Thursday, July 03, 2008

Cause and Defect

Ten years ago, the big three auto makers gambled everything on Americas love affair with the SUV. Any attempt by environmentalists to curtail their development was met with open hostility. When Congress attempted to pass legislation to improve fuel efficiency standards, Detroit said doing so would cost jobs. When economists pointed out that a lack of diversity is always dangerous for a company, Detroit pointed to record sales. Every report available at the time said the trend of large cars had to end as oil prices would rise in the new millennium. Here were are in 2008. Japan leads the world in Hybrid production of cars. Detroit has invested almost nothing in alternative fuels or vehicles and as a result, General Motors stock fell bellow $10.00 a shares yesterday on the news that oil continues to rise sharply. That is the lowest it's stock has been since the 50's!
If anything screams American denial, this story does. As the Pentagon geared up for war in Iraq, Detroit continued to build SUV's, slashing whatever small budget it had for research into smaller, electric and hybrid cars. Economists warned them that a prolonged war in the Mideast would spell the end for Americans love affair with large gas guzzling cars. Detroit ignored all warning signs and continued to spend vast sums of money to make and market vehicles that had the worse fuel efficiency ever seen. Now, in Bushes last term with his Oil industry buddies making a blatant grab for all the cash they can get through market manipulation, Detroit's big three auto makers are victims of ignoring the future.
Cause and effect, people.
Make something that runs on what is literally dead dinosaurs and you risk becoming a dinosaur too.
Enter John McCain.
He has proposed a contest where the winner would get 300 million dollars for a new battery that could deliver all our energy needs at 30% of the current cost. Actually, not a bad idea. It was his old man speech about it that everyone should listen to that caught my attention. At one point, he says Americans should use their "creatillity" to do this. Ability? Creativity? Creatively? What word did he mean to use or did he just win a contest to invent a new word needed to inspire a new battery?
If anyone knows of a battery like this, run for your life! Detroit, Saudi Arabia and Standard oil will kill you. Honestly. We are not an economy based on gold or digits flying around the Internet. Nope. We are a petroleum based economy. If you upset that balance in anyway, you will be taken care of. Think I am being to X-files about this? We invaded Iraq to get their oil, what would we do to get a battery that would put all those powerful people out of business?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Now I have seen it all...

Muslims in the Scottish district of Tayside are outraged by the appearance of a wide-eyed, 6-week-old puppy on postcards distributed by the local police force, according to the Daily Mail.

Postcards showing police dog-in-training Rebel, a German shepherd born in early December, are causing a furor among the region’s Muslims who believe dogs are "ritually unclean," the Daily Mail reports.

There is a voice in the back of my head that starts to say things decidedly un-P.C. when I hear stuff like this. It's been a growing voice now for a little while. A few days ago I received a call from a woman at Kinko's. I had sent in a print order on line. They were calling to check on something. Her accent was so thick and the connection was so bad, that I had a very hard time understanding what she was saying. Considering that I was spending money to get a quality product and considering they advertise one stop press a button and all is done publishing, it was becoming more and more frustrating to attempt to talk to her. After a while I paused and said very clearly with no anger in my voice, "Could I speak with someone else please?"
There was a pause at her end, a click and then a moment later another voice without an accent.
"Is there a problem I can help you with?" The new voice said in clear English.
"I was having a hard time understanding the young woman on the phone. I was afraid something would get messed up because I didn't understand something." I said a little guilty.
Again, another pause and then with a slightly perceptible attitude I was told, "You might want to try another location next time if our staff is difficult for you to understand."
"Look, I don't want any trouble and I am not some right wing guy inventing issues, even you can hear the static on this line, right? Add to that an accent and it's a little hard to understand what she is saying. Thats all. I just want to make sure my order is fine. After all, you guys called me."

Now I had done it! I had said the one thing you can never say out loud in a liberal city; the truth.
People with accents can sometimes be difficult to understand. Thats it. No bias or racist overtones, just a bad telephone connection with static, a hard accent and now attitude because I was clearly stating a problem that is not suppose to exist in our everybody is equal paradise by the bay.

Now imagine you are a small town police department trying to get the word out about a new phone number. You put an adorable puppy on it to grab peoples attention. After you have printed and handed the cards out with the intention of better serving the population your sworn to protect, you find out that a group in that town is upset because it violates some religious principle you knew nothing about. Man! I can hear that voice in the back of my head. It is my Dad's voice. It is saying some fucked up things, but honestly, who would of thought that a puppy on a card used to inform citizens about a change in police services would of been an issue? Who would of even thought to say, "maybe we should check to see if this is going to piss anyone off?" Besides, and I am going to say it, you are no longer living in a Muslim country. Maybe you should try to be tolerant of your new country. A country whose police does not kick in doors to get information, but instead sends post cards with puppies on it to let people know information. I'm just saying. I am surrounded by people who cheer the slogan, celebrate diversity, but chances are if you printed up invitations to that party, a lot of people would not be able to read the card or be upset with whatever you picked by committee to put on the card.

