Mirth & State

Like many habitually shy babooners I am cowed by crowds. In a gathering of two or more people I will tend to move to the periphery, which is no easy task if there is only one other person in the room. My party personality falls far short of “gregarious” and doesn’t quite make it to “lively”, landing much closer to “quiet” and “thoughtful” and sometimes, “a houseplant”. Were I inexplicably attending a massive public event on the National Mall like today’s “Rally to Restore Sanity”, led by comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, I think I would be most comfortable experiencing it from somewhere around Alexandria, Virginia.

Still, I hope Comedy Central’s stars and their fans have a beautiful and memorable day. Sanity is worth rallying around. Moderation and respect are good goals for the national conversation. Getting people whipped into a state of frenzy over reasonable discussion and principled compromise is an appropriately ironic mission for this mammoth gathering on the eve of the midterm elections.

I’m not surprised to see that a phony “debate” has sprung up over whether it is fitting for comedians to be so politically prominent, as if humor was somehow separate and distinct from other forms of human communication. Making a joke of it is how we deal with things. All things. Laughter is a way to gain perspective. And there’s nothing at all in the Constitution about any kind of “separation of mirth and state”. Take a look. The phrase doesn’t appear. I rest my case.

Stewart and Colbert are good, and I’m a fan. But when I think of great comedy duos, another pair comes to mind first. Over the past few days I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying a new 4 CD set of the collected works of the legendary radio comedy duo “Bob and Ray”. These guys were absolutely the best at drawing a laugh with an absurd situation, a line, a phrase, an inflection, or a sound. Were they political? Their portrayal of the imperious Commissioner Carstairs, tyrant of the zoning board of the city of Skunkhaven, was a dead ringer for the red baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy. But alongside their uncanny grasp of human nature and their casual ability to skewer the occasional politician, Bob and Ray excelled at exposing the inanities of media – a mission they share with Stewart and Colbert.

Here are Bob and Ray on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Who makes you laugh?

Wabi-Sabi-Hobbyists

Yesterday we had a great discussion about noticing the beauty in things that have a history, whether they are people, books, or old trunks. Jacque sent this photo of a family heirloom – a well-traveled piece that is now her coffee table. You might be able to make out the year “1807” on the side of the trunk, which is the year the Strattons started their journey. I can only guess it’s rather humbling to set your mug of pumpkin spiced organic decaf on a trunk that was once attached to a wagon rolling over the unspoiled prairie. How can you not think, “Oh, the places you’ve been’!

Not that I would ever choose to go back and trudge across the Midwest with Jacque’s relatives. Time travel is a fascinating improbability, and hobbyists are always looking for evidence. The latest craze swirls around this clip taken at the Hollywood premiere of a 1928 Charlie Chaplin film, “Circus”. Because of the position of her hand, some people are convinced the woman who walks behind the stuffed zebra is a time traveler talking on a cell phone.

Cooler heads have suggested she is probably using an ear trumpet. Why rule out the tantalizing possibility that she is talking on her iPhone? Because the cell phone coverage in 1928 was even worse than it is today due to the complete absence of phone towers and the total non existence of any supporting networks and the absolute unavailability of anyone else to talk to. Spoil sports.

I prefer to think she is a time traveler; a nun perhaps, sent there to collect objects that will be tagged for future wabi-sabi status, or to negotiate for the purchase of a Honus Wagner baseball card so it can be trimmed, shellacked, and eventually sold to fund the sister’s ministries to the poor in 2010. Naturally.

If you could travel backwards to any place on Earth at any time in history with the caveat that you had to stay there (although you could take your cell phone), where would you go?

Wabi-Sabi

Yesterday Steve in St. Paul mentioned (with characteristic modesty) that he won a photo contest organized by a group of camera enthusiasts who challenge each other to offer exceptional images that connect to a declared theme. In the case of Steve’s winning entry, the theme was the Japanese notion of wabi sabi. What is wabi sabi? Steve will explain it in a moment. But first, here’s the picture.

