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December 13, 2012

Moving Picture Shoe, 2012

As you know, every blogger is required by international law to post their list of favorite films. And as you know, I watch films of the boob tube in the comfort of my home, which admittedly takes away some of the zing. And, therefore (as you know), some of the films I viewed this year are from years past. Who cares? Here’s my list, best films seen in Ought 12.

A Single Man
Cemetery Junction
Enemy at the Gates
Game Change
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
Punch-Drunk Love
Sunset Limited
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Black Swan
The King’s Speech
True Grit (2010)
Within the Whirlwind

Happy viewing trials, Martin


Mutt:  Atheism is a non-prophet institution.
Jeff:  Question: Why do we still have troops in Germany? Answer: To keep the Russians in Czech.
Mutt:  When asked to explain his large number of children, the pig answered simply: "The wild oats of my sow gave us many piglets."
Jeff:  You can tune a guitar, but you can't tuna fish. Unless, of course, you play bass.
Mutt:  Being in politics is just like playing golf: you are trapped in one bad lie after another.
Jeff:  Did you hear about the little moron who strained himself while running into the screen door?
Mutt:  Why can a man never starve in the Great Desert? Because he can eat the sand which is there. But what brought the sandwiches there? Why, Noah sent Ham, and his descendants mustered and bred.
Jeff:  Where do mathematicians go on weekends? To a Möbius strip club.
Mutt:  “Take the prisoner downstairs," Tom said condescendingly.
Jeff:  Tired yet?

December 8, 2012

Belly Up to the Bar Code

Lots of teachers and writers will guilt trip you into thinking that reading automatically makes you a better person. Don't buy it. Ask yourself always: what are they selling? There's a price sticker and barcode on every book. It's called the book business. Lots of writers write thinking about their electric bills and mortgages. And for every writer, there are a hundred others taking a cut off the hog. They say that if you buy their books it will do wonders. I say:
Go outside for a walk. Talk with your friends. Sit and cuddle with your significant other. Cook genuine food. Garden. Knit and sew. Build something at the work bench. Make music. Paint. Get yourself unplugged and get your head out of books and get into the real life of the real world, here and now.
All lies, sorry. I wouldn't follow my own advice even if I believed it. I'd stick my head in a book to avoid the squalor and the stress any day. Escapism, hell yeah. But there's something else in those musty pages, rare flecks of mica or maybe gold. I don't know (care?) about you, but books have made me a better person.

Here are the Best of 2012, it's a short list. So what? It's my list.

A Study in Sherlock, Laurie R. King & Leslie S. Klinger, eds.
A Treasury of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
A Zen Forest: Sayings of the Masters, Soiku Shigematsu
Body Trauma, David W. Page, M.D.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry, Dr. Dean Edell
Giles Goat-Boy, John Barth
How to Write Poetry, Diane Mehta
My Antonia, Willa Cather
My Cousin the Saint, Justin Catanoso
O Pioneers, Willa Cather
Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
Ramona, Helen Hunt Jackson
Snow Falling from a Bamboo Leaf: The Art of Haiku, Hiag Akmakjian
The Adventure of the Stalwart Companions, H. Paul Jeffers
The End of the Road, John Barth
The Floating Opera, John Barth
The Jewel of Seven Stars, Bram Stoker
The Sibling Society, Robert Bly
The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Michael Chabon.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Howdy. A pig goes into a bar and orders ten drinks. He finishes them up and the bartender says, "Don't you need to know where the bathroom is?" The pig says, "No, I go wee wee all the way home."
Jeff: Sloppy. A sandwich walks into a bar. The barman says, "Sorry, we don't serve food in here."
Mutt: A skeleton walks into a bar and says, "Gimme a beer and a mop."
Jeff: A snake slithers into a bar and the bartender says, "I'm sorry but I can't serve you." "Why not?" asks the snake. The bartender says, "Because you can't hold your liquor."
Mutt: A termite walks into a bar and says, "Is the bar tender here?"

Jeff: You're gonna hate this one.
Mutt: I already do.
Jeff: A drunk guy is sitting in a bar. There is a very buxom lady a few seats down. A fellow at the end of the bar calls for a beer. The bartender fills the mug and slides it down the bar. It hits the lady's breasts and spills all over them. The bartender goes over, retrieves the glass and licks the beer off of her breasts. This happens a couple more times. The next time, the drunk jumps up and starts to lick her breasts. She decks him. He's laying on the floor and moans, "Why do you let the bartender do it?" "Because he has a liquor license!"
Mutt: I like the word "buxom" though.
Jeff: Me too. Just goes to show: Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder.
Mutt: How sweet it is!
Jeff: And away we go!

November 26, 2012

Everybody knows, nobody knows - What is Gangnam Style?

Everyone on Earth (except you?) is crazy about a song-dance-video that no one (except Koreans) can understand. Maybe that’s what we want: stun me, numb me, infect me with viral, yank me around like a kite, just don’t make me think. Only Psy is not co-operating. Gangnam Style is a wonderfully intelligent cultural phenomenon.

