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Rants


Good heavens! If you have not yet seen the BBC’s new Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman…great, googly-boogly, it is good.

My wife and I watched the first year of the series and we are hooked. It’s so freaking good.

I was, at best, a partial fan of the original tales. I read a couple of the books, saw a couple of the movies. But the new series is totally gonzo good.

I am, as I’m writing, watching their version of “Hound of the Baskervilles.” The modern turn, as with all of them, is just genius. Everything about this show is exceptional in a very BBC way, from the camera angles to composition to the particularly compelling CGI text overlays of Sherlock’s deductions and email/text communications.  Quite compelling imagery over intriguing and humorous dialogue.

And the best part: live streaming on Netflix.

Wow! Just got the part about the lab experiments. Got to go!

So, in my last post, “I Crap Ampersands,” I mentioned one of my favorite symbols. It’s not a favorite because of what it does or how it looks. I just like the word “ampersand.”

Well, just yesterday on of my favorite iPad article aggregates, Zite, I was serendipitously regaled with the etymology of the thing.

“The Hot Word” article from Dictionary.com sprung a few surprises on me. First, that the ampersand was an ancient Latin creation, the cursive amalgam of e and t for “et,” the Latin word for “and.” But it wasn’t named until the 1800s. Seriously.

And if that’s not surprising enough the way it got its name is utterly ridiculous. Apparently it was a generally unnamed symbol that was still considered part of the English alphabet. I’ll get to the specifics in a second.

What blows my mind here is that “&” was part of the alphabet. It makes manifest the reality that the alphabet is merely a set of symbols to which we have attached incredible significance. But they are symbols and nothing more. I had actually forgotten that. I had imbued them with a concrete almost mythical reality. This is particularly interesting to me because we are teaching those things to my kids right now.

The final bizarre thing for me was that that when the kids of the 1800s spoke their alphabet, they ended it with “x, y, z, and per se and.” You may see where this is going. Ampersand is merely a blended word, not some kind of funky Latin word. Ampersand is a blend of “and per se and.”

Stupid. But I’m a big fan of blends. “Goodbye” is a blend of the old “God be with ye.”

In fact, few things thrill me like etymology. That stamps me geek, but I love it.

Etymology, like theatre, illuminates the ephemeral ever-changing nature of the world for me. Words and their meanings change, like everything else.

Look, if you read the title and keep reading and you’re offended it’s your own damn fault.

#2

So, I don’t know how we got on the topic. I’m assuming it was my fault, as I have a bit of a scatological bent. Nonetheless, one of my actors mentioned that Dr. Sanjay Gupta mentioned that our bowels are healthy if we are pooping letters.

–Side note—Neither “Sanjay” nor “Gupta” come up as words in need of correction on my computer. One reason I love America. Go us!

Anyhoo, after trying to wrap my mind around this, with some eager help from said actors, I made the partial joke that I crap ampersands. Whether I do or not isn’t really the issue. My real issue is that I absolutely love saying that phrase, “I crap ampersands.” It just feels good to say. Like “moist membrane.” The phrase just feels good in my mouth. It sounds fun and it feels fun. And the fact that it’s just on the repulsive side gives the phrase that sort of decadent dualism that I truly enjoy. I crap ampersands.

I have a friend who describes his daily movements in terms of golf. “Par” is a one-holer, as he might say. “Birdie” would be two fruitful trips to the loo in one day. He once had a “Double-Eagle” but I think that was due to a particularly fierce burrito ahogado.

I enjoy discussing bathroom moments. I suppose it’s because it’s one of those taboo things that we all do its taboo state is so unearned. I guess that it is taboo because most people —here I’m just guessing— consider it disgusting. Two girls and cup is disgusting. But we all poo, so how can that be disgusting. It is simply something that is.

I may be thinking about this because I am in the midst of trying to potty-train my oldest son. He couldn’t give shit about it.

Sorry.

But he couldn’t. So I am talking about pooping a lot. And most of my friends are actor-types or parents, so it’s regular conversation anyway.

Well, I need to take off. I have to go dot and i.

I wonder if that phrase will ever take hold.

Well, I’m back. Anyone still out there? I hope.

My parents’ dual illnesses really knocked me back and got me unabashedly out of my writing habit.

And shame on me for that. For that, I apologize.

