Friday, September 28, 2007

It's Mime I Tell You, All Mime

As the world spins more and more rapidly (that is an analogy to describe how quickly aspects of our lives change, because if the world was really speeding up stuff would start falling off my desk) there are more and more things fading into history. The following is a phrase which may never be used by major news agencies again: world-renowned mime.
It was in the press recently though. Marcel Marceau, probably the last person to have that phrase attached to his name, passed away last week. Strangely enough, he had no last words.
When I told that joke at the dinner table my oldest daughter was aghast. She said it was tasteless. If any of the readers out there agree with her feel free to jam up the Globe Exchange phone lines with your complaints, but I still maintain it was funny.
I actually had great respect for Monsieur Marceau. I did see him perform on television and appreciated his ability to tell such complete stories with so little. He used body movements and facial expressions only to elicit in his audience understanding of complex situations and emotions.
However, as an art form, mime has more opportunities for ridicule than most. Admit it, if someone asked you to go to the Civic Center to see this “really cool mime” you would claim anything from relatives visiting from out of town to suddenly remembering you had a big presentation at work or even having to go to the emergency room to have a family of Emperor Gum Moth Caterpillars removed from your Eustachian tubes. Who would blame you? After you’ve seen one guy walk against the wind and find himself trapped in an invisible box you’d almost rather have to go to the hospital to get moth larvae removed from your inner ear.
The word mime itself is just funny.
Do you think Lorene Yarnell walked up to Robert Shields in a bar and asked “If you’ve got the money, honey, I’ve got the mime”? (Give yourself 50 bonus points if you remember the mime team of Shields and Yarnell from the late 70’s.)
In 1937 a gigantic tent was set up outside of the town of Alabaster, Alabama in which hundreds of pilgrims of a little known sect of Baptists, who believed talking to God was best done silently, held a three day revival meeting. To this very day there are folks in that part of the country who long for that old mime religion.
Since I pride myself on the exhaustive research I use to make this column educational I spent innumerable hours (okay, it was seven and half minutes on the internet) getting information on the state of mime in the 21st century.
First I found the School for Mime Theatre. As you can probably guess this place of higher learning is in one of the artistic centers of the United States, Gambier Ohio. Their website talks of a summer seminar which offered “opportunities for local community youth to interact with professional mimes” as well as participate in a live performance during the Fourth of July Parade. I am a pacifist by nature, but even I would have been sorely tempted to lob a few Black Cats at a group of local community youth playing tug-of-war with an invisible rope down Main Street.
I then found a message board for mimes, really, I did, promise. Here is the first message to catch my eye (I swear I did not make this up): “Do I really need to put a lot of thought into what my eyebrows look like?” But this is my favorite entry (I am still not making this up and even better it seems to be from the same guy who wrote the other question): “I was wondering if anyone had any mime music they could recommend. I want to practice at home, but I don't know what music to use.” I do hope someone helps this guy out. It would be so sad if he was stuck in his parents’ basement practicing his mime sporting Leonid Brezhnev eyebrows performing to Creeping Death by Metallica.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Using Wikipedia to self-diagnose

