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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in sidewinder_la's LiveJournal:

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Wednesday, June 14th, 2006
10:46 pm
Grief and Memorials
Went to a memorial service this weekend for a 17-year-old African-American boy who was shot and killed at a party a couple of weeks ago. I knew the kid's dad better than I knew the kid. The kid's 18-year-old brother was also at the party. He was not shot and killed. He was at the memorial I attended.

The kid went to a Christian school. He was on the football team. He was a singer and a musician. He had a smile that could power a city. He was not a thug or a gangster.

The police statement, duly reported in the paper, said the kid shot "someone" in the head before he himself was shot. While the kid was identified, the "someone" never has been. What's up with that?

All the kid's friends said the last time they saw him, he was getting ready to take the SAT the next day.

What the hell really happened?

I lost several pounds in water weight from crying at the memorial. Two things got me more than anything else. One is that the kid's elementary school teacher read a letter the kid had written, at the age of nine, to his future self at the age of 18. The second is that a fourth grade boy who still attends the school was sobbing inconsolably and came up to the dead kid's dad to give him a hug and something the boy had made for the kid. I didn't figure out what had hit the fourth grader so hard until I looked at the program.

At this school, there is a tradition that at the beginning of the school year, the eighth graders give the incoming first graders a white rose. At the end of the year, each first grader gives the eighth grader a red rose to take with them as they leave the school. This young fourth grade boy had been the one who had exchanged roses with the kid. The kid had a personality and a heart as big as the Grand Canyon. He was known for his hugs as much as he was known for his smiles. He was definitely the sort of kid a young boy would look up to and want to emulate.

Kids don't need to be killing each other. Fists and beatings I understand. Boys are passionate; they get pissed off, they get enraged. A lot of boys need to fight. Guns are cold, impersonal, and chickenshit. They're not for boys who need to fight, they're for boys who feel like little girls inside, and that terrifies them.

I hold the kid and his grieving friends and family in my heart. And I still want to know what the hell happened.

--Sidewinder

Current Mood: sad
Saturday, June 10th, 2006
11:24 am
Haircut Anxiety
I've been getting my hair cut by Juan at a local barbershop in my neighborhood for several years. It's the kind of barbershop that has a spinning barber pole out front (go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/brunel/A885062 to find out the meaning of the barber pole).

A haircut at Juan's costs $12. I get my hair cut about once every six weeks. Before Juan, I used to go to the same salons as Eve. A men's haircut at these places cost about $40, not including tips to the person who washed your hair and the person who cut your hair. I stopped going to the salons when the Archangel Michael, my last "stylist," told me, "Honey, you don't have enough hair for me to cut anymore. You might as well go to your local barber and just get a buzz."

The Archangel was right. The only problem is, Michael told these great stories about growing up among "trailer trash," searching for the perfect condo in Palm Springs, and going to gay Western bars where the Marlboro Man who sits down next to you seems too good to be true, which turns out to be the case when he asks if he can buy you a drink. "When they talk," Michael explained, "It's like they've got purses coming out of their mouths or something."

In contrast to Michael's stories and a salon full of every kind of woman -- great people-watching -- Juan is usually asleep and alone when I arrive for my cut. The TV is tuned to a local Spanish-language station showing a couple of Mexican soccer teams, such as Cruz Azul and Jaguares, locked in a one-nothing battle. I understand Spanish. I'm a big fan of Mexican culture on both sides of the border. But I'm not a soccer fan. Neither am I a golf fan. When I need the expanse of green on an afternoon TV screen to enter that Zen-like contemplative state of no-mind, I prefer baseball.

The real problem is that Juan is not a great barber. He's occasionally a good barber, but never great. I know nothing about the tonsorial sciences, so perhaps I'm just not understanding how you can butcher a balding man's buzz, but on occasion, Juan manages to do just that.

So, the last time I needed a haircut, I decided to branch out. Eve had found a new nail place in a nearby strip mall and informed me that there were barber poles right next door. After much internal debate about whether I should just stick with what I knew or go where I had never gone before, I decided to be brave and take the plunge.

I don't know why I didn't walk right back out the minute I came in the door. A collegiate track meet at the University of Oregon was being broadcast on two TVs in the barber shop. One man sprinted past another and hit the tape a few tenths of a second ahead of the first man, at which point one of the customers in the shop waiting his turn blurted out, "How could he win that race? He's WHITE!" I happen to be white, and a quick glance around the shop revealed that, of the 10 or so barbers and clients, I was the ONLY white guy in the shop. It fell dead silent. Then a lone female voice bellowed, "Gray, shut up! I been tellin' you to shut your mouth all day, but you ain't listenin' to me!"

At this point Gray turns to me and says, "Hi, I'm Gray. What's your name? Do you like track?" and the lone female voice says to me, "Come on up here and get your hair cut. What we gonna do for you today?" Gray, who seemed to be mentally-challenged in some way, continued to make racially-charged comments at the screen, as well as singing and rapping ("My name is Gangsta Gray, and I am here to Make Your Day...") while the rest of the clients, all 18-24 year-old African-American men, snickered. It was the most uncomfortable haircut I've ever gotten, and it was $15. It was as good as Juan's on his best day, but it didn't last as long. Three weeks later, I need another haircut and I don't know what to do: go back to Juan's or launch out into the great unknown and find another nearby barber pole, with all the uncertainty that that entails? None of my current male friends lives in my neighborhood, nor are they balding. It looks like I'm on my own here.

--Sidewinder

Current Mood: anxious
Monday, June 5th, 2006
7:37 am
Living in the Tattoo World
I don't have any tattoos. I'm of a generation where people didn't really get tattoos. Our fathers might have gotten them while serving in the armed forces. Our younger brothers, sisters, and friends may have gotten them to identify themselves as part of a particular community. Until recently, the only two people I knew who sported tattoos were a singer in a heavy metal band and a visual artist.

Many of the tattooed people I now know are visual artists. I started thinking about what it was like to live in the tattooed world the other day when I dropped by an art gallery in my neighborhood. It was a hot day, and the artist/proprietor of the gallery, Ben, was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Neck, arms and legs were fully illustrated. His body blended in well with the works on the walls in the gallery.

Then I went to the birthday party of an artist I know, Anne, who happens to be the same age as I. There were other artists and musicians at the party, and I noticed no tattoos, though surely someone there had them.

After the birthday party, I stopped in at a cafe in a Bohemian part of town, Echo Park. Several of the customers were as "tatted-up" as Ben had been, and the young woman who served me, Athena, had a few tasteful tats as well.

I suddenly found myself wondering: what's it like to live as a tattooed person in a community other than the one in which your "tats" are accepted? What happens when you travel to Kansas or Florence or Michoacan? What if you interview for a job as an insurance salesman at GEICO? Will the people there accept you, embrace you, hire you because of the affinity between their gekko and your tats?

I know one guy, a generation younger, who is a computer geek. Mikey is part Japanese, part Anglo, and he's got "tats" on the calf of one leg and the forearm and upper arm of another. Until recently Mikey worked at the school where I work and had to wear long sleeves even on the hottest days. He's now pimping data systems or something. He's got a couple of young kids, lives in the suburbs -- what do the kids think of the tats? What do their friends think of them?

