Friday, July 29, 2005

The Best Men

I one time had a discussion with a friend of mine about unglamorous superpowers; you know, superpowers that could never earn a character any ink in a comic book. As we may recall in the X-Men movies, every mutant child in the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters had a special power which could be put toward a practical application. Passing through solid walls, for instance, could come in very handy, or freezing things with your breath, or controlling fire or metal, that sort of thing — all very utilitarian. But what about those mutants whose powers weren’t so, shall we say, sexy? My friend invented one character called Deer, who had the uncanny ability, at the first sign of trouble, of finding a nearby berry bush to quickly nibble on. His “kryptonite,” if you will, was headlights. My character was Wait, who was amazingly skilled at waiting for incredibly long periods of time; days, even weeks if necessary. The combined might of the Registry of Motor Vehicles and every telephone tech support service in the world would crumble at his feet. But despite this awesome display, there would be grave doubt whether or not Wait could ever sell comic book number one. Let’s face it, he’s no Magneto.

Anyway, this all leads to what I call “the post that never was.” Random Squeegee fans, I want to warn you right now that the legendary blogger, John, is going to get a little roughed up in this space, so any of those who feel protective of the lad might want to look away. This could get ugly.

You see, a few months back, my coworker John told me about his friend’s wedding that was coming up. I’m sure this event — which has since come and gone — was typical in most respects. Certainly the requisite bride and groom were there; doubtless a couple of rings were exchanged, a toast or two made, a big cake cut, a bouquet tossed and a garter thrown. All according to regulations. What made the occasion unusual was that the groom — and here I must be delicate — lacked the cahones to select a best man from among his friends. That’s right. Rather than go with the standard issue group of one best man and so many ushers, this guy had what he called “the best men.” I’m guessing he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Pfffff! Please!

So when I heard about the best men, I remarked that they sounded a bit like a group of superheroes, such as the Fantastic Four or the Justice League of America. "The Best Men." And then, as our discussion took the frivolous path many of our conversations do, we got to thinking about what superpowers the Best Men could have.

Long story short, we came up with names and special “matrimonial powers” for each of the Best Men and John was supposed to write up a really witty post about them. The days went by, the wedding date loomed, and nothing. No “Best Men” post. I begged, cajoled, wheedled, exhorted, threatened, threw tantrums, made silly faces, but still no post. In my desperation, I even gave him the remaining half of my one pound bag of Peanut M&Ms if he would only write the damn thing up, but the result was only so much candy-coated chocolatey goodness wasted. Nothing. When I finally burst into his office one day to ask once and for all and no fooling around if he would do it, here is what I saw:

Yep, there’s the sluggard himself, striking an all too familiar pose. Once I saw that, I knew the train wasn’t gonna leave the station.

Well folks, if the Best Men were never unveiled to the world in Random Squeegee, then I feel it’s up to MGI to turn the trick. I can’t give it the Random Squeegee treatment of course, but I can at least describe what we had in mind.

It was essential that images of the Best Men should accompany the post. Once we came up with the names and characteristics of each Best Man, John set to work. Somewhere on the Internet he found the raw material for three of the four Best Men and then he worked a little Photoshop magic on them. Below is what he came up with:

Beginning on the left, meet Monoga-Man. His power: Fidelity Enforcement. His motto: “Be faithful, be true, or you be black and blue.” For the groom, that means forget about those pretty waitresses. For the bride, say good bye to Mister Blow Dry.

In the center we find Pre-Nup. His power: Legal Hocus Pocus. His motto: “There’s only one kind of screwin’ that’s gonna happen around here!” He puts it all in black and white . . . and we’re talkin’ indelible ink!

On the right, there’s Prospero. His power: Wealth Management. His motto: “What are your long term financial goals? What kind of risk are you willing to — hey! Wake up! I’m talking to you!” Stick with this guy and you get the house, the car, the boat and the plasma screen TV! (And please — don’t ask me what the mace is for.)

As you can see, we’re missing one. This last Best Man is the one who will bring the gift of pitter-pattering little feet to the happy couple. For this, yours truly had to break out his pencil and draw a quick sketch. Everyone, please meet…

…Fertillo! His power: Seed and Breed Facilitation. His motto: “Virility beats sterility.” With him on your side, you’ll be building additions to your house in no time (and talking to Prospero about college funds)!

