Theatre Thursday: Difficult withdrawal

Fortunately, our lockdown still allows me the creative outlet of writing, and it’s made it easy to keep up with my ambition to post here every day. But otherwise, I’m stuck in the house with the dog, other than the weekly trip for groceries, and the very occasional side errand.

Did you know that health insurers seem to have an aversion to taking payment via any method but mailed check? It probably has to do with HIPPA, but it’s damn annoying. It means I have to find an open post office that also actually has an open slot to put the mail in. And no, I couldn’t tell you the last time I’ve spotted a corner mailbox anywhere around here.

Oh, and stamps. Still, at least it’s a stealth mission I only have to do once a month, and I can avoid people while doing it if I work it right. The same is true of the ATM. There’s a little-trafficked outdoor one down the block from me, and when I have run into people there, everyone has done an amazing job at maintaining distance and only using one machine at a time.

These withdrawals, though, have nothing to do with the title of the piece. The hard part is not being able to go onto a stage and perform in front of an audience right now.

As of this writing, it has been about seven-and-a-half weeks, or fifty-two days, since I’ve done improv in front of a live audience, and it is… difficult.

Yes, we’ve continued to do shows via Zoom, but that’s just not the same. It becomes more of an exercise in staying connected with the team, which is very necessary and helpful, but it’s not performing in the same sense.

At our last meeting, someone joked about adding a laugh track to the session, and I was tempted to pull out the sound effects machine and do it — although it wouldn’t really be the same.

There’s nothing like the thrill of experiencing an audience’s live and immediate reaction, whether you’re doing comedy or drama. For example, one of the most exciting experiences I have as an improviser is when we’re doing a rhyming game like Da Doo Ron Ron, where the first two players come up with a single rhyme each, and then the third has to come up with three on the same word.

It’s an elimination game, but here’s the fun part. When you’re down to three players left, the same person is going to get the triple rhyme every time, and I’ve gotten such a reputation at being good at the game that, more often than not, this is the point when the ref puts me in that number three spot.

And there have been times when I’ve made it through three or four rounds — maybe even five — without messing up, and in that case, every time around, I can hear the audience’s anticipation and excitement just crank up, especially when I pull it off. Then, when somebody with only one rhyme whiffs it, I can actually feel the appreciation that I made it through.

Of course, there are other ways to get a reaction from an audience, and one of my favorites came from the time I played a depressed, unicycle-riding bear in an adaptation of a John Irving short story. What? Like you didn’t think of his name as soon as you say unicycle and bear?

There was one long scene where most of us were standing upstage while two other characters were doing their shtick in front of us, and I’d been given license to do business by the director, since that scene was not terribly essential to the plot.

The actress playing the grandmother character was wearing this fur stole with glass grapes on it, and so I decided that the bear thought they were real. At one point, I went over and tried to eat them, and she whacked me away with her clutch.

But before I went for the grapes was when I got the big reaction. See, I’d figured out that if I put these little hard candies from Trader Joe’s in my mouth before the scene and just let them sit there, I’d build up a lot of saliva. So I’d eventually notice the grapes, then start to obsess on them, then kind of sniff at them, and when I sensed that I had the audience’s attention, I let my mouth open a little, tilt my chin down, and wham! Drool cascade to the stage.

This would elicit an amused but disgusted “Ew!”, at which point, I’d go for the grapes, grandma would do her biz, and the audience would eat it up.

Although I was also part of the human chorus in that show, the bear had exactly four words of dialogue, right before dying, but it always felt like I did so much more without saying a thing through the rest of the show.

That one was a magical experience.

Another role where I had about the same number of words (all in Spanish) but again got to play everything through energy and body language was as The Dreamer in Tennessee William’s extremely idiosyncratic and weird Camino Real, which I described at the time — I think accurately — as a ton of fun for the cast, not so much for the audience.

I was basically a leather-clad pseudo-Jesus in intense eye-make-up hauling around a blind Virgen de Guadalupe, fending off the forces of evil at the end, and intimidating the hell out of the audience with my eyes alone. Seriously — black eye shadow above, silver below, can turn your eyes into deadly weapons.

Bonus points: We didn’t limit our playing area to the stage for that one, so we were all up in the house. Like I said, a ton of fun for us, not so much for the audience.

But right now, I’d be grateful for any show to perform live for living people. Yes, it’s kind of ironic that my original trajectory was never supposed to be as a performer. Truth be told, I actually kind of sucked in my middle school drama class, which discouraged me until I basically got dared into it in college — see the above link.

At the moment, it looks like there will be at least two more weeks of this, if not more — and, honestly, I do expect more, at least in sane states like California.

At the moment, I’m reminded of some of my lines from that college play I got dared to audition for, and then cast in:

For ill or good, let the wheel turn.

For who knows the end of good or evil?

Until the grinders cease

And the door shall be shut in the street,

And all the daughters of music shall be brought low.

Stay home, stay safe, tip your server.

Image source: Ghost light at WildWood Arts Center, Little Rock, AR, by Jon Ellwood. Used unmodified under (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Wednesday Wonders: Adding depth

Sixty-seven years ago today, on April 29, 1953, the first-ever experimental broadcast of a TV show in 3D happened, via KECA-TV in Los Angeles. If those call letters don’t sound familiar to any of my Southern California audience, that’s because they only lasted for about the first four-and-a-half years of the station’s existence, at which point they became the now very familiar KABC-TV, the local ABC affiliate also known as digital and broadcast channel 7.

The program itself was a show called Space Patrol, which was originally a 15-minute program that was aimed at a juvenile audience and aired daily. But once it became a hit with adults, ABC added half-hour episodes on Saturday.

Remember, at this point in television, they were at about the same place as internet programming was in 2000.

By the way, don’t confuse this show with the far more bizarre British production of 1962 with the same name. It was done with marionettes, and judging from this promotional trailer for a DVD release of restored episodes, it was incredibly weird.

Anyway, because of its subject matter and popularity, it was a natural for this broadcast experiment. This was also during the so-called “golden age” of 3D motion pictures, and since the two media were in fierce competition back in the day, it was an obvious move.

Remember — at that time, Disney didn’t own ABC, or anything else. In fact, the studios were not allowed to own theaters, or TV stations.

The original 3D broadcast was designed to use glasses, of course, although not a lot of people had them, so it would have been a blurry mess. Also note that color TV was also a rarity, so they would have been polarizing lenses rather than the red/blue possible in movies.

Since it took place during the 31st gathering of what was then called the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters (now just the NAB) it was exactly the same as any fancy new tech rolled out at, say, CES. Not so much meant for immediate consumption but rather to wow the organizations and companies that could afford to develop and exploit it.