The Gangnam district of Seoul is where the rich folks live. ‘Up on the hill where they do the boogie,’ as John Hartford called it. Where the Beverly Hillbillies moved to. Where they have private security and exclusive schools. The Elite. The Upper Crust. The 1%. Wait, this is a song about the Occupy Movement dichotomy of the 1 versus the 99%??? Wasn't that Romney's subliminal message: 99 vote for 1 and you could get rich too? Didn't work though. Well, not for everyone.

Psy said, "People who are actually from Gangnam never proclaim that they are—it's only the posers and wannabes that put on these airs and say that they are "Gangnam Style"—so this song is actually poking fun at those kinds of people who are trying so hard to be something that they're not."

Start with  an Uncool Psy-cho Wannabe lounging on a rich-man’s dream beach in the tropics, except that it’s a sandy playground in the projects with little kids ruining the effect. Then the horse-riding scene, but Psy’s not really on a horse, just pretending badly. Then, with two bunnies on his arms, he walks toward us like a playboy, but he’s in a trash storm (in a dump?) then a snow-storm (is everything fake?). Then the ambivalent sauna scene; are those Korean gangsters he's buddies with? Then Psy dances his superiority among chess players, tennis players and a tour bus of senior citizens. The thinking chess players blow up (bad Hollywood). Then he's dancing on a motor boat (probably rented by the hour), and then Psy shuffles into the yoga class, mooning over a girl’s moon (mocking adolescent sexual attitudes).

Next Psy meets a celebrity in a yellow suit driving a Mercedes, and they dance a duel in the parking garage. Then, in the elevator, Psy is in a compromising position between the legs of a pelvis-thrusting guy (also a Korean celebrity). Then Psy sees a pretty girl on a subway (pole-dancing), drops his jaw, and loses it. That’s what we’ve reduced love to--sleepwalking. Then the spa pool coming up for air scene. Then the nightclub where the hip people go (if they can get in). Then master rapper Psy gives us the straight dope, how Big Brother (Oppan) really is Gangnam Style, but, oops, he’s sitting on the toilet (like everyone else, except the rich and famous). Then more horse-dancing. All the world wishing they had their own stables and expensive cars and loud clothes and sex with gorgeous people and powerful friends. People who ride other people or, more often, are ridden.

The Psy of the video is a fool. The Psy (Park Jae-sang) who invented him apparently not. Social satire is serious. The horse-dance is silly. It has been performed in public squares by thousands of flash mobs around the world. In Palermo there were 9,000, in Rome 15,000. Psy, who doesn’t look like a dancer, has outdanced just about everyone famous, including my brother’s friend from Tracy, MC Hammer. Who’s the wannabe now? President Obama says he's learned the moves. Dozens of parodies and more to come. What fun.
In the real Gangnam, there's a problem because the affluent people have gotten deeply into debt and are about to lose their shirts and lifestyle. Because the song's serious message is buried under the yuckadoo, some have even called it subversive. For example, the lyrics refer to girls who eat cheap soybean paste in private so that they can afford to drink Starbucks mocha frappe lattes in public. For example, the lyrics are mostly about lusty longing for a 'classy' girl who can behave like a proper prude by day and turn into a sex kitten at night, because the man, like all rappers (all men?), is a sex machine in his mind. Lyrics please.

Oppa (Big Bro) is Gangnam style
Gangnam style

A girl who is warm and natural during the day
A classy girl who knows how to enjoy the freedom of a coffee
A girl whose heart gets hotter when night comes
A girl who makes that kind of change.

I’m a guy
A guy who is as warm as you during the day
A guy who gulps his coffee before it even cools down
A guy whose heart bursts when night comes
That kind of guy.

Beautiful, loveable
Yes you, hey, yes you, hey
Beautiful, loveable
Yes you, hey, yes you, hey
Now let’s do it until the end.

Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style
Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style
Oppa is Gangnam style.

Hey Sexy Lady, Oppa is Gangnam style
Hey Sexy Lady, oh oh oh oh oh.

A girl who looks quiet but plays when she plays
A girl who lets her hair down when the right time comes
A girl who covers herself but is more sexy than a girl who bares it all
A sensible girl like that.

I’m a guy
A guy who seems calm but plays when he plays
A guy who goes completely crazy when the right time comes
A guy who has bulging ideas rather than muscles
That kind of guy.


On top of the running man is the flying man, baby baby
I’m a man who knows a thing or two
On top of the running man is the flying man, baby baby
I’m a man who knows a thing or two.

You know what I’m saying
Oppa is Gangnam style

Hey Sexy Lady, Oppa is Gangnam style
Hey Sexy Lady, oh oh oh oh oh.

