Friday, May 28, 2010

Last laugh


It is with a great deal of self satisfaction that I googled 100 Questions and discovered about 136,000 bloggers posted comments about the first airing of the doomed sitcom. And another two hundred or so reviewers mentioned the annoying laugh tracks.

Sometimes it is nice to know I am not the only one ranting about important issues not related to oil spills, global warming or the death of Gary Coleman.

I am also pleased that others were painfully aware of the laugh tracks and I wasn't just hearing excess laughter along with the normal voices in my head. Sometimes we have to grasp at the small things to confirm our sanity in a crazy world.

And it wasn't just the bloggers dissing on the poor, wayward sitcom. Some bonafide reviewers from the "legitimate" press shared my sentiments that this comedy was no laughing matter. So, I am beginning to question why I am not being paid beau coup bucks to crap all over new programs. I was able to smell this corpse before the other vultures started circling and I will be the first one to admit I have absolutely no credentials other than a well-defined sense of what is bad. So have I gone pro as a reviewer?

Not that I really want to be a professional reviewer. What is a review after all other than an opinion? And we all know that opinions are like assholes because everyone has one. And I think I'd rather be an amateur asshole than a professional one, unless, of course, someone wanted to pay me loads of cash to be one.

Though I do think it would be kind of fun to be a professional reviewer of reviewers. I could call my reviews, An Asshole on Assholes. I'm willing to bet, however, if I started writing harsh critiques of critics reviews you'd hear this squeal of outrage without comparison. Because I do believe that most people who criticize for a living have an innate inferiority complex and very thin skin. So if you turned the unforgiving light of criticism on them, they'd start barking and nipping at themselves like a rabid dog, incensed that someone would dare hoist them by their own petard.

I think the problem with reviewing reviewers would be that no one really gives a rip about them in the first place. If they were somebody, then they wouldn't have to inflate themselves by judging others. And I do realize the hypocrisy I am spouting while judging reviewers and having recently dumped on a sitcom jam packed with unknown actors looking for a break.

Self-awareness while being an asshole is a bitch. So I guess this was my first review of a reviewer.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Laugh tracks

Although I started writing this post about my uncanny ability to tell when a sitcom will be cancelled within three episodes, I can't help but digress and suggest that Laugh Tracks would be a great name for an open mike night on a commuter train. Passengers could take turns using the train PA system to pretend they are stand up comedians.

Okay, maybe not. We'd need a bar car before that would come close to working.

But enough of my digression. I am watching a new series I have never heard of before called 100 Questions. The premise seems to be that a British woman living New York goes to a dating service to find her soul mate and has to answer a 100-question personality test. The first question leads to a flashback to a bad date that brought her to the dating service in the first place.

Presumably each episode will be triggered by one question from the 100-question test. I believe it is wishful thinking on part of the writers to think they can trick the network into keeping the series alive for 100 episodes just to see whether the woman finally meets her soul mate after 100 half hour episodes full of wacky high jinks and overly aggressive laugh tracks.

It is the laugh track that is the key thing signalling loudly to me that the sitcom is doomed. I got the same premonition when I watched Alyssa Milano's doomed series Romantically Challenged. The other signs that that series was doomed included really bad writing coupled with extremely poor acting that even very aggressive laugh tracks couldn't cover up.

At least 100 Questions redeemed itself occasional with some clever writing. And after awhile, I couldn't help but begin to actually like some of the goofy characters. They just need to tone down that damned self-conscious laugh track or they are going to make it to question number 4 on the personality test.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Full moon alert

No, I am not warning people that I am about to drop trow and moon them. I am actually referring to the impending full moon that will be in the sky tomorrow and wreck havoc with the emotional state of the world as we kind of know it. Though me dropping my pants and mooning people could have the same emotional impact.

It seems like I write about the full moon every time it makes its appearance because I tend to feel it before I see it. I feel more disjointed mentally than normal. And I lose my manic drive to blog obsessively and try desperately get people to read my posts. Though I think I need to pick meatier subjects than beauty bark if that is indeed my goal.

I've lost track really of what my goal is. After almost six years of blogging, the odds of me becoming an Internet sensation are pretty much astronomical. It is a harsh reality that I've had to face along with middle age and the fact that I'll never be rich (or better looking). The full moon somehow exacerbates all of this.