Like pretty much every other modern innovation in visual arts and mass media, 3D followed the same progression through formats: still photography, motion pictures, analog video and broadcast, physical digital media, streaming digital media.

It all began with the stereoscope way back in 1838. That’s when Sir Charles Wheatstone realized that 3D happened because of binocular vision, and each eye seeing a slightly different image, which the brain would combine to create information about depth.

Early efforts at putting 3D images into motion were akin to later animated GIFs (hard G, please), with just a few images repeating in a loop.

giphy-downsized

While there was a too-cumbersome to be practical system that projected separate images side-by-side patented in 1890, the first commercial test run with an audience came in 1915, with  series of short test films using a red/green anaglyph system. That is, audience members wore glasses with one red and one green filter, and the two images, taken by two cameras spaced slightly apart and dyed in the appropriate hues, were projected on top of each other.

The filters sent each of the images to a different eye and the brain did the rest, creating the illusion of 3D, and this is how the system has worked ever since.

The first actual theatrical release in 3D premiered in Los Angeles on September 27, 1922. It was a film called The Power of Love, and it screened at the Ambassador Hotel Theater, the first of only two public showings.

You might think that 3D TV took a lot longer to develop, since TV had only been invented around this time in 1926, but, surprisingly, that’s not true. John Logie Baird first demonstrated a working 3D TV set in 1928. Granted, it was an entirely mechanical system and not very high-res, but it still worked.

Note the timing, too. TV was invented in the 1920s, but didn’t really take off with consumers until the 1950s. The world wide web was created in the 1960s, but didn’t really take off with consumers until the 1990s. You want to get rich? Invest in whatever the big but unwieldly and expensive tech of the 1990s was. (Hint, related to this topic: 3D printing.)

That 30 year repeat happens in film, too. As previously noted, the first 3D film premiered in the 1920s, but the golden age came in the 1950s. Guess when 3D came back again? If you said the 1980s, you win a prize. And, obviously, we’ve been in another return to 3D since the ‘10s. You do the math.

Oh, by the way… that 30 year thing applies to 3D printing one more generation back as well. Computer aided design (CAD), conceived in the very late 1950s, became a thing in the 1960s. It was the direct precursor to the concept of 3D printing because, well, once you’ve digitized the plans for something, you can then put that info back out in vector form and, as long as you’ve got a print-head that can move in X-Y-Z coordinates and a way to not have layers fall apart before the structure is built… ta-da!

Or, in other words, this is why developing these things takes thirty years.

Still, the tech is one step short of Star Trek replicators and true nerdvana. And I am so glad that I’m not the one who coined that term just now. But, dammit… now I want to go to Tennessee on a pilgrimage, except that I don’t think it’s going to be safe to go there for another, oh, ten years or so. Well, there’s always Jersey. Or not. Is Jersey ever safe?

I kid. I’ve been there. Parts of it are quite beautiful. Parts of it are… on a shitty reality show. Pass.

But… I’d like to add that 3D entertainment is actually far, far older than any of you can possibly imagine. It doesn’t just go back a couple of centuries. It goes back thousands of years. It also didn’t require any fancy technology to work. All it needed was an audience with a majority of members with two eyes.

That, plus performers acting out scenes or telling stories for that audience. And that’s it. There’s you’re 3D show right there.

Or, as I like to remind people about the oldest and greatest art form: Theatre Is the original 3D.

Well, nowadays, the original virtual reality as well, but guess what? VR came 30 years after the 80s wave of 3D film as well, and 60 years after the 50s. Funny how that works, isn’t it? It’s almost like we’re totally unaware that our grandparents invented the stuff that our parents perfected but which we’re too cool to think that any of them are any good at.

So… maybe let’s look at 3D in another way or two. Don’t think of it as three dimensions. Think of it as two times three decades — how long it took the thing to go from idea to something you take for granted. Or, on a generational level, think of it roughly as three deep: me, my parents, and my grandparents.

Talk about adding depth to a viewpoint.

Image licensed by (CC BY-ND 2.0), used unaltered, Teenager wears Real 3D Glasses by Evan via flickr.

Talky Tuesday: Sick words, bro

It’s hard not to focus on all things coronavirus lately for obvious reasons. It’s been just over six weeks now since California locked down, which has been an absolutely surreal experience. But, in keeping with today’s theme, I wanted to take a quick look at some words related to things like this pandemic, and explain where they came from.

Some of them are straightforward, and some took more circuitous routes. Let’s consider them in logical order.

Corona

Corona comes from the Latin word coronam, which means crown. If you’ve ever looked at the printing on a bottle of Corona beer, there’s a crown right there as the logo, and in Spanish corona is the word for crown as well. You may have heard the term “coronary artery,” They get this name because they encircle the heart, much the way a crown encircles a monarch’s head.

The corona is also a part of the Sun (well, any star). It’s the outer atmosphere of the star. Our Sun’s is usually invisible because of the glare of the star itself, but it becomes visible during a solar eclipse.

Coronaviruses as a class were given the name because the spikes on their surfaces resemble the spikes on a crown.

Virus

Virus comes from another Latin word, virus. In case you’re wondering why so many medical terms come from Latin, it’s because this was the language that physicians used for centuries in order to create terms that would be universal despite a doctor’s native language. Greek is also common due to the roots of western medicine going back to the likes of Hippocrates.

In Latin, the word can variously refer to things like poison, venom, slime, a sharp taste, or something’s pungency. The use of the word in the modern sense began in the 14th century, which was long before the invention of the microscope near the end of the 16th century. Even then, germ theory didn’t develop until the middle of the 19th century, and viruses themselves were not discovered until the 1890s.

So while the idea that “virus” was something that caused a disease may have gone back to the late Middle Ages, it was probably consider to be more like a toxic liquid in food or water, or perhaps an imbalance of the humors. Or just divine punishment, like pestilence.

Pandemic

This one is all Greek to you. It comes from two words: pan and demos. The former is the Greek prefix meaning “all.” You might recognize it from a word like “Pantheon,” with the second half coming from the Greek word theos, meaning gods. It can be a building dedicated to the gods of a particular religion, or just refer to that collection of gods in general. It can also be a building dedicated to national heroes, or a mausoleum in which they are entombed.

Another pan word is panacea, with the appendage, -akes, meaning a cure, and a panacea is supposed to cure everything — even a pandemic.

The second half of the word comes from demos, as noted, which is the Greek word referring to a village or a population, or group of people. It’s the root of the word democracy, rule by the people. However, it is not related in any way to the word demonstrate.

So a pandemic is something that comprises all of the population.

