On Irony And Whatnot.

As Forest Gump said, “I’m not a smart man, but I know what irony is”. I’ve never claimed to be the sharpest crayon in the box but I always thought I was reasonably average with the English language. Yes I have trouble from time to time getting the commas and periods in the right places (I’m comma happy and I know it). And there are some tricky words I mangle here and there. All in all, I can somewhat put a sentence together. I paid attention when conjunction junction, what’s your function came on.

Having said that, I was inspired to write something today that quickly got away from me when I realized that you know nothing Jon Snow (if you don’t follow Game of Thrones, I’m ygsorry for you). I saw some news about the latest protests outside a Trump rally. I was going to make some brilliant insightful comments about the protesters, La Raza, and the future of my former city of San Jose. Looking for pictures or video I quickly grew frustrated at how truly awful most “newspaper” web sites are. I must have cycled through half a dozen before giving up. Poor page design, auto-start videos, and so many ads and pop-ups that simply trying to navigate through a gallery can take several minutes just to view a few photos.

I changed my mind and decided on a new topic. I was going to deliver a blistering review (and yes it would also be brilliant and insightful) on the current state of the newspaper industry. Most importantly – I was going to show the irony of an industry built on effective delivery of information being so horrible at it in the digital age.

But is that really irony? Figuring I better look it up before embarrassing myself in front ofirony three or four readers, I consulted the internets. Either I’m even dumber than I thought, or the definition of irony is hard. Dictionary sites, Wikipedia, writing and literary resources… and I’m still not sure I know what the definition is. Maybe the criticism of Alanis Morissette wasn’t entirely justified? Is it ironic that the website isitironic.com relies on readers voting to answer the question? Is it ironic that so many people have a hard time defining what irony is?

Welcome to the strange workings of my mind. Time to go take a nap. That little thought exercise burned up a few too many brain cells.

Forrest Gump: Hello. I’m Forrest, Forrest Gump.

Recruit Officer: Nobody gives a hunky shit who you are, pus ball. You’re not even a low-life, scum-sucking maggot. Get your ass on the bus, you’re in the army now!


The Five Dollar Shake

The other day, in an effort to wean myself off the political crack I’ve been smoking in ever-increasing amounts, I was scrolling through a gallery of photos. It was an attempt to motivate myself to maybe take a picture again someday. Anyway there I am scrolling away,  every once in a while stopping to click on a picture that grabbed my attention. I started wondering what is it about a particular photo that reaches out and triggers something in the brain? All the photos were technically accurate and well done. Many were similar scenes or subjects. Why does one out of many grab you?

It would be a curious experiment to take a hundred photos and let a bunch of independent folks pick their top 10. How many people would pick the same list? There’s something about that “it” factor that’s so hard to quantify. We know it when we see it, but none of us can explain exactly what “it” is. Probably because it is often different for everyone. This applies to art, music, food, writing…

I don’t know what the right word is to describe this phenomenon. How does one restaurant or bar capture that vibe or buzz, where a very similar one a block away sits empty? We have a local business that, after a gazillion (I’m too lazy to look up how many) years, is closing at the end of the summer. This place is basically a “beer garden”. It’s way out of the way. A limited menu of mostly fried food and simple non-craft beer. A run down, biker bar looking place, with nothing more than a giant dirt “patio” and a bunch of rickety wooden picnic benches. It does not have one element going for it that would indicate any possibility of success. It would be listed under marketing 101 as exactly what not to do.

During the summer months – packed. Score of cyclists make it an end of ride stop. It’s practically a requirement to go there after floating the river. Flotillas of people make multiple pilgrimages there every summer to drink beer and bake themselves in the dust. How is it possible that a place like that creates a vibe that works, without advertising, and the fancy new million dollar brewpub downtown goes out of business in six months?

It’s a strange thing. The marketing folks spend a significant portion of our GDP trying to artificially capture or create it. Sometimes they get it right. At the risk of the implying to the Taylor Swift army that they’ve won the battle, her new ad spot for Apple struck me. It’s simple, unexpected, and funny. Why did that ad grab me and not the 2.7 million others we see on a daily basis?

As is the on-going theme of my life, I have very little point to this. I think it’s worth spending time looking at art, or writing, or something outdoors, and trying to figure out of all the images we see each day – which ones grab your attention? Now go find more of those.

VINCENT: Did you just order a five-dollar shake?
MIA: Sure did.
VINCENT: A shake? Milk and ice cream?
MIA: Uh-huh.
VINCENT: It costs five dollars?
MIA: Yep.
VINCENT: You don’t put bourbon in it or anything?
VINCENT: Just checking.
VINCENT: Can I have a sip of that? I’d like to know what a five-dollar shake tastes like.
MIA: Be my guest. You can use my straw, I don’t have kooties.
VINCENT: Yeah, but maybe I do.
MIA: Kooties I can handle.
VINCENT: Goddamn! That’s a pretty fuckin’ good milk shake.
MIA: Told ya.
VINCENT: I don’t know if it’s worth five dollars, but it’s pretty fuckin’ good.

