Wednesday, December 31, 2008

End of 2008. I was reading through obituaries today and realized that many people I thought had died last year in fact died in 2008. If I can’t remember the simple things how am I supposed to remember the big things? Like pomegranate seeds when I go shopping. My daughter loves pomegranate seeds. And olives. And capers. She will inevitably grow into someone who likes her martini shaken and not stirred. Pinter is the biggest loss. From a purely practical view he was finished writing and directing and seemed only to be a happy husband, a singular achievement in itself. It seems he was a less happy father. Not for any of us equally inadequate fathers to judge, of course, but we feel that pain more strongly than for other attachments. There would have been no more plays and no more productions but it is the absence that hurts regardless of productivity. My father and mother are decades past any kind of providing for their children but their inevitable loss looms ever greater as the days pass. That is the great absence for all of us. Paul Newman is gone, though not Hud or Cool Hand Luke – What we have here is a failure to communicate – or the great good he did. I realize that somewhere an architect is mourning the passing of some practitioner of his or her trade while I mourn those of mine. Oddly, I was sitting having coffee with an English director the day before Pinter’s funeral, which he was attending the next day after his long flight home, and we were joined by the granddaughter of Robert Shaw. The toilet of the house where my friend was staying blocked up while I was there and I ended my visit with a plunger in my hand. Los Angeles is a strange place.
One of my last memories of 2008 is of a visit to a bookstore with my daughter. We had been at the pictures as we old fogeys call films, an entertaining piece of fluff that will sit with me for about a nanosecond. To my great joy my daughter had asked before the film if we could go to the bookstore afterwards. The cinema is in an outdoor mall of faux splendor though its very outdooriness puts it above the great gaggle of indoor concrete monsters which generally send me into a mild catatonia in seconds. And it has a decent enough bookstore though they are all giant warehouses these days. My daughter knows the mall and the bookstore and she ran – yes, ran – to the bookstore after the film and scrambled up the escalators and straight to the kids’ department. I found myself leafing through an Esquire magazine reading an interview with Clint Eastwood where he dropped pearls of wisdom about self reliance and how the US has become a place where everybody sues because they fell down or burned their finger or got caught in the rain and I found myself agreeing with him. I looked up to find my daughter – she’s seven – sitting on the floor reading from several books in turn and I realized that I had succeeded in the one thing that I believed I needed to achieve for my daughter. Well, to help my daughter achieve. She can read. I always knew she would walk and, unlike most of the other proud parents who hover as their children take their first tentative steps and glow with unearned pride, I found that whole walking thing tedious. They fall over, you pick them up. They fall over, you pick them up. I admit that her first steps – I remember them well, they were to the accompaniment of India Arie’s “Brown Skin” and I howled with love and enthusiasm – were glorious but I find most of the developmental stages are more of a relief than anything else. You fear they will never sit up, eat solid food, walk, talk and so on and the overarching emotion for me is relief when they do. But reading, oh, that’s something else entirely. Because they have to work at it, it’s not instinctive. Our house, particularly when she was little, was engulfed in books. (We did some “work” on the house and now a lot of the books are out of sight, which is lovely in many ways but I miss them sometimes. I often visit them in the room downstairs). We read to her, we read when in her vicinity, we took her to the bookstore so she could see where books came from and that we took great care in selecting books for her and let her choose her own books from very early on. Reading is the key to the world. I genuinely believed – and believe still – that even if my child comes to ignore me (which she will, but only for a decade or so if I am lucky) or even to dislike me and blame me for whatever ills befall her and refuses to acknowledge anything good I have done for her, I have given her the world. She can now