As an aside, my personal favorite pan word is Pandemonium, which was actually created on this model by John Milton for Paradise Lost. It refers to the capital of Hell — the place of all demons. I’m kind of disappointed that Dante didn’t think of it first. He only gave us the City of Dis in the sixth circle. And when it comes to religious fanfic, Dante’s is far superior. Well, qualification: his Inferno is, especially in the original Italian. Purgatorio and Paradiso are kind of boring. But still better love stories than Paradise Lost.

Pox

Despite popular misconception, this is not what Mercutio wished on the houses of Montague and Capulet before he dies in Act III of Romeo & Juliet. That would have been a plague. A pox was something different, more like a symptom, and this brings us to the first English word on the list. Pox is the plural of the old English word pocke, which referred to any kind of pustule, blister, or ulcer. The Black Plague was full of those.

Now you’re probably wondering: How does an English plural end in “X?” Simple. At one time, the plural form of words that ended in –k or –ck didn’t take an s. They changed to x. The most famous example of this is the New York borough of The Bronx. It was named for a Swedish settler, Jonas Bronck. Originally, the term was possessory: Bronck’s Land and Bronck’s River. The “x” spelling crept in, and “the” was retained although land and river were dropped to indicate that they were specific entities instead of just an abstract place name.

Pox don’t have a lot to do with corona virus, but one particular type of pox has everything to do with how we came up with the next item on our list.

Vaccine

In the 18th century, a particularly nasty viral disease was circulating: smallpox. (No, there’s not a large pox.) At best, it left its victims horribly scarred. At worst, it killed them. But there was an urban legend going around: milkmaids, who often caught the non-lethal and minor disease called cowpox (for obvious reasons), never contracted smallpox.

A physician named Edward Jenner decided to test this theory in the most ethical way possible. No, I’m kidding. He found an eight-year-old boy, James Phipps, inoculated him with gunk from a milkmaid’s pustule and then, after a while, inoculated him with smallpox.

Luckily for Jenner, the kid didn’t get sick, and so the idea of a vaccination was born. The name itself comes from part of the Latin name for the smallpox virus, Variolae vaccinae. The second word, vaccinae, is an inflected form of the Latin word for cow.

And vaccination works, kids. It doesn’t cause autism, and it’s safe. Case in point: smallpox was finally eradicated in 1979. Although, keep in mind, it could always come back, and the culprit could be climate change.

Sorry about that downer. But this is why we have to be so vigilant and serious about communicable diseases. Stay home, stay safe, and don’t forget the tip jar!

Image (CC BY-SA 3.0) courtesy of Alpha Stock Images, used unchanged. Original author, Nick Youngson.

Momentous Monday: Don’t nobody bring me no bad news

Times may seem dark because, well, honestly, they are. The world is being torn by plague, my country may soon face another civil war or worse, and there’s no clear end in sight.

So, as a palate-cleanser, I want to take the opportunity of this April 27th to highlight a few good things that have happened on this day in history.

  1. 1981: Birth of the mouse

No, not Mickey. He’s a lot older than this. This date 39 years ago was the beginning of the revolution in computer interfaces that you are still using today. Only it wasn’t IBM or Apple who created it.

Nope. That would be the company whose name was once synonymous with photocopying things — i.e. the Google of their era — Xerox. And their mouse was created as a user interface for their Star workstation.

It was an inverted variation of the trackball, which had been first created in 1952. And it was called a mouse for reasons that are probably obvious — its shape, it crawls all over your mousepad, and it has a tail. Well, it did back then. Your modern mouse may not.

  1. 1759: Birthday break 1! Mary Wollstonecraft

You might know her by her married name, Mary Shelley, or you might not know her at all. But you no doubt know her most famous creation — Baron von Frankenstein and his monster.

Mary and her gang were basically the Instagram Influencers of their day. Young, hot, into questionable games and drugs, and very, very emo. They invented the entire genre of gothic romance. One wild weekend involving Mary, her husband Percy, her step-sister Clair, a perverted doctor named John Polidori, and the notorious Lord Byron led to a bunch of famous fiction and the possible creation of the monster movie genre.

Frankenstein wasn’t the only thing created that weekend. Poilidori created the vampire at the same time. And it was all a bunch of kids hanging out in a really expensive house and daring each other to do wilder and wilder shit.

Hm. Sound familiar? Although I really doubt that Danny Duncan or the either of the brothers Paul are ever going to give us great literature.

Here’s the trailer for the Ken Russell film inspired by that momentous weekend. Yes, it’s a cheesy 80s trailer. The film itself is actually very good. Strangely, given the subject-matter, it’s actually one of Russell’s more understated efforts.

The real reason to remember Mary, though, is that she was a strong and early advocate for what eventually became the feminist movement.

  1. 1992: Madam Speaker

You would think, given that the place has been (and currently is) run by a few famous queens, and had their first female prime minister in 1979 — who proved that she could be as evil and cold-hearted as any man — you’d think that Britain would have had a woman in charge of the House of Commons a lot sooner than the early 90s, but that was not the case.

The first female speaker was Betty Boothroyd, an MP from the liberal Labour Party, who assumed office about two years after Thatcher ended her reign as Prime Minister. Currently, she is one of only two still-living Speakers of the House. Compare this to the U.S., where four of our past Speakers of the House are still alive.

Fun fact: the Speaker of the House does not actually have to be an elected Representative. The position goes to whomever is elected by a majority of votes when the new session starts. Of course, that’s just a hypothetical because, to date, no non-member has ever been elected.

As for Baroness Boothroyd, her great interest was in getting young people interested in politics. She voluntarily resigned her position as Speaker in October, 2000 to great acclaim.

  1. 1932: Birthday Break 2! Casey Kasem

While the idea of social media influencers might seem new, it’s not. The main difference is that the means of production have become so available to everyone, so that some kid in their bedroom actually can have an impact via Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, Twitch, Snapchat, YouTube, or even Facebook when their proud grandma shares.

But before the internet, there was TV, and in a different era the big influencers were the VJs on MTV, guiding the musical tastes and interests of their audiences back when the “M” in “MTV” actually meant “Music” and not “Merde.”

It’s no accident that the first thing that aired on MTV was the song Video Killed the Radio Star, considering that MTV and their VJs wouldn’t even exist with radio and their DJs.

