Friday, October 15, 2010

Acting Out

Every time I read another article, or even a headline, about the financial crisis, I feel my gorge rising majestically from my gut, like the Hindenberg from its mooring mast. It has become so predictable that I am forbidden from talking about it at home, unless a conversation about it has already been started by my wife or 15-month old son. And, frankly, I suspect that the kid may be employed by the financial sector, because this endless malfeascence is just not on his radar. He is much more concerned with "Ball" and the opening and closing of all doors, neither of which is remotely controversial. So I try to keep up on the unfolding scandal while also trying to find stuff in the world to be encouraged by, since a dad of sagging spirit is not what I aspire to be.

We need to be clear here-- if you think I'm one of those harpies who all they do is stomp around the house calling for the perps to be hoisted from the yardarm-- well you're right. Hence the ban. But with each revelation-- that people who owned their home out right were foreclosed upon, that hairdressers reviewed mortgage documents, that one guy's "due diligence" was apparently practiced at a 5000 signature a day clip-- it's hard to keep quiet. Until I looked at it all from a new angle. With each revelation of not just bizarre or criminal but criminally bizarre behavior, I am reminded of those wealthy kleptomaniacs or indigent bindlestiffs who shoplift a diamond bracelet or a cold Olde English 800 in order to be caught. They are unhappy, and ignored and tired of doing it all for themselves. I think our major banks are sad that we haven't been paying enough attention to them. They feel like we don't love them anymore, so they act out. They think "Hey, what does a soulless multinational corporation have to do to get an indictment for criminal conspiracy these days?".

Let me say this: as a parent, I am familiar with this behavior. My son is fifteen months and 24 pounds of never sit still, of exploration and crawling and joyous shout-outs and crying and hitting his enormous head (like father like son) on things and savoring individual words like fine chocolate drops. (The latest is "Attica!", which started out as a funny reference the wife made when he was throwing a tantrum on the changing table, was horribly run into the ground by yours truly, and now has been picked up by the bairn himself, becoming yet another thing that I will need to explain embarassedly in the future. Remember, babies enjoy affection and attention, but they LOVE irony and satire. I am the world's worst dad.).

Anyway, in addition to the aforementioned "Ball." and doors, he has a fascination with electrical cords. He will crawl over to them, tug on them, twist them, chew them-- not all the time, but often enough that it's a thing we watch out for. And he knows it-- he's a smart little anarchist. So nowadays, if he feels he's being neglected by parents who are busy posting pictures of him to Facebook, or writing blog posts that nobody reads ,instead of playing "Ball.", he will crawl (yes he's 15 months and not walking-- he's a boy! With an enormous head! Need I say more?) over to some handy cords, look over at us, and start tugging. And we come over, as though he is on fire, and scoop him up, and hug him and mutter things like "No cords, Elvis" and take him away. Maybe even give up the blog post and play "Ball." Which is probably what he wanted all along, but does not have the language to tell us, "Attica!" notwithstanding.

So now I know what the banks and the bankers are up to. They just want our attention. They want us to play. They don't really like toxic bundles of poorly-vetted mortgages anymore than little Elvis really likes electrical cords. They just don't know how else to get our attention. "We're stealing people's houses! Hairdressers are our securitization due diligence! Won't somebody please stop us, pick us up, hug us, and play "Ball."?" (What an end to that last sentence-- five punctuation marks in a span of nine characters. Because I roll gangsta like that.) Of course, there IS an easier way. The banks, unlike Lil' Elvis, have language. In fact, they have multibillion dollar advertising budgets. So, why can't we just see their ads, on TV, on bus benches, wherever, "Come home to B of A. We need a hug." After seeing all of these rosy ads about what they can do for us, without once mentioning that what they were doing for us was mostly screwing us out of billions of dollars and the roof over our heads, I would welcome the change. But remind us of the stakes as well, big banks. "If you don't hug us, we'll wreck the economy. Again. For like the fifth time in the past hundred and thirty years." And remember, fellow Americans, "Hug" is just banker-speak for "regulate the hell out of, and prosecute where necessary". If you live with a willful, smart, never stop moving child for long enough, you learn to speak their language.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On Not Writing Well

