Saturday, December 17, 2011

I Brake For Lemonade Stands

I absolutely have been having the best time this Christmas season, not exactly sure why (although I have generally felt extremely good this whole year), but I think it may have something to do with my having put up a Christmas tree.

This, honestly, is the first time I have ever gotten my own tree. For most of my Christmases, I had gone to my parents’ house, which continued every Christmas (with few exceptions) as long as they were alive. This took me far into my adulthood.

For those few exceptions, I have lived in apartments that were too small to fit any but the smallest (artificial) tree, which sort of counts, but not really.

For the past couple of years, I have been spending the few days immediately surrounding Christmas at the house of my brother and his wife. But they do not decorate for Christmas (but my brother’s wife does the most marvelous COOKING, plus they are a blast to visit, so I am definitely NOT complaining!) I think my brother had his fill of Christmas decorating, because the brunt of that effort our mother put HIM to, mainly because he was always able to get to their house many days before the rest of us were able to make it (remember that our mother had multiple sclerosis which made her bed-ridden, so she could no longer do the decorating herself, which she sorely wanted to do). So HE was one who assembled their large (artificial) Christmas tree, put on all the lights and decorations, and did all sorts of other decorating until the rest of us got there to help. I swear, our mother wanted every inch of their house decorated for Christmas, right down to things hanging on every doorknob, dozens of needle-pointed Christmas theme pillows on all the furniture, and Christmas-oriented hand towels in the all the bathrooms. There wasn’t a square foot of wall space that didn’t have something Christmasy hanging there. And, oh yes, there were Christmas coasters and Christmas barware (you drank VERY well at our parents’ house…my father seemed to stay planted at the bar the whole season, and you WILL partake! Hey, my arm doesn’t need twisting; and if you were a friend of theirs, yours didn’t, either!).

I don’t want to make it look like the rest of us were slackers…at least, not me, anyway, because since our brother was the one who had put most of it all up, the rest of us were the ones who had the job of taking it all DOWN. I think I would rather decorate than undecorate, but that’s how it was and I’m not complaining…I wish we could still do it, parents and all (but if they have a way of checking in on me, they already know that they are thoroughly IN me).

But lately I have felt that something was missing Christmas-spirit-wise and realized that now that I live in a place large enough to easily fit a full-sized, cut Christmas tree, that was what I wanted. And I’ve been able to enjoy it ever since Thanksgiving, and will continue to do so up to New Year’s.

I pretty much knew where I would go buy my tree, a place that is normally a strawberry farm near where I live, one of the very few farms still remaining in the San Fernando Valley (which, once upon a time, was completely agricultural, but Los Angeles spread and spread and spread). They always fill up an immense lot with beautiful trees.

Since I figured I’d have to somehow get it home, myself, and I really wasn’t into getting involved with tying it onto the roof of my car or some such (guaranteed that it would slip off before I got to the next block), I felt that I’d have to get one small enough that it would either fit into the trunk of my car, or maybe my backseat (uh oh, tree needle city!).

However, fortunately, they had signs everywhere on the lot advertising that they would deliver (for a reasonable fee), and when I checked on it, I learned that they would actually deliver whatever tree I bought that very day (THAT sold me)! Good thing, too, because I saw that the four-foot trees just weren’t going to cut it, I wanted something at least my height or it wouldn’t satisfy my desires.

The truth was that every single tree they had was full and beautiful and perfectly shaped. They were all lined up in perfect rows by the species, starting with the least expensive ones, the Douglas Firs, and going up from there to the most expensive, which were Noble something…but I actually liked the Douglas Firs the best, so I picked out a 6 ½ foot one that seemed to call out my name (like a puppy in a pet shop), so that’s the one I bought. The woman who rang up my sale was a jolly elf, laughing and full of cheer and so happy that I was happy, so the entire purchasing experience was a delight.

And the delivery occurred without a hitch, with two people who carried my tree up to my apartment on the third floor and set it down in my living room right where I wanted it. Immediately, the whole house smelled like I was camping in an evergreen forest (which I now have a yearning to go do some weekend!), a feeling that has not diminished. It is such a grand atmosphere to come home to after work.

I had in my storage unit (sadly, not yet emptied out…one of the projects I hope to work on this winter break) some Christmas decorations that I got from my mother’s collection after both parents had died (most of which she had made), but that storage unit is so solidly packed that I was unable to find that box or those boxes; it would have required emptying the whole thing out, and I had neither the room nor the time to deal with that. So I realized that I had to buy some new decorations and strings of lights, with the idea of leaving some room my mother’s things for NEXT year. (Didn’t quite work out that way…it was hard to estimate and what I bought was enough to fill up my whole tree.)

Shopping for Christmas decorations (at Target) was another joy. Families were there in all of the aisles and I could hear the excited voices of children that filled up my heart. “Oh Mommy, look at THIS, can we buy this, can we, please?” So sweet. Of course, I loved buying things for my own tree, but I truly loved being there among the families who were buying things for THEIR tree. I kind of feel like I am with them, even if I am not. But I would share in the fun with them and would laugh and joke with them, and everybody seemed to enjoy this sense of shared happiness. Why not do that?

Back at home, I put on some good music that I could sing along with as I worked, and I truly did have a blast decorating the tree, which ended up requiring four strings of lights (I had to go back to buy two more strings; two just wasn’t enough!). My heart just soared. I knew that probably no one else was ever going to see this (my apartment really isn’t quite yet ready for “prime time”, as I say, so I have not yet gotten into entertaining mode), but it is actually okay to simply treat ones self, in fact, that is now one of the main lessons that I like to share (to whomever will listen to me if the subject comes up)…you MUST treat yourself and not deny yourself because “it is only you”. So, please, do things for YOU. Yes, do things for others, but don’t leave yourself out. Make your life beautiful.

Here are some pictures of my tree, which I realize probably looks pretty pedestrian as Christmas trees go, I guess, and pardon some of the nearby junk (more winter break projects!), but I love it, and it looks so pretty in the evening when the white lights buried in among the feathery green branches are twinkling (hard to properly photograph THAT effect), so it’s all good.

And now that “I am participating”, I have been appreciating the Christmas decorations that everybody else has done, some of which is mind-blowingly spectacular, and some of which is simple yet still wonderful, and I am thankful for their efforts since it seems that they are communicating a certain feeling out to the general public (I, too, have some external decorations, a garland of purple lights along my balcony railing along with a Christmas snowman wind sock blowing in the breeze out there; for some reason, I am the only one in this immense apartment complex who has any external decorations). Much fewer people out in the community compared to previous years have decorated, though, which is troublesome (Increased unemployment? Continuing economic crisis?). I think there was more decorating for HALLOWE’EN (which I also did, mostly as an advertisement to the kids out there on the street that there was candy to be gotten at my house; that’s where the purple lights came from, which I bought at a Hallowe’en store—I figured I could use purple for Christmas, too, which I couldn’t do with orange as that would obviously be left over from Hallowe’en; those were the only colors sold at the Hallowe’en store. But purple is good.).

Decorating has been very sparse at work, too (absolutely nothing in the school’s reception lobby). This year, there was no “Secret Angel” festivities (gift-giving that would go on for a whole week and that usually garnered ever-increasing office decorating), but the woman who normally organized that didn’t want to do it this year, and another person who volunteered to take her place lived, according to many complaining people, “too far away” (okay, so she wasn’t a five minute drive down the hill...!). The kind woman who volunteered ended up with only six participants besides herself (with me being one of them), so she said “Let’s just do a simple gift-exchange and pot luck lunch here at work” (not a whole week of giving like we’d do when Secret Angel had twenty or thirty people participating), the kind where the first person opens their choice of wrapped gifts (NOT white elephant gifts, but something new that cost under $30), and then the second person can steal their gift or open a wrapped gift, etc. Some people hate that game (the “stealing” part), others really love it. But with us having so few people, there really wasn’t much stealing go on, but I think everybody ended up with something that they liked. Anything that anybody bought was worth having, so there really was no reason to take something from somebody else.

So that was fun, but the offices didn’t look much like Christmas (or any of the other winter season holidays).

I felt like there was a lot of generous gift-giving from our school’s parents and from some of the employees, though; I ended up with way more than I had ever gotten before (boy that sounds materialistic, but that’s not what I meant; what I mean is that suddenly at the last moment, a “lot of Christmas” came out).

I couldn’t possibly afford to give gifts to every employee (there are more than a hundred), and my administrative position doesn’t really “allow” me to choose favorites, so I had started the habit of giving gifts to those who chose to give gifts to me. Again, in a way, there’s something not quite right about that, but I honestly haven’t figured out a way around it, because I am constitutionally unable to simply receive gifts without giving anything in return. Fortunately, it’s usually the same people who give to me each year, so I already put them on my shopping list at the beginning of the season. However, there are often surprises; this year there were five surprises. I had prepared for these surprises by already having on hand something nice but generic to give in those cases, but some people fooled me by not giving me a small loaf of homemade nut bread or something like that, but really giving me something amazing and that took specific thought. So THEN I really had to SCRAMBLE to get them something somewhat equal in thought to what they had given me, which can be extremely hard to do at the last minute. Thursday evening, I spent several hours at Pier 1, which was an appropriate store for one of those who had given me a spectacular gift and which I figured might have something good for the others. I kept finding things that I wanted for myself, actually, but for the most part I stuck to my plan of finding things for the people who had surprised me.

