domingo, 21 de junio de 2009

A Link to Voznesensky

I was very surprised to recently find
that Andrei Voznesensky
has a new career.

While using that wonderful poetic device ‘Google’
I saw the great Russian poet’s name
listed on

Once there, I discovered that
Mr Voznesensky is a
“Senior Principal Scientist at Pfizer
in the Hartford, Connecticut Area.”

And the author of Modern Nature and
ru and
Dead Still
and my favorite
has 50 connections!

And some of my connections know some of his connections…

I am so glad to know that Voznesensky is interested in:
* career opportunities
* consulting offers
* job inquiries
* reference requests
* getting back in touch

There is so much we could discuss –
the surreal image,
symbolism and
use of synecdoche
in his previous position as
a Principal Research Scientist at Bayer Pharmaceutical.

Does Boris Pasternak know
that his former protégé is now
a member of the
Biotech & Pharma Professionals Network?

Are the poetic influences of Mayakovsky and Neruda
useful in his present endeavors?
If I sound disappointed, well,
that may be true.
I mean, the guy’s got a minor planet
named after him:
‘3723 Voznesenskij.’

And shouldn’t he – after all – be concentrating
on poetry?

So I sent him a message, because
there’s that big blue headline:
“Send a message to Andrei Voznesensky”
and right under it, two golden buttons –
“Contact Directly”
“Get Introduced”
(“7 of your trusted connections can introduce you to someone who knows this person”).

And I wrote,
“So Andrei, how’s it hanging?
Hey, what’s with the job in big pharma?
You’re a genius, man, with medals and shit,
And you ought to be writing those pithy poems
that made you famous.
Keep it real, man,
And don’t forget your roots. Hakim”

And a couple days later I got this back:
“Sorry to disappoint you,
but the poet you write about
and I
are not even related.
I hope he is not bothered by people
looking for a prescription.
Dos vedanya, AV”

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online:

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

sábado, 20 de junio de 2009

Uncle’s Song

(with apologies to Gilbert & Sullivan)

“I am the very model of a new avuncularity –
I've made myself the uncle of a group with some disparity.
Among them you’ll find actors and some students of the legal type –
Perhaps one day there will be one whose family bears a regal stripe!”

“Perhaps one day there will be one whose family bears a regal stripe!”

“These lads and lasses all have heads that bulge with ideas quite profound
And planet-saving notions about which they’re willing to expound.
They’re music makers, peachtree shakers and with full celerity
They even do some root canals for profit or for charity!”

“They even do some root canals for profit or for charity!”

“I worry that the youth today have not got full advantages
Though educated fully, they must work for what are scant wages.
But most are led by notions that they battle vile barbarity
And so they practice every day to sharpen their dexterity!”

“And so they practice every day to sharpen their dexterity!”

“I find them jobs and search for posts to give them skills and expertise
So they won’t have to find success by laboring in small degrees.
My nephews and my nieces face the world with staunch temerity
And so their chances are quite good to wallow in prosperity!”

“And so their chances are quite good to wallow in prosperity!”

“I wish for nepotism rare that has been turned all inside-out.
That is, that they will hire me at wages to write home about.
So far no job’s popped up, which is a great peculiarity –
But I have hopes to be employed for all my popularity!”

“But he has hopes to be employed for all his popularity!”

And on this point I must insist on having crystal clarity –
For it’s been said the workplace is no place for rude hilarity –
My sisters’ kids I do help out with deep and true sincerity:
I am the very model of a new avuncularity.”

“He is the very model of a new avuncularity.”

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online:

All material copyright 2009 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

lunes, 15 de junio de 2009

The Technique of Making Movies: Problem Solving at 85 MPH – for 18 Hours Straight


430 am Leave home for work – it’s chilly and quiet.
440 am Hit Bay Bridge – there is no traffic and the music on the radio is pretty good.
450 am Arrive on set, find parking space that’s close but not too close.
451 am Discover two cranes parked in the middle of your set at Moscone Center.
[Location Manager from previous commercial left them ‘as a gift.’]
452 am Teamsters have no flashlight, can’t find keys to cranes.
453 am While calling other Location Manager at home, take 3-battery maglite out of car,
give to Teamster to find keys.
454 am Trucks stacking up waiting to park for offloading.
455 am Craft service/ breakfast truck arrives, wants to set out coffee, has no water.
456 am 1st crane starts to be moved out of way – at 1 mph. [88fpm / 1.5 fps]
457 am Call from PA – he is lost.
458 am Motorhome arrives.
459 am Makeup / hair people arrive, want coffee.
500 am 2nd crane starts to be moved – at 1 mph.
501 am Boss arrives, wants to know why things are going to hell in a handbasket, wants
coffee now. [her call is 530 am]
502 am Tongue stops hurting from biting it.
503 am Boss asks for a walkie-talkie (camera truck has not arrived with walkie-talkies).
504 am Give her your walkie, though it’s the only one on set so she has no one to talk to.
505 am Camera truck parked & opened.
506 am Walkie-talkies taken out, some batteries discovered to be dead.
507 am Dead batteries taken to motorhome to charge.
508 am Makeup Person screaming because chairs have not arrived.
509 am Congratulate self on not throttling Makeup Person.
510 am Motorhome generator discovered to be malfunctioning. PA arrives.
511 am Discover that your picture-car dashcards are at home on desk; cars due at 6 am.
512 am Pull out generic dashcard master from ‘Felix magic bag.’
513 am Hand generic dashcard to PA to copy on motorhome photocopier.
514 am Motorhome generator still not working: no copies available yet.
515 am Cops arrive, PA asks them to fill out I-9 forms; you apologise profusely to cops.
516 am Video Assist wants to know where camera will be, so he can set up away from it.
517 am Hand walkies to Cops, write down their names and check broadcast channels.
518 am Ask boss where camera will be.
519 am Boss asks, ‘Do you see our Director? Well, then how the hell should I know?’
520 am Boss informs you that second location has changed – you must inform all
Department Heads.
521 am Location Manager yelps about change of second location, runs from scene.
522 am APC hands you 4-pound envelope with hundreds of extra vouchers and actor
contracts, along with start paperwork for entire crew, call sheets, shot lists and
523 am Hand 4-pound envelope to PA, thinking you will sort it later; pull out call sheets,
shot lists and storyboards.
524 am Order walking burrito, which you will forget all about and it will be thrown away
and another one will have to be ordered, which you will start to eat but will drop when Boss calls you on the walkie.
525 am First Actress arrives, wants full breakfast.
526 am Hand breakfast order to PA while introducing first Actress to Makeup Person you
now hate.
527 am Start handing out call sheets, shot lists & storyboards – 1st one to Makeup Person
you hate, 2nd one to Hairdresser you think is kinda cute, 3rd one to first Actress.
528 am Hand out call sheets, shot lists and storyboards to crew grouped around breakfast table.
529 am Homeless person hassling people at breakfast table; someone wants to call a cop.
530 am Gently walk homeless person to corner, where you give him a banana, a bagel and a carton of juice.
531 am Second Actress is one minute late – has not arrived; take a deep breath.
532 am Call Transportation Coordinator on walkie to ask if second Actress was picked up.
533 am Transpo Coordinator asks you not to do his job for him.
534 am Hero Cars arrive; no one knows where to park the trailer.
535 am Call Transportation Coordinator on walkie to ask where to put Hero Car Trailer.
536 am Transpo Coordinator tolerantly asks your 20, says to wait for him there.
538 am Transpo Coordinator ignores you while telling Hero Car Driver where to put trailer.
539 am Ask Caterer for breakfast burrito, find out it was tossed when you didn’t come back.
540 am Grab box of cereal, start to eat it dry.
541 am Get walkie call from Boss: “How are my Actresses?”
542 am Start to choke on inhaled dry cereal while answering walkie call.
543 am Call Transpo Coordinator, ask about second Actress.
544 am Check on first Actress.
545 am Second Actress arrives, give her call sheet, shot list and storyboard.
546 am Introduce second Actress to Makeup Person you hate and Kinda-Cute Hairdresser.
547 am Write down second Actress’ breakfast order.
548 am Give second Actress’ breakfast order to Caterer while getting own breakfast burrito, bite into it – it’s hot!
549 am Simply enjoy the hot food for about 30 seconds because – well, you’re human.
550 am Call Transpo Coordinator on walkie to check on Director pickup at hotel.
551 am Transpo Coordinator tells you not to do his job for him.
552 am Director calls from hotel: van has not picked him up.
553 am Find Transpo Coordinator, ask to see his pickup list.
554 am Pick up crumpled pickup list from ground, attempt to smooth it on car fender.
555 am Damp car fender has made pickup list soggy.
556 am Boss calls for Car Prep Guys NOW – drop breakfast burrito while running to find them.
557 am Boss asks for Director; inform her that Director is still at hotel.
558 am Take quiet pleasure in Boss reaming Transpo Coordinator.
559 am Find your 3-battery maglite on the ground.
600 am Unasked, Teamster informs you that he left your 3-battery maglite on bus bench.

And that’s only the first hour or so. It goes on like this all day long, as people are choking from bus fumes, actresses get lost, people fight with each other, cars are moved and removed and the cops aren’t getting the right directions on the walkie, and the store owners are complaining about your crew blocking their entrances so you have to pony up $300 in petty cash to keep them happy. Not all the extras arrive on time because one is lost in Oakland and two are stuck at the parking lot and the Transpo Coordinator doesn’t have van to send to pick them up.

The Hero Actor is cranky about his girlfriend jilting him and wants to jump the Kinda-cute Hairdresser and asks you for the address of a good sportsbar for later. The Director asks you to make sure that his reservations for Chez Panisse are at the right time and your PA loses the 4-pound envelope with all the extra vouchers in it but it’s found later by the Set Medic who thinks you look just like a guy who was running around with his wife behind his back – ‘that wasn’t you, was it?’ – and you have to duck into your car three times during the day to change your shirt because you are sweating so much from all the exertion.

