Saturday, February 28, 2015

Music soothes the old brain

Recently, I found myself in a room with a saxophone.

Apparently, I arrived in the midst one of those “common but mysterious short-term memory failures, [where] people find themselves in a room, without remembering why they ended up there.”


So, there I was, a little bit breathless, and pondering:  Moments ago I was there, but now I am here.  With a saxophone. 

Why am I here? 

This is not an existential question.  I know why I am here.  I am here to make the world a better place.  Duh.  Everyone knows that, right? 

Nevertheless, in spite of my certainty regarding the meaning of life and my place in the universe, I was hard-pressed to know what-the-what I was doing in that particular room at that specific moment with an E-Flat saxophone.

And then there was the sax itself, staring back at me; also no doubt, wondering how we wound up together.  Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…!

Researchers say the doorway may be to blame. 

That’s right.  According to Gabriel Radvansky, a psychologist at the University of Notre Dame, the very act of walking through a doorway may tell your brain since a new scene has begun, it should store prior memories, thereby causing strange memory lapses.  

"Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an 'event boundary' in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away… Recalling the decision or activity that was made in a different room is difficult because it has been compartmentalized."

OK.  Perhaps it is existential.  I think I forgot why I came into this room; therefore I am essentially still in the other room. 

Or, maybe these ‘event boundaries’ are my own personal wormholes whereby Morgan Freeman messes with me just because he can. 

In theory, mental event-boundaries are useful (so says Mr. Notre Dame) because they help us organize our mental timelines and remember not just where, but also when a particular event happened.

I get it.  It’s like when Mr. Plath asks me, for example, how long we’ve had Netflix and I piece together the answer by saying, “My hair was still long because the first one of those red envelopes got stuck in it when I thought I had to lick it to seal it and my hair got in the way.  And I thought we’d be able to get ‘Finding Nemo,’ which was about 2004; but of course we never could, which makes me wonder if we should go ahead and subscribe to HBO Go or one of those other movies services?”

It is patching into place memories – like passing through doorway after mental doorway, event boundary after event boundary, until he’s gone into another room wondering why he even asked me such a question in the first place.

But I digress.

I have crossed through a portal into a room which contains a saxophone.  To find out why, I need only retrace my steps, turning back the swinging doors of the event boundaries that brought me here.

Easy peasy.

Let’s see:  I had been wondering, after mistaking an old movie for a good movie, “What is that thing where you forget the ending of a bad movie and wind up watching the whole thing with a nagging suspicion that you’ve seen it before only to find, in the last unraveling of the plot, that you do remember the stupid ending of the thing and you just lost two precious hours of your life watching it again?”

So I went online to find out how to stop doing that annoying thing. 

I found an article at Live Science entitled “People with Dementia May Have Hidden Talents, Strange Case Shows.”

It told the story of a man in South Korea who was formerly meek and mild but got dementia and began saying what he thought at work without regard for the feelings of others.  Kind of like what’s-her-name at Sony Studios who said Angelina Jolie was a self-absorbed brat or whatever.  But then he started playing the saxophone and it made him nicer again.

And I thought, wow, that could be me.  The hidden talent part, I mean.

And I wound up in a room with a saxophone.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Oscar better not go to ...

OK.  Let me just speak directly to the Academy.  And I offer this in the best, most generous possible spirit:

If you select “Boyhood” as the Best Picture of the Year…You are done.  You are dead to me!  I don’t know you or your family. 

Because I have had it!  I.  Have had.  IT!

Or, I will have had it, to use the future subjunctive mood, since we don’t yet know what’s in the hermetically sealed jar on Funk & Wagnall’s porch.  We have only a sneaking suspicion.  And if our suspicions are borne out, we will be in an extremely subjunctive mood!

I’m just sayin’.

You know what?!  No!  I’m not just sayin’.  I’m warning you!

Don’t do it!  Do not choose a tedious, pointless underwhelming piece of tedious (yes, I said it twice!) monotony as the Best Picture of the Year just because it took the guy 12 years to make it.

Of course it took him 12 years!  He kept falling asleep!

Not only that, his actors probably wandered away, not recognizing that movie-making was in the works.  Like so many Alzheimer’s patients, they drifted off toward the mall, unaware that anything requiring their presence was underway nearby. 

They had to be tracked down and corralled again and again and made to go through the same mundane motions they’d just completed the year before when they were 12 months younger.  Wow.  Isn’t that amazing.

But no worries!  It wasn’t a hardship for them.  After all, there were no lines to learn or depths of emotion to plumb.  Nobody was put out by the pesky demands of acting!  There was no need of a method!

