Friday Free-for-all #30: Questions, questions

NOTE: Due to a formatting error by WordPress, the original version of this post was corrupted, with missing text. This is the corrected version, which should now make a lot more sense.

This originally started as me answering one random question generated by a website, but the questions eventually got to the part where they didn’t really need long answers. So, instead, it’s turned into a slow-motion interview with multiple queries. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments — or ask your own!

Do you text more or call more? Why?

I absolutely text (or message) more. Calling is a tool of either intrusion or rudeness: it tells the person you’re calling, “Pay attention to me right now!” If they choose to let it go to voicemail, then they’re saying I don’t have time to drop everything right now and talk

There are only a couple of people, of course, who get an immediate answer, but since most of the calls I get nowadays are robots or sales calls, I rarely answer my phone. It’s kind of ironic that the feature that was so useful about these pocket computers when they first came out (as not really computers) has now become one of the most useless.

What is the fanciest restaurant you have eaten at?

It’s a tie between two for very different reasons. One is “money fancy” and the other is “atmosphere fancy.”

The former was the Jonathan Club in Downtown L.A., and as you can probably tell from the name, it’s a private club that’s been around since forever. The reason that I got my poor ass in, along with a group of co-workers/friends of equal socio-economic status, was that one of the producers on the TV show we all worked on at the time belonged to the club and took us there as a thank you.

Everything about it just screamed prosperity. It was a huge place — I think it took up the entire twelve-story building — and was a combination of “gentlemen’s” club, restaurants, and private suites for members’ use if they happened to be in town on a business trip. (The club is part of a network with reciprocal membership.)

I think the place may have even had a gym and indoor pool and all the amenities. It was founded in 1895, so had been there over a century when we went.

It was certainly impressive. We worked our way through a large, carpeted hall edged in dark wood with side rooms off it, each one with full bookcases and wingback chairs for the members’ comfort.

The dining room was huge, with big round tables surrounded by very comfy leather chairs that actually had arms. It was the kind of place with white linen everything, a placeholder dish with a placeholder dish on top of that to start, all the kinds of glasses, and every possible fork, knife, spoon and weird tool available in the cutlery collection, laid out in order, all in solid (not plated) silver.

It was also a menu that had only a few select items each day, and seemed to fall prey a little bit to the California cuisine fallacy that was even more in effect at that time: “Let’s find really great food and a bunch of fantastic ingredients, then throw in one or two things that absolutely shit it up but which pretentious foodies will think are the dog’s balls.”

Yeah, like that. That’s why I wound up ordering scallops, thinking they were fish, since they seemed like the least messed-up dish. (I didn’t find out until long after that they’re actually clams, which I never would have ordered, which is kind of weird because I do love me some New England clam chowder.

The food was amazing, and so was the service. A waiter would appear to refill your water glass the second you drained it, clean the tablecloth with a crumb-brush as the busboys took away the dishes between every course and, if anyone happened to go to the bathroom, they would come back to find a new napkin neatly folded in its original spot.

Yeah, that kind of fancy.

I have no idea how much it might have cost, but this was the co-executive producer and frequent director of a one-hour, prime-time TV series back in the day when broadcast TV meant something. And, to be honest, the real money was probably in the combination of directing and writing work, and residuals from both.

The other fancy place, which I’ve been to several times, is The Magic Castle, in Hollywood, which I’ve written about before, so I won’t go into great detail here. I’ll just say that for a membership club that allows ample guests, the prices are pretty reasonable, and if admission to the main dining room seems a little expensive, remember that it includes admission to all the mainstage shows — something you aren’t guaranteed if you’re cheaper.

Unfortunately, it’s mostly closed right now because of the pandemic, but when and if it re-opens, it’s worth going, and it’s not as hard to get in as you might think. Look up an L.A. magician who seems to do the corporate/birthday party circuit, figure out when they’re having a club show, then go see it. Afterwards, rave about their tricks and ask if they ever perform at the Magic Castle.

A lot of them do because they’re members, but at their level they’re like the dozens of garage bands that used to play tiny music venues in L.A., and sort of work for the same perks. Sure, they get to invite people because that’s how they get their audience, and those people spend money.

It’s exactly the same thing I experienced on the musician end of it, when in order to get a gig we had to guarantee a certain number of people. Oh, they all got in free, but there was a two drink minimum. The club made money off the booze. We only made it off of tickets that sold.

A lot of the non-name magicians at the Castle probably heard the same thing that we did: “You’re doing it for exposure.” But like we hoped to someday be good enough to play a larger local venue like the (late) Troubador before hitting a big theater or even an arena, they hope to open for a more famous magician or other variety act or, holy grail, go on “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” and do what the title says in order to become Vegas famous.

Hm. Musician, magician. That’s only a two letter difference: us vs. ag, which actually makes sense… a band is a visible group, an “Us.” Meanwhile, a magician appears to be going solo (they’re not), but it costs a lot more money, really, for the tricks and their development than it does to becoming a working musician, hence it takes a lot of silver; atomic symbol, Ag.

Okay, I somewhat pulled that comparison out of my ass. But whether the former or the latter, I like to think that both types of artists deal in illusions — although I guess only the former also deals in allusions.

If you didn’t care at all what people thought of you, what clothes would you wear?

I don’t care what they think anyway, but the real snag is that it’s not legal, because I’d rather wear nothing because it’s just more comfortable.

Okay, it’s not totally illegal, and this is another topic I went more in-depth on two months ago. But America really needs to pull it’s repression out of its ass, lighten up, and learn from other countries where nudity is no big deal.

We all got’em — bodies and all the bits — and there really aren’t that many differences between them. But I bet that if we normalized nudity, it would eliminate body-shaming, help people with self-image, and greatly reduce things like eating disorders.

For one thing, it’s hard to point and laugh at someone else’s when you’re showing yours, most of us are not uber-fit supermodels, and it would demystify the human body to the point that porn might even become passé. It’s like the old joke about the two guys at a nudist colony (there’s a dated expression!) who don’t notice the attractive young woman until she puts on a tight T-shirt as she prepares to go home.

And general nudity might even really cut down on physical confrontations, because do you really want to start anything with that butt-nekkid WalMart security guard?

Friday Free-for-all #28: Two questions

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

Since last week’s potpourri went so well, I decided to answer multiple questions again. I find that as I progress through the list, what remains seems less interesting to me. Although I can answer, I really can’t or don’t want to at length, so in interest of not needlessly padding things out, here we go.

What’s the worst injury you’ve ever gotten?

You know, I’ve actually managed to live a remarkably injury-free life (knocks wood.) I didn’t break my first bone until I was 21, in college, and it didn’t even have anything to do with drinking. It was the first day of the second semester my junior year (technically first semester of my senior year, but that’s a long story), and my birthday.

