Friday, March 24, 2017

Send Money

My husband and I are quite charitable, especially around tax time, but that doesn't stop the seemingly endless requests for a handout from people we have never met. Last night during dinner, three different beggars approached us via our home phone: Mitch's alma mater (who I suspect has us on speed dial), a cancer relief fund and a local politician. We didn't answer any of those calls but their recorded messages made it clear they weren't calling to see how we're handling all the late-spring snow.

The U.S. Postal Service offers another conduit into our bank account. A typical batch of mail contains pleas from no less than five or six organizations looking for dough. Yesterday's included requests from the Alzheimer's people, the March of Dimes, St. Jude's Hospital for Children, a soup kitchen in Washington, D.C. and George and Laura Bush celebrating the fourth anniversary of their Bush Library. We hear from most of them on a weekly basis, except for the Bushes who only write about once a month, usually including a family photo suitable for framing. I particularly enjoy hearing from the March of Dimes people since they include a real dime in their message which I pocket before trashing the letter.

At the supermarket or the drug store I am often asked to add a donation to some worthy cause to my bill. Then someone with a clipboard usually stops me in the parking lot asking me to save the fishes by cleaning our waterways or buy some cookies in support of a local animal shelter. Then there's the Internet with its Gofundme sob stories, the tip jars at all the coffee shops and lunch places, and the street people with their cardboard signs or open violin case.

These days everyone's doing it, constantly and unabashedly, and I want in. And so, what with the rising cost of living, not to mention my blood pressure, we here at The Daily Droid are asking for your help. Email for where to mail your check. (Hopefully I can find it among all the requests for money clogging my online mailbox.)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Growing Color War

A painting by a white artist that was chosen for inclusion in a prestigious art show at a major museum, the Whitney in New York City, depicting Emmett Till, the black teenager who was lynched in Mississippi 62 years ago after being falsely accused of flirting with a white woman, is now being deemed "racist" by a growing number of African-American artists, some of whom are calling for it to be destroyed lest the artist sell it and profit from spilled black blood. It has also been stated that no white person can attempt to speak for any black person or understand their plight, now and historically. Or something like that.

Causing me to wonder more and more: What country is this?

Al Franken, Neil Gorsuch and Me

Liberals have their panties in a knot over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, who by most accounts is a jewel of a guy with incredible scruples and unassailable principles. Yet he has incurred the wrath not of the great Khan but the teeny Al Franken, he of those "Deep Thoughts" from his days on Saturday Night Live. It's all got to do with a case involving a truck driver who abandoned his cargo and drove off in the truck's cab rather than wait hours for help in frigid temperatures and was later fired by his employer for said abandonment. The driver sued and Gorsuch voted in favor of the employer, causing Franken to anoint him as "anti-worker" and calling his decision "absurd."

The face that got slapped.
The brouhaha reminded me of a similar situation when I was a high-school senior working part-time as a salesclerk in the candy department of Abraham & Strauss, the defunct but once grand department store. With Christmas just a few days away the store was bustling. In those days we used cash registers, not computers, to ring up cash sales, or wrote out longhand the items to be paid with a credit card. A woman presented herself and opted to pay cash, so I rang up her items, about a dozen in all, and announced the total. At that point she said, "Never mind, I'll charge it."

Facing a long line of impatient shoppers waiting to check out, I asked if she might step aside and let me help those other people, then write up her charges. At that suggestion she reached out a bejeweled and manicured hand and slapped my peaches-and-cream, 17-year-old face, shouting some obscenity or another. The crowd gasped, and someone shouted, "Miss, your face is bleeding!" Rushing to find a mirror, I saw a rivulet of blood dripping down my hot, reddened cheek. I felt faint. Hurriedly locking the cash register, I fled to the store's infirmary, calling out an apology to the assembled customers.