Well, that’s it. It would have been great, but someone had to go and drop the ball. Have a great weekend everyone. If you know of any weddings coming up, the Best Men are available. They may even get a fifth member, Mazeltov, to specialize in bar mitzvahs. I’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Don’t you hate backaches? Don’t they just burn you? They can mess up your whole perspective on the world. Backaches make me feel weak and brittle, and I can easily imagine a karate chop in just the right place could break me perfectly in two (think Darth Maul, Episode One). Back in the early 1980s when the Boston Celtics won their next to the last championship (that’s a depressing thought right there), a reporter asked their coach, Bill Fitch, how he felt about winning it all. His reply was simple. He told the reporter that anyone who has ever experienced a nagging backache, one that never seems to quit, couldn’t enjoy much of anything. And I thought, can a backache affect him that much? He just won the freakin’ championship for crying out loud! But, alas, the long, hard years have helped me to understand Bill. I feel his pain. I mean I really feel his pain.

When I have a backache, I get a self-image of a weak, bitter, old man — no longer the bouncy, energetic dynamo I fancy myself to be. I walk like an old man, I bend over like an old man, and I’m cranky like an old man. The only thing lacking is a cane to poke children with while telling the whippersnappers to slow down and mind their manners. I feel completely crooked in body and soul and I yearn for the good old days when I could dress myself without groaning or get out of a chair in under five minutes.

In other words, when I have a backache, I’m the biggest wuss you ever saw.

Needless to say, I’m experiencing a backache right now. I’m not sure what set it off, but I do have a theory or two. The top suspects are that I’ve been sleeping too much on my stomach and last weekend I had to pick up and carry the lawn mower about ten times (don’t ask me why). Usually it occurs in my lower right back, but this time, for a little variety, my muscles decided to go oingo-boingo on my lower left. It’s a clenching kind of action they make and as they do it they seem to shout, “Oh no you don’t!” For instance, when I go to pick up a pencil I dropped on the floor, I hear “Oh no you don’t!” Or if I twist to reach the telephone, it’s “Oh no you don’t!” When I try to climb onto my bicycle, “Oh no you don’t!” And, of course, as I desperately hustle across the street to avoid the oncoming traffic, they mock me by saying, “Suckah, you a dead man!”

I’ve had much worse backaches. This morning I could run for three miles relatively pain-free, so my back will allow me to do some things. Pedaling my bike to work isn’t fun though. Sitting seems to be the toughest thing. No matter how hard I try to correct my posture and find that perfect position where my back won’t aggravate me, nothing works. And when I stand up from prolonged sitting, it needs to be done slowly and in careful stages; if I try to do it too quickly or all in one motion, I know I’ll wind up shrieking like a little girl with a frog thrust down her blouse.

In the grip of a backache, the simplest movements require exhaustive planning; a field study needs to be made and an action plan drawn up. Stooping to grab a book from a low shelf is no longer the automatic act I’m used to doing. I have to consider the objective and break down in my mind the series of actions I believe myself capable of making. Sometimes the result looks pretty funny, but other times surprisingly graceful as I assume the classic ballet position number two and then perform a slow motion arabesque to retrieve the half-full coffee cup on a low box over in the corner. My legs take up the brunt of the work these days and I find myself doing a lot of squats. I hear that’s good for the glutes. See? There’s some good that comes of everything!


Here’s a theatrical idea I am sure will become an instant Broadway hit: Star Trek: The Musical. I’m not kidding, folks — I’m as serious as a New York heart attack on this one. It would be based on the 1960s Star Trek, not Future Generation or Voyager or any of those others. We’re sticking with the fundamentals, strictly Kirk and crew. I don’t have a story outlined (of course), but I do have some basic ideas, like the Klingons should look like the 1960s Klingons and, when the Enterprise is under attack, the performers throw themselves around on the bridge set just like they did on the TV show. The actors naturally should be made up as close to their original counterparts as possible, and whoever plays Kirk needs to do the most outrageous William Shatner impression possible. Really ham it up. He’ll definitely have a few solos, like Kirk’s Lament with the refrain: Oh Scotty, beam me up! or another song that will go something like: Klingons! Why can’t we get along? Klingons! You’re dark and I am blonde! (all right, that was terrible). And, for the New York production, a special scene will be written for the real William Shatner to play old, caught-in-a-time-warp Kirk having a dialogue with his younger self. And it calls for William Shatner to do his most outrageous William Shatner impression too! Maybe even throw in a few references! Hilarious, right?