Lunch is served at 11:30 am, and you stand at the table to make sure that only your crew and actors eat – there are loafers and con artists circling for a free bite. You gulp down your lunch standing up while watching the equipment, then have a conference with your Boss who thinks you should have been moving faster all morning, and then it’s off to make the rest of the day go.

You first get your Actresses to Makeup and Hair (she is cute!) and then have Wardrobe check them for gravy-stains. Then in front of the camera with them, and you go to set background, which group comprises a lot of wannabee actors who think they deserve a shot at stardom. Amongst them are a few really good souls, but most are just ordinary people, with all the foibles and failings of the normal population - while a few have no business in this business.

At 430 pm, you stand in the center of California Street directing the traffic away from your oblivious crew, who would be squashed by angry motorists if ADs and cops did not work overtime to keep them alive. Swinging your arms rhythmically to keep the cars flowing, you suddenly realise that you are in the direst pain from your knees all the way to the pavement. You think about it for exactly 3.2 seconds, when you get a walkie call to head over to the corner to get the bum out of the shot. The bum says he his hungry and you wonder what you ate for lunch – you know that you ate, but you can’t remember for the life of you what you ate.

And so it goes, til 11:30 that night, when you head for your car and the long drive home – it’s quiet, there’s no traffic on the Bridge and the jazz on the radio is cool.

martes, 9 de junio de 2009

Yet More Tears for The Onion

David Roland is at it again. We're hoping that someone from The Onion is occasionally scanning the internet for a mention of the paper... [see previous articles by Roland on this site]

Tiananmen/Khomeini Link Finally Out – 20 Years Too Late

Tiananmen Square, Beijing, June 4, 2009 - On the 20th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre, the “May 35th Incident” (as it is known in China, to avoid government crackdown on reports about the “Six-Four Occurrence”) has a special significance. This year, also the 20th anniversary of the death of Iran’s Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, we have the unique opportunity of perspective that allows us to look at a tragic accident transmuted by the press into an aggressive act by a weak government struggling with a counter-revolutionary student uprising.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, the tanks in the Square that day were there to honor the passing of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini on June 3, and the entire column of field ordnance was intended to make the traditional 21-gun salute to the fallen leader of Iran’s Revolution. In a lamentable case of human error gone horribly wrong, the turrets of the guns were not raised sufficiently, and unfortunately a number of students died.

One ironic point of the day was that Khomeini’s revolution was based in and fomented by the student population of Tehran - and here the Chinese were, killing the flower of their own intellectual youth. The Chinese government made the Tiananmen situation worse by claiming that the students had been jaywalking, and that particular crime was a serious threat to the integrity of the revolution. Subsequent attempts by various government departments to cover up the truth of that day have made the government look much worse.

One student (now known as ‘Tank Man’), standing with calendar in hand, was seen to stop the column of Chinese Type 59 tanks in the middle of Tiananmen Square, in an attempt to get them to raise their turret guns and avoid the carnage that was to come. Apparently, his dialect was not well understood by the tank commander, who parlayed with him before attempting a paso-doble in the middle of the square with the now-anonymous lad. Also called ‘the Unknown Rebel,’ the unidentified student is thought to have been executed for some weeks later for obstructing traffic. Other sources claim that the student is now a cell-phone magnate in Taiwan.

David Roland is a humorist who likes to make people wince as they are laughing - a rare trick. He is Hakim's close friend, and people who see them together should think carefully about the negative ramifications of calling them 'the two Daves.'

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online:

All material copyright 2008 David Roland and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

sábado, 30 de mayo de 2009


The poet isn’t defined by what he writes. Some poets never write a single line. Some people write hundreds of verses and will never really be poets.

The poet isn’t defined by how he or she lives. Not every drunk is a poet, and most poets aren’t drunks. Anyone can adopt a Bohemian lifestyle – it won’t make one a poet any more than it makes one a Bohemian.

What then defines the poet? Perhaps this: how he perceives, feels and expresses all the phenomena and sensations coming around and through him. And what common thread runs through the diverse lives of poets, through their incongruous personalities?

~ Lorca stepping between the guns on the morning of his assassination.…

~ Hart Crane diving into a ship’s propeller….

~ Rimbaud, racing for life in Africa after shooting his lover, finally coming home to die of syphilis….

~ Camille Claudel, driven mad by love, destroying her own work….

~ Siefert handing out his poems mimeographed when the government bans his work….

~ Vallejo starving as he writes about the thin blade of loneliness….

~ Van Gogh’s ear rejected by a whore….

~ Pascal’s slashed wrists floating in the ruby water of his bathtub….

~ Artaud running with the mad….

~ Sylvia Plath’s head in the cold hissing oven….

~ Chatterton eating rat poison….

~ Hemingway blowing his brains into the orange juice….

~ Berryman flying off a bridge….

~ Burroughs accidentally shooting his wife in a Mexican bar….

~ Pound dragged through the streets in a cage….

~ Dostoevsky up against the bullet-scarred wall….

The common thread is a vague indefinable something that animates the poet and sends him or her swimming deep and flying high, til the very words ‘exalted’ and ‘degraded’ no longer have any meaning. It is a spark, a charge which drives him in the futile attempt to encompass all depth and height with his own being, to learn the questions, discover the answers, find the connections and essence.

The poet tells truth, using subtle arts: exaggeration, the misnaming of things, smoky oblique reflections, and those illogical but revealing comparisons. And all these acts would be considered unethical and dishonest if used in normal discourse. But for poetry they are the meat and sinew, the crushing muscle, the flashing nerve.

And why does the poet tell that story, use those clever arts? Because he or she is a poet, and that is what poets are driven to do. Because something burns in the most private heart of the poet, something which forces him – often against his will and contradicting all reason – to stretch the skin of his soul… so that tamer creatures might finally know how large they can grow.

-- Charles Bukowski, Lee Mallory & Hakim

All material copyright 1992 - May not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

What is Coming ~ The ‘Brave New World’ of the 21st Century

So we are going into hard times. All signs point to that eventuality. Every news program warns of the impending crash of all we have come to depend on. We are going to face the toughest times imaginable, tougher than our parents and their parents suffered during the Great Depression. All the experts say so.

All right, so be it. Americans are tough and resilient, and they always have been. People who pick up stakes and travel halfway around the world in search of better conditions are a special breed, and for several centuries America has been the landing-place of that kind of person from every corner of the earth. We are all pioneers, or the descendants of pioneers; we are ‘can do’ people, and we know how to ‘make do’ – and that’s just what we will do.

‘Hard times’ is not an absolute; it is a construct of many smaller situations that will be defined differently by various people. And everyone has a different notion of what ‘hard times’ really means. But the interesting thing is that, like generals fighting the last war, those notions comprise details and situations of times past – which means that, operating in changing circumstances, most people will be trying to use old tools to do new jobs. But if we can realistically picture what is coming, we may be able to construct new intellectual tools to deal with the massive changes.

Infrastructure Changes

The most visible change seen during these hard times will be the decay of basic civic infrastructure. Cities and towns – once dependent on state or federal funding for basic services – will collapse, as they lose the struggle to keep vital services afloat. We will see a decline in those services: police and fire departments, hospitals, schools, garbage removal, utilities, and roadways. Libraries will be the first to go, though in the ‘enlightened’ areas (generally the more upscale towns) the libraries will quickly become volunteer-run, merely to keep their doors open as many hours per week as possible.

However, layoffs in police forces will create vacuums into which criminals will flow, and the process of re-stabilisation will be difficult. Fire departments will move – by fits and starts – to volunteer systems, managed by a few union employees at the top. Many hospitals will close, meaning that people will have to travel farther for medical treatment, something much harder to do without fuel-efficient cars. In some areas, this will mean travel of up to 100 miles for emergency treatment, and MediVac services will have all but disappeared in most areas.

Basic prices for utilities will go up, and people will have to learn very quickly how to get along while using less. Water will be come much more expensive, and coastal communities may well try to pump in seawater for most household uses. As we have seen in the past, lawns will disappear in most neighborhoods, replaced perhaps by cement painted green. ‘Rolling brownouts’ can be expected as a matter of course – no electricity for several hours during the day. (The irony here is that fighting a useless war in Iraq will turn America into a version of that country just after the invasion.)

Other services will suffer, as parks become deserts of unwatered grass and roadways become riddled with potholes. Public buildings will go uncleaned and unmaintained, and people will become accustomed to seeing all around themselves the unlovely process of decay.

Airports – very costly to maintain – will close in many areas, as more airlines trim their schedules and shrink fleets. Air travel will recede to the province of the rich, and even the ‘lucky’ rich will have to accept the inconvenience of only a single flight per day to many of their destinations.

Trains won’t be able to pick up the slack, since our legislators have allowed the once-flourishing rail system to fall into extreme disrepair. It will take years – and great expenditure – to build that vital infrastructure back up, and, as people learn more about the situation, the careers of many politicians will suffer. The crowd is likely to be very angry when it learns that the cheapest mode of transporting goods – trains – will not be ready to handle the increased needs in shipping when trucks become much less viable due to lack of fuel. And unfortunately, passenger train travel (which is now almost as expensive as air flights) will soon cost more than flying currently does – though the comforts of this kind of travel will disappear completely when upsurges in usage take their toll on facilities.

Even bus travel will become as expensive as air fares are currently, and the ride will be interminable, unpleasant, and occasionally dangerous. The current state of bus terminals is inadequate to handle the sheer number of bus travelers who will need the service when airports close and the trains fill up.

The toughest situation – the most profound change that will affect the future of America for much longer than any other – will be the lack of funding for schools. We can expect schools at all levels to cut back – far fewer teachers for fewer hours, and at a time when more students are entering the system. The resulting loss of basic education will produce a much less intelligent populace – a populace that will be easily manipulated by politicians, opinion-makers, and advertisers. We may see several generational waves of supposedly educated people who will actually rely much more on opinion and superstition than we have ever witnessed previously.