learn anything she needs to learn. Worlds have opened for her and she can disappear from this one and reappear in someone else’s. In Narnia. In Middle Earth. In Tsarist Russia. In deepest Africa. In shallowest California. And so, in this year that brought us one of the great moments in American History, that, almost, sees the end of one of the most disastrous eras in that history; in this uncertain economic time, this era of shrinking, my daughter can read. For her, now, there is the possibility of expansion, of growing, of becoming more. She can read. She has genuine autonomy and she really can know more than her parents. I cannot think of anything that has given me greater joy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I want to write something about Obama’s election and find that I am simultaneously devoid of thought and overwhelmed by its significance. When the radio announcer declared that Obama had won Pennsylvania and, therefore, given the election to Obama, it was a few minutes after five on Tuesday afternoon. I was pulling into the drive through of In ‘N’ Out burger and my daughter and her friend were in the back seat of the car. My daughter and her friend always have the same things. Cheeseburger, just the meat, cheese and bun, one has a lemonade the other a milk shake. Chocolate, appropriately enough. I always have a strawberry shake and refused to change to chocolate even for Obama. Remember, I was in a drive through, one of the least ecologically sound things a person can do. Despite my enthusiastic, emotional, gut churning vote for Obama on Tuesday morning I was still a polluter and a fruit drinker. We waited an hour to vote, mingled with the neighbors, knew that the world was about to change. Yes, despite the fact that the three of us in that car, in that line of cars at the burger joint, were doing exactly what we had done on our previous visits, despite the fact that the sun would go down at its predicted time, that declaration of Obama’s win in Pennsylvania, denying McCain his only path to victory, changed our lives forever. I wept. The burgers came, the fries came, the shakes came and they were as good as ever, those unchangingly excellent products of In ‘N’ Out and the world shifted on its axis.
When the call was made that Obama had won – after the polls closed on the West coast - the TV flashed pictures of Grant Park in Chicago where two hundred thousand people gathered to await Obama’s acceptance speech. In the frame, almost completely filling it, was an African American woman who had collapsed and was doubled over on her knees weeping uncontrollably. It was an entirely appropriate response, the only one possible, perhaps. The sheer weight of history, the unfathomable reality that the United States of America, a country whose Constitution enumerated the value of an African as three fifths of a human being, a country that had beaten and raped and shackled millions upon millions of Africans and their descendants, whose Capitol was built by slaves, whose shining city on a hill was polished by black hands, had elected an African American as its President. Collapse and the mingling of joy and grief, tears for the finest hour and the lost souls, this inevitably and unavoidably adulterated euphoria, these are what I will remember from Tuesday November the fourth two thousand and eight. And my daughter filling in a map of the states with red and blue dots to note the way each state had voted and her falling asleep as Obama came to the microphone. What we forget is that the emancipation of the slaves, the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, freed us all. Before he got those two acts through Congress, Lyndon Johnson spoke to the nation about civil rights. The speech was televised and Martin Luther King Jr. and his aides gathered to watch it. Johnson was not a great prepared speaker but his words were strong and forceful and he talked of the marchers and of the song that they sang – We Shall Overcome – and he ended the speech with those words, “We shall overcome”. To hear the American President speak those words to a country mired in the horrors of the civil rights struggle, to say to a vastly white population that they would now have to accept all Americans as their equals under the law by quoting that song was as momentous as Obama’s election, possibly more so. In his seat in the corner of the room where he watched the speech Martin Luther King wept. On this day he would have wept again, a mixture of grief and joy and, perhaps, have thought for at least one shining moment, We Have Overcome.