So what do you guys think? Is it money? Does it have legs? Any ideas? Anybody know Andrew Lloyd Webber? Let’s roll with this one!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

On a Train

They rode by bus until they got to the subway station; the first train brought them several stops and there they transferred to the next. This was one of the older trains, dirty and slightly rank. They took a pair of seats facing the direction opposite from the way the train was moving and sat passively touching each other, a little at the thighs and a little at the shoulders, as strangers might. Their minds were like magnets of the same polarity; there was a force between them, one that sprang up suddenly two and a half weeks ago, and he wondered if things would ever be the same again. He glanced around him. At this hour of the day the trains were never terribly crowded and he saw the people clearly as individuals with their own histories. Many of them were middle-aged and, so it seemed to him, defeated, staring dully into space or down at the floor, minding their own business. In his fancy, he considered them all, like the elderly Latino gentleman seated near them with the baggy trousers frayed near his shoes, to be living uncomplicated lives, ones they were more or less in control of, with familiar worries and complaints that have long lost immediacy and urgency; old cares that might never be resolved, but knowing that they might never be resolved was, in a way, a resolution. He envied them that.

She had the seat by the window, which was black at the moment as they were traveling through an unlit tunnel. He saw his reflection in it and then he saw hers, and he decided for the hundredth time that she really wasn’t pretty, at least not in the conventional way. Seeing her as she was at that moment, in repose, unanimated, no one would consider her pretty. She had a natural little frown and her nose was too broad and something about her hair was never quite right, no matter what she did with it. But to hear her clear voice and see her brilliant blue eyes, to witness her many facial expressions and, above all, to be affected by her eccentric sense of humor, then you saw how she was attractive. For the hundredth time, he couldn’t believe his good luck.

She wouldn’t let him come the first time, but this second, the most important visit, he insisted and she relented, smiling a bit in her old way like she used to whenever he said something she thought slightly daft, but in keeping with his charm. Today she wore her best coat, and he suddenly remembered the only time he ever saw her wear it was for Easter service at her mother’s church. She also wore her good shoes and the yellow print dress he liked, and he thought that any disinterested observer, allowing for how young she still looked, might think she was on her way to her first job interview out of college.

“I saw a hawk yesterday,” she said, not looking at him.

“A hawk?”

“I was standing on the front porch and I saw this hawk fly from one tree to another one just a block away. He flew very straight and headed for that other tree with real purpose. He was on a mission, you know? So he went right into that other tree and I expected a big commotion, like feathers and leaves coming out everywhere, but nothing happened. I didn’t even see him fly out again.”

“Are you sure it was a hawk?”

She regarded him with her wiseguy look. “There’s no mistaking a hawk.” Then she said, “I didn’t think hawks showed up in cities.”

“Why not? Hawks can go anywhere they please. That must be the great thing about being a hawk.”

“It reminded me of a news report I heard recently about bears being sighted in some city in the midwest. One of those ‘signs of encroaching civilization’ stories. Something about them running out of food in their natural habitat, so they were forced to try their luck in the city.”

“It’s hard to imagine Yogi and Boo Boo as refugees,” he said with a crooked grin.

The joke didn’t work and they lapsed into silence again. Only several more stops to go now. He had been to where they were going before because it was close to an apartment he used live in, and he hoped there wouldn’t be protesters, loudly telling the rosary and reading prayers through megaphones. A large, yellow line, drawn in front of the entrance in the shape of a rectangle, marked the area where the protesters couldn’t go. Once, on his way to the post office, they were out in force, milling with their placards and singing, and taped to the windshield of a car parked in front of the building was a large poster showing a delicately formed little human being with its eyes closed and all its tiny, dismembered limbs lying nearby. It made him stop and study it for perhaps a full minute. He thought of her, sitting next to him right now, wearing her best clothes like a suit of armor, and he silently prayed that that damn picture wouldn't be there. He doubted she could walk past it, not unless she could remind herself of several things and believe in them very hard.

“I saw a hawk in the city once too,” he said.


“While I was at work, when I walked to the store to buy a snack. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a dark shape swoop down and grab something at the curb and take off again. It was over in less than a second. It all went on in the periphery of my vision. I stood there flatfooted, not believing what I just saw.”

“And you're sure that was what you saw?”

It was time for his wiseguy look. “There’s no mistaking a hawk,” he said. He saw her smile and she looked at him fully, directly in the eyes. Hers were very blue and clear and he felt sure he could never love anyone this much ever again.

Their stop came and they stepped down from the train. She had her purse open and was fiddling with the things inside of it, walking slowly. Ahead were the turnstiles and, beyond those, the escalator leading up to the street.

There was something he wondered if he should tell her — something he promised himself he wouldn’t say — and he made a decision right there, right at that moment, that he would. He reached over and tugged gently at the sleeve of her coat.

