Hello, it’s me.
The two devices that store and play most of my music are my phone and my car’s sound system. I have both set to play random selections from my entire collection. Lately, for some unknown reason, they’ve both played a lot of songs by Todd Rundgren. (Pretty much everything I listen to is over 40 years old.) I have no problem with this. I don’t think I’m alone in the opinion that Mr. Rundgren is a musical genius. The (brilliant) LP “Something/Anything” is the one that keeps getting played. Which got me to thinking…
I’d like to talk about something/anything other than Covid-19!*
I can’t be the only one who feels this way, yet it’s still all anyone talks about. Including me! Maybe it’s because we can’t think of anything else to talk about. There aren’t that many subjects we cover in most conversations anyway.
Many of those are off limits.
Religion and politics are taboo in the best of times. Now that they’ve merged into an unholy alliance, they’re even less appealing. Besides, the maniacal moron now occupying the White House part time is a one-man pandemic and just as tiresome a topic.
Others are just plain dull.
The weather is a popular, if tedious, conversational crutch. Let’s skip that one, too, for the cliche it is. Your latest purchase or home renovation? Equally banal. And equally unedifying. And maybe just a wee bit vain.
Hey, we can always rely on sports to prompt a lively discussion or argument. How ’bout that? Oh, yeah. There are no sports happening because of the… well, you know.
So what’s left?
One of my favorite fonts of conversational fodder is movies. Most people have a good stockpile of movie experiences and opinions. The same goes for books and TV shows. Those talks can also lead to deeper exchanges. Such as…
One another. Tell me about you. No, not what you own or what you’ve accomplished. You. As the equally brilliant Michael Omartian once sang:
I don’t want to hear about your conquests,
Or your casual affairs.
Each one a great new story…
But who cares.
I want to know about your feelings,
Or the ache in your heart,
The thoughts that make you what you are,
That set you apart.
‘Cause maybe I’ve had them, too.
We avoid those sensitive topics, not wishing to make ourselves vulnerable, but is anything more important? Granted, this is not the stuff of light banter among casual acquaintances. In those cases, the weather will suffice. When sharing with someone closer, though, coronavirus is as sterile a subject as any. Why not go deeper?
For example, let’s talk about God. (That’s different than religion.) The way we conceive of Him might determine what’s inside us better than any other question. As A. W. Tozer once put it:
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
What are your dreams, hopes, and plans? What are your fears, failures, and disappointments? Now we’re getting somewhere. Drop that stuff on me and we both might benefit. You get to share your burden and I could find a kindred spirit.
Or we could fall back on R.E.M.’s advice**:
Should we talk about the weather?
Should we talk about the government?
Sure. Something/Anything but Covid-19.
* I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of the pandemic, but it shouldn’t be all-consuming. To obsess over it is as dangerous to our mental health as the virus is to our physical bodies.
** I’m of the opinion that a post can’t have too many references to quality music.
There are awards galore out there, for every accomplishment under the sun. The most prestigious has got to be the Nobel Prize, whether for the sciences, the arts, or, best of all, promoting peace in our world.
But what about an award for the folks who make seemingly minor contributions that make a major difference in our day-to-day quality of life? These are things that fly under the radar. You might not even think of them because they’ve become mundane. If they were taken away one day, however, we’d probably all lose our sanity. I propose the “Minor Nobel Prize” awards to honor such genius.
Here’s my list of innovations that deserve more credit and thus a Minor Nobel Prize:
- Velcro – Are you kidding me? How has this invention not been recognized by the Nobel committee? I don’t want to even think about where we’d be without Velcro. Kids’ garments, old peoples’ shoes, cheap wallets, high-tech gadget attachments, etc., etc. And, yeah, I love the sound.
- Auto rear camera – How many parking lot collisions have been averted by the ability to see in back of you??? I want one of these for my body, too. (And how about the one that let’s you see behind a towed trailer? What kind of black magic is that?)