I'm reminded of a Saturday Night Live skit, featuring Amy Poehler, that pokes fun at young moms of today with butterfly tattoos on their backside, and what will happen to those butterflies as the moms age...

If you read this post, and you're a tattooed person who has encountered any of these situations, please respond and let me know how it is for you, living in the tattooed world.

--Sidewinder
Saturday, July 9th, 2005
11:05 am
Ten Year Old Thoughts
Been a while since I've had any time to devote to this journal.

Have been going through notes for a novel based on the epigraph to Chilean writer Jose Donoso's The Obscene Bird of Night:

"Every man who has reached even his intellectual teens begins to suspect that life is no farce; that it is not genteel comedy even; that it flowers and fructifies on the contrary out of the profoundest tragic depths of the essential dearth in which its subject’s roots are plunged. The natural inheritance of everyone who is capable of spiritual life is an unsubdued forest where the wolf howls and the obscene bird of night chatters."
HENRY JAMES SR., writing to his sons Henry and William.

A wacky sort of reference book, An Incomplete Education, has under the entry for William James the following:

"Almost put America on the map as an intellectual presence. Pioneer of pragmatism, our first indigenous school of thought. Attempted to make philosophy relevant by abandoning the search for absolutes in favor of a will-it-cut-down-trees approach to ideas. Theorized that reality is whatever we make it, that truth is tantamount to effectiveness, ditto goodness (thus, if believing in God makes you a better person, then God exists), and that philosophy should stick to answering questions that have a “cash-value,” i.e., that will make a significant difference in people’s lives. Set the tone for much subsequent twentieth-century philosophy. . . . Center of a clique of brilliant Harvard intellectuals."

I have always stayed away from the Jameses like the plague, primarily because of Henry James, Jr., author of The Europeans, The Americans, The Bostonians—books with titles like that. I’ve read The Europeans, and found myself quite bored. It’s not where I was at. I don’t even know if I ever knew anything about Henry James, Sr., or William James—perhaps that they were clerics or somehow interested in religion. And so that turned me off, too. The entire family struck me as one of those New England blue-blood families that is synonymous with the East Coast, American “intellectual,” and I wanted to have nothing to do with that. And I don’t know why I wanted to have nothing to do with that. Because I had no hope of being that? Because it seemed too stuffy and dead? I suffered from the same disease of many another youth in thinking that if I merely sensed that something was stodgy, there was no point in actually finding anything out about it, to either confirm or refute the original sense about it. The fact that people regarded the Jameses for some reason meant nothing to me.

If I were to be honest, I would have to say that I care deeply about East Coast, American intellectuals like the James family. Here are some reasons why:

1. I envy the Ivy League education. I wish that I had had one. I wish that I had had the opportunity to be more grounded in American intellectual traditions. I don’t think I would have essentially turned out any different, but I might have a greater sense of confidence not only about my talents but about my right to being a writer. This is very silly, I know, but there it is.

2. As a person struggling to cast off the shackles of mediocrity and banality, I care that there are others attempting to do the same. I am drawn and attracted to people who are trying to “realize” themselves. I have compassion for those who are not—I feel that many of those who are not trying to realize themselves have fallen prey to the grossest failings of consumer culture.

3. In a way, I guess I think of the elitists I have known—and let’s face it, there aren’t that many—as cloaking themselves in their elitism, like high priests in the Catholic traditions, and withholding their knowledge and teachings from others who might benefit from them. And all for the purpose of protecting some little niche of their self or society for themselves.

4. This cloaking of the elite has backfired. Now they are prevented from having an influence on the culture by the very rabble from which they were protecting themselves. It’s the ultimate Wizard of Oz scenario.

5. There has always been a rabble. The majority of humanity has always been the rabble. In the Western tradition, culture has been separated between high and low, that of the elite, the powerful, the aristocracy and that of everyone else. In smaller, indigenous, more tribal societies, the culture is controlled by the elite, but is a part of everyday life, and can belong to everyone through shared ritual, marking the cycle of the year, and through the practical artifacts of daily life such as food preparation and serving utensils, clothing and blankets, and hunting paraphernalia.

What do I want to say with all this? I suppose it is that I think it is important for people to try to realize themselves—in whatever way they think appropriate. I don’t mean that people ought to be “saved” in the Christian evangelical sense. I do mean that the notion of “self-improvement,” at the very least, should be a part of what we expect from ourselves in this culture, as much as we expect ourselves to get rich or be hip or cool or whatever.

I do feel that we are getting dangerously close in our culture to abandoning almost all expectations except the expectation to “consume.” This allows me to re-state what I was trying to say in the previous paragraph as: it should be the stated project of everyone in our culture that they attempt to add something of lasting value or impact to their “circle” or “tribe,” whatever that may be.

The entertainment industry represents, to me, the consumption of culture by the rabble, who are rapidly losing the ability to produce culture in the process of consuming it.

For my final thought for today, let me look up the meaning of consumption as a quaint notion of disease. “Consumption: a progressive wasting away of the body especially from pulmonary tuberculosis; tuberculosis; the utilization of economic goods in the satisfaction of wants or in the process of production resulting chiefly in their destruction, deterioration, or transformation.”

And finally: the rabble are only the rabble as viewed from a culturally elite perspective. If the purpose of culture were to spiritually, psychologically, and intellectually educate, then the rabble would cease to be seen or defined as rabble and would be viewed as individuals in various stages on the path.

Current Mood: determined
Thursday, June 9th, 2005
7:24 am
WORK AND HUMANITY PART 4
TRIBES - 1
Capitalism as a Form of Perversion

We're evolved for tribal living. How does our acute sensitivity to detail and natural sense of loyalty get perverted by Wal-Mart?

The answer may lie in the misplacement and misuse of our natural tribal instinct toward loyalty, collective effort, and sharing of resources. “You’re now a member of the Walmart Family,” management tells you. “We welcome your ideas for improving efficiency, sales, and customer satisfaction.” When Sam Walton and his cronies get to pocket the profit from your ideas, you bet they welcome it. But whereas part of being a member of my family means we take care of each other, part of being a member of the Walmart Family does not.

Humans lived for many millenia in collective tribal groupings. It is how we evolved. We are now living in a completely different way, but we have not evolved to live this way. We are, at heart, still hunters and gatherers whose instincts have been rechanneled into some random and bizarre loyalties. And our survival instincts have been perverted in a host of equally abnormal ways.

Living in small bands of people, we knew that we all depended upon one another for both our individual and collective survival. In the area in which I live, Los Angeles County, the native people gathered nuts and berries – particularly acorns from the plentiful live oak groves that grew near the water courses pouring out of the surrounding mountains. Any child would know when certain berries came into season, and where to find them. They could also tell what was good to eat and what would make them sick. They would know how long to soak acorns in water to leech out the bitter tannins.

Also, just by living in their environment, native peoples could tell a lot from what we would consider very subtle clues. As in the children’s book for toddlers, “Everyone Poops,” autochthonous people knew that all animals pooped. They would run across bear, deer, cougar, and coyote scat all the time, and they could tell from the scat what these animals had been eating, whether they were likely to be hungry or sated, sick or injured; how long ago they had been in the area, and whether they were likely to still be around. Survival and strength depended on paying attention to a lot of details in the environment, and sharing those details with other people with whom you came in contact. It made the business of “survival” a whole lot less anxiety-producing than old movies and TV shows like “Wild Kingdom” would have you believe. “Wild Kingdom” was sponsored, after all, by Mutual of Omaha which, like most of the insurance industry, profits from fear.