While I was at Pier 1, a woman came over to me and said, “You are a man, I would like you to answer a question for which I want an honest answer.” Uh oh. While I am always quite pleased to be a “stand in” for my gender, I sometimes wonder if I am “man enough” to do so! But anyway, she stated her problem; she had to buy several gifts for some teenage boys and some grown men, all of whom live in France, so her task was to give them gifts that they would like but that didn’t cost a huge amount of money, and that would not be very expensive to SHIP. She said that she had spent several hundred dollars just in shipping costs alone, last year, and she just couldn’t do that again. I understand her problem, because I used to give gifts to people overseas and the shipping costs killed me, so I simply stopped doing it. She then went on say that the girls and women were EASY, and she proceeded to point out dozens of things right in the vicinity of where we were standing that would work for the females, but, obviously, none of that would work for the males (and she was right about that).

Well, she gave me quite a challenge, but one that I was internally ADAMANT that I had to solve for her. It’s not often that I get to speak for all male-kind, and FRENCH ones, to boot! But gee, surely I ought to be able to figure that one out. But before she spoke, she outlined all the things she had already done BEFORE, thus instantly wiping out every idea that had immediately come to my mind. So now that I was tapped out, I kind of just stood there hemming and hawing to the extent that she decided that I was going to be no help and so thanked me for my willingness, but conceded that the task was impossible.

But it is NOT impossible, but give me some TIME, okay? I asked her if she was going to be in the store for a while longer, and she said “Yes”, that she still have some other shopping to do there, for the GIRLS.

I said, “Okay, I have to do some more shopping here, too, so let me think about it as I look around and if I come up with some good ideas, I go find you.”

She answered that that was a good idea, although I could hear the sigh in her voice that meant she never expected to see me again.

However, as it turned out, I had gotten only about two aisles away from her, when I got my answers that I was going to share with her. Fortunately, I found her nearby.

I told her that it was almost certain that the teenage boys were into video or computer games and that there would be no limit to their capacity to absorb and enjoy those. All she would have to do would be to find out from their mother (or mothers) what system they used, Playstation, X-Box, Microsoft, or whatever, because a game for the wrong system would be useless, and while she was at it, maybe she could find out what KIND of game each one liked, such as role-playing, battle games, life simulation games, building games, travelling games, violent fighting games, “Car Theft” games, sports games (basketball, football, hockey, etc.). I said that fortunately with computer games, the software standards are international, unlike, say, movie DVDs, which have to conform to a regional standard in order to be playable.

Also, computer games come on a disc, so they would be very light and inexpensive to ship.

She LOVED that idea and said that it would be snap to find out from their mothers the right system and type of game. She also seemed to know where she could find these games (I would have suggested the two places that I knew, WalMart and Fry’s Electronics, but she seemed okay on that score). I had given her THE acceptable and useful answer for the teenage boys.

As to the adult men, I said that EVERYBODY likes music, and CDs, of course, are as light and inexpensive to ship as the video games would be. Now, she might not know what taste these men have in music, or what music they may already have and what they may want, but I had a solution for that, too. I told her to go home and get on her computer and do a search for “Concord Records” (actually, when I checked it out at home afterwards, the right spot is “Concord Music Group”, but Google would send her to the right place). Concord Records would be a supplier of rare, collector, or unique artist retrospective CDS or CD sets that those in France (and in the US, as well) might not be in a position to be familiar with. I know all about Concord Records, as Hal Gaba the OWNER of that company, was on the Board of our school’s Trustees and was someone whom I personally knew (unfortunately, he died a few years ago of cancer). He, and television producer Norman Lear (his partner in that venture) bought up some languishing record companies that happened to own an incredible treasure house of classic jazz studio tapes, material that HAD NEVER EVER BEEN MADE AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC, by artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Theloneous Monk, John Coltrane, and dozens of others. This is stuff you really can’t get elsewhere.

I said that, stereotypically, the French have very serious artistic tastes and the French have always welcomed jazz; in fact, in the early portions of the 20th century, black jazz artists from America found a powerful welcome in France, where they did not suffer discrimination, so even if these men didn’t specifically like jazz, they would still appreciate having one of these CDs, which maybe even would open up for them an appreciation of this high quality level of jazz.

Okay, so this woman now was really excited, first the video games, and now this, yes, yes, these were the answers, and she was going home right away and search for and then log on to Concord Records. I had solved her male-gift-giving-problem! Wow, I was so happy to help!

Now, here’s something else that happened that same Thursday evening. I had left work to take to the post office some very important mailings that had to be postmarked that day (December 15 was the deadline). Instead of taking my normal route home, I took a road that went down the hill to a spot that would take me quite close to the post office that I was going to use. It was already quite a dark evening anyway, but it had been a cold, rainy day, which deepened the sense of darkness.

Just as I came to a curve in the road, I saw a bright, “glow in the dark” hand-lettered sign that said “Write Your Teacher’s Name, Unique Christmas Gifts Here!” and a young boy and his mother sitting in front of their house at a table covered with what looked like a collection of small potted plants. Now, you remember the bumper sticker that people used to have, “I Brake For Small Animals”? I think maybe there was another one that said, “I Brake For Garage Sales”. I ought to have one made for me that says, “I Brake For Lemonade Stands”, and by that I mean, generically, anything that a child or a group of children have enterprisingly got together to sell, I will pull over for and buy from them. First of all, it is such a pleasure to deal with excited children, but also, I like to support what they are doing, which I think is a valuable help for their future. I want them to know that what they are offering will have an appeal to people, even though probably a discouraging quantity of cars will simply drive on by. So, in the past, I have bought lemonade dozens of times, large pink grapefruits that kids had grown in their yard, cleverly-carved miniature pumpkins that kids were selling prior to Hallowe’en one year, and more high school car washes than I can count.

Well, I WAS on my way to buy gifts at Pier 1 (described above) after going to the post office, so this one was in all ways a no-brainer. I had to find a place to turn around, and then wound my way back to the house, and since it was a busy road with a curve, the only reasonable place to park was in their driveway, which I did. I said it was quite a dark evening, but when that boy and his mother saw me enter their driveway, it was as if a spotlight had turned on. They were so HAPPY…and remember, they HAD been sitting out in the RAIN to do this (but at the moment, the rain had blessedly stopped).

What they had for sale were potted Christmas cactuses (that’s a smart idea right there), but they were better than simply one plant potted. The boy (whose whole idea this was), had put together little artistically arranged miniature gardens with several sizes of Christmas cactuses, some of which were blooming red and some of which were going to bloom soon, and also what his mother called “Thanksgiving cactuses” that were soon to bloom white, all set with beautiful stones in a way that was what I would call “casually zen-like” (if “zen” even CAN be casual…). Also, the boy had painted the perimeter of the flower pots below the lip or rim with blackboard paint, and had “planted” in the cactus garden a nicely-made brass “wire” that held up a piece of white chalk that was inside of a carefully spiraled loop. The idea of this was that you give this gift to your teacher, for example, and you could write her name on the blackboard portion of the pot, “#1 Teacher”, or whatever you wanted, or one could write and erase their own messages, just like writing on a blackboard.

And the prices were reasonable ($10, $15, or $20 depending upon the size) and intelligently set in that they didn’t require messy change-giving. I would have bought one of them regardless, simply to support the boy’s effort, but honestly, I LOVED them, and bought one in the $15 size that already had a really nice red bloom going on and several white ones that they told me would open in about a week. At the time I figured this would be a good “generic” gift to give to someone who had surprised me on the last day of school (Friday), but honestly, once I got it home and saw it clearly in the light of my kitchen, I realized that I liked this so much that I decided to keep it for myself. Up until now, I hadn’t had any plants in my apartment, but my Christmas tree (even though it was cut and will have to be thrown out after Christmas) seems to have risen within me the desire to have a plant in the house.

It ends up that while the boy goes to a different private school from the one where I work, the mother said that they knew a family whose children had gone there, and she told me the name and I knew who they were. Also, the woman told me that her mother’s best friend is the mother of one of our substitute teachers, whom, when she told me her name, I described as “a goddess”, and absolutely IS the first substitute teacher that any teacher of ours calls when they are sick, and, in fact, that teacher is basically there on our campus every single day. So that was fun, having those connections, and I am sure the mother will mention me to those people and say that I bought one of the boy’s cactus gardens. But I hope that he sells a lot, as he should. When I told one of my friends about this at work, she loved the idea of it, especially the idea of being able to write a message on the pot, so she told me she would go down there after work to buy one, too, which I hope she did.

I had to research on-line how to take care of this cactus, and found out that unlike most cacti, this kind comes from the JUNGLE, not the desert, so it doesn’t require, or like, hot sun baking down on it, which means that it doesn’t have to be outside, but can live quite well indoors (it does like LIGHT, though). Perfect.

