garden."

Midnight Addendum: Hmmmm. The mood has passed. I've ordered a 'Hillary in 2008' poster. For did not Voltaire also say:

So long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men.

A little gardening, a little agitating and then a nice piece cake: It's called multitasking.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Sometimes a Picture is Better Than a Thousand Words, Sometimes Not. But It's Always Easier Than a Thousand Words.

"Ebony and Ivory..." Anyway, what makes this picture significant in the context of catlife at 875 Paloma is that for thirteen-and-a-half years Popcorn has been pounding on Oliver as if he were the bottom of a fresh bottle of ketchup. But now that she's old and sick -- 19; diabetic -- she suddenly thrusts her antique booty against him. And look at that expression on his face! It's like Ratzinger getting scraped by Paris Hilton: a terrifying and unintelligible event but interesting, too. Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Welcome to our home, liberal to moderate friend. (Libertarians are allowed to wait outside and press their damp noses against the window. In cold weather we bring them out a warm beverage.) Posted by Hello

It will not be difficult to find our house. Posted by Hello

The Republican Mind Worm Attacks Our Humble Home

One party has identified its base. The other is wasting its nickel. But what gave them the idea my wife is even remotely neofascist? Hmmm. When we are in bed tonight, I'd better stare at her until she's asleep just to make sure. Damn you, Karl Rove. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Cops, Me, Fat People in General Beware Beware

My wife took her yearly CPR class today -- according to the teacher the more times you take the class the more likely someone will find salvation at your hands -- and she has been sharing tidbits with me all evening, most of which are unsettling given the number of ways you can die, either by weird accident or simply in the routine course of things.

But this was my favorite. The two most common ways to choke yourself to death are: 1) eating beer and meat while watching football, you testosterone-sodden glutton; 2) taking a big bite of donut and a big swig of coffee. The coffee makes the big bite of donut swell in the throat.

Sip and nibble, my friend, sip and nibble.

Don't you find it poignant to the point of metaphor that when we photograph these two kitties together if we manipulate the image so that one can be seen more clearly that manipulation very nearly obliterates the other? On the other hand, maybe it's all just a subliminal Photoshop ad. Posted by Hello

My dear old friends. You remember how much we loved our goddamn cats and how indifferent we were to your phony claims that you were allergic? Some things haven't changed. Posted by Hello

Hello, Memory My Old Friend. Good to Talk with You Again

Oh damn. Next month I will be 61 and so I'm thinking about the things I said I would do during my days of 60 that I have not done.

I've done the blog. Good. I have not done the novel, which is not necessarily bad since I have a weakness for happy endings and where's the truth much less the art in that?

But most vexing I have not redeemed my pledge to reestablish contact with those old old friends from college days, grad school days and down South working days, all the friends all those times before we moved here more than 25 years ago. Haven't done it.

It's hardest getting back to those friends from the time when I was a good Christian boy because I have "fallen away" so far since those days. It's not as if I have become an Episcopalian or even a Unitarian. If anyone pressed me on the question -- and no one has so this comment is the expository equivalent of gratuitous nudity -- I would have to say I'm a generic agnostic and a Christian atheist. Yah, my old Christian friends would sure like hearing that. That will rekindle old feelings.

I was such a good boy. Let sleeping memories lie.

As for my post-Christian friends, it seems to me that there are three ideal shared elements when it comes to maintaining sporadic touch, and those are: new mates/ex-mates; children; jobs. These three categories enable correspondents to celebrate and bemoan simultaneously. No one likes a Christmas letter, since Christmas letters tend to be triumphal marches. But a nice email or phone conversation in which the participants deftly mix the good and the bad is very pleasant. It's like a tennis match in which the point is prolongation. A soft shot (my A student) gets a soft response (my gifted musician). A hard shot (my ex who disputes visitation rights) gets a matching hard shot (my ex who won't get a job). It's a nice dance, the point of which is that life is a compound of sad and glad, and that's something we still have in common even if shared experiences have grown dim or have been forgotten altogether.

But what if: same wife, no kids, a job whose pleasures and pains are subtle to the point of evanescence. That's me. Oh it's easy enough to reestablish contact -- once. But where do you go from there? (Face to face is easier. Just get drunk and remember the dead.)

