Saturday, April 23, 2011


I'm no tree hugger. Nature's fine, but I like man-made things, too. I remember the time I visited my brother when he was still living in Chicago. We went out one night to see the Second City comedy troupe. From atop a six-story parking garage not far from the theater, I could see the whole of the Chicago skyline. Well, maybe "whole" is an exaggeration. The six-story parking garage itself was downtown, and thus not part of the skyline within my field of vision. That's all right. There was quite enough in that field already. One skyscraper after another, their windows aglow in the crisp March night. Spectacular! So taken was I with the dark, towering, twinkling beauty of it all, I felt like putting on my top hat and tails and singing "I'll Take Manhattan." Except I don't own a top hat and tails, and I was in Chicago, not Manhattan.

But I wonder, would I have been equally in awe had I been a couple centuries old and seen it first in 1780, the way the Pottawatomie tribe viewed it, as a forest on the shores of a great lake? I may very well have been pissed that now, in the 21st century, there were buildings instead of trees. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to sing "I'll Take Manhattan". At a couple of centuries old, I might have considered it one of those new songs I have a difficult time getting into.

I said I like both nature and man-made things. When they're both in their proper places. Like it was when I was a kid. The man-made things were ranch houses and bungalows and playgrounds and sidewalks and supermarkets and laundromats (which, at a tender age, I really looked forward to going to with my mom. I found it cool watching the clothes spin) and amusement parks and Red Barn restaurants. Nature was the Cleveland Metroparks, which I now realise is basically man-made, but man-made with God-made trees and such. Nature could also be drives in the country, which I seem to remember my parents taking us kids on quite a bit when I was, say, 5, 6, or 7. Where we were going exactly, I have no recollection, but I enjoyed watching the rural parts of Northeast Ohio zip by the car window. Most, though some might say least, of all, nature was the odd fields or woods that pop up in the suburbs. You know, those undeveloped pieces of land that you assume will just stay undeveloped because, when you're a kid, you don't really expect any change in the future short of the dramatic change you might see on The Jetsons or Star Trek. Nature and man-made. City and country. Civilization and wilderness. All in their proper places. Until the birthdays add up, and you notice that there's more civilization, more city, more man-made things than ever before.

It's been a year since the BP explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. A lot of people were upset about the subsequent despoliation of the environment. Was I? Well, intellectually I found it regrettable. But it didn't really, as they say, hit a little too close to home. But something else that happened in this still-new century did.

In the summer following the 8th grade, I got a job delivering newspapers at a condo development. The condominiums were fairly new. Some hadn't even been moved into yet. But since this was a part of town I hadn't been to before, they might as well have been there for a hundred years. Everything in its' proper place. Next to the condos were some woods. Occasionally, when I was done with my route, I would duck into the woods, and do some exploring. Not much exploring. These woods were pretty small. The only way you could get lost in them would be to wander in a circle smaller than a Kmart parking lot. If you looked up, you could see telephone wires overhead. It was close enough to the road that you could hear the traffic whizzing by. Yet it was considerably more rural than the development where I had just delivered papers. I imagine the people in the condominiums liked having the woods right next door. It made them feel, as Marie Osmond once sang, a little bit country.

About ten years ago, I drove by my old paper route, and that little bit country was gone. I'd driven past it before, but guess I hadn't paid attention, or given much thought, to the uprooting of trees, and bulldozing of ground that was taking place. Hey, I was trying to keep my eyes on the road! In place of those woods were brand new 21st century condominiums that blend in seamlessly with the ones from the 1970s right next door (condo architecture apparently not having changed much in 35 years.) Now, it's one thing to turn the Gulf of Mexico into the La Brea Tar Pits, but this was a major assault on my memories!

I've always assumed that overdevelopment goes hand in hand with overpopulation. You've got to put those 6.91 billion people on the planet somewhere. But that's not even an issue in Northeast Ohio. We've been losing people for as long as I can remember. We've also been knocking down trees and paving over fields and putting up structures in their place for as long as I can remember. What's the point of building new houses and shopping centers while the population remains stagnant? Well, it may remain stagnant, but it doesn't stay still. For the past 60 years, the same number of people have moved from some parts of Northeast Ohio to another. Along the way, cement, concrete, asphalt, bricks, mortar, lumber, steel beams, and aluminum siding have been shuffled around like deck chairs on the--well, I won't stoop to using the cliche, but the actress Kate Winslet comes to mind.

