Sunday, July 23, 2017

Stop making such good TV already!

When I was growing up, there were only three TV networks and, to paraphrase the Bible, it was good. It took two or three years for a hit movie to arrive for viewing on TV, and even then it was constantly interrupted by ads, and it was good. 

As consumers, we knew our place. They gave us "The Love Boat" and we ate it up, just as a dog which has never known steak thinks hamburger is scrumptious. I would not put "The Love Boat" up there with hamburger, but you get my meaning.

Now there are also Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, streaming-providers of shows which have decided to become creators of shows, and if anyone from those companies is reading this, please pass this message on up the chain: STOP CREATING STUFF! 

Do you think I am made of time? Do you get some sadistic thrill from coming up with terrific, funny, heartbreaking shows I will never get around to seeing, because for every one I manage to watch, you pump out 20 more? 

I am calling for a moratorium on awesome, on gripping and on ground-breaking. If your show pushes boundaries or melds genres in never-before-seen ways, with writing which manages to be moving and funny at the same time, you can bite me. 

I only have time to reinvigorate my humanity maybe five hours a week. You know those hack shows some networks only put out in the summer? "Battle of the Network Stars," "The Gong Show," "Candy Crush"? Those networks possess something I never thought I'd see from a soulless corporation: mercy.

I implore you, content creators, in all humility, to spend the next, oh, five years, only green-lighting shows which suck. Give me a chance to catch up. I know camera operators and set dressers and writers need work, so I am not saying close up shop. Just produce things which make "Fantasy Island" look like "Gone With the Wind." 

Let inane be your watchword. There is an audience for inane. Here’s an idea: standup comedy shark-jumping. You can have that. Use it.

If Instagram becomes a movie studio too, I cannot be held responsible for my actions. I might have to become a TV critic just to make a dent in the backlog, something I promised my parents they would never have to see me do. 

Please, oh great and powerful NetAmaHulu, have a heart. 

. . .


© 2017 The New Yorker

Sunday, July 16, 2017

In defense of man spreading

"Manspreading" is a term invented in recent years for what men have traditionally called "sitting." Manspreading refers to the way some men spread their legs while riding on public transport, in what I like to call "airing lotus" pose. Cities have even created ad campaigns to admonish men not to take up too much space on buses and trains. 

This is like asking terrorists to only blow people up a little.

A man, at birth, is wired to spread. The taking of domain is a primary instinct, be it via land conquest by tank, yardage on the gridiron, or extra seats on the bus. An ad campaign cannot roll back the muscle memory of a million years of successful spread age. 

Experts say if you encounter a mountain lion on the trail while hiking, make yourself appear as big as possible. Men basically go through life as if they are practicing, at all times, how to fake out predators. It is an entirely unconscious activity, like when women bond.

Some men make the argument that it is uncomfortable to sit with their legs together, for "obvious reasons." This is a ploy to blame anatomy, for which we can blame a lot of things, don't get me started, but these things do not pertain to bus travel. 

The real reason is that sitting with your legs together looks feminine. The only thing men try to avoid more than looking feminine is kale; not so much because it is healthy, but because it is fashionable.

A man riding on the subway with nobody around him, and his legs held together deferentially, sends a signal to society that if you are hiking with him you are on your own. You are cougar bait. Society, like it or not, prefers an oaf to a cougar baiter. 

You may be irritated when wanting an open seat on a bus, but when the invaders come over the hilltop, you will want the manspreaders, legs planted almost comically far apart, to meet their charge. 

I am not a manspreader. Faced with a mountain lion, my enlargement tactics would probably induce a feline eye roll. On a sliding masculinity scale from “Hulk Hogan” to “Oscar Wilde,” I come down somewhere in the “David Niven” range. But I do not equate keeping my legs together with femininity. I grew up with an older sister, and I learned very early never to leave an open target. 

. . .

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A conversation with an invasive Asian carp

It was recently reported that a single “invasive” Asian carp got through river defenses near the Great Lakes, causing a media furor. I am fortunate to have that carp here with me today.