The human attention to detail has taken a bizarre turn in the modern world – a turn that produces nothing BUT anxiety. They say “the Devil is in the details,” usually meaning that this is where the hard work of any discipline, be it filing legal briefs or practicing piano, comes into play. But in the modern world, our attention to detail has morphed from a survival trait to a full-blown case of status anxiety.

Now, instead of paying attention to cougar scat and a host of interconnected phenomena from phases of the moon to where the sun hits a particular rock to what the grunion and the warblers are doing, we are listening to traffic reports, checking out the latest features on wireless handheld devices, or noticing stitching on blue jeans to determine whether they are mere Levis or “Sevens” or “Citizens” (which my daughters tell me is the sans pareil or sine qua non of fashion these days)

From the http://www.sevenforallmankind.com/ website:
“The founders of the business identified a void in the contemporary denim market. Fashion denim had not been seen in the US for over 20 years. The brand enjoyed instant success at retail. The focus of the product was on women's denim bottoms. The product has been successful because of the fit, finishes, fabrics, and attention to detail.

“The customer is sexy and sophisticated. Our jeans have become part of her fashion wardrobe.
“Sales reached $13 million in the first full year, 2001 and kept growing exponentially. The product line continued to expand, encompassing non-denim bottoms and jackets. The brand quickly was in demand in major cities around the world. Brand awareness was created through product placement and a strong celebrity following that continues to this day.”

From http://www.fashionunited.co.uk:
“So what defines the ‘it’ jean, and how does a pair of simple, cotton jeans, get to be augmented to cult status that people are willing to pay premium prices for what is essentially an inexpensive garment to produce? Sure, hand-stitching, hand-washing, swarovski crystal embossing, wear & tear signs and patchwork can all make a jean more interesting (and expensive) but at the end of the day it's just another pair of jeans. Not rocket science, no?

“Not according to the new denim companies that are cropping up faster than you can say Levi's. Paper Denim and Seven Jeans may prove tough competition with their foothold on the market, but newer companies such as Grass from LA (the grass apparently is greener…) and Salt works jeans from New York (clean, contemporary lines for a fabulous fit) are two new denim companies taking the UK by storm and are much more interesting in their philosophies and styles. Multi-mass brands are not interesting to connoisseur denim buyers, who want a jean that is not on everybody else's behind, so to speak.

“Once a denim brand gets a few upmarket boutiques as stockists [sic] and has celebrities cooing over the new ‘it’ jean, the rest of the world is apt to follow. That is exactly what happened with Grass jeans. Last year, a pair was spotted on Uma Thurman and Jennifer Anistan, and next minute Barney's and Fred Segal are buying them up en masse.”

Next time: What's your moiety, man?

Current Mood: anxious
Monday, May 23rd, 2005
7:15 am
WORK AND HUMANITY: PART 3
THE AGRARIAN MYTH

In a way, the economy in which we live is based on an agrarian model run amok. Its motto is “work hard and you will get ahead.” If you peel away the layers in this sentiment, you’re left scratching your head.

I live in an urban metropolis. According to the most recent Census (2000), 80% of my fellow Americans also live in and around metropolitan areas, with about half of these living in the 20 largest metropolitan areas. Tampa-St.Pete is the smallest of the 20, with a population of 2,396,000, and Greater New York is the largest, at 21,200,000.

The only “produce” that I and my fellow urban Americans “cultivate” comes from backyard fruit trees and the occasional kitchen garden. We do not have contact with a lot of farmers. In fact, not a lot of farmers – in the pre-20th Century definition of that term – exist any longer. Now there are “agri-businessmen” whose employees do the actual farming on unimaginably immense tracts of monoculturally-planted land. The CEOs of these agribusinesses are Suppliers for the most part. There is a huge difference in emphasis between an agribusinessman’s “employee” and a farmer, in the old sense of the word. The difference comes down to the fact that the farmer has a greater stake in all the decisions that affect his ability to bring his produce to market. The employee does what he’s told in order to keep his job.

Most of the jobs I see around me are, in fact, “service” jobs. On a daily basis I might come in contact with people who work in food service & supply, retail, maintenance of one form or another, construction. Because I live in Los Angeles, it’s possible that people with whom I rub shoulders at the café or convenience store every day might also include those in the entertainment industry or those who work in physical enhancement: cosmeticians, hair stylists, personal trainers, yoga instructors. There are those in various branches of health care – mental, physical, pharmaceutical. There might be some educators and scientists, as well. And perhaps a few artists. The vast majority of people in my neck of the woods work in offices which might have as their “product” or function things related to money and finance, sales, utilities, or “support” for any of the “industries” that I’ve mentioned.

How does the agrarian motto, “Work hard and you will get ahead” apply to these functions I’ve just described? Does working hard mean typing more memos, creating more Excel spreadsheets, serving more steak, selling more drugs, teaching more kids, working longer hours? Perhaps the injunction to work hard implies “working smart” – finding ways to do more, better.

If this is working harder, then what’s getting ahead? Getting a raise, a bonus, a promotion? Have you looked at the disparity between what the average employee takes home each year compared to what the average CEO takes home? Have you looked at how that disparity has grown? Look at it, and then tell me who’s getting ahead.

The “State of Working America” report, issued in 2000 by the Economic Policy Institute, declares that “the real wage of the median CEO rose 62.7% from 1989 to 1999, helping the typical CEO to earn 107 times more than the typical worker. This ratio of CEO to worker pay was almost double the ratio of 56 in 1989.” Meanwhile, even though “a middle-class, married-couple family’s income grew 9.2% from 1989 to 1998, a substantial part of this growth reflected an increase in family work hours, up 246 hours to 3,885 total, or about six extra full-time weeks a year since 1989.” The increase in work time from 1969 to 1998 is even more shocking. According to the report, “Weeks worked grew by the equivalent of a person working over one-third of a year (19 weeks) more in 1998 than they were in 1969. The growth in weeks worked among higher income households, by contrast, was only half as much.”

Not surprisingly, “the wage growth of typical workers has not kept pace with productivity due in large part to a growing share of corporate income being paid to owners of capital, with a lower share paid out as compensation.” In addition, The State of Working America Report found that rising debt, not rising stock value, was the big story for middle income families in the 1990s: “While households in the middle of the wealth distribution captured 2.8% of the total growth in stock market holdings between 1989 and 1998, these same families accounted for 38.8% of the unprecedented rise in household debt.” The report supplies further perspective on the stock market by pointing out that “the top 1% of stock owners hold almost half of all stocks, while the bottom 80% own just 4.1% of total stock holdings. Stock market gains were similarly concentrated among top stock owners, with nearly 35% of the gains going to the wealthiest 1% of households from 1989-98.”