At closing time, after receiving treatment from the nurse and returning to the candy department to finish my shift, I was fired for "leaving my station." (I wonder what Gorsuch would say to that.) Since this happened in 1964 my parents didn't sue anyone, whereas today that woman would likely do time and I'd be set for life. Talk about absurd.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Experts R Us

Many people know a lot more than many other people on a lot of subjects. For example, the average person probably doesn't understand what a "black hole in space" is, or fully grok Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Experts in such esoteric fields as medicine, computer technology, aviation and all the sciences spend most of their time learning about them, and I applaud their efforts. They are awesome.

But concerning things like how to live a life, how to be happy, how to avoid depression and anxiety, how to relate to others, what to eat, how to think positively and avoid or change bad habits, there are no experts, there is only all of us. Each of us is an expert, living each day as we do from birth on. Yet there seems to be no end of people who call themselves "experts" on the subject of being alive.

Many of these "life experts" write books, give lectures, record podcasts and in fact make tons of money by telling others how to just "be." Their advice is often the same, and usually stuff we already know. For example, every new book on meditation says the very same things as every old book on meditation -- sit comfortably on a cushion or in a chair, do it at the same time every day, focus on the breath, if thoughts come just push them away, do it no less than 20 minutes a day, close your eyes or keep them open -- yet that doesn't stop people from writing another one which somehow finds a willing publisher and thousands of hopeful readers seeking something life-changing.

I am one of those hopeful readers. My nightstand is cluttered with no less than half a dozen new books on finding happiness, perfecting Buddhist meditation and Zen this or that, with even more relegated to bookshelves around the house and the worst of the bunch simply trashed. After much disappointment I'm with Denis Diderot, the French philosopher, writer and critic known for his Encyclop├ędie. Working in the late 1700s during the so-called Age of Enlightenment, Diderot declared, "I find that a meditation practitioner is often quite useless and that a contemplation practitioner is always insane."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Why George W. Bush Paints

Forget all the damn immigrants for a minute, those huddled masses yearning to be free and grasping at our welfare handouts without doing a blessed thing to earn them, and consider this: The way old people are treated in America is worse. In fact, it's all the way to macabre. Being old myself now, I can say with pride that I have never been one to disparage the elderly, always finding them so interesting and yes, trite as it sounds, full of wisdom culled from their years of living. But most people find them annoying and useless, certainly unemployable and usually deemed unexciting as sex partners, hiking buddies and even lunch or dinner companions.
Picasso's self-portrait at 90. He died at 92.

For most of the elderly their only crime is not dying young, and isn't that what everyone, except suicides who foretell the bleak future awaiting them and opt out, hopes for at the get-go? Still, the old are treated as criminals. The weakest submit to plastic surgery, with all its inherent risks, hoping to fool themselves, along with  Father Time and his golfing buddy, Death, into believing they are younger. It doesn't work.

At this very moment I am 70 and, as I read in the newspaper just this morning, can expect to live another 10 or 15 more years, although some go on for much longer. (Financier and philanthropist David Rockefeller died yesterday at 101.) I worry about getting treated worse every year by all the young people who, ironically, are hoping to stay alive long enough to be as old as I am now, at which time they will be treated badly by the generations following theirs.

It's a quandary and I have no answers. But when I'm parked in front of my easel, surrounded by brushes and tubes of paint and faced with a blank canvas, alone except for my cat and the occasional neighbor passing by my window, I am ageless. I'm betting former President Bush, who is exactly my age and took up painting four years ago, feels the same way.

Monday, March 20, 2017

I'm A Genius?

I recently wasted some of my allotted time on Earth taking one of those online quizzes. This one enticed me by saying it was about "basic things that everyone should know." Naturally, being somewhat of a know-it-all, I thought I would know them all. To my utter dismay and shock, out of fifty questions I got seven of them wrong! These were them:

1. Roses have prickles, not thorns.
2. Koalas are not members of the bear family, they are marsupials.
3. If you disturb a bunny's nest, you should immediately put the baby bunnies back into it.
4. General and Mrs. Grant are both buried in Grant's Tomb.
5. Keeping your batteries in the refrigerator will not keep them any fresher any longer.
6. You do not lose 80% of your body heat through the top of your head.
7. You should file a Missing Persons report immediately and not wait 24 or 48 hours like they say on TV.