I was about to head off to my first class, but opened the living room window in our student apartment to check to see if I’d need a jacket since… February. It was cold, so I decided that I did, then slammed the window shut… right on the tip of my left index finger.

Did I mention that the apartment mate I shared a room with was in the living room on the phone talking to one of the Big 5 Accounting Firms in hopes of setting up a last semester of senior year internship that would turn into a job? Because that’s important.

Why? Because as soon as I slammed my finger in that window, I screamed something along the lines of, “Oh Jesus fucking fuckety fuck fuck fuck fucking Christ goddamit!”

There was a pause, and then I heard my roommate saying into the phone, “No… I think that one of my roommates just hurt himself.”

Hairline fracture of the tip of that finger, which got put in a splint for six weeks — and hooray for free student health care! But damn if that fingertip did not become a magnet for getting banged into everything for that month and a half.

The only other time I broke bone, ironically, was one in my wrist, and I never realized it. In fact, I didn’t find out until I thought that I did break a bone in my wrist and got it checked out only to find out that the little bone fragment in there was from a really old break. Like, what?

So, yeah. That’s pretty much it. One really minor break, one that was apparently unimportant enough for me to notice, and one false alarm.

Did your family take seasonal vacations?

Um… sort of? One thing I know is that my mother hated to travel, while my father loved to. Then again, she grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania that was a suburb to an exurb of the city Joe Biden was born in, and she only ever lived there before moving to Los Angeles, basically as a way to escape there.

Meanwhile, my dad, who was much older than her, enlisted in the air force as soon as possible — he was actually only sixteen — in order to escape here, and he wound up traveling all around the U.S. and a lot of the world.

But the only seasonal vacations we ever took involved visiting relatives — either his parents not so far up north, generally at Easter and Thanksgiving, or her mom and family all the way across the country, usually in the summer, and which I can remember doing exactly four times in my life, although it was actually five.

The first two times were by air, one for my aunt’s wedding in which I was ring-bearer. The time before that I have no memory of because I was a baby, but it was one of those “wave the infant in front of grandma” trips.

The last three were when I was a tween and teen, every other year in the summer, by car. To me, it was amazing. I was fascinated by seeing all of these new places, many of them definitely far different in a lot of ways from L.A., and my views untainted by any kind of political perception.

Wyoming is an absolutely beautiful state, for its mountains, clouds and spreading green, cow-splattered landscapes. So are Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah — and in New Mexico, you can actually feel the point when you reach the “top of America,” on a lonely road that passes between granite boulders strewn on deep-looking mossy lawns. The air thins and the path grows steeper and you meet the Rockies.

Small towns along the way in Iowa and Nebraska just fascinated me, and I will forever have memories of the seemingly abandoned and ancient buildings along the main street of a place called Kearney, Nebraska. Although we never actually stopped in Chicago, again, it fascinated the hell out of me — especially since I grew up in a city that technically had a river which was mostly a concrete ditch, whereas in Chicago I remember driving on a freeway past one row of skyscrapers only to pass over a substantial river right in the middle of the city before passing into another row of skyscrapers.

Most of Indiana just seemed… sad and broken. And Ohio through most of Pennsylvania just got monotonous, endless views of rolling green hills and not much else.

On the other hand, I entertained myself by either reading tons of books or, on the later trips, writing, and it was on one of those trips, I think when I was 13, that I actually wrote most of the first draft of my first attempt at a novel, inspired by the spaces we were driving through.

One other thing I should mention: We made the trip in record time because my dad would drive for at least 12 hours a day. I distinctly remember that the first leg of one of them left L.A. before five in the morning, and we didn’t stop until Rock Springs Wyoming, until at least six p.m. Go look that trip up on Google maps!

Still, I don’t think that it was that Dad was a maniac. Mostly, I think it was that Mom didn’t want to travel without the dog, didn’t want to put her in cargo on a plane, but wanted to make the trip as quickly as possible.

The only touristy bits I remember were the day that my dad and I went into New York City and took a tour (loved it!) and the time my uncle took us both into Philadelphia to show us all the historic stuff (also loved it!).

Meanwhile, trips to visit my father’s mother and my step-grandfather involved about a three-and-a-half hour drive and no tourism, but the great part about that was that she and her husband lived on a 14-acre farm and orchard, so there was plenty of nature and there were plenty of animals to hang out with — and this locale also inspired my writing.

Friday Free-for-all #27: Potpourri

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.

I’m going to mix it up a little bit, because I have a long list of possible questions that I chose from at random, but there are certain ones I really don’t have answers for, or the answers I do have are too short for an article.

By the way, I really do mean at random, thanks to the “RANDBETWEEN” function in Excel, which gives me two choices every time I update it. One is based on the question’s actual order in the list, and the other is based on a random number assigned to it at the time. The number chosen is itself random.

Anyway here we go with a few that have been on the list unanswered for a while, and you may see why shortly.

  1. What is the opposite of a koala?

And how stoned was the person who came up with this one? I mean, which attributes do you use to determine the opposite in the first place? Living marsupial? Then any dead non-marsupial would suffice.

Furry and squishy? How about… a rock? Native to Australia? You’ve got 194 not-Australia countries to choose from. So, I don’t know. Living, furry, squishy marsupial native to Australia? Maybe a dinosaur fossil from somewhere in Wyoming?

  1. If there existed a perfect clone of you, would it also be you? Would it act in exactly the same manner as you (like a mirror) or would it act differently? If it acted differently then would it still be you? At what point would it not be you?

This one starts from a flawed premise, because a clone is not an identical copy. Hell, your own clone might only look like a fraternal twin, and would definitely not be identical. The reason for this is that in cloning, DNA is used the same way it is in more traditional baby-making methods — i.e., fucking.

Now, there may not be two separate bits of RNA from different parents being tossed into an ova to develop, so that starting material is 100% your DNA — but from that point on, nothing resembles your own development.

The uterine environment will be totally different, and if you implant that ova in any womb not your own mother’s (highly likely) the physical and chemical influence on the developing embryo will be wildly different.

Hell, even if you do convince your mom to give re-birth to you decades after the fact, her own prenatal environment will be entirely different, and she may even be incapable of doing it anyway if enough time has passed to push her into menopause.

Now if we imagine some magic machine, like the Star Trek replicator, which is really a non-destructive teleporter, then yes, you could in theory create an exact duplicate, or non-biological clone, of yourself.

But… the two of you are only identical in the very first instant that the new you becomes conscious. From then on, that clone is living a different life, with a different set of experiences, and you will both slowly diverge from identical, at least mentally.

Oh — and if you felt the need to clone yourself in the first place, good luck resisting the urge to do what you probably made the clone for: the ultimate act of non-solo masturbation.

  1. You are about to get into a fight, what song comes on as your soundtrack?

I always thought of this one as the “toxic masculinity” question — as in if you have an answer to it, especially an instant answer, you are probably a toxic male. I don’t find it necessary to get into fights. I never have. If I were ever attacked by someone physically, then yes, you can bet that I’d defend myself. But I wouldn’t be hearing Eye of the Tiger or any other typical song like that in my head. I’d be more concerned with stopping the person assaulting me.