“Clarissa…” he began.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Schprock on Holiday

This is just a quick-hitter to talk about what the family and I did last weekend. We went to a place called World Fellowship Center in Conway, New Hampshire, right in the thick of the White Mountains. My nickname for this place is Hippy Camp, because a good many of the denizens appear either to be Children of the Sixties or Children of the Children of the Sixties. A common sight is the bald-pated septuagenarian who still has enough hoary strands of hair left to arrange into a little ponytail, or the middle-aged woman who celebrates gravity by going braless. Let me quote the description directly from their website:

“World Fellowship Center is an educational international, interracial, multicultural, intergenerational vacation center offering a unique environment to renew body, mind and spirit. Set amid 455 acres in New Hampshire's White Mountains, the World Fellowship Center invites people from diverse social, economic and cultural backgrounds and identities to share their vacations and ideas in a peaceful, rustic setting.

“Established in 1941, the Center has survived times when progressive thinkers were persecuted as threatening to the established order. For over 60 years the World Fellowship Center has promoted peace through educational and multi-cultural programs, providing opportunities for people of different backgrounds to meet and to discuss the issues of the day.”

They’re all about peace, love and understanding. They’re also about acceptance — anyone is welcome there — and that’s the quality I find most attractive about the place. The accommodations are decidedly rustic, the food is very good, and the discussions (often of a pronounced socialist bent) are lively, as they are usually focused on the plight of the poor, social injustice, racial harmony and so on. There are a lot of “free spirit” types, marked by unusual haircuts, clothing fashions unavailable at your local Gap, and a willingness to get up before a group of people and inexpertly sing or dance during “Fun Night” (i.e., an impromptu talent show put together every Friday night). Many of the people who go there are well-educated writers, scientists, musical performers, actors, artists and so on. World Fellowship Center is non-profit and it looks non-profit: you will not mistake it for a fashionable resort. It’s not where the beautiful people go.

Last weekend I managed to very successfully pack my work deadlines, unpaid bills and uncut lawn into a tiny compartment and tuck them neatly away where I’d be sure to find them again the following Monday. This year’s crew consisted of my wife, Myrna, Daughter Number 2, Ianna, and her best friend, Michael (Daughter Number 1, Lindsay, who’s an “adult” now, remained at home to keep my car company). We stayed at The Farmhouse, a rambling structure still in service despite its superannuated appearance. Although kept scrupulously clean, old age and rheumatism have set in and the signs are all over: the floors creak, the plumbing is often exposed, the furniture have all been rescued from the attics of a hundred grandmothers, hot showers are a chancy proposition, and repairs are made with chewing gum, thumbtacks and baling wire. One of the dressers in our room (which certainly dated back to around the turn of the 20th century) showed two replacement knobs of unfinished wood, which, for some odd reason, charmed me, maybe because I felt this item, trash to everyone else in the world, was still reverently kept in use and its value respected by the people in charge.

I met up with a friend of mine, Tim the Handyman (although he’s no longer the handyman there, but a regular nonetheless). We played a game of catch with a baseball, which is arguably the most pleasurable of the meditative acts (maybe Mona can appreciate this). I love playing catch and do it all too seldom. After the initial warm-up phase, after the muscles are toned and the mechanics of throwing have become straightened out, a rhythm or a flow establishes itself. Anyone who has played catch with a baseball when a kid knows exactly what I’m talking about. It’s an act at once simple and complex, and one that, after achieving the skill, you feel born to do. Body awareness occurs naturally and as you follow the various actions and note the muscle groups employed, the balances and counter-balances, the exertions and the stretches, you really begin to feel joy at sending a small round missile into space where it is captured and sent back to you again. Similar to how golfers break down and follow their swing in their minds, the same thing happens organically during a game of catch. First all the momentum goes one way during the wind-up; then the momentum is arrested and reversed as the body torques and converts all its energy into sending that little ball on its way. I throw sidearm — in other words, I’m a “slinger” — and through some unexplainable process the ball sort of rolls off my forefinger and mysteriously goes right where I want it to go.

The by-play is generally kept sparse and usually sounds something like this:

“Nice catch.”

“Good movement on that.”

“Whoa! Testing my laces!”

“Throw me another just like that.”

I brought a book up with me to read only to be seduced by another I found in The Farmhouse’s library: Man on Fire, by A.J. Quinnell. Everyone, I want you to put down your pencils right now, run out and get this book. It is extraordinarily well-written and done at an unhurried pace, because the author knows damn well he’s so good he couldn’t bore anyone. The characters are well-drawn, their actions believable, the dialogue is masterful and the story is extremely compelling. I couldn’t put it down and wound up reading all three-hundred-and-some-odd pages before we left. It’s a Schprock Lock, folks. Take it to the bank.

Anyway, here’s some pictures:

The Missus.

Myrna, Mr. Schprock, Tim the Handyman and his wife, Monica.

Mr. Schprock, Myrna, Ianna and Michael (Michael, by the way, is a really funny kid).