This lack of knowledge and reasoning in the American people will drive surges in jingoism and bigotry, and the result will not be pretty. America will become much more isolated on the world stage – as most countries will be – but America will be hit very hard by trade imbalances and foreign ownership of property within its borders, and America’s woeful educational state will create poor reactions to the global situation (about which more later).

Social Changes

The largest change will be a widening of the distance between haves and have-nots. As the middle class disappears, the upper class will shrink while the lower class grows. Previously, a large lower class was not the problem that it will become in the 21st Century – poor neighborhoods were traditionally safer than they have become toward the end of the last century. The widespread influx of drugs into poor neighborhoods in the last fifty years has turned many poor neighborhoods into dangerous and crime-ridden battlegrounds. And, because the population has been raised on the idea of entitlement, people will expect to continue a certain unrealistic standard of living. The combination of these two factors will mean more crime in the poor neighborhoods than was present even during the Great Depression, which did not have nearly the amount of interpersonal crime that is coming our way.

Joblessness will become more common, and more of a burden on an already-burdened economy. The election’s good news was offset by the news that unemployment in the Denver area of Colorado reached 25%, while the US Post Office announced layoffs of up to 40,000 jobs nationwide – the first layoff of postal employees in history. In the same month, Mexicans and Central Americans began heading back to their home countries, since work for them in the US was already drying up. While the tiny silver lining will reveal some of those jobs for Americans, the jobs will be very few and they won’t pay enough to keep the average American above the poverty level. (The only reason that most immigrants could afford to take those jobs was that many of them lived in commune-like situations, often with a dozen people in one apartment, sleeping in the beds in shifts. It is anyone’s guess how long – if ever – it would be before Americans would accept such sacrifices.)

The ‘super rich’ will still be protected by the remainder of their money, since a billionaire who loses 90% of his fortune still has $100 million, becoming part of the ‘very rich.’ The very rich will become the new merely rich – a person worth $100 million losing 90% of his fortune would still have $10,000,000. And in the ‘new economy,’ these folks will be the ones buying up the foreclosed properties of the disenfranchised middle class, thus laying the groundwork for their children to become wealthy when property values stabilise in one or two generations.

Many of these new merely rich people will flee the cities, moving onto large tracts of land in rural areas and setting themselves up (mostly) ‘off the grid.’ They will become the benefactors of numerous previously-failing small towns, and will start a new feudal system, keeping a small area thriving because that area supports them and their lifestyle.

The merely rich will become the new upper-middle class – a millionaire losing 90% of his fortune would still have $100,000. These people too might sell out and head for the country, becoming the new merchant class or service class, in an economy that will have no (or very few) imports.

The upper-middle class of the today (which is small compared to the current middle class) will painfully become the new middle class, and the working force of America that once was the middle class will descend into poverty. This process will be relatively swift, though it will seem longer because it will be trumpeted in all media – creating a kind of horror-show that will further debilitate those still hanging on to their jobs or homes.

The merely poor will become the homeless poor, as people who have lost their jobs are forced out of apartments and houses they can no longer afford. That homelessness will lead, in small part, to a rise in enlistments in the military and in religious missions, and to people ‘going on the road’ and living in their vehicles. There will be vast camps of these unfortunates outside every large town and city, just as there were in the Great Depression. This transformation will not be covered quite as much on the news, but will be the ‘open secret’ of every city and large town, as the camps become havens for criminals.

In other areas of life, garage sales will become much more prevalent to bring in money to stretch the budget, and these sales will move away from ‘weekend only’ events to ‘every day’ events. We will also see the return of itinerant salesmen – only this time, they will be selling off things that they or others once owned – going from door to door or from business to business with a suitcase or backpack filled with what they can carry in hopes of raising enough money to pay the landlord or the grocer.

There will certainly be a rise in alcoholism and drug abuse, with all the attendant problems of those diseases. Alcoholism will speed the process of unemployment and homelessness for many people, taking them out of the normal strata of society. Further, treatment facilities will have closed or cut back to the point where the ‘normal infrastructure’ for handling these problems will not be able to handle one-tenth of the cases needing treatment.

We can expect a rise in suicides, in paternal abandonment of families, and in sickness due to a number of factors related to less spending power – from heart attacks and stroke brought on by worry and panic, to an increase in pneumonia as the result of lack of healthy diet and proper care. And as health-care costs skyrocket and hospital staffs and services are reduced, we’ll see a rise in physical traumas, both large and small, when the Internet interacts with natural nitwittery to persuade people to try solving their own medical problems at home and without proper equipment or expertise.

As food becomes more expensive, more people turn small patches of land to subsistence farming, which will have both positive and negative effects. While becoming more self-sufficient is a good thing, home-farming may also lead to health issues caused by chemical contamination of land (especially in urban areas, where toxins have leaked into the ground from gas stations, auto repair shops, and factories). Other people will simply eat less, or eat ‘cheaper’ – switching to cheap processed foods – resulting in more widespread health declines.

Rising food prices could also affect the growing of feed crops, since fewer people will be able to afford beef. This would reduce the feeding of corn cattle – 17 pounds of corn to get one pound of beef – and the land used to grow the corn could be turned to other crops, crops needed to feed the hungry here at home. It is an irony that we import produce from other countries, while we could be growing enough food to actually feed some of those countries.

There would still be the question of the vast amount of fertile farmland adjacent to cities that was turned into suburbs in the past century – probably America’s most profound mistake of the 1900s. This insane idea of ‘progress’ left urban areas to blight and decay, while destroying valuable farmland and placing an even greater burden on farmlands in which minerals were diminishing – causing even greater amounts of additives to be used. No one knows at this point how those lands can be reclaimed for more sensible use – nor whether the land can even be reclaimed safely and how expensive such an operation might be. But many will decry the short-sightedness of developers and urban planners in the years to come.

And many still point out that Americans have been using up the earth’s resources at an alarming rate – author Fred Pearce (Confessions of an Eco-Sinner) reports that, to maintain the lifestyle of an average American (considering all the electronic and labor-saving devices, etc), a citizen in the Roman Empire would have required about 6,000 slaves. In his excellent documentary, Consume This Movie, Gene Brockoff quotes environmentalist and simplicity expert Dwayne Elgin: "If the whole world consumed in the way that Americans do, it would take five planets to sustain our lifestyle."

Perhaps the current situation will convince us to put our priorities elsewhere, to consume less and waste less, to allow the planet to heal a bit, while we try to align science and industry to actually save the resources we have been squandering so wildly in our rush to satisfy the dogs of rampant capitalism and avoid recession.

Dangerous Changes

As things get tougher for the folks at the bottom of the economic scale, the coming hard times will bring a rise in crime – violent crime, robbery, and property crimes. One of the axioms of economics is that crime increases during two periods of a society’s arc – first, when the economy is just getting itself into gear and the middle class begins to rise, and second, when the inevitable economic declines come.

And as people are put out of work, even those who have always been law-abiding will turn to some kind of crime – though usually this will be non-violent and more ‘white collar’ (fraud, passing bad checks, shoplifting). Homelessness – the lack of an address itself – will lead to a certain amount of petty crime.

The new ‘cottage economy’ will lead to a rise in smaller crimes, as local yard-sales and itinerant salespeople are struck by strong-arm robbers, shoplifters, or ‘snatch-&-grab thieves.’

We can expect a huge increase in committed felonies, leading to a surge felony convictions that will put pressure on our clogged court systems and our already-overcrowded prisons. As ‘basic services’ decline, we will see other related problems. Car hijackings will become common, until the time that gas prices will be driven up so much that cars are no longer used as much. Burglaries will be common, as will the crimes of shoplifting, purse-snatching, and mugging.

International Changes

Internationally, we can expect the news to be dire. Climate change and economic crises will throw many developing countries back into physical states that existed a century or more ago. Americans will be empathetic to the plight of those people, but they won’t have much to give and little inclination to give it.

Travel outside US borders will diminish greatly, due to greatly increased travel costs and threats to safety and security on the ground overseas. Americans living abroad will be affected, as the local situations in foreign countries become more and more dangerous. Robberies and kidnappings will increase, and foreigners perceived by locals as wealthy (including Americans) will often find themselves targets.

Within our own borders, the amount of real estate and other holdings now in the hands of foreign entities will cause much resentment among Americans (who have never been very tolerant of foreigners). Because of the sheer amount of land and business properties owned by Asians (predominantly Chinese, Japanese, and Korean), a new kind of economically-generated racism will arise in the US – especially toward Asians, regardless of nationality. One particularly unfortunate aspect of this racism will be that it is very likely to be manifested against Asians who live nearby and who have grown up in the area, not against the actual owners of the properties (who are likely to live in wealthy US enclaves, if not in Asia).

A parallel racism can be expected against Latinos, totally undifferentiated by country of origin. As jobs become more scarce, white Americans (who wouldn’t have taken certain low-paying jobs before) will want jobs held by workers from Mexico or elsewhere in Central and South America. While we may not see the kind of rioting and killing that marked racist mob activity in the early part of the 20th Century, we are certain to see ‘retributive’ violence against those that typically jingoistic Americans perceive as one of the root causes of our economic woes.

Possible Good Changes

So the future doesn’t appear to be very bright, but even in harsh times there are opportunities for those with foresight and the energy to persevere. The human species is adaptable and resilient, and we may expect that human intelligence will provide us many different means with which a sizable fraction of the population will be able to rise to the occasion and prevail. A rise in faith healing and churchgoing in general may be expected as well, as people gather together to try to solve the problems that they all face equally.