This morning, as I was making my breakfast, I saw that beautiful red bloom with those waiting white buds, so perfect for Christmas, and instantly this blog entry was written in my mind, so here it is, now, all ready for you.

I hope you have a glorious Christmas, and may you thoroughly enjoy the joyfulness of the season.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


On Thanksgiving day during my Thanksgiving break (the family celebration of the holiday was going to take place on Saturday), I took a day trip up to Nevada County, where I had lived between the years of 1988 and 1993, and it had been a significant five years of my life. I had been back there one time again for a short while in 1996, for another, but quite different significant chapter in my life, but until yesterday, I had not been back there since.

I had no idea what to expect, but while there, I observed a typical phenomenon of my life, how just the sight of a road, or a building, or of anything, really, would immediately bring to mind something that I had done in that spot, even insignificant things, and this occurs even if some major details are no longer the same (such as whole blocks were razed and new buildings put in their place). It is clear to me that every single thing is recorded in memory (or perhaps stored in some kind of a spiritual cloud), the address of which for finding again actually IS an “address”, that is to say, an actual geographical location that one sees again. This tells me that the physical dimension, and the experiences there (since so strongly remembered and so easily recalled upon stimulation), are extremely important in a way that I might not have understood or appreciated before.

It is clear that these recallings ARE memories which may have no correlation with the present reality of the location. For example, I was somewhat horrified to see the house where I had lived, which had been mutated not only in appearance but also in spiritual atmosphere to the extent that I almost missed it entirely. It feels to me that after I and my particular energy moved away from there, nothing but low-life people moved in (perhaps a stream of them), and the place had become a place of an almost sickening misery. The house had been externally remodeled in an inexpert way, strictly for appearance’s sake, so that a structure that had once been almost beautiful due to its simplicity and honesty, now looked like a face that had undergone a hideously botched plastic surgery. Also, the place looked abandoned, and possibly even vandalized, so that I considered parking and actually walking into the grounds and looking around the property and peeping into windows. There was a real estate sign out front, so it might have been safe for me to do so. However, I wasn’t completely sure that there weren’t people currently living in there, so I was reluctant to invade what might be their privacy; that, coupled with a whole feeling of evil (or, at least, “neurosis”) about the place, convinced me to leave it alone and do whatever research I wanted on-line via the house’s real estate listing (which I did do later back at the hotel, and I saw that they had performed even more useless alteration and had expressed even more tastelessness on the interior of the house. Low-life, absolutely, and from driving on the mountain country road in this area, I felt that this area to me now looked like what maybe could be called “California’s Appalachia” and I wondered just what it had been that had drawn me to live in such a place at the time. I certainly had absolutely no interest in any of it now other than that I had had a past there; it for sure was NOT “me” any more, if it ever had been. It was, maybe, a detour in my own road and it might be valuable to analyze if anything that HAD been developed of me while I lived there is, any more, a genuine part of me, or should be.

Being way out in the middle of nowhere there, and on Thanksgiving Day when so many commercial enterprises are closed, I developed the need to go to the bathroom, in addition to which I was hungry, so I now headed back into the town areas of Nevada City and Grass Valley where I hoped to find a restaurant that was open in which I could satisfy both needs.

I decided my best bet would be “Lyons”, in a business area half-way between Nevada City and Grass Valley, which had the further value of having been a 24-hour coffee shop in which I had had many, many meals and wonderful experiences. In “those days” when I lived there, Lyons was a hang-out for Nevada County’s “theatre set”, of which I was a part. After rehearsals and performances, whole groups of us would head over to Lyons for a late-night meal and for me it was wonderful to have friends to do something like that with. And, even better, I was working on an unlikely relationship with a nineteen-year-old actor of remarkable beauty and talent, one who, surprisingly, responded back to me at every turn, who ended up moving in with me, and who remains to this day the only relationship with a male I ever had in which the loved one ever told me that he loved me, and when he volunteered this information to me (as he held and kissed my hand lovingly), I could absolutely feel it and clearly understand why he did. I could see through him the me that someone like him genuinely WOULD love, which is a very special and empowering experience. He and I, upon occasion before he moved in, would go to Lyons after a show, have dinner, and continue talking there until morning, at which time we would then have breakfast; pulling “two meal all-nighters” at Lyons. Due to this, Lyons had become one of our own special love-havens.

But as I drove down the hill on the freeway from Nevada City, I saw that “Lyons” was now no longer called that, but was “Lumberjack’s”, instead, and all redecorated in a split-wood, log-cabin type motif. Well, my bathroom needs had become even more urgent, so “Lumberjack’s” it was going to be.

After I finished in the bathroom and came out to be seated, the hostess seemed to be confused, for some reason, as to where she could seat me, which section was available (although the restaurant was far from crowded). But then suddenly appeared on the scene a beautiful young man, probably quite recently graduated from high school, who directed her to seat me in the section that was his. He was one of those whose very appearance washes away all other considerations or practicalities…his beauty becomes the only reality, and deeper than that, the only truth that matters. At first what I saw of him was only the perfection of the shape of his torso as it pressed against his shirt, although I was also subtly aware of his take-charge, solve-the-problems attitude. It also vaguely seemed to me that he very much wanted to have me in his section, which is something that now I feel quite strongly had been the case. He definitely had had the chance to have me seated in another section. Of course, one could say that the only “wanting” regarding that was mine, ME wanting to be in HIS section, but he had already been in the motion of insisting that I be placed in his before I had even seen him.

Where he had the hostess seat me was in the very first booth, the one closest to the hostess’s station, but on the other side of a wall that separated the booths from the area where people sat to be seated when the restaurant was crowded. Interestingly, the effect of that was that whenever he came into view, it was always a sudden appearance from behind me that I would see out of the corner of my eye. It also had the apparent effect of him coming onto a stage from the wing on the left, so there was no gradual fading of him in and out, or with longer views of him from a distance. He was either RIGHT THERE at my table, or else only a few tables beyond me. If this were a stage, I was sitting in the first row.

The hostess had given me a menu, one I had never seen before, of course, whereas I imagine that diners in that town already know the menu by heart. (When it was Lyon’s, I had known everything on THEIR menu.) But here I had hardly even opened the menu when he was there to take my order. I explained that I needed a few minutes, as I had never been there before. But this gave me a good excuse to say, “How long has this been ‘Lumberjack’s’? I remember when it was Lyon’s, which may be ancient history.” (I felt like adding, “Which was probably before you were born,” but I did not.) My main impulse, though, was not that I wanted to obtain information (although I was legitimately curious), but that I wanted to talk with him; I wanted to have more of an involvement with him than just giving him a food order.

He flashed me a glorious smile and he had devastating dimples that twinkled, and he answered, “Oh yes, I remember. It has been Lumberjack’s since September 5, 2010, but the restaurant has gone through several changes.” He began to tell me what name had followed Lyon’s, which I could now see had been pretty soon after I had moved away, and then the name after that. The name after that, I think he said, was “Sweet Pea,” but then in 2010 it became Lumberjack’s. While it wasn’t clear from his list of names whether these were all the restaurant’s changing hands (Lyon’s was, or had been, a chain, and upon later looking up Lumberjack’s on-line, I saw that it is a chain, also), but there was something magical about the WAY he said all the different names, in that from his manner in saying each of them, I could feel what their decorative atmospheres had been, what kind of clientele they had been designed to appeal to. He wasn’t TELLING me the names so much as he was vocally INTERPRETING them. His was an artistic answer, not a “business” or “financial” atmosphere.

And he seemed well-pleased to be telling me these things, and responsive to me being more than a customer who is unaware of or uncaring about the history of places and little design details and touches; in other words, he seemed to be glad that I was someone who fully experiences the experience, which, he, at the moment, was the main significant part of THIS one.

He then left to give me a chance to study the menu.

The restaurant, while not crowded, certainly seemed quite busy, at least in his section, and he seemed to be doing a good job of keeping everybody satisfied. He was quite occupied by bringing large plates of food to the various booths, and the people in each booth kept filling him with further requests, so for a while, all of his “on and off stage” movements involved him carrying things in either direction for the other diners. But finally, he suddenly materialized at my table (from behind me, of course) with his order book in hand, thanking me quite profusely for my patience. I indicated that I hadn’t suffered the least bit, but had appreciated having the time to look at all the appealing offerings that were on their menu. He very graciously received “my reprieve,” if that’s what it was, and I noticed that it was true that he genuinely was very beautiful in how he looked, the musical and poetic way that he spoke, the grace with which he moved, and the manner in which he operated, which I think I would describe as “compassionately extroverted and responsibly self-reliant.”

A person like that I can’t just leave alone, and by that I mean I had do something more than simply be someone who orders a meal and then moves on. But, as Juliet said to Romeo that first night on the balcony, “What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?” I didn’t live there in town. It was highly likely that I would never see that guy again. And what could I possible be to him, anyway? To HIM, all I was was a customer. Maybe slightly more interesting or pleasant to work with than the normal, but that’s all.

