Monday, November 19, 2007

Correspondence: November 19, 2007

To a Friend in Australia:

Yeah, “Lucky” is my friend, but don’t hold that against me. I’d say we go back to the ’70s together, but that’s not strictly true. We met in the ’70s, then came forward to the 21st century together, instead. I guess Steven Hawking would say it’s the same thing. He’s good, but sometimes I can see his lips move.

You, know ... now that I think about it, in the 4th grade (sometime around 1975) I signed up for a Pen Pal program through school and was assigned a kid from Australia named “Geoff.” I never wrote to him. So, if you run into “Geoff,” tell him I’m sorry I never wrote, and I hope he’s doing well.

At any rate, I hope all is well and y’all have a good time this week doing whatever y’all do instead of Thanksgiving.

...
I can’t believe it! You have the same T-giving tradition that I do! But mine involves Jagermeister. I don’t normally bring in the religious aspect until later in the evening when I hang my head over the toilet and say, “Oh, God!” a lot.

I was going to sign my last note, “Your Little Southern Friend, Bob” but then I realized you’re way farther south than I am and you might find that insulting. And since you haven’t been steeped in our culture (or lack of it), it wouldn’t make that much impression on you, anyway. So, instead, I’ll just slip in a “y’all” or “yessir” here and there, or maybe the occasional “hyuk, hyuk, hyuk!” for verisimilitude. I’ll shuck, but I won’t jive.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Correspondence: October 30, 2007

… That reminds me of my summers in Tennessee in the ’70s. Old “Bear” Hackett lived about six miles outside of town and used to walk it. He wasn’t quite right in the head. He also rolled his own cigarettes. And I seem to recall that the year James Earl Ray escaped from prison, Bear Hackett was one of the folks sitting around an old country store who said that if Ray turned up on their doorstep, they’d take him in. That was less than a decade after MLK was killed, so maybe they’ve all seen the light by now. I know Bear Hackett has seen the light. He’s dead.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Correspondence: October 22, 2007

… Have you been following the news about our water woes? The governor is trying to reduce the amount of water released from Lake Lanier, but the Corps of Engineers says it is mandated by the federal government to release water for the endangered mussels on the Florida coast. I suggest we keep the water, Tallahassee have a clam bake, and everybody wins. Screw the clams! I’m thirsty. ...

… The governor had a big prayer thing on the steps of the capitol the other day to pray for rain. First of all, don’t get me started. Second of all, I showed them! At the same time as their prayer thing, I was at home praying that God just “do what you think best.”

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Correspondence: October 20, 2007

Origami, is Japanese art of folding paper. Boulder is round rock.
Origami Boulder is wadded up paper! ... This site about origami
boulder very fine wadded paper artwork. I make artwork for you
and you buy it now. I am famous Internet artist. ...

To Origami Boulder Artist:


I am truly impressed by your work. I’ve dabbled in wadding paper, myself, but for me it is merely an avocation, not a true calling.

It is my intention to commission a custom origami boulder as soon as possible. I am currently remodeling my home, however, and I want to hold off until the work is finished in order to ensure that the artwork matches my new décor. Do you have a portfolio I could review in the meantime? I’m O.K. with PowerPoint if you just want to e-mail it to this address.

I am especially interested in having you produce for me a compelling holiday piece if you don’t consider that too base and commercial an undertaking. I’m considering a variation of your haiku origami boulder with a Thanksgiving theme. Something a little more traditional. Rather than a common boulder fashioned from wadded paper, I would like to see an origami replica of Plymouth Rock, and rather than a haiku on the inside, I would like to print my grandmother’s recipe for turkey and dressing.

I am considering a custom font for the recipe. Once I find a font designer and he has produced a font to my liking, I’ll e-mail it to you so we can get moving on this project. Do you require fonts for Mac or PC? Is TrueType O.K.?