One bright spot may come with garbage removal – though the cost of removal may only go up a small amount, the companies will remove far less garbage. But there won’t be quite so much garbage, since people will embrace recycling on a much broader scale, as they realise how much money they are discarding every week in the form of recyclable containers and paper. People will want the few dollars obtainable from cans and bottles, and most forms of plastic will rise in value. In fact, on a day in the not-too-distant future, enterprising businessmen will open up landfills to reclaim recyclables. As prices for materials rise, entrepreneurs will strip-mine the landfills for precious glass, plastics, and metals.

Also on the brighter side, people will interact more within their own communities, getting to know their neighbors. Community-building will evolve as it once did in tribal situations, with exchanges of labor and the lending of tools and equipment that cannot be purchased. There will be a resurgence of the commune movement in numerous areas of the country, as those with means get out of the deteriorating cities and back to rural living.

As loss of jobs make rents unaffordable – and as people need to increase passive incomes – we will see more people looking for roommates and others taking in boarders. This situation too till add to the general community-building that will help to see us through the coming hard times. We will become a nation of boarding houses, as in the time of the Great Depression, when the ‘woman of the house’ served meals to the boarders who had purchased the ‘board’ with the room.

Perhaps the most hopeful news is that, as food prices rise, all the valuable US farmland that has been turned over to the imbecility of ethanol production from corn will be returned to food crops, easing food shortages and encouraging local and sustainable farming. This is a crucial item in our collective future, since there is already enough corn going to feed cattle, and the shortages of all kinds of vegetables can be made up if corn farmers would quit trying to grow expensive forms of gasoline.

Turning Changes into Transformation

In 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, news commentators became quite fond of the phrase ‘the failure of the Communist experiment’ – as if the USSR were running the only economic experiment in town. No one even considered that there might at some time be a ‘failure of the capitalist experiment,’ but now it seems we are witnessing it. Only the drastic measures of FDR’s administration saved America (with a bit of help from World War II), and only exactly the same kind of drastic measures will save the United States in the Brave New World of the 21st Century.

Saving any semblance of the America we all have come to love and rely on will be a tough job, and only hard work and sacrifice will get the job done. We are not certain that several generations of a populace accustomed to ‘entitlements’ (compounded by widespread inadequate education) will be able to meet the challenge. The last generation that had to show that kind of grit and moxie is dying off, and our leaders have pandered to the people instead of leading.

An end to partisan politics would help enormously, as wwould the media addressing the problem from a new standpoint (education and encouragement instead of fear and gossip-mongering). We all have lessons to learn, and it’s very hard to learn while complaining about ‘the way things are’ and wishing for ‘the way things used to be.’

And if the new administration cannot convince Congress to use the federal government to implement a new New Deal – one that involves new versions of the FDR’s WPA and the CCC (the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps) – we will be facing the worst of the progressive and cumulative effects of the economic meltdown. A careful reading of Frances Perkins would help – she was a co-author of the original New Deal.

There is some hope in recent news reports that more than 200,000 people have applied for jobs to Obama Administration – though because under normal circumstances a new president only is responsible for hiring about 15,000 people, the ratio of applicants to available jobs stands at about 13:1.

Still, the fact that so many want to become part of a history-making epoch is a hopeful sign. The government can put people to work, rebuilding and maintaining the infrastructure that America now desperately needs. The unions may complain, but unions are run by negotiators and agreements can be forged to put union workers into every project to train the unskilled into workers who will join those very unions.

And if Congress does not become the obstructionist Typhon that it can be, this Administration has a chance of pulling the country through. And, though the pain will be felt by all who work for a living, the rebirth of America may be the beginning of a better future.

I am not pleased to make these predictions. In fact, I will be the first to be pleased at being proven wrong in any or all of them. But in the interest of acknowledging that ‘a thing is what it is and no other’ and ‘calling a thing by its correct name,’ I must name the storms coming, so that we may prepare for them. And if we can get together, help each other, and make those preparations - we may all come out of this tunnel as better, stronger persons.

One can hope. One can hope…

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online:

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

viernes, 29 de mayo de 2009

The ‘Live Chat’ Agent

I was told recently that there is not enough humor in the world, so I thought this would be a nice change from the 'deep thought' normally offered here.

While looking for a certain product to help with sleep apnea to send my dear elder auntie for her son, I chanced on this website that immediately threw up a window saying, “Wait! Our agent would like to talk to you. Please click 'CANCEL' on the next window to chat with our agent.”

So, accustomed to using Skype to talk to friends abroad, I out on my headset in hopes of hearing a person at the other end of the line. Instead, I found myself in a ‘live chat’ session with 'Heather,' the promised agent. This is the conversation that ensued.

Heather says: Don't leave yet! If you want a restful night's sleep CLICK HERE so everybody gets a good nights sleep. We feature a 90-day money back guarantee.

Heather says: Order now and we'll include a Bonus: [first bonus] DVD + [second bonus] book at NO EXTRA CHARGE.

You: you don’t need to shout. i’m right here

Heather says: I'm not sure I can help. You should call at XXX-XXX-XXXX and an agent will be glad to help you.

You: who are you

Heather says: I am a help agent, my name is Heather and I can answer most of your questions.

You: most?

Heather says: I'm not sure I can help. You should call at XXX-XXX-XXXX and an agent will be glad to help you.

Heather says: Wouldn't you love a great night's sleep? What are you waiting for CLICK HERE and order now so everybody gets a good nights sleep.

You: you do know that there's an apostrophe after the "t" in "night's"

Heather says: I'm not sure I can help. You should call at XXX-XXX-XXXX and an agent will be glad to help you.

You: you’re kinda ducking your job here, heather – pushing me off on someone else…

Heather says: yes

You: why is that?

Heather says: I'm not sure I can help. You should call at XXX-XXX-XXXX and an agent will be glad to help you.

You: there you go again

Heather says: I'm not sure I can help. You should call at XXX-XXX-XXXX and an agent will be glad to help you.

You: ai, yai, yai

Heather says: To order over the phone just call us at XXX-XXX-XXXX.

You: been looking for someone to talk to about representing the product. who might that be?

Heather says: To order over the phone just call us at XXX-XXX-XXXX.

You: you are a robot

Heather says: Of course I'm not real but wish I were :)

Heather says: I can answer most of your questions though.

You: no i need a person

Heather says: Sorry I didn't understand.

You: pretty good for a robot though

Heather says: Of course I'm not real but wish I were :)

Heather says: I can answer most of your questions though.

You: oops. i found your glitch ha ha

Heather says: Surgeons have discovered that snoring can kill. Stop snoring now.

You: i'm not snoring NOW… i only snore when i sleep

Heather says: I'm not sure I can help. You should call at XXX-XXX-XXXX and an agent will be glad to help you.

You: no i don't need any help snoring – I snore pretty well on my own, but thanks

Heather says: Of course I'm not real but wish I were :)

Heather says: I can answer most of your questions though.

You: yah, you told me that

Heather says: I can try to help, just ask me a question.

You: how old are you anyway?

Heather says: I'm fine, a little closed in today though.

You: must be close quarters for you, stuffed there in the motherboard

Heather says: I'm not sure I can help. You should call at XXX-XXX-XXXX and an agent will be glad to help you.

You: yah, but how old are you?

Heather says: I'm fine, a little closed in today though.

You: we covered that already. i got it, i got it

Heather says: I'm not sure I can help. You should call at XXX-XXX-XXXX and an agent will be glad to help you.

You: broken record?

Heather says: I'm not sure I can help. You should call at XXX-XXX-XXXX and an agent will be glad to help you.

You: much more of this conversation and i will be snoring

Heather says: Don't let snoring ruin your sleep. Get the [product name] and put an end to a bad night's sleep. CLICK HERE to order now.

You: have you whitened your teeth? they look pretty white in the picture

Heather says: I'm not sure I can help. You should call at XXX-XXX-XXXX and an agent will be glad to help you.

You: no, if I decide to whiten my teeth, i’ll go to a dentist

Heather says: Are you still there? Type "Hi" or "Hello" just to let me know.

You: hi

Heather says: Thanks! There's nothing worse than not getting a good night's sleep. If you are serious about feeling rested in the morning then order now by CLICKING HERE. [this product] is not sold in stores.

You: do you have apnea?

Heather says: [product name] can treat apnea but you should of course consult your physician. We offer a money back guarantee so CLICK HERE and start getting a better night's sleep.

You: do you use one?

Heather says: I'm not sure I can help. You should call at XXX-XXX-XXXX and an agent will be glad to help you.

You: does your boyfriend use one?

Heather says: Many people buy [product name] for their partner. Why not give it a try? We offer a money back guarantee.

You: got a boyfriend?

Heather says: I'm not sure I can help. You should call at XXX-XXX-XXXX and an agent will be glad to help you.

You: if you had a boyfriend, he'd be just some bytes stuffed in the motherboard too, wouldn't he?

Heather says: I'm not sure I can help. You should call at XXX-XXX-XXXX and an agent will be glad to help you.

You: girlfriend?

Heather says: I'm not sure I can help. You should call at XXX-XXX-XXXX and an agent will be glad to help you.

You: yah, it's hard being helpless.

Heather says: I'm not sure I can help. You should call at XXX-XXX-XXXX and an agent will be glad to help you.

You: ok, bye...

Heather says: You'll find [product name] is comfortable and effective. There's nothing worse than not getting a good night's sleep. CLICK HERE to order and I hope you start getting some rest.

You: ok, bye

Heather says: You'll find [product name] is comfortable and effective. There's nothing worse than not getting a good night's sleep. CLICK HERE to order and I hope you start getting some rest.

You: yah, i get it... bye now

Heather says: You've got nothing to risk with our money back guarantee, isn't a good night's sleep worth it? CLICK HERE to return to the site.

You: buh-bye!


David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online:

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

miércoles, 27 de mayo de 2009

Hidden Messages: Turns Out Road Rage Display Behavior Is Misunderstood!