I thought of so many things I could say to him, something funny, for example. In keeping with the theme of the place, they had running on the video screen (that so many restaurants feel that they need to have, these days) a lumberjack “Olympics”, in which Paul Bunyan-type guys were racing to chop their way through immense tree trunks. The way the guys were violently wielding those axes, it was like Bruce Lee crossed with an Ax Murderer coupled with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Next time that waiter suddenly manifested at my table with his dimples flashing, I was going say, indicating the video, “I’d hate to make one of those guys mad, the way they’d tear into me, I’d need plastic surgery from head to toe”! Believe me, it WOULD have been funny, except the waiter had gotten into a little drama from making a mistake with the order of the couple in the booth in front of me. He had gloriously arrived with two immense platters piled high with delicious-looking food, presenting to them with a flourish, “Two turkey platters” (remember, this was on Thanksgiving Day), but neither the man nor the woman moved a muscle, freezing the waiter in mid-flourish. “Wrong order,” said the woman. Flashing dimples gone. The self-reliant, graceful waiter was for a moment confused, but then remembered, and said, “Ah yes, prime rib and tilapia, not two turkey platters, I remember!” and off he was again, exit stage left. No stopping by MY table to hear funny comments about the ax-wielding lumberjacks.

Then the ax-cutting contest ended and now it was pairs of behemoth guys pulling saws back and forth, cutting logs the diameter of my rental car, making my hoped-for comment no longer appropriate, or funny.

Next out of the corner of my eye, the waiter RUNS like Wiley Coyote, and brakes to a stop at the mistaken table, this time laden with prime rib and tilapia platters, each one studded by a full miniature loaf of sourdough bread with the explanation, “Since you had to wait, I’m giving you each full loaves.” This seemed to be something he had taken upon himself to do for them, which I thought was respectable (although please don’t do that for me, I can’t even have the half-loaf). But the way he had RUN to them was magical. Again, he communicated so well with his entire body.

He then quickly exited the stage again, since he still had more plates to deliver. By now the whole lumberjack contest video had ended and there was nothing left but a slide advertising chainsaws from a local hardware store remaining on the screen. No appropriate comment occurred to me, now.

But thinking about how he had run by with those plates of food and how he had jerked to a perfect stop at those people’s table, I heard in my mind my asking him if he had ever performed on stage there. Here was the perfect leading man, physically gorgeous, and also a character actor for the funny parts. Anyone as expressive with movement as that, with such great diction and vocal interpretation, plus his perfect looks, he’d be the town STAR in no time. And for sure, no crippling stage fright for him!

I began to have a couple of fantasies…one was that he was currently acting on stage there, and was, in fact, already a star, and would be able to trot out some names of directors or theater owners or performing companies that he had worked with, whom I can say that I had known, or worked with when I lived there before, and it would have pleased him very much to have his qualities recognized by such a stranger seeing him out of context. This would be bound to make him feel good.

The other fantasy was that he was not performing in local theatrics there, but had wanted to and all he needed was just a tiny little push, such as the suggestion by a stranger that he do so. I couldn’t imagine that a guy who was like him DIDN’T have that desire, if he wasn’t already pursuing it.

Either way, this would give me the opportunity to do something for him, give him some gift that might have some positive impact on his life, and just the thought that maybe I could do that would be the satisfaction that I could obtain.

I did wonder, though, if what I was seeing in him was genuine, or was I being affected by the ghosts of all the performers who had filled these tables in the past. And was this still an acting town, where audiences would come from Sacramento, and maybe even the San Francisco Bay Area, to see plays in the oldest theater in California, or was all that, too, something from the past?

Had I just become a semi-senile “old man”, confusing a cute boy with the one I had courted and loved and who had wanted me, too, and who told me that he loved me several decades ago, the only one who had ever said it, and probably the only who ever would?

A good time to ask him my question, give him my verbal gift, would be when he comes to refill my coffee. However, when he did come, he didn’t have a coffee pot in his hand, but was there, instead, to tell those of us who were in his section that he was now having to leave to go to a family dinner and that he was turning his tables over to the waitress whose name he gave, but which I didn’t store my head. So, there was not going to be any time for any kind of humorous repartee, he wasn’t even going to finish the basic job of being my waiter for one meal. Still, despite this not being the best moment, I heard myself ask him my question.

He didn’t answer immediately, so I got embarrassed and said, “Not that I am recruiting or casting or anything, but I just thought that with your great expressive diction and appealing, extroverted mannerisms, and leading man looks, that you would be a natural for the stage.”

He then smiled that sunrise smile, and with comfort and ease canted his hips into a position of relaxation, and said that he had never been on stage, but that he had been politically active, had started an anti-litter campaign called “Super Hero” (“Be a Super Hero by keeping the environment clean) for the county that was meant to be directed at school children, in which he made county-wide presentations wearing a Super Hero costume and had been interviewed on the radio (the same radio station that had interviewed me about a play that I had directed) and he had become known for the character that he had created and played, and that he hoped to use his political experience in other helpful ways, as well. He than apologized profusely for having to leave, but assured me that I was in good hands with the waitress whose name I didn’t store, and that he hoped to see me there again, and then he moved on to the couple whose order he had messed up, and he apologized to them again for originally messing up their order, but they said that he had nothing to apologize for, he was a “Super Hero” to them, and he went on down the line of booths repeating that he had to leave but that he would be back in the restaurant that evening, and woman in the last booth he spoke to was very concerned that he wasn’t going to get the tip that she wanted to give him (which had I had been concerned about, as well, but I figured the take-over waitress would share the tips with him), but he assured her that he WOULD get his share and all was well.

And then he quickly walked out of there and then through the large picture windows of the restaurant I saw him run as fast as he could over to his black pick-up truck, and I had every expectation of seeing him speed that truck with a squeal out of the parking lot and down the street, but no, he drove at a very respectable, sedate, safe pace, the all-around great guy that he was.

Driving back down to my hotel in Sacramento after my day trip to Nevada County, I couldn’t get him out of my mind and I thought about his answer to my question. Politics? What did his answer mean? Was he saying to me, “No, I am using the qualities that you observed for genuine ACTION, not fantasy; I am using them for making a difference, not for simply telling a story or providing entertainment.” Was he, in a way, saying, “Thank you for your observations, but I am way ahead of you, already doing something else that I think is better”?

DO I think the “action” of politics is better?

Well, no, I do not, nor am I sure that that is the best use of his qualities. I never thought of politicians as beautiful, although I guess they could be. Who was the last good-looking politician that I could think of? President Kennedy, maybe. Mostly I just think of them as ugly, corrupt old men.

An actor on stage can create any of an infinite variety of characters all bringing to life a meaningful story that adds to the culture and enhances the growth of the individual who can open to the meaning of the story and apply its lessons to his own life. Being a “politician” is just ONE type of character, and I don’t think the waters run very deep, nor is the effect very positive.

In order for him to give me the answer that he did, he had to hear what I was saying, extract from it what the qualities were that he had used, and enumerated for me how every one of them he had used, similar to how he had had enumerated for me the name of every incarnation of the restaurant where he now worked. While he had never performed on a theatrical stage, he DID apply himself to a public arena in a different venue, even right down to his choice of wearing the costume of a Super Hero, and it was his body that had been the first thing of him that I had noticed, and he had been interviewed on the radio, where his only instrument would be his voice. So his answer was, in fact, a perfect and appropriate response to my question.

If a person actually hears what you say and is able to apply what you have observed of them into real examples from their life, then that means that you two have made a connection. So what he experienced that day was that he had been really SEEN, and what I gave him was the gift of that. If he wants to continue with political actions, then he has received further affirmation of the rightness of that path. If he has other desires, then his having been seen will also have been beneficial in ways that his genuine self will understand.

And it wasn’t the ghosts of performers from the past who distorted by vision. My vision was perfectly clear.

But the fact that THIS is the restaurant where he is making his living, makes me think that the ghosts have had a pull, after all. Perhaps they drew him there, and have made him feel right at home among them. We can rarely know the impact that we might have on people, but if we are willing to give the gifts of our positive, supportive observations, some good, either small or great, is bound to come in the lives of others we meet and are drawn to; it is making love.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Gerry-Meandering" or Suddenly Understanding Existentialism

It's getting more and more frustrating to contend with "canned" sites on the Internet that make me feel that they don't deserve to receive my attention any more. Yeah, I guess we really are just "advertising fodder" for them all so that they can earn Google money. They just want your presence, but they're not really interested in your content. (And sites like Facebook just keep tabs on everything you do on line so that they can sell the information to the government.)

I used to love to write movie reviews for the Internet Movie Database, but normally won't do it anymore unless I am an earlier writer in the process (such as when a movie first comes out). Who will manage to read what I write when there are hundreds and hundreds of other reviews?

But I recently watched a movie that I had ordered from Netflix that really stuck with me, a movie that apparently most people hated, but that I loved. That seems to be becoming a pattern with me...a movie that most people loved, I hated, and movies that most people hated, I love. (There are exceptions to that, of course...I am not completely perverse.) Well, one example of that was the Gus Van Sant movie, Elephant, which I viewed as an outstanding work of art, but that a shocking number of people hated (and definitely failed to understand). The usual complaint from haters is that a certain movie is "boring". Well, in response to that, I would like to quote a line from a Pet Shop Boys song, which seems appropriate here: "We were never bored because we were never boring." So, these people are bored, because they are boring, which I take to mean that their mind runs along the same shallow and simple channel and so anything, such as a work of art, that doesn't run down that same shallow and simple channel "bores" them. Their mind isn't engaged, because they are unable to grasp what is in there.