There are other pieces I would like to see, but I just don’t have the space for them. A Zen rock garden consisting of several origami boulders set on a bed of confetti seems like it would be very relaxing to sit and contemplate. And, if you could somehow couple scissors or a scissor motif with an origami boulder, it would be a masterpiece. True genius! To combine the proverbial rock, paper and scissors in one piece would be a triumph. An electrifying example of your ineluctable talent.

I can, of course, tender payment through PayPal, but I am relieved to read that you accept alternate forms of remuneration. I can, in fact, pay you in postage stamps, as you indicate they are acceptable. I can also pay you in Chucky Cheese tokens if you deem them desirable. I have an abundance of them, but the kids are grown and I don’t see myself ever having the opportunity to use them myself.

Again, I adore your work and I look forward to doing business with you in the near future.

PS- I’m from Atlanta. Would you be able to make an origami representation of Stone Mountain — complete with carving — from a really big piece of paper? What would be the cost of such an endeavor?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Saffron Succotash!

A moving tribute to the protesters in Myanmar:

He broke the rules …

The monk was brave …
He’s bought himself …
A Burma grave.

And if that doesn’t grab you, try this one:

This Buddhist’s made for walking,

That’s what he’s going to do.
He’ll take his protest to the streets
Til Burma’s dem-o-cratic, too.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Paideia’s Secret Plan

Hey, my fellow alums. Have y’all been by Paideia lately? The campus has finally made it all the way to Oakdale. Beyond, if you include the 1341 Building (whatever that is). If Paideia’s Web site is to be believed, much spine-tingling progress has been made on the newly acquired property since the end of the academic year last June:

“The townhouses located at the corner of Oakdale and South Ponce de Leon
were demolished to make way for the construction of our new junior high building, gym, black box theater and campus green.”

Yep. I told you that would happen. It was only a matter of time.

In the Spring of 1996, some 12 years after I graduated, the faculty adviser of The Forum contacted me and asked me to write an article for a special edition of the paper. I considered the events of that day and presented my predictions on the likely future of Paideia.

Here is that 1996 account of Paideia’s destiny. Looks like we’re moving in the right direction.
____________

Paideia’s Secret Plan

Paideia’s Campaign for the ’90s was recently declared a huge success after raising $5.8 million to buy the neighboring condominium property. This is proof positive that not only is Paideia the proud institution we have always known it to be, but also a successful corporate entity which is carving its niche in the marketplace. This is a grand achievement, and one Paideia folk — old or new — have a right to be proud of. But, what few know is that the Campaign was merely the first step in a far larger scheme dating back to the early ’70s.

I stumbled onto the plot in 1982 when, as a Forum editor, I went through Paul Bianchi’s desk looking for evidence in a Disciplinary Committee case in which I thought a fellow student had been wrongly accused. What I found was shocking and, in those days, scandalous. If the details of this scheme had been made public in the ’80s, it surely would have spelled the end of Bianchi’s regime. Paideia’s Board of Directors knew the plans had fallen to someone in my class and, in fact, the graduation of the class of 1984 was nothing less than an attempt to get rid of us lest word of the plan get out. Now that Phase One has been completed, however, the time is right to disclose the details of Paideia’s Secret Plan.

The Great Garage Sale and Paideia Place were early clandestine tests of Paideia’s fund raising power. These were followed closely by the purchase of the Mother Goose building and the SYDA Foundation property as a fledgling Paideia outflanked the condominiums and began its ten-year siege. This much you know. The rest may shock you.

Over the next ten years, Paideia will continue to accept contributions from parents, alums, foundation grants and major corporations. Paideia will also begin to explore new methods of gaining capital. According to the Plan, by 1999 Paideia will rent out the multi-purpose building for conventions, beginning with the Shriners. The school should pick up a few extra dollars by offering the services of Carol Cooper, the school crossing guard, to keep students from injury by the tiny clown cars. The school also intends to copyright all material taught by its faculty so that it might collect royalties any time an alum uses knowledge learned in any Paideia class.