Who Let The Dogs Out meets La Macarena. The Secretary General of the U.N., Ban Ki-moon, who does understand the lyrics and K-pop or hallyu, called the song, ‘a force for world peace’. Right on! Psy said he did it to: "make people laugh like crazy even in the midst of all this global economic slowdown."
So, besides not being able to get the song out of my head, I’m grateful that an enjoyable, wacky, joyous social critique, making a mockery of the phony values that modern society is based on: be beautiful-get lucky, get rich-buy toys, screw your neighbor before he screws you, and so on, has toppled and replaced that teenage fluff by Justin Bieber, appropriately named “Baby,” as the Number One Song on the Internet of All of Human History. Almost 1/8th of the world—men, women and children—are dancing Gangnam Style and more every day! Yes, dance, sing, laugh and be merry. We need it.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: I say, I say, WHAT?
Jeff: Something bothering you?
Mutt: Did you read what the boss put up? He’s gone bonkers. Stooping so low into the slums of popular culture!
Jeff: Yeah, we’re way too sophisticated for that stuff.
Mutt: Wanna do the dance?
Jeff: Oowah, yes.
Mutt: First, listen up. A wealthy man decided it would be fun to have himself cloned. The clone turned out to be an exact duplicate of the man except that it spoke nothing but extremely profane language. After several months of listening to this, the man got fed up, took the clone up into the mountains and went to the edge of a steep cliff. Looking around and not seeing anybody, he pushed the clone over the cliff. Just then, a cop stepped out from behind some bushes and said, "I'm going to have to write you a ticket." "What for?" "For making an obscene clone fall."
Jeff: I love it when the rich get their due.
Mutt: Here’s yours. A German farmer with relatives in America sent them a package consisting of some pork sausages made from his old pig. When they complained that the package had not yet arrived, he wrote: "Cheer up. The wurst is yet to come."
Jeff: Three strikes and you’re out.
Mutt: During the Korean War, Syngman Rhee's son went to work for Henry Luce. But as the North Koreans came pounding down the track past Seoul, the young man got lost in all the confusion. Well, every correspondent in the Time-Life empire was sent out looking for him. After many hours of searching, one of them found him. "Ah!" he exclaimed, "sweet Mr. Rhee of Life, at last I've found you!"
Jeff: Oppan Gangnam Style!
Mutt: Hey, Sexy Lady!

November 23, 2012

Neal Socks It To 'Em

Neal’s sitting in the outer office waiting for his job interview. There were several other chumps in there, but Neal was confident in his abilities. Plus he thought he could charm the personnel director, since she had already eyeballed him when she opened the door to call in the first couple candidates. Yet something, as usual, was not quite right.

Somebody in the room had incredibly stinky socks on. Sheesh, Neal thought, wash your socks, dude. This isn’t a football locker-room, this is your big chance at a prized job. Get your act together. That stench got worse as all the folks sat there smirking and twisting their noses. Neal looked at the guy across from him, maybe it was him that smelled, and smiled. He smiled back.

Neal was sure he didn’t get it, or maybe it wasn’t him. Neal lifted his hand to his nose and made a surreptitious P.U. gesture. The guy snorked. Snorking is when you choke a laugh, spit and swallow all at once, mouth and nose backflush. The stench was really filling the little room by now. Christ, man, what kind of slob doesn’t wear clean socks!?

The others waited in silence, like they were about to get their prostates checked, except the one woman in the gold pant suit who, perhaps, had the expression of a pre-gyno exam. They all needed some kind of relief, so Neal made the P.U. gesture again, only clearer. Somebody should get the hint and go change their socks. This was ridiculous. The others tittered.

Finally, Neal was called by the hot woman who turned out to be an assistant or secretary. She took his application forms and looked at him like she was constipated. Then he went into the main office with the big walnut desk. The suit behind it had that vaseline in his white hair that smelled to Neal like his greasy grandfather. Maybe charming him wouldn’t work, but Neal had references. His old boss at In ‘n Out Burger wrote him a great letter. A power letter.

The phone rang just as Ol’ Whitey was about to ask Neal something to test his knowledge of the job he’d never done before. The usual ‘experience necessary’ thing. But the boss was on the phone jabbering, and Neal noticed that smell again, the stinking sock smell. Oh, it was strong. Man, somebody farted! It smelled like a pig farm in there. Must be the old timer.

Neal’s alarm hadn’t really functioned correctly that morning. That is, it went off at 7, but he pressed the snooze button about 7 times in a row before jumping up, shaving, dressing, wet washcloth the armpits, and rushing out to get the bus. He made it to the office right on time. Neal was good. He had organizational skills. He’d laid out his clothes before going to bed. Brand new thin black stockings.

He’d been up late because he had a city-league softball game the night before. He wore his lucky socks to that, the ones he didn’t wash all season. Now those really stunk bad. Actually after the game he went out for beers with some buddies and then at home played a few video games before knocking off. Okay, maybe three hours of video games. Then Neal went to bed and slept like a baby. He didn’t wear pajamas but slept in his underwear because women find that sexy, he’d heard somewhere. However, he did wear socks to bed because it got cold in there.

Last night when he went to sleep about 3 am, he, what?, he wore his softball socks probably. Yeah, guess so. And then this morning, in the rush to get out the door, he, what?, put on his new black socks. He turned his feet inwards and looked down. Yes, the black socks. Then Neal lifted his pant leg slowly so the boss wouldn’t catch him, until he could see the top of the black stocking. Then he coyly slid his finger inside the sheer black and pulled it down until he hit a lump. Dang. He had put the new socks over his sleeping socks, his lucky softball socks, never wash ‘em all season. The ones that had helped win the game last night.