Now this blog -- which is one long Christmas letter, kind of -- might be a way of maintaining touch with some old friends, and I've tried to use the blog for that a time or two. What those attempts have underlined is how much impersonality there is in a blog, how much I haven't exactly been honest about, if only through omission. This friend knows about that trouble at work, but that friend never did. She has heard all about that difficult moment in the marriage in the Eighties, but I gave him the impression my wife and I never had a sharp word. Even knowing only a little about the real You, blog-reading friends know just how thick the mask is and how much it disguises and misrepresents.

So my dear old friends. More digital photos of cats and vacations, more forwarded jokes, more comic birthday cards from the Hallmark collection -- that's just about enough, don't you think? I love you to death, but my body has completely reconstituted itself four times since those margaritas at Lenox Square. Who are we? Who were we? But let's keep in touch. Really.

Oh. If you get a Pulitzer, please just let it lie. We have plenty of mutual friends who will call to rub it in. But if your wife shoots you in the leg, hey, I'm here for you.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

I Hope All Inconvenienced Motorists Write Sharp Letters to the Proper Authorities

This is a picture of a picture of the Lefty O'Doul drawbridge being raised during the San Francisco Giants-Oakland A's game today as a tribute to the high leg kick of pitching great Juan Marichal whose statue was unveiled somewhere near the ballpark today.That says it all. Posted by Hello

Friday, May 20, 2005

The World is My Coffee Shop

By the way, you may have wondered why I was posting like a demon while my wife and I were in Florida inspecting her mother's health. This was the first time I traveled with my laptop, since I am paranoid about loss and thievery and figure that, while I keep an eye on the laptop, the rest of our luggage will be stolen all the more easily.

But when I called my wife at her office at 8 p.m. the night before we were flying out -- at 7 p.m. -- she said she wouldn't be home until midnight because she had a meeting summary to complete that her boss needed immediately and perhaps intravenously so vital to the health of Oakland it was.

I said: come home, do it on the plane, we'll email it back.

I have a wireless card. The world is wireless or very nearly, right? The report was done and edited by the time we got to Tampa. But the Tampa airport does not have a hot spot, though at least they knew what a hot spot was. My mother-in-law lives in Winter Haven, about an hour's drive away, and I concluded we should look for a hot spot there rather than in Tampa. When were off the freeway and approaching mum-in-law's neighborhood, I started trolling for unsecured wireless networks, found several, connected with one, and we stopped in somebody's driveway and sent my wife's email. To my surprise, when we got to mum's, several blocks away, I could still maintain a very weak connection. I did not know wireless extended that far. Ours doesn't.

It was wonderful. One of my sisters-in-law is a tv addict and my mother-in-law's hearing is sharp to the point of hypersensitivity. Not only were big chunks of the evening filled with television shows I did not particularly want to see, but those shows were also inaudible, given my own hearing deficit. I roamed the house looking for a wireless sweet spot and then checked out my news and my blogs, and posted. And when I was doing neither of these things, I ran Yahoo's baseball game channel -- little dots actually hop from base to base -- in the background and so learned almost in real time when my beautiful A's blew two consecutive games to the Red Sox when Dotel gave up walk off home runs in the bottom of the 9th.

It was just a little alienating to have that wireless connection so handy and so constant, and for decency's sake and for the sake of your humanity you have to be ready to drop the computer if anyone really wants to talk. But sometimes being in a difficult family situation is like being trapped in a whirlpool, and it is nice to be reminded that out there somewhere is still comparatively calm water where your own little troubles aren't even part of the weather report.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Why We Might Adopt You, Though It Might Be Better if You Adopted Us

My mother-in-law is fortunate. She has four daughters all of whom are to one degree or another interested in making her old age tolerable. Some are more concerned than others and some have ideas of how much they are owed in compensation for their interest that I do not agree with. But all of them are involved. One daughter has more or less moved in with her mom to help care for her, though she likes to describe her presence as a visit.

A year is a very long visit.

Another of my wife's sisters, observing how much her mother now relies on her daughters, wonders what will happen to her when she is old. She is divorced and childless. The short answer is that my wife and I will help take care of her, though I would draw the line at having her live with us. We don't have children, and -- here's another short description of a more complicated situation -- my wife's sisters are our children.

And now we get down to it: Who will take care of us? It's a day for short answers: nobody. Whatever help we get we will have to buy. I'm not exactly complaining. Not everyone with children is well served by their children, though we have many friends who treat their aged parents well. I wonder the degree to which old folk make bad decisions about health, about relationships outside the family, about investments, out of some perverse sense that dammit the kids owe us something so why not put ourselves in a difficult situation where our needs are ever more apparent.