Monday, August 4, 2008


This is the last day on which my daughter’s age is the square root of my age. I have realized this just today, so have only a few hours in which to contemplate it. Tomorrow, August 5th 2008, I turn fifty. The square root of fifty is something with too many digits I suspect. Besides contemplating the ratio of my daughter’s age to mine I suppose I should be contemplating the Great Moments Of My Life. Or the Moments That Changed My Life or Shaped My Life. It’s all quite accidental probably though I do detect a certain pattern, not of deliberate Fate but of certain opportunities taken and certain pitfalls avoided. The opportunities missed and the pitfalls into which I have fallen, let us pass over. I have a habit of going back to seemingly quite small incidents. I was living in London and had been fired from a job (yet again) and went in search of something to pay the rent. I interviewed for a short term position overseeing a painting competition. Of course they asked if I had any experience in fine art or painting (the two, presumably, not necessarily coinciding) and I said I did not. Because I needed a job quickly I took the first offered, working in a wine bar in Covent Garden. The painting people called back, to my astonishment, and offered me the job there. I would have much preferred to spend my time with artists and because I have a knack for convincing people that I am competent, even truly efficient and dedicated, I imagine I would have found myself immersed in the world of London Fine Art. I might even have stayed in that grey and lovely city, though the UK at the time was a place of anger and violence, most of it perpetrated by the government and I was exceedingly unhappy there. So I served the avaricious new Conservatives their Rioja, a word none of them could pronounce, and planned to get out.
My first memory is of visiting my Uncle Bill on his deathbed. I didn’t know it was his deathbed, I was just doing my duty, but he died soon after. Bill and Aunt Alice gave me a child’s knife and fork. Which had blue handles. I like to think that having this as a first memory has shaped my life. I’m sure that’s nonsense, but nonsense is as true as anything else. My big brother mentioned something about the street where I was born while I was home this year. I thought I couldn’t remember anything about the three years we lived on that street but he mentioned a neighbor who used to cut our hair with hand clippers. I had this sudden surge of memory. Hughie Cooney was that neighbor and we used to play in some old abandoned houses at the top of the street, on the Stratford Road. We called them the haunted houses. We used old mattresses as trampolines and played Doctor. Hughie’s kids, Mick and Veronica, were always there. They knocked those houses down and built apartments. Even though they went up about forty years ago I still call them the new flats. Veronica is now terminally ill I learned on this trip. I am still trying to accept that. I think we were bouncing on a pretend trampoline about ten minutes ago.
When I’m home I usually stop in to the church I attended as a kid, where my mom and dad still go. I always have a very strong memory as I pass the priests’ house next door of standing on the semi-circular step in front of that house waiting for the housekeeper to open the door to our ring of the bell. My mom and I that is. I’d told mom and dad that I wanted to be a priest and so we went to see the parish priest, Canon Hirrel, a large, intimidating Englishman – you have to remember everybody where we lived was Irish, maybe an Indian or Pakistani or a West Indian family or two, but mostly Irish – and Hirrel was doubly intimidating, being educated and an Englishman. No one can talk down to others like a pseudo-educated English Catholic priest when dealing with Irish people straight off the boat. I loved the story of My Uncle Pakey, one of those single men who stood at the back of the church, ready for the run out the church door to the pub as soon as communion started, and the Sunday that Canon Hirrel approached him and the group of similarly single and thirsty men at the back. At Hirrel’s insistence the others had moved into the pews but Pakey stood his ground and Hirrel insisted one more time – Mr. Lee, please take a seat. Pakey hitched up his trousers and uttered the immortal phrase – Bollocks to you, Canon – and left the premises. My mother and I were ushered into the presence of the man defeated by my uncle, though I knew nothing then of the incident. He was delighted I felt I had a vocation. He suggested I take the exam for a boarding school in Staffordshire, fifty or so miles from home, where I would be educated while being groomed for the priesthood. As I remember he had gone there. So I did and passed with flying colors (where does that phrase come from, the Navy?). I learned Latin, the Catechism, that people can be inordinately cruel to each other and equally kind. That there is no way to describe the feeling of homesickness a boy has who faces the privations of a down at heel boarding school which delivers far less of an education than it promises and far more punishment and belittlement than most people we know have experienced. Or maybe they have, but at least it was at the hands of their parents whose job it is to kick us while we are down.
Maybe a life should be measured in jobs. One of my first and still most hated was in a car silencer warehouse. After leaving the school of Latin and belittlement, before starting college. I remember my first pay packet was eighteen pounds and forty six pence. I loathed almost everybody there and was loathed in return. When one foreman threatened to fire me I begged him to do so. He didn’t in the end. I have packed razor blades. Changed light bulbs. Cleaned toilets. Picked fruit. Sold tickets. Cleaned dishes. Cooked burgers. Worked for a lobbyist. Moved furniture. Worked in law offices, insurance companies, schools. Been a publicist. Worked in bars. Worked construction. Worked for an animation company. Painted houses. At the razor blade plant the foreman, looking disappointedly at a group of us working a packing machine and failing even in that, said, “I’ve worked this machine, a monkey could do this job”. I said, fearing that I would regret it forever if I did not say it, “Well, you’re proof of that.” Next job was laying cable for cable TV. I liked that job. I worked in administration for a theatre and became great friends with the manager there. We went drinking a lot. One morning he said – that drink last night went straight to my head. I replied – Well, Nature abhors a vacuum. He is still my closest friend. He interviewed me for the job because he thought a man named Lee must be Chinese and it would look good on the affirmative action/racial diversity report. He makes me laugh like no other person on earth. I gave up a perfectly good job changing light bulbs to go into theatre. I’d even unionized the light bulb changers – yes, there were several of us. They make a good wage now and have fabulous benefits. I have never loved anything as much as the theatre. It has given me everything valuable, including two of my wives. And with one of them I have become a father and loved another human being more than I ever thought was possible.
I am building a shed in the back yard. That’s what I will be doing on my fiftieth birthday. With help from a friend or two. It is almost beyond imagining that I live in Los Angeles, that I own a house here, that I am enjoying building a shed. I will look forward to my daughter’s coming home and my wife’s return from work and I will have dinner with them and a friend or two and a glass of wine or two. I have said, now and again, that if I had had my life to choose, I would almost certainly have chosen this one.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Political Gold