Side note: Yes, the concept of “vlog” being a portmanteau of “video” and “blog” comes directly from the idea of a “Video Jockey.” Of course “vlog” itself is a triple portmanteau, since “blog” is short for “weblog.” And Video Jockey comes from Disc Jockey, the radio equivalent, the idea being that their job was to hold the reins on the records they played. Modern DJs take the riding a little more literally with scratching and skipping and other techniques that physically manipulate the disc, whether actual vinyl or just an analog controller of digital sound. Personally, if I were a DJ, I’d go with the analog device over the actual vinyl any day for so many reasons, not the least of which is that I wouldn’t have to haul around vinyl with it inferior sound quality and easy ability to be damaged.

Back when Casey Kasem was an influencer, though, he didn’t really have that choice. Well, okay, later in his career, he would have been able to jump from vinyl to CD. Cassette was never a choice in radio because of the inability to easily cue a track on the fly But his big influence was in creating something called American Top 40 fifty years ago, in 1970.

Oh, sure. You’ve heard of it with a different host, but it was Kasem who presided over it (on and off) for (oddly enough) almost 40 years, and it was the musical tastemaker of its day. But that’s not all he did.

Right before he started AT40, he had this little voice-acting gig in some cartoon show called Scooby-Doo Where Are You? as a character known as Shaggy. It was another endeavor he stuck with for 40 years, although with a slight break.

Finally, being of Lebanese descent, Kasem was active in working to support the rights of Arab-Americans, probably the least well-known part of his public life. Sadly, he died in 2014, but he left a lot of positive behind.

  1. 1994: Enfranchised at last

Other things you would have expected to have happened a lot earlier: black South Africans finally got to vote for the first time in the elections of 1994. For perspective, that was two years after Bill Clinton was first elected president in the U.S.

And it’s an object lesson in how a tiny minority can keep the vast majority oppressed as long as they control the money, the media, and the political system — which the white Afrikaners did for centuries, although it got really bad when apartheid came along in the late 1940s.

If you don’t remember the South African election of 1994, you’re probably aware of the outcome. Anti-apartheid activist and long-time political prisoner Nelson Mandela was elected president of the country. Yes, despite rumors to the contrary, he was quite alive.

To put this in perspective for Americans: this would have been like Martin Luther King being thrown into prison on trumped-up charges of sedition or treason in the late 50s, being released around 1990, and going on to be elected president in 1992.

Oh… and that whole part where black people weren’t allowed to vote until 1992 as well, instead of technically having been allowed to vote since the 15th Amendment in 1870 (men) or the 19th Amendment 50 years later (women) complicated things

I say technically because, well, racists gonna racist, and come up with all kinds of tricks to keep people from voting.

Oh, wait. I said “no bad news.” So the good news here is that on this day in 1994, changes in South Africa led directly to one of the opposition leaders finally being put in the position of authority. And what happened there and how is an object lesson to all of us today to be aware, forewarned and forearmed to prevent the whole “oppression and suppression” part from happening again here soon.

So there are just a few good things that happened on April 27th throughout history. I know you’re probably still stuck at home right now. Well, if you have smart leaders who haven’t yet cut down the number of new cases or deaths while increasing testing, anyway, then you’re still stuck at home.

Take a moment, then, to make one small good memory for this April 27th. Contact a friend through text, PM, Zoom, or even good ol’ phone call, and let them know you’re thinking of them. Write something, read something, learn something new. Go through that old box of random crap that’s been in the back of your closet forever.

There’s a universe of possibilities in the place you’re stuck in now. That’s the good news. Explore it to its fullest. You don’t need to go outside yet. There will be plenty of time for that later. As for now?

Bring yourself your own good news. It’s all literally within your physical reach right this second.

Image: Zane Gray Cabin, (CC BY 2.0)

Sunday Nibble #14: Maprilay 57th

As our lockdown drags on, the days and weeks bleed into each other in an ultimately mind-numbing routine of solitude. Yes, there are those occasional virtual breaks to meet with friends, and if those aren’t anchors to sanity, I don’t know what is.

I may also finally wind up being equipped to work from home since, surprise, my day job is considered an essential business, it’s just that when this all started, only the licensed agents were already set up with the necessary security on their home computers — HIPAA regulations, you see.

That may restore some semblance of normalcy. Or not. It’s honestly been hard enough to focus on anything, and a big part of that of course is due to the whole uncertainty of “Where is the money going to come from?”

Oh, there’s unemployment, but it’s not enough. There are promises, as yet unkept by the Federal government, of supplementing everyone’s unemployment by $600 a week, which would go a long way. There are also those stimulus checks, which are taking their sweet time.

And while my state and city have banned tenant evictions for non-payment of rent, with the ability to pay back skipped amounts over 12 months, landlords have still been trying to evict people. Although that in itself would be a good trick, because the courts are mostly closed and the sheriffs aren’t evicting.

My one daily routine that gets me outside briefly a few times a day is walking the dog. I live in a gated garden complex, so I never have to leave the grounds, and my dog is very old, so she doesn’t like to walk all that far. But even in our short forays, I have started to notice the changes in nature around us, and they are interesting, to say the least.

The most obvious one is how clean the air is, how white the clouds look, and how much more rain we’ve had the last month or so. It’s also been a lot colder than it’s been this time of year for ages, and I have to think that the combination of limited vehicle, aircraft, and watercraft traffic has something to do with it.

And that wouldn’t be at all incorrect. While it varies by area, weekday weather and weekend weather can be very different, and Southern California has always seemed to be one of those places fond of weekend storms. Since we’ve essentially been on a long weekend for just over a month now, it’s not a big surprise.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that there are suddenly a lot more bees buzzing around one particular bush near my back door. And I know you’re probably thinking, “Hey, it’s spring. That’s when bees come around, right?”

Well, yes, but… since my dog has always loved to nose around this bush, when there are bees in it I’m very aware, because she also likes to snap at tiny flying things, and I really don’t want her getting stung in the mouth. This bush is right near a doggy poop-bag station, so it’s been a common stop on our walk for years, even when those walks were a lot longer.

This is the first time, really, I can remember it swarming so much. This is also interesting because about a month and a half before everything went down, a neighbor reported that there were a bunch of dead and dying bees on the sidewalk just to the north of the complex, which is on the opposite corner from where I am.

The second thing I noticed was the sudden apparent disappearance of the two most common forms of wild life around — crows and squirrels. The crows in particular would make themselves very obvious, especially around sunset, when a large and cawing flock would circle the tall trees on the north end, eventually settling in for a little murder before nightfall.

I haven’t heard or seen them in such numbers for a long time. I did see two very quiet crows wheel by today, but they flew off.

It’s been the same with the squirrels. A couple of the magnolias seem so have their resident tree dogs, who delight in stealing oranges off of those trees, and then hauling them up to eat. Even when the squirrels are not around, the tell-tale gnawed fruit always is — and, again, I haven’t seen that in a while.