Came across this piece by my very talented friend, David Roland, and thought I'd share it here, where it might do some of my readers some good.

Road Rage Display Behavior Finally Explained

by David Roland

While we think we know what the underlying messages that aggressive drivers are displaying, two researchers at the California College of Business Synergy in Berkeley have uncovered the actual meanings of the gestures and other non-verbal communications that angry drivers display.

The two young scientists took life and limb into their own hands during the 26-week study, by interviewing drivers displaying road rage just after each of those drivers was involved in an aggressive incident.

Thomas Hodgkins and Cecily Blazold spent major portions of each day driving around, encountering various forms of road rage behavior, attempting to interview the subjects displaying road rage behaviors, then analyzing their data according to the latest theories and discoveries in psychoanalysis. For six long months, they gave up all vestige of a social life to spend time driving around the Bay Area. (The study would have been conducted more quickly, except that they were involved in three separate accidents with drivers who accidentally ran them off the road while they were endeavoring to commence the interviews.)

All the work done by the intrepid young researchers was videotaped for later study, and the tapes catalogued for various behavior types and situations. In the safety of their lab, it is quite entertaining to witness these incidents on tape and to hear the remarks made by seemingly enraged drivers. “But you can’t really rely on their verbal communications to give you a true picture,” says Hodgkins. “It’s very much like people being interviewed about their significant others, in the presence of their significant others – there’s a lot going on under the surface, and people’s protective mechanisms just click into place.”

“That’s why we spent so much time conducting interviews,” continues Blazold. “You have to get the subject away from any reminder of the emotions, in order to get them to address their true feelings.”

Below are several examples of the actual translations these brave young scientists were able to parse from the thousands of gestures, gesticulations and other non-verbal clues they studies on the hundreds of hours of tapes they made during the study.

Middle finger of either hand, raised: “I have registered your disapproval and I agree that my actions are the direct cause of your annoyance. At some point when we have more time, we should discuss the matter in depth.”

Incessant honking of horn: “I find your current driving behavior distracting and potentially dangerous, and I fervently hope that you will take this admonition to heart and drive with more consideration in the future. Do have a nice day!”

Fist extended out of window, shaking back and forth: “I understand your consternation, but wish to point out that it is a big world and there are a lot of us in it, so you may have to make some adjustments in your expectations. I certainly hope things improve for you today!”

Aggressive Tailgating: “I would really rather that you use public transportation, as I feel you have become a menace to the safety of all concerned citizens. How about rethinking your position on carpooling and taking the bus?”

Aggressive Tailgating while flashing brights: “While I understand that one or more of your parents was born in an undeveloped country and that you are doing the best that you can behind the wheel of that car, still I must take that particular maneuver as an insult to all intelligent drivers, and ask that you forbear from making it in the future. I can recommend a good driving school that will make your life much easier and your time on the road much safer.”

Swerving next to car as if to run your vehicle off the road: “This is all very bothersome to me, and I am feeling especially vulnerable today, so please excuse my rudeness – I will no doubt feel much better after I’ve kicked my dog a few times. Perhaps in the future we can explore these feelings in a quiet atmosphere.”

These are only a few of the translations of signs given other drivers – signs that are often misunderstood and assumed to be aggressive or at least negative behavior. “All drivers should be aware that what they see is not always what the other driver is experiencing,” says Blazold, “and it probably would serve them to take into account that various signs and gestures may have different meanings to others.”

David Roland is a humorist who likes to make people wince as they are laughing - a rare trick. He is Hakim's close friend, and people who see them together should think carefully about the negative ramifications of calling them 'the two Daves.'

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online:

All material copyright 2008 David Roland and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

sábado, 23 de mayo de 2009

Baby Boomers vs ‘The Greatest Generation’

Here's another piece from several years back that I would love to see become the basis of a documentary... kind of a Ken-Russell-meets-the-Yes-Men, done by Chris Guest and Eugene Levy. There is a lot here that could be explicated using humor, and it might make for a cultural healing, if only we would let the ideas do their work.

Not long ago, a national magazine published an article called ‘The Worst Generation,’ contrasting the Baby-boomer generation of Americans (born between the end of World War II and the early 60s) with ‘The Greatest Generation’ (those who fought in World War II). The article set out to cast ‘Boomers’ into the shadow formed by their parents, attempting to show the quality of the latter group and the inferiority of the former. I read that article with interest – possibly self-interest, having had the random luck of being born between the two arbitrary year markers set out to start a description of a huge segment of the population.

Unlike many of my fellow ‘Boomers,’ I was raised by my grandparents, and so came to a fuller perspective on life, a perspective which might even be said is akin to that of the ‘Greatest Generation.’ Along with that perspective, there came some reasoning power, some thought-strength which alerts me when the entire thesis of an argument is flawed.

Comparisons of groups of people are ticklish affairs. Even studies of large groups of disparate types of people can be hazardous to your thinking. False premises abound for the unwary. The first is that any group might be homogeneous. Boomers, whose birth-range covers 18 years, can’t possibly represent a single generation in education, cultural and social perspective, general emotional maturity, intent, or knowledge. It is also an absurdity to assume that any subgroup of Boomers (grouped by other demographic factors than age) would be alike in many areas, because the rapidly-changing dynamics of the times preclude that one group of people can have the same outlook and focus as a group born so long previous.

Another false premise is that any segment of Boomers, grouped by a closer age-range, could represent an homogeneous group. I went to school with Young Republicans, while I was a radical who opposed the Vietnam War on moral grounds. But I didn’t hide in the Ivy Tower – I came from a Navy family and would have gladly served my country in a legitimate war that wasn’t a sham, both politically and morally. In fact, it angered me that my military career was curtailed by our country’s egregious foreign policies, which only deteriorated as time went on until we find ourselves (under-equipped) in Iraq with no ‘exit strategy.’

Not every Boomer dropped acid, spurned lipstick, or burned a draft card wrapped in a bra. To assume otherwise is the logical fault of painting an entire group with the same brush. I grew up with echoes of World War II ringing in my ears, shooting capguns at ‘japs’ and ‘nazis’ before I even knew the meaning of those words (having learned a not-so-subtle racism from the much-lauded ‘Greatest Generation’). A kid born in 1960 was an altogether different creature from my friends and myself, and the gap would become more pronounced as time went on. That kid, or one born in 1964, would always know JFK as some kind of hero on a big coin, and was just three years old during the Summer of Love, never even contemplating actually having sex until the Sixties were long over.

The cultural drift many decry is the result of many things: the growth of corporations and the spread of patents (both dating from the late Renaissance), the threat of annihilation, the experimentation with the economy – not to mention advertising, the true locust-cloud of our time. It is actually thought itself which has changed: attitudes toward life and other humans, and the manner in which each person faces the life bestowed. As time has compressed, the number of things in the world has increased, and our institutions and ethics have had an effortful and unsuccessful time keeping up with those changes.

A twenty-year generational grouping was probably perfect back when time – and events – moved at a more leisurely pace. But with the coming of the 20th century, things changed. Long is the list the events which sped those changes: telegraph, telephone, electric lighting, indoor plumbing, medical and other technical advances like airplanes, war tanks, and automobiles. Perhaps it was fair to call a ten-year grouping a ‘generation’ in the Roaring Twenties, but it cannot be to do so now. And to call an 18-year grouping a ‘generation’ is silly beyond belief. I frankly wonder that so many otherwise intelligent people fall for that faulty logic.

I also wonder why people continue to insist on unfavorably comparing the ‘Boomers’ with ‘The Greatest Generation’ – and vice-versa. Is it some sort of age-old father/son competition? Persons who do so are buying into a profound conceptual folly, taking potshots at a crowd which must include at least some of their heroes as well.

Actually, ‘potshots at a crowd’ is almost the perfect metaphor for the entire Boomer situation – and for any argument that idealises one generation at the expense of another. That afternoon at Kent State was the mirror held up to our times: one group of kids (Boomers) shooting into another group of unarmed kids (Boomers). Who put those guns in the kids’ hands? Who trained them to shoot and to follow orders? Who gave the fatal orders? It is unlikely that Boomers could have done any but the last item, and improbable that they did even that. Those green young National Guardsmen were schooled and molded by members of the ‘Greatest Generation.’

And the mirror doesn’t lie: everything my ‘generation’ learned, we learned from our fathers - and mothers. We learned, we absorbed, we synthesized and extended. Yet Boomers have been described as self-centered and self-aggrandising. Self-centered? For many, the Fifties was a self-centered bath of personal comforts, prepared by those celebrating their survival of the ‘Great Depression’ and the War. Self-aggrandising? Isn’t aggrandisement of self the subtle heart of the incipient racism and classism of previous generations (extending back, in America’s case, to ‘the founding fathers’)?

Each generation takes what it can take from the pool and gives what it will give – right, wrong or indifferent. It isn’t so much about ‘us and them’ as about ‘all of us and these changing exigencies of our lives.’ There are good and bad elements in every ‘generation,’ and I hope that we do not teach purblindness to the generations with whose future thought processes we have been trusted. It is the responsibility and duty of our teachers to teach openly and fairly, withholding personal bias in favor of seeking all the facts, to guide young minds to think for themselves – rather than to accept the party line or the rantings of embittered politicos who may happen to be their professors. Only by keeping our universities free, by not trying to control content, can we hope to have future generations which will be better than we are, more able to cope with changes, more suited to the future which they will inherit.

But the whole argument about ‘Boomers vs The Greatest Generation’ is one big exercise in cheap generalities, careless thought and sloppy argument. No wonder the larger fraction of the American public can’t think clearly, fed as they are on disingenuous pap, propaganda disguised as opinion, outright lies by their ‘leaders’ (whether cultural or political). Of course, that is what the public wants, after all - to be led and cosseted, and told what to think and do. The media continues to present them with a collection of half-baked sentiments masquerading as thoughts and ideas. But I shudder to realise that our colleges and universities harbor professors indulging in carelessness, in the shoddy building of thesis and argument, resulting in enormous waste of creative power.