Tony Shwarz died today. You have probably never heard of him and yet he has had a profound affect on your life. He created the single most famous political advertisement ever made. It was in 1964 and in the United States Lyndon Johnson was running for President against Barry Goldwater. Johnson was the incumbent by virtue of the death of John Kennedy and Goldwater was that creature that would one day run the US, a radical conservative. The Republican Party, whose banner Goldwater carried, had been something of a mildly socially conservative party with a strongly conservative fiscal policy. From a liberal point of view they had some attractive qualities - such as a reasonable approach to race relations compared to Southern Democrats. Goldwater, however, was something else. A crusading anti-Soviet hawk, he was known to boast of his willingness to wage nuclear war against the US's greatest enemy. Schwarz created what is known as "the Daisy ad". In it, a little girl pulls petals off of a daisy, counting them as she does so. A stentorian man's voice, treated with a slight echo effect, superimposes itself and we realize he is counting down rather than up, in contrast to the little girl. In the background we see the image of a nuclear weapon exploding. This ad, which ran once, is still considered the threshold moment of so-called negative politics. There was such a reaction to it that it was pulled immediately. If you have never seen it , you should, it still carries a hefty wallop. Though it was attacked as beyond the pale, Johnson went on to win the election in 1964 by the largest margin ever.

We are about to enter another general election here in the US and I am waiting with baited breath for the ads. I like to think of myself as someone who is not swayed by such messages, but that's probably because I make my mind up very early and do not waver. Admittedly, had Clinton won the nomination I would be voting Green, but I'm a reliable liberal Democratic voter, so it's Obama. What if I were undecided though? What would influence me? Would Schwarz's ad have made me think Goldwater was a nutcase? I watch that now and think about the "coding" in it, the unspoken nuance, the perceived message. Will I see and hear ads that are coded references to Obama's race? Already there is blatant reference to McCain's unsuitability because of his age. Is that fair? As someone pointed out recently, given the choice between two candidates, one of whom had been a Representative for five terms, a Senator for ten years, Secretary of Stae and Ambassador to Britain, the other a member of the Illinois legislature, whom would you choose? The first describes James Buchanan, one of the worst Presidents ever, the second describes Abraham Lincoln. The opposite might equally be true. What if Obama really is an empty suit? There's a notion - which actually holds true to some degree - that really bright people make bad presidents. Roosevelt, for instance was no intellectual and Woodrow Wilson was. Obama is very, very bright. I hope he's also smart.

I am always wrong in my political predictions but I'm going to risk this anyway - the moment John McCain lost the 2008 Presidential election occurred on Tuesday June 3rd. He gave a very bad - and badly received - speech. The Great Losing Moment was when he began complaining that Barack Obama was calling a McCain Presidency "a third Bush term". McCain complained, "why does he insist on saying this over and over?" Here's something Lyndon Johnson understood and John Kerry didn't - he complained about the "Swift Boat Veterans For Truth" ads - never, ever, complain about the opposition's ads or their comments about you. Always respond with a more vicious and more wounding ad or comment. And, so,ladies and gentlemen, I give you President Obama by a landslide.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mail and male

I've been fetching my mail from my home every day and carrying it to the house where my family and I have been staying for the last three months. In case you're all thinking that some sort of war or ethnic cleansing has been taking place in Echo Park, Los Angeles, worry not. We've been having our kitchen renovated or redone or remodeled. I'm a guy. A cabinet's a cabinet. Actually, the kitchen is quite lovely. Mind you, there is a sort of ethnic cleansing going on but it's entirely economic. I found out today how much the developers of a block of condominiums is asking for the cheapest of their wares. Now, be aware that Echo Park was, even when we moved in seven years ago, a questionable neighborhood. You still hear gunfire often enough to believe that you live in a really cool area. These condos are going for $750 000 at the low end. Anyway, the mail, the post, the old fashioned envelope and enclosure. I remember when I was hugely excited at the arrival of the mail. I have lived much of my adult life a long way from the place I was born and grew up and, despite these distances, have kept in very close touch with my family and all of my old friends. A letter, that thing written in pen, stuffed into an envelope and sent thousands of miles - to Israel, Athens, Istanbul - was a link to what I still consider home. All those crossings out and indecipherable phrases were somehow heartfelt and all that manual labor just to get thoughts down on paper and then a stamp stuck on it takes it all that way, just to tell someone that mom is OK, dad's fit, your best friend from school got arrested, got married, had a kid, even got a job. I'd read those letters over and over just because they came from home and even though I had no desire to live back there again and all the people I would see only once in a very great while, it mattered that I knew where they were and who they were with. Of course, it still matters, but now there's e-mail. Instant messaging, Facebook. And I love e-mail. I just got back in touch with a friend from my last year of living in England - an unending year of misery that encompassed the Falklands war, but, as ever, good friends were made. I love the internet and its instantaneous effect. However I miss the envelope and the ink and the emotional impact that a letter has. When I go to the mail box now I dread the bills because that's about all that comes that I don't immediately throw away. I could write letters myself and I occasionally do but the electronic vice is hard to break.