- Vacuum in the van – Speaking of vehicles, how about the guy–“guy” in the generic sense; it was probably a Mom who came up with this–who thought of putting a vacuum cleaner in a minivan? Absolutely brilliant! Those things probably suck up ten pounds of Cheerios a month, not to mention Legos and goldfish crackers. And the gas savings for the lightened vehicle make this an environmental boon.
- Sharpies – This might be the greatest invention known to man. For its beneficial purposes, it certainly beats the dickens out of Nobel’s dynamite. Maybe we should be giving out Sharpie prizes.
- Duct tape – Don’t even get me started.
- Needle threader – The quickest way I know to induce a nervous breakdown is attempting to thread a needle. The thread inevitably frays, giving you about sixteen microscopic baby threads all vying to get through the eye at the same time. Ain’t happening. The needle threader is an incredibly ingenious yet underappreciated invention.
- Fingernail clipper – As much as I like to bite my fingernails–or have to in certain tense situations like driving or going to a mall–the clipper is the way to go to avoid injury. The best devices also collect the clippings so they don’t fly all over the room. Instead, you can mix them in with your shredded coconut flakes. No one will ever know the difference.
- Chapstick – This is an essential quasi-medical advance on par with eyeglasses and nose hair trimmers. Little known Chapstick fact: Many children are alive today because cracked, bleeding lips were made kissable by Chapstick.
The final nominee for a Minor Nobel Prize is a classic example of an innovation that has saved money, sanity, and relationships. If it had never come about, the past month would have been a living nightmare for most people celebrating Christmas.
- Lines on the back of wrapping paper – Before the guide lines on the back of wrapping paper were introduced, I spent half my December trying to divine straight paths through random arrangements of Santas, stars, and candy canes. It was all in vain. I invariably created odd origami-like shapes more often than usable paper.
That’s my list for now. There are doubtless many more, but I won’t know what they are until they’re taken away.
May that never happen.
You ain’t a writer if you don’t write
Much to my embarrassment, the last time I wrote a real blog post for this blog–not a shameless advertisement for one of my books–was January 23 of this year. (My other blog is not much better. Last post: August 16, 2019. And that one was preceded by an eight-month hiatus.)
Once I completed The Endless Cycle (a four-book series for middle-grade readers (all installments now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions (I couldn’t resist (sorry)))) I decided to take some time off to regroup, relax, recover, rethink… and do some jigsaw puzzles.
Time’s up. I have to put something out here to prime the pump for my next large-scale project, one as yet to be decided. So here goes: A brain dump of random strange thoughts that have been piling up.
Lessons I’ve learned from my grandchildren, Part I: Any truly good book has stickers at the end.
I don’t think, therefore… am I?
I love Maine. It’s a beautiful state. My favorite spots are Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, or as we say in Boston: Bah Hahbah and Arcadier National Pahk. (Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t discard our “r”s, we recycle them.) I have one problem with the state, however. They need to put a moratorium on the use of the pathetic pun “Mainely” in their advertising and business names. Driving around the state, you’ll encounter “Mainely Lobster”, “Mainely Antiques”, “Mainely Burgers”, “Mainely Brews”, and Mainey more. Enough already.
Speaking of Maine, on my last trip there, I saw this bumper sticker:
I thought it was a souvenir, but then I noticed it was on Donald Trump’s car. Makes perfect sense.
It’s a shame that the common expression is, “sweat like a pig.” Two fun alliterative alternatives exist: “sweat like a swine” and “perspire like a pig.” Just sayin’.
Here’s some word weirdness that makes me say hmmm…
- Overlook and oversee are opposites. As are “look over” and overlook. Yet an overlook (noun) is something you should look over rather than overlook.
- Loosen and unloosen mean the same thing.
- Flammable and inflammable mean the same thing.
- Valuable and invaluable aren’t quite synonyms but they aren’t the opposites one would expect, given the spelling. Invaluable, in fact, means more valuable. Go figure.
- A one-way mirror is the same thing as a two-way mirror. Good thing streets aren’t like that.
The English language was obviously created by committee.
Working on a new book (actually five of them!) so the blog is lower priority. Hence the sparsity of posts lately. Here’s a quickie that’s been on my mind. A few thoughts spread among a few shots.
