Thursday, November 25, 2010

Some Holidays are More Powerful than Others

Yesterday was a day many people spent time evaluating their lives and looking at what they were thankful for. I realize I will be far from the first person to say this but I’ll say it anyway. People ought to spend more time being grateful for the smaller things in life. I remember back to a performance on David Letterman’s show by a comedy writer, Andy Breckman. He sang a song in which he told us he had a pretty good day because he didn’t throw up. Think about his thesis. You get up in the morning and you take your shower and then you don’t throw up. Life is pretty good. You have your breakfast and you drive to work and then you don’t throw up. Things are still looking good.

I can relate to this more strongly because last week I was rather sick. I do not get sick often and I am not a big whiner when I have regular aches and pains but last week was rough. On Wednesday I woke up, for the third day in a row, with a headache measurable on the Fujita scale. I threw in the towel, called in sick to work and made an appointment with the doctor. Typically it takes a concerted effort by my wife (or an arterial laceration) to get me to go to the doctor but I was not going to live with this level of discomfort if I could help it.

It turned out I was going to live with this level of discomfort. The doctor visit resulted in him telling me I was sick (I knew this already), I should push fluids (I was already doing this), I should take ibuprofen for the pain (I was already doing this), I should get plenty of rest (that was my plan all along) and I should take this paper to the front desk and write them a check for the great service he had done for me.

So this Thanksgiving I was thankful I did not have a splitting headache and the office visit co-pay was nestled securely in my wallet, at least until the pre-dawn foray into the world of blatant retail.

It is possible people forego being thankful for things because Thanksgiving has been almost completely swallowed by the commerce of Christmas. Before the last trick-or-treater rings your doorbell asking for a handout the different retail establishments have started playing reindeer songs over their loudspeakers and plastic evergreen trees pop up faster than paparazzi at the Betty Ford Clinic. So instead of spending a portion of November contemplating the joys of seeing your children laugh at the dinner table or gratefully sinking into a comfy chair to talk to your spouse about the hilarious thing which happened at work people start their elaborate, something MacArthur would have envied during WWII, plans for Black Friday reconnaissance in order to procure that HD television the size of Paul Bunyan’s underpants with the surround sound stereo so they can immerse themselves in the happy-go-lucky world of Call of Duty: Black Ops as opposed to the dour existence of a regular guy taking care of his family.

Personally, I do not want much for Christmas. I enjoy being surprised. I really like it when it is obvious someone put some real thought into the selection of my present. Also, there is enough of the eight-year-old still living in this 48 year old body that I really like having something to play with on the morning of December 25th. For this I am thankful.

My children are not asking for bank account breaking things for Christmas either. We are truly lucky in that we have most everything we need and many things we simply want are also at our disposal. The kids are grateful for what they receive and they get a lot of pleasure out of the giving process as well. For this I am thankful.

Don’t get the wrong impression. I am not some fully evolved mystic sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop. I complain about things which are not that horrible in the grand scheme of things. I let things bother me which should just roll off my back. I also get really exasperated when I do complain and my wife offers the “it-could-be-worse” defense. Of course it could be worse. I could have a family of voles living in my sinuses but that doesn’t mean I have to like the fact that somebody at work showed the cognitive ability of a spoon and blew up my day.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Let Your Computer Be Your Guide

In all sorts of science fiction movies the machines are the bad guys. In 2001: A Space Odyssey the HAL 9000 computer caused one astronaut to spin off into the ultimate void (Really has anyone found Gary Lockwood’s career since then? Guest shots on T.J. Hooker and Scarecrow and Mrs. King don’t count.) and totally butchered the 1892 classic song by Harry Dacre, Daisy Bell. In The Terminator robot Arnold Schwarzenegger kills dozens of people and eventually ruins the California economy. In Short Circuit another robot, Number 5, is so intensely cute he helped extend Ally Sheedy’s career which resulted in a true pox upon humanity, St. Elmo’s Fire.

Personally, I don’t think the future will play out that way. Machines will not be evil doers enslaving mankind for their own emotionless goals. Instead they will become our keepers, our babysitters. They will not be despotic rulers of the human race but rather despotic Jiminy Crickets.

