Getting out of Dodge

I'm not from Pawnee, Indiana, but I got here as quick as I could. I thought we had some pretty nifty options for entertainment, but when I visited New York City this summer I said, "Mercy! There's a lot more stuff going on here!" Just to be sure I went to Trip Advisor, and sure enough, the math confirms it:


How about just one goofy grin?

OK, I get it. Tom Selleck needs to put on a stern face for the covers of the Jesse Stone DVD series. I just think it would be fun if one out of five of them on the movie rental store display rack had him with a very goofy grin.

Morning drinking

I was tempted by the coozies in Dollar Tree, not because I drink a lot of cold beverages, but because of the down-to-earth humor. I like the space ship on the one on the right. The one on the left I don't really get—who needs something like this in the morning? I guess the answer is no one, that's why it's still on the shelf.

No swimming on the grass

I don't see why swimming on grass needs to be prohibited. It seems like it's just another example of the erosion of personal liberties.

Tom Robbins makes me feel good...about the future

I've read most of Tom Robbins books and love the way he writes. It is pleasure to drink in his sentences, and thrill to the delectable similes sprinkled throughout the text that jump off the page like corn that's been air popped by lithe muses summoned to provide relief from life's disappointments. Gee, that was a pretty lame homage to his technique. Better to cite a few examples from the book:

The sporadic letters she'd sent me in Korea were approximately as affectionate as a foreclosure notice.

A big brooding hulk, he would puff his jowls malevolently and bulge his hyperthyroid eyes until he resembled a hippopotamus rising from the ooze, then unfold his meaty lips to emit one of those nervous little nearly silent giggles which which certain jazz drummers vent their ecstasy at the terminus of an especially complicated riff.

Dr Peters was tall, gaunt, and pale, with a weak damp smile and cold damp palms: shaking his hand was like being forced to grasp the flaccid penis of a hypothermic zombie.

His round face almost perpetually exhibited the wide-eyed gaze and surprised smile of an astonished child, one who might have had his blindfold removed to find himself in a castle filled with ice cream, puppies, and toys.

In addition to enjoying the book I've been encouraged by the thought that Robbins wrote this in his 80s. I hope I can hold on to my marbles in order to do good work in my golden years.


The right answer is "You're Welcome"

I was upset for a while by the remodeling hysteria that I believe was created by the home decorating cable TV channel. Two many ladies looking at properties they were considering buying, turning up nose after nose scoffing "This bathroom needs updating" this, and "That kitchen needs remodeling" that, I believe this is the real cause behind the collapse of the prime mortgage housing economy—people pouring money into properties they couldn't afford to live a luxurious life they think will be theirs by getting marble countertops and new faucets and lighting fixtures. Well, I say formica countertops were good enough for my parents, and if it's still hygienic and functional let's lower our expectations a little and live within our means, maybe even save a few dollars for our children's education and our retirement.

Just when I was starting to accept the inevitable I was hit with a new social ill that I think has the potential to take our civic civility down several notches. This is my new pet peeve: people who are serving you who say "No problem" in response to your saying "Thank you." Does this annoy you, too? When you're paying the bill at the restaurant and are trying to be polite, and proud of your own manners and as you prepare to depart say "Thank you" (when perhaps it should be them that is thanking you for your business), and then they reply "No problem."

 

Making this observation has become my new litmus test for checking out someone as a possible friend. It used to be I'd casually work into the conversation that I have an extensive rubber stamp collection. That hobby began when my older brother gave me a rubber stamp of a hi top tennis shoeI as a send off for college. During my freshman year it became an obsession and I developed a habit of buying stamps out of the Hero Arts catalog, like their classic "Godzilla Eating a VW Bug", back in their early days, before they got all mushy and turned all Hallmarkish. Sensitivity to rubber stamps became a way to categorize people into two groups—the 80% who would look blankly at me and ask "Huh?", and the 20% whose eyes lit up and asked if they could come over and play with them.

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The confidence level increased in the 20% who passed the first test passed a second trial as well. For this I casually put on João Gilberto's João record on the hi fi, the one with added instrumental layers arranged by Clare Fischer for João Gilberto's album João. 80% of people in the second phase of testing would continue to talk over it as if it were just one more piece of music to be  ignored rather than giving the respect it deserves. The other 20% of those in phase two testing were unable to continue the conversation. Their mouths hung open and eyes bugged out when we got to the parts with Clare's amazing clarinet choirs and the other backgrounds that he added to the basic tracks João sent him.

The increasing frequency of "You're welcome" in conversation today is part of the the slippery slope down into a loss of manners, which I suspect has to do with the majority of civilians drifting into texting instead of having voice and non-verbal communication. Please, supervisors, train your staff respond with "You're welcome" when someone says "Thank you." Sure, there may be rare situations in which your staff has gone out of their way to be of service and the customer is falling over themselves apologizing and emphasizing how grateful they are for the extra help and mileage the employee went to way above and beyond what could reasonably be expected. Yes, then it could be appropriate to politely let them know that they can stop their worrying that too much has been done and that you were in no way put out with a gentle "Oh, please don't worry any more about it, it was no problem.".