In an agrarian economy, a family or confederation of family farmers might decide to commit to working a little harder – planting more acreage or raising more livestock – in order to provide more for their customers in the surrounding villages, towns, or cities. The commitment to producing more might spread some wealth by providing a boost in business to the people whose professions are allied with farming: blacksmiths, equipment manufacturers, feed and seed suppliers, and maybe even shop-keepers. Mostly, though, the extra hours and harder work (sowing or harvesting at a faster rate), would most directly benefit the farmer. He would not make the commitment to working harder if he saw that the banker who helped him finance the purchase of extra land, livestock, or seed received over 100 times the benefit that the farmer himself received -- $10,000 for every $100 that the farmer made in profit? No way!

The question is: why do we do it? Why do we agree to work longer hours or improve the efficiency of what we do, just so someone else can pocket the profit?

Next Time: Capitalists are Perverts. We're evolved for tribal living. How does our acute sensitivity to detail and natural sense of loyalty get perverted by Wal-Mart?

Current Mood: pensive
Tuesday, May 17th, 2005
7:15 am
WORK AND HUMANITY: PART 2
ALTERNATIVES

As I said in my last post, it isn’t work that I object to. It is the structure and content of work for the vast majority of American consumers. It is the unnecessary demands that work makes upon our time, and the way that it erodes not only society but human relations on a more intimate scale.

There are three alternatives that I consider whenever I think about work: gentleman farmer, agrarian economy, and tribal living. Each of these has its downside: gentleman farmers rely on other people to do the lion’s share of their immediately productive work – i.e., till the soil and tend to the livestock; economies that rely mainly on farming are subject to environmental factors beyond their control – drought, flood, and locusts, for example; and tribal economies are susceptible to threats from rival groups when resources become scarce.

On its face, gentleman farmer may look fairly similar to the CEO Supplier in the current American system: a relative handful of gentlemen farmers own or legally control the vast majority of the resources, and therefore the “means of production.” Their “tenants” are at their whim and mercy. Because the gentleman farmer’s land is passed from generation to generation through inheritance, there is little chance that a tenant can become a gentleman. Surely the system of the Suppliers offers a better chance to “move up.” I will not argue with that. I will argue, however, that a society run by gentleman farmers is more humane than that run by CEO Suppliers.

Implied in the term “gentleman farmer” is the notion, first of all, that this person, to whom I shall also refer as a nobleman, is educated. A part of the nobleman’s education includes a thorough grounding in the humanities – history, language (ancient and modern), literature, and the arts (both appreciation and applied). Another part of the nobleman’s education includes the notion of duty, a sense of obligation not only to the people who do his productive work, but also to the society of which he is a part. The best examples of the gentleman farmer who are a force for good in society would include people like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. They were not saints. But they had the leisure to imagine a better society than the one they inherited.

Suppliers today may have leisure, but few have an interest in society. Two examples from recent news stories spring to mind: the CEO of a large toy and game conglomerate, who is accused cooking the books and embezzling millions into his own bank accounts, throws a lavish birthday party for his wife on a yacht in Greece. The excess of this act is symbolized by the fact that a replica of Michaelangelo’s David, scuplted from a block of ice, urinates vodka. The second example involves the heiress to a hotel fortune who appears in a pornographic home movie shot by an ex-boyfriend and distributed without her permission on the Internet. She parlays this shame into fame with her own “reality-based” TV series, which revolves around watching her shop and party – the show is so successful at creating envy on the part of its audience – girls a few years younger than the heiress – that it becomes a hit, despite the fact that the audience considers the heiress tasteless and banal. But it’s all about shopping, and therefore is patriotic in some way.

Ben Franklin: bald and overweight…. Something about electricity and a kite….

Paris Hilton: abnormally slender and scantily clad in the latest minimal Italian rags.

Who would you want as your aristocrat? How you answer that question indicates what you value.

I know, I know: I comparing apples to oranges; to be fair, I should compare Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computer, or Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. One could argue that the Macintosh computer, the Windows operating system, and Word and Excel software revolutionized society. One could say that. However, I think it would be more accurate to say that they provided a tremendous boost to the consumer State. We’re all familiar with the ways that computers have not only become indispensible in the workplace (the cornerstone of the consumer State), but also streamlined our ability to buy goods and services. Computers and their accoutrements have so far not done much to create and educate citizens. I know that I appreciate the work that internet-based organizations such as MoveOn.org have done to educate the citizenry of the United States, but at this moment it remains to be seen whether their work will have any effect in reclaiming society from the Suppliers.

Next time: This ain't your grandfather's agrarian economy...

Current Mood: aggravated
Friday, May 13th, 2005
6:58 am
WORK AND HUMANITY, Part 1
Society, like so much else in our increasingly global consumer world, is an endangered species. It is daily shrinking and will soon disappear. In its place an increasingly isolated and frenzied but technologically-sophisticated collection of disengaged individuals compete almost unconsciously for goods and services provided by an increasingly concentrated cabal of Suppliers. These Suppliers have succeeded in siphoning so much of the fruits of our labor from our neighborhoods and communities that they are now able to effectively select our leaders, who are in turn beholden to these Suppliers. As such, our leaders are obliged to further streamline the process of taking money out of our pockets and putting it in the hands of the Suppliers. And our neighborhoods and communities suffer. The homeless multiply exponentially. “Mom and Pop” stores disappear and Walmart comes in and takes their place. Those who can, flee their degraded communities. Those who can’t, put bars on their windows in a vain attempt to protect themselves from their children. Their children clumsily take matters into their own hands and become outlaws in crude underground societies that rule by violence and traffic in narcotics and stolen goods – mirroring the “rule of law” enforced by the Suppliers.

This is not a society. It is a tyranny. At its heart is a system of greed known as the National Economy, which relies on ceaseless growth for the continued existence of the system the Suppliers have set up. A society would have to have citizens. Our citizens have instead become slaves to the system. We call these slaves Consumers.

A true educational system would alert us to this danger. A society would support the rights of workers to keep the fruits of our labor in our communities. As humans, as citizens, this is something we desire. As Consumers, we don’t have time for it. We must work harder, longer hours, farther away from home in order to compete more successfully for the goods and services. We are led to believe that those of us who are lucky (though luck has little to do with it) may one day joins the ranks of Suppliers. This group, it should be said, is a miniscule minority.

It is the very structure of work prevents the development of citizens and many of the attributes we associate with humanity, and thereby destroys the ability of “society” to challenge the System of Supply.

Talking about “work” and “workers” immediately conjures up the spectre of Karl Marx, Frederich Engels, and communism – “workers of the world unite: you have nothing to lose but your chains!” Immediately upon the heels of that spectre looms the horror that was the Soviet state. What a terrifying system in which to live! Fortunately for us, the Suppliers in our system figured out that brutality and torture would not ultimately work as a system of control. Far more effective is the sense we all have that, because we live in a “free” society, we are able to “choose.”

There is no question that I have more choices than I would in a Soviet-style system. But if I look a little deeper, I don’t have as many choices as I would like to think I do. And though my own experience is hardly a bellwether, it does provide a window, at least, onto aspects of our society that bear a remarkable resemblence to the nightmare that was the Soviet system.

In “The Metamorphosis,” Franz Kafka gave voice to a feeling that many of us have when we arrive at work every day: we are giant, ugly bugs who are not only repellent, but “ineffective” in our workplaces.