To add insult to injury, I still have these annoying little beauty bark splinters in my fingers. But the plant beds look pretty darn spiffy. They'll just glow in the full moon light tomorrow if the clouds lift. The moon doesn't really have much influence on beauty bark other than making it live up to its name.

Speaking of driving traffic to my blog, Google AdWords tried to tempt me to advertise with them with a $100 worth of free advertising. Every time someone searches for a key word that I associated with my blog it would pop up there on the right of the search. I was almost ready to do this when it dawned on me that there is no single key word that I could associate with my blog that would be flattering or would make someone want to go to my blog when they were looking for something altogether different. And since I don't sell anything, there wouldn't be any real reason to advertise my blog anyway.

No, I need to be content with people randomly colliding with my blog the way random asteroids collide with the moon. I wonder if more asteroids hit the moon when it is full than when it is a new moon?

See how I neatly brought my digression about Google AdWords full circle back to the full moon? That my friends is the sign of a seasoned writer.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Is beauty bark worse than its bite?

I am not by nature a person who enjoys yard work, the operative part of the phrase being "work."

Mowing lawn was a chore when I was a kid. It was something I hated because it entailed rolling out the old gas lawn mower in the oppressive Boise heat, checking it for gas (which in inevitably did not have), dashing down into my grandmother's root cellar where my father stored the gas can (avoiding the disgusting bugs and beetles the size of my fist that lurked there), gassing up the ancient thing and then spending 30 minutes trying to get it started.

Starting involved pulling a cord to start it because, although the internal combustion engine had been invented by this time, cheap lawn mowers did not come with electronic ignitions. In between pulling the starter cord, you had to mess with the choke. To this day I do not know or care what the choke is or was. I just knew that my father had impressed upon me the importance of using it. It was right up there with swearing a gray streak at the lawn mower during the start-up and mowing process. If messing with the choke did not make the lawn mower turn over, I then had to pull the spark plug and clean carbon off from the gap.

When the lawn mower finally turned over, coughing like a TB patient, I'd push it in the blazing sun as it belched out blue smoke. The worst part was when you'd hit a pile of dog crap buried in the tall grass and you'd be assaulted with this putrid smell of warm dog shit, grass and gasoline.

Suffice it to say, I developed a phobia of mowing the lawn that nips at the back of my mind every time my grass reaches the point of no return and requires taming. Fortunately, I now live in the Pacific Northwest and rarely have to mow the lawn in tripe digit temperatures. And I don't have a dog, so I'm generally spared the brown land minds in the mowing process. And now I have an electric lawn mower, so my days of pull starts, chokes and spark plugs are a relic of the past. The worst I have to contend with is figuring out a mowing pattern that causes the least amount of maneuvering to avoid mowing over the cord and sending many volts of electricity flowing through my private parts.

After this long tirade about mowing the lawn, I have to confess that I didn't even have to mow it this weekend. The other advantage to living in the Pacific Northwest is that it rains most of the time. So my lawn got called due to rain. But I did have to engage in the semi-annual spreading of the beauty bark. Beauty bark was not a phenomenon I encountered growing up. The only thing we spread on flower beds when I was a kid was steer manure.

It wasn't until we moved into our current house with its nicely landscaped front yard that I was faced with yet another endless regime in the yard work game. I'm sure beauty bark was invented by a tree cutting service that had piles of bark and tree chips laying around and some industrious tree cutter decided that rather than pay to haul the chips to the dump they could convince some poor schmuck homeowner that there yard would look better if the plant beds were covered with bark.

And I'll admit that plant beds do look better with a nice rust colored blanket of bark covering up the moss and weeds. But the bitch of it all is that you have to lug bag after bag of this crap around your yard and try to spread it thin enough to cover everything without spreading it so thin that a good breeze will leave patches of the old bark shining through.

And you never buy enough beauty bark. It is an undisputed law of lawn care nature.

Since I only spread beauty bark once a year at most, I end up waking up muscles I had forgotten I had when I sling the bags macho like over my shoulders. Which is why I am writing this mundane post today. My muscles are screaming at me that I should have remembered I am not macho. I also have these microscopic beauty bark slivers that managed to work their way around leather work gloves to embed themselves into my skin.