If you're going to be serving the public hopefully you enjoy the opportunity to help others and serve them, if necessary taking comfort in the idea that what goes around comes around, and that you will be served by others in turn. Of course you can't be expected to be delighted about serving every customer in every situation, but at least once in a while hopefully you will feel some satisfaction, if not a tingle of joy, in helping, and in those cases I suggest that you do like they do in Brazil and answer "It was my pleasure." I'm going to try saying that more often, and to also be more sincere and generous with my gratitude.

I considered a performance art piece where I could start saying "No problem" in even more inappropriate situations, like someone calls on the phone and leads off with "How are you doing today, Sir?" and I come back with "No problem." This could hopefully start a chain reaction of people wondering why someone would say that in that situation, and eventually connect the dots and realize it's not the right response to "Thank you." My younger brother pointed out that it could have the opposite effect though and start encouraging people to say it even more often, and what would happen if my teenagers started using it in the sarcastic tone that only the young can achieve, like I say "Would you please scoot over on the couch so I can sit down?" and they say "Sure, Dad, no problem" in a tone of voice as if I've asked for too much again. I thought this growing annoyance was another sign of advancing age, but then my brother said his wife is annoyed by the same thing.

I think what needs to be done is to activate the idea that's been percolating about launching the Lovely Thinking T-shirt line. The first design is going to be "Thank you" on line one, "No problem" underneath it with a line through it on line two, and "You're welcome" on line three. Get yours before supplies run out!

Opportunity to practice your improv skills

I've been getting upset lately about people calling twice or three times a day from India (or Nigeria?) telling me there's something wrong with my Windows computer, or that they have a report that someone in my family has been taking blood thinner medicine and I can get in on a lawsuit. Surprisingly there seems to be no change in the frequency of these interruptions from angrily telling them to take my number off their list and to stop calling me.

I think I found a way out today that I can share. If you'd like to practice your improv skills and get such a call when you're doing something that doesn't require your full attention (potato peeling: OK, potato cutting: not OK) act like someone a few bricks short of a load and see how long you can engage them before they hang up. I think I got over two minutes just now. Prolong pauses, back up, riff off what they say. Eventually they will hang up when they realize it's hopeless, but if you show just the right amount of potential you may be able to string them along and beat the other members of your group's top scores. For example, the caller says that he's been told that someone in my family has been using blood thinner medicine. You ask if it's the doctor's office that is calling. The caller says no, they are an independent agency that's gotten a report from a medical group that you've been taking this blood thinner medicine. You say you were in about two weeks ago to take a blood test but haven't gotten the result. Do they have the results yet? They say they are not the doctor's office.

In theater improv a basic approach is "Yes, and..." meaning that you avoid contradicting your partner's suggestions that would kill the line they hand you. Like if they say "Have you seen my elephant?" you don't want to say "No", or "You don't have an elephant!" since that would break the flow. Instead you answer with something like "Yes, she just left to go to the football game but should be back this afternoon. Should we prepare a surprise for her?" This is how you get along with other people. You can nurture your capacity to follow another person's lead during these phone calls by honing your ability to seize on opportunities to twist what they say on the phone, all the while being amused by observing their growing exasperation as their patience runs out.

I was telling my daughter about this, and we came up with a number of variations. You could start doing different voice imitations, slip in and out of lucidity, have someone pick up a second phone extension and start ordering pizza, or like I used to do when people came to the door to try to sell me something, reach for an item (like one of my self-produced CDs) that I left by the front door for just such an occasion, and turn the tables and try to sell them something. I think I'll add it to my list of things to do while waiting to come up with a scam that I could try to pull on people who call about my Microsoft Windows computer needing a security upgrade or my history with blood thinning medicine. Until I think of something good perhaps I'll start interviewing them to see if they would like to do telephone sales for my company, Lovely Thinking, who has a need for skills and ambition like theirs. I'm starting to worry that I've teetering altogether too close to the edge on this one, or maybe have already slipped over, but then my younger brother told me that the "No problem" response is his wife's pet peeve, too, so maybe there is something to it. I told him I was considering starting a performance art piece where I'll say "No problem" at inappropriate times in order to start wavelets of consciousness as other people wonder why I said that in that particular situation, and then connect the dots and become more aware of how it's slipping into common usage. Like when someone tells me they like my shoes, or points out how nice the sunset is  I can come right back with a cheerful "No problem!" My brother warned me that while it could be satisfying in the short run, it could have an undesireable longterm effect. People might start saying "No problem" more often, and not just in the service industry. Imagine my teenagers saying in an ironic tone, as only teenagers can, "No problem, Dad" when I ask them to scoot over on the couch so I's can sit down, or to go turn off their bedroom light if they're going to be downstairs watching TV.