So, the movie that I recently watched was also a Gus Van Sant movie, Gerry, that I also took as being a great work of filmmaking art. I had no thought of writing a review of it, though, until I saw so very MANY negative reviews of the movie on the Netflix site. I mean, many people really, really HATED this movie, thought it was the absolute worst they had ever seen. They couldn't even imagine how anyone could possibly like it, and if they did claim to like it, there simply had to be something very wrong with them. Oh yeah, projection much?

So, against my better judgment, I decided to write a positive review of the film for the Netflix site, and I don't bang these things out, I take a great deal of time with them, so imagine my dismay when I finally got it the way I wanted it, and submitted it, that the site wouldn't take it because it exceeded its 2,000 words limit. I have no idea how many words long the review actually is (they don't even extend you the courtesy of giving you a running word count to help you out), but I don't really care; if they have to put an arbitrary limit on it, then they won't get this review from me, it's that simple. I don't need them to edit, or abbreviate me. Nobody would read it, anyway, as they already have something like 300 reviews. It was just my perverse pleasure to post a good review of the film in contrast to all the bad ones, but no, they lose out.

But I had written this thing and didn't want my whole evening to have been a waste, so I went over to the Internet Movie Database to post it there (despite their also having several hundred other reviews, so, again, nobody would really read mine), only to discover that they had an arbitrary word limit, as well, even worse than the Netflix site, 1,000 words (and, again, did not offer the courtesy of providing an actual word count). I didn't even bother to check out (who, maybe, HAS no limit, but I don't even want to check anymore), I was so disgusted by all these sites that I decided to heck with it, I will post it HERE on my OWN site, even though of all places, this has the least chance of any that anyone will read it, especially since this isn't even a site, like Netflix or IMDB, where a person is curious about this movie and maybe wanting to read a review of it!

Oh well. Maybe somebody WILL read this and actually be interested in renting this movie and watching it. (But they'll probably hate it!)

First, though, I better explain a little bit of what the movie is about (which was not part of my original review, since that would already be explained on Netflix or IMDB). The movie is deceptively simple. Two guys (Matt Damon and Casey Affleck...Casey Affleck was also one of the writers of the film), both calling themselves by the same name of "Gerry", are on some kind of a road trip, driving across the desert. After a long while of silent driving (the entire movie has no more than about two paragraphs of dialogue), they pull over and go on a little hike into the desert. There is a sign that says "Wilderness Trail", and apparently they allude to having some kind of a destination, which I am guessing is something like an interesting view point that they have decided to go look at. But they also decide to veer off the trail, either to take a short cut or they are simply interested in making their own way to the point.

They walk a while, and then become aware that they aren't really sure where they are. They have somehow lost sight of where the normal trail was, which, of course, would be totally easy to do, out there in the desert. So they deviate again in an effort to rejoin the original trail, but really, all they do is make their situation worse. As they continue to walk along, they kind of deflect from bringing into full consciousness the idea that they truly are lost. Instead of, say, sitting down and thinking the situation through logically, such as determine which directions were which, or setting up an awareness of various landmarks, they decide to split up and search for various higher grounds from which they may get their bearings, and then rejoin each other, but their plan sounds kind of vague and unclear, so, of course, this plan isn't successful but I guess there was some small victory in that at least they weren't permanently separated, which could happen, also.

This is pretty much the gist of the whole movie, they're attempting to find their way and putting a great deal of energy into the task, but their situation just continues to get worse and more desperate but without them ever actually squarely facing up to the full reality of their situation (as if to admit it would be to succumb to it). Watching this, I kept thinking of "Jews wandering in the desert for 40 years in search of the promised land", and deciding that that HAD to be a metaphor, that no tribe of people could actually manage to DO that. (FORTY YEARS?) I don't think that had anything to do with this movie, that was just what was going through my mind.

Okay, now starts the review that I tried to write for Netflix:

I'll start with my favorite scene of in the movie, which I view as "pure Gus Van Sant" just the way I like him. It was the eternally-long trudging scene, crunch crunch crunch, while they still had the energy to power forward, two vital guys, in which the two Gerries were filmed close-up on the side of their faces with one of them just slightly in front, but then he would sometimes briefly fall back, but they both nevertheless were kept right in the frame as they continued forward, for such a long time. To me, who has been an actor in films, this was the very essence of acting at its most difficult, and really shows the ability of Casey Affleck and Matt Damon to keep this up for such a long shot. It is so much easier to play a part and to naturally animate your face when you are having something to say, when there is a give and take in a conversation, but here, there was none of that, just two guys walking in a steady but desperate rhythm with various thoughts running through their head and the situation realistically playing across their faces.

I love Gus Van Sant's tracking shots, so amazingly beautiful, and the little short at the end of the DVD (if that's how you saw this movie) that showed them filming a scene with the "camera dolly railroad tracks" going almost infinitely across the white salt flats gives some hint of how this kind of camera work was achieved. But it was the actors that truly showed the magic of THEIR craft in this amazing scene. YOU think it is easy...but it's like a staring contest with yourself, and unless you are of that level, you will lose.

From Elephant I had fallen in love with Gus Van Sant's style of filming close-up to his performers' faces to the extent that you become totally smitten by their humanity, and so I was entranced by this particular scene in "Gerry", which made it anything but boring. Maybe one has to have actually acted in a movie in which a camera was held close to their face for ten minutes like that to truly understand the power of such a shot and the skill of the actor who can deal with it.

Many of the "hated the movie" reviewers couldn't believe "how stupid" these two guys must have been to "go off on a hike in a desert with no water," blah blah blah, (how easy to pass that judgment while sitting comfortably in your living room or safe in your civilized movie theater) yet it was clear to me that this was just meant to be a short hike, maybe a half-hour's walk over to a particular view point...YOU wouldn't bring along anything, either. (They were smokers, so yes, they did happen to have matches or a lighter, so at least they could make fire, but this had nothing to do with "preparation".) And how VERY easy it is to get lost if you aren't paying attention and it can happen in the dense woods as well as in a stark desert where there really is no clear trail. Or anywhere, for that matter. I submit that the vast majority of the people in the world are just as lost, they just aimlessly trudge through life without any understanding of anything at all, and when things get bad, they just keep making them worse, having no clue as to what else to do. The whole state of our country, today, is a perfect example of that (any
country...just pick one).

I also loved the cinematography, and the views of the great vistas and rolling clouds and so on perfectly reminded me of a situation I had gotten myself into, in which I was attempting to drive between Reno and Sacramento one late December evening when a sudden "Donner Party Killing" snowstorm came up that caused the closing of both I-80 and US 50 over the mountains, but I heard trucker's conversing on my CB radio, telling each other that the way was clear if one went north on 395 and then
took California 70 west over, so I tried that. Unfortunately, the blizzard overtook us all on that route, too, with snowfall shooting onto the windshield so heavy you could hardly see to drive, so all the trucks simply pulled over to the side of the highway to hunker in for the night. I could not do that in a small-sized convertible, with the closed soft top, I would probably freeze to death, so I had no choice but to soldier on, blizzard or no blizzard.

Ultimately, along California 70, I could no longer even see where the road was any more, the snow was so heavy, I was just driving across white snow through the woods in a car that was not a four-wheel drive. I understood that my situation was desperately dangerous, yet there was no solution other than to just keep on going the best I could and hope that the car didn't break down or the way become entirely impassable.

Who knows if I was even driving in the correct direction any more. But there was one magical moment when I happened to look sideways into the snowy woods and was amazed at how beautiful it was, which I thought was ironic to suddenly perceive that while I was actually in the midst of serious danger. The beautiful scenes in this movie reminded me of that experience. I felt that my awareness of that beauty kept me going, gave me hope, but humans do have an amazing ability to continue when they
have to and often that dogged determination is ALL you have.

I suddenly felt in this movie a desperate fear that these guys simply would NOT make it, because it had gotten to the point where I could see no way out for them. I was actually praying out loud for them to finally stumble onto the road, because it would be INTOLERABLE if they did not make it! One might wonder why I would even care, but I consider this an example of the filmmakers' genius that I DID care, that I was made to see that their human frailty and being tired and lost and having no idea what to do about it yet still trying while there were still some twitching muscle fiber left to move them was my own, as well. I was filled with great compassion, and imagine being brought to that in a movie where "nothing" happens and it is "boring", yet few among us have any kind of life that, if seen from a distance by a stranger, is any less boring than what we were watching in this film (yet how precious it is to us).

Maybe this is why so many people hated and couldn't stand this movie; because it did not offer them the escape that they so desperately attempt to keep right in front of their face so that they won't fully get how tenuous their own situation is. Instead of a "momentary hike over to a view point," this movie rubbed their face in the hard, gritty sand of their life's actual helplessness. Just what tiny little change could occur in their life that would suddenly ruin everything? I think the nagging fear of that, whatever it is, runs very, very deep in our human nature. The truth is, we thought we'd "conquered Thebes", but maybe it'll end up we're just "rock-marooned" without a "sand mattress".