By 2006, Paideia will incorporate under the new name “PaideiaCorp” and offer its wood-chip stock on the open market. Benefits to employees will increase, with faculty and staff being offered stock options and matching funds in the company’s 401(pre-K).

As time passes, age will take its toll even on the ageless Tom Pearce — still 39 and holding — and one by one the current Paideia employees will retire and, inevitably, die. As Paideia loses its faculty, the plan calls for them to be replaced by former students. All incoming students will be children or grandchildren of former students. Eventually, like some academic ouroboros, only Paideia graduates will teach Paideia students.

As PaideiaCorp’s coffers swell, it will begin to flex its monetary muscle and resume its westward march down Ponce de Leon, acquiring properties at the rate of one or two a year. Paideia should acquire the Krishna Temple on South Ponce by 2015. By 2031, Paideia will finally have a cafeteria after the purchase of the Majestic. By 2045, student housing will be located in what is now the Clermont Lodge.

The Steering Committee will have offices in City Hall East (the old Sears building). It will raise additional funds by selling textbooks at Krispy Kreme during break.

Phase II will end when the campus reaches Peachtree Street in 2071. At that time, Paul Bianchi will, along with Terrell Weitman, be preserved cryogenically and thawed only to make major decisions regarding the direction the Plan should take.


By the close of the next century, there will be tens of thousands of alums, parents, grandparents and the like all sending money to the school. This will mark the beginning of Phase III of the Plan when Paideia will make profit on donations alone and will no longer need to teach students. The students — still considered assets because of their paying grandparents — will be leased to Westminster.

By the school’s 200th anniversary, the Plan will be complete. PaideiaCorp will be a multi-million dollar corporation reaping the benefits of investments begun by us ... right now. The Plan conceived by Paul Bianchi in the early 1970s reaches far into the future. In a scant two centuries, Paideia will have grown from “The Little School That Could” to “The Great Big One That Could Whup Yo’ Ass” ... and we have seen only the beginning.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Correspondence: August 13-18, 2007

August 13, 2007

… My sister is going out of town for four days and wants me to be around for the 15-year-old (and, possibly, the 18-year-old). I guess my main task is to make sure she doesn’t get into any trouble or have people over, or whatever she does at her age. I’d bring my own Jager, but I guess I shouldn’t if I’m the only adult in the house and the only one who can drive. I should be responsible. (The girl sure is cutting into my drinking time, though.)



August 14, 2007

… I’m on the job. The sister left her laptop, but I’m not digging this keyboard. She did not leave money for food, so we went and got fixin’s for sandwiches from the Shell station at the corner. My sister is a smoker and the dog seems not to be housebroken, so I got some incense, too. I’ll come with cash tomorrow, so we can at least get a bucket of chicken.


What do 15-year-old girls like to talk about? I’ve got all sorts of stories about the great grandparents she never met, but the boyfriend might not get into that. What do 15-16-year-old boys talk about, for that matter? All my friends were old when I was that age, so I learned to have intelligent conversations. Not so with this guy. And clever wordplay is definitely out. I may have to hit the wine just to dumb down a little.


August 15 , 2007

… I don’t have much time right now, but here is my report to my sister from tonight:

I am the most hated person in your house right now.

I didn’t let the girl stay overnight at “Squishy’s” house with a bunch of other kids. To the credit of the hoodlums she was hanging out with, once she realized I would not let her stay, they drove her right home. Fifteen minutes ahead of schedule.

She has now locked herself in her room. I’ve never seen her be a surly teenager. Good to see she has it in her.

I just got the phone back from her. A production of unlocking the door, opening it a crack, giving me the phone and closing and locking the door.

Little does she know, this goes on her permanent record. I add this to my niece/nephew file right away.


I can’t type much because of this stupid keyboard, so I’ll catch you up later.

For now, I’ll tell you that I did say something along the lines of, “You have to come home tonight, but tell Squishy that next week he and his friends can come hang out with me.” I’m real popular with the Marietta teens right now.