I'd pay somebody to do this crap if I wasn't so cheap. Oh well, that's about all anyone should write about beauty bark. At least until next year.

At least it is better than me writing about the final episode of Lost last night (and about as interesting).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Little glimpses of infinity

Little glimpses of infinity skip off the water spread out before me on the canvas of the gray Sound."
--Dizgraceland, Tweet from the train, May 19, 2010

Okay, so sometimes my tweets come across like a C+ paper in a 7th grade creative writing class. It is often the best I can come up with at 6:45 in the morning before more than two sips of coffee on the train. It is also hard to prolific typing with your thumbs in a form that only allows 140 characters or less.

I suppose my tweets are no worse than the average texting shorthand crap that passes for prose these days. At least I tweet in full sentences. Take this gem for instance:

"The roots of dissent grow deep in the soil of mindless rebellion fertilized by the compost of mental corruption! Priceless drivel!"

I haven't a clue as to what I meant when I wrote it, but I think it did get an anarchist to begin following me on Twitter (which is a step up from the porn spammers who are trying to sell me passwords to few their photos).

Just so you don't think I only tweet highbrow stuff I'll share another jewel from my tweet archive:

"Watched a woman stand waiting leash in hand while her dog took a dump. When he is done she'll pick it up in a bag. Who is the dumb animal?"

I am not sure why I try so hard to be a "twit wit," the term I've coined for the perpetually over clever tweeters who obviously spend way to much time picking out one liners with their thumbs on their smart phones trying to one up each other. I have no one to one up since as I've pointed out the only people who follow my tweets are spammers and anarchists. And nine times out of ten they stop following out of boredom or because I don't buy their passwords.

I have to say that celebrity tweeters for the most part don't seem to have much in the clever department to say. Perhaps it is because they aren't being scripted. Tom Hanks primarily posts photos of food he is eating on location. William Shatner rambles incoherently, but that seems in character. Conan O'Brien is the notable exception. But then again he was a copywriter before he was a late night star.

I shouldn't diss on the stars. Most of them have like two million followers who I imagine believe that by friending a star on Twitter, you are becoming one of their closest friends.

I suppose I tweet for the same reason I blog, to sharpen my craft. Because sometimes I come up with real pearls like:

"I can't march to the sound of a different drummer because it is raining on my parade. I'm going back in my box to think until it stops."

I said they were pearls, just not necessarily of high quality or clarity.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Way past cool

At what age do you stop being cool? And I'm not referring to the age you should stop trying to be cool. Anyone at any age who tries to be cool never will be. I'm more curious about that point at which no one looks at you and thinks, "He is pretty cool."

I see people of all ages who are way past being cool, at least from my perspective. They are the ones who have embraced a trend. Or they are the ones who embraced a trend many years ago and couldn't quite pry their death grip off it. Ponytails, mullets, Mohawks, DAs, perms, Rasta hair (unless its your religion and you live in Jamaica), neon dye jobs,  Flock of Seagull flips, mousse induced gel-mets or anything else that draws too much attention to your head weren't cool when they were popular and they aren't cool now.

Excessive piercing of anything lacks coolness. Pierced ears on men who were in their 20s in the 80s is okay. Continuing to wear an earring into your 50s and beyond is not. Excessive tattooing also lacks coolness. Calling them "tats" is especially uncool.

On the clothing front, wearing a utilikilt is about as uncool as a guy can get. Wearing one with either an Australian outback duster or leather trench coat AND a ponytail should get you stoned and shunned by the other villagers.

Basically wearing anything "to make a statement" does. It states that you are trying to stand out when you never really will. Wearing a lampshade on your head doesn't make you the life of the party. It makes you an obnoxious drunk.

I suppose going off on a tirade about what isn't cool, isn't cool. But I have never considered myself cool. I have at various times in my life tried desperately to be cool and failed miserably. I wore an Angels Flight suit in the 70s just like John Travolta.  I pierced my ears in the 80s. I had a perm during the same era. At one time in the 90s I sported a pony tail. I have a tattoo that I got when I turned 45.

I am happy to report I have never worn a utilikilt. I have worn a leather trench coat, but it was only when I was trying to be like my friend Gunter (long story that very few people would understand).