I had another brush with youth and all that we half remember the other day. I saw a picture of Medvedev and Putin being installed as dictators of the New Democratic Russia - don't you just love how the Russians just love being told what to do - and they were framed alone against a massive set of red carpet-lined steps. Most significantly, they were both wearing suits that looked as though they didn't fit. That was the most noticeable thing about the Old Russians - Brezhnev, Gromyko etc., other than the blood on their hands - they wore the worst looking clothes. After selling off the oil, gas, coal, trees, dirt, tractors, newspapers, television stations, all the radio and all the radio spectrum, all the false teeth, all the garden hoes, all the uranium, gold,diamond mines ..... you'd think they could get better tailors. Is it some Hillary Clinton-like ploy - Hey, I'm just like you, look, I wear crappy suits, too (Hill wears pantsuits, of course because she's embarrassed by her ankles). Maybe it's a reminder that Russia is now back where it was, ruled by a few ex-KGB hatchet men and the suits are simply an outward sign of that.

I noticed something else today while I was looking at Facebook. I tried to hate Facebook because it has an intrusive quality to it but now I find it's a bit like those old library index catalogues where everything was on 3x5 cards and you'd be searching for "Darwin, On the Origin of Species" (note correct title, significant, for any creationist morons out there). Before you got to Darwin you'd hit some intriguing title and it would make you wonder if that book might be just as interesting as Darwin, who was very, very interesting let's admit. The most significant thinker/scientist of the last thousand years. But then I, quite seriously. consider Elvis Presley to be the most significant artist of the twentieth century. Note the use of the word, "significant". Not "greatest" (though he may well have been). Not "deepest". Just "significant". So, I'm looking at Facebook, where you can make these odd connections because someone happens to know someone who knows someone else and I notice that "cl" in the font the site uses closely resembles the letter"d". At least to my aging eyes. Here's what I saw: "Reach your customers before they start searching. Pay per click." However in their font it looks like "Pay per dick". I must now retire and ponder this.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In all the horror of the Austrian father who imprisoned his own children, born of his own daughter, I find myself thinking of the power of the songs that stay in your head even if you don't want them to. I have to assume that this is all part of my not wanting to think about what went on in that house for all those years. It was reported that Herr Fritzl, the father/grandfather, was an "electrical engineer with interests in property management and retail underwear". So, like that awful song that sticks in your head, I will always think of Fritzl as the man who imprisoned his children and had a side interest in retail underwear. I noticed, also, that the children hidden in the basement were reported never to have been to school "or a disco". In what world does the notion of freqenting discos (are there any discos anywhere anymore?) automatically follow the shock of learning that a child has never been to school? Surely the next thought is about the child's health, or the child's ability to speak or interact with others. No, The Times of London is most interested in how a child will cope with a world he/she has never seen given that he/she has never been to a disco. How will the child cope? I mean, getting over the awful health problems, the psychological earthquakes, that's all fairly straight forward, but how does one cope with a lack of Gloria Gaynor? Who writes these articles? And how did every newspaper sink to the level of the Sun or the National Inquirer?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

How's it hanging?

The United States Supreme Court ruled the other day that a method of execution using injections of three chemicals is constitutional. There have been questions whether the first of these drugs renders the condemned sufficiently insensitive to pain and so avoids any possibility that the punishment is "cruel and unusual". The ruling does not surprise me in the least. Perhaps the truly significant moment in the report I heard was that during oral arguments in another death penalty case in which one of the anti death penalty lawyers talked about certain historical barbarities and the unfortunate frequency of judicial killings in the past, Antonin Scalia exclaimed, gleefully according to the reporter, "you mean the way it used to be?" We'll get back to Scalia in a moment, but first let's examine an interview that followed the Court decision. It was with an official from the state of Georgia which has, if I remember correctly, a hundred and seven inmates on death row. She said that the ruling meant that Georgia could now resume its execution schedule and begin dealing with "the backlog". After that beautifully expressed and deeply humane response she responded to the interviewer's next question about when exactly the "process" would begin. Well, she said, she was not certain. There are certain rules and protocols that have to be examined and a certain rigor employed in light of all the challenges to the death penalty, just so Georgia does not fall foul of that awkward little thing, The Constitution (my interpretation, of course, she said much more politic and evasive things). Now, here's my favorite moment: she told the interviewer that there would not be a sudden surge of executions - "you know, four a week or something" because "our culture just wouldn't tolerate that sort of thing". So, in case you are wondering about our "culture" (don't get me started on that one), it essentially can be boiled down to this, according to one state official in Georgia: when killing people, make sure you space them out. You see, that's the problem with the Chinese. They kill people almost daily and that's what makes them, basically, barbarians. If they killed people. oh, say, twice a month, well,that would constitute a proper "culture". Of course then they'd have a terrible backlog, but surely that's a small price to pay for becoming truly civilized