What I have seen, though, that’s new: a bunch of tiny brown finches flittering around in the branches, chatting with each other. It’s a sound I hadn’t heard before, but now it’s abundant, and it’s not like a normal bird chirp. It’s more like they click at each other.

It’s like the entire miniature ecosystem around here has shifted, and I’m sure there have been a lot of other changes as well that I haven’t seen because I’ve pretty much been limited to an area with a 0,6 mile radius, which is half the distance from where I get my dog food to where I get my groceries. I’m somewhere in the middle.

At the moment, we’ve got at least another three weeks to go, but that’s subject to change, and it’s entirely possible that large gatherings will be banned on into 2021. That may even apply to everything from small theatre on up, and that’s where the real uncertainty comes in.

We could easily be facing a year without any public rituals of any kind, religious or secular. Well, ideally. Unfortunately, we have people who still think that just being in a church, synagogue, or other religious setting will protect themit won’t.

It leads to the strange paradox where any such gatherings might lead to a lot more deaths, which would lead to a lot of funerals, except that those funerals shouldn’t happen because they’ll just lead to a lot more funerals, and so on.

And yes, it will decimate if not devastate industries: funeral homes, wedding planners, caterers, florists, tailors and tux shops.

On the other hand, a lot of us under a certain age have been living a lot of our social lives online already for a while, so in a way we’re well-suited to the changes, and can probably deal with virtual… everything.

It’s not impossible. It’s just lonely. But, do stay home. Wear a mask or face covering when you do go out, and when you do on those very rare occasions, pay attention to nature. I do think it’s trying to tell us something.

The Saturday Morning Post #12

Continuing excerpts from my novel of L.A. in Short Stories plus one Novela, here is part of Chapter 12. If you want to catch up, check out the first one here and the previous one is here. The one thing to remember is that each of the 13 short stories is narrated by a new character, and the novella is told from an omniscient point of view tying it all together. This time around, the narrator was a co-worker of Tycho Ford, who was abruptly promoted to an executive-level position in the wake of the great quake that struck L.A. Well, Riverside, but it was big enough to do damage. But let him explain why Tycho’s promotion screwed things up.

FIFTH WHEEL

Okay, I know that the universe is totally random and shit, but I couldn’t help but take the timing of this earthquake very personally, because it had totally blown my long thought-out plans out of the water and, on top of that, had cock-blocked me big time.

The afternoon it happened, in fact, was a mere couple of hours before I was going to ask the Big Question, and I was pretty sure that the answer was going to be, “Sure.” The question was, “You want to go out, and then maybe stay in?” And the target of that question was a hot and sexy coworker in my department who I got along with really well. But there was a complication to the question, because the coworker had met my girlfriend many times, and the coworker was also a dude.

He was a little younger than me, but very gay, very out, and so painfully beautiful that it was sometimes hard to look at his face. It was like staring into the Sun. He was also incredibly intelligent and funny as hell and, to be honest, he always smelled really nice. I’m not sure what shampoo or cologne he used, but he was like a walk past the toiletries department at one of our ever rarer department stores, but far enough away that it wasn’t like being punched in the throat by an atomizer.

He also knew that I was bisexual and, over the last few months, he had become my chosen sob sister as I bitched and whined about every single way my girlfriend, Mercedes, wasn’t keeping me happy. And yes, I appreciate the irony that her first name and his last name are both cars. His name is Tycho Ford. Sadly, my last name isn’t Dodge or something like that. It’s Baxter. Trivia: Baxter is the female form of the occupation baker. Yeah, English used to gender things that hard.

Speaking of that hard… that had been my perpetual state, at least mentally if not physically, whenever I’d been in Tycho’s presence, or even thought about him, for the two years he’s been here. Seriously. My number one masturbation fantasy since about July 2027 has been bending him over a sofa and slamming his ass while using his shoulders for leverage while licking the back of his neck and whatever else I can get my mouth to while I still have my dick up his ass.

And then the earth shook and it all went to shit. I lost my opportunity to ask and our schedule went into major “Gov owns yo asses now” mode, and he and I wound up assigned to different posts in the disaster area. And then, the next time I saw him was after he’d suddenly been promoted and I’d gotten a text from our regional manager, Gloria, that I was now his assistant, and that he’d picked me.

And… fuck!

See, I knew how the rules worked, and that totally changed everything. At least on the official level, although we all also knew what was going on unofficially: already established couples who hadn’t formerly been superior and report got through fine. Those of us who hadn’t established already? Well, shit. Tycho would get fired for asking, and I’d get severely disciplined for coming on to him.

Speaking of which, I don’t want to say a lot about it, but I had an unfortunate run-in with some little gay fuck in the tailoring department who says that he’s Tycho’s SO, and claims that I jizzed on a flawed suit that I returned. As if. It was goddamn mayo from a Subway sandwich, and if he tries to say otherwise, I’m going to sue his ass for slander or libel or both. And definitely defamation of character.

Bitch is just jealous, because he can see how much I love Tycho.

But, again, the rules stop me from finally revealing it, so I’m not sure what to do. In lieu of anything else, I take advantage of our unlimited TAP cards to figure out where Tycho is staying. I stay a discrete distance from him on the platform before we hop the B Line, then get into the car behind his, and discretely watch through the windows, figuring rightly that no one really pays much attention to anyone in the other cars because they’re too worried about some crazy suddenly going off in their car.

And then I start to see him and this little queer tailor boy traveling together — both ways. What? I found a park near their hotel where I can sleep and no one will question because, hey, post quake, right? A lot of people are camping out at the moment. And so it goes until the Friday ten days after the quake and I follow them home.

Only this time, instead of going all the way to the NoHo Station, they hop off at Hollywood and Vine, and I follow, and they head up Vine almost to Sunset to a club on the ground floor of a forty story Omni Hotel. The club is called NCLU, and it has the typical jet black walls around and into the entry, overly muscled Bouncers/Security, velvet ropes and long lines. Except that Tycho and his little slut walk to the head of the line and they are let in immediately. Meanwhile, I have to stand in the very long line, and it’s about ninety minutes before they finally let me in — after charging me a $40 cover and telling me that there’s two drink minimum.

Motherfuckers. I mean, I could cheap out and just wait across the street, but that would probably be the best way to get spotted, so I pony up, dictating a note into my AI. “Cut grocery budget this week, try to stretch one into two.”

Inside, the club is a well-planned mind-fuck. The walls, floor, and ceiling are jet black, and the only light comes from purple OLED tubes where the walls and ceiling meet. I go down a short hall, around a corner, and then up some stairs — which are marked in red OLEDs. The walls here also have glowing figures on them — characters from Alice in Wonderland, dicks and tits and asses and twats, and, toward the top, large green illuminated arrows with the words “EAT ME” and “DOWN THE HOLE” in them.