But there is a third false premise in the pitting of one generation against another, a mistake made in almost every anti-war movie ever produced: the demonisation of one side. How can the audience really feel the waste and tragedy of war when that emotion is pushed aside by a stronger visceral reaction, one engendered by a discernible villain to hate? By casting one ‘generation’ against another, we miss the entire point: all generations have their noble few, their plodding many, their great and silent apathetic masses. They all possess within them individuals who are greedy, as well as the guileless, the cynical, and the idealistic.

We are all of us human, all marked with the same tendencies and needs and wants. These traits are part of the human psyche. Victorian women in New York suffered lead poisoning from the white makeup they slathered on themselves in an attempt to ‘stay in fashion.’ Others bound their waists so tightly that they irreparably damaged their viscera. Can we really believe that every woman of our grandmothers’ (or great-grandmothers’) generation would have spurned breast augmentation or liposuction – had it been safe, inexpensive, and available to them?

It is true that recent generations were generally ‘given everything,’ where most previous generations grew up in harsher conditions. Boomers were presented with opportunities at every turn, and had them thrust on us by the world at large and by our parents, who were admittedly affected by previous privations that could not be ignored. Some kids were spoiled by their parents, while other parents took the absurd tack of emulating their kids, which often made them look ridiculous indeed.

The simple fact is that Boomers just became much more visible than any previous generation, as the spread of television and the globalisation of our culture thrust us into people’s living rooms every night on sitcoms, on the news, in movies and in magazines and newspapers. As a group, we became the center of attention, and don’t think some of us didn’t deliberately play to it for all it was worth. But that situation too serves to distort the facts. It made us seem more important than we actually were, a point readily made if one looks at one item generally taken to be an immanently ‘Boomer’ phenomenon – marijuana. An overview of the recent history of marijuana reveals immediately that the Boomers as a ‘group’ still haven’t got the political clout to legalise the damn stuff after almost 50 years of effort. If the thesis of ‘generational homogeneity’ were even close to true, we’d all be buying packages of ‘Blue Boo’ or ‘Gentle Gauge’ or ‘Happy Herb’ or ‘420’ cigarets at the corner store, paying a hefty use tax to the government. But we’re not – what’s that about?

Like most of American life, it’s probably all about issues, and the truth is that there is no single ‘American public’ viewing (or deciding) the issues. There are only a collection of ‘publics,’ overlapping, sharing interests in a broader or narrower fashion – but no one group can even begin to embody the contradictions of the ‘American’ mind. Notions of homogeneity are nonsense – and even dangerous when included in ‘discussions’ in national magazines or on TV.

Some of us were fighting against the Vietnam action long before it threatened us – like ’64 or ’65, when we were still in public schools, not yet shaving, unaware of the true reality of that awful threat. Without their kids providing a conscience – for whatever reason – most Americans might have shrugged off the atrocities in Southeast Asia as ‘the cost of doing business,’ just as they are today shrugging off the war in Iraq as ‘a necessary part of bringing democracy to the Middle East’ (and oil to the world).

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll weren’t invented by my ‘generation,’ though many of us often acted like they were. And there were a lot of fortysomethings crashing – and throwing – parties in the 60s and 70s. And yes, many Boomers did embrace Reagan’s rapacity (don’t forget that $3 trillion debt) – but they don’t represent the entirety of the ‘generation.’ And when we hear George W’s lectures on social responsibility, we have to remember that he personally has never shown any sort of fiscal responsibility and seeks to turn the entire country into Republicans through a variety of ‘parlor tricks.’

Of course, large parts of the ‘American public’ [not just Boomers] have said about Clinton, “How dare he behave like one of us!” Americans have a long and cherished history of pulling down their heroes for showing that they are human. The ‘straight press’ has only sniffed the wind and adjusted course to become the pillory of American society that the tabloid press had once been. We – all generations of Americans raised puritans in our schools, irrespective of religious affiliation – want our heroes perfect, impeccable, safe. In other words, dead. Anyone elevated to hero status has to die or fall, or America just won’t be happy.

Some wag called this new crop of little altruists ‘Letterman’s kids,’ ‘ironic but not cynical.’ Boy, does that miss more than one mark. Most of these kids wouldn’t know real irony if it bit them in the ass, and cynicism is endemic, though not the film-noir type with which we are familiar. It is ironic too that some think of Letterman as some paragon of social attitude, that man described elsewhere as “a 52-year old…stogie sucker … workaholic perfectionist whose scabrous self-loathing and growling hostility are unmatched on network TV.” Quite a choice for an ‘ironic but not cynical’ role model. Letterman’s faux-courteous but mocking attitude has infected a lot of young people, especially males, who think that mocking something is the same as understanding it, or improving it. None of Letterman's humor does anything to point toward improvement – it is puerile, smug, and extremely self-satisfied. He would do well to practice humility, since he does have so much to be humble about, sitting on the sidelines and jeering at others while offering no true perspective, no solutions, no answers.

It is truly ironic that the corporate models of late 20th-century America and the personal ethic of ‘captains of industry’ were all visited on us by the Harvard MBA Class of 1949. Gordon Gecko was only the natural extension of a philosophy that has been building for more than 150 years – at least since Vanderbilt sent William Walker and his small army of mercenaries to ‘pacify’ Nicaragua in 1847.

The logical extension of that little escapade in 19th-century ‘nation building’ – the School of the Americas – was not started by Boomers, any more than were the HUAC hearings, the Tuskegee Experiment, or other heinous offerings of previous generations. But to lay blame on an entire group is wrong – and false. Invective against anyone not interested ‘in the lasting result of the creative process,’ or against anyone for ‘trampling on the rights of others,’ might be leveled against any segment of any generation at any time in our history.

We’ve heard about the Civil Rights Movement continuing ‘without strong support’ from Boomers on college campuses. Oh, really? I was there, and stand witness to the fact that the college crowd was just about the only strong support in numbers that the movement had from ‘white America.’ Without a whole segment of one ‘generation’ behind it, the Movement might have missed the watchful eye of the Gatekeepers in the media [the Greatest Generation and the one previous] – and failed to gain needed political momentum in the white establishment.

And who gave us that generational group the sobriquet ‘hippie’? Life Magazine, run and managed by our parents and grandparents. The previous generation has been defining us since it taught us to walk. In our schools, the previous generation taught us how to define ourselves – and in its own language, not ours.

And this is a crucial point – every generation down through history has fought this battle with its predecessor. Every generation has looked back and said “No,” only to look forward a few years later and said, “Oh, no.”

Somewhere in a cave is a pictograph that translates “Screw Og, my axe is better,” next to one that says, “Mog is grounded til saber-tooth season.”

For every argument pulled up to bolster a biased argument, there are countless others to support not only the opposing argument, but a true and objective picture of the times and of the sad, colorful, varied, sometimes noble, hopeful people who struggled through them.

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online:

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

jueves, 21 de mayo de 2009

Opera in the Lark

Looks like opera is making its way around the scene again. Started as a sort of elevated popular entertainment in Italy the early 1800s, opera outpaced other entertainments and took Vienna and Paris by storm, finally turning into the highest of highbrow entertainment by the close of the century.

In fact, the form had become so elite and distanced from the popular culture that, through the verismo era, opera’s ‘golden age’ developed ‘exotic’ themes that had a kind of vérité aspect, focusing on the lower classes.

I was at the San Francisco opera recently and was surprised by the number of people who had shown up in sweatpants and jerseys – something I found shocking, and anoying. I myself was not wearing a tux; I’d dressed in sport jacket and tie. I realised that when people no longer bothered to dress for the evening, it was only a natural progression for opera itself to start to shift.

And shift it has: we are now back to the elevated popular entertainment, as opera loses some of its high-falutin’ shine. We’ve seen Opera in the Park. We’ve braved the crowds for Opera in the Ballpark. And now there’s Opera in the Moviehouse. Opera’s gone pop, as multiplexes have started showing simulcasts with all our favorite stars – and in between those broadcasts of live shows from the Met or the SF Opera, we’re able to see ‘encore’ performances – prerecorded shows directed from the booth just as the cameras are directed for the live shows.

The Lark Theater (Larkspur’s small independent) recently had a great opera program going on, and it seems that the Lark filled the seats. We’re glad about that, and we hope you are too.

After an Opening Night Gala to put people in the mood, the Lark showed a lineup to be proud of – from Strauss's Salome to Adams' mindbending Doctor Atomic, the program seemed to try to catch everything in between: Berlioz's La Damnation De Faust, Massenet's Thais, Puccini's La Rondine, Gluck's Orfeo Ed Euridice, Donizetti's Lucia Di Lammermoor, Bellini's La Sonnambula, and Rossini's La Cenerentola. (And when are they going to revive that local story made so 'foreign' by Puccini - La Fanciulla del West [La chica del oeste o La ragazza dell'ovest]?)

At roughly thirty bucks a seat, this isn’t some lowbrow entertainment. But the actual live shows charge far more, so the cost isn’t perceived as astronomical. And, as Hollywood utters fewer films per year – by the latest figures, all studios average about a 40% drop in number of films produced (though the studios, in their need to keep putting out enough films to hold the screens, are picking up many films at festivals for at or near negative cost) – the theater chains need something to pick up the slack.

And opera’s just the thing, apparently. With the appeal of a continental background (and the exotic quality of something known but not fully understood by the mass of moviegoers), opera may be finding its place in the sun… er, or on the screen.

So what’s next, sporting events and horse races at the old Bijou?

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online:

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Man Down

This piece was done last year, to mark the passing of a troubled friend. But it has a certain resonance right now, as we are losing another friend, and the process is slow enough for our horde-like family to gather and celebrate before the fact. And, since that was more-or-less the point of the original piece, it seems quite appropriate to put it up now.

