Saturday, May 24, 2014

Progress In America:

(8) Drive Gently -- Really?

    Are you connected to Maryland?  Maybe a student here?  A resident?  A citizen?  An occasional visitor?  Do you have a relative or friend who is an inhabitant of the state?  Do you drive through it?

    Even if you only drive regularly on that great eastern highway, I-95, you have seen the “Welcome to Maryland” signs along with one of its tag line greetings. 

    For years “Maryland: More Than You Can Imagine” adorned these welcome signs.  But, for some reason, a few years ago all the tag lines on the signs changed.  Now they read “Please Drive Gently.”  As if such an appeal might change driving habits.  Have you wondered about it?  Was the old slogan dropped because Maryland just couldn’t keep up with the ever more powerful imaginations of Americans?  Or was it that Maryland had diminished in some important way?  In any case, clearly it is a disappointment: Maryland is no longer more than you can imagine.  Indeed, probably, it is now less.

    So as a citizen of this great state I began to worry.  I did research.  In my ignorance, I even confused the state slogan with the state motto.  Who even knows that the state motto isn’t ‘please drive gently?’  It is embarrassing to admit of such ignorance in public.  Hopefully, my writing about this will inform you, and thereby inoculate you from these embarrassments. 

   After months of research, I have discovered that the sign begging drivers not to drive violently has no real status.  It is just the tagline on the sign.  But Maryland does have a state motto and a slogan.  To clarify, the slogan is both less permanent and less singular than the state motto.  Mottoes, as you might expect, are more fitting, more permanent.  Take New Hampshire’s “Live free or die.”  There’s one for you!  Apparently all the states have mottoes. 

    Even the country has one (‘In God we trust’).  We are forever grateful that Eisenhower and the 1956 Congress had the wisdom to endow the country with such a fitting motto.  Of course the atheists object to this motto, but theistic trust amounts to a mighty thing.  It has been proven to be the cause of our many successes since Ike’s administration.

    Fittingly, Maryland too has a brilliant motto.  It has hung around unchanged a long time.  It started as the motto of Lord Baltimore’s great family: the Calverts.  Interestingly, though the family was English, their motto was Italian.   Some would even place its origin a century earlier with a pope!  (Before deriding this possibility be sure to see  the opinion piece in the Post.)  

    In any case, the Calvert’s motto has been the state’s motto since at least 1776.  It is even emblazoned on the state seal.  It being in Italian, it is understandable that you neither know it, nor have it memorized. 

    The motto is “Fatti Maschii, Parole Femine.” 

    Although the motto has been stable, its translation (translation is always an inexact art) has varied over the years.  The current standard, “Manly deeds, womanly words” is from 1975.  A more recent translation attempted to avoid the obvious sexism of the motto:  “Strong deeds, gentle words.”  This more PC translation was provided in 1993 by the State Archivist, Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse.  But it hasn’t stuck.  Other translations have been more embracing of its sexism, as for example, “Deeds are men, words are women” (1622), or “A woman for words and a man for deeds” (Maryland Manual, 1905).

    With the motto out of the way, let’s get back to the topic of the day: Our unstable taglines. Apparently the imagination one was a state slogan.  Shifts in the slogans seem to correlate with changes in our governor.  So around February, 2003, probably the then Governor Ehrlich took it upon himself to replace the no longer accurate slogan “More Than You Can Imagine.” 

    No fly-weight, Ehrlich must have realized that to raise Maryland’s rank as a tourist destination the slogan’s boast had problems.  After all, there were certain imaginable items missing in the state: glaciers, volcanoes, tropical rain forests, exotic black sand beaches, just to name the obvious.  But politically, he too wanted to push the state’s tourism.  And he must have liked the idea of overstatement: why be hemmed in by reality?  