There was one time in a bar many years ago that I was feeling cool (beer will give you that temporary illusion sometimes). I was sitting on a barstool at a table with a friend when I noticed a table of attractive young ladies looking over at me and smiling and then whispering to each other and giggling. The more they smiled and stared, the more cool I tried to act. I sat in that stool with my cool Levi's on, striking my best James Dean cool pose when one of the ladies stood up and approached me. She leaned over and whispered in my ear, "My friends and I were debating on which one of us should come over and tell you that your fly is open." She then walked back to her table. I slunk off to the men's room to button my fly.

I do think it is kind of cool to admit that you aren't cool. I actually embrace my inner uncoolness. Since having kids, I have especially become uncool and fully expect to achieve the pinnacle of uncoolness by the time they become teenagers.

I'm cool with that.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Losing it

I realize that since I usually spend the two hours of  "free" time I have each night after putting my daughter to bed multi-tasking (watching television, working on my laptop and eating popcorn) I don't really give my full attention to whatever is on television. This is fine with mindless programs like Man Vs. Food or Dancing with the Stars, but it exacerbates my inability to have a clue as to what is happening on Lost. And since there is only one more new episode until the grand-finale-that's-all-she-wrote-end-of-the-series-whole-enchilada, I am in deep doo-doo when it comes to every figuring it out.

So last night they had a flashback to show the story behind Jacob and the Man in Black (who isn't Johnny Cash, but that would make just as must sense). The show opens with a pregnant woman named Claudia washing up on the island and being rescued by Biblical looking woman who helps her give birth to twin boys (Jacob and the Man in Black who was technically the Baby in Black at that point). After delivering the babies, the woman tells Claudia she is sorry and then bashes her brains out with a rock. She is a very polite murderess.

The woman then raises the babies as her own. At one point she blindfolds them and takes them to a cave filled with light and tells them they need to protect the light because everybody wants it. Anyway The Man in Black (now a Middle Schooler in Black) is visited by the ghost of Claudia who is still pissed about having her head caved in by "the mother" and tells him that she is his mother and he must join "the others" on the island who were shipwrecked at the same time Claudia washed ashore.

Then yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah and the Man in Black kills his fake mother, fights with Jacob and is tossed into the cave of light where his body is killed and his spirit becomes the black smoke on the island that kills things and deposits polar bears in the jungle.

Makes perfect sense to me. I think it has a Cain and Abel meets the Thompson Twins (who aren't really twins) thing going on.

Oh there was a white rock and a black rock left in a leather bag, too.

I'm going to just go back to watch Man Vs. Food. I think tonight is the rerun of him eating a 12-pound enchilada (speaking of the whole enchilada).

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The blogger who laughs


"A king made me a clown! A queen made me a Peer! But first, God made me a man!"
--Gwynplaine, The Man Who Laughs
The Man Who Laughs was a book written by Victor Hugo in 1869 that was made into a silent film in 1928 that ironically you couldn't hear the man who laughs laughing. Not that he probably did much laughing. The main character, Gwynplaine, is the son of a lord who pisses off the king. The king has a permanent smile carved into Gwynplaine's face as punishment for his father's treachery and the boy is sold to gypsies who abandon him in a snow storm. He rescues a baby girl held in the frozen arms of her dead mother and is in turn rescued by a traveling vaudeville producer and eventually becomes a clown in the producer's sideshow.

The plot gets more and more complicated. The baby girl Gwynplaine rescued is blind. She grows up and falls in love with Gwynplaine oblivious to his hideous grin. And Gwynplaine is afraid to tell her about it for fear she will be repulsed and reject him (obviously they never kissed). I could go on and on unraveling the plot line, but you can google it for yourself if you are interested. I only bring it up because I stumbled across The Man Who Laughs while I was searching for an image of a sad clown for yesterday's post about singing the grays. Or more correctly I stumbled across a photograph of Conrad Veidt, the man who portrayed Gwynplaine in the movie. It was a pretty disturbing image. And interestingly enough it was the inspiration for the original Joker character in the Batman comics.

Life is pretty interesting like that. One minute you are searching for a photo of a sad clown and the next you are discovering an obscure 1928 silent film that spawned the Joker. And then you can't help but Photoshop your face on the image of the man who laughs.

Go figure. I guess I get the last laugh.