Despite my errors, at the end of the quiz I received a score of 85% and was declared a "Genius" who knows "just about everything about everything." I wonder what I would be if I had answered all of them correctly.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Last night I watched a movie that possibly has made me a different person today. (It's too soon to tell but I suspect that to be the case.) Following is an excerpt from a review about it that is almost as great an explanation of life as of the film itself. It was written in 2008 by Roger Ebert, the late great movie critic who died five years later, and offers the best explanation of why the movie must be seen before it's too late, which it will be any minute now, and far too soon. 

I think you have to see Charlie Kaufman's "Synecdoche, New York" twice. I watched it the first time and knew it was a great film and that I had not mastered it. The second time because I needed to. The third time because I will want to. It will open to confused audiences and live indefinitely. A lot of people these days don't even go to a movie once. There are alternatives. It doesn't have to be the movies, but we must somehow dream. If we don't "go to the movies" in any form, our minds wither and sicken.

This is a film with the richness of great fiction. It's not that you have to return to understand it. It's that you have to return to realize how fine it really is. The surface may daunt you. The depths enfold you. The whole reveals itself, and then you may return to it like a talisman.

The subject of "Synecdoche, New York" is nothing less than human life and how it works. Using a neurotic theater director from upstate New York, it encompasses every life and how it copes and fails. Think about it a little and, my god, it's about you. Whoever you are.

Here is how life is supposed to work. We come out of ourselves and unfold into the world. We try to realize our desires. We fold back into ourselves, and then we die. "Synecdoche, New York" follows a life that ages from about 40 to 80 on that scale. Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a theater director, with all of the hangups and self-pity, all the grandiosity and sniffles, all the arrogance and fear, typical of his job. In other words, he could be me. He could be you. The job, the name, the race, the gender, the environment, all change. The human remains pretty much the same.

Here is how it happens. We find something we want to do, if we are lucky, or something we need to do, if we are like most people. We use it as a way to obtain food, shelter, clothing, mates, comfort, a first folio of Shakespeare, model airplanes, American Girl dolls, a handful of rice, sex, solitude, a trip to Venice, Nikes, drinking water, plastic surgery, child care, dogs, medicine, education, cars, spiritual solace -- whatever we think we need. To do this, we enact the role we call "me," trying to brand ourselves as a person who can and should obtain these things.

In the process, we place the people in our lives into compartments and define how they should behave to our advantage. Because we cannot force them to follow our desires, we deal with projections of them created in our minds. But they will be contrary and have wills of their own. Eventually new projections of us are dealing with new projections of them. Sometimes versions of ourselves disagree. We succumb to temptation -- but, oh, father, what else was I gonna do? I feel like hell. I repent. I'll do it again.
Hold that trajectory in mind and let it interact with age, discouragement, greater wisdom and more uncertainty. You will understand what "Synecdoche, New York" is trying to say about the life of Caden Cotard and the lives in his lives. Charlie Kaufman is one of the few truly important writers to make screenplays his medium. David Mamet is another. That is not the same as a great writer (Faulkner, Pinter, Cocteau) who writes screenplays. Kaufman is writing in the upper reaches with Bergman. Now for the first time he directs.

It is obvious that he has only one subject, the mind, and only one plot, how the mind negotiates with reality, fantasy, hallucination, desire and dreams.

"Synecdoche, New York" is not a film about the theater, although it looks like one. A theater director is an ideal character for representing the role Kaufman thinks we all play. The magnificent sets, which stack independent rooms on top of one another, are the compartments we assign to our life's enterprises. The actors are the people in roles we cast from our point of view. Some of them play doubles assigned to do what there's not world enough and time for. They have a way of acting independently, in violation of instructions. They try to control their own projections. Meanwhile, the source of all this activity grows older and tired, sick and despairing. Is this real or a dream? The world is but a stage, and we are mere actors upon it. It's all a play. The play is real.