Sunday, November 23, 2014

That's Not My Church, Either

I’ve had a few friends say that watching Cosmos this summer was “like going to church.” That hasn't been my experience. It’s a good show – a really good show – but at the end of an episode, I feel informed, and a little smarter about my place in the universe…but not filled with any transcendent wonder. It feels like school, on those days when school felt like a good place to be.

My church moments are usually live theater – or live music. In theater, it’s often when some connection is made that I haven’t seen before. The end of Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile, the first time I saw it… that was a church moment for me. Pig Iron Theater Company’s Dig or Fly, a fusing of the stories of Amelia Earhart, archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, and Daedalus and Icarus, was another. Even a production of Wallace Shawn’s Aunt Dan and Lemon I saw years ago at Philadelphia Theater Company, a play that reveals itself to be a scorpion halfway through, did the job. And Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia — I saw a production at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia — astonished me. Its staging and subject matter threw the doors of experience open wide. Film can do this, too...but it doesn't hit with the force of something live on stage before me.

Music, I never know where or when it’s going to happen. The first one I remember was watching The Moody Blues, and hearing Justin Hayward sing “Question.” Even from way back on the floor of the Spectrum, I knew that was a special moment. I’ve felt a light drizzle begin as the Who started to sing “Reign O’er Me” at Veterans Stadium, and I’ve seen David Wilcox, undaunted by a storm, scrap his set list and sing song after song about rain, until the set turned a corner into sunshine…about five minutes before the weather did. Hearing Bet Williams unspool “Lost in Provo” at the North Star Bar, or dancing as Neo Pseudo pulsed and jammed their way through “Follow the Drinking Gourd” some Thursday night at Café Mexicana in Manayunk, those moments were church. I was outside myself.

There’s the ecstasy. That’s where I find rapture.

Cosmos is an unusually engaging science program. It offers historical perspective and scientific insight, and presents some fascinating intellectual exercises. But as art, it hasn’t yet moved me. Not the way church should.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Another Creepy Dream

So, here’s a dream - or a series of dreams -- from the other night, when I still had a little cold medicine in my system. Took a DayQuil at 4 or 5, dropped off to sleep around 10, and...

Kathy and I were heading south, for a quick trip to see my family. We stopped the car somewhere on route 1, realizing we’d left our toothbrushes at home. I stopped to get gas, while Kathy took her bike from the rack and rode back to the house to get them. Meanwhile, while my car was gassing up, some people came out of the little building next to the pumps and offered me a chance to sit down and have some Turkey dinner. They were really nice, but obviously faking it. I knew they were sharks, con artists, all of them. One man asked me what kind of maps I had in the car. I told him we had a New Jersey map, and a national map. He said, “We’ll get you a new national map,” in a way that made me think he expected the borders to soon be redrawn, or that there have always been secret borders I wasn’t privy to.

I had a little turkey with them, being careful to pay only in cash for everything. Kathy returned, and we were about to leave, when one of the women of the group stopped me by the driver’s side door and started poking me with her forefinger in the shoulders, right under the shoulder blades. She looked like she was being playful about it, but I kept my hand on my wallet just the same. Didn’t trust them one bit. And as we looked more serious about moving on, I could see a large group of people in the distance, running toward us.

I woke up.

I looked at the clock, checked the alarm. Headed to the toilet and gave it a late-night watering. Then climbed back into bed, and drifted off to sleep.

Kathy and I were back on another road trip, but this time we didn’t get farther than Metuchen when we pulled over. Kathy lit out again (I guess; she wasn’t in the rest of the dream), but I waited for her in a house, talking and having a drink with David Sedaris. We were just casually chatting the the front room of these too-friendly strangers, when I passed him a note: “Do you trust these people?” He wrote back quickly, “Not even a little.”