In the interim my adaptation of Alice in Wonderland was staged at Theatre Cedar Rapids. My sons turned three and one, respectively, while their mother (my wife) was in Japan with nine high school students.

I directed Tennessee William’s The Night of the Iguana for Classics at Brucemore.

I helped write and performed in a four-person comedy cabaret for Brucemore’s 10th Anniversary of Cabaret in the Courtyard, called Courtyard Jesters.

I am presently directing David Mamet’s political satire, November, for Theatre Cedar Rapids, which is the most wonderfully offensive show I’ve read in a long time. We open one week from this Thursday.

I helped write the first show of this season’s SPT: Tales from the Writers’ Room Series. Alas, I cannot perform in it because I’m in rehearsal for November.

Whew! What a summer.

It was also announced that next summer’s Classics at Brucemore show will be Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. I will be playing Cyrano. So…goodness me.

Well, the good news is that it seems that both my parents have weathered this storm. It was naturally frightening and unpleasant. But because they have seen it through, I think I’m probably able to relay some of the more humorously unnerving moments from that experience. Hopefully that is just a matter of time and the writing of it.

I am also embarking on shopping around both Alice in Wonderland and my novel Darnan. So I will keep you informed on how that goes.

I think, getting back into the blogging thing, I will shoot for Tuesdays/Thursdays. Both the boys are in pre-school T/W/Th now, so that gives me some breathing room. But I am really going to focus on writing more for fun and profit.

Finally, since today is the anniversary of the felling of the Twin Towers, the attack on the Pentagon, and the events that led the crash of Flight 93, I just wanted to take a moment. In no jingoistic or maudlin way, I just wanted to mention Jim Cleere, get his name out there in the ether.

Jim was a huge, kind, cuddly bear of a guy. He worked with my father for a Marsh & McLennan subsidiary in Des Moines. I liked the guy. A lot. He was fun and seemed to always be laughing.

As I understand it he was in the Marriott Hotel when the towers fell on it and crushed him. He was a good guy. I think about him.

When I am stressed, as this season it is my usual state, there is nothing I hate more than the unwelcome and maddening game of Jenga that is emptying my clothes washer.

I mean, seriously, how does it so quickly and thoroughly entwine itself like some kind of freakish snake orgy ball.

And our washer, though relatively new, leaks water all over our oogy basement floor. So when I go to pull out a single clothing item, invariably the item’s snake-like lust has twisted it around some other item while, miraculously, attaching itself delicately to a pair of underwear or some single sock, so, as I attempt to deftly shimmy the single item from the washer’s gaping maw, I drag out multiple items, including the precariously attached undergarment that then unceremoniously plops into the disgusting puddle of washer swill at my feet.

See? See that? It so frustrates me that it makes me construct sentences like Dickens!

Now, normally I find this situation causes mild amusement, or sometimes slight consternation. But when the pressure is high, deadlines looming, kids all crazy, a tangled wet laundry mess can be just the thing to pop that weak vein in my left temple.

And that loss of perspective over something so silly and unimportant really ticks me off. I hate losing my composure, and losing it over laundry… I’m just glad my kids never see it.

Maybe there is some sort of laundry mantra I can learn to help me find comfort in the Gordian knot of my laundry. Perhaps I can view it as a learning opportunity to better my patience and discover a sense of grace in the face of my inanimate, nonsentient, woven nemesis.

I have made no secret of loving language. It’s just so…well, I have no words for how interesting and exciting language is.

But once every blue moon I come across something that boggles my mind. This blue moon has brought me the two words “hard” and “hardly”.

Now, if you follow School House Rock like I do, you’ll know from the classic “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here!” that with the Lollie’s exceptional L-Y attachment you can intensify any adjective. “Use it with an adjective,” sing the Lolly boys, “and it says much more, anything described can be described some more.”

So, if we take the adjective like “absolute” and add the L-Y attachment, we get “absolutely”. They are essentially the same meaning nuanced to reflect different states.

Follow?

Another example: “Happy”; meaning joyful, content. I am content. Add the L-Y attachment and get “happily” which shows how I am doing something. I could actually be happily happy. A redundant phrase, to be sure, but still it makes sense.

Adding the L-Y attachment merely makes the word, whether a verb, noun, or adjective a modifier. How did little Billy eat the Skittles? Voraciously!

You see how it’s positively very, very, necessary?

But — and here is my point —the words contain a similarity of meaning: happy and happily are still states of joy.