Neal excused himself while the boss was still talking. He went to the outer office and said to the secretary that he’d forgotten that his little brother, Lester, was having a liver transplant that day. And he stomped into the waiting room. Everyone was laughing and stopped abruptly. Then they looked at him and all snorked in chorus. Neal pointed to the woman in the gold pant suit and made the closed nose gesture. That’ll teach her.

Happy trials, Martin

 Mutt: Guten Morgen, my friend, freund, that is.
Jeff: Where are you? Oh, down there.
Mutt: Hilarious, make fun of the altitude challenged.
Jeff: Sorry. Not really. Listen, can I tell you a story I read in the paper?
Mutt: I’ll make you pay.
Jeff: I know. Okay, at one time, economic conditions caused the closing of several small clothing mills in the English countryside. A man from West Germany bought the buildings and converted them into dog kennels for the convenience of German tourists who liked to have their pets with them while vacationing in England. One summer evening, a local resident called to his wife to come out of the house. "Just listen!" he urged. "The mills are alive with the hounds of Munich!"
Mutt: No way! I know that song. The words go "The ills will arrive, with the sound of mule sick."
Jeff: Yeah, anyway, top that.
Mutt: Easy. The Cleveland Symphony—to remain in the musical sphere—was performing Beethoven's Ninth. In the piece, there's a long passage - about 20 minutes - during which the bass violinists have nothing to do. Rather than sit around that whole time looking stupid, some bassists decided to sneak offstage and go to the tavern next door for a quick one. After slamming several beers in quick succession (as bass violinists are prone to do) one of them looked at his watch. Hey! We need to get back! No need to panic, said a fellow bassist. "I thought we might need some extra time, so I tied the last few pages of the conductor's score together with string. It'll take him a few minutes to get it untangled." A few moments later, they staggered back to the concert hall and took their places in the orchestra. About this time, a member of the audience noticed the conductor seemed a bit edgy and said as much to her companion. Well, of course, said her companion. "Don't you see? It's the bottom of the Ninth, the score is tied, and the bassists are loaded."
Jeff: Groan, groan and more groan.
Mutt: Just jealous.


October 30, 2012

The Storm by Theodore Roethke

Against the stone breakwater,
Only an ominous lapping,
While the wind whines overhead,
Coming down from the mountain,
Whistling between the arbors, the winding terraces;
A thin whine of wires, a rattling and flapping of leaves,
And the small street-lamp swinging and slamming against
               the lamp pole.
Where have the people gone?
There is one light on the mountain.
Along the sea-wall, a steady sloshing of the swell,
The waves not yet high, but even,
Coming closer and closer upon each other;
A fine fume of rain driving in from the sea,
Riddling the sand, like a wide spray of buckshot,
The wind from the sea and the wind from the mountain contending,
Flicking the foam from the whitecaps straight upward into the darkness.
A time to go home!--
And a child's dirty shift billows upward out of an alley,
A cat runs from the wind as we do,
Between the whitening trees, up Santa Lucia,
Where the heavy door unlocks,
And our breath comes more easy,--
Then a crack of thunder, and the black rain runs over us, over
The flat-roofed houses, coming down in gusts, beating
The walls, the slatted windows, driving
The last watcher indoors, moving the cardplayers closer
To their cards, their anisette.
We creep to our bed, and its straw mattress.
We wait; we listen.
The storm lulls off, then redoubles,
Bending the trees half-way down to the ground,
Shaking loose the last wizened oranges in the orchard,
Flattening the limber carnations.
A spider eases himself down from a swaying light-bulb,
Running over the coverlet, down under the iron bedstead.
The bulb goes on and off, weakly.
Water roars into the cistern.
We lie closer on the gritty pillow,
Breathing heavily, hoping--
For the great last leap of the wave over the breakwater,
The flat boom on the beach of the towering sea-swell,
The sudden shudder as the jutting sea-cliff collapses,
And the hurricane drives the dead straw into the living pine-tree.


October 28, 2012

Four-Letter Horror

Before spouting off about something we don't know firsthand -- 'rape victims provoked their attackers' or 'deserved it', or 'it's God's will' (Satan's will?) -- let's just listen and learn:


October 26, 2012

A Little Gay Goes A Long Way

Watching baseball every night, I snoozed, schmoozed and mused. I admired my guys: viral, studly, naturally testosteroney men’s men. Heterosexuals (mostly). How come baseball players—I asked my sleepy ol’ self—always have a bunch of kids: four, six, eight? I don’t. Most people I know don’t. When the TV scans the players wives’ section then you get it: they’re a bunch of foxy babes, hot cheerleader types. And in the off-season, the boys make up for lost time. Nudge, nudge. Ummmm. Naw, way too pat.

Just because you’re married to a beautiful woman doesn’t mean you get a lot of great sex or have a lot of children. Get real. Okay, answer this then Mr. Smarty Pants, why do these guys seem to have more fun? And a healthier attitude towards fatherhood, husbandhood, loverhood, bodyhood?