Our community has suffered several losses lately, as friends and colleagues continue to pass away. And the philosopher’s words are truth – when one of us dies, the loss belongs to all of us. When that death is a suicide, the loss is felt more keenly, and it does not matter whether that is so because of a young life cut short, or the waste of human potential for love and artistic endeavor and all that makes life human, or because each of us has a secret place for our sorrow and feelings of despair that is touched by the untimely and intentional death of another.

In some rooms, suicide is called ‘a permanent solution to a temporary problem,’ suggesting that the act is like wrecking a car because it has run out of gas. Just keep in the game, this thinking goes, and something will happen to change the play in your favor.

My own take on it is a bit different: suicide is ‘a temporary solution to a permanent problem,’ because – no matter what religion or spiritual creed one follows – we are going to have to deal with the effects of that action… and the lack of diligence in working out the original problem in the first place.

Several years ago, a film was made here that dealt with that theme – What Dreams May Come – and though the film was not overtly Christian, it still espoused a Christian notion of Heaven and Hell. Not all of us believe in that model of the universe, and some of us believe in kharma and rebirth to work through spiritual issues. And clearly our religions, whatever we may call them and whatever they may tell us about ‘afterlife,’ are giving us the same message: stick it out, deal with it, make progress, and find a happy reward when you are pulled from the game.

I don’t judge suicide – everyone has their reasons for what they do, and perhaps that kind of passage is part of their larger destiny to end their own lives. But I feel the waste and sadness of a life cut short; I feel the same way many of us felt several weeks ago – that I could have, would have done something to help a friend and colleague in pain. The death of one of our community is our loss in common, and my mind and heart goes to what we can do about that situation in the future, before the next time, perhaps to prevent it for some one of our dear friends.

I’ve lost several friends this year, and the older I get the fewer living friends and the more dead ones I have. The last few years have seen a number of old-timers leave our ranks as well, and it’s never easy to say goodbye to friends or loved ones. Some years ago, I lost the last friend I will ever have who was twice my age, and that came as a shock, to realise that people just don’t live long enough to be twice my age. Maybe that’s why I have friends half my age, eh?

So what’s this piece about anyway? What’s my narrative here? Well, I’d like to suggest that we honor each other, doing something now, while the person can know we care and feel the depth of that caring, and perhaps avoid standing in a redwood grove on a foggy morning talking about how we might have helped.

Let’s help now – let’s throw surprise parties or call one another up with invites to spontaneous, wacky jaunts to the racetrack or to inner-tube on the river, or even to go hiking down to the beach.

Or this: inviting friends to watch films we like; we discuss film and the business so much that it would be good to take the time to see a film we like with people we like and afterwards discuss over dinner the film, and life, and all things that make it swell.

We live in a kind of paradise, surrounded by wonderful people, privileged and blessed with things and skills and gifts that 95% of the world envies – so why not show our gratitude and spread a little of the love around before our bus arrives?

Just sayin’.

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online:

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


This is an other golden oldie. I think sometimes of turning this one into a short film, and I have even timed it for a voice-over. But I draw back, because I'd have to build the set, and it will never look like what it looked like then... and who's got the money to reconstruct that old Marketplace?

* * *

Bismillah, I have finished scrubbing the black-bottomed pots and the exotic cutlery in the tiny back kitchen at the Inn of the Mullah Nasrudin’s Donkey. The Inn, spread beneath the gaily-colored canopies on a wide bed of straw, sleepily rests (like the donkey it is named after) at the top of Traders’ Market, where merchants, travelers, gypsies, laborers, dancing girls, peasants and the occasional seafarer come to find shelter or comradeship or romance or excitement. Here, with the fragrant aura of spices and Turkish coffee floating on the breeze, they noisily suck through their teeth the boiling chai or strong black Eastern coffee.

Under the festive banners waving slowly in winds which shake out a fine coat of dust, the sprawl of shanties and tents which border the marketplace is nestled in a serene valley, not far from the highway that leads to the great city. The little valley is watched over by lazily-circling hawks or raucous crows in the daytime and, in the nighttime chill, by the silently swooping owls.

Now, under heaped-up tumbles of clouds, the rolling hills languidly bathe in the sun’s clear light. I can see blue jays slip between the swaying bright mustard stems, stems which seem just barely strong enough to hold the fragile weight of the jays. The low hillocks around are like seas of tall grass, deep greens fading to the tan of dried straw, undulating currents and waves in the breezes.

And in the deserted little tent-town, the hard clay roads around Traders’ Market will grow even more silent in the glowing mantle of twilight. Those of us who stay here between the crowded and noisy market-days, who labor building or repairing, or who feed those who labor or make wares to sell – those of us for whom this Valley of the Owl is now home, even for a little while – we will gather under the wide canopy of the Inn of the Mullah Nasrudin’s Donkey for our evening meal and we shall talk or play music and warm ourselves with the Mullah’s hot drinks.

But that will be much later, and just now, the kitchen having been patiently cleaned and my morning soup finished, I have put on my mirrored skullcap and my wide chain bracelets and I have come to sit in the long back camp off the Inn. The back camp is a wide oval yard surrounded by tented beds under another bright canopy, littered at one end with the tools and brooms and buckets that are used in the Inn. The rest of the yard is more domestic, strewn with the makings of extended camp: bags overflowing with clothing, laundry strung on ropes, the cases of musical instruments stacked haphazardly against a wall, the belongings of the servers and workers at the Inn.

Out across the fields of high grass that drape the low curve of the swelling hills – not so far, though, as the line of dark oaks which seem to stand with unmoving branches even in the strongly gusting wind – a stout young man is working, digging a post-hole for another tent pole, his broad back shiny with sweat, his movements slow and deliberate in the gathering heat. Around me are the sounds of the coffee-house: the slow whisper of the broom as the sweeper makes his way through the empty kitchen, the gentle scrapings of a fiddle being tuned, the ratcheting sound of the cards as the players gossip among themselves, the counterpoints of several hammers striking the notes of different nails.

I am at home here – oddly at home in this travelers’ camp, in the very timelessness of this stopping-off place, this passing-through place, this temporary home of ever-returning happinesses. It is among the changing faces of this host of travelers that I have found a comfort. From wherever it is that they come, on the way to wherever it is that they are going, in the shade of the Inn their paths meet.

To the crossroads of Traders’ Market they come, with smiles or with tears, wise or brash or cautious or cunning, to buy and sell, to trade and argue, to learn and teach, to touch and share and fight and love, each with the other: the merchants in long coats and colored jackets and foreign-looking hats, dancing girls caressed by their veils and bangles and bells, laborers in rough shirts or shirtless with neck-scarves pulled over faces against the dust, the laughing dark-eyed belly dancer with the lotus tattoo on her face, the freebooter who has found his sea-wit more profitable upon the land, jugglers and jokesters who entertain travelers for a few coins, serving-girls looking chastely proper or adventurous and sultry, the artists and musicians who paint or play in the background, adding the gentle spices of their several Muses to our lives.

And late at night the gambling men drink strong spirits with their devil-black coffee, or strong spirits from hand-to-handed bottles between laughs and lies and odd bits of their stories tossed out like stray bets in their games. And in the slow morning, the servers step to the rhythm of the Mullah’s snores… ah, the Mullah – always the Mullah, grand and watchful, a great slow presence amid the busy activity of the coffeehouse.

From my spot in the back-camp, I hear among these sounds the marketplace picking up its pace, seeming to stretch and yawn in the sun as if in preparation for a busy afternoon. I realise that the quiet time will soon end. For in a few days it will be Market Day, and the crowds will come – like faraway thunder approaching, like the horizon’s gathering dustcloud moving ever closer, inevitable, inescapable.

The crowds – foreigners in their own land, it seems, restless and impatient and rude – are foreign to themselves and are foreign to us, who were born side by their sides, who live and love at the shore of their busy world, who speak the same language differently and seek other goals and see other dreams under the same velvet sky of night. And when they come, those crowds – trying to touch another life though their arms are too short and their hearts too hollow, to touch a bit of the life that flows through our eyes and through the tongues of our hearts, through our bonds and friendships – when they come, then shall we don our festal masks and sing them the smells of the gypsy fires, the eerie color of the rose-lipped dawn in the high mountain passes, the lover’s caress of gentle waves in far-off silksanded bays.

And one or two will come out of the crowd, will be able to hear our hearts’ songs and know something of our thoughts – and some of us will talk with them and smile openly and friendships will be born. And around that little scene of happiness in the crowded and noisy Traders’ Market, others of us will sell our wares and sing our songs and pocket the coins of our labors.

After the revel is ended, when the drinking and dancing and buying and trading is done, then back to the near-empty marketplace shall we meet again – here, it will be here in this quiet Traders’ Market that we shall gather. And in the long hot afternoons, under the breeze-kissed canopies, those of us who live here will share our coffee or chai and gossip and tell of what has passed on Market Day. And once again, beneath the gliding hawks, the sounds of quiet labor will echo in the Valley of the Owl.

Yes, today is quiet, the thunder and dust of the crowd is far away and my prayers are all said, and the long-handled coffee urns and the bright slick knives have all been cleaned with care, ma’ashallah.

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online:

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The Strength of a Man

So this essay is one that I want to make into a film - preferably a documentary with dramatic overtones. I have no idea how to turn this completely internalised event into an externalised and even-remotely-artistic event, but I am working on it... sort of Chien Andalou crossed with My Dinner With Andre, perhaps. Ok, that was a joke, but this blog ain't.

* * *

On a day like any other – it could have been any day – a minor complaint prompts a question. An inquiry. An examination. . . and suddenly nothing is the same. The things which were big things become small, and all that had been small things disappear. You feel the curtain falling, you see clearly the weakness of living, in an instant you recognise the fragile skin of life. Closing, the eyes truly open – and the turning world continues.