  1. If your job gave you a surprise three day paid break to rest and recuperate, what would you do with those three days?

I’m just coming off of a surprise five-month paid break, which offered neither rest nor recuperation, so I think I’d either just say, “Thanks, but pass,” or go hole up in a resort in Palm Springs, season permitting, and once the lockdown is over.

  1. What outfit could you put together from clothes you own to get the most laughs?

It’s one that I actually pulled together from several thrift shops for a specifically-themed costume party in the first place.

The outfit comprised a predominantly orange floral-patterned sun dress that I wore as a skirt instead, paired with a pale peach tone fuzzy sweater, topped off with an orange blazer.

I had plenty of cheap costume jewelry, like bracelets and a necklace, mostly bronze tones, and topped it off with fake glasses in orange frames, orange nail polish, and a long brunet (or is it brunette?) wig.

Finally, I found a matching bag and women’s high-heeled boots in my size — 15W after translating from men’s, and ta-da. Betty Duzzet was born. Slapping on those five-inch heels made me at least 6’7”, and the wig probably added another inch or two, so I was an amazon, but far from a glamazon, since I didn’t go nuts with the make-up beyond lipstick and eye-liner.

The outfit was actually a hit, and people told me that I looked like a lesbian English teacher at a small Liberal Arts College in the upper Midwest. She probably won’t be coming back, but the outfit is still hanging in my closet. And yes, she and I share the same favorite color, but this blog probably gave that away already.

  1. Which season are you most active in?

It’s definitely changed over my lifetime, but I’d have to say that I’m currently most active during the summer. Well, caveat: Up until 2019, I was. All bets on “active” are off for this year, and possibly next. I’ve come to enjoy the sun and the heat and being outdoors, and the need for a lot less clothing.

  1. What is the “holy grail” of your life?

This one is easy, and probably just as mythical: Owning a home. Nothing fancy, just a place with enclosed front and back yards for dogs, and a pool for me. Maybe a guest house for either rental income or to help out friends in need when necessary.

Friday Free-for-all #26

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.

If you went into a coma and woke up in the year 2120, what would be the first thing you would want to know?

Well, we’ll dispense with the obvious question first because it probably isn’t going to come up later: How the hell did you keep me a live in a coma for a century, and well past what was the maximum human life span at the time I went into it?

The real first thing I’d want to know would be… everything, although I’d probably start by asking — assuming the coma started before it happened — “Who won the presidential election of 2020, and what happened after that?”

It wouldn’t really influence my opinion of the present world, since a lot can change in a hundred years — in 1920, after all, the second term of an extremely racist U.S. President was coming to an end, and women were only just getting the right to vote on the federal level. Meanwhile, lynching and other acts of racial violence were far too common…

Okay, maybe shit doesn’t change in a century. Well, some things don’t. But on the other hand, comparing the state of technology in 1920 and 2020 is to compare two completely different worlds.

They barely had perfected the ability to fly, and the radio and telegraph were the state-of-the-art in long-distance communication. Meanwhile, we’ve sent people to the Moon and space, probes to other planets and outside of our solar system, while television has been a major medium since at least the 1950s and the internet and our phones have put each one of us, personally, in contact with the entire world almost instantaneously.

Seriously, I think if I explained to somebody in 1920 that I could use a keyboard and screen (or just the version of the screen that fits in my pocket) to chat with friends in cities across the U.S., or countries like Peru or the UK in real-time, their head would explode.

So I can only imagine the state of technology, and maybe that’s the first thing I’d ask. What was the successor to all of our technology? By this point, connectivity may just be implanted and universal, and who knows how far the transhumanist movement may have gotten.

Everyone may have already shifted to a life-like robotic avatar, or just migrated to a virtual existence a la the show Upload. It would explain how they managed to bring me back after a hundred years.

But all of that technology really doesn’t matter, though, depending on the answer to my real first question: Did humankind ever get its shit together and deal with things like inequality, injustice, and poverty; taking care of the environment and providing healthcare, education, housing, and a basic income for all? And everything else?

Solve those problems or make substantial gains in those areas, then okay, I might stick around. Otherwise, put me back in the coma and get back to me in a century.

Honestly, though, I think that humanity will only be around in a century if we do deal with all of these issues, and do so in a profoundly progressive manner. All of our technological advances are meaningless if we stay mired in greed, prejudice, fear, and intolerance.

This planet is not an Us vs Them proposition. There is only an Us, and it’s only in working together — and realizing that there is enough for everyone as long as too much doesn’t go to anyone — that we will actually see the year 2120.

Hell, without changing course, humans may not see 2024.

Friday Free-for-all #23

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’s your favorite holiday movie?

Very appropriate that this one popped up now, since we’re almost exactly between Christmases which, face it, is what most people think of when they think “holiday movie.” Well, except for the twisted folk who think of the Halloween franchise, of course.

Groundhog Day is probably one of the better-known and more beloved non-Christmas films, But you have to think really hard to come up with others without looking. For example, which holiday is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles about? (Hint: it’s not Christmas.)

Did you even remember that Eight Crazy Nights is a thing until I mentioned it? And while at least the first Independence Day movie took place around that holiday, it only counts if you stick strictly to America, of course, which is just jingoistic and awkward when you remember that it’s the whole planet being invaded.

Easter movies tend to be about either Jesus or Bunnies, although Monty Python’s Life of Brian absolutely is an Easter film that isn’t strictly about either. New Year’s Eve fares a little better, including the strangely fascinating Strange Days, directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Released in 1995, it was set in the two days leading into the year 2000 — although it wasn’t so much about the holiday as about the existence of recordings of people’s memories as a black-market drug.

Oddly enough, 1995 was the same year that Terry Gillaim’s 12 Monkeys came out — another mid-90s science fiction film set in the very-near future, although in the case of this one, the year was 1996, which was about exactly a year after the release date of the film.

Meta.

But, for me, this question actually has two answers, and I’ve already mentioned the director of one of the films. However, I’ll start with the more obvious choice.

It’s a Wonderful Life is one of those movies I can watch over and over, and from any point I happen to stumble across a re-broadcast. In case you live under a rock, it came out in 1946, directed by Frank Capra, and it stars James Stewart as George Bailey in the story of a small-town Everyman who winds up giving up his own dreams in order to help others.

One of the most fascinating things about the film is the abrupt tone-shift as we move into the third act, more on which in a moment. Up until that point, it barrels head-long into the American Dream — and remember, the whole thing was being produced right as the U.S. defeated the Powers of Evil™ and became the predominant and benevolent World Power — never mind that whole nuking civilians in Japan thing.

