Life’s a Musical

I’m generally a happy person. My life is challenging, but I mostly get to do what I want, and I’m surrounded by good people. But find me on my commute and I get exceedingly crotchety and cranky. I don’t get violent, I become like Tommy Lee Jones in any movie that Tommy Lee Jones has ever starred in. And considering what a public transit commute is like in any big city, who can blame me? I keep to myself, I don’t jostle anyone, and I get home to my big, adorable, stupid cat, and everything is good again. 

There’s this thing, though, that I never noticed during my time served in New York, and that’s the singing. This usually happens at night, but it can pop up any time. Someone, of any age, with earpods in their ears, will start belting out, at the top of their lungs, and usually not very well, whatever they’re listening to. It’s loud enough to pierce through my podcast, and it drives me insane. It also puts me in a dilemma. I encourage self-expression, however you want to do it, from wearing colorful shoes to dancing on the sidewalk. This, though, is kind of awful. Even when the singer has talent, it’s kind of awful. I can’t maintain my bubble if someone keeps popping it with whatever the latest star has to say this month. There’s a reason playing music without headphones is illegal on the Metro.  

There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m not about to tell a Metro agent about it, because what are they going to do about it? And even if they could, am I really the kind of person who wants to penalize someone for doing something that makes them happy? No, I’m not a Republican. The good news is, it doesn’t happen very often, maybe three times a month. It’s a temporary nuisance when it does happen. So I just suck it up and mutter under my breath. Joy is a challenge to come by, and they found it, even it’s just for the length of this track. 

Oh, now they’re singing the next song on the playlist? Goddammit! 

Film-Flam

Another day passes, and another person weighs in on this increasingly dumb Marvel-vs-Martin-Scorsese nonsense. I’m pretty tired of hearing about it, and I’ll bet you the only person more tired than I of the whole thing is Martin Scorsese. Mostly I’m tired because what difference does it make? There’s nobody who has ever said, “I was going to rent Ant Man & the Wasp, but Martin Scorsese said they’re not cinema, so I should watch Casino instead.” And when I hear about an out-of-touch Baby Boomer who has been living in Hollywood half of his life who is telling us that an enormously popular genre of movie that he’s probably never seen aren’t cinema, my first thought is, “Well, he’s not wrong.” 

Marvel movies are about a lot of things, like honor, sacrifice, duty, personal responsibility, loss, family, and grief, but mostly they’re about a guy who dresses in red, white, and blue and calls himself Captain America hitting a large purple man with a hammer. They’re not high art. But perhaps Martin Scorsese or his sidekick Francis Ford Coppola (the director of Godfather Part Three and Bram Stoker’s Dracula who has a lot of nerve passing judgement over what counts as overwrought, pointless spectacle) would answer a question for me: What have gangster movies ever done for the world? Has society grown or become better because Joe Pesci flipped out and shanked a guy to death for making fun of his shine box? Has Marlon Brando sticking cotton balls in his mouth improved humanity in any way?  

Don’t get me wrong, The Godfather and Goodfellas and all of these movies are really good. My senior year in high school I saw Apocalypse Now five times, and it holds up today. I went into The Departed with a bad attitude because I’d seen Internal Affairs, and how dare these Americans think they can remake a—okay, it was actually amazing. These movies are art, I won’t dispute that. But they’re movies, i.e. moving pictures. Yes, these two men and the filmmakers agreeing with them have come up with the most interesting ways to manipulate light against a screen, but that’s all they’re doing. And if you’re one of the people thinking that making yet another gangster movie starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro makes Martin Scorsese a better person than anyone, you need to get your perspective checked right away. 

I love movies, but they’re movies. There’s plenty of things to get furious about right now, but one of them shouldn’t be an old man stating his opinion. 

Pit Stop

I’ve been writing nonstop for the past two-and-a-half, almost three years, whenever I can, wherever I can. It’s been nothing particularly profound, mostly silly magical adventures, with a few romances and one epic sci-fi/fantasy thrown in, but it’s my art and my reason. I have no doubt whatsoever that if I hadn’t been structuring my new life around writing, I never would have made it through this divorce. Even as I’ve been working these endless strings of fifteen-hour days, I’ve managed to find a cumulative hour a day to put pen to paper.  

And with that in mind, I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself. I just finished a novel that I think is good enough to shop to agents after I give it a once-over and a polish, and for the first time since I started this marathon in 2017, I don’t have an idea for my next piece. I’m not calling it Writers’ Block, because that connotates an outside force keeping me from inspiration, when in fact, I just haven’t let my mind wander as much as I usually have (probably those aforementioned fifteen-hour days). I’m also not sweating it. If I take some time off from writing, I might actually do things like finishing unpacking my room or read a book. I’ve committed to doing some editing next month, which I wouldn’t be able to do if I was scribbling and typing furiously away every time I wasn’t working, sleeping, or doing laundry. 