Sometimes, what's developed ends up needing even more developing. I currently live in the Cleveland suburb of Strongsville. I needed to know recently how much it would cost to send a bunch of documents through the mail. The Strongsville post office is on Pearl Road, a major thoroughfare, not far from the Median County line. Strongsville has undergone tremendous growth during the last few decades. So has Medina County. As a result, some people who live in Medina County go to jobs in Strongsville and vice versa. Traffic jams have resulted in certain times of the day, and so it's been decided to widen Pearl to make it easier to go to and fro. When I paid my visit to the post office, there were more orange barrels than there are skyscraper's in Chicago and Manhattan put together. The actual road had been dug up and a temporary zigzag of pavement built right next to it. Some workers waved flags at confused drivers trying not to fall sideways into the the canyon where the right and left lanes used to be, while others shoveled and jackhammered and generally contributed to a fog of dust. Traffic was backed up worse than ever.

Thus, in order to make it easier to go from Medina County into Strongsville, and vice versa, it will be, for a time, more difficult to go from Medina County into Strongsville. And vice versa.

Such is progress.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Blog Vérité: P Removal

The economic recovery still has a way to go. I saw this on a bulletin board not too long ago:








Moping? I'm pretty good at that already. I certainly don't need to pay someone to do it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Quips and Quotations (National Poetry Month Edition)

A poet can write about a man slaying a dragon, but not about a man pushing a button that releases a bomb.

--W. H. Auden

Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotion know what it means to want to escape from these.

--T. S. Eliot

A word is dead when it is said, some say.
I say it just begins to live that day.

--Emily Dickinson

...who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations which in the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish...

--Allen Ginsberg, Howl

To have great poets, there must be great audiences.

--Walt Whitman

If Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the inquisition might have let him alone.

--Thomas Hardy

Not everyone who drinks is a poet. Some of us drink because we're not poets.

--from the movie Arthur (1981) screenplay by Steve Gordon.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

In Memoriam: Sidney Lumet 1924-2011

Film director. 12 Angry Men. The Fugitive Kind. The Pawnbroker. Fail-Safe. Serpico. Murder on the Orient Express. Dog Day Afternoon. Network. The Prince of the City. The Verdict.

"While the goal of all movies is to entertain, the kind of film in which I believe in goes one step further. It compels the spectator to examine one facet or another of his own conscience. It stimulates thought and sets the mental juices flowing."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I often write about pop culture on this blog, but it's usually pop culture past. Present day pop culture is too fragmented. I have a harder time getting a handle on it. Thus, I have avoided the whole Charlie Sheen saga. Until now. Everybody talking about it has made me want to talk about it. No, I'm not following the herd. I'm just fascinated that in this thousand channel world, there's somebody we can all still talk about. It restores my faith in conformity. What the hell am I talking about? I chafe against conformity, especially when I find myself giving into it, as I'm apparently doing now. Well, at least it gives me a topic everybody will recognize.

In order to prepare for this piece, I decided to watch Sheen's hit sitcom, Two and a Half Men. It's been on the air eight years, and just now I'm getting around to watching it. For most of my life, waiting that long to watch a hit sitcom would have been unthinkable. I grew up on sitcoms. Along with comic strips and Jerry Lewis movies, situation comedy was a refuge from a wholly unsatisfactory childhood and adolescence. Early on there were such after school UHF classics as Gilligan's Island, Green Acres , The Beverly Hillbillies, The Addams Family, The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie, and everybody's WWII favorite, Hogan's Heroes . OK, so "classics" is a relative term. I also liked The Dick Van Dyke Show. I wasn't totally lacking in sophistication at age 9. Later on, and later in the day, and night, as my bedtime was pushed ahead, I watched everything from All in the Family to Happy Days to The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Taxi. In my adulthood, there were Cheers and Seinfeld. I have a couple of sitcom writers (Ken Levine and Mark Rothman) in the sidebar to the left. If you liked either MASH or The Odd Couple, you should check them out.