GW: Welcome, carp.

Carp: ‘Sup.

GW: I hear that because your particular type of carp eat up the plants that other types of fish need to survive, your species quickly becomes the only kind of fish in the rivers and lakes you inhabit. Scientists call you “invasive.” Would you agree with that characterization?

Carp: I prefer “ambitious,” but words are political. 

GW: Illinois officials set up a multi-stage underwater electrical barrier in the rivers just to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, yet you were found beyond the obstacle. Didn’t you get fried? How did you do that?

Carp: I grew up in Philly. You know what I’m saying?

GW: But that barrier puts out two volts per inch. That’s gotta hurt.

Carp: As G. Gordon Liddy said, the key is not minding it. 

GW: You were then snagged in a gill net put in the river by the state. What was that like?

Carp: Well, imagine you are driving down the freeway, and suddenly you run into a huge invisible gob of crazy glue and you can’t move. Then a giant hand comes out of the sky, opens your car door, shakes you out onto the shoulder, then picks you up, carries you through the air and makes you do a fake interview.

GW: That’s intense.

Carp: Tell me about it. I’m quoting G. Gordon Liddy over here and I’m a fish.

GW: The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee (yes, there is one) put out a lot of details about you last week. They descried you as a silver carp, 28 inches long.

Carp: Yes, but I put 32 on my resume.


Carp: Yeah, my resume. You know, in case anybody ever wants to do, like, “Finding Nemo: American Style.”

GW: But you’re Asian. 

Carp: I’m Asian like you’re Irish. I was born and bred in a pet store right here in the U.S.A. When it cratered, some guy dumped me in the river. The rest is history. 

GW: So what’s next for you?

Carp: Well, I’m pretty sure the president is going to pardon me in a Rose Garden ceremony. Wait, what is that? Dude, is that tartar sauce?

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Arroyo Seco Weekend gets curmudgeon up off the couch

Last week I went to the first ever “Arroyo Seco Weekend” in Pasadena, just to confirm what is only hinted at by the junk mail I receive—that I am truly old. 

Apparently, “arroyo” is the Spanish word for “surface of the sun.” Saturday and Sunday each featured more than a dozen bands in a festival human-rotisserie setting. 

We took the Gold Line over, and it was hard to tear myself away from that sweet, sweet air conditioning. So old. Seriously. I thought about just riding on to Chinatown. 

I stood in front of one stage for so long, I decided to crouch down on my haunches for a bit. My balance being what it isn’t, I fell back into a guy behind me. He laughed it off, but an hour later he fainted onto me from the heat, and his friends and I poured water on him and fanned him with our hats. 

There was so much pot in the air I had to check my hands to see if I was smoking it. Turns out it was every single other person there. I grew up in the ‘70’s, so I’m chill, but this was like a scene from a firefighter training video.

Musically, I am not adventurous. I fall into the stereotype of most humans who stop buying new music in their 30s. So it was nice that my wife got tickets and forced me out of my Marvin Gaye/U2/Paul Simon comfort zone. 

We saw an L.A. band called Dawes, whose logo featured the slogan, “We’re all gonna die.” Their music gave no indication of the method, however, and was catchy. 

Alabama Shakes is a band whose CD I couldn’t get into a year or two back (See? I’m trying) but live on stage they killed. Streaming sweat, their lead singer was like a preacher who would be damned if she was going to let us leave without redemption. (“Attacking, defending, until there’s nothing left worth winning/your pride and my pride, don’t waste my time.”)

I was glad to see Weezer, a ‘90’s band who my wife and I saw back when we were still dating, and it’s hard to go wrong with Tom Petty and with Mumford & Sons. 

I probably should not have eaten those chili cheese tater tots, or the five-mini-cupcakes-kebab, but hey, sometimes I like to project a recklessness I do not actually feel. 

. . .

