Hey, word search fans! Print and solve! First person to e-mail me the solutions gets a shout-out, including an atta-boy/girl!
Hey, word search fans! Print and solve! First person to e-mail me the solutions gets a shout-out, including an atta-boy/girl!
Dear Mr. Tompkins,
This is not my first attempt at corresponding with a famous person, nor will it be the last. If I feel the need to express my feelings or opinions to another - regardless of who they are - I find it therapeutic to do so. Given, I mentally prepare my remarks to minimize the possibility of offense, but like all folks who attempt this (i.e. most adults) I am not 100 percent guaranteed of success. Here's hoping this is one of my more successful attempts.
You recently blocked me from your Twitter feed for disparaging the movie "Jaws." I also endured the slings and arrows of your fans who agreed with your glowing assessment of the film while approving of your action towards me.
I was at first annoyed with the reaction my negative opinion aroused, combined with a little embarrassment. Then I felt something else, something more unexpected: shame. I couldn't understand why - why feel ashamed that my cinematic opinions weren't parallel to some famous dude I've never met? It didn't take long to figure it out: the critical word was famous.
My wife and many of my friends spend some amount of their leisure time poring over articles about celebrities. I openly disdain such worship, especially of those who have done nothing of consequence other than being photogenic, obnoxious, sleeping with more famous people, or a combination of the three. There's something about such fame that smells rotten to me and always has.
But your blocking me from your Twitter feed made me realize something: I was acting the same way. I do the same fawning over, just with a higher grade of celebrity. You, after all, are a professional wit. It is a job you do well and should continue to do, but that is your job. Had you been your current age forty years ago, you would have jawed with Dick Cavett or joked around with Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares. That is neither compliment nor insult, but simply is.
I then asked myself, why do I enjoy the humor of professional wits like yourself? That took a little longer to figure out, but I did: the belief - or hope - that my enjoyment of a witty person would in turn make me more witty, or at least "in the know." I can sit back in the satisfaction that I got it, whatever "it" was.
Come to think of it, I do know what "it" is: the illusion of superiority over others, the feeling that I, armed with someone else's wit, carried a smugness license. As a teenager watching British comedies on PBS (a favorite pastime of mine a quarter-century back), I somehow believed that their more sophisticated comedy would be my stepladder over others, even if they were too dense to notice my elevated position. At 40, I find that idiotic lie still welded to my brain - only now do I realize it. If you ask me, it's about time.
So what do I do with this epiphany? For starters, I unsubscribed to your podcast. It wasn't because of sour grapes, mind you - it's just that your humor makes me aspire to be someone I'm not and no longer wish to be. I didn't send you expletive-encrusted e-mail, or give you a one-star review on iTunes: I simply turned you off.
Does this make me feel superior? No. To say I'm somehow better than you because I unsubscribed would be wallowing in self-delusion. I am neither superior nor inferior to you - we're as equal now as we were before you blocked me, and I wouldn't want it any other way.
As any D&Der will tell you, intelligence is not the same as wisdom, and I feel that your slamming the door in my electronic face made me a wiser person. I've since disconnected myself from other professional wits - the less time wasted on someone else's wit, the more time I can spend building my own. I should thank you for showing me the light. So thank you. And good luck with your career.
P.S. I don't like your mustache either. Have you considered a Slim Whitman look?
I don't remember exactly the moment I found out that John Lennon had been murdered. I vaguely remember hearing the news from the car radio; it was in the evening; I was one week short of ten years old. I also remember the seemingly endless tributes to the man: the cuts from his then-current album, Double Fantasy, played practically every hour on rock and pop stations in Kansas City well into the next year.
I don't remember my mother's initial reaction, but I'm sure she was stunned. Then again, who wasn't? This wasn't one of those "it was going to happen sometime" moments we had come to expect from rock and pop stars. We had been shocked when Elvis Presley died, but we knew - even at the time - he was having problems. He certainly looked like a sick man in the months before his death. Keith Moon, Sid Vicious, John Bonham - their deaths were almost predictable; all three suffered from alcoholism or drug addiction. If some sick souls had a death pool for rock stars in the wake of Elvis's demise, at least two of those three would have popped up on most lists. But John Lennon's murder was a bolt from a blue sky. That he was gunned down by a Beatles fan made it all the more bewildering.