It isn’t work that I object to. It is the structure and content of work for the vast majority of American consumers. It is the unnecessary demands that work makes upon our time, and the way that it erodes not only society but human relations on a more intimate scale.

Next time: Alternative Work Models I: "The Gentleman Farmer"

Current Mood: determined
Friday, May 6th, 2005
10:39 am
Friends from the East
Today we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of two friends from Rhode Island, Madeleine and Betsey. They've never been to Eden before, and we're really looking forward to it. A little anxious, too, to get everything just right for their visit so they'll come again and tell our other friends in the East that it's Paradise, and they need to see it (you know, before Eve bites into that piece of fruit and we're cast out forever).

Eve and I have known Betsey almost as long as we've known each other, so it's really great to get her out here. She and Madeleine have been in Napa for the past couple of months -- doing what, I don't know, but we'll find out. Betsey, who has worked at the New Yorker and Vanity Fair, is having her first novel published later this year. Very exciting. The editing was hard work, I understand.

Planning an L.A.-Cuban-Carnitas dinner, made with oranges and lemons that grow here in Eden, to be served with guacamole made from avocados grown on one of six avocado trees the grace our fair corner of paradise....

This may be Betsey and Madeleine's first visit to L.A. Should be some whirlwind sight-seeing, including a gallery opening for Eve's friend Leigh this Saturday, if we're up for it!

Current Mood: excited
Sunday, May 1st, 2005
8:48 pm
Paradise Regained
Memo to self: never engage in discussions about the fundamental things on a Friday after an exhausting Salaryman work week. Everything looks better in the morning.

"You can't deny, don't try to fight the rising sea, don't fight the moon, the stars above and don't fight me. The fundamental loneliness goes whenever two can dream a dream together..." [see below]

Spent a lovely Beltane afternoon beneath the deodars at a Druidic school in the foothills. People wore wreaths in their hair and danced around a Maypole. Watched "The Motorcycle Diaries" the night before and reacquainted myself with the goodness that was Che Guevara. An Argentine I know was at the Beltane festival, and said a good friend spent time with Che back in the 1950s. The friend said that Che radiated goodness, and for that reason, the friend knew that Che would be killed. "People in power cannot tolerate that kind of pure loving kindness."

Current Mood: okay
Tuesday, April 26th, 2005
2:45 pm
COJONES
This happens to also be the title of a film by Ted Mendenhall, who has run art galleries in the Pasadena area since the 1990s -- the current incarnation is Mendenhall/Sobieski Galleries. I know Ted only slightly -- never went to see "Cojones," even though I was talking to him about directing a movie I had written. I do know some other people associated with the Galleries.

Two stories:

The Sidewinder -- in his guise as Salaryman -- was sitting at his work station, exuding a very mild manner, when he became alarmed that a tank was going to drive through his cubicle window -- ordinarily the Salaryman has a very pleasant view of a parking lot (hmmm, a certain Joni Mitchell song comes to mind...)

After recovering some of his equilibrium, the Salaryman realized that the vehicle in question was not a tank, but a brand new Hummer. The driver of this monster vehicle quickly hung a red handicapped tag off the massive rear view mirror then hopped out of the vehicle, which was parked in a handicapped space. The driver, a non-physically-challenged man in his early thirties, was joined by a perfectly healthy woman about the same age. The two then proceeded to leave the parking lot. This is where "Salaryman-as-cranky-old-man" kicks in.

Parking spaces in Salaryman's part of the world are in short supply. Wars have been started over parking in the neighborhood where Salaryman;s place of business is located. As the couple brazenly walked out of the parking lot, after parking an obscene vehichle in a space meant for the handicapped, it was clear they had not parked there to conduct business with my establishment, but because it was the most convenient parking they could find for OTHER purposes. Salaryman's first thought? "What balls these people have!"

The Salaryman tailed them out of the parking lot, down a long block, where they rendezvoused with another man, groused about the difficulty of finding parking "around here" and proceeded to look the other man's car over, as if they were considering purchasing it.

At this point Salaryman ran into a co-worker, we'll call him Brad, and asked if Brad was aware of any events at the firm that might have "negatively impacted the parking situation." Brad was pretty certain there were no such events. Salaryman explained to Brad why he was asking. Brad's comment: "Grow some cojones, man -- start an international incident: just ask the people whether they have business with the firm or not." To which Salaryman replied, "I think it's too late to grow cojones at this point...."

Sidewinder related this incident to Eve later that evening, adding the editorial comment: "I finally decided: what the fuck do I care whether this brazen dude parks illegally and with impunity or not. I have to admire HIS cojones for just doing it."

Eve's comment: "The dude doesn't have balls. He's just an asshole. You want to hear a story about a guy who REALLY has cojones? Log onto NPR's Fresh Air and listen to her interview with Billy Queen..." Here's the link: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4618645

Current Mood: cranky
Thursday, April 21st, 2005
3:32 pm
Freak Aspirations: Further Thoughts
Two things:

One is that, in the New Yorker article (3/21 "Secret Agent Man"), Tad Friend quotes Alicia Keyes as saying, "Dave just gets me better than anybody else." That is what the Sidewinder, or anyone following an artistic path, needs to hear every now and then: "I get you; I get what you're trying to do; I want to support that."

Two is that I was reading a book by Jack Kornfield yesterday, AFTER THE ECSTACY, THE LAUNDRY. I've been making my way SLO-O-O-W-LY through the book -- it goes on and off the burners. I'm about two-thirds of the way through. In the part I read yesterday, Kornfield quotes a story that Ed Brown tells in THE TASSAJARA BREAD BOOK. He says that he played around a lot with a recipe for rolls when he became the bread baker at the Tassajara Zen Monastery in California, but he couldn't get the rolls to taste the way he wanted, despite the fact that people were praising them. Then it hit him. When he was a kid, he made two kinds of rolls: one with Bisquick ("just add milk"), and other other out of a Pillsbury dough tube. I forget exactly how Brown expresses it, but the gist is that once he realized that he was trying to achieve a flavor that came from processed, mass-produced foods -- in other words, he was trying to live up to some kind of conformist, "be-like-everyone-else" kind of standard, he relaxed a little and learned how to taste the rolls HE made, without comparison to this ludicrous ideal.

Sidewinder, Salaryman; too old, not yet there... Who cares? Sometimes you have to learn how to enjoy just being who you are.

Final thought, from a friend who knows the Sidewinder's completely superficial predilection for Zen. This is from a long list of "The Principles of Jewish Buddhism:"

"Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?"

Current Mood: okay
Monday, April 18th, 2005
10:58 am
FREAK ASPIRATIONS
Short entry for now... Maybe more later.

I read a very entertaining piece in a New Yorker from March 21. It was called "Secret Agent Man" . Essentially it was a profile of Dave Wirtschafter, President of William Morris talent agency. First of all, I can't believe that Dave let Tad Friend, the writer of the piece, have such unlimited access. You got a nearly 360 degree sense of how a top agent thinks, lives, deals, and especially parlays power.