But I can’t deny, it’s weird not to be stressing out about when I can find some time to sit down with my notebook or wondering where the characters are going to go next. It’s like writing was a job, and I just got laid off. I talked about free moments earlier, but when I’m in full writer mode, I don’t have free moments. I’m constantly occupied by my novel or short story. Well, now I have free moments. Who knows how long that’s going to last until inspiration gooses me, and I get back to work. 

What to do, what to do … 

Hack the Planet

The reason they won’t let me write suspenseful thrillers in Hollywood or TV Land is because all of my stories would end like this: 

*Our scene opens in the VILLAINS lair. The VILLAIN has been defeated, but he has left one dastardly trap for the heroes—a biological weapon that is primed to subject all of Los Angeles to an agonizing death. In a desperate attempt to stop it, the HERO and HEROINE confront the VILLAINS laptop.* 

HERO: The only way to stop it is to enter the password! 

HEROINE: We’ve only got two minutes left! Start guessing! 

HERO: There’s a catch! If you enter the wrong password three times, it automatically triggers the device! I know an algorithm that can bypass the security node and access the device! *HERO types furiously, but the screen flashes red, and he pounds the table* Dammit! There’s a firewall eating my code! I can’t get through! 

HEROINE: Two guesses left! 

HERO: There was only one thing that he loved in this life! One thing that made him human! His daughter! *HERO types the VILLAINS daughters name, but gets another red flash* Dammit! 

HEROINE: One guess left! 

HERO: There’s only one thing we can do, and it’s a long shot! Before the Villain murdered him and his family, my brother entrusted me with a worm he coded! If it works, it’s like an electronic skeleton key that can— 

HEROINE: *Slides the laptop over to herself and types P-A-S-S-W-O-R-D. With a dull hum, the device powers down* 

HERO. Goddammit. 

Cat Burglar

Somebody stole my cat. Somebody I trusted. This was a friend, a confidant, and my roommate. And there’s nothing I can do about it.  

The cat burglar was able to pull off the heist by virtue of being more charming than I am. For starters, she talks to the babies, constantly. She doesn’t really say anything, she just calls them by the nicknames she’s given them and asks them the same question over and over again. She also sings, usually some old, familiar number with her nicknames replacing random lyrics—seriously, she removes all coherence from the songs. Most importantly, she plays with them. Between my long double-shifts and eagerness to write, coupled with my impatience at the way they’ll just sit there and stare at mousey-mouse, I don’t take the little toy out and tease them very much. Nicole will sense when they’re at maximum energy and go to town.  

So now Newcastle spends as much time with her as he does with me, sometimes even more. It’s clear he likes her better. I always took my cats for granted, seeing them as passive pets, and now I’m paying the price. And so I’m going to give her the $800.00 vet bill Newcastle just incurred and wipe my hands of the little traitor. She owns my cat now, but at least she lets me visit him. 

Revision Quest

“How would you do it?” asks the woman who is showing me the ropes. “Why don’t you give it a try?” 

And so I return to my desk and spend a while coming up with a two-sentence blurb about our new podcast, featuring the phrase, “… a companion to the journal.” I send it back to her, and she says, “This is perfect, run it past the boss.” This is going to take a while. If I’ve learned anything these past five days, it’s that the boss is a reviser, almost pathologically so. Obviously it got her where it got her, so I have to keep that in mind, but I was prepared for some back-and-forth that would go on for hours.  

About forty-five minutes later, the boss props herself up on my desk and states, “Here’s the thing. It’s not a ‘companion.’ We need another word.” 

“Supplement?” I suggest. 

“No, it’s not a supplement either.” She then lists all of the reasons that the podcast doesn’t qualify as a supplement.  

“So what is it then?” I ask. 

She then proceeds to give me a perfect, literal definition of a companion podcast and concludes with, “See? Not a companion.” Since I couldn’t think of any other word, especially given her explanation, we agreed just to remove the offending phrase altogether. The rest of the blurb went in unmolested. 

I say this without irony or snark—I think I’m going to fall in love with this job. 

M-Word

I was talking to my boss today, and I referred to the medical journal she’s in charge of as a magazine. The room went quiet. Everybody froze, until they all turned and trained their eyes on me. The piano player stopped playing. A record scratched. “We don’t use that word here,” I was informed. “Never, ever use that word.”  

If you want a good picture of what happened, imagine if I had dropped the N-word in the middle of an NAACP meeting.