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A Special Message from the President of Galactico Extruded Plastics

The following is a message from the president of Musings of Great Import, Inc.’s parent company, Galactico Extruded Plastics:

Dear Reading Public,

As president of MGI, Inc.’s parent company, I found yesterday’s post on this blogue quite nettlesome indeed. It was brought to my attention when I saw my dear wife, Winifred, in a high state of agitation after having located this blogue on her Computing-Machine. “Winny,” cried I, “is it the vapors again? Come, come now, tell your Toodles what has upset you!” Unable to speak, she directed me with shaking hand to the viewing screen of her Computing-Machine. And there I beheld a sight most unworthy of dear Winifred's delicate sensibilities. I needn’t describe it in detail; surely all of you on the Inter-Net have seen it: a military man made to look like a nancy boy. Shocking to the extreme.

Be assured, dear readers, I was as swift in action as I was in judgment. Within the hour I had this Mr. Schprock in my office, kowtowing and quaking as he witnessed my wrathful visage. “Have I been too indulgent?” asked I, raising my voice to be heard over his knocking knees. “Was that six-pence-per-hour raise I granted you a license to commit such tomfoolery? Well, answer me, sir, if you have a tongue in your head!” And, I may say, he put his tongue to good effect as he used it to splutter his apologies and promises to mend his ways. He is, I think, a good lad, and I, for my part, have given him too much freedom. Doubtless, his mind has been warped by all the poppycock one sees nowadays on the Tele-Vision (also known as “Tee-Vee”). Mrs. Toodlebottom and I stopped watching Tee-Vee after the Milton Bearle Show was canceled, but I am well aware of the insidious, evil effects Tele-Vision has on the public, particularly the simple-minded.

Readers, I served our country as a doughboy during the Great War. I can assure you that there were no effete shenanigans going on back then, and I am quite sure the same stands true for the military of today. There was one fellow in our outfit, a Quentin Delancy by name, who did a thing or two faintly suggestive of the fairy, such as an over-fastidiousness of dress and the like, but our sergeant soon put things aright. One sultry morning, he had our company form up on the parade grounds, and then he ordered Quenty (for so we called him) to step out of rank, stand before us, strip, and perform 100 push-ups. We watched as Quenty did as the sergeant ordered, all of us mesmerized while the beads of sweat, like small, glistening, clear jewels, formed on his firm, smooth buttocks, and his sinewy arms pumped steadily up and down, up and down with the rapidity and undiminishing power of a pile driver at full steam. One of our company, Percy Shivvels, grew quite faint at the sight, but Horace McKinnon and I kept him standing until Quenty was done. That was how we dealt with such matters back then, and damned effective it was!

So be assured, dear readers, that nothing of this kind will deface this blogue again. You have my solemn word on it.

Yours very sincerely,
Thaddeus P. Toodlebottom
Galactico Extruded Plastics

Monday, July 18, 2005

Don’t Ask–Don’t Tell G.I. Joe

Dear Hasbro Industries, Inc.,

Please use the “comment” link below to contact me about a product idea I think will be very profitable for all parties concerned.

Your Friend,
Mr. Schprock

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Name That Moon

Quoted from the International Star Registry website:

“Name a Star, that's right, an actual star! International Star Registry is your star naming resource! What do you get for the person who has everything? For $54, plus shipping and handling, you can name a star.”

Wow! $54.00 to name a star anything you want! Not bad. On a clear, moonless night, you can see roughly 100,000 stars with a small telescope. Any chance one of those stars are up for grabs? Probably not. Donald Trump undoubtedly bought up half the Milky Way the moment the stars first went public. So who knows where your star might be. Chances are, it’s just a scrap of static picked up on a radio telescope, completely invisible to the most sensitive optical equipment. But it’s there, and it’s got your name on it for a paltry 54 bucks.

What I want to know is, how much does a black hole go for? That would be cool, wouldn’t it? When the guy down the street buys his wife the star formerly known as HR 4276 (now called Trixie’s Deelite), you can say, “Yeah, well I’ve got the black hole formerly known as Sagittarius A*. I’ve renamed it Jaws and it works for me now. Anything you need to say to Trixie’s Deelite, I suggest you say it soon.”

Naming astronomical objects is a pretty arbitrary business, but let’s face it, naming is one of the tasks we humans do best. Wasn’t that the first job assigned to Adam and Eve, to name the things in the Garden of Eden? And who do you suppose did most of the naming? Come on, there’s no need to guess:

“Honeybunch, let’s call this thing Evil Tube.”

“Too late, Adam. I’ve already named him Snake.”

“Huh. Snake. Cool.”