    So we got a new slogan: “America in Miniature.”  This too could have been designed to bring in tourists.  Although Maryland is surrounded by hordes of people, I don’t believe the bulge in tourism ever developed.  And for good reason.  Americans aren’t dumb.  They know the real Grand Canyon is somewhere out west, so why travel here to find the miniature one?  Similarly the real Rocky Mountains, the authentic Great Salt Lake.  Empty hotel rooms in our grand destinations (Baltimore, Rockville, Landover, Jessup) caused by such ineffective sloganeering, were quickly understood to be a political threat by the reigning politicos.  Stuck with such poor wordsmanship, the governor must have worried that the voters of our great ‘Old Line State’ might kick him out of office.  And they did.

    They replaced him by a man more talented with words: Martin O’Malley.  (O’Malley is a renowned policy wonk.)  He won in a landslide.  We citizens were sure the new governor’s phrases could properly bait Maryland’s renowned tourist traps.  He would capture the tourist dollars of Americana. 

    He tried.  But to what avail?  The slogan was changed to “Seize the Day off – Maryland.”  How inept.  In the real world chaos reigns and the wings of butterflies effect the course of history.  Again, even his great words could not fill hotels.  Of course, it wasn’t his fault.  An economic downturn afflicted the country and tourism experienced a slowdown.  Lucky for the gov, although it could be said many had many more days off to seize, no one blamed the state’s rise in unemployment on the slogan. 

    Fortunately, unlike some other plutocracies, we have periodic elections and so we can expect we will soon get a more effective slogan. 

    As to our state’s motto – that appears more stable.  Why this might be the case is beyond me.  If by chance you know – please enlighten me. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Progress in America:

(7) The Oscars - Leaving There

    (Sorry for the delay in posting this.) 

    Nine p.m. and leaving the Oscars is another adventure, another logistical nightmare.  Imagine the problem.  3401 people leaving the auditorium all at about the same time.  Each having to relocate their unique limousine. 

    A mess?  Humpty Dumpty on the floor - and here are the details that tell you precisely the recipe for this flop.  Recall from my previous post that each of us got a chit telling us our Limo number.  Ours was Limo 0414.  People drift back down the stairs, on the carpet, onto the sidewalk.  It is night time.  

    At the curb in front of the theater are thousands of people, packed like sardines facing three lanes of traffic.  In each lane is a standing limo.  By each limo there is a man with a bull horn.  Each is announcing (simultaneously) in 3 independent bull horns the numbers of the limos.  It is pandemonium.  3400 people straining to make sense of the virtually unintelligible, highly magnified screams:

    “Curbside lane, Limo 0024!” 

    “Far lane,   Limo 0431!”

    “Last call, Limo 0173 in the center lane.  Step lively!”

    Not only do you have to listen but you then have to assemble the limo’s party so it can leave and the next limo can come up.  Three at a time.  Our group is sort of self-coagulating together when the film’s publicist sees us.  She quickly tells us, “Your chit is wrong.  You are not looking for Limo 0414.  Your limo’s number is 0122.  Here is a replacement chit.”  Her new chit is handwritten, on white paper, not at all similar to that blue printed heavy paper one we were handed when we alighted from the limo before the show. 

    Of course, how could we know if our limo 0122 has already come and gone (presumably back to the back of the line).  We hadn’t been listening for 0122.  But not to worry.  Audience to the recent great Oscar celebration, we wait patiently – Sheep waiting the bull horned shepherd.  More numbers called and then suddenly, “0414.”  Luckily we know better.  “0414" is yelled again.  And the again.  I wonder if the publicist knew what she said.  My replacement chit doesn’t look very ‘official’ to me.  So I go to the limo 0144.  The driver is the one that we had coming.  I go to ask him about the changed limo number but he is very frustrated, “Where is everyone?”  

    “They were told they should wait for Limo 0122.”

    “Jesus, 0122 was my assigned parking number.  Who ever told you that would be called out was ignorant of how this works.”  I round up everyone and soon we are packed into the re-renumbered Limo 0414.  Luckily.  We pull away from the curb and begin a slow haul on the prescribed route (hurricane fencing along the way blocking exits) away from the theater.  After a few minutes we are permitted a turn to the right and take it.  This is a narrow street: two lanes.  Again, exits are blocked by more fencing.  There are probably 40 limos in front of us when suddenly all grinds to a halt.  After a few seconds we can see some of the limos are squeezing by going back up the street.  Then we notice some of the limos in front of us are making U-turns.  But our driver pushes on.  Finally we can see the problem: the road is blocked: barricaded.  The police opened this street for entry, but not for exit.  We too begin the endless process of turning a limo in this tight space. 