George Bailey — born into white privilege in the town of Bedford Falls, around 1907. After all, his father and uncle own the local Bailey Brothers Building and Loan, so the family is well-off. Well, at least until 1928, when young George is planning to embark on a world tour which is cancelled when his father has a stroke and dies.

Oops.

George is coerced by the board into taking over the company. Meanwhile, George gives his trip money to his brother Harry (whose life he already saved once) to pay his college tuition with the agreement that Harry take over the company after he graduates so George can be free to pursue his dreams.

Needless to say, Harry reneges because of a good job offer; George marries good girl Mary, but the stock market crashes and they have to spend their honeymoon money bailing out the Building and Loan.

Eventually, George starts a housing development with nice and affordable homes while the Big Bad, Henry Potter, tries to subvert him from his mission, but George will have none of it.

And then… George’s addle-brained Uncle Billy fucks up big time, accidentally hands Potter the Building and Loan’s deposits (the modern equivalent of $110K in cash), and suddenly George lands deep in the shit.

This is where the film turns dark and George’s guardian angel Clarence turns up to present George with the proverbial Monkey’s Paw answer to his appeal: “I wish I’d never been born.”

That’s exactly what George gets, and it becomes a beautiful butterfly effect of events. He never saved his brother from drowning, which had enormous repercussions in World War II, leaving hundreds of men to die in a Kamikaze attack. George wasn’t there to stop his pharmacist boss from making a mistake, leading to a kid being poisoned and said pharmacists winding up as a homeless town pariah.

Even the women in his life suffered — his wife Mary went on to become a mousy spinster librarian, and while it’s not absolutely clear how George helped childhood friend Violet Bick, she’s pretty much a whore in the town of Potterville. And even his own sainted mother morphed into one gigantic uber-Karen bitch.

Oh — it’s not Bedford Falls anymore, either, so there’s that.

There is one really brilliant but easy to miss moment in this act, too, and that’s the instant when Clarence starts the process of saving George. See, Bailey is about to dive off of the bridge to kill himself, hoping that his life insurance will take care of all of his financial problems. But Clarence knows his subject well, and in that moment he throws himself into the water first and begins shouting out that magic phrase.

“I can’t swim. Help, help. I can’t swim. Help!”

And what has been George’s life-long pattern? Helping everyone else without thinking about himself. So he dives in and drags Clarence out, and the rest happens.

Now, I don’t care how jaded or cynical you are, but once we get to the climax of the film — when George’s original reality is restored and he races home — if you don’t cry at least once if not for at least the last fifteen minutes of the movie, then you have no fucking heart.

Shit, if the waterworks don’t go off in just the first ten seconds of that clip out of context, make an appointment with your cardiologist now.

Here’s the funny thing about It’s a Wonderful Life, though — on initial release, it bombed. Big time. Critics loved it, but audiences didn’t, and it lost half a million dollars. It probably would have just vanished, except for one incredible fuck-up.

At some point, somebody forgot to renew the copyright, and so the film fell for a time into the public domain, which meant that it could be shown freely forever. And who picked up on that? Television stations, which led to the movie being run over and over around Christmas every year and, ta-da, instant classic.

Okay, slight simplification — the film itself was free. The short story it was based on was not. Still, beginning in 1974, the movie was on the express train to beloved Christmas classic and, honestly, I think that it deserves it.

As for my other choice, which I love even more than It’s a Wonderful Life, that would be Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, which is every inch a Christmas movie while not being about Christmas per se, but still being about the hopes of a dreamer pitted against society at large.

Sure, Brazil’s Sam Lowry loses his battle, sort of, but he’s kind of an anti-George Bailey: a man who starts out working for the side of evil only to be liberated by his (most likely never-requited) love for a woman he may or may not have actually met, but rather only saw one time on the way to work.

That’s the best-case scenario. In the worst case, he actually wound up getting her arrested and, probably, summarily executed as a suspected terrorist. Oops.

Eventually, he winds up finding refuge in his own fantasia of a world where yes, he did actually matter as he is tortured by people he had thought to be his friends and allies.

All of this is played out against some of the most amazing film design ever, in a world that takes place during the entire 20th century at once, on a Tuesday. In fact, a lot of the aesthetic would have felt totally at home to George Bailey, especially the costumes and technology.

Here’s a really good example of the design and tech of the film:

Anyway, Gilliam’s Brazil is the best version of 1984 ever filmed, period. The movie is also infamous for some useless asshole producer at Universal trying eviscerate it, leading to Gilliam taking out ads in the trades demanding that the studio give his film back.

Luckily, Gilliam won that battle, although we still got to see the version that the hack Sid Sheinberg wanted to release on various Criterion Collections and, yes… it was absolute shite.

Anyway… it’s a nearly perfect film. Go seek it out and watch it, whether it’s Christmas or not.

PS: I’m so sorry that trailers in the 80s sucked ass…

Friday Free-for-all #22

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.

If you had a personal mascot, what would your mascot be?

This is actually a rather easy question to answer, because if I were ever to get a tattoo, it would be this animal. People who know me might think I’d say dog or wolf, but that’s not it. My choice is both more fabulous and less real.

My personal mascot would be a phoenix, not to be confused with the mythical Russian firebird (Жар-птица) or the Native American thunderbird — although the latter is considered a relative.

All three also happen to be models of cars, although to be honest the only one that’s visually appealing to me at all would be the Pontiac Firebird, especially later models — although the emblematic bird decal on the hood is a must, even though it seems to have only been a thing during the second generation in the 1970s.

But that isn’t my firebird because mine isn’t a car anyone really remembers, plus it uses fire in a different way. The Russian firebird launched its flames outward. The phoenix self-directs them.

You’ve probably heard the legend. The phoenix is a very ancient bird to begin with, but every so often, it will return to its nest, spontaneously burst into flames, and die in the fire — except that it doesn’t, and the bird is resurrected anew and young again from its own ashes.

That’s something I’ve done in my own life, metaphorically, over and over again. The phoenix regularly faces catastrophe, but survives. I hate to give any attention to a transphobic TERF idiot, but here’s a bit from the Franchise that Shall not Be Named in which a phoenix does its thing.

Certainly, the entire 2020 experience is setting me on this course again, since it managed to take away so much of what I knew and loved and did. I am finally about to sort of get back to work, most of it remotely from home, but at the same time I have, for the moment, lost live theatre, as audience and performer, as a part of my life until who knows when.

I also miss seeing friends in person, the comfort of a hug, and the warmth of a voice that comes through air instead of wires.

I have a feeling that 2020 is going to turn a lot of us into phoenixes, or at least cast us into the fire. Whether we come out of the ashes or not is entirely up to each of us, but it is always better to decide to persevere and win than it is to give up.

And if you’re having trouble dealing with the flames, reach out. Even if we can’t (well, really shouldn’t) touch physically right now, we can do it emotionally across the distance. Think now about what you’re going to be once the flames subside and you poke your head out of the ashes, comfortable in the familiar and nurturing home of your own nest, born anew to take flight on your next adventure.