I do not know. I am very nearly estranged from my own mother because her attempts at manipulation finally got on my nerves.

I do know that when we are my mother-in-law's age, no one will be looking out for us the way my wife tries to look our for her mother and her sisters. Perhaps knowing that, my wife and I will make better decisions now and be less disappointed than some of our fecund friends will be when they discover the children they have are not the ones they imagined. But whatever the case, even if we are sensible in our planning and lucky in the way that planning works out, sometimes I do think it would be nice to have had a daughter if that daughter were just like my wife.

But it's greedy and shows contempt for the laws of probability to think I would have gotten that luck twice.

Monday, May 16, 2005

It's Just a Movie

Undoubtedly, I will enjoy the final episode of Star Wars because I like science fiction as space opera, that is, I like muddy plots, silly dialogue and the happy idea that one teenaged kid can save the universe if he is willing to accept the fact that he is just as special as he always thought he was, beat the crap out of dad and then drop the stick and walk away.

Feeling compelled as I do to be able to talk about popular culture with my friends as part of process of being diverting enough to have friends, I wouldn't miss SWIII no matter how bad the reviews. But as allows me to know, most of the reviews are good.

The movie would not have to be very good for me to like it. I liked the final Matrix movie well enough to be unhappy that I did not get either the ending or large chunks of the exposition that prepared me for the ending. I wanted it to make sense and spent time retrospectively imagining my way through my memory of the movie, trying to devise enough possible explanation so that it would make enough sense for me to think about it without fretting. (Not that fretting is bad per se. Kafka's multiplicity leaves me happily confused. I do not startle you, I'm sure, to tell you that the Wachowski brothers are not about to scramble up the canon and plop themselves down beside him.)

I was willing to serve an unpaid co-creator, which is good, but when it's that much work for so little reward, it's not good. I don't want to see the final Matrix movie again.

I like the Flash Gordon movie with Max von Sydow as Ming the Merciless well enough to sample it whenever it wanders by on cable. It's no Barbarella, but it'll do. Topol plays Dr. Zarkov. Just knowing that makes me smile. No, I can promise you that I find coarse-grained bombastic juvenile perhaps even infantile mythmaking better than no mythmaking at all. Once the first rush of the young and the frantic -- probably two distinct categories, by the way -- is over, I will plunk down my money for a half-priced SWIII matinee.

Having said all that, I relished Anthony Lane's dismantling of the movie in the New Yorker. I think Lane is a lot smarter about the popular novel than he is about movies, but his gift for comic invective is superb. I don't much care what he thinks, but I enjoy the way he thinks it. Being English and therefore possessed of a tradition of style most American writers don't find natural, sometimes he's elegant, sometimes not. That's his magic mix. Witness his dis of Yoda:

Also, while we’re here, what’s with the screwy syntax? Deepest mind in the galaxy, apparently, and you still express yourself like a day-tripper with a dog-eared phrase book. “I hope right you are.” Break me a fucking give.

This is coarse-grained and bombastic wit, juvenile and very nearly infantile. I bless him for it.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Be Glad I Didn't Buy the Ones That Said, "Fonzi? Here's Your Fonzi!"

"The rich are different from you and me," Fat Scott Fitzgerald said.

"Yeah," Backdoor Ernie Hemingway replied. "They are very thin people who live in very large spaces, which is counterintuitive."

Most of the time I don’t envy the rich, poxed as they are with bad taste in home decoration and an inclination toward serial anorexic monogamy. But I do envy the emptiness of their lives, i.e., the fact they are able to create living spaces filled with buffer zones, so that in those moments that require hibernation of the spirit, there is always a cave handy. I don’t mean in their intimate relationships. I don’t mean separate bedrooms. The part of Living Rich that arouses me is having a guest house on your “grounds” or extra rooms in “the other wing” so that when people come to stay you are able to stick them somewhere out of sight, out of earshot, out of smell, and they need to be seen only at the breakfast buffet in the formal dining room.

And not even then if they take a tray in their room.

Money is only a tool, and I don’t covet all of the rare and difficult jobs that can be done with it. But I covet the ability to dispense with the inconvenience of having guests without having to dispense with the guests themselves.