I never thought I would hear my niece say, “And I thought you were cool!”

I also never expected ever to hear myself say, “Because I’m the grown-up”; “Because I said so”; “You’ll understand some day”; “When I was your age ...” And I thought I sold my soul when I buttoned down my button downs and went to work for Coke!

She’s asleep now, bless her little heart. Unless she snuck out the window.

Hmmmm ... I seem to remember sneaking out the window every night the summer I was 13 or so. I never did evil things. Just rode my bike around the neighborhood with a pal til all hours. She’s probably just as harmless, but I’m the grown-up and I said so.


August 18, 2007

… It’s over. I left the kids on Saturday. The plan was for me to take the 15-year-old to spend the night with my mother on Saturday, but she didn’t want to go. She got my sister on the phone and asked if she could hang out with friends instead. When I spoke with my sister, she said, “I don’t care where she goes as long as the dog is fed and walked.” O.K. That’s an easy one. Put out food, walk the dog and “bye-bye.” I hope the girl was able to eat the rest of the weekend.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Correspondence: August 12, 2007

Ehh ... The mother is ill right now. My sister had to pick her up from church because she was puking. I came over a little later. My tasks were:

“Yoo Hoo!”
“What?”
“Can you let the cats in?”

“Yoo Hoo!”
“What?”
“Can you find me my book? It’s the one with no spine and no name between a white binder and a black binder.”

“Yoo Hoo!”
“What?”
“They said I needed Ginger Ale. And I need more cat food. I have $20 in my wallet”
“Is CVS O.K.?”
“They don’t have the cat food I want. Yeah, that’s O.K.”

So, I’m on my way to CVS.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Correspondence: July 24, 2007

… Myrtle Beach. My goodness! I haven’t been there since the ’80s. My grandparents came to Atlanta in the summer of ’82 and took me down to Savannah and up the coast, through Myrtle Beach and on up to the Outer Banks of N.C. (My great-great-something grandfather who was in the Revolutionary War was from that area, and we were on a genealogical mission.) Then I spent a weekend with a group of friends in Myrtle Beach in ’89. I can’t say I was impressed either time. Like Gatlinburg, too touristy for me. What kind of existence must it be to live there, living each day kitsch as kitsch can?

I agree with you on Mary Mac’s. It just isn’t the same as it was 25 years ago. It beats the Piccadilly, but I’m going to have to cast my vote for the Colonnade, as well. I’ve never partaken of their cocktails, though. I guess I’ve always been there for lunch during the work day, and I usually try not to indulge my gross appetite for alcohol while my supervisors are present. (Of course, there have been some notable exceptions to this policy.)

Now, maybe it’s because I’ve only been in the daytime, but I’ve never noticed a disproportionate number of gay diners at the Colonnade. Mostly just old folks. I’ll bet it does get hoppin’ at night when the patrons of the clubs on Cheshire Bridge get hungry and want to duck out for a little sump’n sump’n.

That reminds me of a time when I was young and naïve and driving down Cheshire Bridge with a friend of mine looking for a place to eat. We noticed The Happy Unicorn and decided to give it a try. Very friendly staff. Good food. It wasn’t until we left that we realized that there had been no female patrons and that we seem to have been the only straight people in the place. Oh ... “The Happy Unicorn.” I get it!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Correspondence: July 17, 2007

… So, twenty-two year old accountants make you feel old? That’s nothing! I just spent the afternoon at my mother’s with my two nieces (almost 18 and almost 15) and their boyfriends. My God, do I feel old! I’ve actually gotten to the point where I start a sentence with, “When I was your age ...”

I’m not sure I could explain “Experiential Communications” either. The Web site of the company I used to work for says: “We create multidimensional experiences that inspire people to take action and influence others. ... We’re the leading experiential marketing agency — integrating live events, branded environments and interactive media. ... We help clients build brands and relationships with consumers, employees and business influencers. ... Ultimately, we ensure brand experiences live up to brand promises. You could say we help brands behave as they say they will.” Make sense now?