Oh well, that was my "too long for the movie sites" review, ending with some terms and situations that were mentioned in the movie, which would make some sense to anyone who sees the movie.

I decided to look up the meaning of the word "existentialism" (which I felt like this movie had to be the essence of), and lo and behold, oh wow, yes it is!

Here is what the Wikipedia says about Existentialism: "...philosophical thinking begins with the human subject--not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual. In existentialism, the individual's starting point is characterized by...a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world." Also, the entry states that existentialists felt that "traditional academic philosophy was too abstract and remote from concrete human experience", and that "Soren Kierkegaard, regarded as the father of existentialism, maintained that the individual is solely responsible for giving his own life meaning and for living that life passionately and sincerely, in spite of existential obstacles and distractions including despair, angst, absurdity, alienation, and boredom."

That's exactly what this movie was about. When Gus Vant Sant focused his camera on the faces of these two lost boys trudging energetically across the desert in extremely long, steady, tracking shots, he was showing the acting, feeling, living human individual, and being lost in the desert, they for sure were disoriented and confused in a world that was alien to them (meaningless and absurd). What could be a more concrete example of human experience than walking, walking, walking...I mean, mankind covered this entire earth in search of...whatever, all at first done on foot. These boys in the film were actually trying to save their life, which, again, I would say, would be an expression of passion and sincerity in a most basic way, and they certainly were faced with despair, angst, absurdity, and even boredom (walking, walking, walking) was BOREDOM that was most experienced by the film's viewers (those who didn't understand the richness of what this film was offering).

I think it may be too much for people to be made to experience their own desperation and so they fight to reject it. Yet it was these same people who rejected this movie who also dissed the boys for not "preparing for their trek in the desert"; yet what preparations can one make when they don't even know that they are in trouble?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Speak Out, Children!

This little entry is a result of my having finally watched a movie that I ended up detesting, which everyone else apparently loved, which is typical. The movie was Waiting For Superman, a socialist's idea of what is wrong with education in America and what they think needs to be done to fix it. Why do I say it was "a socialist's idea"? Because it was directed by David Guggenheim, the same man who directed Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, which was "man-made global warming" propaganda...uh, excuse me, climate change propaganda, because, since the Earth never dangerously warmed up as it was touted it would do, it became more all-encompassing to blame mankind whether the Earth warms up or cools down.

Because it is all about laying a global blanket of government control over every single human action, and what more reason to do so than to "save the Earth"? Since there truly can no longer be a "Big Brother" to worship (since everyone knows that "Big Brother" will somehow end up participating in some kind of a sex scandal and therefore not worthy of any admiration)--unless you live in North Korea, where the "big brother" is "Ill"--it works out much better to impose a "Giant Gaia" that is blissfully free of any human foible. And this one can become quite as angry and punishing as any Old Testament God, as shown by one of the most powerful pictures I have ever seen, which I happened to come across again last night:

That's a "Thailand beach scene" from the Tsunami that occurred several years ago. At first glance, all you see in that photo is rubble, but if you zoom in, you will see the picture is also filled with human bodies. That's what can happen on Gaia, but it isn't hurting Gaia one bit, it only hurts living beings and their constructs. As for Gaia, she just keeps on going on and on, and will continue to do so eons after we are all long gone.

As I was washing dishes this morning, I realized that in America, the skill of persuasion techniques, in other words, "mass media", have been honed to laser sharpness so that there no longer is the need for any bloody conquering of the people and their freedom, like, say, in Lenin's Russia or Mao Tse Tung's China. Instead, the majority of the people are so brainwashed that no weapon needs to be drawn, they just offer up their wrists and beg to have the chains locked on. And these days, it seems that the average academic with a PhD is even spouting the same propaganda. On-line philosopher, Stefan Molyneux, whom I greatly admire, call the "academic class" the modern-day version of "the priesthood" from the Dark Ages.

But before you get to being fully propagandized by that college-level priesthood, you first have to get through elementary and high school. And thus comes in Waiting For Superman.

Now, please don't get me wrong...I am very much in favor of "education", but I am NOT in favor of "schooling". I remember back on September 11, 2001, the famous video clip of "deer-in-the-headlights" President Bush in that Florida classroom having just had news of the second jet crash into the World Trade Tower whispered in his ear. Immediately, everybody got it wrong. First, there was constant talk about "Bush reading a story about a little girl with a goat to school children." And second, there was talk all about Bush, himself, and his reaction...did he show utter incompetence instead of hopping into action ("We were being ATTACKED!"), or does the mask of his face indicate that he KNEW this was going to happen, or something else something else, yammer yammer yammer.... I say "yammer yammer yammer" because as much as people discuss these things, they will never know the actual answer, because falseness and misconceptions, whichever ones become manipulated into the mainstream, if those serve the purpose of the politically powerful and "approved historians", they will end up becoming "the truth" that will forever be taught and believed by the majority.

I very quickly understood that no matter how much "expert analysis" there was, President Bush's face wasn't going to have revealed anything to us so discussing THAT was a waste of time. But where I placed my attention was back on that first actual fact that was immediately twisted was NOT President Bush reading to the children, it was the CHILDREN reading to President Bush. And how they read chilled me to the bone.

One of the things that most shocks me these days is how quickly and how bold-facedly the mainstream media will lie, even when the evidence of the opposite is right there in front of everybody's face! This is double-speak in action. Anyone who ever saw that video clip KNEW that Bush was not reading to the children, the children were reading to Bush, and yet, all you ever heard was "Bush reading a story to school children". Why am I making a big deal out of this? Why does it matter? Shouldn't it matter when you hear the news media and everyone around you parroting the same twisting of a simple fact that you saw with your own eyes? And why did they do that? I guess it was because it "softened" the President, made him more compassionate and loving (because maybe they had some understanding of what was soon going to be coming down the pike...Homeland Security, TSA, recording everybody's telephone conversations and e-mail, never-ending war with the Middle East, torture of prisoners, ever-deepening violation of the Bill of Rights); "Aw, there he was when this evil enemy was attacking us, reading a story to school children!" (and it was even a whole school of black children, which makes it even better!). Oh, what a nice President he is!

I don't mind people thinking he was a nice President, if he truly is, but let's have it be based on reality, not propaganda.

But, even worse, and this is my main point, was, as I said above, how those school children read to him. They were like Nazi soldiers goose-stepping past an Adolph Hitler with his arm held up in "Heil" pose. This is how I imagine the school children read in North Korea today. A very militarized, in unison, marching to a teacher beating a lecturn with stick (hidden message--we can beat YOU with this stick if you get out of line) form of reading, and it didn't even have to be in English, just meaningless sounds uttered on command, for there was no indication that the students had the slightest command or understanding of anything they were reading. This was really just a DRILL. They call this reading, they call this teaching, I call this boot camp for cogs in the lowest machine we've got. Yes, THIS must be the dream of the political elite for black children in school. And since white kids all want to be black, now, listening to hip hop, making up rap rhymes, calling themselves by rapper names, wearing baggy clothes falling off their butt, making gang signs whenever a photo is taken of them, they'll be the ones next up for the "military school" hopper. Well, America has no jobs for them, anyway, so why not? There's plenty of room for them in prison, where they can make license plates (California) or check the accuracy of state income tax filings (Idaho) or clean up trash along the highways (North Carolina), etc. Now THAT'S Obama's "public service work camps" for you!

And our President was there, visiting a school whose "reading program really works"! (This isn't against Bush personally; any one of them could have been there.)

So what do the makers of Waiting For Superman think "really works"? And, oh, in case you didn't get this, what "shows" what "really works" is getting better scores on standardized government proficiency tests. Shall I say that again--getting better scores on standardized government proficiency tests, in other words, how well did they learn taught "FACTS" that the government wants them to learn. There is no such thing as a government "entrepreneurial" proficiency test, or an "inventor" proficiency test, or a "thinking in a dimension so far unknown to the rest of us" proficiency test. Actually, I found myself accidentally writing "efficiency" test instead of "proficiency" test, so even my own right brain understood before my (government taught) left brain did, that that's what these tests really are, efficiency tests. How well have they learned the skills that their masters want them to learn.

Skills are for workers, whether manual or clerical and maybe even managerial. Employees.

Thomas Edison was kicked out of school because "he could not learn", which nowadays would mean "he couldn't learn skills". Yet while still a child, he made a fortune repairing an old printing press and using it to publish a newspaper while he worked in the baggage compartment of a passenger train. And then, of course, after that, he became an inventor. (There is, of course, a controversy about how much he actually invented and how he much he grabbed someone else's ball and then successfully ran with it, but then the same could be said about Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, or even the youngest billionaire in the world, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook.) Or, how about John Stuart Mill, who had an estimated IQ of 200 (compare that with Einstein's IQ of 160), who could not and did not learn to read until he was 12 years old. I guess you could say that John Stuart Mill would have been sent to "the drop out factory".