Furthermore, the film has no beginning.  It just starts.  Of course every film just starts, but come on!  Good story telling leaps into the middle of the action.  We are plunged into the grit, the heart, the essence of our protagonist and his struggles.  But not in this compilation of scenes:

“The child of divorced parents, Mason, learns to navigate through a world in which the strengths and frailties of the adults around him have a profound impact on his own life.”

No.  Not profound.  More accurately, the impacts are common.  Typical.  Run-of-the-mill.  Every day.  No need for concern.  And oh, what I wouldn’t give for some good, old-fashioned concern! 

Ah, there it is!  Maybe this film was put together for those who need a break from the stress of dramatic conflict.  There must have been those movie goers who cried out for a respite from so much man against man, man against nature, and man against himself.  All that exploration of the human condition was just too hard to take for those delicate ones. 

Linklater to the rescue!  But he didn’t ride up on his stallion, sabre aloft.  More like he pulled up in a golf cart, wearing plenty of sunscreen, ever mindful to stay within the lines – not-too-hot, not-too-cold, but just room temp.

And how did they know when they were finished?  My money says they didn’t know.  They could go on for another decade and be no worse for the wear.  As it is, they just drifted away from the apartment where Mr. Linklater had set up his camera and let it record whatever came into frame.  OMG.

And the Academy’s all atwitter. 

But you know what?  That’s OK.  I’m going to have my party anyway.  People are coming with finger food wearing sparkly clothes and we are going to have fun!  That haphazard assemblage of 7000 Academy members cannot dash our dreams.

Let them ignore the ballot for their zombie-like fixation on a trance-inducing 165 minute ordeal.

Go ahead and pass over “Whiplash,” and “American Sniper.”  “Selma” for God’s sake!  “The Theory of Everything”“The Imitation Game”!  If you want to go quirky choose “Birdman.”  Or even “The Grand BudapestHotel.”

But “Boyhood”?  No flippin’ way.  No way!

If you choose “Boyhood” as the Best Picture of the Year, I swear I will never, ever go to Party City again and stock up on black and gold glittery decorations.  No more helium balloons only to have your nonsensical decisions stick a pin in them!

Oh, all right.  I will probably do just that.

Same time, next year.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Say "cheese" - or not

Tip #1 – Look above the lens of the camera.  “Keep in mind that looking straight into the camera can make all your imperfections, such as big nose or broad forehead, come out.”

Ekaterina, whose online article entitled, “7 Tips and Tricks for Looking Great in Photographs,” in the magazine Amerikanki, offers well-intentioned instruction and at the same time inadvertently reveals that English is her second language.  But it’s endearing, right?  Your big nose will come out?!  Who says that? 

With her profile icon thumbnail of Andy Warhol’s “Marilyn,” Ekaterina is my kind of mentor:  She blends cheerful encouragement with a bludgeoning reality, as in her Tip #5 – Natural Make-Up.  Here she cautions us that “when your make-up is bright…you may end up looking like a clown in the photo.”  Thank you so much, Ekaterina!  I won’t make that mistake again!

Thus Miss Ekaterina, whom I picture to be a luscious 22-year-old Russian model with pouty lips and a fur-lined hoodie, cheerfully swings her helpful how-to hatchet.

Oh I know, she doesn’t mean to make me - not a luscious, pouty-lipped model - feel bad about my appearance!  Just the opposite!  She’s here to help.

If only I had stumbled upon Ekaterina sooner!  Too bad for me that I came across her pointers after my visit to the DMV.  By that time, I had already broken her cardinal rule and stared into the lens.  When that civil servant directed me to “Look right here,” I looked right there. 

So what did I get?  Big nose and broad forehead!  And I don’t even have a broad forehead!

And evidently, in the nano-second between that clerk’s commandment and the click of the shutter, I unwittingly but efficiently contradicted each and every item on Ekaterina’s friendly list of things that one must do if one wants to look good in a photo. 

For example, I didn’t turn my face a little bit to the right – Tip #2.  The rankest amateurs know to turn their faces to the right!  A little bit.  How hard is that? 

You want to turn to the right especially if you’re posing for the photo that you will show to more people over the next decade than any other photo you possess. 

You don’t want to have to think about that big honker every time you hand your driver’s license over to an innocent clerk in the grocery store or the earnest young trainee at the car rental agency when you’re on vacation and trying to forget your troubles and have a good time.  For God’s sake!  Just turn your head!

Ekaterina explains it with the best grammar and punctuation she can muster:  “Research claims that we tend to show more emotion on the face’s left side, so when being photographed, turn your head a little bit to the right to look more appropriate for the occasion.  This will leave you looking more natural and happier.” 

What could be more nearly perfect for the occasion of the DMV than a right turn? 

But Miss E fails to stop.  “In addition,” she says, “this trick will help you to set off the coquettish curve of your eyebrow and the apple of your cheekbone.”