But here’s something I don’t understand. With this human compulsion to name everything in sight, why hasn’t anyone given the moon a name? It’s just ‘the moon.’ The planet we live on is called the Earth, and the star that holds us in orbit and grants us life is called the Sun. But the moon is just the moon. Who was in charge of that? Tarzan? It’s like naming my children Girl 1 and Girl 2. It just doesn’t seem like a whole lot of thought went into it.

Consider Jupiter. The largest planet in our solar system might have some 60 or more moons — they’re still discovering them, so we don’t know how many for sure. But look at the names: Metis, Adrastea, Amalthea, Thebe, Io, Europa, Ganymede (the biggest), Callisto (the second biggest), Leda (the smallest), Himalia, Lysithea, Elara, Ananke, Carme, Pasiphae and Sinope, with more on the way. See? That’s how you name moons! So what happened here at home? Why hasn’t anyone named our moon?

I want everyone to consider this frightening scenario: Earth has been contacted by intelligent life from outside our solar system. A spaceship lands on the National Mall, just like the one in The Day the Earth Stood Still. We are greeted by an alien diplomatic team eager to establish friendly relations with our planet. The leaders of all the nations gather to one spot where a magnificent state dinner is held with the aliens as their honored guests. At the center of the head table the U.S. president sits, flanked by the Zoranthian Consul General on one side and his translator on the other. Everything is going well, the right words are said, no one trips over the consul’s tentacles, and miraculously no spinach gets stuck in the president’s teeth. At one point, the Zoranthian translator passes along a compliment paid by his superior. “Mr. President, the Consul General noticed your moon last night and thought it quite lovely. What name do you call it?” An awkward pause. Should the president lie, make up something on the spot? No, no, that would be sure to backfire. Better go with the truth. “Actually, we simply call it ‘the moon,’” he says apologetically. Another awkward pause.”Um . . . should I tell him that?” the translator finally asks. And right then, the president thinks, “We are so invaded…”

Folks, if I had Donald Trump money, I’d go after the naming rights to the moon. I would open up my wallet and make a little history. Maybe I’d have to sell off some assets and leverage a small country, but I’d find a way. And then I’d name it anything I want. I’d give it a name I like, maybe one I wish I had. Hmm. You know, maybe I’d name it . . . Kevin.

Brad and Kyle are pretty good, and Todd is OK, but Kevin . . . it’s got a nice ring, don’t you think? Try it on for size: “Watch out — it’s a full Kevin tonight.” “Only once in a blue Kevin.” “You want Kevin, Mary? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it!” “When Kevin hits your eye like a big pizza pie…”

Of course, there are a lot of people who think naming the moon requires a little more deliberation than this. Poets, no doubt, will want to get in on the act. “We offer you Selene, the Greek moon goddess!” they’ll announce dramatically. And then the scientists will step in and vociferously state, “We must take into account that the moon regulates the oceans!” Point well taken. So let’s call it Squirt then. Or Tide Boy. “In theory, the moon was once part of the Earth!” Great! How about Spawn? “The moon is a satellite!” Sputnik. “It’s surface is cratered!” Pocky. “It’s got two sides!” Schizo. “It has many phases!” Sibyll.

You know, maybe there was a reason no one named the moon. Everyone will have their own idea and the debate will go on forever. For instance, I’m willing to guess right now that all two or three of the people reading this post think Kevin is a terrible name. Am I right? Am I? Well, can you do better? Ha! Let’s hear ’em then!

Friday, July 08, 2005

Window Sitters

Right now it’s a bit slow at work (and hence the slight uptick in frequency of posts on this blog). The timesheet is woefully lacking in billable hours and I’ve spent all the requisite time doing “housekeeping” chores: backing up old jobs, reorganizing my work area, and planning on thinking about seriously considering with all due deliberation and without haste upgrading my skills in the various programs I work in (like Dreamweaver MX, which Macromedia had to go and switch everything around in — bastards!). Yep, I’m basically just puttin’ in the time and lookin’ busy, sheepishly wearing the yellow jersey for the fourth straight day on the Tour d’Internet. I don’t think there’s a blog left I haven’t left a comment on. I’m sorry, all you busy people out there. Please don’t hate me.

Whenever it gets slow like this, I’m reminded of a story I heard on National Public Radio some four or five years ago about a purely Japanese phenomenon. I can think of no other country in the world where this can happen. You see, in the Land of the Rising Sun, the old, established corporations take great pride in never laying people off, no matter how slack the work gets or how far the economy goes into the tank. I think it has much to do with pride and showing the world a thing or two about the Japanese way of ensuring lifetime employment. So when a middle manager in his fifties becomes an extra wheel around the office, rather than lay the old duffer off, the brass instead continues to pay him his $85,000 a year with full benefits while not assigning him a particle of work. That’s right — full pay, full benefits, for doing absolutely nothing. Often, these people are made to sit at conspicuous windows in the office building — for all the world to see — where they are forced to manifestly do nothing whatsoever. And they are tagged with the derisive name of “window sitters.”