Here’s my current theory (5 cents please): baseball players, a micro-society of only males, are constantly touching one another like apes. The handshake is no good without the pat on the butt. The pat on the butt is preferred to the pat on the back or head. The victor gets a group hug that can almost suffocate. The off-duty boys are often draped over the rail and over one another. The hugs are often long and strong, as if  hugging wives and girlfriends. And the group gropes have to get bouncy to be good. The hand-touching rituals can often become complex and personalized. In the clubhouse, the players shower together, touch some more, look long and hard at one another’s handsome bodies. Made even more handsome by artwork covering the skin. You know these men are handsome as hell.

These guys are practically more physical with each other than the crowd at a San Francisco gay bathhouse. Or, more to the point, any random bunch of heterosexuals on earth. I haven’t patted a guy on the butt in living memory. (Maybe I should start.) The last time I stood with naked men was in the high school showers forty years ago. At work say, I would not hug a male colleague or stand with my arms draped around him or go through our own private touching sequence. We’re all too inhibited. Too out of touch. Maybe we want to, but everyone would take it the wrong way. Way too gay?

No. That’s what I’m trying to say. The boys of summer have discovered that the male touch, the male friendship expressed physically is not gay at all. I bet it’s not even considered gay by the hidden ten percent who are. It’s that wholesome and positive male-to-male bonding behavior that the rest of us lost in our forest of neuroses. We envy it when we see it on TV, but we fear doing it in real life. So we collect our hang-ups and can’t get healthy sex figured out.

When the Giants won the series in 2010, Dave Righetti, in tears, kissed his pitchers one by one and told them how much he loved them. At the moment that was the perfect response. Perfect.

So here I am waiting for the love fest after the world series victory, signing off for now with an imaginary pat on the butt to you all,

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Was he talking about us?
Jeff: If he was, would that make us so gay we’re straight?
Mutt: Yeah. Post-Gay.
Jeff: Right on!
Mutt: Did you know that rust is edible? After all, it is a form of car-rot.
Jeff: Some river valleys are absolutely gorges.
Mutt: Did you know that Spanish bullfighters use Oil of Olé face cream to beat wrinkles?
Jeff: The Hand family consists of 10 electricians. Their motto is "Many Hands make light work."
Mutt: The Irish government is wealthy because its capital is always Dublin.
Jeff: The sheep rustler who broke out of jail is now on the lam.
Mutt: We ought to rename summer "pride" because pride cometh before the fall.
Jeff: When the Lord said, "Go forth, be fruitful and multiply!" he didn't necessarily have math teachers in mind.
Mutt: When the little boy was caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he said "I needed help with my homework." The reason: "God helps those who help themselves."
Jeff: You can have too much of a good thing, but since most people think puns are not good things, they can't have too many of them!
Mutt: Some people say my puns are sleep-inducing, but I keep laudanum anyways.
Jeff: What are puns?
Mutt: Never heard of them.

October 16, 2012


Tough luck, dumb luck, hard luck, good and bad lucks, rotten luck, beginner’s luck, luck of the draw, stroke of luck, to luck out …

I am talking to Barney at Mazama Village near Crater Lake, and he gets excited like he’s discovered the secret in our conversation:

“Luck, that’s it! We’re here because of luck. We are lucky to get to do this. That’s the key word right there. The big why.”

I agree with Barney. We are privileged to walk this great trail, this beautiful earth. I told him that several of my friends were sick or had died recently so that I felt sad and lucky to have good health and express it by walking in the mountains. I don’t want to just sit around waiting for my turn to go south. I’m northward bound, deeper into the forest, where fear is a friend and luck is your password.

Then I met Scott (you know which one) at Timothy Lake just as he was giving up his historic trek, and he said, "Oh well, what counts is being out here, right? So many people at this moment stuck in traffic, and we get to be here on the trail in the middle of this." And he waved his arms around, and it wasn't corny at all.

If you see me this morning, you might think I’m on a zombie diet. I’ve been staying up all night almost every night to watch the baseball games live from the United States. This year I can not only get them on the computer but also on the tv, at least some of the games. I suppose I could watch the recording the next day, like I usually do, but it's the pennant, man! And after the Giants have done their best all the way to the end, I’ll go back and watch all the games I missed while I was in the mountains in August.

A few years ago all this was a dream. The only way to get a game was to go to Candlestick or tune into KNBR. And when I was young, after we moved away from San Francisco, we didn’t even get games on the radio. Only box scores in the newspaper. That made it pretty hard for a kid to be a fan.

Now what I mean by these two examples—the intense aliveness of hiking for weeks alone and the thrill of good baseball from clear around the world—is not that they are equals. When I leave the unnatural world for the natural, I’m quite happy to renounce silly old baseball. The mountains are real intense life (did I tell you I was the last one to see that guy alive?); the other’s just a game. But when I want some entertainment that’s not about the end of the world or killer monsters, disgraceful news and eco-disasters, I can check out a Giants game anytime. Even from out here on Danger Island. Uh oh, Chongo!