So smitten was I with the form as a weird little kid, I can remember creating imaginary sitcoms while others my age dreamed of becoming cowboys or astronauts. For instance, when I was in, I believe, the second grade, we had to learn about Alaska. I remember the teacher showing us a picture of some warplanes parked at an U.S. military base, and explaining to us that this was to protect Alaska from Russia, just across the Bering Strait (my second-grade teacher prefigured Sarah Palin.) This got my wheels turning. In my imaginary sitcom, the comical dad took his comical family on vacation to Alaska, and while there, the Rooskies attacked! For reasons that made sense to me when I was 7 or 8, the invaders segregated all the children in Alaska from their parents. Even the Eskimos. My comical father comically snuck into the children detention center to visit his kids, and, while there, comically tripped over a wire that comically set off an alarm alerting the Pentagon that Alaska had been invaded. This also made sense to me at the time. Anyway, the commies skedaddled back to their side of the Bering Strait, and my comical father was awarded a medal by the President. I figured Richard M. Nixon could play himself, much the same way Bob Crane had once played himself on The Lucy Show.

Hey, what am I telling you all this for? I might still be able to sell this idea to Hollywood. Just replace Nixon with Obama.

So, if I'm that much in love with sitcoms, why did it take me so long to watch Two and a Half Men? Love wanes over time. It's not that sitcoms have declined in quality. I imagine some are good, some are bad, and many are in-between, just as always. I think I've just been overexposed to the format. Eat too many strawberries, you can develop an allergy.

Nevertheless, for the good of this essay, I watched Two and a Half Men. I found it funny. I also found the show right after it funny. Mike and Molly is a sitcom about two overweight people who meet at a Weight Watchers-like meeting and fall in love. In this particular episode, Mike befriends an overweight girl with a pretty face, thus making Molly jealous. Actually, Molly has a pretty face, too. It just that Molly is sort of ordinary pretty, whereas the other girl is glamorously pretty. Think Betty and Veronica. Or Mary Ann and Ginger. So that's the set-up. The ordinarily pretty overweight girl is jealous because her overweight boyfriend is spending too much time with a glamorously pretty overweight girl. I found this setup not only funny but also a perceptive look at the relativity of physical attraction.

Hey, why am I talking about Mike and Molly? This is supposed to be about Three and a Half Men and Charley Sheen.

I did find Charley Sheen funny. I also found Martin Mull funny. He was playing this doped-out pharmacist (apparently drug humor is back in vogue; everything is cyclical.) I've always found Martin Mull funny, going back to when he played Garth and his twin brother Barth on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Even when he played straight man (so to speak) to Roseanne Barr on her sitcom, I found him the funnier of the two. Mull was also a stand up comedian at one time. Maybe I should say sit-down, as an easy chair was a part of his routine. I occasionally caught him doing his act on talk shows during the 1970s. Hilarious. It's a shame he's not a bigger star than he is.

Wait, I'm supposed to be talking about Charlie Sheen, aren't I? Let's just skip Two and a Half Men. It's too distracting, and concentrate on the man himself.

According to what I've been able to find out about him on-line, Charlie Sheen has dated hookers, stuck a knife against his wife's throat, bottomed out on drugs and alcohol, recovered from drugs and alcohol (though not through AA, whom he regards as sissies), considers himself a rock star, wants his show to be enjoyed but not processed by men who go to bed with ugly wives and have ugly kids, has a problem with trolls and turds, feels he's a winner and everybody who complains about him is a loser (if you say something nice about him, does your golf game improve?), thinks Thomas Jefferson is a wimp, has poetry at his fingertips, and flies an F-18--no, excuse me, is an F-18 that drops ordnance, even as it's lonely up there with the goddesses.

I've taken some of the above out of context. Trust me, it's even weirder in context.

Oh, yes, the thing that got him fired from his sitcom. Sheen criticized his producer, Chuck Lorre, for changing his original Hebrew-sounding name to something more gentile. Why did Lorre do that? Can't say. Maybe it has something to do with Sheen calling himself a Vatican assassin. That would make anybody with a Hebrew-sounding name a little nervous.

Sheen has taken his show on the road. Just last night he was in Cleveland. With tickets $60 a pop, I couldn't afford to go, but I read in this morning's paper that the show was a hit. Oh, I guess there was a heckler or two. Seems Sheen was talking about a childhood stuttering problem, when somebody in the audience yelled out "You, suck!" Sheen immediately switched the subject to crack and hookers. I have no idea what the heckler's wife and kids looked like.

I must say, I regret not scraping enough money together to see the show. I, too, could have yelled something out to him. No, I wouldn't have heckled him. I just want to ask him a question. A question no audience member, no journalist, no radio host, has the guts to ask him. Charlie Sheen, if you're reading this now, I demand you answer this question!

What's Martin Mull really like?