What most of us in these United States have in common is an intimate knowledge of experiments in living like the one in which my wife and I are currently participating during our visit to FLA: one two-bedroom house regularly occupied by one mom-in-law and two sisters-in-law, a witches milkshake to which we have been added. We sleep on the sofa bed.

It’s kind of a status thing who gets what sleeping area. You know how it is: Washington slept here, but you ain’t Washington, so you sleep there. It’s the badge of the nonRich, having to play the happy visitor while sleeping in the smallest, mustiest bedroom or in the basement or on the sofa bed or on the floor in the den on the blow-up mattress, and the blow-up mattress always leaks. At least we were spared the blow-up mattress. The mattress on the sofa bed is 25-years-old, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was the mattress crinkled. As we squirmed in the heat, the mattress made that distinctive rustle created in my experience only by handling large sheets of limber plastic – cheap tarps for painting, for instance, but most commonly those big bags that bulky new products are sometimes wrapped in.

Like mattresses for sofa beds. My mother-in-law has chosen not to remove the plastic in which it came. It’s one thing to keep your inflatable Darth Vader in its original shrink-wrapped box, but I don’t think a sofa bed is a collectable. First night here every time we shifted on the sofa bed, it crinkled. Next morning my wife took a pair of scissors and cut the bag off the mattress. Her mother was watching, but my wife said nothing to her mother, neither explanation nor apology. She has a good relationship with her mother, don’t you think?

By the way. What is the motto of visiting among the working class? Too little space and too much food. You talk about something that is not a point of religious or political disagreement – which leaves only nostalgia about/contempt for the dead – and eat eat eat. I love to eat. It would be disingenuous to complain.

No, no complaints about the food, which is plentiful, good and murderously sodden with fat. Actually, I’m leading up to the privacy issue. When you are sleeping on a sofa bed in the den, which is actually an extension of the kitchen, you are on display, as in a zoo. If you sleep in the nude, you have more to display -- or so one might claim but I do not believe we will go there today. Probably not tomorrow, either.

Focus, Robertson, focus.

I wrote previously about forgetting my belt when we packed for this trip. I also forgot my bathrobe, which really is the sine qua non if you sleep in the nude in the public square, as it were, of a strange house. It’s like a reverse striptease when you sleep in the sofa bed in the den. Look to the left, sheet strategically positioned. Sit up, grab robe on floor, stand up, sheet slips off, robe slips on, while any relative who has just wandered in looks on with growing terror, the notion of too much information on the verge of being horribly confirmed.

But I didn’t bring my robe. Oh la la.

When I went to the WalMart to buy that belt I referenced in an earlier post, I thought I might buy a cheap bathrobe, too. What I stumbled upon was a wall covered with sleep pants and sleep shorts. I was not familiar with the concept of sleep shorts. Pajamas, yes. I wore pj’s when I was coming up. But these WalMart sleep shorts were flimsy, brief and comic, not substantial like my kid pj’s. Also, there was no top. The WalMart concept of sleep is a manly concept. At this point you may say, well, why not just sleep in your underwear? You didn’t forget your underwear, did you? I mean, this is your 94-year-old mother-in-law and your 60-year-old sisters-in-law. The effect on them of your dainty body, avec underwear or even sans underwear, should be negligible, particularly when one’s drawers are droopy.

But one has one’s pride. One has one’s dignity. One does not want to look like James Gandolfini with a hangover after Carmela threw him out.

I checked out the sleeping shorts. I settled on a black satiny pair with the words “Twilight Zone” printed on the seat. And now I walk through the house in the a.m. for hours at a time and no one gives me a second thought and most of the time not a first.

Someday, Tom Cruise will look in the mirror, and there I’ll be.

Stick that in your Scientology, baby.

Addendum: My wife reads this and says, "My God. You make my family sound like Redneck Nation." So let me specify that my sisters-in-law are also visitors; they just got here first.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

My Pants Sag. We Go to the WalMart.

I need to create a customized checklist for travel packing. I mean short, a list not so extensive that the idea of following it becomes so great a burden that one, in effect, crosses one's fingers, places one's bet and takes one's chances. I want something lean, something focused, concentrating on items the absence of which is the stuff of paranoia, that which you never ever ever forget to pack until the time you do.