    We meander through streets up the hills of Hollywood.  Our driver, who has two GPS systems going in the car, is lost.  Finally we hit another dead end.  Then we drift down, and toward the restaurant we were to all go to.  We arrive at 11:15, 1 mile from the door of the Dolby theater.  Josh arrived at 1:30a.m.  Needless to say, we all slept well. 

   Ready for another Oscar?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Progress in America:

(6) The Oscars - Being There

  “Welcome to the Oscars!  Have a wonderful time!”  Says the ‘visitor manager,’ a person so labeled by her (or his, whatever) badge, as you are stepping out of your vehicle onto the red carpet.  She hands you a program.  You stop, and for a moment take in the crowds of cameras and video cams in the many rows in the two stands of paparazzi on the sides of the long red nylon carpet.  You stop and note the line of enormous gold colored statues of Oscar statuettes - like the idols Abraham is said to have destroyed that line the long red carpet.  You stop and try to take in the scene but are immediately told by one of those many visitor managers, “Please move along, there are many people here.”

    So you move down the carpet, toward the second, or third statue, and then slow down to take out your smart phone, and take a picture.  You ignore the pleas of the managers and snap something like this: 

     Of course, you turn, you gaze, you hear the cheers when one or another god-like beauty is being beatified by the crowd.  You allow yourself to walk to the covered tent like awning leading to the stairs that make the entrance to the great temple of Dolby, the Dolby Theater. 

    “Please take your seats.  The Oscars will begin in one hour and forty five minutes,” announces the master visitor manager in an authoritative baritone over the loudspeaker.  You know you misunderstood, for why would one take one’s seat if there is so much time before the show begins.  A lower level visitor manager urges you on and into the bowels of the theater.  A casual passerby begs that you take a photo of her next to the last visible giant Golden statue of God Oscar.  You do so on her phone.   Now numerous visitor managers urge together, “Please move along, there are many people here.”

    The beautiful, the nominated are culled from the herd:  Demi-gods to the left, gawkers up the stairs.  The view from the top of the stairs is sufficiently grand so you hardly miss your swiftly passed mingle with the anointed.  To prove it, many take a picture something like this:

    Free champagne, wine, cocktails, sodas.  “Would you like a (tiny) spinach quiche?” asks a smiling waiter.  The crowd at the bar is gay, pressing, eager.  You wait in line.  You are at the Oscars. You take a champagne.  “Would you like a shrimp cocktail?” asks a smiling waitress.  So much to celebrate.  True, neither goddesses nor gods at this level.  But still women so beautifully filling their once in a lifetime gowns.  Heels to lift them half way to heaven.  Slim, young.  Men in their Tuxes.  Elegant.  Bow ties.  Black shoes. 

    “Please take your seats.  The Oscars will begin in one hour and thirty minutes,” announces the master visitor manager in his still authoritative baritone over the loudspeaker.  Or is it a computer you now wonder?  After all you know you didn’t misunderstand.  Why would one take one’s seat when there is so much time before the show begins. 

    You look at your ticket, 3rd mezzanine.  What level are you on?  You look for, find and ask a visitor manager.  Tier 1: above the back of the Orchestra.  Thank you.  And the 3rd mezzanine?  Up stairs she politely but sternly indicates.  Perhaps the free booze wasn’t meant for you.  Perhaps those canapes were for higher ranking gawkers.  You hesitate, find the stairs, and take your champagne up a level.  As you ascend you look at the great dome hovering over the winding stairs that you imagine end at the third mezzanine.  It looks like this:

Now, on the next level you find the crowd less ‘beautiful’ perhaps.  Would you say a bit plumper, older, ordinary?  Do you fit in?  No.  Not your ‘home crowd’ but still, worth visiting.  You are happy to hear a waiter ask “Would you like a (tiny) humus in crust?” and to see a bar with the same free drinks.  The crowd is thinner, but equally hovering around the bar.  Some are touristically taking pictures.  You wander, take in the big pictures on the wall - there’s Marilyn, Bogart, Grace Kelly, Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Pacino, Streep, Hoffman.