There are three basic ends to this phone improv session. In most cases the caller will just give up and stop talking to you and hang up without saying goodbye. As your skill develops you may start to sense that time is about to run out, at which point you can either say "I'm just messing with you man/lady. Thanks for playing along" (knowing that you're risking them answering with "No problem"), or else just quietly hang up the phone.

In addition to exercising your listening and improv skills, this also works as an outlet for tension for passive/aggressive personalities.

 

Live Long and Prosper

Leonard Nimoy's last tweet was nice:

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP

Some of his perfect moments were preserved, in his appearances on Star Trek and his performances in his lesser-known musical recordings. What really hit me this week was the thought that there will be less and less resonance when I play my favorite for my students.

Not everyone knows that Spock sang "Proud Mary" at a karaoke party on Deep Space Nine.

Okay, "I Walk The Line" might have been a better choice:

It's ironic that William Shatner's performance of "Rocket Man" relied so much on smoking to sell it. Evidently smoking was the main cause of Nimoy's death.

Album Testimonials

Travis Harvey has produced a series of video interviews with people describing albums that rocked their world. It's heartwarming, reminds me why I went into music in the first place, and reminds me of Erykah Badu's comment in Before the Music Dies that it's what makes the world go round.

Check out some of the episodes and reflect on the albums that have been especially important to you.

Top 5 Questions to Google about Dogs in 2014 from Users in the U.S.

Google keeps track of trends in their searches. I think that if you're really simpatico with your pup that you could probably come up with explanations of your own for the top five:

  1. Why do dogs eat grass?
  2. Do dogs dream?
  3. Why do dogs howl?
  4. Why do dogs have whiskers?
  5. Why do dogs chase their tails?

What mystifies me is how my dog decides where to do her most serious business. She walks for a while and then suddenly hones in on the ideal spot through a series of constricting ellipses. Knowing how she selects these targets would save me considerable time, which would be especially appreciated by both of us during frigid winter months.

The Acoustic Origin of Smiles

You can tell when someone is smiling by the change in tone in their voice. When we smile our cheeks are pulled back, reducing the size of the mouth cavity, thereby raising the pitch of vocal track resonances. Once I get a little free time I think it might be a good idea to analyze this shift in spectrum and design a "smiling" filter setting for audio mastering, to make music smile. The Acoustic Origin of the Smile, by John Ohala.

Doing business differently—and succeeding

Mission in a Bottleby Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff, co-founders of Honest Tea. This is another in a series of very interesting books I learned about by listening to Dan Pink's interviews in his podcast "Office Hours" series. Dan puts it well: "Seth and Barry have crafted a rich and compelling story and told it with the perfect blend of inspiration and humility. For anybody who has started a business—especially those considering an entrepreneurial path Mission in a Bottle is a must read." One of the many cool things about the book is it is written in comic book form.

Find common ground. It's the natural thing to do!

I enjoyed a recent episode of the "This American Life" podcast, about who is in the tribe and who isn't Here's a bit of the transcript, where the author of The World Until Yesterday describes how meeting new people is a new phenomenon created by modern societies. Jared Diamond: "The idea that you could just wander around and meet someone is utterly impossible in New Guinea. If you ran across a strange person on your land, that could only mean that they were there for some bad reason. They were there to scout out your land for a raid, or to steal a woman, or to steal a pig.

And so if you ran into a strange person in the forest and you couldn't run away from him, you came around a corner and there he was, then the two of you would sit down. And you'd have a long conversation in which each of you names all your relatives, trying to find some relative in common which gives you a reason not to kill each other. And if after two hours you haven't found any relative in common, then one of you starts running or you try to kill the other person."

So next time you meet someone, realize it's in your genes to find common ground with them. Sit down and find out what you have in common before you go any further. If that fails, I suggest that you take off running before they try to kill you!

True Blue

Have started to make tracks available through Bandcamp. Have to work on graphics next.

Signs of the Times

I was in CVS Pharmacy picking up my meds and saw these two signs. I couldn't shake them from my memory and had to go back another day to snap pictures. The way the exit sign is labelled makes me wonder, is it an exit, or not an exit?

What interested me most, though, was whether I could really get my money back if I buy a beauty product and it doesn't actually make me beautiful.

The ultimate vanity license plate

Forget about vanity license plates. Get yourself a vanity car! How about this? It would work best on a car that has the license plate pretty flush to the back of the car, no deep recession, and if the color is the same color as the background of the license plate. For example, you have a white license plate with black lettering, and a white car. Then you could carefully paint in the same font and size as the letters of the vanity plate, but with a whole phrase, where the license is just part of it, like:

I'd rather bE PLAYINg the piano.

with "I'd rather b" painted to the left of the the plate, and "g the piano." on the right, and the plate itself saying E PLAYIN. To make it maximally cool, the plate itself shouldn't make sense. Please send a photo if you do this!