Now, Scalia. A member of Opus Dei. A devout, fulminating, proseletizing Catholic. An apoplectic reactionary, an Old School supporter of the most deeply conservative form of Catholicism, including the absolute submission of the Faithful to the teachings and rulings of the Pope. The Catholic Church, in all its teachings, in all its pronouncements, and at every opportunity, is absolutely and officially against the death penalty in any form and at any time.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

I passed a truck the other day that had emblazoned upon it: “Christian Karate”. In case anyone thinks this blog is dedicated solely to religious observation and incident, fear not. There will be other topics, but it does stand out, doesn’t it? “Christian Karate”. It is possible, since I drove past the truck while it was parked and, therefore, had only a glimpse, that this truck belonged to a company owned by somebody by the name of Christian Karate. A florist or a fruit and veg man. However, this is the United States of America , admittedly full of people with all sorts of names - I remember when I worked in a theatre box office and frequently came across a subscriber by the name of Marshall Dump – and I think this truck was in fact owned by a dojo (note the breadth of my knowledge, throwing that little snippet of karate jargon in there.) I began pondering the notion of Christian karate. Did a group of people who loved karate, attended the dojo diligently, listened to the sensei (it just gets better and better), learned the moves and the philosophy, decide one day that they just needed to earn their black belt with fellow Christians? Were these agnostics and Jews, these Buddhists and Muslims, ruining the whole martial arts experience simply by being there and just, well, heck, NOT BELIEVING? Sometimes a karate practitioner simply loses all concentration just knowing that the guy or gal next to him does not believe in transubstantiation and the salvation of the soul. So, they start a new Christian dojo and people flock. Enough people to enable them to buy a nice looking truck. What does a karate gym need a truck for? Maybe it was a fruit and veg man.

There is another possibility. A group of entrepreneurs gets together and decides that the martial arts is a profitable niche. However there are bucketloads of martial arts teachers and gyms out there. We are rancid with sensei. How do we get folks to come to our gym? We could appeal to older people. We could try to attract the Japanese American crowd. Maybe find someone famous to stick his or her name on the door, pay them a small sum for their image rights. WAIT! Why don’t we go for the Christians? There are loads of them and they’ll accept almost anything you tell them – except that Jews go to Heaven, but that doesn’t affect the business plan. So. Christian karate.
Or, maybe, they see karate as reflective of Christ’s teachings. Jesus as the ultimate sensei. To get to Heaven you have to strive to be a black belt. It’s very Gandhi, very Martin Luther King Jr. Only used in defense. You have to do as you’re told and it costs money every week. Blessed are the yellow belts for they shall see more of the punching bag. There’s a very successful graphic novelist who has made a very good living drawing a Samurai rabbit. Apparently its ears are tied in a topknot. How it holds a sword without an opposable thumb I cannot say. That’s always bothered me in cartoons. The thumb thing. Even as a kid. Oh, sure, they can talk, I have no problem with that. But the swordplay, no.

I’ve got a few ideas for a business. Jewdo. Jew-jitsu. A basketball gym called Islam Dunk. Kung Fucious. An acting school that teaches Methodist acting. A new car racing circuit, Nascarma. Possibilities are endless.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Not quite science