As you can guess, this bizarre form of welfare is all supposed to lead to great loss of face, and the worker, consumed by shame and unable to countenance an unproductive, useless life, will in time leave. Often, these cast-offs find steady employment elsewhere; many go on to do consulting work. And the company can continue its claim of never having had to lay an employee off.

You can’t help wondering how this policy might play in the United States. Do you think people here might mind being window sitters? Ha! Here’s an instance where East meets West and East goes home with a migraine. Worried about loss of face? Right. Perhaps the question should be: would many of us worry about becoming the envy of others? Here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the No-show Job, window sitting could easily become the top career choice everybody scrambles for. “Hell,” we might say, “I dare my company to do that to me! Go ahead — my ego can take it. And look, my desk is already at a window!”


And yet, on second thought, maybe the Japanese have a point. Don’t we all — even the most unambitious of us — want to feel useful? I’ve always wondered about the major league baseball player with the enormous, guaranteed contract who rides the pine because of his .234 average. Does the money sooth his hurt pride, or take the edge off the feeling that his presence has no effect on his team’s fortunes? And here’s another example that’s closer to home for me: as a cycling enthusiast, I’m a regular at a local bike shop (and believe me, there’s always a reason to spend money on a bike). It so happens that this particular shop is staffed by one big family — in other words, the people who work there are either siblings or cousins to everyone else. The guy who runs the place, Rich, is the chief mechanic, and his brother and cousins largely wait on customers.

Now, here’s what I see every time I walk in there: Brother Phil and Cousin Steve hanging around the front counter, usually drinking coffee while Rich’s two female cousins sit on stools behind another counter shooting the breeze. And then there’s Rich himself, bike clamped to his work stand, sporting a neat work apron with clean tools sticking out from the pockets, tweaking a rear derailleur while chatting with a couple of bike couriers who are waiting for their turn. He’s always in motion, never seems frazzled, and unfailingly has time to talk to me and patiently answer my stupid questions. Meanwhile, Brother Phil leans on his counter and stifles a yawn.

Who would I rather be do you think? Industrious Rich or indolent Phil? The guy who’s motivated to work all the time or the other who mainly fights to stay awake? (The question, by the way, is meant to be rhetorical. This is where you assume I’m a real go-getter.)

Yeah, so maybe a window sitter isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Let me come clean and tell you what type of worker I am. I need the whip. I need a deadline and dire consequences if I don’t meet it. I need responsibility thrust upon me. I need a sense of urgency, a reason to stir my posterior into action. Confronted with conditions like these, I nearly always respond. I’ll budget my time, put in the extra hours, multi-task, work the phone, boil up some coffee, do what needs to be done. But if it’s slow with nothing seriously pending, and if I’ve got a comfortable office chair and high-speed Internet access, then to my great shame I turn into a slug. That’s right: a giant, inert, soft-bellied, loathsome slug. It’s so seductive becoming a slug, and I succumb to it so easily. Oh, I’ll shake off my stupor from time to time to do something that might smack of productivity, but then I’ll hear the chair faintly whisper, “come, rest your butt on me, I’m soooo ergonomic,” and the Internet cajole by reminding me of the online comics I haven’t read and the inane Google searches yet to be done. The struggle is usually all too brief. The slimy trail leading to my desk chair says it all.

No, I don’t want to be a window sitter. Idleness isn’t good for me. What I want is a big, hairy guy in Viking costume to stand in my office all day beating a drum, just like they did in olden times to keep the galley slaves in tempo as they rowed the great wooden ships. Boom boom boom. And another guy, scrawny and toothless with a cackling laugh, to ply the whip to me when I can’t keep rhythm. That’s what’s I need. And you know what? I wouldn’t mind a bit if it happens right at the window for all the world to see.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

And the Winner Is…

The boys and I were talking in the office the other day about male film actors (regrettably there are no “girls” in our office, a situation that needs some serious looking into). The subject was: name the greatest male movie actor of this generation. An interesting question to consider. The person who introduced this topic offered Tom Hanks as a strong contender, citing his back-to-back Oscar wins for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, and a near miss for his work in Apollo 13. Not a bad choice. I countered that, yes, Tom Hanks is very good, but it was the quality of the roles he got that gave him the boost he needed. In other words, I felt there were other actors out there equally capable of acing those roles — and perhaps bettering Tom Hanks’ efforts. I was challenged to give an example and I did so with very little deliberation, but I will save my choice for later.

