Random late summer thoughts

random3My favorite writer, Mark Helprin, once adjured an audience, of which I had the privilege of being a part, to pay attention to the world around us. This is critical for writers. The topic was touched on with respect to dialog in a previous post.

Paying even a modicum of attention to what’s happening in your family, town, or on the news will supply fodder for countless stories. Market Basket, a lowly supermarket chain, has in recent weeks given us enough storylines, characters, and sub-plots to fill several books, a few movies, and at least one mini-series. Just watch; they’re coming.

What to do? asks the humble scribe of blog posts. With so much to comment on, there isn’t time to do justice to every one. My solution to the problem is to do an occasional dump of thoughts rattling around in this mostly empty skull. This is the first in this blog, although it tends to be a regular ploy in my other blog, Limping in the Light, e.g. here.

Here are a few things backed up in my mental septic system:

Here’s a fun question for you literati: When you go to a bookstore, what section do you go to first? Your answers should lead to a lot of fascinating follow-up discussion.

I recently read a best-selling novel with a couple of egregious problems. This wasn’t mass market pop lit such as “Twilight” or some transcribed TV-show passing itself off as literature. This was a highly regarded, serious novel. Two things stood out to me. One was the author’s obsession with using the word “impossibly” to modify an adjective (e.g. “impossibly large”). I have no problem with that in principle. The aforementioned Helprin will use it occasionally. But this author used it five times in the one book! (Don’t ask me how I noticed this. It’s a curse.)

Another sentence read: “…each <whatever> was more perfect than last.” Some things can be more perfect than others? How does that work?

Although the book received mixed reviews, it won awards and was on the NY Times best-seller list for several weeks. Yet I can’t get anyone to even read my book. It must not be as perfect as that one. ((sigh))

parking-lot1Off the book topic: What’s with people endlessly circling parking lots looking for the closest space? In spite of sky-high gas prices and rampant obesity and the supposed busy-ness of everyone, they waste what’s in scarcity – time and fuel – to avoid what they desperately need: exercise. Just park the stinkin’ car!

Have you noticed that owning chickens is hot?

100_0403CVSIn CVS (a firm already infamous for its extravagant waste of receipt paper, q.v. photo) yesterday, I bought one item that came in a bag. The clerk at the counter put it in one of their plastic CVS bags. I asked her why I needed a bag to put the bag in. She had no answer, perhaps because there is none. Punch in folks, it’s time to bag the bags. We don’t need a bag to carry one item… unless you’re hiding something.

I usually ask for no bag, but the checkout people, who must be on the payroll of the bag manufacturer, sometimes beat me to it. When I ask them (kindly) to keep their bag, more often than not, they stuff it in the trash. Someone’s missing the point.

Living on a busy street, my front lawn serves as de facto trash dump for passing cars. We can learn a lot about the kind of person who has no regard for other people’s property or the cleanliness of the town they live in or drive through. The following items make up 90% of the trash strewn across my lawn:trash

  • losing lottery tickets
  • beer cans
  • fast food containers
  • cigarettes

Who are the slobs who trash our neighborhoods? The list speaks for itself. It makes me think of the old Disney cartoon. It’s cute, but painful.

bob&rayA word to the wise: Today’s phones, whether cell or landline, have the annoying trait of inserting a brief delay between the time the phone is answered and when it will register your voice. Thus, you call someone and they generally respond, “…lo!” My advice: answer the call and count to 2-1000 before speaking.

Reminds me of the old Bob and Ray routine with the fictional reporter Wally Ballou starting his on-the-spot reports by saying, “…ly Ballou here.”

When I was a kid and when my kids were kids, punishment usually meant being sent to your room. A more appropriate form of discipline today would be, “That’s it, I’ve had it with you. Come out of your room and stay out all afternoon!” Much more effective.

 That was an impossibly easy post…

Life is long… and short

Is it possible for two seemingly opposite statements to both be true? On the face of it, the answer would be no, but not so fast. We deal with such incongruities all the time.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence supporting that as a true statement. Yet, we’ve all experienced the veracity of “out of sight, out of mind.”

Christian theology is filled with such contradictions. God is one but God is three. We have free will, but God is sovereign and predetermines our eternal fates.

When it comes to one particular adage, I can’t disagree with one of my favorite characters from another of my favorite under-appreciated movies: Lamarr from “That Thing You Do” says:

"Slow down, young squire. Life is long."
“Hey, hey, hey! Slow down there, young squire. Life is long.”

Lots of folks say life is fleeting and you have to squeeze as much into every moment as possible. But if Lamarr says life is long, who am I to disagree? He’s one of my heroes and he’s never steered me wrong. Think about the last time you were in the dentist chair. Did life go by fast? Or when you’re waiting for the results of a job application or medical test? Or for the writers out there, how about when you’re waiting for a response to a query letter?

In those cases, and in many others, life is indeed looooooooooooooooooong.

At the same time, life is way too short. If you have kids, you know exactly what I’m talking about. One day, they’re potty-training, seemingly the next, they’re finishing a doctoral thesis on string theory (or string cheese; I can never tell the difference). Life couldn’t go any faster than that.

I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to declare how life speeds up as you age. The more years behind you, the shorter the ones ahead. A classic example: When I was in school, summer lasted forever. Those two months, after all, were a significant percentage of my life. Now they represent a miniscule fraction of the whole and the season’s gone before I’ve had time to make vacation plans.

None of this is new; everyone pays lip service to it. But few behave any differently in the face of the increasing velocity of life. Ironically, Lamarr’s advice applies here as well, “Slow down, young squire.” Appreciate the fleeting moment. Get off the information superhighway.

Instead of giving more and creating more, we (myself included) bury ourselves, our gifts, and our talents in a jumble of iDevices, sports, lame TV and movies, innumerable tweets, and more added to the mess every day.