(The Web site also says they have 600 employees. When I was there the company line was “over 1,200 employees in 31 locations.” And on the day that we all got downsized, the stock was down to $7.00/share. Fortunately, I sold all of mine six months earlier at about $35.00/share.)

You have no idea how much indignity is actually involved in some of the projects I’ve been a part of. I have been pooped on by a bald eagle, I was nearly killed by fireworks on New Years’ Eve 1999, I once had to keep hordes of construction workers at a McDonald’s from getting ice during lunch rush while we shot a video, and I know more trivia about herpes than you would even believe!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Correspondence: July 3, 2007

... It’s pretty cool out today, thank God. The Peachtree Road Race is tomorrow and maybe this weather will hold. I just came up Peachtree by Phipps and there are portable toilets everywhere in anticipation of the race. They really put the “head” in “Buckhead.”

I don’t suppose there will be much to-do about the Fourth where you are. Just as well, I guess. Some places around here have canceled fireworks displays because of the drought. Good thing. History has shown us that Atlanta can be very flammable. (Come to think of it, General Sherman was from Ohio, too. When you get back, we’ll talk reparations.)

I’m keeping up with your experiences in India through your blogs. I’m looking forward to your blog on sightseeing, which you might call “Sikh and Ye Shall Find.” Or your analysis of indigenous fashion. You might call it “Who’s Sari Now?” Indian fine dining: “Curry Up and Wait.” Indian religion: “Swami, How I Love You, How I Love You ...” or “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Buddha.” Oh, the possibilities are endless!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Confederacy of Dunces

Part One: Am I going to that thing at the campground ...?
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Someone asked me if I was going to the Super Special Summer Out-in-the-Woods Frolic or whatever the Hell they’re having somewhere east of Atlanta. I don’t remember my exact reply, but I think it boiled down to, “No.”

That’s like Josef Mengele saying to a bunch of Jewish people, “Hey, we’re having a little get-together over at Auschwitz. Wanna come? You only have to pay $250 and you have the opportunity to clean up after Nazis in the kitchen or have the good fortune to take care of other Nazis’ children! And, later, there might be a soap-making workshop!”

I wouldn’t go out there if they greased I-20 and the world tilted!

* * * * * *

Now … I live in Atlanta and I know not of what you speak...what is this fest? Sounds abysmal. ...

I guess you could say it’s like Burning Man with a Southern accent. It’s got none of the cachet of Burning Man, but all the dirt and discomfort. A real “Land of Milk and Hiney.”


Part Two: Good times there are not forgotten.”
Friday, March 30, 2007

... down the dank moldering paths and past the Ocean’s streams they wentand past the White Rock and the Sun’s Western Gates and pastthe Land of Dreams, and soon they reached the fields of asphodelwhere the dead, the burnt-out wraiths of mortals make their home ...
— Odyssey, translated by Robert Fagles

I have had several well-reasoned comments to my blog entitled, “Am I going to that thing at the campground ...?” One friend — no stranger to this type of gathering or its organizers — replies,

“You use the Nazi analogy, but I liken my own experience to indentured
servitude/slavery, that’s right, slavery! I think they owe us REPARATIONS!"

And another asserts,

“... sounds a lot like a KKK meeting ...

Well, my friends, you have come closer to the truth than you know. Let’s take a look at some of the facts regarding this event.

Appropriately, the site of this get-together is the Alexander Stephens Memorial State Park in lovely Crawfordville, Ga. Well, for those of you who may have forgotten, ol’ Alexander Stephens was the Vice President of the Confederacy — an ill-fated government in this part of the country in the 19th century — and Crawfordville was his hometown.

What kind of man was this native son of Georgia? Well, he was quite the collector. By the time the War of Northern Aggression began in 1861, Mr. Stephens had collected 34 slaves and several thousand acres. He stated at the time that, “Our new [Confederate] government is founded … upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.” And, “… all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system.”