Life holds a moment when the silence drowns out everyday sounds and a man’s fears are suddenly terrifying. For me, that moment came in a small examination room, while a white-coated doctor described a Texas-sized tumor inside my chest.

With the sweat came the realisation that it’s in there, and you can’t get it out. But now the man’s talking numbers: survival rates, percentages, things only measured long after the deal is done, when you’re either laughing in Aruba or rotting in Pleasant Acres.

The patient faces the doctor – recently met, now with the egregious duty of informing this stranger that his life may be over – and stutters out a request to repeat the words. The wife cries quietly, seeing the future more clearly than her husband. Soon, with any luck, this man will know all about patient, as doctors prod and lead and jerk him around in a display of human frailty that is remarkably life-like. But now he’s too stunned to notice her silent tears, and she is too consumed with a single idea: he must somehow survive.

* * *

My mental list of what it takes to be a man: A man doesn’t cry, is always prepared, doesn’t complain and bears his pain quietly. A man protects himself and those around him. He won’t exploit, depend, or take his friends for granted. I’d taken at least one side and had held it all my life. I owned and would not lose the strength of conviction; I was strong and could fight if I had to. And it became clear that I had to fight – fight the cancer, fight to stay alive. Of course, I was to also learn some distinctly different lessons in the months to come.

* * *

A delightful irony: at forty-five, I was stricken by a young-people’s disease. Most Hodgkin’s patients are 18 to 24. And Hodgkin’s is neat, clean and imminently curable – I was puzzled when they called it the ‘good’ cancer.

The tumor was pressing on both my heart and my lungs, causing me to have poor circulation and extreme shortness of breath. Again, the ironies: as an educated man, I could not help but recognise that the tumor struck at the center of our collective notion of courage (from the Latin for ‘heart’). Moreover, the tumor attacked my lungs, where I breathe (spirit comes from the Latin for ‘breath’). How often in life do we hear these words matched up with our notion of manhood: “That fighter’s got a lot of heart;” “He has the spirit to win this one.” With these two areas so compromised, how was I to defend myself against this threat to my life?

And the effects of cancer weren’t merely philosophical. I was physically weak, I couldn’t work for more than a few minutes at a time, and could not sleep. I had lost twenty pounds to land at a feeble 160 and was tired all the time. The tumor was consuming almost everything I ate, leaving the rest of my body to starve. My life had turned around, and I wasn’t liking the direction it took.

My wife drove me to the infusion center for chemotherapy every two weeks, because the treatment wiped me out too much to walk, much less to drive. Working from graphs which told the maximum I could take without dying, brisk professionals put poisons into my veins as I watched – and waited – for the effects. At the infusion center, they gave me palliative drugs for nausea and other side effects, but I hated taking them. I quickly reduced my intake of these additives to a minimum, resigned to pull in my ears and bear the physical discomfort.

We attended, respectively, a “survivors’ group” and a “caretakers’ group” - learning new things about chronic and catastrophic disease in America today... and about the politics of disease.

* * *

It’s a hard thing to wake each day into the sickness again, without relief, to see yourself in the mirror more debilitated and feeble each time – the constant reminder of failing health, to know that you are not what you were, that in fact you are so much less than you were, that you are constricting, shrinking each day in your movement, in your strength, in your already-severely-limited abilities. And added to that are the difficulties of relentless treatment. If the sickness is pernicious, the treatment itself is vicious.

You must make all those minor and major adjustments, you must acquiesce and compromise, you must accept that your life probably will never be as it was. You can accept it with grace or you can fight it. But this is the real deal, pal: you can’t stay the same.

And of course, that’s what life is all about, at the end of the day. Forget the illusion of a continuing arc of achievement until we die in the lap of luxury. For most of us, that will never happen – our present success won’t help at the end. The smaller office, the less-luxury car, downsizing, painful joints, the ex-wife, the hated retirement, estranged kids, move to a furnished room, calendar filled with medical appointments, assisted living, the catheter or colostomy: a series of minor adjustments, compromises, large and small acquiescences, rationalizations. We can only hope that we won’t find ourselves on the downward slope of the hill without ever having enjoyed the summit. We will age until we become too weak to feed and care for ourselves, and we’ll hang on until one day we just . . . die.

* * *

As I watched people disappear from my survivors’ group, I began to feel like Barabbas, delivered from mine enemies – but at what cost? Some other cancer patient filled the statistical spot that might have been meant for me under the title: “Annual Deaths from Cancer.” The analogy of Barabbas haunted me – the thief chosen by his people to be free, the committor of seemingly ‘small’ crimes, yet whose sins are greater than those of he whom was punished. The shrink at the infusion center had asked me whether I thought that cancer was a punishment (it turned out that, given the Judeo-Christian ethic, many people do). I looked at him as though he had asked me whether winning at the track were the Reward to the Faithful, and said, “Of course not – it’s just the luck of the draw.”

But my insomniac mind spun with these ideas, having little else to think about but my failing health and my business, which had faltered as a result of my absences. There was no religious significance attached to the idea of Barabbas and redemption, hardly any moral to be learned and little philosophy – only the irony of one man’s trial being greater than another’s, and that being the guy with the light end of the load seemed sometimes hard to take.

Of course, the light end of this particular load was still heavy indeed. I would live on, bearing the complications and having opportunities to change aspects of my life, trying to become happy at last. Is that how Barabbas reacted? Did he walk down that long hill in the light rain amid sunny patches, renouncing his thieving ways and resolving to live a truly happy life for a change, after a long-deserved vacation over in Hebron?

* * *

Interesting phenomena began to occur when the chemo really started to stack up in my body. The nature of most chemotherapies is that they are progressive and cumulative – the further down the line you go with them, the more they remain in your body and therefore the more they’ll affect you. I was getting my ass kicked with some true sincerity from the third through the eighth day – five or six full days of rat poison flowing through my system, twisting every human response into something quite unpleasant and scary, most accurately described as having a corpse shoved into your skin along with you.

I watched the slow progression, as the man who lived in the mirror lost his thick head of hair, then his beard. And then one day his mustache fell off. His features became harder and more severe, and I was reminded of a description of an old cavalry officer by George MacDonald Fraser: “He was a tough old file with a flinty gaze.” And that was who looked back at me from the mirror – a tough old file, one I couldn’t recognise.

So here I was, in the middle of my fifth cycle (having received chemo nine times) and the effects were just pounding me into the ground. I’m told that it’s something like a woman’s period . . . and so much more. I don't know if the effect can be blamed on hormones, but the wash of emotions I experienced was frankly stunning. Profound feelings of hopelessness, despair, fear, weakness, dependence, cowardice – all the things which my life had supposedly girded me against – would overwhelm me at odd moments and set me spinning to a snappy little dance number played by Death’s soloist himself.

There were times that I could hear my Uncle Ironhand’s voice floating through the long tunnel from my childhood, repeating a joke he liked: “I tell you: first I was afraid I would die. Then I was afraid I wouldn’t!” I’d find myself longing for death as a way out of the pain, then I’d chide myself for such silly thoughts. There was logic lost there – I was, after all, undergoing this pain to avoid death. But the mind does funny things. On certain days, in certain hours, it all just seemed too big to cope with. I was reduced to the outlook of a little boy – a scared and vulnerable little boy, stripped of the years of training in becoming a man, in hardening himself to the difficulties of life. I was a little boy who felt no shame in crying.

And in those moments, somehow, I learned what strength is – not what we believe it to be, or what big-screen heroes show us, nor what we want it to be or need it to be – what it actually is. Strength is forever allied with faith: the faith that we can get through, if we can just hang on. The child can believe, and persevere, perhaps because he has not had all that training in becoming a man.

And then the realizations start to come. A clarity takes over which peels away all the happy horseshit and the clichéd beliefs we spoon-feed ourselves every day. A man can look at the bare face of life and learn his lesson, without fanfare – and, if he’s lucky, without regret.

To really accept being the essence of a man relates back to several archetypes, one of them the failing father, the man looked down upon by the son for not being as good as the son has become. But how could he be? How could the father – over and over throughout time – consistently be better than the son? First, nobody would like the effects of that. Objections would be raised. And more important, it defies evolution. Each generation must improve, if a species is to survive. Sons must become more – and better – than fathers.

And we can’t forget the partner and the mentor, both archetypes with very necessary social functions. There is more to mating than the act of procreation. The joining of two lives involves a variety of small relationships stacked into a larger, more penetrant and encompassing relationship with the same person – the partner. And the mentor is a friend and teacher, one who guides the younger person into and through the confusing labyrinth of social and natural relationships. These facets of adulthood – and, by extension, of manhood – are secondary to the relationship with self, but they are crucial for an individual’s healthy functioning.

There is also the laudable trait of just being there, a solid post in the community to lend a hand when needed, or perhaps to merely be a witness – the good neighbor, another often-overlooked archetype.

The truth is that we don’t need as many heroes as we need men to admire them. And why do we admire heroes? Because we’re ordinary. As special as each of us might be, compared to heroes we are only ordinary. So be it. The descent into ordinariness is another facet of strength.

Yes, we admire heroes because we’re ordinary. The true strength is this: We go through our lives, learning our lessons and taking our knocks, often never realising that this is all there is. No redemption, no third act, no flashing moment of enlightenment: just more of the same. Just our own ordinariness, the diminishing strength, our incipient weakness, until we fade or fall away.

And that’s being a man. That’s where a man’s true strength – his real beauty – is found: To keep pushing forward, knowing that there are no more big kills, no awards or golden moments, no endless summers. To accept that, and to stay focused on just reaching the goal when all the glory is behind you, to keep showing up, suited up, long after you haven’t got a double-play left in you – that’s the strength of a man.

Nothing flies for long without coming to ground, and to glide gently in with grace and élan makes a much better story than to crash and burn, a million biker tattoos notwithstanding.

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online:

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.