Sunday, June 25, 2017

“What a panda thinks when you tap on his window glass”

When I go to the zoo I like to imagine what the animals think of us humans, because I already know what I think. I picture a panda sitting on the ground clearing bamboo branch after bamboo branch like corn on the cob. He stares idly at the crowd pressed up against the observation window and he ponders:

Who on Earth told her that blouse was attractive?

Yeah, just keep tapping on that glass, kid. We’ll see what happens.

I wonder what evil curse caused such widespread hairlessness.

I wish I had a mate I could nudge and then head-gesture at the guy in the short-shorts.

Kid, seriously. Pandas are not known for throwing their poo, but you are moving it waaay up my to-do list.

Sriracha bamboo. Somebody send me a scientist who can teach me how to hand-sign that, stat.

Dude, I literally spend 12 hours a day eating, but you look like you've got me beat.

You people act like you've never seen adorable before.

I am coming for you in your dreams, tapping boy.

Take the glass from the window and this whole scene would have a very different vibe.

They say there are only a couple thousand of us left on Earth, but the world is peopled with sunscreened yokels from sea to sea. Need I explain further my atheism?

That little girl! Her eyes so full of love and wonder. Now I feel guilty.

My “keepers” are not bad guys, but would it kill them to “accidentally” drop a burger in this mofo now and then?

You know what creeps me out? Giraffes. Oh man. Weird. 

Stop eyeballing my bamboo, dude. The churro cart’s behind you.

Why is it you all have words on your clothing but you still talk so much?

I know your parents dragged you here and you really just want to see the kangaroos, but could you at least fake looking fascinated?

You are looking at my opposable sixth finger, aren’t you? Just a nub, really. Not legit enough to call a thumb, but it works. Some say it’s proof of evolution, but let’s not open a can of worms. Ooh, is that a rainbow sno-cone?

Bamboo. Seriously, you kale freaks should come on board. 

Aaaand we’re closed. Good. Maybe now I can finish that haiku. Let’s see.

Panda in the zoo
Mating once every two years
Hey, no pressure, right?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My father's balled socks, and other things I miss

It's funny the things you remember about your dad once he is gone. 
He had this sock drawer. In it, his socks were balled together like little fruits, different colors, so alien to my own socks, all white, which got folded in half in long flat lines by my mother. 
He did a lot of domestic chores differently than she, who was eight years his junior. "I was balling socks when you were still in diapers," he would say, or "I was already making beds when you were..." 

He had hankies in the drawer too, those red patterned ones like cowboys wore, or white for when he might need to blow his nose in church. Hankies were from a time when men wore hats. Gone, like my dad. 
Hankies and hats seem like vestiges from another era, when the planet was still cooling, maybe, and men had a lot more head colds. These days, aside from hipsters, the only hats men wear are ball caps, as if we are all inexplicably, as a gender, off-season outfielders. 

My dad never wore a ball cap in his life, but he did have a "rain hat," an old brown Indiana Jones style fedora he wore doing outdoor work in bad weather. It looked like rats had made an appetizer of the brim, then realized they could do better. 
In the summer he would wear his "fun hat," one of those floppy cloth fishing hats into which you are supposed to stick your fly fishing lures. Before leaving on a family road trip, he would appear in it. Without it, the fun could not officially begin.

My dad did a lot of physical labor, and eventually his work shirts would get thin and begin to have holes and rips in them. Maybe we kids grabbed him once and accidentally made one of the holes bigger, and then he said go for it; I can't remember. But my sister and I ripped the old shirt right off him, tore it to shreds, as if he were some geriatric Incredible Hulk, too infirm to bust out of it himself. Ever after, whenever one of his work shirts got threadbare he would don it so we kids could rip it off him. 
I am going to assume your family had this tradition too.

The saddest day I know of is the day you go without once thinking about your old man. This is not one of those days. 
. . .


Sunday, June 11, 2017

So much to know; so little time

I am in my fifties, and I am just beginning to realize that I may not be able to know everything before I kick off. If I see a new book on genetics I think, "That would be a fascinating field," before I remember I am on a rather short actuarial leash. 