    “Please take your seats.  The Oscars will begin in one hour and fifteen minutes,” announces the master visitor manager in his precisionally engineered authoritative baritone over the loudspeaker.  It a computer.  After all you know they wouldn’t hire someone to make these announcements so long before the show begins.  You get another drink - a Chardonnay for variety.  After all you are attending, not winning, so what’s to celebrate?

    You reexamine your ticket, 3rd mezzanine, Row F.  What level are you on?  Oh yes first mezzanine.  And there are the stairs continuing to wind up toward the dome.  No need to look for the visitor manager.  Up the stairs then.  Will there be more free booze at the second mezzanine. No matter you have your glass of wine.  Perhaps those canapes won’t be there either. You hesitate, but are not pulled by another free mouthful and finding the stairs, take your glass up another level.  As you ascend you again look at the great dome hovering over the winding stairs that now seem to end at the third mezzanine. 

    Second mezzanine.  You immediately notice that the crowd is smaller.  So is the bar.  Not many waiters, but here comes one: “Would you enjoy a fruit cocktail on a skewer?”   Hunger is abated even at this level.  Many things look a bit worse for wear, although not the gowns, and certainly not the shoes.  Rather at this level it looks as if the gowns might more easily have broken a few of the budgets.  The faces have fewer face lifts.  The men seem to be dressed, without body tailored tuxes.  They are as you, in rentals.  You ask for a Merlot.  You take a tiny pizza when offered.  You look at posters of Oscars past.  The carpet, you notice is no longer red.  Funny, when did it change?

    Now you are truly curious about your level.  Your station.  Will you ‘fit in.’  Will there again be a bar?  Free snacks?  “Please take your seats.  The Oscars will begin in one hour and fifteen minutes,” announces the computerized master, precisionally engineered, authoritative baritone over the loudspeaker.  You go up the last rounded flight of stairs toward the top of the dome - what you know must be the ultimate third mezzanine. 

    But when you arrive you discover you are confused.  The sign indicates this is another level to the previous second mezzanine.  The stairs ended at the dome.  But you have not reached your own bleacher seat quite yet.  You ask a waitress.  She directs you to a visitor manager.  They both look at your ticket. 3rd mezzanine, Row F, seat 21.  He shakes his head.  “Jack,” he asks his superior visitor manager, “where would the 3rd mezzanine be?”  Jack points to a door. 

    No grand stairs.  Probably no bar, no eats.  Maybe no visitor managers at all.  Just ushers.  This isn’t your level.  So go back to the bar.  Get a water.  You may want it.  Go to the men’s room.  Perhaps there won’t be one where you sit.  Walk around, take it in.  “Please take your seats.  The Oscars will begin in one hour,” says the announcer.  Why did you go up so quickly?  Are you just a sheep?  Defeated you ascend through the door to climb the last stairs, to the last balcony. 

    Upon arrival at your destination level you are asked by a sad Asian man in broken English, “Where you get you book?”  You explain that it was handed to you when you stepped out of the limousine and his sad face causes you to look around.  There, in a corner, are a few extra copies of the “Oscars, 2014 Program.”  He is happy now as if his day is fulfilled.  You take in the small bar serving the same drinks as downstairs to a scattering of people, the waitress carrying a tray of small quiches to and fro.  You see the thick ankles and mottled skin of the elderly women wearing spiky heels so similar to those you saw on floors below. 

    You walk to the window to gaze at a run down urban ally filled with dumpsters, trash cans and a broken ladder.  Turning, you note that the talk is livelier on this level.  The faces are more animated.  People are more excited.  You are at one with them.  These are your people.  For plebs like us, this is a once in a lifetime event.  We may not be the beautiful people of the lower levels.  We may be the over weight members of the future audience to the show.  But in our excitement for our peak in the temple, our gawkish look of the Gods of Oscar, we put thousands on our credit cards to fly here, to stay here, and to dress for this occasion. If  our bodies overflow our bodices, our gowns, our tuxes so be it.  We are America.  We are at the Oscars!