Monday, May 10, 2010

Blogger sings the grays

And I guess that's why they call it the blues
Time on my hands could be time spent with you
Laughing like children, living like lovers
Rolling like thunder under the covers
And I guess that's why they call it the blues
--Elton John, I guess that's why they call it the blues
If you really listen to Elton John's song, I guess that's why they call it the blues, you never really discover why they call it the blues. I was staring out of the train window this morning at a gray and rainy Monday morning and tried not to feel blue. But then it dawned on me that I was feeling blue because it was gray and not blue. So shouldn't they say you are feeling gray instead of blue?

"Feeling blue" is yet another idiom that we follow blindly as difficult to trace as why something is none of your beeswax. Ironically we can sing about "blue skys, nothing but blue skys" and be riding high with the bluebird of happiness on our shoulders and not be concerned that singing the blues is usually associated with the feeling you get when someone rips your heart out and plays ping pong with it.

I'm nominating gray as the new blue. Every time I would normally use the term blue to describe feeling depressed, I am committed to using the word gray in hopes that it will catch on and restore some sense of order to the universe. Once that is accomplished I will take on a few more of the things in life that don't make sense, like why Dancing with the Stars and American Idol are so popular. Both of those shows really make me feel gray. Not that I watch them. I am still proud to say I've never seen American Idol.  And I've only been in the room when my wife is watching Dancing with the Stars because she wanted to see Kate Gosselin dance. Kate and her ex husband are a couple of other things in the world that don't make sense.

And while I'm ranting about things that don't make sense, I want the people who made the Verizon wireless commercial about the mother throwing a pirate party for her kid and having a cowboy performer showing up know that when they say she has the "pirate paper plates" they are in fact showing plastic pirate plates. This is just wrong from a continuity standpoint and it totally throws off any credibility I could have for your 3 or 4 G network.

Not that I give Verizon any credit for anything. My experience with FIOS internet and television bundled with their telephone package is very similar to the experience I had purchasing Sea Monkeys as a child. I was heartbroken to discover that they weren't in fact monkeys and FIOS doesn't in fact offer high speed anything, especially high speed customer service. Even Magellan couldn't navigate their Web site and make his way to a customer service rep. If he did, they'd just give him a "thank you for your question about Verizon's wireless television spot. We are sorry you objected to the use of plastic pirate plates instead of paper ones. If you call our technical help line between the hours of  2 and 2:15 a.m. (GMT) one of our technicians from Bombay will schedule a time for a service rep to respond to you."

It will be once in a gray moon before I ever do business with Verizon again.

Friday, May 07, 2010

I don't care if it rains or freezes


I don't care if it rains or freezes,
long as I got my plastic Jesus
sitting on the dashboard of my car.
Comes in colors, pinks and pleasant
glows in the dark cause its iridescent,
take it with you when you travel far.
Get yourself a sweet Madonna,
dressed in rhinestone
sittin' on a pedestal of abalone shell.
Going ninety I ain't scary
cause I got the Virgin Mary
assuring me that I WONT GO TO HELL!!!


-Plastic Jesus (Cool Hand Luke version)

Just as there are books you must read to be considered well-read, there are movies you must see to be considered well-seen. Now granted not all of the "great" books are page turners, nor are all of the "great" films stuff that rivet you to your seat afraid to go to the bathroom for fear you'll miss a single scene. Part of this is due to the generational nature of "greatness" when it comes to books and films. For example, Moby Dick is on the must read list and Herman Melville was considered a rock star writer in his time. Now Moby Dick reads more like the technical manual from whaling textbook and makes a better doorstop than a great read.

I'm sure I am offending the English Lit majors of the world, but I don't count them as my target audience for this blog anyway and if any of them wander in here and read this I suggest that their break is over and they should get back to serving double tall, no foam decaff lattes at Starbucks with the rest of their English Lit brethren (and don't think I don't get the irony of the Starbucks reference in relation to Moby Dick).

I think great films stand a bit more of a chance to remain great when generations collide. Oh, there is a disadvantage that many of them are in black and white and can't compete with 3-D technicolor with surround sound and scratch and sniff technology. But some films just hang in there. Like Cool Hand Luke for instance. It probably is the greatest Paul Newman film there is. And since he is dead, there probably won't be a greater one. It is right up there with Steve McQueen's the Great Escape for great spit in the face of authority films.