That makes me feel lucky. You plug in your own examples and feel it too.

Happy trials and good luck, Martin


Mutt: Did you see that obscene photo the boss put up? Like his post was merely an excuse to objectify a woman’s body.
Jeff: Yeah, I object.
Mutt: Me too, so sexist I didn’t look.
Jeff: Me neither.
Mutt: She did ask me if I wanted to get lucky though.
Jeff: Yeah, me too. I said that I had already been lucky yesterday at the track.
Mutt: Yesterday I read a story about a pony on the pampas called "Little Horse on the Prairie".
Jeff: You can read?
Mutt: Did you know … hands are like bells, especially when they're wrung?
Jeff: I always say: addition in a dark Chinese restaurant is "dim sum".
Mutt: Really, you always say that?
Jeff: Sure. And an expert farmer is outstanding in her field.
Mutt: Oh, nice gender-inclusive touch. Check this out: cannibals like to meat people.
Jeff: Camels live in Camelfornia.
Mutt: An economist: A discount fog.
Jeff: Come again? How about the bear that was hit by an 18-wheeler and splattered all over the place? They said it was a grizzly accident.
Mutt: How about the time the wind stopped blowing in Chicago and everyone fell down.
Jeff: How about if you plug a pizza in the socket and get a pizza delight.
Mutt: Okay, but in San Francisco fog will never be mist.
Jeff: Ha. Look out. Never give your uncle an anteater.
Mutt: Wasn’t going to. And, just for your information, I can read too. I read recently a history of electronics of Biblical proportions: Solomon and Toshiba!
Jeff: Oowah. You know what I call one who does magic tricks with bandages? A wizard of gauze.
Mutt: Oh brother, that’s weak. Here’s the topper: If life is like a bowl of cherries, what's the raisin for living?
Jeff: Okay, what is it?
Mutt: Shut up.
Jeff: What?

October 12, 2012

Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highness, Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

On behalf of all my fellow citizens of the European Union, I would like to thank you for this prestigious award. I am only one person out of a total of around 500 million, which is only about 7 percent of the world population, so for you to single out our small group as worthy of such a great honor as this year’s Nobel Prize for Peace is truly humbling.

Personally, I was not always a European Union member. I visited quaint little Europe first in 1975 and again in 1979, but the second time I stayed. Now I proudly carry the passport of the European Union through the check point at the airport or sometimes I carry my U.S. passport, depending on which line is shorter. In any case, being a member of the European Union has been, frankly, a convenience.

Sixty years of peace – an achievement worthy of celebration. Okay, let’s not count the wars in Ex-Yugoslavia, the Ex-Soviet Union, terrorist attacks or other unpleasantries. All those bodies are such bad p.r. Let’s focus on our pacific international relations with our European brothers and sisters. Naturally we all hate one another, but we have found that a large-scale war fought in our countries is a very bad thing. That’s why we support the fighting of wars as far away from us as possible. We are not savages nor are we elitists. And please stop sending all those dark-skinned people here. Unless they're tourists.

We also have the problem of where to put all our garbage and fortunately there’s the third world to take care of that. Including nuclear waste and other toxins which are really quite a nuisance. But all we have to do is pay, like we pay our maids, who all come from those countries too, and any problem can disappear magically so that we can live in peace and wealth.

Perhaps having a strong stable continental economy—uh oh, we’re on the brink of disaster again—not only provides a high standard of living to protect, but also lets us somehow buy peace. I don’t know. I don’t know anything about politics or economics. I just know that we will never support another war in our great lands, even while we arm other countries and let them have at it.

Anyway, I talked to some friends today, and we all agree. We are very grateful for this prize because we feel we deserve it because we are the most peaceful people on earth.

Happy trials,  Martin


Mutt: Good day, Sir Jeffery, how’s be-eth it hangin’?
Jeff: Sorry, can’t talk to you right now. I’m studying for a test.
Mutt: Oh great, I’ll help you.
Jeff: No, please don’t.
Mutt: Where is Venice located?
Jeff: Um.
Mutt: Buzz! In Venice-zuela. Why are meteorologists always nervous?
Jeff: Do we have to …
Mutt: Their future is always up in the air.
Jeff: Right.
Mutt: Why are there no floods in Paris? Here, I’ll give you this one. Because the water is always 'eau.
Jeff: Okay, so why did the blonde throw butter out a window? Because she wanted to see a butterfly.
Mutt: I think that’s incorrect. In any case, why do ambassadors never get sick? Give up? Diplomatic immunity.
Jeff: This is very helpful.
Mutt: Why do people who throw away feather pillows get depressed?
Jeff: Can we …
Mutt: They’re down is in the dumps.
Jeff: That stinks.
Mutt: Why isn't whispering permitted in class?
Jeff: Please.
Mutt: Because it's not aloud.
Jeff: Alright, I’ve got one and then that’s it. Why don't sharks eat divorce lawyers?
Mutt: Oh I know this, no I don’t.
Jeff: Professional courtesy.
Mutt: You lost me.
Jeff: That’s life.
Mutt: What’s life? …

September 11, 2012

I Let Oregon In

There was these two bears …

What’d ya do this summer? Went for a walk. Where? Oregon. What, the whole state?