And it's those latter tragedies that get to us, isn't it? It's as if those particular calamities remind us more than anything that we have no control over the universe. When one occurs, at least one generation declares "the end of innocence," as if 6 December 1941, 21 November 1963, and 10 September 2001 were the tail ends of some Golden Age. It never was, and as long as evil hearts exist, there never will be.
I never met John Lennon, but I was a friend of his and still am. Every time I hear my favorites of his songs, whether his Beatles or solo works, I feel a strong connection to him. I appreciate his dark humor ("Happiness is a Warm Gun"), his moments of great lyrical beauty ("Dear Prudence," "Nowhere Man"), his brutal honesty ("Sexy Sadie," "Jealous Guy"), and his impassioned vocals ("Mother," "Stand By Me"). And whether one liked or hated Yoko, one could appreciate her inspiring him to write great love songs ("Woman," "Oh Yoko!").
Perhaps I'm being presumptive in calling John Lennon a friend. When I hear his voice, it's the voice of someone I've known nearly all of my life. And as always, I wish he'd come out to play.
Headline on the Virginian-Pilot web site: Dixie Carter Dies; Lady Gaga Celibate. You know, Ms. Gaga, I'm sure Dixie would understand if you succumbed to...you know, the urge.
So Lady Gaga is celibate. Why is this news? I've wondered all my adult life why people care if famous people screw; why should anyone care if they don't have sex? And finally, why is not having sex so freaking weird, CNN had to report on it?
What is it about celebrity sex that gets people all insane? I'll tell you why: either they're not having sex, or the sex they're having sucks. So they slouch on the couch, see Robert Pattison on E!, and think wistfully, "Gee, I bet he has sex. I'll bet he's fantastic in bed, unlike that pile of shit in the next room playing "World of Warcraft." But no! Pattison declared himself a member of the celibate club. I'm sure his teenybopper fans think this is wonderful (after all, vampire celibacy is romantic), but his older female fans? Man, they're pissed. How can they place themselves in his vicarious bed if he's not putting out? It's wrong, I tell ya! They should boycott his movies until he promises to bang Kristen Stewart and upload the cherished moment onto Xtube.
What it all comes down to is that sexual fantasies are perfectly fine: dream about sleeping with Abe Vigoda for all I care. But I was brought to believe that although sex is great stuff, it's a private matter. People who endlessly talk about their sex lives do so because they have nothing intelligent to offer to the conversation. Lady Gaga will no doubt be constantly asked about her celibacy until she either fucks somebody or beats a gossip reporter over the head with a brick, and she shouldn't have to either if she doesn't want to, just like everybody else. I don't care whether her vagina is full or empty; as long as it ain't full of me, it's none of my damned business. And it's none of yours either.
That's all for now. Have an enjoyable and less bloody Thanksgiving.
Philosophical musings have usually been most effective either in an actual philosophy class, or lying on the carpet of a friend's off-campus apartment, off-kilter on some medicinal substance at 3am on a Saturday morning. A few weeks ago, however, I had the opportunity to discuss whether clouds rain down on people because they wish to, or because they are slaves to scientific laws.
Conversations like this are what tends to pop up when I volunteer as a creative writing coach at Open Books, a literacy non-profit where I've volunteered for over a year now. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, a class from local schools arrive at the Open Books loft, where a bunch of volunteers attempt to convince 4th-8th graders that writing their stories makes a darned good field trip. And for someone who typically avoids kids, I get a lot from them, including sentient cloud debates that quite frankly blow my mind.
This year it was far more difficult to see Studs. Tickets sold out faster than we expected, but we were lucky to be among the first on the waiting list. From where we stood, we could see S.E. Hinton, legendary writer of young adult classics such as Rumble Fish and The Outsiders, signing copies of her books in front of an endless line of fans near the information desk. It was strange, watching this woman sign books I read back in 7th grade for English class. Most of the authors I read in middle school and high school English courses are long dead, some for centuries, yet this friendly, unassuming lady, who just turned sixty this year, was very much alive, chatting with her fans ranging from teenagers to people barely younger than she. Although her most famous books are forty years old, the pull she has on teenagers today seems to be as strong as ever.