An interesting choice of venue for “experiencing transformation and revitalization.” Nevertheless, if you pay the $250 registration fee, you can spend five days of “… complete privacy, harmony in a relaxed atmosphere that will ensure an experience to remember.” Yep, five days in a charming, small rustic cabin — much like the ones that Alexander Stephens’ 34 slaves lived in. And you can bet that those “negroes” of Stephens’ day who lived and worked on that very land were ensured an experience to remember. With a whip.

But, what is a whip but a work incentive? The clever organizers of this woodland wonderland getaway thought of that, too. If you agree to wait on the other attendees at the expense of your own “communing with the spirits and gods of nature,” then you may get a discount on the price of admission. You’re still in paradise, but as more of an Elysian Field hand. Maybe if I goes and works real hard for massa, at the end of the five days he’ll send a shuttle bus comin’ for to carry me home.

I don’t think this shindig could have been better planned if had been conceived by D.W. Griffith himself. The persons behind this event may intend to create an enchanted community in a place that is not a place in a time that is not a time, but so did a group of robed and hooded men who met at Stone Mountain, Ga. in 1915 to create a new incarnation of the Klan.

If I sound a little unsympathetic to this whole endeavor, well, you’re right. Just consider me another renegade, a product of the vicious doctrines spread by the carpetbaggers. Sure, those attending might experience “a Magickal Community in a very special place,” but count me out. I’m going to be sure to steer clear of this “Afterbirth of a Nation.”

* * * * * *

... Not quite the Magickal gathering i first envisioned from the title.
(yes, i was thinking faeries and free spirits)

I’ve been to these things. They may start out as faeries and free spirits but usually degenerate into a five-day Bacchanalia. I am reminded of the time when someone I know attended one of these events sporting a pair of faerie wings. Like the character in Alfred Smedberg’s “The Seven Wishes among Gnomes and Trolls,” momentarily, she was transformed into a little, exquisitely beautiful fairy. By the end of the evening, someone had to stand with her and hold her wings while she threw up.

I am loving your bio on ol’ Al Stephens how informative and ironic! How come he rates having a state park named after him? What’s next, the Lester Maddox Memorial State Park? Free baseball bats for the first 100 visitors (long as they’re white. ...)

Lester Maddox has a bridge over the Chattahoochee named after him.For my out-of-state friends who may not be familiar with former Georgia governor Lester Maddox, he was famous for preventing a trio of “negroes” from entering the restaurant he owned by holding a gun at the entrance, then later defied a court order by proclaiming to another group of negroes, “If you live 100 years, you’ll never get a piece of fried chicken here.”
While in office, upon Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, he denied the slain civil rights leader the honor of lying in state in the Georgia state capitol. He reportedly abhorred the idea of flying the state flag at half-staff “in honor of a Negro.”And, just to set the record straight, it wasn’t a baseball bat that he used. It was an axe handle. He handed them out to the white patrons of his Pickrick Restaurant to keep that establishment from being integrated.Yep. Can’t beat Georgia history.

Part Three: I wasn’t just whistling Dixie.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

In a recent blog entitled, “Good times there are not forgotten” (March 30, 2007), I acquainted the reader with a certain summer soirée to be held here in Georgia in the latter part of June. I drew (perhaps unkind) comparisons between those responsible for the planning and execution of this ill-conceived affair and the slave owners of the 19th century. Racial connotations aside, there remain strong parallels between the architects of this event and the landed gentry of that bygone day.

The Web site for this event strongly encourages registrants to volunteer for work details in exchange for a slight reduction in the cost of admission. This offer appeals to the “have nots” — those common folk who can not easily afford either the cost associated with travel to the site or the not insignificant $250 registration fee.