It’s too late for Mr. Plath too.  His new driver’s license photo just arrived in the mail, confirming that the “straight look is more aggressive, especially if you don’t smile.” 

In fact, being entirely without vanity, Mr. Plath made no advance preparations whatsoever for his pilgrimage to the DMV.  He even forgot that they won’t let you wear that hat you slap on first thing in the morning to avoid the tedious rigors of hair brushing. 

I mean, I love the guy, but in his latest photo he looks like a feral and defeated felon taken back into custody after seventeen days on the lam.

He should have turned his body sideways and popped his knee a little bit to create a slimmer silhouette (Tip #5).  But when I offer these suggestions, I get only that icy criminal stare.

What about that, Ekaterina?  And by the way, where’s YOUR photo, Miss-Marilyn- thumbnail-instead-of-practicing-what-you-preach?

I smell a Russian rat.  You can’t trust everything you find on the internet and I’m beginning to wonder about you!

What’s the matter?  Camera got your nose?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Big Mac for a song

This morning in McDonald’s I suffered a blow to my self-esteem.  You’d think they would have been more accommodating as I had gone there specifically to get material for this column.

But Ronald “the Weasel” McDonald seems to believe that even bad press is good press.  We’ll just see about that!

You see, according to their very own ad campaign – “Choose Lovin’” – between February 2nd and Valentine’s Day randomly selected McDonald's customers will have the opportunity to pay for their meals not with cash, but with a lovin’ task — such as calling their moms or giving a hug.

So they say.

You might have seen the deal outlined in Mickey D’s $4 million Super Bowl ad last Sunday.  I heard it ran right after an interception on the one yard line – at the end of the game? – so, in the annals of Super Bowl Sundays, it’s unclear what position the ad will take relatively speaking.  It may be overshadowed.  Dwarfed.  Folks may not remember it.

But I did.

The ad depicts surprised and delighted customers being coaxed to do a little dance or to bump the fist of an aproned crew member in exchange for their Happy Meal.  That’s it!  That’s what it costs! 

What a sweet, sentimental gesture in this season of romance!  It sets your heart aflutter.

And it plays to my strong suit – my willingness to sing and dance and bump knuckles and say sappy things – a…shall we say, an abandon, a freedom of spirit unfettered by self-consciousness or decorum – with good will toward even commercial enterprises and malice toward only the stingy and unkind. 

My intent was to barter for an Egg McMuffin – to pay with lovin’ – just like their ad promised I could do. 

And I wouldn’t be just any customer who came into the store.  No.  I would be the sweetest, most sentimental, most memorable of all.  Even Seattle fans would rewrite the script ofthat fateful fling and replace it with my random act of selfless joy.  I would make the world a better place for that small moment. 

But I was rebuffed. 

Here’s how the whole thing played out:  To ensure the greatest good for the greatest number of fast food aficionados, I went there at the peak of the breakfast rush.   I had Pharrel Williams’ song “Happy” on my iPod and set the volume so that everyone could sing along. 

I did Pharrel’s two-step side shuffle spin along the driver’s side windows of the cars waiting in line and encouraged everyone to join me and clap along if they felt that happiness was the truth. 

Very few did, by the way.  But I was not deterred.

Into the brightly lit establishment I twirled, a vision of Valentine’s Day spirit and McDonald’s commercial greed all rolled into one.  With my hands in the air I swayed up to the counter and sang, “Egg McMuffin, please!  And orange juice!  Because I’m Happy!” 

The tired teen at the cash register gave me that look, you’ve seen it, suspicion and disdain all in one eye-rolling flow; but I knew it was part of the game.  While I waited I continued to dance and smile and greet those sleepy folks at the Formica-topped tables, confident in the outcome – a meal paid for in lovin’! 

But then that crabby little girl said, rather loudly, “Ma’am!” 
I just hate that!  “Ma’am!”  Like I’m some sort of older person! 

But I guess she’d been trying to get my attention.  I must have missed her first couple of attempts.  “That’ll be $4.78, please.”

I couldn’t believe it!  But the faces of customers around me confirmed my error.  “$4.78,” she said again.

But, but…the ad!  I tried to hug her across the counter, to no avail.  She swayed backward.  No knuckle bumping would redeem me.

“It’s not a volunteer operation, Ma’am.” 

Who’s this?  The teenager had called her supervisor. 

We pick youWe decide who gets to barter.  The computer does, actually.  It would be printed on your receipt if you were chosen.”  How weasel-y and unkind to point out that I was not.

“Imagine if we let everyone who wanted to just dance up and get a free meal.  Where would we be then?”

Oh.  Well. I don’t know.  Maybe in a happy place?