A belt is one such item. If you are a man whose shape in certain parts of the world -- or at least in a couple bowling alleys I know about -- is more or less the gold standard for the male physique, by which I mean the classic python-dines-with-pig, sometimes your love handles weigh on the tops of your shorts and force those shorts down down down unless you cinch those shorts UP. This morning I tugged until lunch, but then I gave up and asked my sister-in-law to drive me to the nearest heart o' Florida WalMart. I don't go to the East Bay WalMart nearest us, somewhere near San Leandro. I personally resent WalMart's attitude toward unions and also the fact its hegemony is supposed to have ruined small businesses all over the country. Cheap stuff priced cheaply is fine in moderation, but I do wonder if the WalMart phenomenon is integral, perhaps not as a cause but as an effect, to the creeping impoverishment of the American working class over the last 25 years.

Yachts for them, five-buck "I love grampa" t-shirts for the rest of us. I don't stop at the WalMart.

But so many of the working class of Florida having failed to stand with me in recent elections, today I did not stand with them. I went to a local WalMart in a wretched little strip mall -- where the people were lined up to park in the disabled spaces and it's the truth -- and bought a cheap belt from a rack of belts the smallest of which was designed for a man a yard in circumference.


My pants, as it turns out, are thoroughly apolitical.

News from Florida: Nobody Dead Yet. I Mean, Nobody We Know

We arrived here in Winter Haven, orange pit of the Bible Belt, in a poignant mood, figuring that Moms Landrith was hanging between life and death, and that if not quite a bedside vigil, our visit was likely to be pretty grim -- tears, idle tears as all tears are in the face of extinction, but there the tears are anyway!

But what to our wondering eyes should appear on our arrival but Moms Landrith looking better than she did when we dragged her through Scandinavia last fall.


In retrospect, we conclude that her congestive heart failure was in process as we struggled through Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, with that 36-hour hiccup in Paris on the general principle of Who Knows When We Will Pass This Way Again? In the fall she was puffy, inert, not in a foul mood but more or less in no mood at all, which was disturbing.

As of this morning as she sits here drinking coffee from Peerless Coffee in Oakland, California, our having hand-carried that fine product to her, I must say mum-in-law is thinner, her features more defined, her affect pretty darn good. As of tomorrow, she's 94. Of course, she might die overnight, and won't I withdraw this post faster than an actor in a soap opera who finally gets a sitcom?

That might be -- then. This is now.

We had come to my wife's home in sorrow and trepidation, and we are pleased that at least the shell of my mother-in-law's health is intact. Who knows what goes tick tick inside? At the moment, however, we are free to think of other things, such as all the Bush-Cheney stickers on the SUVs, which makes us wish we had borrowed Arnie's Hummer for the weekend, the big one with the spiked collar and the horn that snarls when you punch it.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

What does this mean? Posted by Hello

It means we have finally bought a digital camera.

What does this mean? Posted by Hello

It means the new digital camera has a view screen that folds away from the body of the camera and rotates on its axis. It shows I'm not shaving much these days, but it doesn't mean that.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Star Wars: Rise of the Machine





A little frightening, huh?

I just had an idea. Let me band its wing before it flies away.

As we await the arrival of SW III, it occurs to me that one of the problems with the two Star Wars prequels -- which I am familiar with; I heard there was a wreck, and I ran to see it -- was the utterly pedestrian and utterly confusing evolution of Dennis the Menace into James Dean into (if we are only patient enough) the Man in Black by which I don't mean Johnny Cash.

You talk about the actor who plays the banana in the Fruit of Loom commercial asking the director, "What's my motivation?" Up to now, George Lucas has had nothing coherent, nothing interesting, to say about why good boys go heavy metal: "Yon Anakin hath a lean and pouty look; such men are boring."

Of course, if he had asked me for some script doctoring, greatness would have been thrust upon his vanity project, like it or not. Here it is, one basic idea with two variations, how the first two prequels should have gone.

1) Young Anacin -- I mean, Anakin -- continues to go slowly bad, as he does in SW I and SW II, but we are struck by how ineffectual his badness is. Indeed, it would have been infinitely more compelling if he were one of twins (Anakin and Uberkin) both of whom wander off the path of virtue, Uberkin becoming an effective villain, Anakin trailing along behind, not nearly as wicked or ruthless as he needs to be. (We will get a little Cain and Abel thing going.)Then, whatever happens in SW III happens, the boys falling into a lava pit or whatever, but it's too late to put Uberkin in the Vader machine; Anakin is put in, instead, and that machinery gives him the power to be a better villain than his brother, and a much much much better villain than Anakin ever was. The point is that the machinery provides the means. It is the implement, the instrument, the bludgeon that he lacked before. To a degree, the device changes him. Or not. Or perhaps, in fact, the suit is a mere shell with no inherent power other than the freeing of the wearer from his sense of self, thus allowing him to find in himself the power that was not there as long as he was himself.