The attendees opting to take advantage of this “bargain” accept an increase in workload directly proportional to a decrease in the fulfillment and harmony touted by those behind this gathering of like-minded souls. And, they do so at the convenience of an elite group of personalities who are exempt from such base chores as cooking, dish washing, child care and the like, and who command superior accommodation and luxury. So, as has been stated elsewhere, *I’m* not going to the damned thing.

Apparently, I’m not alone. I have been informed that the entire event has been canceled due to lack of interest. The notice has gone out, the Web site has been removed and the campground will remain silent. Evidently, the fees collected were insufficient to pay the airfare of the previously mentioned “personalities” living out-of-state, or the available labor pool was not adequate to support them to an acceptable degree on-site.

So, laugh, all who declined to accede to the inequity inherent in this event. We will accept neither servitude nor subordination. We are freed from the shackles of that airy elite, that charmed circle. We can share in the breathtaking sense of liberty Booker T. Washington must have felt when he penned with such eloquence:

“As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters
than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night.
Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom.
... Some man who seemed to be a stranger ... made a little speech and
then read a rather long paper — the Emancipation Proclamation ...” *

Raise your voice in song. We have overcome.
____________

*Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery (1901)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

"We Watch TV Better Than You Do"

Ever wonder who writes the TV listings you see in the newspaper? Well, from 1990-1994, it was me. During the winter of ’92-’93 — just before they decided to close the Atlanta office and kick me to the curb — I had the good fortune to be involved in a project to rewrite movie descriptions in a database of over 30,000 movies. The goal was to write two descriptions for each movie — one under 65 characters and another under 120 characters to ensure that the text would fit correctly in the little grid in your Local Listings. Here is how I described that project in a letter dated 10/22/1993.
____________

I am working with TVData again, temporarily. I log on to the mainframe in New York via a local line where I am re-writing many of the movie descriptions we wrote last winter. (We were originally told to shorten them to something between 120 and 130 characters in length, and no one had seen fit to inform us that they were really supposed to be under 120.)

Most of what I do is take an existing description, which is usually starts something like:

“A young [occupation] ...” or “A young man unjustly accused of [crime] ...”

and follows up with

a) “... sets out to ...”

b) “... finds himself ...”
c) “... attempts to ...” or
d) “... seeks revenge against ...”

It then concludes

a) “... win the hand of a wealthy heiress.”

b) “... the target of mobsters who believe him to be [something he is not].”
c) “... prove himself innocent and unmask the real culprit.” or
d) “... the [noun]s that are responsible for his [relative]’s death.”

Ninety percent of the time it has

“... with the help of a beautiful young woman.” stuck on the end.


With that kind of input here’s the kind of stuff I cranked out at a rate of several hundred descriptions a day. (I apologize if I’ve posted these before, but I’ve been going through my archives this week.)


The Egg and I (1947): A woman scrambles to survive on her husband’s chicken ranch.

The Early Bird (1965): A lone milkman stands uncowed by a corporate takeover.

Clash of the Titans (1981): If Perseus is to win Andromeda’s hand, he must get Kraken.

Psycho (1960): A deranged mama’s boy takes a stab at running a motel.

Traveling Executioner (1970): The owner of an electric chair does the prison circuit.

Beer (1985): An ad executive with a head for business hires three average Joes for a campaign to pump up sales at a local brewery.

Bitter Rice (1949): A rice-field worker becomes involved with two men who go against her grain.

Chisum (1970): The owner of a vast cattle empire locks horns with a businessman determined to dominate the entire Pecos region.

Forever Emanuelle: An insatiable archaeologist jumps everybody’s bones.

Sweat Shop: A seamy garment tycoon falls in love with an illegal-alien employee.

Follow that Dream (1962): A family gets the cold shoulder when they try to homestead a piece of unclaimed land alongside a Florida highway.

Les Patterson Saves the World (1987): A diplomat lifts the lid on a plot to disease the world with infected toilet seats and extort billions for the cure.

Little Nuns (1963): An order of spunky nuns attempt to convince airline officials that jets make too much noise to suit their quiet habits.