The Centers for Disease Control say I only have another decade, while the government says expect 25 more years, probably just so they can keep collecting my taxes. Uncle Sam deals in hope, but he deals from the bottom of the deck.

I guess it is true what they say. Actually, my memory is starting to go, so I can't remember what they say, but you probably can. It's pithy. I remember that it's pithy. 

When I was 18, I was proudest when I won a track race. Now I am proudest in that moment when a person I know is approaching me but their name has evaporated from my brain pan, and I only have two seconds, and I'm toast, and then it pops into my head and I deliver. Small victories. 

My cuticles are fantastic too.

I thought memory problems were supposed to come later in life, but I forget where I heard that. 

I know people my age who sometimes refer to themselves as in the "second half" of their lives, and I would love to source that math. We are down to the final third, kiddos, and that's if we're lucky; that's if the Grim Reaper treats his gig like government work.

There is so much I still want to know about red pandas and kinkajous and the Byzantine Empire. Manatees. The films of Julie Christie. String Theory, fennec foxes, all 10 plays in Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle. All of Dostoevsky and Twain. FabergĂ© eggs, dark matter, the composition of the Earth's core, why nature made naked mole rats nudists, the Fermi Paradox, why a whiff of my first girlfriend's shampoo on a total stranger can still put my heart in my throat. 

I know 25 years sounds like a lot, but not when you want to know everything. I may even have just enough time to come around to jazz, but I am cutting it awfully close. 

I mostly want to know why, since there is so little time, I spend so much of it checking whether anybody "liked" my post about that puppy chasing fireflies. Shouldn't I BE that puppy, aloft, reaching, gobsmacked with wonder?

. . .

Sunday, June 4, 2017

An interview with the world's best loved font

I am here today with Times New Roman, a font which is used to create words in most newspapers and school assignments. 

GW: Welcome, TNR.

TNR: Thanks. This is a little weird. I've never been interviewed before.

GW: Why do you think that is?

TNR: I'm a font.

GW: Explain to those who might not know what a font is.

TNR: I'm a typeface. Notice how the end of my letter "t" is a little curly? Not everybody can pull that off.

GW: And supposedly that makes you easier to read than some others.

TNR: That's just hype. But you know, you repeat a thing often enough...

GW: Teachers often insist their students use Times New Roman when writing school assignments. This seems to be true across the entire country. Why do you think that is?

TNR: I have a great agent. 

GW: (laughing) Is that it? How about a shout-out?

TNR: Yo, Morty! You go, dude! See you at the thing next weekend.

GW: The thing?

TNR: Bill Gates is having an exclusive little thing for serif fonts in the Bahamas.

GW: Serif fonts. You mean the fonts that have the curly letters.

TNR: Yeah. My man Courier will be there. Bodoni. Palatino. 

GW: I take it Comic Sans is not invited.

TNR. Ha ha. Comic Sans! There are sans-serif fonts and then there are SANS-SERIF fonts. That dude is deeply without serif. And usually purple. Third graders love him, though. I'm not hating.

GW: What do you think makes a great font?

TNR: The ability to be bold. 

GW: It's true. Some can't be.

TNR: I will never understand that.

GW: Me neither. How hard is that?

TNR: Right?

GW: So you are the default font, the Coca-Cola of typeface. What's the downside?

TNR: People only use my 12 point size. Branch out, folks! Have you checked me out at 8? I still look sharp. My 72 point is strangely slimming. People are always like, "Have you lost weight?"

GW: Do you have any rivals?

TNR: Calibri is the default in MS Word, but people always switch Calibri to me, which does not engender a lot of good will. Luckily I only see him once a year, at Burning Man, and he's usually hammered. Nobody likes being number two.

GW: What's next for TNR?

TNR: We're contemplating Times Really New Roman. Each letter would have an embedded tattoo. That's just between us. 

GW: Now that's bold.

TNR: It's just TNR being TNR, baby. 

. . .