Try looking up “Funk & Wagnalls” in your Funk & Wagnalls.
Welcome to a new year. In my younger days, I’d be writing the previous year well into March. Now it’s like a tick of the clock. I started writing 2019 on January 1 without missing a beat.
By my observation, people usually say more than they know yet know more than they’ll say. Some of us err on one side more than the other. But we all do it.
I was in California not too long ago. I saw a truck for a local business called “Leadership Fumigation“. Do you think they’d do a job at the White House?
Coming in March!!
Watch this space for the announcement of my new book series for middle-grade readers:
The Endless Cycle
Baseball is my sport.
This year was particularly gratifying for me because I’m a diehard, lifelong Red Sox fan. Having grown up with Sox teams that couldn’t get out of their own way much of the time, I’ve reveled in the past 15 years of teams that often can’t lose. Especially this year. I’ve never seen a team like the 2018 Red Sox and I may never again.
The fact that I saw most of these guys when they were just kids playing pro ball for the first time with the Lowell Spinners in short season single-A ball (including all the killer B’s: Betts, Bradley, Benintendi, and Bogaerts) makes it that much sweeter.
Having said all that, this wouldn’t be a proper blog post if it weren’t full of griping. 🙂
My latest beef is with this goofy marketing tool disguised as meaningful data known as Statcast. It used to be we had to somehow manage baseball discussions with trivial stats: wins and losses, RBIs, average, ERA, triples, and the like. Thanks to Amazon Web Services, we can discuss crucial data such as exit velocity, launch angle, hard hit, and barrel, the last of which is a stat that takes an entire page of text to describe and is still as confusing as a knuckleball.
You’ll note one common thread connecting all these new statistics: None of them has anything to do with winning baseball games. Last time I checked, a home run is worth one run, regardless of its distance, launch angle, or exit velocity.
There are plenty of other more recently developed crazy stats like WAR and WHIP and OPS. I can live with these because, as convoluted as some of these numbers can be, at least they have something to do with scoring runs and winning and losing, which is what the game is all about, after all. Exit velocity is a stat for losers who need something tangible to back up their obscene contract demands. Sadly, this crap works.
Another one: Catch probability is just so much hooey. If a ball is caught, the probability is 100%, if not, it drops down to about, oh, zilch. I expect the probability of catching a ball depends mostly on the fielder. If it’s Jackie Bradley Jr. the catch probability is pretty darn high no matter where the ball goes. If Aaron Judge is plodding after it, not so much.
One final example: I read an article talking about how desirable a commodity Manny Machado will be as a free agent during this offseason’s hot stove league. Most of the argument was based on Manny’s Statcast “hard hit” data. Not surprisingly, there was no mention that this guy is likely to be poison to any baseball team. When a player doesn’t run out ground balls and stands to admire his “home run” that was actually a double but which he turned into a single through his arrogance, it doesn’t matter a rat’s turd how hard he hits the ball! That kind of player is an albatross on any team he plays for. Anyone who pays this prima donna big bucks deserves to be dragged down into the loser-gutter with him.
Which brings me to what might be the most tantalizing aspect of baseball. In spite of all the stats and data and computer models, it’s largely a game of hunches and gut feelings. That’s what makes it great. That’s how a journeyman like Steve Pearce ends up being World Series MVP. It’s how the ’67 Impossible Dream Red Sox won the pennant and almost the Series. It explains how a bunch of idiots won it all in 2004 and a band of bearded overachievers did the same in ’13.
I love this game. Let’s not ruin it in the name of Amazon corporate profits.
Note: For those in Eastern MA, I’ll be doing two “author appearances” at local venues. The first is at Chelmsford Public Library. The event is Saturday 11/3 from 1-3 PM, although I will only be there until about 2 PM. All the details can be found here.
The other is at a great little shop in Chelmsford center called Artisans Exchange. I’ll be hanging out there on Friday night, 11/16 from 7-8.
I hope some of you can come out to say hello and do some early local (author) holiday shopping.