That would be heavy, really heavy.

The critics can argue. But the suit becomes a decisive element in the plot, not just a cheap -- if very effective -- trick.

As for the twin babies who drive SW IV-VI, I guess the princess sees the good in Anakin pre-lava and throws him a charity boink. Or maybe he gets her drunk the night before she marries his brother. Or maybe she thinks he's his brother. (If she thinks that he is her brother, whoa! Calling Jane Fonda. Mr. Lucas is ready for his threesome.) Or maybe the princess thinks he's gay and believes she can turn him around. Or maybe his brother is gay, and it all happens the night after she marries his brother. Or maybe they are both gay and .... Doesn't matter. The teenage boys in the audience will love it, since for them it's going to be charity or drunk or mistaken identity or nothing ever, no not ever.

2) This variation would be even better. Anakin is simply a nerd, "good" in some general sense but rather feckless, hanging around, being ignored and belittled by the apprentice Jedi not out of malice but out of the natural reaction of the active and competent to the wannabe. He is entirely peripheral. Big battle. Everyone is killed and Anakin the Nerd -- having hung back, a bit of a coward -- survives maimed but not destroyed. Again, the fixers come with the technological means to save somebody important, but there is no one left to save but Anakin. Once in the Vader suit, he suddenly has the power to work for good or work for bad, and having no self, he loses himself. Indeed, if the saga got him in the suit soon enough, one could more thoroughly trace the corrupting effect of absolute power and, more important, get the suit out there sooner because everybody loves the suit. This is classic science-fiction, how technology is its own temptation and can turn to evil those whose purpose was not maleficent. Indeed, the very simple idea that a man in a can is no longer a man is a meme in plenty of science fiction. You could look it up.

In both of my scenarios, externals shape internals and roles create their own goals, which would be a useful warning to the spotty-faced teens in the audience. Actually, they would probably miss the point. To them it would just be the latest installment of Revenge of the Nerds, which is what Lucas is all about anyway.

In summary, my friends, we did not need SW I and SW II. We just needed a little Richard III:

I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

It would have made just as much sense and been a lot more fun and saved a lot of wasted celluloid.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Shakespeare Cable Network Announces Its Fall Series

Hamlet. Called home from college when his father dies, Hamlet begins to suspect there's a serial killer on the loose.

Julius Caesar XXIV. It's March 14, and special agent Gracchus Bauer has only 24 turns of the hourglass to stop a conspiracy that could shake Rome to its foundation.

Tempest Survivor. Prospero is three steps ahead of the game while Miranda worries if the alliance with Ariel will hold. Caliban has a Spandex crisis during the immunity challenge.

MacBeth. Duncan's murder seems cut and dried until Dunsinane CSI checks the hand towels in the ladies restroom.

Titus Andronicus. The guys and girls at Wendy's are feuding, and strange things start showing up in the chili.

The Merchant of Venice. He loses the girl, the money, the keys to the gondola but never his way with a quip. Television newcomer Albert Brooks is suffering his special deadpan brand of middle-class angst as Shakespeare's classic comedy is transplanted to the beaches of Southern California.

Romeo and Juliet. Albert Brooks, SCN's brightest new star, pays a special visit to SCN's longest-running hit as Romeo finds out those pills the fiery Tybalt is getting from the apothecary may be illegal steroids.

Henry V. This 117-episode documentary takes us from George Bush's early days as an oil patch roustabout, through his feuds with his father to his triumph in Iraq at the head of a handful of ragtag jarheads. Rare footage of Bush's banishment of Karl Rove as he turns his back on the follies of his youth -- not!

Richard III. The crew from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy can't win them all. Special guest star Mr. Ed squabbles with the King, goes away miffed, which could pose a problem for Richard later on.

Othello. You enjoyed it on UPN for eight years. Now Bernie Mac and Bea Arthur bring their fussin' and fightin' and redhot lovin' to SCN. Andy Dick (Iago) continues to cause trouble.

Antony and Cleopatra. One man is not enough for the original "desperate housewife." Parental discretion advised.

