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Archive for August, 2010

Birth of a Salesman

065wheelbarrowIn his autobiography, Ben Franklin tells how, as a young man, he carried rolls of paper to his printshop in a wheelbarrow.  The point — as with so many of his actions — was self-publicity: He made sure to do the wheelbarrowing when the streets were full of potential customers, so they could see what a hard worker he was.  (It must not have been much fun to be one of Franklin’s competitors: When someone else in Philadelphia put out an almanac, the next edition of Ben’s own famous almanac printed a supposed prediction of the exact date of his rival’s death.)

Today I might have cut a Willy Lomanesque figure as I rolled a big suitcase up Shattuck Ave. during a steamy Berkeley afternoon.  But in my own fevered imagination I was a latter-day Franklin, as the suitcase was carrying boxes of my Red Diaper Baby DVD from a storage unit to my downtown office for (that lovely word!) fulfillment of various orders.  As the grandson of a successful store-to-store hardware salesman who also happened to be a communist, I feel a special pride in “moving units” of my communist coming-of-age story (directed by the great documentarian Doug Pray).  And as a guy who looks like Ben, I feel proud to be a small-businessowner.

Progressive entrepreneurs of the world, unite!  You have nothing to lose but your bootstraps.

Middle Innings

The Moon Flew Over the Scoreboard

The Moon Flew Over the Scoreboard

Had the great pleasure of attending last night’s San Francisco Giants game with Bert Steinberg, whose license plate says something like “I [Heart] Bsebal.”  Everyone who works at PacBell Park (weird to type out that corporate name — what strange times we live in) seemed to know him.  Bert has filled out a scorecard for every baseball game he has ever attended — starting in the bleachers in Yankee Stadium in 1927 (the year my mom was born, nearby in Brooklyn).  He recently had neck surgery (the stitches will come out next week), so he apologized for wanting to eschew the stairs for the elevator; aside from perhaps a bit of stiffness in his bearing, he moved like a 60-year-old.  Often he goes with his son to the games, and sometimes he goes with his wife — but not too often with her, as she tends to get overly nervous in the ninth innings of close games, especially given the propensity of Giants closer Brian Wilson (not the Beach Boy, although that one seems pretty intense, too) to make things interesting with a baserunner or two before finally shutting the door.

This game wasn’t close: the Giants jumped on the Cincinnati Reds’ poor starter for umpteen runs in the bottom of the first inning, knocking him out before he could record a third out.  The crowd thus was merry and relaxed for the rest of the game, even working repeatedly to pull off a decent stadium-wide “wave.”  The “Kiss Cam” caught couples, who then — being observed on the giant scoreboard by all 32,000+ of us (at least, that was the announced attendance) — felt obliged to kiss.  Some did this with gusto, though one young woman demurely presented her cheek to her male companion; to this the crowd started booing good-naturedly (yes, that’s possible), and so, visibly blushing, she let her friend give her a smootch on the lips.

Giants pitcher Matt Cain — who, like his genius teammate Tim Lincecum, has been struggling recently — returned two runs to the Reds, but then the Giants got umpteen more runs and all of us pretty much unclenched.  Cain ended up retiring the last 12 batters he faced, which was confirmed by Bert upon a quick examination of his scorecard.

I’d asked Bert to teach me how he fills out a scorecard, and he did his best to do so, but in truth it was a bit complex for me to follow.  I wasn’t the only one fascinated by his scorecarding: a  young woman sitting behind us repeatedly asked Bert to explain his various scribbles to her.  After one of these conversations, I caught him smiling.  We were between innings, so it wasn’t about what was happening on the field.  Finally, he said, “Oh, to lose 40 years!”

Those 40 years would get him back to about my age — and he’d still have a couple of decades to go to reach that woman.  But that wasn’t the point.  The point was that we were having fun.  In a baseball game, long periods of apparent emptiness are punctuated by brief moments of stunning action: the ball arcs beautifully over the outfield wall; the Giants’ panda-shaped third baseman darts with incongruous grace to his left, spears the ball, and, his momentum still carrying him to the left, makes a perfect throw to first for the out; the scoreboard welcomes home a serviceman just back from duty in Iraq, and the crowd responds with genuine warmth.  Two men — one in his middle innings (he hopes) and one somewhat further along in the game — smile because things aren’t always, always, always, so terrible.  Sometimes things are nice.

We Shall Have To Show the World

Golda Meir, circa 1948:

“It would be more than foolish to expect that we can live here in comfort and in peace and not do everything for the Arab minority,” she remarked.  “We have no desire to be a master race and have people of a much lower standard among us.  Look, we shall have to show the world how we are making up for our 2,000 years of suffering as a minority not by emulating what was done to us but by isolating every single method of making people suffer and doing away with each of these methods, one after the other.”

[From Golda, by Elinor Burkett, p. 140.]

Attention: All Netflixxers!

If you belong to Netflix, could you please add my movies Haiku Tunnel and Red Diaper Baby to your queue?  If enough people do that, then they’ll go ahead and make the films available.


Sale on Red Diaper Baby DVD’s!!

red_diaper_baby_dvd_coverFor the next couple of weeks, in a burst of irrational midsummer exuberance, I’m offering DVD’s of my Red Diaper Baby concert film for only $14.95 each — $10 off the usual price.  Would Karl Marx approve?  I imagine so.

To get to my online store, click here.

Andy Warhol: Good for Mill Valley?

Well, you can find out this Friday and Saturday, Aug. 6 and 7, when I’ll be doing my latest monologue, Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?, at the lovely 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Marin County’s very own Mill Valley.  Both performances are at 8 p.m.  For tix and info, click here.

Vote for the EyeWriter

eyewriter1There’s a cool new device called the EyeWriter that has been developed to empower people who suffer from paralysis: it allows them to write and draw using only their eye movements, and it’s way cheaper than any of the current alternatives.  If enough people vote for it on the Pepsi “Good Ideas” website, Pepsi will donate a whole lot of money so the EyeWriter can get to the folks who so desperately need it.  To vote, just go here.  You can vote every day through the end of August (similar to the system that has long been used in Chicago elections).  Major props to my pal Paige Reinis for helping to get the EyeWriter project past the first round of eliminations at Pepsi!  (Insert your own inappropriate joke here regarding cola consumption and elimination.)