There’s tremendous controversy in scientific circles about “multiverse theory”, the contention that our universe is just one of many, possibly an infinite number of parallel or alternate universes. At first I was skeptical about this theory. While it makes for countless compelling science fiction plots, it seemed too far-fetched to be acceptable as scientific truth.
As a result of extensive and meticulous observation, my views have changed. It’s now obvious to me that there are indeed many, perhaps billions of parallel universes. Let me encourage you to use standard empirical methods to discover for yourself the undeniable truth that surrounds you every day.
Next time you are in heavy highway traffic, look around. The guy weaving in and out of lanes, endangering everyone around him? He’s clearly in his own universe. What other explanation could there be? His actions make no sense in this universe: He’s getting virtually nowhere and he’s merely aggravating an already miserable traffic situation. There is no other reason to drive so idiotically. There’s no connection with anyone else’s reality. He lives in a parallel, or maybe slightly skewed, universe.
More evidence? Take note of the following people:
- The person with 15 items in the supermarket 6-or-less express lane.
- The woman trying to stow a piece of luggage the size of North Dakota into a plane’s already cramped overhead luggage rack while the aisle fills with people waiting to get to their seats.
- The fully able moron parked in a handicapped space right up against a van’s wheelchair entrance.
- Donald Trump.
- The kid yapping on his cell phone in the movie theater.
- The motorcyclist revving his illegal exhaust system on a quiet street in the middle of the night.
- The person at the front of a long line of customers, taking 15 minutes to decide what kind of cruller to have with a double latte.
- The driver who considers the use of blinkers to be leaking information to the enemy.
All these people live in their own universes where they are the only inhabitants. They have no connection to or awareness of the reality other people occupy. It’s their universe, their laws, their morality, their “truth”, and no one is going to come from any other universe to interfere with their actions or disturb their complacency with meaningless concepts such as facts, civility, or selflessness.
Now that’s science.
I have an inordinate affinity for little-known, minor musical artists from the late 60’s to early 70’s. Working for two record companies (you remember “record companies”, don’t you?) during that period only served to feed my obsession. I got to know bands who barely made it out of the warehouse. Most belonged there but some deserved a better fate.
Among my favorite obscurities are Stackridge (produced by the incomparable George Martin), Lindisfarne (pride of Newcastle), Emit Rhodes (the one-man Beatles), Roy Buchanan (the most soulful guitarist ever), and Ralph McTell (troubadour extraordinaire). Others, such as John Kongos, Seatrain, and Andrew Gold, are slightly better known but still vastly underappreciated. I exult in these musical phantoms.
The unfamiliar band that’s been in my brain of late is one McKendree Spring. (I’m not alone in my admiration. Legendary rock promoter/manager/impresario Bill Graham justifiably called them “one of the best unknown bands in the world.”) IMHO their third album, the aptly titled “McKendree Spring 3” is a masterpiece. What all this rambling is leading to is a song on that LP that has captured my attention and won’t let it go. Although included on the 1971 release, the song “Feeling Bad Ain’t Good Enough” couldn’t be more timely. It could have been triggered by yesterday’s news. Or today’s. Or tomorrow’s. Check out the chorus:
Feeling bad ain’t good enough now
For something you ain’t done.
Especially when the crazy man,
He’s reachin’ for his gun.
It has everything but the #enough. Feeling bad isn’t good enough. Nor are your thoughts and prayers, although I believe in the power of prayer.
The early date of the recording and certain lyrical references (“What was that voice from the tower; what was it trying to prove?”) indicate that the song could have been inspired by one of the early mass shootings in this country, that of the University of Texas Austin tower sniper. It’s sad to think that, in the 52 years since that tragedy, we’ve become inured to these events. In fact, we expect them now. A handful of people killed by a lone shooter barely makes a ripple in the mud puddle known as the evening news. In spite of the fact that mass shootings have escalated along with gun ownership, the powers-that-be continue to rant that more guns is the answer. Rather than fight back, our spineless lawmakers grovel before the nation’s largest terrorist organization, the NRA.