There was this waterfall that took your breath away …

My toes tingle, my heels are healing, I sweated a lot but didn’t lose much weight …

The forests are different every ten steps, the trail’s constantly changing, the flowers, lakes, the views …

This pencil-thin snake made me laugh and so did Crater Lake. It was so blue …

What does blue mean? I can’t tell you, you have to see. Green? Smoke?

The lives lost and the trees, decades to grow, a minute to be cut down or burned or die like a hiker alone in a forest.

What could ever be the pleasure in sleeping on hard ground, shitting in the woods, eating granola, nuts and ramen every day, walking till you drop? What? I don’t get it. Okay, don’t do it. Nobody forces you.

There was this herd of elk …

I really can’t tell you what it was like. And I didn’t take pictures. But you don’t seem to care that much anyway.

That’s okay too.

Happy trails and trials, Martin
Mutt: You start, I'm too shy.
Jeff: Okay. These friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to"persuade" them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he'd be back if they didn't close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that Hugh, and only Hugh, can prevent florist friars.
Mutt: And since we're doing jungle jokes today ... A hungry lion was roaming through the jungle looking for something to eat. He came across two men. One was sitting under a tree and reading a book; the other was typing away on his typewriter. The lion quickly pounced on the man reading the book and devoured him. Even the king of the jungle knows that readers digest and writers cramp.
Jeff: We're doing jungle jokes?

June 28, 2012

An Oregon Message by William Stafford

An Oregon Message

William Stafford

When we first moved here, pulled
the trees in around us, curled
our backs to the wind, no one
had ever hit the moon—no one.
Now our trees are safer than the stars,
and only other people's neglect
is our precious and abiding shell,
pierced by meteors, radar, and the telephone.

From our snug place we shout
religiously for attention, in order to hide:
only silence or evasion will bring
dangerous notice, the hovering hawk
of the state, or the sudden quiet stare
and fatal estimate of an alerted neighbor.

This message we smuggle out in
its plain cover, to be opened
quietly: Friends everywhere—
we are alive! Those moon rockets
have missed millions of secret
places! Best wishes.

Burn this.

June 16, 2012

The Perfect Game ... Yeah!

You know by now, even if you don’t follow baseball, even if you don’t know the precise definition, you know that San Francisco Giants pitcher, Matt Cain, threw a perfect game last night. Perfect? Isn't that an exaggeration?

Not many sports or other aspects of life can be called Perfect. I guess a bowler can bowl 12 strikes in a row for a perfect 300 score. You can answer every question right and become a millionaire on TV (especially if they tell you the answers beforehand). But every shot a bull’s-eye? Every day of a marriage free from friction? Perfection is a worthy standard, but unattainable, spiritually or in the mini-world of sports. Most of us are stifled by our struggle for perfection. All we do is fail over and over.

Yet Matt did it. The 22nd person in the 136-year history of baseball, with several coming in very recent times, another this year even, so there were decades without a perfect game. Cain’s spent his whole life preparing for this. He exercises hard every day all year. He tries harder. He’s built himself into a pitching machine capable of perfection. He decided as a child and sticks to the plan as an adult. He made the sacrifices. Did you? No. Rather party with your mates or watch reruns of I Dream of Jeanie? Yeah, thought so. Me too.

Cain got a big contract this year, as did Barry Zito a few years ago. But Zito was crippled by the expectation of perfection that those millions carry and hasn’t pitched well since. Cain chugs ahead like a train, unstoppable, unflappable. He has the toughest mental game I ever saw. That’s where pitchers fall apart. One guy, Russ Ortiz, even forgot how to pitch a few years ago. Weird but true; one day he was good, the next he completely forgot how to do that thing. The mental game rules. For us too. You can psych yourself out every day, fullfilling your loser identity, that’s easy. What’s hard is to roll with the punches, face pressure and stress without cracking, be sensitive but don’t let it get to you. Maintain perspective. Care but not too much.

And the pressure in about the sixth inning must have been nearly unbearable. For all the boys on the field. They caught a couple balls that saved Matt’s game for him, their captain. They didn’t throw wide of first but right on the bag. Buster Posey called the game and Cain did not challenge a single pitch. Posey was the brains; Cain the arm. Near the end any lapse by anyone and it’s over. One dribble hit, a good bunt, one hit batter, a hundred things can blow it. Nobody let any of those happen. I think I would have felt sorry for the losers and subconsciously let one through. That’s why I admire Matt Cain, he showed no weakness while staying always human. The best we can be. Afterwards he said, “Wow.” The victor unashamed and unafraid.

That’s baseball. Where the best are rewarded. Doesn’t work that way in my life, my job, my game. But you show the world what you can do and the best go the Cooperstown, the faulty get sent to the minors. Everyone gets what they deserve. And everyone in the stands is down on the field with the boys like shadows. We pull for them like they're our brothers. We feel for every play. I don’t get that from other sports. I mean, Formula One car racing is an extremely popular sport here in Italy. How do you empathize watching that?