Yeah. I’ll take that mascot, please.

Friday Free-for-all #20

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.

When was the last time you climbed a tree?

I don’t remember any times distinctly as an adult, although there must have been a few times in my 20s, but I do remember the last time I climbed the tree in the backyard of my parents’ house. Well, not the specific date or anything, but the general details.

I was fifteen, in high school, and had been climbing this tree since I’d been tall enough to jump up and grab the lowest strong branch. The trick was to grab this one, swing my legs up to grab it as well, then turn myself around until I was sitting on it.

From there, a couple more branches formed easy steps, and then it was a matter of finding the footholds up toward the top, which was a nice crow’s nest surrounded by foliage, about forty feet up.

The funny thing, too, was that all of the good climby parts were on the southwest part of the tree. On the north, the branches were too thin, and on the east the good ones didn’t start until too high because that was the side that grew against the wall that separated our house from the neighbors the next street over.

Part of the reason I loved to climb that tree, which was the biggest one in the yard, was the challenge of it, and I remember that it took a few years to progressively figure out and/or be brave enough to go up another level. Physical size and strength also had something to do with it.

Once I got up there, there wasn’t much of a view, since it was in the middle of a suburban housing tract made up of about four different floor plans — two single-story and two two-story — which were made to appear to be more variations by virtue of having a mirror-image of each. There were also minor differences, particularly window style and little things like that.

So the view, even from the top of the tree, was pretty much my parent’s roof, the roof of the house across the street, and the trees behind it looking west, more of the same looking east, and nothing but trees and hedges looking north and south.

But it wasn’t about the view. It was a place I could go that my parents couldn’t, somewhere I could hang out and just think and enjoy being surrounded by nature.

It was also the only climbable tree we had. The only other tree in the backyard was a plum tree my parents had planted when I was a late tween, and it was still basically a sapling even by the time I moved on to college. Likewise, the one tree in front of our house on the strip between the sidewalk and street was a plum tree and, while it had been planted when the place had been built decades earlier, plum trees just really aren’t climber friendly.

The last year that I climbed the tree in our backyard, in fact, was the same year that our next door neighbors planted their Christmas tree on the south side of their front yard, so another not-climbable thing. Twenty years later is a different story — that thing grew into a monster to rival my favorite tree in height and girth, although not in climability.

Oh, I’ve never tried, but the thing basically turned into a thick trunk and a giant primary branch that grew out of it like an arm and elbow. Maybe a good place to jump up to and sit, but otherwise like trying to climb a fat lamppost.

My favorite tree was a birch, by the way, and the last time I climbed it was one day when I was fifteen. It may have even been a while at that point since I had climbed it, but I jumped up, grabbed that faithful first branch and then swung my legs up and held on.

I made it a few more rungs up, and then hung upside-down to a higher branch I didn’t usually use to climb, but I was experimenting. This one was probably about twelve feet up, and didn’t have any branches below it.

I hung onto this one, totally trusting “my” tree and then heard a loud crack. Then I felt the fall and I swear to this day that while the trip down in reality probably took no more than two seconds, in my mind it lasted at least a minute, if not more.

I remember my distinct thoughts. “Oh fuck. I’m falling.” And then “I’m going to wind up dead under this branch and what if no one finds me?” The world really went into slow motion, and I swear that I could feel the breeze in my hair, watch the tree above me slowly recede, and then… thump.

I was lying on the ground with a large but not heavy branch on top of me, and I stayed there for a while until I realized, “Okay, I’m not dead.”

Then I went inside and left my tree-climbing days behind me. What? I had to focus on something just as risky and stupid — playing keyboards in a band, of course.

Friday Free-for-All #19

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.

If you opened a business, what kind of business would it be?

This is one of those questions I’ve known the answer to for years, and yet one which has had the parameters for actually doing it change so much in the last three months that the real answer has become something quite different.

Or, maybe not, but let’s start with the pre-plague version.

If I opened a business, it wouldn’t be so much opening my own as it would be facilitating and giving a home to something my friend Che’Rae Adams started, called the Los Angeles Writers’ Center. (LAWC.) It’s a similar idea to Playwrights Horizons in New York, although on not quite as grand a scale yet, but could get there.

In its ideal, pre-plague form, it would have served as a school, developmental center, and production/performance venue, ideally funded by grants, donors, and ticket-sales as a non-profit so that the playwrights would not have to pay tuition while the performers would be paid.

As the idea developed, I realized it would also be the perfect place to fold in ComedySportz L.A. as a second tenant in a building with multiple performance venues, allowing them to have their shows and classes as well, but as a subsidized part of the LAWC.

To go full-on insanely ambitious, those venues would be in a mixed-use commercial/residential property adjacent to a Metro station, but here’s the catch: none of those residences would be luxury properties, and none would be for sale. Instead, they would be available as very low- or no-cost rentals to the artists involved with the company below.

Income that wouldn’t accrue to the non-profit but which would cover operating expenses of the residential and commercial areas of the building would come from the very carefully selected commercial tenants resident on the first one or two floors, designed to cater to our audiences, staff, students, teachers, and artists-in-residence.

Our major goal would be diversity and inclusion, with the primary intent of presenting work written, created, and performed by artists from the BIPOC and LGPTQ+ communities. And while this doesn’t mean that we would never do Shakespeare, it does mean don’t be surprised if you see a production of Richard III set in Feudal Japan with an all-Asian cast, The Tempest recast as an African folk tale, The Scottish Play set as a struggle between native Indians and the Raj, or a First Nations and Native take on Romeo & Juliet.

But no, you would not be seeing an all-white version of The Wiz, thank you. Never, never, never, never, never!

On the other hand, a lesbian version of A Streetcar Named Desire or a gay version of A Doll’s House (with Nora as a twink who’s finally over it) or a transgender, pansexual take on Guys and Dolls could be very interesting.

But all of those are new stagings, re-imaginings, and adaptations. The real purpose and fire of the LAWC would be original works by new voices (new by exposure, not by age — we’re diverse in that way, too) developed via a collaboration of the writers, actors, directors, and dramaturgs of the LAWC, along with a series of readings to get audience feedback.

The ultimate goal is to keep creating seasons to present in our own theater.

Well, it was. The question now is whether and when live theater — or any live event in a venue that holds more than a hundred people — is ever coming back. And, if it does, is the staging going to have to be something new, different, and never before explored?

Will live theaters essentially become a stack of private boxes set in a tower of circles all the way around the stage, enclosed in glass with sound piped in, and occupancy limited to up to six members of the same household who have shown proof?

And how would that effect relative costs it tickets were per box instead of per-person? I’m sure that single theatre fans would pretty quickly revolt.

Do we instead reduce all theaters to 99 seats or less but have multiple shows per day in order to get enough people in? Or would that be too abusive to the casts, as well as forcing them to risk longer exposure times?