OK, chances are they are living where they are living because they are refuges from that little war we started. Before FOX news gets a hold of this story and uses it to subtly and not so subtly tell us how crazy "they" are, step back a moment. American is suppose to be a melting pot. Right? But if we are being honest with ourselves, we all know that melting implies conforming and a lot of cultures do not want to conform. Thats fine. Granted, our history is not so good with other cultures anyway. But if postcards with puppies are going to upset people, I really don't know how to take that seriously. Do you?

In other tolerant news, a girl started a Facebook group that has spread. Seems people are changing their middle names to Hussein in honor of Barack Obama. A lot of people have made a big deal out of his middle name. First he was a secret Muslim sent to destroy us then he gets in trouble for having a crazy preacher at the same Christian church he has belonged to for more than 2o years. To demonstrate the sheer ignorance of it all, she simply suggested people change their facebook name to Hussein. It is the "smith" of the Arab world. Maybe there is a Dude trying to get stuff done in Iraq whose middle name is Joe and he is taking shit for it. I don't know. I like the idea behind it. If more people had Hussein as a name, it might not be so alien to people in America. Frankly, the only things we have been any good at integrating into society, is food. French Fry's, Belgian Waffles, Chinese take out, and Pizza. Were not a melting pot so much as we are a 7-11. We will take your food, just not any of the culture that goes with it. If we changed French Fry's to freedom Fry's when America went nuts and was mad at France for not voting for our mess of a pre-emptive attack on Iraq, why not rename some food with the name Hussein? Better yet, lets name a dog Hussein.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Blond on Blond reaction!

Pamela Anderson, on a radio interview in Australia, called Jessica Simpson a Bitch and whore for wearing a real girls eat meat, T-shirt. Where do you want to start with the irony? For a woman with plastic tits, enhanced lips, permanent eye liner and a hair color not found in nature, Pamela Anderson has a lot of nerve telling anyone they are not "real." Don't you think?
I'm not fan of Jessica Simpson either. After all, this is the woman who thought Buffalo wings were from buffalo. Anderson, is a member of PETA. Again, the irony factor is pretty high here. People would protest if they did to animals what Anderson did to herself. Besides, Pamela Anderson doesn't eat meat? Thats not what I saw on that tape.
I have no idea whose side I am on, but a plastic injected rock star cum dumpster getting uppity because she only eats vegetables, is pretty stupid. Two dumb blonds, famous for being famous, are in a war over what goes in their bodies. Insert your own joke here.

Crows Nest; YOU SUCK!

Santa Cruz, you can suck my balls!
The one nighter show is by definition the least organized, worse paid and most drunk audiences you will perform for. This is not a hard and fast rule, but one nighters only stand out when they are great or even worse than you thought they would be. The Crows Nest was awful almost beyond comprehension last night. Just getting there was enough to make me question why I found it necessary to drive over a mountain highway with more twists and turns on it than an episode of Lost, complete with smoke so thick you could taste it in your mouth. Perfect. Normally highway 17 is dangerous at best. Four lanes divided by a concrete curtain not high enough to block the on coming drivers brights, but solid enough to insure instant death if you plowed into it. Last night, it was cut down to an even more narrow two lane road divided by nothing but orange cones. Excellent! As we shot the asphalt rapids of death with nothing between us and the passing drivers but clown hats for protection, smoke drifted across the highway reducing our vision to that of a Bush official with cataracts, I started doubting if this was a good idea. Santa Cruz needed jokes though and I was trucking them in over the pass!