We made noises that we had to leave, and our hosts, all smiles, implored us to stay for just a little while longer, relax, take a load off. Grinning, with calculating eyes. I took a look outside the house’s screen door, and there, at the intersection at the end of the block, was a crowd of people, slowly milling about, their eyes on the house. I said, “David, we’ve got to go,” and we left the house, our hosts protesting behind us.

As soon as we stepped of the porch, the crowd at the corner broke into a run. I was running for my car, swarmed by these people, their faces angry or in masks, some of them carrying clubs. I had the feeling of being overwhelmed, swept away by a tide of muscle and wood.

I woke again. It was maybe an hour later. I looked out my window, but there was no one in the street. I got up and walked down the hall, looked out that window, too. No one.
I refilled the water in the humidifier in my CPAP system in the dark, and climbed back into bed. As I was drifting off, I saw a tall figure in a witch’s mask emerge from the closet, and I startled awake again.

Nothing more happened that night.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

There's Vegetarian...

...and then there's NASHVILLE vegetarian.

(Menu shot at Pub 5, 5th Ave. off Broadway, Nashville. Delicious food, rooftop dining, whiskey specials, amusing typos)

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Na Na Na Na

Dreamed I was Robin last night – the original, Dick Grayson. The short pants, everything. Batman—sort of a cross between the modern comics Batman and Adam West—and I were pretending to work with some warlord in order to get to the real threat—a crime kingpin? An arms dealer? I don’t know.

One night, as we were waiting, Batman mentioned David Zavimbe, who fought crime for a while as Batwing. He’d since retired, and they’d lost touch. I asked how he was doing. “Fine, I guess,” Batman said. “He’s a good man, but we’re not really friends.”

“You should call him,” I said. Batman agreed.

Later, we found one of the warlord’s shopping lists. It read “1 loaf bread, crackers, jar peanut butter.” I asked Batman if he thought the peanut butter was for himself or for his boa constrictor. Batman shrugged. “Either way, I’ve already stirred sleeping powder into it.”

The warlord saw us looking at the list. To cover up our intentions, I doodled some boobs on the page. Batman knew better, and before he handed it over, changed the boobs I drew into a map. “What’s this ridge?” he asked the warlord, pointing to a finely shaded underboob.

Later, we were making our way to a meeting, when a teenager drove up in his car. He told us the warlord told him to show us what all the buttons in the car did. He pressed one before we could stop him, and all the airbags deployed. We knew the next one would be a self-destruct button, so we told him to come out and walk with us. I asked his name, and he gave his gang nickname. Flippity something, I think it was. I can’t remember. But looking at him, with his button nose and wavy brown hair, I had a feeling his mom had named him Marvin.

Later on, we passed by a girl who was crying, sitting on some stairs. I tried to cheer her up. She was named Darla, like from the Our Gang movies, and the other kids were teasing her. Nancy and Sluggo were also there. I told them all they shouldn’t tease, and Darla dried her eyes, and was suddenly a little older, and it was right before her wedding. The other kids were older too, and all dressed up. I helped Darla to her feet and she moved on toward the ceremony. 

Batman cleared his throat. “Robin,” he said. “Her corsage is still on the stairs.” I grabbed it and got it to her before she reached the aisle.

Batman knows how to make a wedding perfect.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

David Brenner

David Brenner passed away yesterday.

There was a time, when I was young, when he was my favorite comedian. There were two reasons for that. The first was that he guest-hosted for Johnny Carson on the tonight show on so many occasions. While I never thought of Johnny as a comic -- he was a host -- David was a comedian filling in for the host. And at the time, he always made me laugh, maybe even more than Johnny did.

Second, he was from Philadelphia. It seems a strange thing to matter so much to me, but it did. He was one of ours, a guy from that same area that became a big star. David Brenner, because of his local origins, but also because he always seemed to wear those origins on his sleeve, somehow made the idea of success real. That's important to a kid. (I feel the same sense of local pride in Tina Fey. When the Phillie Phanatic showed up on an episode of 30 Rock, Kathy probably got a sunburn from the sheer joy on my face.)