But where does Waiting For Superman find the kind of standardized-test-taking-skills-improvements that they think comes out of better schools? Well, schools that have better teachers, for one thing, but also schools that are closer to what I think of as the "totalitarian" ideal...schools with LONGER HOURS, schools that operate ALL YEAR ROUND, EVEN ON SATURDAYS, and STARTING KIDS OFF MUCH EARLIER (all of which, by the way, really works out for working-class parents who have to struggle to obtain a place to keep their kids during that otherwise "empty" 3:00 to 6:00 after school period). If the motivation of the state is to separate control of the children from their parents, these concepts work out really well for them. There was even an elementary school boarding school that this movie was recommending (with, good God, THREE children per dorm room), so if the motivation was to take the children away from their families, this was the ultimate!

This whole thing actually reminded me of Orson Scott Card's science fiction novel, Ender's Game, in which the Earth was eternally at an inter-galactic war and so the (global) government was breeding special "military geniuses" whose entire purpose was to be soldiers in this inter-galactic war and they took them away from their families (but it was considered an honor to be chosen), put them in a special school, and started them off with this military training very, very early. It's interesting that the Earth's enemy was a race of intelligent beings that were "ant-like", and so I saw that it must have been fitting to breed a special class of human "soldier ants" whose lives would be sacrificed for the planet in order to fight this "ant" enemy.

Because, again, none of this is to truly "educate" them, but to indoctrinate them and then train them for a specific level of task that the government wants them to willingly fill. It is NOT about these children discovering and understanding who they are and what they really want, since, of course, they have few moments to devote to that crucial discovery. No solitary time, no time to play, no summers off to explore, just drill drill drill.

Maybe people differ with me about what an education really is. I will have to use my own example, growing up and going to school. This is something I noticed when I was in high school. In almost all my classes, there was a particular girl with whom I felt I was in competition for getting the better grades. But one day my junior year in high school, I had a discussion with her that revealed to my way of thinking that she really wasn't very smart at all. In a flash I understood that she really didn't actually "know" anything, but she was extremely good at memorizing. I am terrible at memorizing, and so I very often fail to do it, so if it is a "facts" recitation that you need, I very well may come up empty. But she, on the other hand, could call up those facts in a flash, but a conversation with her will reveal that she doesn't really understand those facts at all (or draw any inferences from them), she can only parrot them back out. I learned, then, that there are two kinds of students, the "memorizers" and the "figure-outers", and so often it is the memorizers who come across as the better students. And yet, who is really more valuable in the long run are those who can figure things out, which to me means figuring out ANYTHING, regardless of subject (and, especially, cross-subject), so it really doesn't MATTER what you actually "learn", you can figure it out on your own. And, especially now, thanks to computers, facts can all be at your fingertips, but until we have highly-developed artificially intelligent computers, no machine can take the place of those who can figure things out.

So a true education needs to reward and support that kind of person...although one might argue that THEY don't really need to go to school at all. Oddly enough, even this movie, Waiting For Superman, actually graphically SHOWED what their belief is, and that is that it is the teacher's job is to fill up students' heads with facts (I think they called it "knowledge", but if it is something that a teacher can pour into a student's head, then it is "facts"), and they actually showed a cartoon of a teacher walking along school children sitting in their rows of desks, lifting up the top of their heads, and pouring in a swill of facts.

I do agree with one of the propositions of the film, and that is that truly good teachers can do a good job of helping students learn, and bad teachers can harm them, and the mediocre teachers just pass them along. It is shocking to hear the statistics of how many California high school graduates who are in the upper percentiles of California high school graduates nevertheless need up to TWO YEAR'S worth of remediation in order to actually begin college-level work. In other words, those aren't really college-level students at all, and yet the colleges have to accept them if they want to fill up all the available spaces.

However, in my view, as helpful as it is to have a good teacher, and how damaging it is to have a bad teacher, one doesn't REALLY NEED a teacher at all, except, perhaps, as a kind of sometime tutor to help a person understand something temporarily difficult. (In a way, this is the college method, whereby "school" is a giant lecture hall where some boring professor drones on and on, and the real learning is going on inside of you back in the dorm room or quiet library with all your texts, and if something isn't quite clear, you can get specialized help from your section T.A., who is a graduate student only a few years older than you are.) To me, the most important factor is the TEXTBOOK, and, my God, those seem to be so dumbed-down these days that it horrifies me even to open the pages of one. If I had to go to elementary school today and had to work my way through the thick slough of a modern-day dumbed-down textbook, I would have literally exploded with frustration. Is there any wonder that kids would rather just play video games? (But, uh oh, that's just like Ender's Game! Right this very minute, I am sure somebody is working on "educational video games"...or am I behind and everybody knows that we already have them?)

I'll have to write it again...the founders of our nation were essentially self-taught. Most of them, such as Benjamin Franklin, were apprenticed out to work before any of them would have even been in a modern-day high school. And yet, on their own, they read books that would choke a Yale graduate. And these people were able to create a nation like had never ever been made before, or since. George Washington went to school to learn only three subjects that he wanted to learn, Geometry, Trigonometry, and Surveying. What were his actual "skills"? Horseback riding and ballroom dancing. He was also, apparently, a master of fashion. But look at all his accomplishments.

I remember back to my own schooling, again, where I was good and where I wasn't so good. I already knew how to read, one of my grandmothers taught me one afternoon. I can hardly believe that it is now supposed to be so hard to teach reading. John Taylor Gatto reveals that it took explorers in Africa only 40 hours of personal contact to teach African tribesmen how to read when prior to those explorers coming there, the tribe didn't even have a written language at all! The explorers used the English alphabet to phonetically write out the spoken language of the tribe and all who wanted to obtain this "magic" completely learned how to read and write in 40 hours, tops. Yet today, in a culture surrounded by the written word, there are still high school graduates who (apparently) are accepted into COLLEGE who CAN NOT READ!

So in school I blew by Dick and Jane, which I thought were cute, kind of like comic books for morons, so the teacher would have me write stories on the blackboard for the other students to read and copy, which were more interesting.

Okay, so I was "verbal" (as they divided people up in those days), but not very "mathematical".

However, one day early in the third grade, a close friend of mine, Joan, was skipped ahead to the fourth grade. I not only missed her, but I was envious of her now skipping ahead a grade, so I told the teacher that I, too, wanted to be skipped into the fourth grade like Joan was. The teacher smiled and said, "You can't. Joan was very smart, too smart for the third grade." "Well, I am very smart, too," I said. "Yes, you are," the teacher patiently explained, "but you aren't really very good in math." And this I knew was true. So I said to her, "So, if I were GOOD in math, then maybe I, too, could be skipped into the fourth grade?" "Well, yes, I suppose you could," was her answer; "IF you were good in math like Joan is."

I took this as a promise, and I figured the only way I could obtain this achievement was to learn every bit of third grade math. So that weekend, I worked my way completely through the entire math textbook. I read every lesson, did every exercise, did all the homework, too, and graded all the self-tests, and turned them all in to the teacher on Monday morning. I told her that I had done the entire third grade math curriculum in that one weekend and if she checked all my work, she would see that I now did, indeed, know all of it.

To her credit, she did check it and reported back to me that I had, indeed, done the entire third grade math curriculum.

"Now can I be skipped ahead to the fourth grade?" I asked.

To her discredit, she simply said, "No."

So, what had I learned from that experience? That a dedicated person, on their own, can actually learn an entire school year's worth of a subject that they weren't even very good in, in one weekend, and as far as how students are classified and treated in school, it is based on some irrational system that is unfair and probably political. So, in my view, from then on in school, I was on my own, to learn what I wanted at the more rapid pace I wanted and I didn't need the cooperation or help from the teachers nor must I be limited by the ceilings of their expectations. Just like the founding fathers understood, I learned that learning was an "on your own, individualized" proposition.

So in a film like Waiting For Superman, that's exactly what all those children are doing, WAITING, for that "Superman" to come in and save them, when the Superman they have been waiting for all this time is them, themselves.

I just love so much that section in Richard Branson's autobiography ( ) where he discusses the exact moment when he became the Richard Branson that he is today, billionaire founder of record companies and music stores and airlines and railroads and all-around adventurer and explorer. He was a child riding along in the car with his mother in some rural area of England when she suddenly pulled over and asked him to look around. "Do you think you could find your way home from here?" she asked. "Yes," he answered, "I can." "Prove it," she said, and indicated that he should now get out and walk home. Excited, he got out of the car and watched her genuinely drive off in a cloud of dust, leaving him there all alone. He said that at that moment, the entire world unfurled itself like a red carpet at his feet, and he knew right then that wherever he wanted to go, whatever he wanted to do, whomever he felt like being, was within his power to achieve step by step. And he has done so, over and over again.