It has been years since I worked this room. Now I remember why. When I got there a little before show time, I could see the bar was packed with woman I would like to fuck and guys who like to date rape. Not the sort of people I can hold a conversation with one on one let alone perform for. The noise of the bar and the look of the crowd made me wonder if they would quite down. Apparently management shared some of these concerns. On a landing going up the stairs someone had taken the time to write on a white board, you must be quite during the comedy show. You will be asked to be quite once. The next time you will be asked to leave. Siting in a chair at the top of the stairs, I noticed that no one looked at it. Everyone pays a seven dollar cover charge to enter yet no one seems to be there for the show.
I know the opener from around the Bay Area. A nice enough guy with a guitar and a suitcase full of CD's for sale, he has become a road dog. Whatever else you might think about a guitar act, a crowd will usually shut up for one. In fact, you never want to be the guy to follow one. Well, for the first time that I can remember, this guitar act bombed. I don't mean didn't do well, I mean crater in the Earth bombed. Not his fault though. The manger of the room informed us that he was short a guy and could not do introductions on the off stage Mic since it meant he had to be the one to go around the room and turn off the lights before show. I guess the large guys in SECURITY shirts couldn't help out in any other way. So, this poor guy, guitar in hand walks on stage and without getting the crowd excited or having them applaud for the show they are about to see, launches into some stuff that is the result of working one nighter gigs too much. However, the crowd didn't even register that a show of any type had begun. The noise level in conversation did not dip bellow that of a freight train once. For fifteen minuets though, he held his ground belting out songs about not getting any and attempting to lead those in the crowd who were paying attention in a sing along where the chours was simply 'asshole!'
Then, it was onto the next guy. The next guy is not bad, but he was one of those, I am going to tell my jokes and you are going to listen and if by chance you happen to be a shitty, drunk, dumb crowd, there is very little abilities I have to make you listen, acts. About ten minuets into his act, a comic I see every once in a while shows up and asks for a guest set. You know, I don't want to be a dick, but there is a certain way things are done and there are times when a guest set is simply out of the question. First of all, you show up before the show starts to ask for one. Not ten minuets into the middle acts. Second of all, a guest set never goes up before the headliner. Last but not least, are you paying attention to how shitty this crowd is!? Why would I want to throw one more unprepared novice to these wolves? It only eats away at their booze soaked ADD minds and delays my set, my drive and my distance from this nightmare by another seven minuets. Sorry, but no quest set. Now I have the added delight of getting the silent treatment from him each time he walks by me. Too bad I didn't tell the whole crowd no quest set. That seemed to be the only thing I said all night that got anyone to stop talking.
Then it's my turn. It's a little before ten and I have to put in forty five minuets. No matter that the last guy went short either. I am not going long tonight.
This is how it goes. I tell a joke and a few people up front laugh. I tell another joke and a few more people laugh in the crowd. Eventually I have enough of them listening that I feel like this can be done. But it is just in that moment of relief that the noise from the back of the room jumps up to that of a jet engine. Off to the side of me, a whole section of the room just sits in silence looking at me like I should do something about this. The front row is composed of a woman who is texting, a young gang all wearing white t-shirts and matching sideways ball caps and a girl who is clutching herself with the sort of fear you might see in a bank customer who walked in just in time to be taken hostage during a robbery. Thats my crowd, an entire section in back by the bar that paid seven bucks to attempt to talk over the guy with the microphone, gang members, the meek and what I can only assume after some decent jokes that get nothing, the dumb. Do I sound harsh? Good. It was only when I started going after them that they listened and laughed. All the girls were hot, so I can only assume they were use to abusive relationships. "He is yelling at us and saying how bad we are. I think I love him!"And so it went for the next forty minuets. I tried jokes that every crowd before them has always laughed at and was rewarded with the placid cow eyes of non comprehension. When I fucked with them, I got laughs and shouted threats. In fact, the most intelligible heckle was, "get a hair cut!' Get a hair cut? Perhaps you noticed we are in Santa Cruz, it's 2008 and unless you are a time traveler from a show in the 60's, yelling out to a comic that they should, get a hair cut, is about the lamest heckle I have ever heard. Did I mention the guy at another table who looked like a shaved head steroid monkey wearing a shirt that I can only imagine summed up his philosophy; tap out! Ah Santa Cruz. In three weeks a check will show up and I will look at it and think for the hundredth time, this is not worth it.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Weekend