Out For A Run

He felt like he always did when starting a run. Ankles a bit tight. A slight twinge in a calf muscle. It took a bit to get the rhythm working again. Breathing a little hard to start with, and then settling down as he got in the groove. Felt the first drops of sweat dripping down his back as he started to feel warmed up and lighter on his feet. Running through the neighborhood in the morning light there was little activity. Fresh newspapers sat on driveways waiting to be read. A few lawns still had sprinklers running, creating small pools on the sidewalk to be avoided. Streetlights were flickering and shutting off.

He crossed the street and turned on the dirt path that looped out into the marsh area. Obnoxiously loud tunes from the music player blasting in his ears, feet pounding on the rough trail, he marked familiar landmarks. The distance ticked by and he occasionally glanced down at his heart rate, adjusting the pace. The trail passed through groves of eucalyptus trees still damp with the overnight dew. Interspersed among the trees were open marsh areas. Waist high reeds and underbrush marked the edge of the trail. Out in the shallow water birds drifted and eyed him running past. The sun was rising higher and the perspiration was starting to soak his shirt. The gnats and mosquitos that would make this area unbearable later in the day were just starting to rise.

He almost didn’t see it. A small rut in the trail broke his rhythm. He looked down and did a small shuffle step to jump over. The glint in the sun caught his eye as he looked back up the trail. Glossy, black, a shape he didn’t immediately recognize. It was a few steps past before his brain registered what it was. Like the kids puzzles – guess what shape doesn’t belong in this picture? A stiletto heel, with a stark white foot bed and shiny black finish was laying on the edge of the trail. A few more inches and it would have been obscured by the reeds. Why would a woman’s dress shoe be way out here?

He continued running, puzzling over the image. He’d been running hard for quite a while so it was clearly too far for anyone to casually walk, especially wearing those heels. The trail was too narrow for a vehicle. Odd. He increased his pace, mind puzzling over the image. The miles flew by.

Breathing hard now, he had to start deciding how hard he could push. The three-quarter point was coming up. Push too hard now and the legs would start slowing down before he finished. Bass thumping in the earphones, sweat dripping in his eyes, a snow-white egret slowly took flight out ahead of him. At a trail junction he turned and headed towards the small parking lot at the opposite end of the preserve. At that point he’d head back to the street and finish the run on pavement. The narrow dirt trail slowly turned to gravel, and then it was a smooth paved surface that most runners never ventured off.

Feeling good, he followed the trail as it turned slightly up towards the parking lot. As he crested the small hill his stomach did a slow turn. Flashing blue lights. The howl of a bloodhound heard over his music.

He knew.

Rust In The Brain

This writing stuff is hard. It’s obvious that I put my brain on energy conservation mode quite a few years ago. Knocking off the rust and getting it working again has been an interesting process the last few weeks. I frequently have all kinds of ideas for stories, a novel, and blog posts floating around in my head. Usually they appear when I’m nowhere near a computer.  By the time I sit down to write they’ve disappeared. Potentially discouraging, but I’m reminded of a favorite movie scene in “Get Shorty“. Bo Catlett is talking to Chili Palmer, trying to convince him that they could write a screenplay themselves. It’s simple according to Bo: “There’s nothin’ to know. You have an idea, you write down what you wanna say. Then you get somebody to add in the commas and shit where they belong, if you aren’t positive yourself. Maybe fix up the spelling where you have some tricky words… although I’ve seen scripts where I know words weren’t spelled right and there was hardly any commas in it at all. So I don’t think it’s too important. Anyway, you come to the last page you write in ‘Fade out’ and that’s the end, you’re done.”

I’m heartened by that because all the pesky grammar, commas and shit, tend to get in the way of my creative process. I know I have the next great novel in me if I could just stop worrying about punctuation and spelling and stuff.

Speaking of rust in the brain, I find it interesting that I’m less rusty when I first wake up in the morning. I know some folks struggle with basic motor functions like speech and movement until they’ve had multiple cups of coffee and an hour of warming up by the heater. Oddly I’ve never been that way. Be it writing or programming I tend to solve problems and come up with ideas when I sleep. When my eyes open in the morning my brain seems to be clear and sharp. I can’t count the number of times I’ve struggled for hours in the evening on a programing problem or how to fix or build something with little success. Go to bed and I’ll wake up with the answer. Hmmm, maybe this means I should start taking naps during the day? I think I’ll start that today.