It’s another u-turn and then into a gigantic warehouse space at the top of a metal staircase, and the place is insane. Here there are colored OLEDs sweeping everywhere and constantly changing, artificial vape clouding the air,  and some definitely old school shit, like spinning black balls stuffed with different colored… um… portholes? And, OMG, there are even Disco Balls up there — things I remember my mother telling me existed when she was my age, but which were considered “ironically” (another thing people my mother’s age did back then), but which also, apparently, had been big with people slightly older than her and, ultimate irony, were originally popular as dance hall accessories a century ago, in the years of the Great Depression.

As I walk in here and remember my grandmother telling me that latter fact, all I can think is, “Ooh… shiny. So what shit are they distracting us from now?” And then my brain screams at me, “Forty bucks to get in and they want you to spend another thirty on drinks, dipshit.”

“Um… did they specify what kind of drinks?” I wonder.

“No,” that voice sighs, and so I go down the metal stairs into Wonderland, go to the first bar and ask, “How much is a Coke?”

“Eight bucks,” he says.

“And… water?”

“Eight bucks.”

“And… how much do they pay you an hour?”

“It’s $22.50,” he replies.

“Shit. Same non-living wage here, dude. How much do they pay per Coke?”

He just smiles at me in some sort of extreme gratitude and says, “These bottles? They pay 89 cents each.”

“Holy fucking shitballs. Okay, so… they make a fortune, you make shit?”

“Yeah. Sucks. Doesn’t it?” he says. “Who do you work for?”

“City government,” I reply, flashing my ID on instinct, and he looks like he’s going to shit his pants.

“Oh, dude, sorry. Wrong price. For a Coke, or whatever soda, you pay two bucks.”

“Um… why does my employer matter?” I ask.

“City runs this place, ma dude.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Okay,” I tell him. “So… bang me a Coke.” I show my city debit card, then stick it in the reader.

He charges me two dollars, so I tip him six.

“Hey. Thanks, man! Oh, hey — you didn’t know. I hope they didn’t charge you full cover.”

“They did.”

“Shit. You want me to talk to the manager — “

“No, it’s fine. Call it a donation.”

By this point, I was over it, and I was going to full on justify this as a business expense for the government. And why not? First, I had to make sure that my boss wasn’t abusing government funds or time (hint: he was not.) Second, I had to check up on our contractors, right? And if I cleared them, no harm, no foul. Right?

Okay, sure. Our particular department, the UECLA, didn’t really deal with places like this — unless you could call them houses of worship, and I’d argue that some of the guys here would — but it was all about CYA.

I grabbed my two dollar Coke and headed back up to the dance floor, taking up a position on the catwalk above it, scanning the crowd for that one familiar face. It wasn’t easy because of the constantly changing lights and moving crowds, but I eventually spotted Tycho and his little whore. They were both shirtless, jeans riding tantalizingly low, and they were grinding each other.

Mental snapshot for the fap bank, then I raced on down, figuring that, by this point, it wouldn’t be weird if I happened to bump into them. On the way down, I peeled off my T-shirt and stuffed it down the side of my jeans to match their style, and then danced my way through the crowd to where they were, taking enough time so that I’d be sweaty enough to look like I’d been dancing all night, too.

When I finally get within hailing distance of them, I realize that the two of them are dancing with a couple of really hot Hispanic guys, who are equally shirtless and sweaty, and judging by the body language, it looks like they’re all well on their way to having a foursome.

Well, fuck.

And then Tycho’s little tailor boy spots me. We lock eyes and I’m not sure what to do, but then the little bastard smiles and waves me over. Tycho notices and so do the other two guys, so I’m trapped, and I walk over to join them.

“Jimmy!” Tycho’s fuck toy gushes weirdly, throwing an arm around my shoulders. “Fancy meeting you here. How are you doing?”

“Okay,” I mutter.

“In case you forgot, or I never told you, I’m Finley, by the way.” He extends his hand and I’m not sure how to take it, so I just give it a brief shake, constantly wondering, “Why the hell is he being so nice to me?”

This is the guy who accused me of jerking off on his “boyfriend’s” suit. Okay. Okay, So it wasn’t mayo from a Subway sandwich. I lied. It was my jizz. But how the hell did he know that on sight?

“I had no idea you’d show up at a place like this,” Tycho said. “Where’s Mercedes?”

“Um… we… broke up,” I lied. “She really wasn’t into all the quake overtime and having to be separate and all that.”

“Oh, right. Where did they put you up?”

“The Lexen,” I lied again. I was actually at a Holiday Inn in Hollywood, but he didn’t need to know that.

“Wow, us too, but I haven’t seen you there. You’ll have to pop up to our room some time.”

“Yeah, I should,” I said.

“Who’s your hot friend?” one of the other guys asked, and Tycho did the quick intro.

“Oh. This is Jimmy, my assistant. Jimmy, we just met these guys. Um… shit. Refresh me?”

“Adam and Tony,” the other one said.

“Right,” Tycho added. “Adam and Tony.”

“Este tipo debe llenar un sándwich con pan moreno y carne blanca,” the taller one said to the other.

“Y monta nuestras vergas toda la noche,” the other one adds.

“Tipos… hablo español,” I reply and they look at me in total shock.

“¡Mierda!” the tall one mutters.

“Pero… todavía deseas que te follemos?” the other one asks.

“Fuerte y duro, papís,” I reply. Sure, I’m usually a top, but I’m willing to make an exception sometimes, and these guys are exceptional.

“You little slut,” Tycho mutters. He smiles but then he sort of freaks. “Sorry. Sorry, no, I didn’t say that. I didn’t mean that. It was encouragement, okay?”

 “I’m just impressed that you understood all that.”

“What? Dude, it’s almost 2030 in L.A. Who do you know under forty who doesn’t speak Spanish?”

“Yeah, true, I guess.”

“And… we’re okay with that comment?” he asks.

“Why would I not be?” I reply. “I am a slut…”

Image: © 2018 by the author, Vine Street looking north from Hollywood Boulevard.

Friday Free-for-All #11

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What would you do if had enough money to not need a job?

Make my own job, of course.

Ideally, it would be enough money to live off of after buying a house and equipping it with spaces for writing, making music, recording podcasts, and shooting and editing video. I’d probably also host a weekly writing workshop there and, given enough space, have a performance salon on site where interested artists could come and create in whatever media they wanted to.

What? It’s an open-ended question, so I’m dreaming big.