Cool Hand Luke is one of those films you always find yourself quoting at odd moments. I mean there is no better quote than the warden of the southern chain gang prison (played by Strother Martin)  that Paul Newman is sentence to (for the terrible crime of cutting off the heads of parking meters with a pipe cutter) than "What we have here, is a failure to communicate."

There is the great hard boiled egg eating contest. And the memorable scene where Paul Newman strums a banjo while sitting on his prison bunk and softly sings his own version of Plastic Jesus. That my non-existent virtual friends is the definition of greatness.

Of course, the problem with randomly referencing bits and pieces of scene and dialogue from a film you saw for the first time in your youth is that, unless you are at your 30-year high school reunion, no one has a clue what you are talking about. I can say "What we have here is a failure to communicate" until I'm blue in the face and most of my younger co-workers just stare at me, blink and go back to texting. I get the same reaction when I say, "Badges, badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges" from Treasure of the Sierra Madre or "Is it safe," Sir Laurence Olivier's  great line from The Marathon Man.

I hate being thought of as THAT old man blathering on about how I used to be able to buy five candy bars for a quarter when I was a kid (which I could, btw). It is sad to have this database of archaic knowledge in my head and have people look at you like you are wearing spats and bowler hat (which were way before my time...I would be more of the Angel Flight suits and platform shoes generation).

Oh well, none of it matters anyway, as long as I have my plastic Jesus sitting here on my computer.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Gobbledygook

I found this great content analysis tool online called Gobbledygook Grader. You copy text into it and it "evaluates your written content (press release, brochure copy, etc.) and checks for use of gobbledygook, jargon, cliches and over-used, hype-filled words."

I decided to drop in my last post to see what my Gobbledygook quotient was. I was bit nervous when I hit the go button, but I was pleasantly surprised when the report generated gave me a score of 100 out of 100 and told me, "This release contains 0 words that are considered gobbledygook (they're overused and lack specific meaning)."

So it has officially been validated that I don't write gobbledygook after all! The report does say that anyone who reads my blog needs to have at least a 12th grade education to understand what I've written, so this explains why I don't get much traffic at my site.

To get a fair sample, I ran another test with a different post and scored a 97 out of 100 because I used one gobbledygook word: resonate. But to make up for it, you only need to have an 11th grade education to understand the post.

Another cool feature of the Gobbledygook Grader is that it creates something called a "Word Cloud." A word cloud graphically depicts word use frequency by displaying key words from your text in font size that relates to the number of times the word is used. The theory is that words related to the theme of what you are writing about should be bigger than other words. I was pleased to see the the biggest word in my first word cloud was train (the post was about my daily commute on the train). The biggest word on the second word cloud was "humor."  It was a post about my sense of humor.

I wish I had a badge to post on my blog now that certifies me Gobbledygook Free. But then people would probably misread it and assume I'm giving away free gobbledygook.

Communication is such a fragile thing.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Off the beaten tracks

You see the world from a different perspective commuting by train. Commuter trains use tracks that were built for freight trains. They usually exist on the alleyways of cities, following the path of least resistance carved out a century or so ago by near slave labor. You slip in and out of the city via the back door.

My train enters and exits the city via a mile long tunnel dug at the turn of the century through the heart of Seattle. It is a time portal free of cell phone signals and light. Your only view is your own reflection in the window. You pass through it in silence wondering vaguely if you'll ever exit. But the squeal of brakes and dim light snap that morbid fantasy as you pop out the other side squeezed between garbage strewn embankments and the windowless walls of the backs of waterfront buildings.

I am lucky though in my commute. My train travels north of the city on tracks that follow the shoreline to avoid Seattle's many hills. It passes through train yards filled with acres of waiting freight cars tagged with faded graffiti. Strangely there are no people in the train yards, only ghosts of hobos and train tramps avoiding bulls or cinder dicks bent on busting heads.

The train passes through the yards and past an armory with army vehicles that look as though they've never moved in decades. And then the train passes through a valley sorts, lined by wilderness shielding the manicured suburbs from the tracks. The wilderness is broken by the occasional overpass. On some mornings you can see shapeless bundles of transients zipped into sleeping bags sleeping cave dweller like under the top edge of the overpass.