    “Please take your seats.  The Oscars will begin in 30 minutes,” says the computer.  Perhaps it is time.  You take out your ticket and read it carefully, “3rd mezzanine, Row F, seat 21, $100.”  There to the far left is the door for 3rd mezzanine boxes and rows A-E.  You look to the right.  Another similarly marked door.  To the right of that are some stairs.  Above the stairs is a sign: 3rd mezzanine, Rows F-L.  You enter, climb the stairs, show your ticket, walk in the hall.  It is empty and looks like this:

    Not wanting to be the first to take your seat, you step back out.  Ahh, there is the rest of the party from Limo 0414!  Carlos, the cinematographer from The Act of Killing in an extraordinarily handsome black shirt.  And the producer’s sister, from Denmark.  And my ex-wife, Carol.  We chat, reenter the hall; we take our seats, and hear, once again, “Please take your seats.  The Oscars will begin in 15 minutes.” It is the magisterial disembodied baritone of the computer again.  You look down at the shiny stage.  They are sweeping it.  They are arranging it.  Someone is taking the microphone.  A man.  He is introducing another man.  Man Two takes the microphone.  “Please, calm down.  Calm down everyone.  Please be quiet.  The show will be live in just a few minutes.  Please, Please.  Calm Down.  Everyone please be quiet.  Please.  Take your seats.  Please.”  This is repeated many times.  Then “The show will be live in just 30 seconds, 29, 28 ... 2, 1 loud applause please!”

    I am at the Oscars.  Inside the temple.  The Gods are about to be anointed! 

    And me?  How do I feel?  I am just overwhelmed.  Somewhere, down there beyond my eye sight is the kid who brought me here.  A kid once needing diapers, bottles, rushes to the pediatrician, all the things kids need.  And like kids do, he did this amazing metamorphosis.  But that is a whole other story.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Progress in America:

(5) The Oscars - Getting There

    Been to the Oscars lately?  Probably not.  But maybe curious?  Want to know what it takes to get there?  Here’s my take:

    There are precisely 3,401 seats in the acoustically fabulous Dolby Theater.  The tickets (at the level I can vouch for, middle of the third mezzanine or 5th floor) are stamped $100.  But ... of course, to arrive to take such a seat you need a limo or some such conveyance.  Let’s assume (generously) that 5 passengers hoping to take their seats in the Dolby are in each of these vehicles.  That would mean that there are six hundred and one vehicles taking people to the Oscars.

        Just an aside for all of you greenies: Assume that the average method of arrival (limo, large SUV, etc.) gets about 13 mpg in the city when driven normally.  Keep that in mind as you read below.  I would estimate that the route we took generated a performance max of two miles per gallon.

         All 681 limos are to arrive at or about 2 p.m. along a single, predetermined route of about one, or one and a half, miles.  The route has been blocked off by the cops.  Hurricane fencing on either side of the four lane street leave 3 lanes for the fat cat cars coming to celebrate.  On the side are thousands of gawkers – finally capped by a group of right wing fanatics - crazily screaming that all the Hollywood fags and druggies will go to hell!

    Each car is racing to their common destination at somewhat less than one mile per hour.  Why?  Because of security precautions.  About a quarter of a mile prior to reaching the theater there is a police stop.  Each limo is stopped.  Open the trunk.  Cops check the trunk.  Do an under car inspection - you wouldn’t want the Oscars to bomb.  Then, after checking the credentials of the driver, the limo is waved on - into a one lane switch back marked off by heavy concrete road barriers.  Now each passes through what I estimate was seven switch backs.  Seven may not seem a lot until you think about that 40 foot stretch limo going through just one such tight turn.  Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, etc.  Then ready, ahead for the next: back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, etc.  Seven times.  Six hundred and eighty one times.  That’s a cool 4767 switch backs.  In a limo.  Think about it.  Again.  

    Think of the thousands of gallons of gas.

    When you arrive they give you a blue chit for the number of your limo when you leave.  Mine was 0414. 