Another nice feature would be either a guest house or a couple of bedroom suites for hosting visiting artists or housing local artists who just need a break from paying rent for a while.

And all of it absolutely dog friendly.

Now, if that Lotto win (and that’s the only way this would ever happen) went beyond the mid-seven figures into anywhere with eight figures or more, then the next step would be to give the L.A. Writers Center a permanent home and endowment while making sure that ComedySportz L.A. also had a home space for, oh, I don’t know — a dollar a year?

If I had enough money to not have a job, then I would be able to do what I love — which is creating — except with the ability to give away the output for free, or at least at cost with no net profit.

Oh, hey… I’m doing that giving it away for free part right now even as you read this!

But given funds beyond my wildest dreams, I could do so much more by supporting local theatre by self-producing my stuff on their stages and then maybe even making every show pay-what-you-can among those who could, and totally free to those communities who need to be exposed to the arts.

I’ve had way too many people tell me that I should be a teacher, and while it’s a noble idea, I know that it’s not something I could actually do in person for a couple of reasons.

One is that while I have no problem speaking in front of a large group of people, my stream-of-consciousness tends to hit the rapids really quickly, at the risk of leaving everyone behind to drown when the raft overturns.

Another is that I’m a really fast talker, and I have this weird hybrid accent that makes a lot of people in Southern California ask me, “Where are you from?” Welp, I was born in Los Angeles and grew up here, but for some reason I inherited a weird combination of my mom’s nasally east coast speed-talk with a few strange vowels, then had that layered with a heavy dose of my dad’s mother’s flat Kansas twang.

Filter that through the actual SoCal accent and it turns into a weird fast nasally drawl of no particular time or place, but for some reason people try to peg me as Southern.

Well, yeah. Southern California, not Southern U.S. Big difference.

Anyway, the more into a subject I am, the faster I talk about it and the sharper the corners on the transitions. Or, in other words, I should never be allowed to stand in front of a crowd and spontaneously teach people.

This is why I’m a writer. Although I also type really fast, somewhere north of 90 wpm when I get going, so even in this format, I can sometimes shoot five hundred miles off course before I realize it and have to reel myself back in.

I have the same issue going when I work in Excel. The formulae and whatnot are planted into my brain so that I just go on autopilot, and dog forbid anyone ask me to explain what I’m doing while I do it.

But when it comes to composing music (not improvising) and editing video, I necessarily have to do it much more slowly, and if I were able to refocus on these two elements again thanks to no need to “work” for money, it might be a good thing. The thing about both is that they involve basically creating larger works in tiny increments, with lots of layers being put down over the same territory, over and over.

I’ll give a music example. Even if you’re creating digitally, you need to do it track by track, and depending on the complexity of the score, you can easily hit 8, 16, 24, 32, 64, 128 tracks or more.

Now while you might be able to math out a track for a whole song, you’re still going to need to listen to it to make sure there are no glitches. Let’s posit a song that’s three minutes long.

Okay, track one — probably percussion or bass — laid down, review, then fix.

Track two will probably be the one not chosen for track one, bass or percussion — lay down, review, then fix.

Track three and on upward will probably start with the backing instruments the supporting chord progression, and then you’ll finally get to the lead lines and solos.

And, again, at every step of the lay-down, you have to listen to the whole damn thing to spot glitches and fix them, then listen to see if the fixes worked.

So if you’re doing a three minute song with 24 tracks, expect to listen to each track at least twice, and… you’re looking forward to at least 30 hours editing time, if not more.

Video editing? Complicate that further, since you’ll be combining several layers of video, effects, and sound effects, and again reviewing every one of them multiple times.

Writing? Much simpler, I suppose, since at least you only have one track to keep reviewing and editing over and over, instead of a group of tracks that keeps growing on every pass.

So… given enough time and money, I’d love to teach people on pre-recorded video or audio, but I’d probably hire an editor to whom I could give guidance, because I just haven’t had the patience to do it, and even this late into the lockdown, I’m not sure I still do.

But… I do digress. If I no longer needed to work for a living, then I would art in order to live, and help friends do it. Ooh. There’s your TL:dr. Enjoy!

Theatre Thursday: Of plague and playwrights

We’re not really sure whether April 23 is the day that William Shakespeare was born, but it was the day he died. I don’t have any particular connection to that date otherwise, but I feel that I now have a stronger connection to the Bard, because both of us had plays shut down due to a plague.

For Shakespeare, it was in 1606, when the theaters were shuttered right after, or perhaps during, his premiere productions of King Lear and Macbeth. By the time productions resumed in the winter, and had moved out of the open-air theaters, the all-boy companies who had portrayed women onstage were a thing of the past, and shows were often candle-lit.

After the plague year, Shakespeare only wrote one more tragedy (Anthony and Cleopatra) and one more history (Henry VIII — although he may have written that one earlier, since Elizabeth I died in 1603.).

Otherwise, everything that came after was based on myth or legend, and this is when he created some of his most atypical works: Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Pericles (often considered Shakespeare’s weirdest), Cymbeline (a very black comedy), The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, and The Two Noble Kinsmen (probably co-written with John Fletcher.)

Now, while the play I had shut down is probably far less consequential than any of the Bard’s, it was still difficult. The only mitigating factor was that theater in California went dark a couple of weeks before we were scheduled to open.

However, I was fortunate in two things. First, that the director, theater owner, cast, and I all gather on Zoom to toast the cancelled opening night and get to know each other — unlike all but one of my other shows, I’d been unable to attend rehearsals for this one. Second, later on, the director, cast, and I got together on Zoom for a private run-through of the show.

Now, granted, it’s a very physical farce that pays tribute to Oscar Wilde, Joe Orton, and other writers who have influenced me. So, let’s just say that it loses a lot of that physicality when it’s just talking heads in little boxes. On the other hand, the cast still gave it their all, and my faith in the director’s choices and the actors’ abilities was not misplaced.

As a writer, it’s a rare thing when seeing your own work performed can still move you emotionally, mainly because you’ve lived inside it for so long, so it technically doesn’t have any surprises. And yet, with a brilliant cast, the humor or the drama all come flying back at you because they bring their own surprises.

I only create the characters in my head, but the  premiere cast makes them their own and cements that interpretation, and that is why I love the collaboration of theater, even if sometimes it can’t happen directly.

When I do get to develop a work through rehearsal, incredible things happen. But even when I only get to give occasional notes or am inspired to do rewrites, incredible things still happen.

That’s the magic of theater, and no plague or disaster or worldwide shutdown can ever stop that permanently. It can only put it on pause, but the art-form will keep coming back, over, and over, and over again.