Then we started defining our terms. I thought “greatest” and “of this generation” were a bit vague. What, in a film actor, denotes greatness? That’s not as easy to pin down as it first appears. I think a great actor can be judged great only after looking at his body of work, the range of roles undertaken (and the strong likelihood that no one could have outperformed him in any of them), consistent top billing, the probability that he will continue his winning ways and become even more accomplished, and if he possesses a God-given, indefinable something — “duende,” let’s say — that makes him special, that sets him apart. Admittedly, my personal characterization of greatness may still be rather vague, but I think it’s a good working definition.

The actor who immediately leaps to my mind is Marlon Brando. In his prime, Brando could own any role, no matter how far flung, and he was never afraid to try anything. We all know his excellent work in A Street Named Desire, On the Waterfront, The Godfather, and Apocalypse Now, but how about the foppish Englishman Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty, or the singing role of Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, or the Okinawan Sakini in The Teahouse of the August Moon? He pulled them all off brilliantly (and by the way, it’s true: Brando really could sing). There, ladies and gentlemen, was a great movie actor. Not of this generation, of course, but Marlon Brando stands as a terrific benchmark.

And yet, as I mentioned, I wasn’t satisfied with “of this generation.” Far better, it seems to me, to put it as “still relevant,” because “of this generation” might ignore the magnificence of Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Gene Hackman, or Dustin Hoffman, who are, I submit, still relevant, but getting on in years, so possibly not “of this generation.” And what do I mean by “still relevant”? Hmm. I think I mainly mean an actor who can recommend a movie to you by the sheer force of his presence. For instance, if Jack Nicholson is in a movie, I’m automatically interested in seeing it, and only the most scathing reviews of a hundred critics can stop me. However, it must be quickly pointed out that “still relevant” can never be the only yardstick to go by, because then we would have the likes of Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, et al., as contenders for greatness, when they are, in my humble opinion, merely wonderful at playing the same captivating character over and over again. They are very successful movie stars, but probably not great film actors.

So who do we consider? How about Brad Pitt? It’s hard to imagine anybody better than him in Fight Club and I loved him in Seven Years in Tibet. Johnny Depp? Absolutely right up there. He approaches the Brando mold, I think. He’s marvelous at “affected” characters, like Edward Scissorhands, Captain Jack Sparrow, Raoul Duke/Hunter S. Thompson, James Barrie, Ed Wood, Constable Ichabod Crane, and so on. Then, of course, there’s Jack Nicholson, who has shown he can still bring on the heat in About Schmidt and As Good As It Gets. Naturally, there are a host of others: Daniel Day Lewis, Denzel Washington, Ewan Mcgregor, Morgan Freeman, Adrien Brody, Samuel L. Jackson, and on and on and on.

I’m going to cut to the chase and offer up my dark horse candidate as the greatest male film actor around today. My choice will surprise and astound you, but I stand by it. Like Tom Hanks, he started out as a comedic actor (and still does comedy surpassingly well), but has proven exceedingly capable of handling serious roles with equal aplomb. Indeed, there are movies he’s done that would have had no chance of achieving the same success with any other actor. I think he can take on any role offered him and perform each brilliantly, and I predict that in the coming years we will see more and more of this. And I believe he could have taken the Tom Hanks Oscar-winning roles of Forrest Gump and Andy Beckett and gone to greater heights with them. Are you ready? Are you at the edge of your seats? Can you stand the anticipation? Drum roll please…

Jim Carrey.

That’s right, Jim Carrey. I know, I know: Ace Ventura? Dumb and Dumber? Greatness? It may be a bit difficult to build a case for him, but let me try. First, I believe a good Exhibit A is The Cable Guy, an intelligent, dark comedy that would not have worked — in fact, would have absolutely tanked at the box office — if anyone other than Jim Carrey played the part of The Cable Guy (we never know his real name). I think the same is true of The Mask. I can’t think of a single actor who could approach him playing the role of hapless, sweet Stanley Ipkiss or his outrageous alter-ego. As Fletcher Reede in Liar, Liar, he is untouchable, and the same applies as Bruce Nolan in Bruce Almighty. He also excels in the straight roles: consider The Majestic and, especially, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And I predict that as he gets older and the comedic roles might become less appealing, he will finally get the role that will earn him an Academy Award. To sum up, he’s got range, earns consistent top billing, takes on roles no other actor could touch, has duende in abundance and relevance coming out of his ears. He’s got “it,” folks. Take it to the bank.

So I’m right, aren’t I? It’s Jim Carrey without any doubt? Or who else? Hmm? Hmm?