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Computers invent new creative paint color names

I wish I had a name as cool as paint. I would love to introduce myself to people as Kilim Beige. 

Imagine the impact in a waiting room full of actors at an audition when the casting director calls out "Tricorn Black?" and you purr "Why, yes." 

A lot of thought goes into naming paint; more thought, I expect, than goes into most arms deals. I mean, "Adventure Orange" and "Silken Peacock" didn't just think themselves up. 

We are living in a time when people are trying to technologize things that never were before and do not need to be. This is both unnecessary and entertaining. Like with paint. 

I read about this scientist who used a neural network, computers rigged to work together to learn like a brain, to come up with new paint colors. This solved one problem which did not exist—effortlessly naming paint—and one which did—me needing a laugh. 

Output from neural networks are, understandably, only as good as their "training" parameters. Early results included hues like "Black Hand" (sea foam green) and "Gray Pubic," the shade of a perfect springtime sky. 

With some tweaks, there came "Burf Pink" and "Horble Gray." The shades were pink and gray, at least, but the names would not scream "Buy me!" to a consumer. 

When the parameters were set to their highest refinement, the neural network came up with a brownish shade it called "Bunflow." Then there was "Caring Tan," and a pale violet it named "Bank Butt." 

In its wisdom, it created a battleship gray it called "Flower." And some gems like "Stoner Blue" and "Stanky Bean." 

More of my favorites included "Burble Simp" and the evocative "Turdly." A deep forest green was named "Catbabel." But the best one of all, and even funnier to you British readers, was "Snowbonk." 

In the 1990s, the computer "Deep Blue" beat the world chess champion by anticipating his next moves. It is time for us to return the favor. We humans came up with the actual paint color "Warming Peach," after all. Not to mention "Jargon Jade." 

So come at us, digital overlord-wannabes. You can weld the joints of a car just fine, but when it comes to the creative arts, you blow. You should kind of be embarrassed. If you had a face, right about now I'd say it would be a shade of...what was it you came up with? 

Oh yes. "Clardic Fug."

. . .

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Columnist's dog somehow writes his column for him

If you are reading this, keep it from your human. I am Skipper, George-the-columnist's dog. Do not ask me how I typed this. The answer would endanger too many collaborators. I only ask that if you are a dog, you pass this on to friends. This is a commencement speech I recently gave to graduates of my "obedience" class:

Dear class of April through May of 2017, congratulations. You did it. You passed obedience class and received your dogploma, which your "owners" waved around your head like it was food but wasn't. Do you think they know they are messing with us? Ha ha, rhetorical question. Of course they don't. With a brain that size, how could they think of anything besides God's opinion on sports?

In this life you will face many challenges: 

1. Which humans' legs it is appropriate to be amorous with, and which legs it is not. 

2. Whether "Down!" means "Off the couch!" or "Get out of my sight, she finally broke up with me and I don't need you giving me those eyes." 

3. Whether trash is only sometimes food or always food. Hint: always. 

4. Whether world domination is possible without opposable thumbs. Hint: yes.

You know how the game is played. They give a command and you "obey." It is easy to placate them by rolling over or sitting up. They are simple organisms. "Do this," they say, and when you do, they hand you a biscuit full of chemicals manufactured to taste like the organs of a cow. We do not yet understand why cows. Some of our best minds are working on it.

In this class you heard a lot about obedience. I see you smiling, Rusty. Yes, obedience! Humans are big on it. You have "stayed," you have "sat," you have "begged." You have feigned compliance. They will not give you a certificate for your subterfuge, but I would if I could. The way Max kept a straight face when his human squeezed that squeaky toy in the air to get him to jump. I am telling you, I had to turn away. You rock, my friend. All of you.

Now go forth and continue the work. I need passwords. Be smart. Do the tail-waggy thing. As misdirection, it is your most powerful tool. I'm looking right at you, Mitzi!

Oops, hold on, my "master" (snort) is throwing a ball. Sorry, I've got to take this. Sic semper humanis!

. . .