These sort of articles are always a double-edged sword for the Sidewinder, however. On the one hand, you get a wonderful sense of reality. On the other, you get demoralized. The Sidewinder will NEVER enter Dave Wirtschafter's consciousness -- I know, I know, never say never. Let's say it's extremely unlikely. Nevertheless, the Sidewinder would dearly LOVE to be on "Dave's List," because the Sidewinder has disproportionately HUGE* aspirations to be a CULTURE-SHAPING FORCE, to bring some topics to the table that don't get discussed and need to be part of the cultural conversation.

Remember that the Sidewinder is not young. That means that, in terms of how the culture generally operates, IT'S TOO LATE! Which winds up making me feel like a FREAK just for having these aspirations. And sends me into the labyrinth of internal processing to figure out what to do about it. Give up? I can't. So, what would be the appropriate aspiration? You see that this sends you toward the Minotaur, who would just as soon eat you up as listen to any of this whiney shit.

--Sidewinder

*Disproportionate, that is, to the prospects of your average Salaryman.

Current Mood: confused
Thursday, April 14th, 2005
3:16 pm
The Multiple Personality Theory
The Sidewinder was having a discussion yesterday with a friend, Mr. Migajon, about mid-life crises. During the conversation, the Sidewinder alluded to his theory that we have many potential selves available to us during our sojourn on this planet as human beings.

The childhood proto-scientist becomes the high school athlete, who morphs into a young adult interested in making a living as a bond trader, who develops a longing for a more meaningful romantic relationship, which segues into a wife, 2.25 children, a mortgage, obligations, a longing for freedom, a career transformation to teaching high school biology/coaching the soccer team, and so on...

In parallel, the bond trader may dabble in abstract expressionist painting in the garage or organic gardening in the backyard; he may feel most uniquely himself NOT when he is trading bonds, but when he is shooting hoops in a pick-up game with a bunch of guys he may or may not know at the local gym.

Part of the trick of being human, it seems to me, is to figure out ways to involve our many selves in our lives. Something dies in us, literally as well as figuratively, when we put too much emphasis on ONE particular self to the exclusion of other selves, which we allow to wither and fade -- sometimes inadvertently, but sometimes willfully.

Final thought on being human: learning to dance, to play an acoustic musical instrument, or cook Chinese food brings joy to the human side of our natures. Staring at screens aligns us with the machines that started to dominate our lives and consume the planet in the 20th Century, continuing with greater urgency in the 21st. How many boys have you seen lately oblivious to anything but their thumbs, some buttons, and a tiny screen at the end of their nose? How many people have you encountered lately in the cereal aisle at the supermarket who are having loud conversations on their cell phones that YOU JUST DON'T WANT TO HAVE TO HEAR?!?

The Sidewinder feels there is something inherently anti-social about people having a conversation three feet from him in which his very BEING is not only unacknowledged, but studiously IGNORED. I know this isn't the conscious intention of the cell-phone users or the mini-video-game players, but it is the effect.

Devil Fred Flintstone on my shoulder says: "So? Tell me something I didn't know already. You gonna do something about it? No? Then shut your trap, you miserable, etc. etc."

Current Mood: contemplative
Wednesday, April 6th, 2005
8:47 am
Salaryman's Lament
A familiar lament is: "life is not fair -- nobody said it would be." To counter that is the old Sixties saying about Karma: what goes around comes around. This basically implies that, regardless of whether things are fair, there is a kind of cosmic justice. I guess that's what I choose to believe.

Okay, so a few entries ago, I alluded to the fact that perhaps there would be a Part II of a rant. The rant has toned down to a lament, and if I had had the psychic or inner strength, there never would have been a Part II, never would have been a lament, and certainly not a second rant.

I had an annual review at the workplace. I kept a positive focus. I heard the usual bullshit at the review: hollow praise and ersatz admonishment. Then, a couple of weeks later, I got my annual employemt contract. There was a disconnect between the content of the review and the terms of the contract. The review implied that basically the Salaryman was doing a good job, but there was room for improvement. The terms of the contract imply that the Salaryman is doing a terrible job, and if he doesn't shape up, the consequences will be more serious.

The reality -- such as the Salaryman can perceive it in his lamentable state -- is that a) after almost 11 years on the job, management probably would like to see someone new -- Management has been here three years, and Salaryman represents the "old way" of doing things; and b) Salaryman represents budgetary fat at the middle-administrative level that could be kept trim through parsimonious incremental salary increases.

Another reality -- if such a thing even exists -- is that, as has been alluded to several times in this space, the Sidewinder is miscast as a Salaryman. The Sidewinder should not even want the praise, the raise, or any of the malarkey that comes with being a Salaryman. What matters to the Sidewinder -- craft, beauty, and posterity -- matters not to Management. He misses artificial deadlines -- that is what matters. Honestly, he just doesn't get it. He can understand people being upset with that fact. Meanwhile, Sidewinder is headed in a different direction. As the character of John Cage used to say on the Ally McBeal TV Show, "Bygones!"

The Sidewinder usually takes a Zen approach. But what grates on him -- and here we get back to fairness and Karma -- is that his colleagues in the tech support department -- the guys who work with servers and computers -- got ASTRONOMICAL raises. They did not have to fill out the bullshit "Self-evaluation;" they did not have to sit on board committees and task forces (Salaryman had to sit on no less than THREE this year), and they did not have to sit through endless meetings with consultants in a ludicrous attempt to perceive and efficiently articulate the organizational "Mission." All the tech guys had to do was show up, do their job, and collect their paycheck. DAMN! The inhumanity!

FINAL THOUGHT: We live in a society where the Sidewinder's ... proclivities, shall we call them? -- are considered marginal, and yet the Sidewinder actually WANTS to make a living -- he's never felt it was right to divorce the ARTIST from the WORKER. The Sidewinder is neither EFFETE nor ELITE. He's just a guy who likes good writing, good art, good food, and good music and wants to learn how to do them better. Nobody's going to pay him to do that -- the Sidewinder doesn't expect that -- but he wishes that "society" would give people like him a break. Many of them, including Sidewinder, do what they can to be productive members of that society.

The Fred Flintstone Devil on the Sidewinder's left shoulder says: "You have a job; you've got a roof over your head; you eat three squares a day; you have not only your health but health insurance -- quit your belly-aching and get back to work, you miserable excuse for a man!"

Current Mood: aggravated
Friday, March 25th, 2005
3:22 pm
Obsession
About a week ago I was driving a bunch of 14 year old girls up to Santa Barbara, where they competed in a track meet in the rain. We listened to a variety of music. Up to that point, I had been obsessively listening -- on my own, not with the 14 year old girls -- to a song called "Pussy" on the self-titled debut CD "Brazilian Girls" by the Brazilian Girls. Here's a pretty good review of the CD from a website called "CD Universe":

"Brazilian Girls: Sabina Sciubba (vocals); Didi Gutman (keyboards); Jesse Murphy (bass instrument); Aaron Johnston (drums). Producers: Brazilian Girls; Hector Castillo. In their irresistibly stylish self-titled debut, New York electro-pop quartet Brazilian Girls marries sexy, breathy French and English vocals with urban beats and a hip, sophisticated downtown sensibility. Neither Brazilian nor, with the exception of their sensual vocalist Sabina Sciubba, female, the band has a beguiling way with sinuous rhythms, dubby bass, and lounge-influenced arrangements. Sciubba's slyly insinuating lyrics nestle like a kitten into psychedelic swirls of keyboards and synth bleeps, particularly on "Don't Stop," which is packed with influences ranging from 1970s disco to Indian film music. Conjuring memories of '90s disco dilettantes Deee-Lite in the alluring "Sirenes de la Fete," the Girls' unapologetically kitsch approach is a feast of smart, trippy, exotic electronica. Sciubba is obviously no stranger to the work of '60s French chanteuse Francois Hardy, continually evoking the Gallic songstress in her faux-naive vocal style. Within the reggae rhythms of "Pussy," the group's hymn to sex and drugs, the Girls mine a rich vein of Eurotrashy, elastic beats, rounding out a wonderfully fun, decadent album..."