So, here am again, after another absence of many months. Apparently I am the absentee father of this blog, AWOL much of the time, showing up every once in a blue moon with a toy (piece) that the child (blog) has long since outgrown. "What's the matter," says I, "I'm here now, ain't I? Better late than never, right? Don't I get credit for the effort?" To which the proper answers (oh, if only this blog could talk. Oh wait it can, if I do. Never mind.) are, "So?" "No." and "Hell No!"

The reasons for my absence are many, but they all boil down to a single one: "Ummmm... (scuffles on the ground with one foot and chews lip awkwardly)". Yes I am a real father now, and therefore this blog and my live satire and comedy are kind of like my mistress's kids-- ya love 'em, but you don't take 'em to Little League games-- or, more germane to my situation, to the doctor to see if there's an ear infection. Again.

Don't get me wrong, it's not all ear infections. The child is adorable. He is smart, confident, happy, makes friends easily, has a sense of humor, loves to play, and is supremely comfortable in his own skin. He takes his own time doing everything ( "When will he crawl?" has been replaced by "Will he never stop crawling?"), makes friends easily and charms strangers. If we were in college at the same time I'm sure I'd hate him, or at least talk smack behind his back. But I can't. I'm still gobsmacked by his presence, this new little man, chin jutting, head held high, pointing and going "Ahh-Gah!" to God knows what. And because he is my son, I get to take some credit, rightly or wrongly, for the ebullient miracle that he is. So I tell myself, no way can my mistress' kids compare with this. There just does not seem to be the time, and since for me writing and performing are almost monastic activities, done before just enough eyeballs to prove I am not a fictional character (more than twenty years in, and I've worked my way up to the point where I can proudly say I've become a narrative space-saving composite of several different people.) It has been easy to push this stuff to the back burner. And that's why this blog has been gathering iDust (hey, I'm a Mac guy) for so long.

Which of course is just more convenient rationalizing. I mean, I haven't spent every waking moment tossing him in the air, blowing raspberries into his stomach, playing peek-a-boo (well, there HAS been a lot of peek-a-boo), feeding him super porridge, reading from the classics ("Goodnight Moon" in my hands is what "My Favorite Things" was to John Coltrane). I have gotten so good at not-writing-- anytime, anywhere, in almost any conditions-- that maybe I fear the writing won't be able to compete with the boy, my wife, with working, traveling some, getting out every once in a while. Nothing interesting enough to write about-- or (heywaitjustaminute!) maybe SO interesting that not writing is the only option. If you've been watching this blog waiting for something to happen, how would you know the difference?

But you haven't been waiting. You're probably doing what I have been doing-- reading some other blog. And I have discovered while doing that a lot of posts just like this one. These memoirs of not-writing are like a negative image of addiction stories. We not-writers apologize to people we may have harmed by living healthy, balanced lives. We strive to make amends for not letting our text addiction take over, and promise to remedy that as soon as possible. You have been seeing way too much of me on the streets and bars and pediatrician's offices, but all that's about to change. I am back where I belong, alone in a room or at some coffee house taking up valuable table space, nursing a latte for hours, staring a hole thru the blank grey rectangle on the screen, as the industrious computer thoughtfully saves and resaves the empty space at five minute intervals, my fingers stock still, waiting to pounce on any halfway amusing clause like a cheetah on a baby antelope, my mind desperate for a concept yet blank as a Zen master's. Ah yes, it's good to be back.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Both Sides Now