King Lear. He's a single dad with three lovely daughters, but when the Valley Speak breaks out, he doesn't have a clue who's pulling his royal leg and who's not. Albert Brooks makes a special guest appearance as Michael Ovitz/The Fool.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

And As With One Voice, the Crowd Roared, "I Before E Except after C."

One of the pleasures of attending major league baseball games is the yelling at the umpires, at the players, at the dot racing -- WHICH IS FIXED -- at any damn thing you feel like yelling at, as long as you yell with love bless their hearts.

Sometimes the nature of that yelling can become almost elegant. Over the years I have particularly enjoyed going to Name of the Day Park in San Francisco where the Giants play and shouting, "Apostrophe! Apostrophe!" when the big Giants scoreboard read, "Lets Go Giants."

I am delighted to say that the Giants finally added the apostrophe. My beautiful A's never lacked for one. Imagine my double sadness today when, two innings after rookie phenom "Little Nicky" Swisher crashed into the right field wall and had to be removed from the game, the A's scoreboard announced that he had been taken to the hospital to have his "clavical" x-rayed.

You may be sure I shouted "Spell check! Spell check!" again and again. Next inning the scoreboard had it right. Now and then, the A's are ignorant -- but never stupid.

There is a City Beneath the City


Cue the "Third Man" theme.

Well, it's not nearly that dramatic, but it is true that occasionally one sees something of passing interest in one of the San Francisco BART stations, where the trains run underground. Saturday night my wife and I parked at the Macarthur station in north Oakland and took a train in to see the San Francisco Symphony do a little Bach and lots of Handel -- and isn't it interesting that I placed sight as the queen of the senses and let you assume we were able to hear the symphony, too?

We were pretty high up, in the second tier, but we could hear them very well.

Anyway, in the City Center BART station on the way in, we heard some violin music and then saw who was playing it: a grey-haired woman sitting against the wall busking, with her fiddle case open in front of her. Immediately, my wife fished a dollar out of her purse and walked me over to the violin player. Later, my wife told me that the violin playing sounded good to her -- no squeaking. I certainly couldn't tell. I thought it was fine. What was interesting, however, was that the violin player was wearing a low-cut top, and she had pulled her breasts up into the open. But because of the way the top cut across, they were somewhat mashed and the nipples were pointing in other than the standard directions.

As my wife dropped the dollar in, the woman gave me a look that might have been defiant and might have been startled or might have been mildly deranged or perhaps was just an expression of irritation at the interruption. It wasn't coquetteish or provocative.

My wife didn't even notice the exposed breasts. She was intent on her act of charity, concentrating on hitting the violin case with the dollar. If you miss the container provided in such situations, it might appear contemptuous, as if you want to see the busker scramble for the money.

I wasn't quite sure what to make of bare-breasted violin playing. I tried this little witticism out on my wife: "It looks like she is exposing her breasts because she doesn't have enough confidence in her violin playing, but it actually could be she's playing the violin because she doesn't have enough confidence in her breasts."

That almost means something. Restoration Drama has a lot to answer for, including the career of Oscar Wilde.

Actually, I don't believe her conduct was calculated to increase receipts. I think if she thought that then she was really crazy. I think when you seen a pair of breasts staring out at odd angles you're likely to hurry past without dropping in a dollar. I think this woman was working through something, and I doubt she's ever going to get there. If I were still a reporter, I might have stopped to ask. That is the great thing about being a reporter. You have a license to pry, almost a duty. It will not be assumed that your interest is personal, that you want to intervene, to offer help, to stay any longer than it will take to get the story or to know any more than is necessary to create a story. You represent the free-floating curiosity of your readers, which is sometimes prurient and sometimes constructive and altruistic.

Actually all of those, of course.

When you are a reporter, everything you see is a type or a piece of a puzzle or an early warning. It's never just itself. It's never something you have to take responsibility for. Some reporters do become involved in one way or another, but those who do know it's unusual and are apologetic. It's not the job.

That's what I was thinking as we walked away from the woman with bosoms -- and probably brain -- askew. As a citizen, the only possible excuse for wanting to know something about her would be to do something about her.

I forgot. If you're some kind of artist, you don't need any excuse of any kind. Nothing has to be communicated in any recognizable or comprehensible form. Ask all the questions you want and then walk away. Truth is beauty and beauty is truth. That's all we know on earth, and that's all we need to know, etc. I appreciate artists (real ones, I mean; there's a topic) more than I do reporters, but I like reporters better.