Do we turn all theaters into elaborate versions of Pepper’s Ghost, in essence turning the cast into real-time “holograms” to protect them from the audience and vice versa, basically using a 19th century stage trick?

Does being cast in every show from now on out require fourteen days in complete quarantine before rehearsals even start, and how is that paid according to union rules?

Are Noh theatre and Commedia dell’arte about to make a comeback because of the masks?

Too many questions, not enough answers.

I’d still like to make this business happen. I just don’t know what form it would take in the near future.

Friday Free-for-All #18

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 is the most important thing a person can do to improve themselves?

If you ever driven for more than five minutes in a big city or shopped in a crowded store, then you’ve experienced exactly what I’m going to be talking about.

A lot of people completely lack self-awareness, in ways both big and small, and this can cause problems everywhere, not just to themselves, but everyone they encounter.

Now, there are various kinds of self-awareness, and not everybody is lacking in all (or any) of them, although some people may be lacking in several. Some kinds of self-awareness are:

Spatial: This is awareness of yourself in relation to your surroundings, which includes the physical space, objects in it and, of course, other people. It comes in both static (non-moving) and kinetic (moving) varieties.

Personal: This is the meta-version of self-awareness, and indicates how aware you are of, well, how aware you are of yourself.

Intellectual: This is awareness of what you know, what you don’t know, and what you’re capable of learning. The major effect of lack of self-awareness here comes in two varieties. One is the Dunning-Kruger Effect, in which people with a low ability at something greatly over-estimate their ability. (Classic example: Florence Foster Jenkins.) The other is a variation of learned helplessness, in which case people convince themselves that they could never learn a particular subject.

Cultural: Lack of awareness here leads to cultural-blindness. That is, you are only capable of seeing your own culture and traditions as reasonable and valid, while putting down or despising others.

Emotional: This is awareness of the emotions you are expressing through body language, tone, word choice, and facial expression, as well as those that others are expressing through similar means, and the effects that each person has on the others and vice versa.

Put them all together and you get SPICE, although the order has nothing to do with the particular importance of any single element. I arranged them to create an easy mnemonic.

So why is self-awareness important?

The very simple version is that the more self-aware you are, the more aware of other people you’ll be, so you will start treating them with more courtesy and giving them more attention. This will have a positive effect on them, make them more inclined to hang around with and be pleasant to you, and might even help them further develop their self-awareness.

It becomes a positive feedback loop for all involved.

Increasing your self-awareness will also help you spot people who lack it and have the empathy to figure out how to gently steer them toward it.

I’ve got some tips on increasing your self-awareness, but first I should give some examples of what happens when people lack it.

Spatial

The most obvious example of this one is the “human blood clot” that tends to form in doorways, particularly at any kind of party that involves people standing and wandering around indoors. We’ve all experienced it. There’s a huge living room, maybe a front porch or a backyard or, if it’s an apartment, maybe a balcony.

And yet… people wind up jammed in the doorways so that nobody can easily move through them. In other places, like stores or on sidewalks, this becomes the “liquid human” phenomenon. What does that one mean? Well, any liquid will expand to fill the container it’s put into, which is why the surface of, say, that tea in your glass will always be level. (The ice, not so much, but that’s a different thing.)

In cases of store aisles or sidewalks, the expanding happens so that a single person (or a group) will manage to take up the entire width of whatever they’re walking down. In grocery stores, this happens when somebody decides to walk and stand next to their cart instead of in front of or behind. On the sidewalk, it happens when a group of friends decides to walk side to side and, inevitably, more slowly than anything else on that now blocked sidewalk.

Add a vehicle of any kind, and it just gets worse.

Personal

Again, being the meta-version, when you are not personally self-aware, you are not aware at all of any of the ways you aren’t in the others. This is the heart of the knot that will get pulled apart shortly.

Intellectual

Have you ever had a discussion (or argument) with someone who was so absolutely convinced that they were right that nothing you said could persuade them otherwise — even if they were arguing in your area of expertise and from a place of complete ignorance? If you haven’t, just go check out a science discussion group and wait for a flat-earther or anti-vaxxer to show up.

This is an example of someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know. They assume that they have insight to knowledge that the experts don’t, and so no matter how many facts or how much data you throw at them, they “know” the truth because (fill in utter gobbledygook here.)

Now, have you ever tried to teach someone something, no matter how simple, only to watch their eyes glaze over, their palpable confusion, and their finally quitting in frustration? This is the opposite end of the same lack of self-awareness: the inability to realize what you can learn because you’re convinced you can’t. A lot of people have this block over things like math or foreign languages, but they don’t need to.

Cultural

This is probably the most dangerous kind of lack of self-awareness, and if you’ve ever heard someone berate a stranger, telling them “Speak English!” then you’ve run across one manifestation of it. This is the belief that the culture someone grew up in is the only one that exists, or that should exist, and that every other culture needs to blend in and vanish.

And note that these people are not exclusively U.S. citizens. I’m just using them as the example I know the best, but the same thing definitely happens in Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa, and all of the Americas.

Needless to say, these people have never tried to move into another culture or, if they did, will hypocritically insist that they be accommodated — and there’s a nice circle for you. At home: “How dare you not speak my language and respect my religion!” Abroad: “Why don’t you all speak my language and respect my religion?”

See that disconnect? And, while far rarer it still happens, the flip side of this one is inappropriate cultural appropriation — dressing white kids up as “Indians” (cough… Native Americans) for Thanksgiving programs, white kids trying to speak in Ebonics, white nerds going all mecha-weeaboo, etc.

I personally saw this in one of my favorite college professors, who was as liberal as hell and didn’t have a racist bone in her body. However, she had spent her graduate year abroad in India to study theatre history — that part was quite valid — but came back dressed like a Rani, or at least like a Bollywood star — sarongs for days, hair dyed black, kohl and bindi. She was also fond of often tossing the aside, “I’ve been to India, you know.”

By the way, I dropped by campus about ten years after graduation to learn two things: One, she was actually a lot younger than I’d thought at 18. Two, she was actually blonde, and had by this point reverted to white culture, although more of a late Edwardian mode, like she’s watched way too many Merchant Ivory films.

Emotional

Emotionally unaware people will often behave aggressively without realizing it, either by raising their voices, gesturing, or using particular words. They also often react inappropriately to the emotional responses of others, and misinterpret those responses. Now, emotional self-awareness is the area that autistic people naturally have difficulty with, and I am by no means including them in the “Hey, you need to get self-aware” crowd. Theirs is a different issue, and one that they probably can’t magically fix themselves. But otherwise, people can. It’s just that this one probably only follows when the others are dealt with first.

So… how do I become more self-aware? I’m glad you asked.