So recently , the sad case of the Swedish Rapper and the Jazz Pianist lurched to its inevitable conclusion. I don't have time to rehash all the details, but the basic facts are these: slightly tipsy Jazz Pianist is crossing the street in Hollywood, Swedish Rapper drives pimped-out rental Hummer thru the crosswalk, angered Pianist swats hood of said Hummer, Swedish Rapper goes berserk, beats Jazz Pianist for time enough to attract the attention of an off duty cop, who attempts to stop the beating. It does not stop, Rapper kills Pianist with a kick to the head, and drives the Hummer over used-to-be-Pianist, while the cop is clinging to the windshield wiper slamming his badge on the window, as a sign that John Law takes a dim view of the proceedings. Th rapper was convicted, and sentencing is pending. Case closed. But that's not why we're here
Now, you would think that there's not a lot of room for " he said, he said" here. There were witnesses, including law enforcement, one of those involved is dead on the pavement and one is sitting in a Hummer texting his lawyer. So it's pretty cut and dried where the blame should go, right? Ah, but you didn't read the comment thread to the article describing the outcome of the case. And apparently, there are people willing to step up and defend a person's right to blow through an occupied crosswalk unmolested by jazz musicians who have the legal right-of-way. I'll be paraphrasing here, but you'll get the drift. "While I don't condone the outcome," said one -- and big of them to say that, that they're against murder and all, "if [the rapper] had rented that car, and [the pianist] had scratched the paint with his hands, [the rapper] could have been looking at a charge from the rental company. Pedestrians should be more careful.". Because the pedestrian is clearly the one with the power here, not the rageaholic driving 8000 pounds of shiny stupidity. There were actually quite a few brave sentiments like this, and the sad thing was, I was ultimately not surprised. The BpR strikes again.

The BpR, for those unfamiliar with abbreviations unique to me that I only just made up, is the Bipartisan Reflex. It's a nearly omnipresent trick these days, wherever there is a disagreement. And you can do it at home too, in these easy steps! 1) Remember, in any confrontation, it is axiomatic that both sides are dangerous, fringe extremes. Therefore, 2) the truth must lie somewhere between them, and probably exactly halfway. In the case we're talking about, the Jazz Pianist was clearly insane, or maybe just drunk. He had the temerity, the gall, the hubris, to expect to be able to cross a street at a crosswalk. Yet despite his obvious insanity, he still had a chance to escape his fate-- if he'd been a little more chill about nearly being run over, he'd still be alive today. The tragedy here, thus, is these two crazies coming into contact with each other, but that's life in the big city (no lie, several commenters basically took this position.).

Which is arguably true, but misses the central truth of this case and many others like it. What is the wrong thing that happened here? The traffic violation, yes, but mostly the beating and the murdering. It is NO WAY the Jazz Pianist's fault what happened. There, I said it and I'm glad.

I would also venture that this reflex is not, unlike breathing or finding the costumes of figure skaters idiotic, a natural thing. It's something we've been taught by rote, repeated over and over again, and if we want to meet the distinguished faculty inculcating us, it's important to follow the money, as it were. The people who benefit from the promulgation of the Bipartisan Reflex are those actual extremists in the game. For instance, if the jury had bought Mr Swedish Rapper's claims that he 1) he was just defending himself 2) he feared for his safety because there might have been a second attacker (perhaps behind the grassy knoll? Just askin'.), and therefore 3) he had to choose the most direct escape route in his 8000 lb. Tiny Penis Protect-o-Pak, which turned out to be over the body of the Jazz Pianist, he would be looking at a lot less time. And so it goes, from the streets of Upper Losangeleswood to the corridors of power in national capitols.

If you take nothing else away from this tale of urban street rage and comment threads gone wrong, take this: Just because there are two sides to every story, it does not mean they are equally valid. The next time you hear anyone describing someone else, who seems to hold fairly standard, even boring, middle of the road ideas-- akin to "I want to cross the street at a crosswalk" in their outrageousness-- as some disgusting, crazy, alien "other" whose heresies will bring all of us down if we don't eradicate him soon with any and all weapons at our disposal-- put your head down, and cross to the other side of the street. But look both ways first, you never know who's behind the wheel these days.