I had a run in with the "church" of Scientology today. I read audiobooks for a living and had been asked by the person who runs a recording studio called Mad Hatter Studios to audition for various parts in L.Ron Hubbard sci-fi books. I did not know then, but subsequently discovered, that the studio is a scientology owned business. I am told that Hubbard is/was a dreadful writer. I have no clue one way or the other. I read lots of less than good books and my fee is the same. Here's my analogy - my dad made forms (in England it's called shuttering) for construction concrete pours. My dad never once asked if the building whose foundation he was pouring was going to be pretty or ugly. He did his work with exquisite precision regardless. So, I have no problem recording Hubbard's work. I'd record his Scientology books, why shouldn't they be available for anyone who wants them? I'd record the Bible. Some good stuff in there. Anyway, I get to Mad Hatter Studios - which I already love because it's a five minute drive from my house - and I am immediately presented with a two-sided form. The woman at the desk made sure I knew it was a two sided form. This woman, like all the women - odd that I saw only women - wore black pants and a lime green short sleeved shirt. Yes, all of them. Lime green. Now, for those of you who do not live in Los Angeles or who live mercifully oblivious of the goings on at the Church of Scientology, let me explain as best I can a little of the sartorial hierarchy of Scientology. I speak entirely from ignorance which I find is always the best place from which to arrive at the Truth. If you pass the headquarters of Scientology, a large blue-painted building on Fountain Avenue in Hollywood, a former hospital, as I do every day on the way from my child's school, you will notice the "church" members wandering about or seemingly doing chores and the like - weeding I believe seems to be high on the list. They all wear black pants and blue shirts with epaulettes. My wife, who designs costumes, could tell you the precise shade of blue, but I lack precision in that department. I have been told that these blue shirt wearers are the lowest rung of "church" member. I have also been told that these weeders, sweepers etc. are in fact on punishment detail. What transgressions they have committed I cannot say. Speaking ill of Tom Cruise's acting? Of Kirstie Ally's weight? Of Isaac Hayes's sunglasses? Or, more likely, having failed to pony up sufficient money to warrant decent treatment. As a complete aside, did anyone notice that John Travolta's hair at the oscars looked as though it was flocked - you know, like the velvety stuff on wall paper?

So, there's a hierarchy to the clothes one wears at the "church". I should add, and I will be taken to task for generalization, painting with broad strokes, creating a stereotype, that the blue shirt wearing peons seem to be entirely made up of all those people at school who you knew would have trouble in the larger world. Some of these soon-to-be-troubled kids, of course, end up running the world. Bill Gates, Paul Allen, that guy who invented bittorrent, David Katzenberg. I'm not talking about the artsy crowd, I'm talking about the really socially tortured ones who don't know how to write computer code. That's who is weeding the big blue Scientology garden. Please note that I feel for these people. I understand how hard it can be if you haven't the skills to cope with adult life. I went to an all boys Catholic boarding school, I know what they are going through. Of course, if you go to an all boys Catholic boarding school there's a much higher chance of sex at a young age, it's just that it's with a priest. The Catholics have uniforms, too, but not after secondary/high school.

I feel as though I have digressed, but surely that's the point. The lime green shirt people at the recording studio. Yes, yes, them lads. Lassies, actually. They do not have the air of socially awkward people. They smile a lot. I am always uncomfortable with people who smile a lot. I grew up in England. We had very bad dentists. We do not smile alot. I reckon the dentistry has improved since I was a kid because you just don't see the kind of damage you used to. Oh, the lime green people. The form. It's two sided and there's another odd thing. I have to fill it out before I audition. For those who go on real interviews for real jobs this is probably normal. For actors it's not. They will ask you for a contact - an agent or somesuch - and for any conflicts you might have with dates for filming/recording/performing, but they don't want your address etc. The Scientologists do. I was worried they would ask my shirt size. The front of the form is name, telephone, address, nothing too weird. I turn it over. It asks if I would sign non-disclosure agreements - standard in the recording world where publication dates etc. are key to selling, advertising etc. , they don't want you giving the ending away (trust me, Harry Potter does not die). I have no problem, I sign them all the time. Then comes the interesting bit. There's a paragraph that requires all those who work there, all those who are present at Mad Hatter, to refrain from using street drugs or psychiatric drugs. I have no problem with the street drugs stipulation because if you are using street drugs you are probably not functioning well, though it's none of Mad Hatter's business whether I used them yesterday. As for the psychiatric stipulation, I paused. Scientology hates psychiatry. They call it the Industry of Death. Sure, fine. The Jews and the muslims hate pork, the Catholics hate almost everything, pick a pet peeve. However, these people are asking potential contractors/employees to divulge private medical information. Besides the fact that your common or garden schizophrenic really does need his Dimazipan. If that's even a real drug. Sounds good. Besides which it's silly because the woman - ever smiling - said they had no objection to people using these drugs on other days. I don't need to explain that one, do I? Did I mention that we are sitting in alcove shaped green velvet armchairs, full arch over each of our heads? I really did disappear down the rabbit hole. The woman scurries away when I ask if I will be allowed to work there if I don't sign. I learn when she returns that she has been speaking to "Legal". Why do they say that? "Legal". It sounds like some large creature that once failed to destroy Dr. Who. Legal. I imagine her standing in a controlled climate room, bowing to some immense blob, "Oh, great Legal, I have a problem." Legal then answers in a dark, menacing tone straight out of Oxford or Cambridge - Speak, my child. Or maybe Legal has one of those creepy whispery voices that all world dominating figures seem to have. Back to the green velvet armchairs. They just want to be sure that they are "covered". "We have a lot of musicians around here, you know". How's that for painting with broad strokes? She's right, of course, musicians are disgusting hedonists with no morals.