Developing Spatial Awareness

Performing artists develop this skill in the course of learning their craft, whether it’s acting, dancing, singing, or playing an instrument. So, obviously, those are great ways to develop spatial awareness but, of course, not everyone is inclined to be a performer.

You can still develop the skills, though. The reason that performing artists have to be so aware is because they are generally working with other people or, if they’re doing a solo bit, they’re still working with the space they’re in. That’s because they have to interact with that space and the objects and people in it, and often with very precise timing.

If they didn’t, you’d see a lot of dropped ballerinas, or actors colliding when they weren’t supposed to, or props flying all over the place.

To develop this sense in real life, take some time each day to pay very close attention to where  you are, what it feels like when you’re still and when you’re moving, and to things around you. You can start at home in a very familiar room, and walk around it with intention.

Later, try this in a less familiar or strange public place, preferably one with not a lot of people around. Pay attention to how you move, what path you wind up taking and why. Whenever you find yourself stopping, take a look at where you’ve stopped and, again, ask yourself why you stopped there. Also look around to see whether you’re blocking a path for anyone else.

Finally, go into a room at home that you’re very familiar with, look around for thirty seconds, then leave that room, go someplace you can’t see into it, then write down as many things as you can remember from that space, starting in one corner and working your way around so that everything appears pretty much in the order it’s in the room.

Take as long as you want, then go back to the room and see how many things you got, how many you missed, and how accurate you were in the relationships or locations.

Extra credit: Learning improv is an incredible tool for developing self-awareness in all areas. Now, I know that performing and actually doing improv is not for everyone, but a lot of improv companies do offer workshops for non-performers that teach techniques specifically to improve skills at listening, spatial awareness, interpersonal relationships, and so on.

Developing Personal Awareness

The best part about this one is that it comes with development of the rest, although you should be constantly checking in to take inventory of the progress you’ve made, why it worked, how it made you feel, and what you want to do next. Again, this is the meta-awareness part.

Developing Intellectual Awareness

Pick a skill and learn one new thing in that area per day. The great part is that we now live in an age where tutorials and free lesson plans and all kinds of educational opportunities are available on our computers and devices, right in the comfort of our own home.

If you want to learn a language, for example, Duolingo is a great start, and you only need to devote a few minutes a day to it. It’s also free with very non-obtrusive ads which you can eliminate for a small fee.

There’s also Khan Academy, which offers courses in all kinds of subjects, again all free. They cover STEM topics, Arts & Humanities, History, Computing, and Economics. They do seem to be lacking in social sciences and languages, but those are also available if you search.

I was terrible at math as a student but figured I’d never need it as an adult — until I did. But it was then that I realized I wasn’t bad at math. My teachers were just bad at teaching it.

That’s why Common Core is actually a good thing (sorry, nay-saying parents) — because it teaches math in more than one way. Some kids are going to understand the old school, rote, “this is how it’s done” method. Others aren’t going to get that, but are going to latch right on to alternative methods that work, even if they confuse adults.

It’s the same thing with learning on your own online: You get to find the method that works for you, and suddenly come to the awareness that it was never your inability to learn. It was that you were being taught in the wrong way.

Some people are visual learners (here are some graphs and videos!), some people are auditory learners (listen to this!), and others will only get it if they read it (turn to page 42!) Schools tend to focus on one method, usually the one preferred by the teacher, and the other kids get left behind.

You’re an adult. You don’t need to get left behind, and you can learn what you want to. So go for it!

Bonus points: Remember the “listing things in the room” exercise for developing spatial awareness? This can also help you improve your memory, because it is the basis for a technique called the Memory Palace, which has enabled people to do ridiculous things like remember the order of a deck of cards after one pass through it.

Think you can’t remember things? You can teach yourself to do so, and use that as a method to help with all the other things you’ve decided to learn on your own. The most important thing to remember: We don’t stop living until we stop learning.

Developing Cultural Awareness

This can be the most difficult one of all, because it requires listening to yourself very carefully as well as listening to others in order to uncover your own hidden biases, or just phrases you use that can be taken in the wrong way.

Some people would deride this as “being PC,” but I’d prefer to think of it as “not being an insensitive jerk.” Some of the examples might seem quite innocuous, but they can have an impact.

For example, have you or anyone you know said something like, “The wolf is my spirit animal?” It can be a pretty common expression among white people, and we don’t intend any disrespect. The idea we’re trying to express is “This is the animal I most identify with.”

Okay, fine — but you’re doing it in terms that, to Native Americans, are very explicitly tied up in their religion. Imagine someone from a non-Christian culture saying something like, “For me, curry is the Body of Christ and tea is his Blood.”

Yeah, that would piss off a lot of Christians, conservative or not.

So… don’t do it to Native Americans and First Nations people.

Luckily, you had a white woman give you a perfectly acceptable alternative that comes right out of your own modern pop culture. Try saying instead, “The wolf is my patronus.”

Boom. Same idea, not offensive.

And there are other problematic expressions. For example, saying, “Yeah, my boss is a slave-driver.” Oh, really? You mean that he or she literally owns your ass, beats you regularly, doesn’t pay you anything, and might even keep you actually chained to your desk?

Or is it that she or he sometimes asks you to work late or come in on a weekend, and gives you extra assignments when you’re already busy? But you could quit any time you wanted to and just walk away without being hunted down by dogs and/or an angry lynch mob?

Yeah. Don’t say “slave-driver.” Try “task-master.” Or you could to for the ultimate diverse word, “asshole,” since everybody has one. Or… just realize that almost every boss does exactly what your boss does, and you’re not special.

You’re certainly not suffering like someone who was forcibly taken from their home and family, put in chains and sold to the highest bidder if they survived the trip across the Atlantic.

But, again, the goal here is listening to your words and deciding for yourself whether they could be taken as culturally insensitive. And there are more of them than you might think. Hell, at least one of them is still available in your grocer’s freezer case today.

This is another way in which improv helps. At my company, ComedySportzLA (and at all CSz companies in general), we have something called the “Brown Bag Foul,” in keeping with the sports theme, and it’s called if anyone — player or audience — says anything rude, crude, offensive, R-rated, or otherwise not family friendly.

And yes, awareness of it does keep us on our toes and very conscious of not taking the low road or the cheap shot. Although there is one big irony in it all — that brown bag itself could be construed as connected to yet another racist blast from the past.

Like I said: this is the most difficult one because it requires constant listening.

Developing Emotional Awareness

The funny thing about Emotional Awareness (aka emotional intelligence) is that most lists of how to develop it include “Developing Self-Awareness” as one of the most important steps involved. The rest depend on your preferred learning method, so chose from one of the links in this paragraph, or search for your own path.

And this was never meant to be this long, but it’s a big subject. Happy Friday, and happy self-awareness!

Friday Free-for-All #17

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 are two things you’ll never spend money on?