Finally, in honor of the possible birthday of Willie Shakes, here’s a little music video version of a number from a show I was lucky enough to see onstage before everything shut down, and which I absolutely love. The show is a musical comedy called Something Rotten, and it posits the idea that Nick and Nigel Bottom were rival playwrights to Shakespeare in 1595.

Jealous of his fame, they enlist the help of Nostradamus’ nephew to use his psychic powers to figure out what Shakespeare is working on so that the Bottom Brothers can steal it. Needless to say, Thomas Nostradamus falls short of the mark, to hilarious effect.

The interpretation of Shakespeare is… unique, to say the least, but it fits the conceit. Here is the always fantastic Christian Borle as the Bard, in a role for which he won a Tony. Enjoy!

Image: William Shakespeare, public domain via (CC) BY-SA 4.0.

Wednesday Wonders: The Earth is not happy with us today

Today, April 22, 2020, is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Ironically, while we probably won’t be celebrating it in public this year, we’ve already sort of helped the planet out by staying home. There have been some positive effects on the environment,

In my hometown of Los Angeles, we’ve not only had the cleanest air we’ve had in decades, we also have just about the cleanest air of any major city. But considering how many cars we’ve taken off of the roads in the last month, that’s not a big surprise.

It should be self-evident from these changes, and others, that human activity does have a negative impact on the environment. It should also be clear that staying at home and social distancing does save lives.

A perfect example of that is the difference between California and New York. There are a lot more people in California, but a lot fewer cases of COVID-19 — around 33K in the former and 250K in the latter — and certainly a huge difference in the death toll. California has lost 1,200 people. New York State: 19,000. (Note: the death statistics are still wildly unreliable, however.)

Why the huge difference? It’s hard to say. Part of it may be that California is much more reliant on car culture, but that’s not true of all of the state. The Bay Area, for example, is just as dependent on public transit as New York.

Population density could also be a factor, with people in the five boroughs packed in like sardines, while those in most of California (again, outside of the Bay Area) are spread out all over the place.

It’s possible, but we really don’t know yet, that the virus came to New York from Europe, and so was a different strain, whereas cases in California may or may not have come from China, although they most certainly did not begin in the fall of 2019.

So what lessons should we take from this particularly unusual Earth Day? Maybe that we should have been paying more attention to our Mother all along. That we should have understood that important little bit that we are all connected on this planet, and borders, cultures, walls, and artificial divisions do not exist.

You know, the old saying: One planet, one people. Please!

In honor of Earth Day and the idea of cutting back, I’m keeping this one short and sweet. Stay home, take care of yourself, eschew greed, envy, and plastic, and share what you can with friends and neighbors as you can, but also don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.

Happy Earth Day 2020. May the planet be a better place, and may we still be on it, in 2021.

Talky Tuesday: April showers

If you speak a Romance language, then you know that the days of the week were named for the planets via Roman gods pure and simple. Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, with the last one, Sunday, technically having been named for Phoebus Apollo.

When it comes to months of the year, though, it’s a lot less clear and, in fact, only three of them — March, May, and June — are clearly named after a Roman god: March for Mars, god of war (and of Tuesday); May for Maia, an Earth goddess of plants; and June for Juno, wife of Zeus.

Two things to remember: One is that the Roman calendar originally didn’t have January or February at all, and the New Year happened at the end of March. Second, other than the three months mentioned, the rest were originally known by number.

Here’s the calendar: Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Junio, Quintilis, Sextillia, September, October, November, December.

So after those first four months, the ones from Quintilis on are literally named for their position in the calendar: Fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth.

Quintilis and Sextillia were replaced with July and August in honor of Julius and Augustus Caesar. But the last four months of the year have kept their names that mean seventh through tenth even though they’ve long since been ninth through twelfth.

If you’ve been keeping score, you might notice one thing. The month of April isn’t named for a deity or its place in the calendar order. And there’s a reason for that: Nobody is really sure where that name came from.

T.S. Eliot wasn’t kidding when he wrote “April is the cruellest (sic) month.” Chaucer had a quite different view of things, but he was also the better poet.

Theories on the origin of the name for April fall into both the “named for a deity” and “named for its place in the calendar,” and neither one has any proof to back it up. There’s also the attributive theory, as in April is when flowers bloom, and there’s a Latin word meaning to open, “aperire,” that gave the month its name.

By the way, if you speak Spanish, you’ll see the roots of the word “abrir,” to open, right there. If you’re a photographer, you’ll probably think of aperture, which is the opening that light passes through on its way from the lens to the film or sensor. They all came from the same place.

Of course, humans being humans, we have a habit of doing it the other way around and naming people after months. For example, there’s the actress January Jones, who was born in January. There don’t appear to be any with the first names of February or March, but we probably all know an April or two. Likewise, May and June are very common first names.

There don’t appear to be any people with the first name July, but in the Spanish-speaking world, Julio is a common man’s first name, and you’ve probably heard of Julio Iglesias, whose name translates as “July Churches.”

August through November are all pretty well-represented. August Strindberg was a famous playwright. August was also the first name of one of my great grandfathers. I’ve known at least two Septembers personally — although one was spelled much differently — and a famous real-world example is the doctor, bioethicist, and filmmaker September Williams.

October Moore and October Kingsley are both actresses, and we round out the list with November Christine. Again, there are no famous Decembers.

So, why do those particular months not get used as first names while the others do? February, March, July, and December have been mostly ignored. Even a site like How Many of Me? says that there are probably zero people with these first names in the U.S.

It’s an interesting question, and one I’m not sure that I have the answer to. When it comes to strange names, none of the four are as weird as some of the most unusual names given to babies in 2019.

And when it comes to the ultimate in strange names, look no further than celebrities to go off the deep end with such strange creations as Kal-El, Jermajesty, Pilot Inspektor, and my personal favorite, Moxie Crimefighter.

The grand champion of weird baby names, though, has to be Frank Zappa. A brilliant artist, musician, and political thinker, but Jesus, man. What were he and his wife Gail on when they pulled these monikers out of their asses: Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmed Emuukha Rodan, and Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen?

Okay, to be fair, Dweezil was actually named Ian Donald Calvin Euclid Zappa, but, seriously — four given names? Even that is a bit excessive. And I would have personally chosen to go by Euclid had I been him. Yookie for short.

So this makes those four unused months seem absolutely pedestrian as names, and I shudder to think what our months and days of the week would sound like if the Zappas had been in charge of naming them.

Or, maybe not. They might have just livened things up a bit. Kind of like Dr. Seuss for adults.

Image, A Masque for the Four Seasons, by Walter Crane, 1905-1909Public domain under the CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.