Tori and I waited for more than an hour. We were happy to receive tickets, but the discussion itself was delayed by at least a half-hour, and word spread through the line that Studs might be too ill to attend and that the discussion would be cancelled. We considered giving up and going home, but finally the line began to move, and we took a seat in the auditorium.
Ninety-six years is a long time, and we should be so lucky to make it even that far. However, if you’ve reached that age, it’s safe to say you peaked physically many decades before. Still, it was a bit of a shock to see Studs wheeled onto the stage. Even the year before, he’d still been able to walk unassisted, still sounded mostly like himself. The man who weakly crossed the stage now seemed a decade older. Kogan and Taylor helped Studs get up and walk to his seat at center stage, and the discussion began.
The first startling change we noticed in Studs was his voice. In his later years, Studs’s voice became raspy, but no less audible, and certainly no less engaging. In 2008, Studs’s voice shrank into a barely audible squeak, struggling to maintain both his voice and his breath. Worse, he seemed barely aware, his usual segues replaced by meanderings and abrupt changes in subjects, from Chicago television programs in the early 1950s (his included), to the election of the late mayor Harold Washington to whatever else popped into his head. Studs has always tended to wander in his conversations, making tenuous connections to link his many stories, but on this day he sounded like, well, an old man.
Kogan’s head would occasionally tilt back in laughter at a Studs punchline, but his heart didn’t seem to be in it. Taylor said barely a word throughout the entire discussion. About twenty minutes in, the reason was evident to everyone in the room: All of us had made a grave error. None of us intended this – certainly not Kogan or Taylor – but we had all been participants in a terrible act: we wheeled out a legend and gawked at him, like an especially interesting museum piece. Studs had mentioned twice that this discussion would be his last public appearance, and the reason was obvious: he just couldn’t do it anymore.
Finally, when Studs, in the middle of a story, asked if his time to speak was up, Kogan stood up and made the audience a deal: read Studs’s latest autobiography, Touch & Go, or come back the following year to hear the rest of the story. To Rick’s surprise, the entire audience stood up and cheered. We knew Studs might not be back next year, but we loved him too much not to let him off the hook.
Studs was not quite done with us yet. He wanted to end the discussion, and possibly his public life, with a favorite quote of his. He reminded the audience the words of Reverend William Sloane Coffin Jr., a prominent liberal theologian who protested the Vietnam War: “Good patriots carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country.” Studs Terkel has lived that quote his entire life, long before the quote was spoken. He embraces his country and his city as he criticizes it. He wants the best for both, so he coaches us, exposing the wrongs so we may make them right. True patriots don’t try to hide local or national flaws or deny their existence or explain them away as necessary evils. Those who do have been in Studs’s crosshairs for well over a half-century, and he certainly earned the right to hobble into his wheelchair a half-hour early.
Check out the Chicago Historical Society's website on Studs Terkel if you wish to learn more.
Two months ago, Tori and I visited the annual Printers Row Book Fair. If the Super Bowl is my personal holiday and the season finale of “Mad Men” is Tori’s, then the book fair is our personal holiday, a weekend we celebrate together. We’ve missed only one show in the five years we’ve known each other (we went before we met, too), and it’s hog heaven for nerdy, bookish thirtysomethings. Every year we go, we follow the same routine: arrive around 10am; walk the entire fair, one stall at a time; stop at Standing Room Only for a burger or chicken sandwich; walk the entire fair again and decide on books we weren’t sure about the first time around; then either head for home (if the weather is foul), or go to the Harold Washington library to see Studs Terkel.