I’m tired. The preceding statement is not meant as a complaint, just a simple statement of fact. I used to think as an energy-challenged person I was in the minority, but as I look around it becomes more and more obvious there are a lot of people in the same boat (a boat which is not going anywhere anytime soon because no one has the gumption to pick up an oar and propel the dinghy onward).
Not being a card carrying hypochondriac I did not immediately go to medical professionals to see if I had a deeply entrenched malady causing my consistent sense of weariness. Besides, that would require too much effort. Finally, I went where it is easiest to access information, the internet. The first self-diagnosis was chronic fatigue syndrome, just because the name fit.
I quickly abandoned the idea that chronic fatigue syndrome was my difficulty. That problem is described as debilitating. I am not debilitated. I just prefer not to move around much. While reading the description of CFS I came across another medical issue which may have been more fitting.
My new discovery was called orthostatic intolerance. Here is the four years in med school (or at least dedicated viewer of ER) definition of orthostatic intolerance: the development of symptoms during upright standing relieved by recumbency. If you do not recognize the term recumbency don’t feel bad, neither does the spell check on my computer. (Have you ever thought how useless spell check is to people in highly specialized scientific fields? Every paper they write must look like Dean Martin’s eyes – enough red wavy lines to draw a roadmap from Boston to Los Angeles via Juneau. For those of you under 40 simply take out Dean Martin’s name and replace it with Lindsay Lohan’s, it’ll make more sense.)
Let’s take a moment to examine the definition. The development (process of something becoming larger, stronger, or more advanced) of symptoms (indications of a disease or other disorder) during upright (standing vertically) standing (being upright…seems somewhat redundant doesn’t it?) relieved (to end, lessen, or provide a temporary break from something unpleasant) by recumbency (sitting back down). This means when you stand up you really just want to sit back down. Talk about an “AHA!” moment.
I decided to read on. Symptoms (see previous paragraph for the definition of this arcane medical term) of OI are triggered by several things. Trigger number one is being in an upright posture for long periods of time. The hazy point is the real definition of “long” periods of time. Standing in line for a burger and fires I have stamina. Standing in line for tickets to the new Broadway version of Xanadu, an abysmal Olivia Newton-John movie from 1980 which was sadly Gene Kelly’s last turn on the big screen, makes me require an intravenous drip of caffeine. Trigger number two is a warm environment after exercise. Come on, any environment after exercise makes me want to lie down. The third trigger is an emotionally stressful event. I guess this translates to “When the going gets tough the OI folks need a cold compress and to elevate their feet.” The final trigger is an inadequate intake of fluids and salt. Can you say Medicinal Margaritas?
I admit it. I have no real medical problem. I’m just a lazy man trapped in a busy person’s body. Judging from the huge growth of energy drinks I must not be the only one fighting this.
The first one I heard of was Red Bull. Upon further investigation Red Bull may be akin to hot dogs. It is better not to know how it is made. Towards the bottom of the can it touts it is made with Taurine. Do you know what Taurine is? It is also known as 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid, which is an organic acid and a major component of bile. Taurine is found in the tissues of many animals, as well as plants, fungi and some species of bacteria. (Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm, just like Grandma used to make.) It is called Taurine from the Latin word taurus meaning a defunct line of Ford cars. Sorry, it is called Taurine from the Latin word taurus meaning bull, because it was first isolated from ox bile.
To me this all means someone at some point actually said these words. “I know just what this needs, a shot of ox bile!”

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Commerce over Art in a TKO

In 1974 there was a big hit movie in which Charles Bronson suffered through an atrocious crime committed against his family. He then picked up a gun, or seven, and began shooting the bad guys on the streets of New York City. The craggy faced tough guy exemplified old-fashioned American justice. Bronson was a mean dude.
America has come a long way since the “Death Wish” movie. We are kinder. We are gentler. Even our movies have softened up over the years. For example, a movie is coming out this month in which Jodie Foster suffers through an atrocious crime committed against her family. She then picks up a gun, or seven, and begins shooting bad guys on the streets of New York City. See what I mean. We have come a long way. Now the vigilante is pretty.
The following is a bit of trivia which may only be interesting to me. In the “Death Wish” movie one of the crazed criminals who started Mr. Bronson on his reign of revenge was played by Jeff Goldblum. Mr. Goldblum has gone on to have a very successful movie career. His character in the credits was Jeff Goldblum as Freak #1. How would you like to make that phone call home?
“Hey, mom, I just got a part in a big time movie starring Charles Bronson.”
“That is so exciting, son. I always knew you’d make it in Hollywood, even if your father tried to get you to go to DeVry and learn a proper trade.”
“Gee, thanks ma.”
“So, tell me. What is your part?
“Oh, that isn’t important. I get a good paycheck and my agent says it is a wonderful opportunity.”
“That’s so exciting, but I need to tell Aunt Bernice about this. What part are you playing?”
“Gosh, ma, do you really have to tell Aunt Bernice?”
“Of course I have to tell Bernice. She is always bragging about her Simon, the top salesman at the Florsheim store for four months running.”
“Well, okay. The script lists me as Freak #1.”
“Jeffrey, my son.”
“Yeah, ma.”
“Your father tells me there is a DeVry in Sherman Oaks right next to that big mall where you used to work in the food court. Let me get you the number.”
We will now return to the main thesis of this column. I fear there is a general slippage into a meaner, less empathetic, sort of society. One of the reasons for this is the fact that the arts are getting their backsides kicked by commerce. Art is something which shows people what it means to be human. Whether it be Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, or even little Billy’s portrait of his father showing him with the head of a wooly mammoth and the torso of an amoeba drawn entirely with carnation pink and burnt sienna Crayolas, art holds up an example of what man is capable of creating and most often aims to show what man should strive for.
On the other hand commerce shows what man is capable of doing in order to get more money than the other guy and therefore have a better car. Really, who would you rather spend a day with? Yo-Yo Ma playing Prelude from Suite No. 1 in G Major for Cello and discussing the intricacies of J.S. Bach, or that Jim Cramer guy from CNBC screaming at you about mortgage rates? (Okay, I know neither one would be at the top of my list either, but Mr. Ma would be easier to ignore while watching the football game, besides, just saying his name makes me giggle.)
My brother, who is a deeper thinker than most people I know, quoted Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau on his blog. The quote was the following: In a social system animated by competition for property, the human personality was metamorphosed into a form of capital. Here it was rational to invest only in properties that would produce the highest return. Personal feeling was a handicap since it distracted the individual from calculating his best interest and might pull him along economically counterproductive paths.
My translation (which may be entirely wrong): In a world which only values money, a person becomes nothing more than walking and talking nickels and dimes. All anyone cares about is making a buck. We all have to concern ourselves with getting our share of the pie. This means caring about each other and reaching for artistic growth leaves you poor.
Do you think Mr. Rousseau knew about Donald Trump?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

