Sunday, August 26, 2012

Only simcha?

I was walking around scenic Teaneck in my t shirt and jeans on a random Sunday. At the time the Sunday wasn't random but in the grand scheme of things it wasn't grand either so there you go. While walking around a square I noticed a couple dressed very nicely. I assume they were on their way to some celebratory event, some simcha. Good for them. But I felt bad for them. Here I was, enjoying the weather and being dressed down and they had to get all dolled up to sing and dance for someone who won't know they were there.

Truth is, any particular person is irrelevant at a simcha. There are a couple hundred similarly festive guests and a host who is so worried about the catering and keeping track of the gift envelopes that he or she can't pay attention to who is there. And who even wants to go? Same songs, same food, same dances. Odds are the invite comes five minutes before you get invited to something which is actually fun on that same afternoon. But you just have to go because supposedly, this is "more important" than sitting around and enjoying yourself.

So here's my plan.

We turn the attendance into something akin to jury duty. You get a piece of mail which tells you that you have been selected to attend an event on some Sunday. If it conflicts with other plans, you can defer. If not, you go. Isn't each simcha really a celebration for the whole community anyway? So you go and sing and eat some chicken in between sweaty circle stomping and the hosts have a room full of random dressed up folks who are having the standard good time.

And gifts? Either forget them completely or pay into a central pool of money which is apportioned to each host based on the invites. So if I invite 100 people I am paid a certain amount and I am charged a certain amount. Think about it; each year I pay out a certain number of checks for events and those hosts then pay out some of my money to the next host when they are the guest . That cash goes around like some regifted fruit cake. I'm just streamlining the process. Maybe, the more events you volunteer to attend, the less you have to pay per event. I don't know, I'm just an idea guy in a T-shirt while you are reading this to avoid listening to another generic speech at some event that you wish you could have skipped.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The window to my soul hurts

This week, I have been battling with a raging eye infection. I use the word "raging" because it conveys a sense of pain, burning, and Deniro about my eye. Some of those are accurate descriptions. Some, sadly, are not. My eye would never pass for Deniro's eye, but he did his with makeup so I think we're even.

I woke up Friday with a pain in my right eye -- like I had been punched. The kids weren't home and the wife insisted that she hadn't punched me in the eye the night before. She giggled a bit but I chalked that up to the fact that she was still asleep when I asked her and she was probably dreaming of something humorous I had said right before bed, like "please don't punch me in the eye tonight." I'm a laugh riot before bed. I looked int he mirror (usually a mistake) and saw what looked like a white pimple on the top lid. Not on the outside and not on the inside, but in the edge. It didn't look like or hurt like a stye would (I get plenty of those) but it hurt. So I did the unthinkable and I called a doctor.

Later that afternoon, I went to the doctor and he spent a minute and a half with me, including introductions and the exam. I have, it seems, a small infection of the oil gland in the eye lid. Oh. That doesn't sound all that appealing, but whatever shall I do? He recommended warm compresses and gave me a prescription for an antibiotic ointment which I was to apply to my eye. He didn't exactly say how to and when I asked he made it seem obvious and easy, like putting a bottle or my finger in my eye or on the edge of my eyelid is the most obvious thing in the world. He even told me the technical term for the infection which I promptly forgot. I have since looked it up and found that one name is the "chalazion." There is another word starting with an M but I shall explain why that doesn't matter.

I'm not sure how to pronounce chalazion -- is it like "kuh-lay-zhion" which sounds like a social event? Is it "challah-tziyon" which is egg bread from Jerusalem? Maybe it is "ka-li-zone" which would make it rally delicious. But at least it isn't "chilazon" which would refer to a snail. Anyway, I have enough questions about pronunciation to make the name memorable. A meibomian gland lipogranuloma is not nearly as easy to remember.

I put the ointment stuff on that little white bumpy thing starting Friday afternoon, and by Saturday evening, though it stung and itched and hurt most of the day, the bump had gone down. I continued applying the stuff through Sunday to fill out the course of treatment even though by Sunday mid-day, all seemed right with the world. By Monday morning, it was coming back (maybe in a slightly different place?) and by Monday night, a new, large bump had developed and getting to sleep Monday night was very difficult. The lid above has also begun to swell. By now, Wednesday morning, with repeated treatment with the tube o' goo, the bump has receded and the lid, though swollen and incessantly itchy, has turned a lovely shade of purple. It makes me look, well, less adorable. "Posh," you say, "You couldn't look any less adorable!" Thank you, I think, but it is true. Even my asymmetry is asymmetrical now.

What I do know is that this is not pink eye. I am not a girl so I don't get anything pink. I won't even buy Songs from the Big Pink, or drink pink lemonade. Why is it that pink eye isn't reserved for girls? So this isn't catching, it has no long term ill effects, it can't turn into anything else and it just hurts, itches and is annoying. Just like a man.