North to Alaska (1960): A miner replaces his partner’s fiancée with a gold digger.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Smell and the World Smells With You

... I met with Sims Promotional Group, an event marketing firm, today. I wanted to dress for success, however after I left the house, I realized my shirt smelled like animal. The longer I wore it and the warmer I got, the more I smelled like litter box. So now I know: Don’t hang dry cleaning anywhere near the boys or their box. I wanted to put on the dog and ended up putting on the cat.

I got called back to a second interview, though.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Remembering the Great Rat Hunt

Rumor has it that a Starbucks is going into the space formerly occupied by Grady’s American Grill, my old hangout. Oh, what times we had there! The Great Rat Hunt comes to mind. I documented it in a series of e-mails, and guess what? I saved the entire chronicle on disk!

So as old Grady’s is gutted to make room for a new tenant, let’s take a moment to remember the greatest Drunken Bar Adventure of 2000.

(My friend, “Lucky,” says I posted this a couple of years ago, but I don’t remember it. With the new Starbucks going in, it’s timely again, anyway.)
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... The rats in the Labyrinthine warren in the bushes behind Grady’s are propagating at a rate that flies in the face of reason. Possibly because the guys from Planet Smoothie and I have been feeding them (I in the interest of science and they because they like to see rats jump.)

For our next scientific endeavor, Pete will be bringing smoke bombs from Alabama and we will drop them in the holes whereupon, if my hypothesis holds, the rats should all come out at once (en mouse, as it were). I invite you all over tonight to see the spectacle. ...

... Pete’s not coming with the smoke bombs now until Wednesday night. I might now want to start thinking about what to do with the rats after they come out, though. My current strategy is to run and scream in a shocking soprano. ...

... The rat thing was pretty lame. I showed up at Grady’s on the appointed day at 5:00 with two disposable cameras to document the event, a Super-Soaker for both fire safety and personal protection lest we be overrun by frenzied rodents, an arsenal of smoke bombs and firecrackers, and an instinct for the hunt which was honed by a million years’ evolution.

We had to wait until after 10:00 to go out to the rat holes so we could operate under the cover of darkness. We didn’t want to alert the other Grady’s patrons to the seamy underbelly of the food and beverage industry nor raise the suspicions of the fire marshal or health inspector. We went behind the bushes where the rats live and started dropping the smoke bombs in to flush them out the hole in front. Now, I am not about cruelty to animals. I brought a box of Cheese Nips so that if any of the little rat guys made it out they could have refreshments.

We waited for the spectacle. No rats. More smoke. We then opted for a more aggressive strategy and started chucking whirly, fiery fireworks in the holes. Most disappointing. (Though this was where the Super-Soaker came in to extinguish a small fire we had inadvertently started.) A few minutes of this and we thought, “screw the rats!” and dropped in some explosives with a bit more kick. Still no rats, but we did draw a small crowd from the liquor store around the corner.

The next day I was telling Ned, the Grady’s GM, about the adventure (an enterprise which he couldn’t countenance but wanted to hear about, nonetheless). While showing him the residue of our munitions, the reek of dead rat led us back in the bushes where we did find the bloated carcass of a rat who had clearly been trying to claw his way out of the hole when he met his demise. He had a dazed and confused look etched on his face as if he had fought his way through disorienting smoke and flame to reach safety. After an appropriate time of mourning (the length of time it took Ned to get a shovel), I pried him out of the hole with a stick whereupon he was summarily consigned to the compactor and, presumably, squished.

So, Rat Hunt 2000 was somewhat anticlimactic after all of my “ratomontade.” I had hung all my hopes and dreams on seeing dozens of gasping rats swarming out of their smoke-filled warrens and queuing up for Cheese Nips. As it was, the Super-Soaker was the most exciting part of the whole event. Oh, well. A couple of owls have taken up residence in a tree right outside Ben’s office window. I suppose I can turn my attention to them, now.