For those of you who know little or nothing of Studs, let me define him in the briefest way possible: Studs Terkel is the patron saint of Chicago, the last of a long line of Chicago legends that included Jane Addams, Mike Royko, Harry Caray, Saul Bellow, Jack Brickhouse, James T. Farrell, Nelson Algren, and Bozo the Clown. Although never a fan of many of the city’s more powerful folks, he has carried an unconditional love and respect for Chicago for most of his 96 years. He is also an unabashed leftist who openly fought McCarthyism and his blacklisting with the fervor of an American patriot. He not only survived but thrived as a radio host and writer. He has never stopped working; his latest book, an autobiography, was published in 2007, when Studs was 95 years old.
Every year, Studs can be seen at the Harold Washington Library during the Printers Row Book Fair, chatting with an auditorium audience about his career, the city, its sleazy politicians, and contemporary politics. He is always flanked by two writers for the Chicago Tribune, Rick Kogan and Liz Taylor, who are technically there as discussion partners but whose job is to ask Studs a question and turn him loose.
His aforementioned love of Chicago permeates his every story. Chicago has been variously called “The Windy City,” “Hog Butcher to the World,” and the “City of Big Shoulders,” none of which can be described as beautiful. Chicago was and is pug-ugly, and Studs celebrates that ugliness with the fervor of a true fan. Like the late Mike Royko, Studs sees the diamonds in the dog turds and will write about both with equal enthusiasm.
When Tori and I first saw him together in 2003, he was slow on his feet and hard of hearing but clearheaded as ever. The “discussion” format was simple: Kogan and Taylor would alternately toss a question at Studs, who would then take over, spilling decades of Chicago and American history one story at a time. When Studs would reach a punch line in a story, Taylor would smile and Kogan would lift his head in laughter. The audience weighed in on his every word, as did Kogan and Taylor, who have heard many of his stories before. After all, they love him too.
Long, long ago, when you died, it was safely assumed that your career was over. In the modern age, when dead authors like VC Andrews and Robert Ludlum continue to put out books, and Jimi Hendrix and Tupac Shakur continue to release albums, it seems only natural that Elvis Presley, dead for over thirty years, will be putting out an album of Christmas duets with a bevy of country stars, including LeAnn Rimes and Martina McBride.
I'm sure this latest dueting-with-the-dead enterprise will be a smash hit (it worked for Natalie Cole, after all), and I'm sure all involved will ensure the project will be completed with a modicum of good taste, but at what point do we all go off the dead-star deep end?
For example, John Wayne was in a Coors commercial a few years back; why not GG Allin? Imagine GG Allin at a faux-Western bar, serving up a refreshing Coors Light right out of his ass. Or Jenna Jameson "dueting" with John Holmes! Hell, think how gay porn would be revolutionized once you pair up closeted stars like Cary Grant and Rock Hudson! Throw in Tony Randall for a three-way!
What I'm trying to say is obvious: when your talents are still being exploited after you die, you're no longer a performer; you're a tool. You were a tool when you were alive, but at least you were a tool with the right to say yes or no to something. Dead actors are nothing more than Photoshopped puppets; dead singers nothing more than canned voices. It's all in the name of money, of course; what isn't? But for every "Unforgettable," handled with seamless engineering. there's those old Coors ads with famous dead people dumped in for the ogling value. What would Elvis think? Probably very little; he's elsewhere.
While at work yesterday, I was reshelving magazines when I noticed that every (and I mean every) gossip mag had a photo of B******y S****s (sorry, but I simply refuse to print her name) plastered on their cover, with most of the photos portraying her as bug-eyed, freaky, possibly about to eat her children if she still had custody of them. I've never liked her, never thought she had talent, hated seeing her faux-slutty, IQ-less face, and now even *I* think people should leave the little nitwit alone. Ship her back to Louisiana, stick her in a double-wide trailer, teach her how to crochet, and forget about her. Honestly, you'd be doing her a favor. I may be agnostic, but if anyone would benefit from being born again, it's her.
Let's face it: 2008 has had a crappy start. Ludicrously early presidential primaries, winter tornadoes...could it get any worse? Of course! Because what the world needs now...is a teen movie with genital vore. After reading the plot summary, I thought to myself, "Gee, I hope she understands the value of flossing daily."
Honest to God, 2012 could not happen soon enough.