It comes down to this. I won't sign, does that mean I should leave? Yes, unfortunately, despite the young woman's smile, my time at the "church" is done. I give back the clipboard with the two-sided form, I look at the two women, one behind the desk whose head is framed by a really bad painting depicting some demented Scientologist's notion of the Mad Hatter, rather a demonic character, and the woman in the green velvet chair opposite me who is still smiling. "You know", I say. "if an organization requires you to wear a uniform, you should run like hell". Then I am out the door into the surprisingly sane world of Los Angeles where the air is unbreathable, the budget is billions in the hole and we have an Austrian action figure for a governor. No one, however, is wearing a lime green shirt.

Now, one question. Should I have signed just so I could spend some time in the wacky world of Ron Hubbard?

Friday, March 28, 2008

I had this thought the other day - many conservative Christians will never allow their children to watch, say, Mean Streets or Goodfellas or even the Terminator movies but would not - in fact do not - think twice about heading to church on Good Friday for a good old knees up around the whipped, thorn-crowned, nailed and crucified (admittedly fictional) Christ.

Another thought. Hillary Clinton. The folks around HC insist that "the process must be allowed to finish. We cannot have a nominee decided before the votes from all the states are in." Now, correct me if I'm wrong - and I know you will - but isn't the nominee almost always decided some time in April, often earlier, and are not most of the states entirely excluded from any formative role in the primaries? is this not the precise reason that we are now "punishing" Florida and Michigan, because they finally wanted in on the real voting? So, because it is the supremely entitled Clinton clan we have to drag this out while they claim, entirely erroneously, that the process, as always, must be seen through to the end. Or did I misspeak? And, by the way, do Dems really have to use phrases usually employed by Cheney? I vowed never to vote for HC because of her war vote - and I know some were with her on that one but I actually have a conscience and some understanding of the Middle East - but I did not dislike her at all and thought - and still think - she would make dust of McCain in three minutes. However, I have such a loathing for her now it is almost inexpressible. The thing I like, or liked, about both Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama is that neither has a voting record that shows any backbone or identifiable leanings. The thing I now like about Obama is he may actually have some philosophical leanings with which I agree and still have no fixed political principles. I like this.

I do not love this country. Loving a country is absolutely idiotic. It's like loving a unicorn. Well, yes, you can love a unicorn as a notion but if you actually met a unicorn you would find that it stinks like a horse and shits all over your field while demanding an endless supply of carrots. After all, it's a horse with a horn. I love my daughter. I love my wife. They, too, demand an endless supply of carrots and require me to go to the ends of the earth - or at least the West Valley and Palos Verdes, the Bev Center and the back of beyond in and around Los Angeles - to earn the gelt to buy the carrots, but they are substantial and funny and loving and infuriating and they do not demand that I stand and swear silly oaths - well there were those marriage vows and I did stand in a courtroom, my daughter being adopted and all that and swear to bequeath all I have to her - but, again these are not notional things, these are real and tangible. Loving a country is simply stupid. I love the work of Edward Albee and he is an American. I love the work of Caryl Churchill and she is English. I love the Bill of Rights which was written by men. What we have done with it has been tortured and twisted but it is still worth loving, or admiring and adhering to. I hate George Bush and Cheney and Powell and Rice and Rumsfeld because they do not admire the Bill of Rights. They do not adhere to its tenets nor honor it either in spirit or letter. They are scum.

I love Rhapsody in Blue and Barber's adagio and Part's Fratres and I love Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton and the Sex Pistols and Robert Johnson and Son House and there's a cafe or two on certain canals in Amsterdam and there's a curry house on a street near my parents' house and even though they got rid of the fluorescent lighting and started giving us knives and forks I still love it. I do not love the USA or the UK. My parents are Irish. I do not love the Republic of Ireland. Patriotism is a disease. We are dying of patriotism.

Just a few thoughts.