I'm sure that this should be motivating me to be introspective about the value of binocular vision or vision on the whole, or at least made scads of dumb jokes about lacking vision, seeing only one side of things, ignoring things on the periphery or such but I just can't see myself doing any of that.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

(But) it has a great beat and you can dance to it

I remember reading, years ago, that Sting was annoyed that people completely misunderstood the lyrics to "Every Breath You Take" and celebrated it as a love song at weddings, proms, and parties when your parents are not around. The song, simply put, is about stalking, and not the good kind. But people took from it what they wanted and that was intellectually lazy of them. Granted, Sting didn't use the phrase intellectually lazy, but I understood what he meant.

I have become more and more annoyed at people who take songs and completely misunderstand their meaning or intention and celebrate them in all the wrong ways. "Freebird" is about being unable to commit. "Living on a Prayer" is not about spirituality but about living with failure, "Born in the USA" is NOT a celebration of America but a condemnation of it. Stop dancing to "We Are Young"! It is about drugs and domestic abuse. Don't wave your fist to "Won't Get Fooled Again" idiot. It is about the inevitability of getting fooled again.

Remember, I'm not talking about songs that have double entendres and people ignore them (or focus solely on them and forget that sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar)or songs which wear their hearts on their sleeves and let you know exactly how depressing they are (I'm looking at you, Billy Joel's discography). I'm also not talking about songs whose lyrics we mishear. These words are crystal clear and we just ignore what they are saying because the music is so upbeat or compelling. I am talking about the songs we dance to, or hum to, or feel revved up by, which are actually meant to tell us something quite different. Songs whose point we collectively miss.

So don't stop enjoying your music. But please, don't try to get me to sing along to "Lola." That's just sick.

[I invite your input as to what songs might go on a list such as this]

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mister Miss Us

I miss my kids.

That's not huge news to anyone but it points to a serious change in my character. I used to be a rock, an absolute tough guy. I could scoff at emotionality and sentimentality and while I liked kids, I could do with out them. I won't say when it changed but it changed; I know exactly when and why but I don't want to talk about it. Stop asking...geeez. And it continues to change.

As my kids get older I miss them more and more. Sure they were cute as babies, but dirty diapers put a damper on the whole "I like to spend time with you" thing. Now, as we near the time when the dirty diapers are more likely to be mine, I miss them and worry about them constantly. I want to hang out with them as they suddenly don't want to be seen with me. I used to be cool to them and now I'm a curiosity at best and a liability most often. My value is in the money in my pocket and my driver's license. They need me less and I feel it more. I also become wiser and more aware of the threats in that big bad world. How can they ever deal with the stuff I am ready to deal with? They are just kids! And as they stop being kids, it is important to remember, THEY WILL ALWAYS BE KIDS!

Hey, world. These are my babies. I still want to cuddle them and protect them. I still want to make sure they are sleeping well, and enjoying a warm sunbeam. I want them to succeed and appreciate their worlds without having to hurt. So be nice to them. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The death of celebrity

This is one of my more serious sociological posts so those of you looking for either something religious, or something wacky, move along. I already got the credit of your viewing this page so I don't need you to read the text if you're going to be like that.

A long time ago, the means of communication were relatively tightly controlled and access to them was limited. It took money to start a newspaper, and only the select few got into the paper. Books publishing was limited to those who had run the gauntlet of the publishing game. Movies were made by studios and distributed to approved theaters, and music came from the big labels. When Andy Warhol made his "15 minutes of fame" statement, fame meant something. Sure, it was fleeting, but it meant being in the public eye for a quality 15 minutes. It was a function of supply and demand -- there was a limited supply of public renown and thus, the demand for access to that elite status of visibility was desired by many and achieved by few. Celebrity meant having access to that position as visible.

Over the last 30 years, a major aspect of technological innovation has been the decentralizing of the celebrity business. Sure, this wasn't the intention or goal of technology, but the democratization of access to technology has made the notion of celebrity obsolete. Music can be recorded with the same fidelity in the garage as in the studio, and distribution streams have multiplied -- the proliferation of channels, on TV and on computer which are available to any content creator and not just the "approved" one allows for more final product int he public sphere. Book publishing is now available to most anyone -- heck, even I have a couple of books out there, self published. By the way, buy my books. Books can be sold alongside "real" books and even the idea of the "real" is losing steam as the lines between the traditionally produced and the new-technology products have blurred. Most every type of communication media has been ripped from its safe haven among approved content producers and been cast about for all to see and share. Social media makes everything we do public so we can become the center of attention until the next guy posts on Facebook about whatever is on his mind. We all end up living in the public eye.

One end result has been the compromising of quality of those products and media which find their way into our collective face. There are fewer gate keepers selecting the "best" so we are hit with so many bits of content all vying for our attention. This has also caused an overload in the eyes and minds of the public -- with more songs, books, movies, and products available, and with no intervening agency vetting content to limit my choices to things that the culture creators think I would prefer, I get swamped with choices. My money can no longer go to one of a few choices and show that that particular option outstrips the rest. If 1 million Americans each have 1 dollar to spend, it will no longer be the case that one of 5 available products gets more than 1 fifth of the money and shows its superiority. Now there are ten thousand products so each one gets less of the pie (the revenue pool has remained the same) and each content creator gets less, and has less certainty that his product is demonstrably better than his competitors'.