This Column is Really, Really, Important!

There is probably no newspaper headline in history more famous than the Chicago paper stating “Dewey Defeats Truman.” It seems odd to me the best known headline happens to be one of the least accurate. Not only was it the other way around, but this was well before anyone had heard of a “hanging chad” and the only time the words “bush” and “gore” would be used in the same sentence was if the author wished to describe a person hiding in a bit of shrubbery from a blood thirsty longhorn.
A newspaper headline serves more than one purpose. One is to alert the reader to the basic content of the story below it. Another is to entice the reader to read the story, or in the case of the front page headline buy the paper. Newspapers have this dumb rule about having truth be the basis for headlines. Otherwise the rule about enticing people to buy the paper would be the only rule and headlines would be much more fun. Can you imagine an issue of the News saying this? “Buy This Paper or DIE!” Circulation would go through the roof.
The world champion of fabulous headlines is far and away the World Weekly News. With such winners as “Tiny Terrorists Disguised as Garden Gnomes”, “Bible’s Four Horsemen Ask Directions in Paris”, “Ventriloquist Dead – But His Dummy’s Still Talking” and “Hotcakes No Longer Selling Well” this paper was the best. I use the past tense correctly. The World Weekly News is gone. I was shocked to find out this bastion of journalistic integrity was no more. No more would I get uncontrollable giggles while standing in line at the supermarket to sign over my mortgage in order to buy two gallons of milk. No more would I see the gleaming eyes (and teeth) of Bat Boy looking up at me. But worst of all, no more could I harbor my secret wish, my one true goal in life. No more could I dream of working for a newspaper which lets you make things up. Not just make things up but pull things from the depths of some wild imaginary trip which would make Timothy Leary check into rehab.
So, with the reigning champion of headlines going into retirement I decided to just cruise the internet and look for headlines which caught my interest.
On Time magazine’s website I read this: “Study: Estrogen May Fight Dementia.” For a man who writes a humor column, this headline screams for comment. Estrogen may fight dementia, but did the study say it won? Women with their recommended levels of estrogen may not have dementia but that doesn’t mean they aren’t carriers. Okay, now the other side. Since men do not have proper levels of estrogen they may have dementia. The problem is how can you tell? A man may have dementia but since he is never in touch with his true emotions he doesn’t really care.
The next headline I looked at was on Yahoo News: “Doctor Warns Consumers of Popcorn Fumes.” Since I worked at movie theaters all through my high school years I was worried. Not only did I pop popcorn and serve popcorn, but unfortunately, I cannot truthfully say I did not inhale.
I was relieved to find out the danger was in microwave popcorn. It seems the butter flavoring does not have pure butter (gasp) but something called diacetyl which can cause lung problems. Of course the greedy big business people have their response. The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association issued this statement: “We all know how hard it is to believe, but we can swear on any stack of Bibles you wish to produce, that there actually is a Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association.” I know. I was shocked too.
The last headline was on It read: “Men Want Hot Women, Study Confirms.” I have a new dream. Since the World Weekly News will never be hiring again I want to work for whatever organization bankrolled that study. What a great job. Water quenches thirst, study confirms…Getting hit in the head with a Nolan Ryan fastball hurts like crazy, study confirms…Voting for a Democratic presidential candidate in the state of Kansas makes no sense as long as the Electoral College is still in place, study confirms.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