    Welcome to the Oscars! Have a wonderful time! 

    You are now on the red carpet.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger Died Today

    Many of us woke up to someone saying “Pete Seeger died today” on the news.  So it becomes a day to mark on our calendars.  A day to sit and think of one of his many songs – “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “Where Have all the Flowers Gone,” or “If I Had a Hammer.”  Hum it.  Sing it.  How often were you touched by his songs, by his singing?  Take a moment out and reflect on what he brought to your life, to the lives of others. 

    Recall that our government almost put an end to his singing.  To his songs.  Virtually no one would book him after he refused to give information about his beliefs to the House Unamerican Activities Committee.  Remember Pete Seeger the next time someone needs your help to better your neighborhood, your town, our country, our world. 

    Sorry to see you go, fella.  You brought beauty, joy, and the possibility of meaningful political action to many of our citizens.  Thank you. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Murphy’s Law or Elderly Parents Helping Their Children Move – Episode One

    I am not sure where the volunteering started.  But I can certainly recall that when one of our kids finally found a home that would comfortably house their expanded family someone volunteered my wife and I as helpers.  There was no coercion, no misunderstanding.  Just ignorance, stupidity, and lack of judgement.  That’s not fair.  What was lacking can easily be stated: the stamina of middle age.  The brawn of earlier athletic days.  The reflexes of youth.  And just a tad of the luck we all rely on to get by day to day.
    Let me relate some of the details in the story, and you, kind reader, be the judge. 

    Step one was driving to New Jersey.  Luckily we were going on Martin Luther King Day.  And what luck, the beautiful new Maryland House Rest Stop on I 95 just opened that weekend.  Check the pictures out.  Lots of glass.  See those doors? Step inside and there is about a ten foot vestibule and another set of doors.  Even on cold days cold air doesn’t come in.  And once you’re in, and done, it’s time to go out.  Unfortunately my wife didn’t notice that half of those interior set of doors weren’t doors or openings.  They were brand new big very clear glass frames.  After I said “I’ll meet you in the car,” she walked into one of those stationary tempered panes.  Embarrassed she went to the car and nursed her bleeding lip, and her banged up eyebrow (soon to become a full shiner). 

    She sat in the car and wondered, “How am I going to tell Joe that I walked into the (glass) wall?  It’s so embarrassing.”  In the meantime, I had bought my coffee, put in milk and sugar, stirred and covered it, and began walking toward the car.  I too saw the outside doors, but no inside glass pane.  I too marched into the rigid wall of glass.  Red blood mixed with hot coffee on the floor and the brand new, clean as a hospital syringe, piece of glass.  I had a bloody nose, cut on the bridge, bleeding from the interior.  I was down for the count.  Professional first aiders appeared from no where, eager to practice their ministrations in their new rest stop, so as to insure they were ready for the big time catastrophe.  I stood up.  I struggled to be free of their grip.  I failed.

    “Sit down here.”  I did.

    “I have to go, my wife is waiting for me in the car.”

    “Should we call an ambulance?”

    “I have to go, my wife is waiting for me in the car.”  I stood up.

    “Don’t get up, please.”

    “Get him some cold compresses, bandages”

    “I have to go, my wife is waiting for me in the car.”

    “Are you OK?”

    “Of course, I just have to go, my wife is waiting for me in the car.”

    “We’ll let her know you are in here.  What kind of car is she in?”  I tell them.  Mortified that I did something so idiotic as to walk into a building wall.  What will my new status be in the family?  Family clown.  I tell them the car.

    Finally, with an armful of medical supplies, I am freed, and walk out (still with a tiny bit of coffee in that crushed cup) to the car.  To my surprise, there is my lovely wife, being told not to stand up, that they will get medical attention to her in just a minute or two.  She looks at me.  I look at her.  I go into the car, speechless.  Up goes her window.  On goes the engine and if anyone left rubber peeling out of the Maryland House parking lot, it was my wife.  We laughed for a while, and then realized we had done some seriously visible damage to our faces. 

    Were we prepared to help our kids in their move 3 hours to the north?  More to come in the next episode of Murphy’s Law.