And of course, with anyone and everyone being able to be thrust into the spotlight as the meme of the moment, the entire notion of the elitist celebrity is gone. When only 10 people starred in movies, they were the A list. Now, anyone can star in a video or a movie which sweeps the nation, and as there are more outlets, content creators have to generate more content. The "57 channels and nothing is on" problem becomes 300 channels and everything is on. Content becomes recursive (there is a reality show coming out where some of the new contestants are the "superfans" whose claim to fame is that they have enough social currency to cash in and be famous). Celebrity for being celebrity evens the playing field. It takes less to separate yourself from the field because there is more demand for personalities. Think of it as adding teams to the league -- more minor league pitchers get to the majors, true, but most of them would otherwise never make it because they simply aren't good enough. Every cook is on a cooking show and only the best becomes a star and then helps choose the next star while every other cook still gets on a show. The star production system becomes transparent and in the meanwhile, more of the runners-up also become famous.

So the upshot is that more people become "famous" but fame becomes less special. Too many roads leading to being the public eye mean that the public stops seeing it as anything out of the ordinary to be visible. Sure, there will still be a cachet to certain flavors of celebrity and the "official" famous people will strive to separate themselves from the nouveau rich-and-famous, but it will become harder and harder for the common man to keep track of all the people he is supposed to admire, and the people who achieve fame will be less and less deserving.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What I got

People who know me well know well enough not to read this so I'll put something out there for those of you who may not have to deal with me with any frequency and are craving for an insight into what makes me teak.

Usually, I get good and angry on the weekends because that's the only time that I read the newspaper. And the newspaper is full of people doing and saying stupid things, god bless 'em.

Today I got mad because I thought about the newspaper. Not about the newspaper in general, but about the comics. When I was young, the comics were hilarious. Some were dry, some silly and some, too intellectual for me even though I knew they were supposed to be funny (Doonsbury, I'm looking at you). But for the most part, they were funny. As I grew older, either my sense of humor dulled or the comics did, because I found that they became more hit and miss. And they all seemed to collude so that when one, especially on a Sunday, wasn't funny, none was, so as not to make that one feel bad. I mean, it is nice to think that Nancy and Dennis the Menace, or Marmaduke and Garfield and Heathcliff all got along for long enough to plan their being collectively unfunny but I wish that they could have agreed that a little kid in Westchester deserved a smile considering he has been waiting ALL WEEK for godssakes.

Comics now are, for the most part, uninteresting. My daily life provides more than enough yucks and I find myself skipping most of the comics (except for Prince Valiant which has, strangely enough, become FUNNIER than I recall from when I was a boy). One which I can't help but look at (like a train wreck) is "Love is." I think I became interested in love at two particular times: the first was when I fell in love. At the time I never read the newspaper so the couple of times I saw the comic, I thought "that's adorable and, gawrsh, spot on." The second time was when Homer Simpson referred to it as "about two naked eight-year-olds who are married" (A Milhouse Divided). That got me thinking. So I started looking at it more and my anger grew into the healthy adult vitriol that typifies my life.

Here's why I hate it.

Let's look at the facts as elucidated by the sage Homer. They are 8 or so. What do they know from love. The girl loves Barbie dolls and the boy loves playing baseball and putting mud on himself and others. This is not the love to which we aspire (I hope) though if you do, more power to you but please don't invite me to dinner. They are naked. I'm not annoyed that they lack genitalia -- that's their choice and I applaud them for being so forward thinking. But I don't like that sometimes the boy wears a hat. A HAT! (find the joke with the punch line, "nu? Maybe someone should visit?" and share my indignation)

I'd like to present my list of things that I can say are what "Love is." I say these with over 19 years (and counting...constantly counting) in the being married business. They are real and reflect more accurately what being married is all about. Some are romantic and some aren't. But I hope most are the kind that you can't tell if they are romantic or just plain gross. Feel free to draw the cartoon for each of these. Just don't tell me about it.

The pronouns here are interchangeable. If it says "he" feel free to replace with "she" or "it." These are not based on anything or anyone in particular, besides, of course, Prince Valiant.

Love is...accepting her flaws because you know, deep down inside, that she is the only one in the world who accepts yours

Love is...defending him even when you know he is wrong

Love is...knowing when not to comment on the stain on his tie

Love is...sitting together and laughing at the other couples who are so, so doomed as they begin their lives together

Love is...still craving attention

Love is...considering a trip to the basement together to do laundry as a date

Love is...tracing the wrinkles as an expression of affection

Love is...eating all the ice cream but being considerate enough to lie about it, or at least not say anything because you hope that she will forget that there was any ice cream

Love is...not commenting about the smell

Love is...fixing the computer for free

Love is...saying she looks good in that dress and meaning it, no matter what dress she's wearing

Love is...pretending to listen, but pretending really sincerely

Love is...having a night out with the girls, but remembering his name when you get home. And not telling what you said about him and that little problem he has

Love is...the inertia of being in a comfortable rut

Love is...leaving a fifty, instead of a twenty on the dresser

Love is...not talking politics

Love is...finding common enemies

Is there more to love than this? Of course. There are the practical jokes, the ruthless jabs and the comfort of knowing that at least one of you will remember to pick up the children, eventually.