Many moons ago, in the 70’s, the brilliant Lily Tomlin created one of the most memorable characters in comic history. Ernestine was an operator (remember them?) working for the long-lost but never lamented AT&T (remember them?) back when they held a monopoly on electronic communications in this country. Back in the day, they were known simply and unaffectionately as “the phone company”.
Ernestine had an annoying (but very funny) habit of telling her customers, “We’re AT&T. We don’t care. We don’t have to.” Indeed that was the case until the monolith was broken up into little “baby Bells” by a decree made on Jan 8, 1982. Yes, that was 36 years ago. Since then, they’ve shriveled into less than a shadow of their former selves, as an also-ran cell service.
But in their heyday, they held all the marbles while we, the phone using public, lost ours. Things have certainly changed…
Or have they?
The good news is that Ernestine is still at work. Having been laid off by the phone company, she now works for a new firm whose power and grip on our society makes it a perfect fit for her particular brand of customer service. If you had a chance to eavesdrop on her workday, you’d likely hear something like this:
One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingies. Gracious me, hello. Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking? This is Ernestine at Google. Are you the one with a problem with Gmail? Gmail is so much trouble, isn’t it? That’s why I always use the phone. <<snort, snort>> Goodness me, no, not an Android. They’re worse than email. <<snort, snort>> You want to know what’s wrong with Gmail? If you figure it out, let us know. <<snort, snort>> That’s what we call customer service. We let our customers do all the research and fix each others’ problems. <<snort, snort>> Better yet, once it’s working again, send the solution to a friend in an email. We’ll get it because we’re always monitoring your messages anyway. <<snort, snort>> What? Privacy? What’s that? <<snort, snort>> Oh, you’re a hoot, sir. In fact, we here at the office want to thank you. We all got such a charge out of the very colorful language you were using while you tried to get used to the buggy new calendar app we forced on you without your permission. What’s that? QA? Gracious me, who needs QA? What do you think we have customers for? <<snort, snort>> Oh, and we hope your UTI has cleared up. Don’t you hate it when streaming doesn’t work? <<snort, snort>> How did we know about that? What do you think that Google Home device you have on your counter is doing all day, meditating? <<snort, snort>> You don’t want us listening in to your personal conversations? We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re Google. Or Alphabet. Or whatever we want to call ourselves today. The stock will go up anyway. <<snort, snort>> What? You want to know how you can talk to my manager? Search me! <<snort, snort>> Get it? Search… Hello? Hello? Oh, my. Another satisfied customer.
Nice to know Ernestine’s core competency is still being effectively leveraged.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that I, as the author of a book about Haiti, am disgusted (but hardly surprised) at America’s racist-in-chief’s reference to Haiti as a “shithole”. In fact, the opening of my book implies a lack of knowledge that non-Haitians (“blans” as they call us) have about what in my eyes is a beautiful, if slippery, land.
I’ve reproduced the opening paragraphs of the book here, where we are introduced to the protagonist, Fania, and her country:
Fania lived in Hell.
Not that she was aware of it any more than the fish in nearby Baie de Port-au-Prince knew they lived in water. It was only to outside observers, none of whom Fania had ever met, that Haiti resembled a place of unending suffering and torment. They saw only crime, poverty, hunger, and homelessness in a recurring cycle of tumult. To them, it was an abyss of despair where nothing changed except the players in a tragic theater of misery.
To Fania, it was home.
And isn’t that the point? No matter how we view a nation from the outside, be it Kenya, Rwanda, El Salvador, Haiti, or any impoverished country, it is home to people, real people. Human beings no different than us. Like us, they try to live their lives, help their families, and contribute to their communities. This simple truth is beyond some people, but few miss the point with the profound ignorance and flagrant hate of the POTUS poser.
I’ve already written about this atrocity in my other blog. If you are so inclined you can read my diatribe here. Better yet, read the words of one who is infinitely more eloquent, the brilliant Haitian author Edwidge Danticat. You can read her assessment here. The intellectual, moral, and overall character gap between Ms. Danticat and the simple-minded bigot who runs this country is too wide to measure. The voice you and I listen to tells a great deal about our characters.