On a mission

I don’t know when it became a requirement but it seems every organization nowadays has to have a mission statement. The definition offered by an entity called Business Directions says a mission statement describes the purpose for which your organization exists. Following this description I would hope people within the organization would not need to consult the mission statement frequently.
“Hey, Bob, I’ve forgotten what we’re doing here at Microsoft. Am I researching new and better ways to create software which will maximize personal and business productivity or does it have something to do with otters?”
“Well, Dave, let’s just whip out our handy dandy mission statement. Hmmm, nope, no otters, it must be that software thing.”
Referring to the mission statement on the wall throughout the day would be like checking the name tag your mom sewed into your underwear in order to remember your name. Useful, yet pathetic.
“Why is it so important to have a mission statement?” you ask. Even if you did not ask I am going to tell you. Otherwise this column will be entirely too short. Once again according to Business Directions the chief benefits are it will focus the energy and clarify the purpose of your group. This I understand. Keeping one clear purpose and making sure all of your energies go to that purpose would make most any group unbelievably productive.
Let’s use an imaginary mission statement for an imaginary company to prove this point. Our company is Paint Chips Inc. and its mission statement is “To create the most arcane names for all the paint colors in every hardware store in America in order to appeal to all the women and confuse all the men.” (You know what I’m talking about. A couple wants to paint the kitchen the man wants blue the woman can’t decide between ‘undercool’ and ‘cloudless’. I did not make up those color names, but they are both just blue as far as I’m concerned.) This mission statement is used to guide every decision made by the company. Let’s listen in to a staff meeting.
“Mr. Argyle, sir the synonym department needs to buy a new thesaurus. Will you authorize that expenditure?”
“Certainly, Mr. Grape, that fits right into our mission statement.”
“Mr. Argyle, the visualizer department wants to take a trip to Hawaii to look at flowers, sunsets, and volcanic activity.”
“Buy them the tickets, Grape. That fits our mission statement as well.”
“Sir, the fire marshal called this morning. He says we can’t chain the typists to their desks anymore. It impedes their egress if there is an emergency.”
“Sorry, Grape, that does not fit the mission statement.”
“Sir, I have to agree with the fire marshal.”
“Where in the mission statement does it say Paint Chips Inc. will concern itself with keeping our employees safe in case of a fire? I need them typing those names. Do you think those little cards are going to write ‘Sands of Time’ and ‘Relentless Olive’ on themselves? I don’t think so. Next item.”
Okay, maybe only focusing on the mission statement wouldn’t be a good idea after all.
This is the mission statement I found for Exxon: To provide our shareholders a secure investment with a superior return. That sounds great if you are investing a chunk of the trust fund Granddad left you. If there were truth in mission statements laws like there are truth in advertising laws it might go more like this: To provide our shareholders a secure investment with a superior return without regard to the environment, and being sure to jack up gas prices for no discernible reason other than that superior return part we mentioned earlier.
Actually, I think individuals need truthful mission statements more than companies. In addition, it should be required people share these mission statements with each other before entering into any kind of relationship.
A person applying for a job foregoes the resume and hands over his accurate mission statement: John Smith, To get a job in order to take home a paycheck while doing the very minimum to avoid getting fired.
An even more important situation would be before going on a first date. Bill Johnson: To have a meaningless physical relationship for no more than twelve hours while attempting to stick my date with the dinner check.