This is why “hardly hard” makes my head hurt. If I were learning English and someone said to me, “Eating a large pizza by myself is hardly difficult,” I would think, “Wow! I’m shocked. I thought all Americans ate large pizzas by themselves. But this guy said it’s not just difficult, it’s hardly difficult. That’s like twice difficult! I guess they must get fat a different way.”

I’m just saying, “hardly hard” should, in a sane world, mean really, really, hard. In fact the phrase “Diamond encrusted carbon steel Alloy 1090 is hardly hard,” should make all the sense in the world. But because the English language seems to teeter on that precipice of Bizarro-world it makes no sense whatsoever.

My head hurts.

I once had a friend who I thought was all mine. His name is Tintin.

Now, I’m guessing that, until the last few months, most of you would have said, “Who is Tintin?” And I liked it that way.

I liked having a friend no else knew about.

I grew up with Tintin like my friends grew up with He-Man or GI Joe, Cabbage Patch or My Little Pony. He was my action figure, not a handheld plastic and filament action figure, but he leapt off the full color pages like a real flesh and blood friend.

If you don’t know by now —thanks to Steven Spielberg— The Adventures of Tintin is a comic book series created by a Belgian dude named Hergé. It’s been around forever, and chances are pretty good that if you are a middle-class European boy you have read or at least know about Tintin. I know about Tintin because I grew up overseas where Tintin is huge.

I wanted to be Tintin. Well, only kind of. I really wanted to be Capt. Haddock because he was funny. He was also a drunk, but whatever. Tintin was always going around the world and having an adventure. I still want to travel, and I think it’s party due to Tintin.

I’m pretty sure that my love for silly humor comes from my experience with the Thompson twins. No, not the band. The real Thompson twins are bumbling identical twin detectives. They are utterly hilarious.

I loved Tintin. They were my brother’s books, lovingly worn. And I absolutely lived through them. I can still envision specific panels from Tintin in Tibet and Cigars of the Pharaoh.

There was a time when people might ask what my favorite childhood book was and would sometimes answer Tintin. Sometimes because, quite frankly, I liked keeping him to myself. It was something that made me feel special, unique. But now, Tintin will probably sweep through American culture. So, this little secret that I was planning on letting my kids in on will now become passé.

It makes me a little sad.

But having said that, I hope that you read him before you see him. I’m sure that the movie will be fine, but the thing we often like better is the thing we first experience. So having first withheld this friend from others, I now wish to seed the world with his stories.

Go out and get Tintin in Tibet or Cigars of the Pharaoh, Flight 714 or The Calculus Affair. Get your mind wet with the text before you go out and see the film.

I’d like you meet him before he gets famous here in America. Because you know when he gets famous here, it’s only a matter of time before he starts dating Paris Hilton, then it’s just a text message away from snorting coke off of Bree Olson’s ass in Charlie Sheen’s New York loft. Winning!

So, before that happens…friends, meet Tintin. Tintin, these are my friends.

Okay, I recently blogged about consumerism in American and how much I hated the bald-faced nature of it. The idea that workers in China are producing the useless shit we buy hand over fist and they still can’t afford three meals a day.

I know, because I am a reflective human, that my petty day-to-day underskinners and on-my-nervers are embarrassingly petty when placed on the human continuum of getting-to eat-a-handful-of-rice-today, on the low end, to the-help-didn’t-replace-my-roll-of-all-cotton-toilet-paper-this-morning-so-I-should-fire-them, on the high end.

Nonetheless, I became an Ugly American today. Not really, I guess, but it sure made me feel petty and all ugghragaga.

I went to one of my favorite coffee shops in town today to do some writing away from my house —I get my best writing done away from the house— and I ordered a cappuccino (dry) “for here.”

First, they brought out an espresso. Which would have been great if I had ordered an espresso. Then when they brought out my cappuccino it was in a “to go” cup. Look, I ordered it “for here” for a reason, people.

1)    I am staying here. Giving me a drink in a cardboard travel mug when I have clearly made my desire to stay is like saying, “Here is your drink. Now go away.” That is simply bad customer service —not that many companies care about that any more. And it’s rude. “Hey, friend, good to see you, now get the hell out. We don’t want to have clean your table.”