If we like metaphors (may the force …) we might go to the story of Cain and Abel in the Qur’an or Bible. The farmer Cain, though a murderer, was the strongest brother, the winner, the survivor. And without pity, Matt Cain killed those Astros, 27 in a row. I never thought I’d see it happen in my whole life.

Baseball teams don’t have captains, but Matt Cain has been the unofficial leader since he came up from the Giants farm system. Or as baseball fan, Walt Whitman, said:

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting …

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Hello, dear friend, are you excited about the perfecto?
Jeff: Couldn’t care less.
Mutt: Me neither.
Jeff: Got a question that’s been bothering me.
Mutt: Shoot.
Jeff: Bang. Okay, if a mute swears, does his mother wash his hands with soap?
Mutt: Dunno. If a parsley farmer is sued, can they garnish his wages?
Jeff: Dunno. If a stealth bomber crashes in a forest, will it make a sound?
Mutt: Dunno. If a turtle doesn't have a shell, is he homeless or naked?
Jeff: Dunno. If someone with multiple personalities threatens to kill himself, is it considered a hostage situation?
Mutt: Dunno. If the cops arrest a mime, do they still tell him he has the right to remain silent?
Jeff: Dunno. If the funeral procession is at night, do folks drive with their headlights off?
Mutt: We don’t know much, do we?
Jeff: Dunno.

June 6, 2012

What's So Funny?

In my constant search for my true self—ain’t we all?—, I asked myself what, or rather who, I think is funny. It’s like a test. I said: Yo, Dude, who do you think is funny? Well, actually, I was jerking around on Youtube, and I bumped into the Smothers Brothers. Oh yeah. I got a few yucks from each vid. Oops, that really dates me, those guys are old men now! But laughs are like gold, dig all you can. You were looking for health pills? You wanted more and better life?

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (the best), Tommy (the funny one), Dickie (the annoying one), Pat Paulsen (still votable), David Steinberg (better than he ever was), Booga Booga! Now that isn’t so funny now, but in context it was because it was such stupid nonsense, like you could say absolutely anything and get a laugh. Whereas the Smothers always had well-written, well-rehearsed, well-timed bits. They were/are the best. And John Hartford was on the show. And Steve Martin and Albert Brooks.

I’m talking about stand-up comedians that truly got me going: George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, Rowan & Martin, Woody Allen, Andy Kaufman, Rita Rudner, Monty Python.

You’ll notice lots of names missing from my funny-to-me list: Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, the nightclub types: Don Rickles, Alan King, Mel Brooks, Mort Sahl, Rodney Dangerfield, Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, Carol Burnett, Johnny Carson, Cheech & Chong. It’s personal. And it’s a sin to follow the crowd.

You’re saying there are generations of comedians? Duh. Wanna go earlier: Jack Benny, George Burns/Gracie Allen, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Martin & Lewis, Three Stooges, Lucille Ball. Good but few true laughs.

The one I liked most from the pre-60’s was Groucho Marx. And Danny Kaye.

Even before that: Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields. Clever, sometimes boring and no laughs.

The Saturday Night Live Gang and everyone after 1975, take a lesson. There are lots of funny people nowadays: Ricky Gervais, Stewart and Colbert, Steven Wright, Robin Williams, Bill Mayer, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David (kinda), but watch out for movies. Too many funny people got into unfunny movies and kind of lost themselves along the road to Hollywood: Steve Martin, Dan Ackroyd, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx, Billy Crystal, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock. Movies kill comics.

The obvious deduction from all this is that you like what you heard in high school when you first started laughing at grown-up stuff. Maybe so, but maybe comedy doesn’t get better in quality or quantity as the decades roll on. It’s not like computers. Maybe anyone who wants to minister to the humor needy, to doctor our funnybones, to give out the giggles, should look backwards at the masters from whenever, wherever. Some humor gets old, most doesn’t. I think Mark Twain said that.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: What’s with the boss, a month of golden silence, was he sick?
Jeff: Yes. Had nothing to say.
Mutt: Why is that a problem?
Jeff: T’ain’t. He’s got no contract.
Mutt: We don’t either. Maybe we should move to Wisconsin. Oh, never mind.
Jeff: Heard any good jokes lately?
Mutt: In Wisconsin?
Jeff: No.
Mutt: “Karate is a form of martial arts in which people who have had years and years of training can, using only their hands and feet, make some of the worst movies in the history of the world.”
Jeff: Who said that?
Mutt: I just did … okay, Dave Barry.
Jeff: “If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant's life, she will choose to save the infant's life without even considering if there are men on base.”
Mutt: Mark Twain?
Jeff: Dave Barry.
Mutt: “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”
Jeff: I love Dave Barry.
Mutt: That was Mark Twain. And so is, “Sacred cows make the best hamburger.”
Jeff: No way. I got one: "Time's fun when you're having flies."
Mutt: Mark Twain? Dave Barry? George Carlin?
Jeff: Kermit the Frog.
Mutt: Say goodnight, Jeff.
Jeff: Goodnight Jeff.