I do consider myself frugal, but I don’t think of myself as cheap. There is a difference. Someone who’s frugal will look for the best deal and, if that means spending a little more now to save later, I will make the trade. Someone who’s cheap will just go right for the least expensive version of whatever — which does wind up costing more in the long-run.

Now, I am a fan of the 99-Cent Store, because I do know that buying the right things there does save you money. That’s because a lot of the stuff you can get is going to be single-use anyway, like party supplies or gift-wrap, or cheap tchotchkes. They’re also great for dishes, glassware, mugs, and non-mechanical kitchen tools, like measuring cups.

On the other hand, there are things to not buy there, some because they’re just crap, and others because they’re not really cheaper. I mean, that 10 oz. bottle of shampoo at the 99 really isn’t a better deal than the 10 oz. $1.99 bottle at the grocery store, you know?

I also like thrift shops, bust mainly because you can find unique things you won’t find anywhere else, and for cheap. For example, I have a room mood-light that’s actually an old X-ray light box from some medical clinic that cost me, believe it not, all of $30 once upon a time. I also have a full-size, 3×5 cloth California State Flag — $5 at a thrift shop, at least $40 to $50 new at the time, and who knows how much now.

So home décor, used clothing, books, DVDs, and random whatnots from Thrift shops are great deals.

And dog knows that in my day, I’ve certainly spent a ton on all kinds of electronics, particularly if they were related to computers, tech, or musical instruments. In fact, I’ve owned exactly as many synthesizers as I have cars — although I still have all of the synths and only one of the cars — and needless to say the number of computers and printers I’ve gone through probably outnumber both.

So what won’t I spend my money on? Well, a no-brainer is that I won’t donate it to political candidates I don’t agree with, but that’s true of everyone, so I’m not going to count it. And I really can’t say I won’t spend my money on cigarettes or other forms of tobacco because, while that’s certainly true now, at one point in my life it wasn’t, to my great detriment and shame.

But two things do stand out and, oddly enough, in the future, it may be easy enough — or even impossible — for any of us to spend a lot on one of these. I’d like to hope that it would also become at least unnecessary if not impossible for the other.

I was going to originally define the first as “sporting events,” but then realized that, for me, it’s a little bit broader than that, and there are a few parts to it.

One is that I don’t really like being at any event that takes place in a gigantic arena full of screaming and frequently drunk people. Hell, I don’t like doing that in even a small venue — a little ironic because I used to be a musician in a band, but at least we only ever played only the smallest of venues.

Second is that I’m not really that big enough fan of any group or band to want to deal with their fans to see them play live in less-than-ideal acoustic situations when I can just listen to the studio version at home.

The only exceptions are when I know someone in the band, but that’s most likely going to be in a small club anyway.

Third is that I really have less than zero interest in sports, which take place mostly in arenas, but I can extend that to non-arena places, like race tracks.

Oddly enough, the one time in my life I went to the horse races, I did enjoy it, and made a little money betting, but I didn’t pay for the trip and, given what I’ve learned about horse mortality rates in the pursuit, I never will.

This kind of brings me to the third part of my disdain, and those are events that take place in large areas that are not arenas and not concerts, but which still attract gigantic crowds of seemingly oblivious people. (Hint: county fairs.)

Again, I only went to one of these once, it was a paid-for company trip, and I hated every damn second of it. Everything was over-priced, most of the visitors would probably go on to be future MAGAts, it was mobility scooter galore, the only healthy food I could find in the whole place was a $12 smoothie, and it boggled my mind that the city of Los Angeles was even a part of this County.

So, what to call it? I won’t spend money on mass events of the “bread and circuses” variety. No sport, no arena shows, no… well, you get the idea, I hope.

The other thing I will never spend money on? Guns. Well, guns, bullets, things that shoot, arms. That kind of thing. For one thing, I don’t need them. They’re expensive, they’re only designed to kill, and when it comes to self-defense, oh, don’t worry. I’m well-stocked in that regard. I’m just not going to advertise it.

And yes, I actually have fired guns, doing target practice, and yes, it was fun and exciting to do so. The feeling of that kick in your hand, followed the “thwap” of the bullet hitting the target is powerful.

But, for me, it was really only a power I needed over some paper targets stuck up on a dirt berm on a friend’s family ranch in the middle of nowhere. Over a person? Nah. Never. There are betters methods of defense.

I have two very direct contacts with guns in my life, both of which oddly enough involve my father. In the first, I’m in my early teens, and discover, in a cardboard box on the top shelf of the linen closet at the end of the hall, two of his war-time souvenirs: a small pair of binoculars and a service revolver.

Both of them have taken on a green patina since they were decades old by this point, but I sneak them out of the box and into my room because — teenage boy, interesting shit.

The revolver is not loaded, which I confirm by figuring out how to swing open the cylinder by pulling the release at the front of the frame, then spinning it to see that all six chambers are empty. Then closing it back up, cocking the cylinder, and… click.

In my mind, my interest is more historical than anything else. Why did my dad have a gun in the war? What did he see through the binoculars? Did he ever kill anyone?

When I got bored, they went back into the box, and I thought nothing of it until later, when I went back up to grab them a year or two later and… gone. The binoculars were still there, but the gun had vanished.

I never said anything to my parents about it, and they never said anything either, but I would guess that it was my mother who told my father, “Get rid of this” once they figured out I’d found it.

My other gun story with my dad takes place near the end of his life. Mom was long dead and, to be brutally honest, my father was always a racist fuck. Fortunately, I escaped that by growing with such diverse friends that I didn’t even have any idea that race, religion, native language, gender, or whatever was even a thing.

Dad, not so much.

So… around the turn of the century and just before Alzheimer’s swooped in, he one day proudly pulled out a fancy walnut box, opened it, and showed me the gun he’d bought. It was a 9 mm, I forget what stupid amount he told me he paid, but then he told me he’d obtained it in case the (record scratch… oh, Dad, fuck no, you did not just say… Oh shit. You did.) showed up.

Yeah, my dad was fucking racist as hell, and now he was armed. And all I could think was, “Okay, how long is it going to be before I see him on the news being arrested for shooting the mailman?”

It got worse as his dementia ascended, and especially when he started accusing me  of suddenly materializing in the middle of the street with my friends and having loud parties in the middle of the night when I’d been nowhere near the house.

And then he landed in the hospital for the first of the last two extended stays, well into his 80s, and on one of my visits, he was simultaneously hallucinating the presence of an old fellow officer named Larry and sincerely telling me where in the house his gun was, then asking me to go get it, bring the box to the hospital, set it next to the bed and leave so that he could blow his brains out.

That was, of course, a hard “fuck no, Dad.” Ironically, in one of the last conversations I had with my half-sister who stole everything later, I told her what he told me, and she did to that gun what Mom and Dad had done to his service revolver when I’d found it, even though I’d never expressed any interest at all in shooting myself or anyone else.

But there you go. Sports/Stupid Crowd Evens and Guns will never get my money. And you?