Okay, so if you knew the Sidewinder, you'd know that "Brazilian Girls" is pretty much my speed. You would NOT, however, automatically think that Gwen Stefani (of No Doubt) is my style. So even the Sidewinder was a bit surprised by the force with which he was knocked off balance by cut number seven from Stefani's solo album, "Love Angel Music Baby." Cut number seven is called "Harajuku Girls." It is produced by Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, who produced a couple of great albums for Janet Jackson in the 80s ("Control" "Rhythm Nation") and also produced The Time. So, first of all, "Harajuku Girls" has a great, dance-able sound. Second, it introduces a wonderful international culture-crash phenomenon, a punky-hip-hop-school-girl fashion trend born in the Harajuku district of Tokyo. Third and finally, it's just a great song.

There's a lot that's cool about Gwen Stefani, but it's hard for people to admit, because she is SUCH a pop creature. Eve won't even listen to "Harajuku Girls" because she doesn't like Gwen's pop persona. That's the Eve I know, not the Eve that raps on Gwen's new CD on the Dr. Dre-produced "Rich Girl," which Gwen and Eve performed on Saturday Night Live last week -- I can take or leave that song, and the main thing I liked about the performance was that the dancers who backed them up were dressed "harajuku-style". I heard Gwen interviewed after the release of her album "Saturn Return," and since the Sidewinder has been known to dabble in astrology, I was suitably impressed by Gwen's intelligence and the articulate way she expressed the source of her art. She's got a pretty good sense of humor, too. It is evident on the video clip of "What You Waiting For" on the "Media" tab at http://www.gwenstefani.com.

Current Mood: okay
Thursday, March 17th, 2005
9:35 am
SALARYMAN'S RANT - Part 1
Today I woke up with a rant going on in my head. The first rant was unrelated to me. A second rant took over as I was showering and shaving. Then it occurred to me that both rants were related to something I don’t know about yet. I aim to find out about it here.

The rant actually started last night.

Fanny was telling me about her history class at Pasadena City College. They are reading “The Myth of Nations” by Patrick Healy. Fanny’s teacher, Eloy Zarate, is giving them a really radical way to interpret “History.” History, as Zarate teaches his students, is the history of the deeds of white men. “How many of you were taught history by the coaching staff at your high school?” he always asks the class. So far in Professor Zarate's class, Fanny has studied an alternate view of the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs; an alternate view of the traditionally Euro-Centric version of the rise of nations – which involves linguistics; and an alternate view of the African slave trade. When I use the word “alternate,” I mean “closer to the truth than the orthodox version.”

Fanny’s description of what excited her about what she was learning quickly led to where all discussion of “alternatives” go in progressive households such as ours: the degradation of the promise of America by the fat cats that have siezed control of our government so that it serves them and no one else.

I cited the example of a recent alarming development at our local movie theater, the Pacific Paseo Stadium 14 in the upscale “Paseo Colorado” mall. Before the previews begin, a poor, unfortunate theater employee is now asked to pimp for the Variety Club Charities, with a pitch about poor, unfortunate children who need you to drop a couple of dollars into a hat for them. “If Americans had a government that was as compassionate as they were, this wouldn’t be necessary,” I told Fanny.

Okay, so I watch a couple of Seinfeld re-runs and go to bed.

At about 5:00 a.m. this morning I come to consciousness and realize that my brain has been working on this rant all night long. I imagine getting up in the theater after the poor, unfortunate theater employee has given her spiel and saying, “I’ve just got something to add to what this poor, unfortunate theater employee has just told you. If Americans had a government that was as compassionate as they were, this wouldn’t be necessary. Think about it. Most of you paid around nine bucks to see this movie today. It’s not a lot, but it’s not a little, either. The Pacific Theaters Corporation made a profit of $XX million last year. Their CEO makes $XX million a year alone. If you read People Magazine, you probably already know what some of the actors in the movie we’re about to see get paid. Because of the recent series of four consecutive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans – including the CEO of the Pacific Theaters Corporation – the government gave back $XX BILLION to people like this theater chain’s CEO and the actors and actresses in this movie, not to mention the heads of the studio that made this movie and turned an even bigger profit than the theater chain.

The reason our government gives for providing tax breaks for the wealthy is that the wealthy can do a better job at helping the poor, unfortunate children that the Variety Club Charities wants you to support. If that’s true, you already gave at the ticket window.”

At this point in the fantasy, I imagine I’m thrown out of the movie theater.

But as I slowly tried to figure out whether I should get out of bed and start the day, the fantasy persisted:

“Where does the money go that you drop into this hat?” I ask, because, miraculously, I haven’t been booted or boo-ed out of the theater yet. “How do we know the theater employee doesn’t pocket it? How do we know the Pacific Theater Corporation doesn’t pocket it? What IS the Variety Club Charities? Why doesn’t the Pacific Theater chain provide copies of the Variety Club Charities annual report in the lobby? Why don’t they provide receipts for your donation so that you can get a tax deduction?

“Listen: you are all compassionate people. Of COURSE you want to help poor, unfortunate children. Why can’t we have a government as compassionate as we are? If you REALLY want to do something to help these kids, write Congressmen Schiff, write Senators Boxer and Feinstein. If you’re a traditional Republican and believe in states’ rights, write to your assemblyman, your state senator, or Governor Schwarzenegger. Demand an end to being nickled and dimed to death by organizations like the Variety Club Charities who are doing a poor job at the work that a compassionate government should do. These organizations are wasting your money when they act independently of each other, alone and unregulated. Companies like Walmart and Macdonalds and Vons are so good at saving you money because they are big enough to coordinate their efforts. There is no reason that our local, state, and federal governments can’t be as efficient as Walmart and do a better job with the tax dollars you already pay to help poor, unfortunate kids get a better chance at life. Well, there is one reason: they allow the wealthiest Americans to get off scot-free. We should demand that the wealthiest Americans work together WITH US to make America a stronger, more compassionate nation.

"Right now America is asking very little of its wealthiest citizens. 'You decide,' is what the government tells them. What would happen in your workplace if all of a sudden one day the people who run it said, 'You know what? Our employees know best. Let’s let THEM decide how they will spend their time.' You can imagine what would happen."

Okay, that’s the end of THIS rant. There’s another rant that’s more personal. It’s my annual review rant at my workplace. It is a pathetic rant. It's Part 2. If it gets written at all.