The train approaches the locks and passes over a bridge over the waterway that connects Lake Union with the Sound. Occasionally the train must stop and wait for the drawbridge to lower after letting an expensive sailboat pass through. The Iron Horse, especially one simply conveying freight that talks, is no match for rich men's toys.

After passing through a few more miles of wild terrain outside of Ballard, the tracks run past marina's, parks and then simply relatively untouched coastline to the west. To the east modest houses with expensive views perch shoulder to shoulder on cliffs. They have traded the security of a backyard for a water view that could turn into beach front given heavy enough rains and a strategic mudslide.

During cruise season, the train races Alaska bound ships sporting tourists from the East coast and Asia marveling at the scenery that I get to see every day (sans an expensive drink with a paper parasol stuck in a pineapple chunk hanging on the glass rim). Cranes standing on one leg, stare at the cruise ships, keeping their backs to the train. They seem more comfortable with strange things that live on the water than the noisy line of metal that passes by four times in the morning and four times in the evening.

At points you are so close to the shoreline that you can imagine that the train is gliding on the water barely inches from the tips of bald eagles patrolling the shores. During times of high winds the spray of the sound actually splashes against the window, adding to the illusion.

I know my commute is drawing to a close as we pass under a pedestrian overpass that bridges a parking lot and Saltwater Park. Then we pass a few houses that have migrated from the cliffs to the beach front on the west side of the tracks. Finally we pass an oil facility that has somehow managed to take ugly hold on a portion of the land just past the City of Shoreline and just before the City of Edmonds. Two minutes later we roll past a dog park, a marina and some waterfront restaurants and glide into the station.

I love this commute.

Monday, May 03, 2010

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade, even if you are allergic to lemons

I don't know why I am a "glass is half empty" kind of guy. I suppose part of it is because it is more amusing to make fun of the dark side of life than the bright side. There are very few successful stand up comedians who make a living dwelling on the positive.

Not that I am a stand up comedian. I fancy myself a pessimistic humorist with lugubrious tendencies. And other than annoying co-workers in the hallway, I confine my humor to writing. So I don't do stand up. I do sit down. I'm a lugubrious sit down pessimistic humorist. It's my niche and I'm carving it as deep as I can.

I wrote my first lugubrious sit down pessimistic humor piece in a junior high school creative writing course. It was about the time I tried shaving for the first time so there may be some connection there. It was an essay called, "How to survive in a school cafeteria." It was a bit amateurish. But I was only in the 8th grade. I don't recall exactly how it went, but the gist was that you don't piss off school cooks or essentially you'll never get another unbroken taco at lunchtime. Apparently this resonated with some of the school cooks at my junior high school because they cut the essay out of the creative writing class book we published and taped it up in the school kitchen.

I never did get another unbroken taco in junior high school.

I didn't write much humor in high school except for a few scathing letters to the school paper dissing on the student body government. I did write a few lugubrious short stories and some very maudlin poems. I think this prerequisite for a teenager.

It wasn't until I was in college writing for the school paper as a journalism major that I started writing humor again. I even had my own humor column. Ironically the arts and entertainment editor rejected my first piece about how awful the food service was in the dorm cafeteria (sound familiar). The first column I got published was one about "saving the slugs" on campus. The Pacific Northwest is infamous for disgustingly huge slugs that would race across the sidewalks on my college campus at...well a slugs pace. Inevitably they would be stepped on and you'd see these gross slug carcasses spotting the sidewalks on your way to class. Someone scrawled "Save the Slugs" on a wall on campus. Thus the inspiration for my column about a movement to save the slugs.

It was a classic.

I wrote my humor column for two years until I graduated. And though I had a small cult following on campus, the chairman of the Journalism Department never recognized my humor writing as a marketable skill and frequently urged me to focus on "straight" journalism. I eventually did hone my ability to write boring crap to survive, but I never lost my love of pessimistic humor with a side of lugubriousness.

So you can see where blogging saved my soul. I was able to fulfill my dream that I had when I graduated from college to become a humor columnist and prove my Journalism Chairman was wrong. Well, technically I'm not a columnist and my dream involved actually making a living writing this way. So fortunately I have a day job.

So I like to think of the lemon as half full.