Steve says:

Wabi sabi is an oriental concept of aesthetics. It holds that things can be beautiful if they are worn, aged, broken or missing parts. In fact, not only can such things be beautiful, but there is an inner beauty to things that have served well and now look like they have served well. So a westerner trying to understand the concept might think that my photo was pretty “in spite of” the wear and tear on the Bible. To an oriental mind, that worn Bible is far lovelier than a new one could be. This aesthetic is one reason orientals tend to honor older people. It is the opposite of the western tendency to chase the young, the shiny, the perfect.

Well done, Steve. I think that’s a gorgeous photo. And the older I get, the more I appreciate the idea that there can be great beauty in things that are aged, worn, bald, bleary eyed, a little jowly, and in desperate need of a shave. Especially first thing in the morning.

The trick is getting everyone else to see that.

Steve is right about our fascination with the shiny and “perfect”. It would take a cultural shift for us to embrace the idea that there is a dignified beauty in a well-used object. Perhaps the slow disintegration of the baby boom will make gorgeous decrepitude the Next Big Thing, rather like the revived TV career of Betty White, but for everyone.

Right now, Wabi-Sabi in the USA is limited to 4 locations in California. I like the looks of the one in Rancho Cucamonga.

Do you have a favorite object that reflects this notion of wabi-sabi?

High Profile Pride

I usually don’t read ads that show up in my e-mail inbox, unless they come from old friends who are trying to set a record for the number of !’s in a single message!

Hiya, Wally from Wally’s Intimida here to remind you that SUV’s are making a comeback! Yes! Just a few years ago you couldn’t give one away. I know. I tried! But some attitudes have changed. Or to be more exact, some attitudes have gone back towards where they were ten years ago! Why? Who knows? Maybe it’s that Tea Party thing. We’re rolling back the clock on everything, all the way back to colonial days!

Of course, people haven’t forgotten 4 dollar a gallon gasoline, but here’s the difference today – Everybody’s so completely broke and totally discouraged, they’re willing to say “What the heck, I’m gonna buy a Sherpa anyway!” And I’m ready to answer with a “What the heck, I’m gonna sell you one” type of deal! It’s a race to see which one of us can sign on the dotted line first!

Gas sipping electro-auto-snobs will say a thirsty Sherpa doesn’t make sense, but I say making sense is overrated. All you have to do is watch the political ads on TV to see that the people who don’t make sense are having all the fun! So what the heck? Why not get a Sherpa, especially if you grew up rattling around like a loose BB in the back of your mom and dad’s giant car? Now that you’re grown you want to have a car that’s AT LEAST that huge, and when the family’s not looking you can jump back there and roll around some more just for old time’s sake!

Worrywarts will say “high profile” vehicles are a dangerous rollover hazard in high winds like the ones we’ve had lately, but that’s so negative! High profile has never been a bad thing in America! When high profilers fall, they land on low profilers, so which would you rather be? Better to keep your head above the crowd so people can see you! If you’ve got rollover worries, just outfit your new Sherpa with the “Tumbleweed” package, featuring an extra set of wheels on the roof in case you do become inverted. No problem in the Sherpa Tumbleweed – just keep on going!

So throw caution to the prevailing 38 mile per hour northwest wind. Drive on, roll on or blow on down to Wally’s Intimida for the best deal I can possibly give you on a mammoth ride – the Sherpa from Intimida.

Why? Why the Heck Not?

It’s good to see Wally hasn’t lost his bubbly spirit and exclamatory extravagance, even in the face of this economy and these winds.

How have you fared against the great “land hurricane“?

The Cassette Walkman Dies … And Lives!

The remarkable part about the news that Sony is discontinuing the Walkman cassette player in Japan is that Sony was actually selling a cassette player! That’s amazing. And here’s something even more astonishing – you can still buy a Walkman cassette player in the USA. I would have bet against this, and I don’t bet.

Rectangular-headed monstrosities do seem to have a way of hanging on. The Walkman Cassette player looks rather clunky to us now, but in its day it was sleek and amazingly small. Most people have moved on, throwing their old cassette technology away in alarm, as if it were on fire, fearing that they would be left behind. Perhaps we’ll find Walkman remains submerged in a local lake or buried in the trash.