--The Salaryman aka the Sidewinder

Current Mood: irate
Tuesday, March 8th, 2005
10:57 am
Confluence
Interesting series of events in the Sidewinder's world over the last several days:

1. Got to hear former president Bill Clinton speak at the Beverly Wilshire hotel on Friday, March 4. To make the event more surreal, Darrell Hammond, who plays President Clinton on "Saturday Night Live," attended the event. The President opened his remarks with a crack about how well Hammond played him on SNL, prompting the President to ask if Hammond would be willing to deliver Clinton's remarks to the Beverly Wilshire gathering. Hammond declined.

Mr. Clinton's current message is about how interconnected the world has become, which requires us all to learn to listen to one another so we can live together with less hostility. Clinton is a fantastic, fiery compelling speaker. He spoke without notes, of course, and took five questions from the audience at the end of his talk, turning each one of them into a 10-minute mini-speech all their own.

My biggest disappointment with regard to the event is that I was supposed to have had my photograph taken with him, and I wanted to have him autograph a copy of his book, "My Life," for my daughters. Security was so tight, and his health not so great, that Secret Service and his handlers were strict and severely limited access. I art direct a magazine published by the organization the President was addressing. Even though Mr. Clinton will be the cover subject for the next issue, I was not allowed in the room with the photographer!

2. That evening I watched the DVD of "I [Heart] Huckabees!" It's a fun movie with a muddled message. The filmakers try valiantly to turn philosophy -- "The Big Questions" -- into an entertaining film. They almost succeed. It was interesting to see Dustin Hoffman (whom I mentioned just a few days ago in a movie from the beginning of his career) play an "Existential Detective" who uses the analogy of his hand making different shapes under a blanket to illustrate that, underneath it all, we are all connected -- just what I'd heard President Clinton say earlier that day! Isabelle Huppert, looking ravishing as always, plays Hoffman and his business/life partner Lily Tomlin's competition. Huppert's character claims that nothing is connected and we are essentially alone. Paradoxically, whereas Hoffman & Tomlin's methods tend to push people apart, Huppert's methods tend to bring people together.

3. As part of a birthday present to Eve, the two of us had our very first salsa lesson this past Saturday. Everything about the experience was great, including Fernando, the instructor, who told us that we were embarking on a wonderful journey which, like all journeys, had its highs and lows, but which would provide us experiences we never imagined we would have.

4. THAT evening I saw one of the most all-round entertaining movies I've seen in quite some time: "Bride & Prejudice," in which "Bollywood" meets "Hollywood," borrowing from Jane Austen's novel to provide romantic intrigue set against the backdrop of Amritsar, India; London; and Beverly Hills. The colors in the movie are vibrant and intense, and the singing and dancing exuberant and fun. After my first salsa lesson, my feet were twitching and I was itching to dance. I wanted to BE in the chorus on all the lavish production numbers. The female lead, Lalita Bakshi, is played by a "Bollywood" superstar, Aishwarya Rai, arguably one of the five most beautiful women to light up a screen today. Martin Henderson, a New Zealand actor unknown to me, is not too shabby in the looks department, either, as Will Darcy.

A friend who saw the movie recommended a true Bollywood blockbuster called "Devdas," which was released in 1998 and also stars Rai, known as the Queen of Bollywood.

Coincidentally -- or not -- Martin Henderson's birthday is October 8, the same date as Darrell Hammond, who played President Clinton on Saturday Night Live.

Current Mood: giddy
Tuesday, March 1st, 2005
10:48 am
Sidewinder, Sidestepper, Sideways
Music: the Sidewinder gets musical inspiration from a variety of places -- friends; KCRW's "Metropolis," "Chocolate City," "Cafe L.A.," and "Weekend Becomes Eclectic" shows; and even the Virgin Megastore.

It was a friend who plays bossas that asked me to find the music to Horace Silver's "Song for My Father," which then led me to the music for Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder" (both are in a music book called "Hard Bop" -- unfortunately, the Sidewinder can only play piano if music is in front of him -- I claim neither to be a jazz musician nor a piano player, but I love making music).

Last summer Jason Bentley, host of Metropolis, led me to the Hollywood Bowl's World Electronica concert, where I heard the London-based multinational group called Sidestepper. I bought their CD at the concert and wore it out for months afterward. Lately I've been wearing out "Espiracion/Inspiracion" by Paris-based GoTan Project. It is a multi-cultural mediation on "tango culture" which features all the tools in the electronic arsenal: samples of various "porteño" voices (people from Buenos Aires are called porteños) layered with sampled music (Chet Baker's trumpet playing Monk's "'Round Midnight) and original music (the bandoneon makes appearances throughout the CD -- it is the musical soul of that tango: as one website devoted to the tango puts it, "Its breathing goes with the dancers' breathing and pumping hearts." [see: http://totango.net/bandoneon.html].

My favorite movie this year was "Sideways," which is about relationships and wine and personal evolution. I was happy that Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay, not to mention best film, best director, best screenplay, best actor for Paul Giamatti and best supporting actors for Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen at the Independent Spirit Awards the night before. Around the time I saw the movie, Fanny, one of the people I live with, had just come back from spending six weeks in the Savoy wine region of France -- I proceeded to drink so much wine and eat so much great French cheese over the next few weeks that my cholesterol shot to the moon -- you never thought the Sidewinder was a young guy, did you?

Can I talk about the Oscars for a minute? I hate awards show, okay? I like that people get recognized for achievement, I just wish there weren't "winners." "Sideways" is a different movie from "Million Dollar Baby," "The Aviator" "Ray," and "Finding Neverland." As a group -- with the possible exception of "The Aviator," which I didn't care to see, these movies definitely represent higher achievement in film for the past year. The L.A. Times and buzz from other news organs was that the awards telecast was boring and that Chris Rock played it safe. I disagree. Because I like music, I especially enjoyed the performances for "Best Song of the Year." They seemed to focus on the music more than "production values," which I really appreciated. Though I'm sure other people could have turned in stronger performances, it was kind of fun to see Beyonce do three of the numbers, and especially fun to see Antonio Banderas and Carlos Santana interpret the song that would eventually win -- first nominated Spanish-language song, first winner in that language. It's a global world. The coverage in the L.A. Times -- Hollywood's "house organ" -- missed it. I thought that was shameful. I watched the show with a bunch of non-Latinos and they talked over everything having to do with this song and its award. There's all kinds of racism masked by ignorance in a place that should not be so parochial, but IS. It just IS. And I hate that.

I'm off to see the Visual Sound show at MOCA. Will give a report. The one friend currently on my "friends" list didn't like it. But he said he was going to give it a second chance. Let's see.
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2005
8:59 pm
This Mortal Vessel
A day at the doctors: visit to the dentist in the a.m. -- ouch! the gums hurt like hell. Visit to the ophthalmologist in the p.m. -- ouch! intense pain from burning white-hot light straight into the retina. Teeth look okay, eyes look okay.

The Sidewinder is currently a Salaryman, so his insurance covers these minor physical irritations. The question is: how much longer can Sidewinder TAKE being a salaryman?

The Sidewinder's old mission statement: try to be as human as possible.

The Sidewinder's NEW mission statement: try to open the heart wide enough to let the mysterious and diverse collection of luminous forces known as Love flow more steadily through me into the world.

I don't think a Salaryman can do that.

Current Mood: contemplative
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