2)    I ordered cappuccino for several reasons, but a major reason is the foam. When done correctly it is a beautiful cloud-puffed canvas on which some choose to create aesthetically pleasing images. Shoving it into cardboard and topping it with a black plastic lid considerably cuts down on the aesthetic value of the order. I know that I am a dying breed —those who like to look at their food before they shove it into their mouths like every meal is a speed eating contest— but come on, people.

3)    I am not one of those who like drink their coffee at a temperature that melts the esophagus as it goes down. I am not interested in pharyngeal burn scars. And since I know the optimum espresso temperature is nearly 200°, and I am a temperature pansy, I know that I like my coffee products to cool a little before I consume them. Again, the reason I ordered it “for here.” A broad-mouthed, open-topped cup gives the drink much better opportunity to cool down than a “to-go” cup.

Which is exactly the reason I ordered it “for here.”

So, although I really want those kids in Sudan to get a meal tonight —a good, filling, nutritious meal— is it too much to ask for me to get my ridiculously overpriced, froofroo, hipster coffee drink order right? Come on, people.

I can’t stop thinking about this Penn State thing. Every time it creeps into my mind it fills me with anger and sorrow and a sort of blind indignation.

And it’s not about football, though it has become about football for a lot people. It should be about those boys. It should be about those men who passed the buck in the cynical belief that they had done enough.

And, as more information comes out, it just keeps getting uglier and more confusing. So, in 2002 graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary walked in on Jerry Sandusky anal raping a ten year-old boy in the locker room shower.

Did you read that previous sentence? How did it make you feel? Doesn’t it seem that the firing and arrest of Jerry Sandusky is the next logical step? McQueary called his father who told him to talk to the head coach. McQueary then told Joe Paterno who told the athletic director and so on and so on.

Sandusky’s punishment? They took away his locker room key. I shit you not. The man raped a ten year old, three of his supervisors, including the president of the university knew about it. And they took away his key. I can barely contain my anger.

I’ve read a lot about it recently. I’ve read things like, “Well, they didn’t really get a good sense of what he did with the boy. They thought it was just fondling.” Just fondling? Seriously? Great defense.

Look, if you find yourself “just fondling” a kid, you’re a pedophile. Don’t fool yourself. You need help. Go find help. Because if you don’t, you will destroy your victims, their family, your friends, and your family.

There are so many ways I can go on this post. I could write about the endemic misuse of power, and not just in college sports. The financial crisis, the housing crisis, congress’ ineptitude all stem from the same rank weed of cynical power as Paterno’s hubris.

I could write about the fragility of childhood and our desire to ignore the demons we adults create rather than face them.

I could write about the initial reaction of Penn State fans who rioted on behalf of the perpetrators of this crime rather than the victims. Mind…blowing!

But in reality, I can’t write about any of that. This thing has absolutely overloaded me. And I, like many others, I’m sure, just need to digest it all, like a poison. Get it out of me, so that I can assess the damage and move toward some sense of understanding.

I have always wondered what manufacture laborers in China and Taiwan must think as they are sitting in their stank-filled sweatshop painting the hair highlights on some piece-of-shit Lillian Vernon big-eyed puppy tchotchke. What must they think? I mean here are people who are lucky to get three meals a day. And they are watching a hundred thousand plastic pole dancer alarm clocks go out because people in America are buying it.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not some kind of ascetic. Far from it. I have way too much shit. And I have been known to purchase the occasional big-eyed puppy tchotchke. But I saw something last weekend that absolutely blew my ever-loving consumerist mind.

It was at Lowes, one of the five gargantuan box home stores in our small city. First, let me say, seriously?! It’s the second freaking week of November and their store is filled with Christmas. Come on people. Have we lost our freaking minds? I swear to God, I saw Christmas stuff up at Target before Halloween. It made me a little sick. Because it’s a bald-faced recognition that it has nothing to do with the spiritual nature of the season. It is simply about selling useless shit at the highest volume possible.

So what was this new abomination? It was one of their many available inflatable lawn ornaments —around ten, I think. And these energy hogs…ironically atop the shelves holding the efficiency bulbs.

This particular atrocity is described as “Animated Airblown® Inflatable – Santa’s Outhouse.” I shit you not. Santa’s Outhouse. It is a giant inflatable yard ornament that looks like an outhouse. There is a snickering little elf standing next to it. The door opens and a coy Santa Clause pops his head out. I mean, what…the…fuck?

Merry Christmas! Here’s Santa in the shitter right on my front yard.

God bless America!

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