Mark Evanier has a great remembrance of David Brenner on his blog.

I've got nothing but warm memories of him, and how much he made me laugh when I was younger. But there was one day... Kathy and I were walking up the strip -- forever, it seemed, as distances are illusions out there, and objects are much further than they appear. And all the while, we were being paced in the bumper-to-bumper traffic by a truck with a loudspeaker and a billboard that was blasting raucous, canned laughter, punctuated by David Brenner's voice urging us to come to his show. The laughs were eardrum-piercing, meant to grab attention for the brief moment as the truck drove past. But it was crawling along in a traffic jam, and we were walking the same unfortunate direction. So instead of hearing it for 20 seconds or so, we heard it for fifteen minutes, on an interminable loop.

For refuge, we ducked into a shop that was selling cheap tourist bait, and holed up there among the "What Happens In Vegas" T-shits and souvenir dice. Eventually, the truck crawled by, and the danger had passed. I can't stress enough to you how aggravating the sound of all that phony laughter on the recording was, and how much of it we heard. I can only say this: Had it been Carrot Top, I'd still be livid about it today.

But David Brenner? I could forgive him anything.

Rest in Peace, David. Thanks for almost all of the laughs.


Friday, February 28, 2014

Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars?

So there's a Cadillac commercial that was in heavy rotation during the Olympics. It stars Neal McDonough, who's played a shady creep in pretty much everything I've ever seen him in (Desperate Housewives and Justified spring to mind; he's always a great choice for a villain), selling Caddy's new electric model.

Here it is, if you want to watch.

Anyway, the Huffington Post got itself in high dudgeon about the thing, calling it a "nightmare."

I've seen the commercial, and I think it's pretty awesome. Not because the message appeals to me, but particularly because it doesn't -- it's not designed to appeal to anyone who would already be thinking about buying an electric car.

All electric-car sales and PR campaigns, to this point, have an element of altruism at their core. (Buy one and save the planet, etc.) This ad doesn't care. It's just "Buy one because it's the new thing. Because we're American. Because we work harder. Because we deserve to have all the best stuff."

It's an irritating message to libs like me. The dude comes off like an arrogant prick. But to the people this ad is meant to appeal to, riling people like me (and HuffPo readers) is a plus. And I understand that -- that multilingual Coke ad in the Super Bowl was nice and all, but wasn't it even better because it stuck a thumb in the right wing's eye? Wasn't watching that ridiculous freakout fun? Pass the popcorn, and maybe I'll wash it down with a Coke.

Cadillac has decided there's a market for electric cars beyond people with environmental concerns. That's GREAT.

(Most of this post originally appeared as a comment in a pal's Facebook thread.)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

In which Rob's dreams reveal his deep distrust of the medical profession

I dreamed I was going to the doctor’s office to get laser eye surgery. It was a four-part process, at least, and this was my third session. As part of the procedure, after the actual laser eye surgery, I would have to chew a pill and then get shot in the head. They would hand me a pill, I would go into a little room, and someone I couldn’t see would shoot me in the head. I guess you could say this was a nightmare.

I’d been through this several times before. I always assumed the sniper was in the building across the street. Then I heard something shuffle above me. I looked up. In the ceiling tiles were hundreds of bullet holes, patched with dangling strips of bloody gauze. I started screaming. I couldn’t remember whether to eat the pill before or after I was shot, and I scrambled around the room, trying to find cover, a red laser dot following me from above.

Eventually I ate the pill and heard the shot.

Sometime later, maybe that afternoon, I’m recovered enough to leave. There’s a party for me outside, on the hospital lawn – a surprise picnic. My mom’s there, some others of my family, a bunch of my friends. It’s a big day. I only have to go through this one more time, if I’m lucky. I take off my glasses and look around. My vision’s no better than it was before.


(In no coincidence at all, I get my CPAP machine today. My worries apparently run deeper than I knew.)