To me, the big problem with all the people interviewed in the film, Waiting For Superman, all of whom spoke very highly of their interest in education, for themselves, for their children, or for their community, was that almost all of them could not even speak a decent English sentence. How can a person believe that they are working for education when the very sound of their communication speaks of ignorance and sloppiness, and, in fact, demonstrates the very FAILURE to learn and that this is okay? Am I being racist? Or is bad English "okay" for certain races and economic levels? Well, it is only when you expect to isolate them within a lower worker class, which is what you are doing anyway if you are only teaching them standardized skills that are useful only in a job setting. Every one of these people kept talking about "going to college," "going to college," "going to college," yet what kind of "college" are they actually going to be going to? Some of the parents (and grandparents) spoke frankly about not having had much of an education themselves for various reasons ("We were poor", "I had to go to work", "I wasn't raised by my parents", etc.) and their idea of their kids going to college is to obtain a path out of the neighborhood and the life that they are currently living. But I would think that if you wanted to get out of somewhere by wanting to get INTO some place else, then it would behoove you to thoroughly research and UNDERSTAND the rules of the world you wanted to get into. Otherwise, you or your kids would always be a stranger in a strange land, never accepted, never assimilated, and never ever belonging (and so what you will do, instead, is blame those who belong in that land as being rejecting or discriminatory, and you will demand that society change the culture that you had wanted to become a part of; in other words, make it just like the one you wanted to escape from). To his great credit, Bill Cosby has spoken much about this, and has also been soundly vilified for speaking this truth. And don't forget that others have successfully made this journey and this was leap years before Civil Rights and Affirmative Action and all the other liberal agendas that have paved the path with gold.

And nobody is REALLY helping these kids, and apparently, they will not help themselves. One little girl who was featured as being "very smart" and "gigantically motivated" kept saying (when you could understand her, which was difficult), that she wanted to be a nurse, a doctor, a veterinarian. When I would hear that, I would think, "Well, which is it, nurse, doctor, or veterinarian?" Because, you know, they're three different things. But people accept that as a definite ambition (woo, that "doctor" gets them every time...but I hate to break it to them, but thanks to Obama's health care reform, if it continues, "doctor" will become a middle class position, deep in medical school debt but earning ever-diminishing "payments" from the bankrupt government).

These families seem to view "going to college" as like winning the lottery, if you go to college, you have it made. So it was interesting that how they would attempt to get into a "better" public school (charter school, and the like) was via being accepted via LOTTERY. I wondered why the children weren't being accepted into these better schools due to merit. But oh, sorry, I forgot...the theory is that "all children are the same" and accepting by merit is to "track them", a big no no. This is that whole liberal concept of "equalizing the outcomes," which if they are all cogs in a wheel, then one cog really is the same as another. What they think is that opportunities must be equalized, forgetting the fact that, like Richard Branson, people make their OWN opportunities. (Just ask the Chinese about that, who have made a success of themselves in every culture around the world into which they have inserted themselves throughout history.) But America isn't about that, any more; instead they want to set up road blocks before the advantaged kids and provide as smooth a sailing as possible for the disadvantaged ones, which hasn't worked at all for the past 40 years. And socialism (which the majority of the voters vote for because they think this will give them an advantage) is about supporting the unsuccessful by taking from the successful. Which, of course, is like eating up all your seeds (like they did in Zimbabwe).

But the lottery method is harsh, so few available spaces in contrast to all the applicants. Like getting a job, nowadays (which is what happens AFTER you graduate from college). Only two of the students who were followed in this documentary obtained admission via the lottery, and one of them had at first been fifth on the waiting list. Did anyone wonder how he was moved ahead six spots to gain admission...I mean, if this school were so wonderful, why did the five people ahead of him choose to not end up going there? (Maybe they all moved away....)

The boy who made it into the school via the waiting list was accepted into the "Ender's Game" type boarding school (no games, no free time, total immersion in getting higher test scores on the standardized proficiency exams), and he was being raised by his grandmother, who admitted that she was, understandably, torn about this. While she wanted him to get a good education, she hated to lose him. The boy's history was that his mother disappeared soon after he was born and his father had died of a drug addiction, so his grandmother, the father's mother, willingly took him in. At the beginning of the documentary, this boy tells a story of how he wasn't very good in "maths" (or, for that matter, English), but something drove him to do better so he started going his homework and suddenly he was passing tests when he had been failing them, before. So he could hardly wait to bring home to his father his first passing math test, but his father died of his drug addiction before the boy had had a chance to show him. There was a photo of the father holding his son in his lap that kept being shown in the film, as if the boy was still living for the absent father. But instead, who really WAS there for him, was not the drug-addicted father, but the grandmother who had been raising him all these years.

There was, I feel, a pretty telling scene near the end of the documentary where the grandmother is taking the boy into the boarding school, which really is the moment of a lifetime of separation between them. They have to sign in through some kind of a guard at the entrance to the school, so already it feels like a prison. The plain rectangular dorm room with brick walls painted white has three beds in it, two in a bunkbed and one solitary twin bed. The "guard" taking the boy to the room says that since he is the first one there, he has his choice of beds. At first he picks the solitary bed, but then he decides that he prefers the top bed on the bunk. He was always a very morose child throughout this whole film, one who slurred his words and he never spoke with much enthusiasm, and this going over the threshold into his apparent chance for a better life does not make him any more enthusiastic. Frankly, he seems to be going through the motions, because while he is told that this is a great opportunity for him to have a better life, he also views it as the end of all his fun and his involvement with his friends (after all, he IS just a little boy and he shouldn't even have to face any of this). He does not mention being separated from his grandmother, the only solid adult he has ever known, and fearing that he will be homesick for her.

He had been told earlier that the students were "allowed" to decorate their one wall with posters or any pictures that they wanted, so he came prepared. He put up a colored poster of a Lamborghini, and then lay down on the bed with his head on the pillow and he reverently taped to the wall a tiny snapshot that he could see while lying down. I had hoped that it would be a photograph of his grandmother, but the camera slowly zoomed close and revealed that it was that photo of him as a baby sitting his drug addict father's lap. I felt that what that boy needed more than a special school was a father, and then I felt that he would be trapped by that need for the rest of his life; it would never be fulfilled, and his "shunning" of the grandmother, with whom there was no hugging or tearful goodbye, he merely lay there and then went to sleep with that photo of his father in front of his face, I felt that he would never open himself up to any reasonable substitute. Therefore, he would remain stuck and all the schooling in the world, good or bad, wasn't going to make any difference in his life.

I am sure it must be gigantically unfair of me to negatively judge the various children in the documentary who virtually had no advantages and didn't seem able to accept the special advantages that they did have (such as the girl whose single ghetto-based mother struggled with several jobs to earn enough money to pay $500 a month tuition at a private school for her daughter...but in the end, who, due to a job layoff, missed a final payment and therefore her child was denied the graduation ceremony) simply because you could hardly ever understand what they were saying because they mumbled and spoke very softly. But the kids at the expensive private school where I work also do that and I am starting to feel that something is very wrong about that. I have attended several classes when they are reading stories that they have written and so on, usually assignments that they do very well on and that are definitely worth sharing, which you discover when you read them yourself. But when they are standing up in front of the room or even sitting at their desks, while you are in the same intimate classroom with them, you can hardly hear them and you can not distinguish the various words they are saying. I can't imagine that the teachers can hear or understand them any better than I can and I don't understand why they allow that.

What do I mean by "allow that"?

Well, it's not that kids don't have loud voices. When I am working in my office at the school, I can hear them as plain as day out on the playground, and even at home where the walls are practically sound-proofed, I can hear them screaming in their games out on the lawn or way over at the other end of the complex beyond several three-story buildings, I can hear them in the pool. So why in a quiet classroom when they are reading a story that they wrote and that they WANT to share with others, can you not understand what they are saying?

Because I believe that oral presentation is as important as written expression, that enunciating words and speaking them loudly and clearly is as important as correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar, so why do the teachers at our school or the filmmakers of this documentary let them mumble and speak so quietly that I had to put my volume up all the way to the highest level and even then could hardly hear them?

I have even shared this concern with our performing arts teacher, who is also a professional actor, but he only teaches the older kids. I have said that I think oral interpretation skills need to be taught to every grade school child, and while I was sure he would think my suggestion would be weird, I did expect him to at least think about what I said and then agree, even if he felt that such for some reason would be impossible.

But all he said was that it was "not age appropriate," that you do not get into "oral interpretation" until fifth or maybe sixth grade. Well, to hell with that, if I were a teacher, even in kindergarten, I for sure would teach those kids how, and why, to speak up. They must learn how to be heard if they ever want to get anywhere. Are their egos really that stuffed under a rock? I hardly think so. "Open your mouth and speak out! We need to hear what you have to say."

But it must be like something else that I have observed from working at an elementary school. The kids are constantly admonished to not run. And ALL they want to do is run. But instead, all they hear is "Don't run!" So what they do is hide. They run until they are seen, and then when they hear the order to stop running, they will stop, but then will start running again when they are out of sight.

Well I say that if it is in their nature to run, then run is what they should do. And they should keep on running; running, running, and running, and never, ever stop. That's WHO they are, and WHO they are matters more than any other single thing. That's maybe the ONE lesson that they truly do need, and then they will have reverence for their being and their dreams, and nothing will ever be able to stop them from bringing that into fruition.

Don't let schooling wreck their understanding of who they are. Not even in the attempt to give them an education.