But the playback technology for photos, audio and video has changed so rapidly, future historians and garbage pile archeologists sifting through the landfills of our day will have a tough time telling what the various electronic devices were for, or in which era they were used. I suppose the landfill layer on which items are discovered will set an approximate date, much like counting the rings to determine the age of a tree. But will they have the patience to work out the technical difference between an open reel tape recorder from the 1960’s and a wire recorder of the 1930’s?

As the excavation goes on, evolutionary clues will emerge. On an upper layer they’ll find many differently configured and exotic CD players, and then a missing link – the vinyl LP to CD recorder! Just below that, discarded record sleeves and tone arms will begin to emerge. A few layers underneath will be the living room stereo cabinets with turntables nestled inside, their speakers covered with a luxurious looking fabric to fit in better with mom’s expensive drapes.

And at all levels of the debris there will be abandoned VHS tapes – rectangular plastic boxes. Just like the original Walkman.

How many layers of playback technology are in your landfill?

Welcome to Moon Base Baboon!

It seems like every time scientists consider the question of water on the moon, our natural satellite looks wetter and more hospitable than the time before. Last week, a data summary from the 2009 mission that crashed a rocket booster into a crater at the moon’s southern pole revealed a lunar area with a surprising number of useful minerals and more water than the Sahara Desert.

Not quite Wisconsin Dells, but it’s a good start.

Watch out for the rocks!

So, mere weeks after the president signed a 2011 NASA budget authorization that scraps plans to return to the moon, people are talking about returning to the moon again. The tone of this chatter is overwhelmingly pro-Moon Base. The base would use existing water and available resources to provide a jumping off point for deep space travel, taking advantage of the moon’s weaker gravity to launch heavier vehicles. This notion lines up nicely with developing private space industry – something the Obama administration has said it favors. Maybe depressed Earthbound strip mall developers will find a new opportunity off-planet.

As a way station in space, our cold, airless moon already has all the charm of the Belvidere Oasis, my favorite over-the-freeway rest stop on the way to Chicago, which was described in Peter and Lou Berryman’s song about cleaning the refrigerator (When Did We Have Sauerkraut?) as “such a pretty name for such an ugly place to go”.

But at least it would be a place to go. And that’s all you need to draw tourists. So will our Moon Base be like the Belvidere Oasis, with a Panda Express and a Starbucks alongside the Mars Rocket fueling port? And as more water is discovered, could Tommy Bartlett eventually open up a Lunar Ski Show? With 1/6th Earth’s gravity, doing the pyramid would be easier, no?

Grandpa Branson has given you some retail / office / factory space at Moon Base Baboon. What is your plan?

Awkward Greeting Cards

The telephone has been cited recently in some high profile voice and text communications that, on second thought, were artless and probably should have been withheld by the senders. Such is the hazard of impulsive communication.

Unfortunately, in the case of Virginia Thomas calling Anita Hill, Brett Favre sending texts and photos to Jenn Sterger, and Juan Williams losing his radio gig over comments made on TV, there was no flowery, sing-songy greeting card designed to do the same, difficult job … until now.

No artwork yet, but writing the dopey poem inside is the hardest part.

Anita,

Just a card to say hello
And also, dear, to let you know
We’re gracious, tolerant and wise.
And now you may apologize!

How lovely it would surely be
To see you fall on bended knee.
We’re waiting, feeling slightly slighted.
Apologize! You’ve been invited.

Take this offer ‘fore it closes.
Ignore what it presupposes.
Show remorse! If you don’t need to,
Still, you must! You’ve been decreed to!

Sincerely,
Ginni (and Clarence)

Jenn,

Wishing we could get together
You have not responded.
Don’t you understand, dear?
With my heart you have absconded!

All my parts have shaken loose
I’m grizzled and decrepit.
I’ve put them in a box for you
But no one here will schlep it.

I’m in pieces, that is clear.
A lovelorn southern chap.
Can I change your feelings
With this photo of my lap?

Uh, Brett.