To once more quote the incomparable Lamarr, “Now where I come from, that just ain’t right.”

Yanks to Fete Steinbrenner Next

[This important sports item has just been released.]

The venerable New York Yankees, after the ultra-successful whirlwind retirement tours of Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, have decided to follow up with a round-the-horn circuit by “The Boss”, the late George Steinbrenner.

We want to maintain the momentum established in 2013 and 2014,” explained Yankee Director of Chutzpah, Steuben Lowe. “When we looked at our roster, however, we found a serious dearth in expected retirements for the next few years.” Mr. Steinbrenner, who passed away in 2010, was the next logical choice.

He’s a legend,” claimed Lowe. “He singlehandedly transformed baseball from an athletic competition to a virtual meat market. To top off his regime, he transformed ‘The House that Ruth Built’ into ‘The House that George Demolished’. No other owner in baseball history can claim achievements of that significance.”

As the Yankees visit each ballpark during the 2015 season, honorary local volunteer pall-bearers will carry Steinbrenner’s coffin to home plate where he will receive the accolades due his reputation as fierce competitor and ruthless executive.

Of course, he’ll have no use for the vehicles, artwork, and memorabilia of the type showered on Mariano and Derek,” Lowe told reporters. “But all those goods can be converted into cash to sign future retirees.” eBay has been contracted and is already gearing up to handle the expected bonanza. Donations to Mr. Steinbrenner’s favorite cause, the Yankee Free Agent Fund, will be accepted and welcome.

Being honored in all those ballparks would have brought a genuine thrill to Mr. Steinbrenner, especially Fenway Park, which held a special place in his heart. I only wish Shea Stadium was still around for The Boss to occupy. It will be a bittersweet time, that’s for sure,” the Yankee executive said with a well-placed tear in his eye.

Lowe further explained that, what with the Yankees recently losing such stars as Robinson Cano and Andy Pettitte, the pipeline for “quality retirees” is dry. “The storied history of the Yankees demands higher profile pensioners than those currently available. Gone are the days when we could have filled an entire decade with Hall of Fame caliber players to drain the pockets of kowtowing competitors. Lou Gehrig in particular was a missed opportunity of exceptional proportions.” Lowe later added that the level of available plundering has not always been as rich as it is today. “With the advent of interleague play, the stakes are much higher. The amount we could have extorted before the interleague era pales in comparison to today’s potential take.

Depending on the outcome of his suspension and various appeals, Alex Rodriguez is generally regarded as the next viable tour candidate. Unfortunately, his availability will be in doubt for some time. A traveling Congressional inquiry with Rodriguez as the key witness has been discussed but the legalities involved could make such a tour prohibitive.

If A-Rod falls through, rumor has it that Jacoby Ellsbury, speedster centerfielder signed away from the rival Red Sox, will be asked to take early retirement after the 2016 season to fill the gap. “We signed Ellsbury not only for his baseball skills but for his estimable marketing potential,” declared the Yankee’s General Manager, the ironically named Brian Cashman. “He has nothing to lose taking early retirement. The Yankees’ severance package is, as you might imagine, generous to a fault. Additionally, Jacoby will be allowed to keep the cars, shoes, bling, and other offerings that are de rigueur for these tributes.”

Reaction to the announcement from around the league was mixed.

This is not only good for the Yankees and for baseball, frankly, it’s good for the Tampa Bay Rays,” declared Rays Senior Vice President of Overachievement. Merry Chase. “We don’t draw flies here at the Trop unless one of the big money teams comes to town. These tributes boost our attendance tremendously as retired New Yorkers flock to the stadium to pay their respects to their returning heroes. That’s fine with us, as long as they put out for the proverbial peanuts and Cracker Jacks.”

Orioles brass were less enthusiastic. A source who wished to remain anonymous summed up their feelings, saying, “What a bunch of greedy bastards.”

Where, oh where did my money go?

[As threatened, er, mentioned in my last post, the idea of losing ten mill a day is too funny to pass up without elaborating on. So, here I go, elaborating. It’s a lot like writing, but easier.]

losemoneyThe first day it happened, I thought, “What the heck, it’s only $10,000,000.” The second day, I was a little more concerned, but didn’t lose any sleep over it. After all, Stephen Drew makes $10M a year and he’s batting 21 points under the Mendoza line. How much can it be worth?

After a week of losing ten million bucks a day, though, I was beginning to think maybe I should give this issue some thought. You know, ten million here and ten million there and pretty soon your talking about real money. This was a situation to be taken seriously before it became a real problem.

After looking in all the obvious places – my pants’ pockets, those little car storage compartments, the washer and dryer, under the bed – I was still several tens of millions in the hole. I know what you’re thinking: “No big deal.” But it’s the principle of the thing. Besides, you never know when you might need a hundred million or so. It would be embarrassing to pull up to a toll booth and come up a few million short. After all, I don’t have E-ZPass.

Still, it’s only money. Did you ever balance your checkbook and it was off by a few million? Yeah, me too. It happens all the time, but I never pay it any mind. I figure it’ll all straighten out in the next statement or two. Then there was the time I tipped the waitress at Applebee’s and accidentally put an extra seven zeros after the amount. I could have kicked myself, but these things happen. Besides, the service was very good.

I’m not one of those crazy OCD types who has to know where every million bucks goes. Come on! My time is worth more than that. If I worried about every million dollars that passed through my hands, I’d never get anything else done.

Some people tried to convince me that members of my family were bilking me of my money. The thought never received even a moment’s consideration. Can you imagine suspecting my own family of trying to cheat me? Accusing them would irrevocably sever our ties. Money comes and goes, but family is one nonnegotiable constant in my life. I’d never imperil my relationship with my family for money, no matter what the amount.

No sane person would.