Think about it. We have Net Nanny programs to make sure people do not visit inappropriate websites which show images of a more objectionable nature than Ward would allow Wally to see. Our various handheld devices politely suggest what word we intend to type even before we finish spelling it out and they never suggest any word which would move the movie rating from a G to a PG. I have been told when a person attempts to type a word (and I do mean almost any word) from a Quentin Tarantino film the auto-correct tries valiantly to substitute something more palatable for more delicate readers. (This begs the joke for all fans of the film A Christmas Story… “only I didn’t text fudge.”) The next natural step for computers and communication devices is to have software which at least attempts to keep its owner from doing or saying stupid things.

For example, you are really steamed at your boss. You write a fiery e-mail outlining every professional mistake he has made in the five years he has been boss from giving the copy machine service contract to his cousin who never actually graduated from junior high but did get a very high B in metal shop to substituting the company’s sexual harassment policy video with a copy of Porky’s. Then you describe as many character flaws as you can fit on the screen even with a size 6 font including how sick and tired everyone is that he insists on showing off his one and only party trick at each and every staff meeting. That trick being his ability to recite all the dialogue from the “Trouble with Tribbles” episode of Star Trek, in Klingon. The computer takes care of you and when you hit send it simple puts it in the You-Might-Really-Want-To-Think-About-This-Before-You-Proceed File. It is displayed between the Sent and the Spam files on your e-mail program and disappears and re-appears like Brigadoon so the bile and adrenaline can subside keeping you from getting fired and beaten to a pulp by a mass of Trekkies calling you every name in the English – Romulan translation dictionary.

If I had the time and the computer savvy (both of which are about as likely as President Obama and John Boehner hanging out together to watch Jay Leno on Conan’s new show) I would love to create a program for people of the male gender to use to translate their lunk-headed inarticulate thoughts into lyrically romantic prose to woo the women in their lives. One reason would be there just plain is not enough wooing going on in the world and another reason is it is just plain to fun to say, and even type, the word woo as often as one can. This is one of those endeavors which won’t even require a business plan to make me stinking rich. The teenage boy market alone would keep me in courtside Celtics tickets and Lear jets to take me there for an entire epoch.

How many gangly adolescents have tried to gain the favor of their object of affection by misquoting some song they heard on the radio last week or by re-writing the Roses are red poem with a special personal touch: Roses are red, some bears are black, I like your hair and you’ve got a great rack.

Christopher Pyle would be glad to talk to the guys at Microsoft or Google about his plans for the “Cyrano” program to turn every Neanderthal knuckle dragger who thinks grabbing a girl by her hair and dragging her back to his cave is romantic into a totally in touch with his feelings Shakespearian Sonnet wielder of love. He can be reached at

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Rally to Restore

Well, I did something crazy and went to the Rally to Restore Sanity. How's that for irony?

When it was first announced my reaction was "I really want to go!" Then I tempered that thought with all the responsibilities I have and that spending the money was not a reasonable thing to do. Then my sister contacted me and said she really wanted to go but none of her family could go. Okay, that is fate. I have to go.

The day offered perfect weather. We got the the National Mall before 8:00 AM with the official start slated for noon. This was a very good idea because we were amongst the first few hundred to get there and before all was said and done there would be over 200,000 people in attendance.

I heard no harsh words. I saw no aggressive acts. I witnessed no attempts to hijack the day and make it into a true political food fight. (I did see one guy run very quickly which made me think he was getting away from something so it may not have all been unicorns and rainbows.)

The event was what I expected and also more than I expected. The funny was excellent. Messrs. Stewart and Colbert are two of the most adept comedians working today and they did not fail. I laughed often. The musicians were fun (sometimes I forget just how much fun live music is since I live in a place with a dearth of it and a rock sousaphone player is just cool). The surprise was just how often I choked up. Now I am a card carrying wuss and I will get teary-eyed during Hallmark commercials but this was different. I was moved because I re-attached myself to the feelings of patriotism. It is VERY easy to see only the less than positive aspects of this country, there are many. On the other hand this country when it is at its best is pretty damn amazing. The great variety of people in attendance (all colors, all age groups, very likely all religions - major and minor - and every possible mix of gender) all sharing in an afternoon of entertainment with more than just a nod towards a message as well. A message meant to show not the people standing on the nation's front lawn, but rather the people who truly wield power and influence, the people who live in the nation's house that we are Americans and we love our country and we would really like it if they would stop acting like the nation's pissed off retired man who constantly yells at us to get the hell off his lawn. Just because you love America and we are different than you doesn't mean whe don't love it as much as you do.

Thank you to all who made it happen.