Juan,

We’re saddened
By the thought you had
That we could not endorse.

It made us
So uncomfortable
We’re firing you, of course.

Life’s a highway
Fast and cruel
Quick exits are unfair lanes.

When harshly judged
For what we said or
What we wear on airplanes.

Sorry,
Your Former Employer

How do you find the perfect greeting card?

Picking Through the Detritus

Yesterday’s trashcan mystery started out as a strange curiosity, but as is often the case when babooners take over, it went to unpredictable places.

I gave you toy pirate ships in a city park garbage can alongside a child’s private “Do Not Read!” notebook. In response you delivered sibling rivalry, homeless people, overflowing shopping carts, reality TV, Candid Camera, dumpster diving gourmets, exasperated parents, a possum rug, Buddy Holly 45’s , a heartbroken Russian double agent, marooned space aliens, curfew breaking park rats, an infuriated older sister, a naked lake swimmer in a fishing cap and two goggle eyed anglers, and goats (from space) of course.

And that was all before it got dark. Really dark.

I’m sorry to say I don’t know the true answer to the mystery. I do know that less than an hour after I notified police that there were possessions abandoned in the park, the boxes were picked up. There was identifying information in those boxes, so it’s possible the situation that led to the dumping, whether it was innocent or sinister, has been resolved. Well, if it was sinister, it’s probably not “resolved”, but it might be exposed.

I only wish, after reading your comments, that tim’s 10,000 precious baseball cards had been part of the thrown away bounty. Those, I might have picked up.

I am planning another blog holiday to concentrate on a different project for a few days in early November, and I would be delighted to welcome more guest bloggers to the fold. All you have to do is write a main post on a topic that interests you, and then watch the fun happen as inventive readers spin your inspiration off into all directions.

Former guest bloggers are encouraged to step forward, including those who wrote a few weeks ago. You do not need to be a regular commenter to apply. In fact, all you need is to know that the opportunity exists.

Have you ever had your idea taken to a new place by other people?

Trashcan Mystery

While walking through a local park yesterday I noticed a plastic tub overflowing with colorful artifacts sitting beside a municipal trashcan. A couple of boxes sat beside it. My first thought was someone decided to ditch their refuse here to save the cost of having it picked up at home.

I’m actively looking for work and sorting through dumpsters has emerged as one of my leading career options, so I casually walked over and discovered the following items:

- A school backpack
– A book bag full of books
– A pouch overflowing with paper scraps
– Folders full of fifth grade assignments
– A pair of yellow plastic airplanes about two feet long
– Two rather large toy pirate ships

All the discarded stuff seemed to belong to the same child, or at least the same name appeared on many of the items and on several sheets of return address labels – the kind that come at Christmastime, unsolicited, from organizations seeking a donation. One notebook had emphatic, but smiley “keep out” warnings scrawled across the front.

Normally a “keep out” sign on a child’s notebook is something to be taken seriously, but it was in the garbage so I thought I could get away with a peek. I saw nothing too remarkable inside – mostly scraps of paper stuffed in the vinyl pouches. The real juicy stuff may have been taken out before disposal, but I didn’t spend too much time with it. Believe it or not, there is a limit to how long a you can comfortably sort through trash alongside a public walking path without feeling conspicuous. I did call the local police to report abandoned property in the park. My thought was that maybe the stuff had been stolen and rifled through for valuables before being dumped, and its owner might be hoping to get some things back.

But why would any thief make off with a child’s possessions? What’s the point of taking two plastic pirate ships? And why were there two ships and two planes? Wouldn’t one be enough to own or to steal? Who benefits from theft of the private “do not look” papers of a fifth grader? Unless the burglar is also a child!

Or perhaps the child, now grown, was cleaning the attic and wanted to be rid of some unhappy fifth grade memories. Getting these mementos out and away from the house as soon as possible may have been the goal.

Maybe a brother or sister was playing an unfortunate prank.

Or an estranged and/or grieving parent may have wanted to put some distance between him or herself and these cheerful, colorful, quirky reminders of happier times.

Or …?

What combination of circumstances could have led to the dumping of these items?