I had a classic anxiety dream the other night. I was in a comedy contest. I went for a walk and realized I should be getting back. I was in hills and fields though. As I headed back to the location, I realized there was someone else with me. She had on hells, so she was moving slower than I. I was torn between be a gentleman and waiting for her to catch up and running to get there on time. As is the way in dreams, every turn I took only succeeded in making me farther away from my destination. Eventually I crossed a highway, my friend in heels struggling to keep up was still up in the hills. When I got into the building, it had the feel of a high school. Hallways shot off in every direction, people stood around telling me with panic in their faces that I was next and the host was looking for me. Classic. I had not thought about my set and now I was consumed with the fear that I would miss my introduction. Right as this anxiety reached fever pitch, I woke up.
The other night after a show where the crowd was bathed in booze, a young comic interrogated me on all things comedy. He wondered why more established comics didn't answer basic questions and why comics didn't help each other out more. Why? It's the reason why there is no comics union. There will always be that guy willing to do a show for less. A lot of clubs exploit that. New, not so good comics get used for M.C. work all because they want to be on stage and the club sees this as a pool of free hosts. Comics are selfish creatures. Not all of them, but by the nature of what we do, we are loners. People are afraid that by giving information, they will somehow loose out on opportunity. As if there is a finite amount of opportunity to go around. It's ego too. Why bother to answer some piss ants question?
So far the weekend has been marked by smoke and alcohol. The state is on fire and my eyes are burning like coals. Fridays crowd was young and drunk. I worry about the Clubhouse. The BYOB policy is something of a mixed brown paper bag. You know? By the time I get the crowd, they have been drinking for more than hour. When I say drinking for more than an hour, I mean I was watching crowd members bring in card board cases of beer. That can't be good. It's a beautiful looking room, but it's starting to slip in quality. When BYOB is the attraction and not the comics on stage, you have to wonder whats going on. Long story short, a crowd in that state limits exactly what you can do. It's fun, don't get me wrong, but it's more crowd control than art.
Saturday I was in Napa at the Opera house headlining a benefit for the Big Sister Big brothers organization. It is always such a treat to perform in a room that is beautiful. Throw in the added karma bounce of doing it for a good cause and I am making money, you can't beat it. Every show should be this good. I had to follow Leland Cotton Brown. Way back in the day, I once watched him get a standing ovation in the old Cobb's. Needless to say, it was more than a little intimidating thinking I had to follow him. The host, Michael Pritchard is another name that is big in the San Francisco comedy scene when there was an actual scene, not the small collection of bars and big clubs we have now. If you want to know who he is, youtube the episode of TAXI, where Judd Hersch dances with a gay man in a bar. Thats Michael Pritchard. How I got on this show is beyond me, but there I was, the headliner. Just as I feared, Leland cotton brown destroyed. He had a guitar and Jack Nicholas impressions. Dear God! Follow that, smart ass. No ones attitude was like that, but I didn't want to trip over the shadow of these guys. When I was new these guys were giants. For personal and other reasons they decided against the lure of bigger careers, but they are and remain very talented people committed to various causes that help others. There is some inspiration in that. Pritchard was holding court back stage. The man is a wealth of stories and some interesting philosophy from a comic. If you know a comic, you know that they are not the most fun people to hang out with it. Thin skinned, easily distracted and given to thoughts of glory while being consumed with self doubt, anytime you meet a well adjusted comic, you listen. he was telling us that studies had been done on the brains of people who thought of themselves as reasonably happy over a period of time. Turns out the secret can be summed up in one word; compassion. Having compassion for others results in a state of well being. Now, my jaded sense of self was screaming bullshit in the back of my head, but I had to admit, even though I had to follow in the foot steps of some big names, I was curiously at ease. I wonder if it had anything to do with being a part of a show for a good cause? I ended up having a wonderful set. The jokes worked fine, but me being me, I had to talk to the guy in front.
"What do you do for a living?"
"I sell nuts."
You wait years for a serious answer like that from someone in the crowd. That was set. Screw with the nut man. The jokes did fine too. All in all, it turned out to be great. When the show was over there was even a friend and fan waiting in the lobby to give me a Star Wars T-shirt. You can't beat that folks. You really can't.
Tonight, I am Santa Cruz bound. Closer to where the state burns. My eyes have stopped watering and the stinging sensation that even drops could not rid me of has gone away. The coughing and heavy chest has gotten better too. Yesterday I woke up with a horrible pain in my chest coughing like a miner with black lung. A thin mist of blood covered my pale chest. I went from sleepy to hyper awake and freaked out in seconds. Turns out, having asthma as a kid makes me super susceptible to tiny particles in the air. Breathing it all night on my back only managed to collect them in my lungs passageways and create a nest of crud that worked like steel wool on the tissue. I was seriously panicked but I remembered I had health care.
The doctor cautioned me against needless talking (something I was being paid to do that night) and staying away from the source of fires. (Napa and Santa Cruz are prime locations for our states apocalypse)
The sky down in Santa Cruz is other worldly. The sun is a tiny brass ball with orange vapor passing in front of it. All the fires have made for an amazing sunset. I can actually taste the smoke down here. I thought it was my car at first, but nope; it's the sky. I wonder what it will be like tonight? The Booker called me to confirm around 5PM and the two guys he told me that were on the bill with me were unknown to me. That's not a bad thing, but a lot of these L.A. comics have something to prove and I have to be the guy to follow them. The show starts at 9PM, but down here that usually means 9:30. That means I will get home around 1am tonight. If I am lucky. Highway 17 slows everything down.
I am not looking forward to Monday. Much to get done and I am a lazy Dude. I had a big money private gig cancel on me for reason I cannot dispute. There was a death in the family. I am so cynical that when I first read the e-mail I thought, they must of seen me on line and decided to get someone else but didn't want to tell me that. Then I thought, thats the lie I would of told to get out of it. Christ! All this really means is I have to keep the gig I originally booked on that night.
Tonight's show will be what it will be. I will put on some Death Cab for Cutie as I drive home and in a few weeks the check will show up as a happy surprise.
Ah the life of a comic.