Tuesday, November 27, 2012

“The Boy and the Bat,” or “Just How Many Laws Has Batman Broken?”

I’ll start off by saying that I’m a fan of the Batman universe on something of an uber-nerd level.  I think it all started in 6th grade when, during study hall in Mrs. Howard’s homeroom, instead of brushing up on my coursework, I would pull out from the classroom library a hardcover book detailing the Dark Knight’s exploits from inception in the 1930s on up till the ’70s.  This coincided with daily watching of the notoriously campy Adam West/Burt Ward series and the unveiling of the Tim Burton eponymous actioner on VHS—I must have worn out the tape from near-repetitive viewing. 

Even though I was a bright kid, I was—and am—prone to near-constant flights of distractibility from more pressing matters.  Eventually, Mrs. Howard made an exception, effectively allowing me to “check out” the Batman book from her library so that I could in fact “study” (or approximate as such) during study hall.  Looking back, this was probably a wise move on her part. 

Like many kids who march to the beat of a different drummer, I was more or less social Kryptonite at age 11.  If the budding preteen girls wanted to put one of their kind down, the ne plus ultra insult was to claim she was “going out” with “Furley”—my ubiquitous moniker coined due to my curly hair “style” at the time closely resembling Don Knotts’ from Three’s Company.  In the Readington Middle School cafeteria, I sat at a lunch table by myself for a good half of that entire academic year before I began to coalesce with a nebulous cloud of my fellow outcasts by year’s end.  Like many bright, socially inept and, for most intents and purposes, friendless kids that age, I sought refuge in fantasy and pulp fiction, mostly of the Bat and Indiana Jones varieties (Star Wars at that time—1990—being post-cool and not yet re-cool…and a full decade away from being George-Lucas-raped-my-childhood-with-the-prequels-and-Crystal-Skull passé).  I had yet to discover rock n’ roll or to delve too deeply into my parents’ LPs, which would eventually kindle my love affair of all things classic rock.  I read a little Poe and various other fiction, but I was not yet the true literary worm that I would later be.  Nor did I read much sci-fi and fantasy, nor was I a lonely cinephile like other nerdy kids who eventually blossom were (the exception being martial arts movies).  I had few friends and even fewer interests.  This was of concern to my parents, who would often ask me if there was someone other than “The Felon” I might like to have over to play (his is a looooong tale for another time) or perhaps some club I might like to join other than karate.

Don’t even ask about girls.

Looking back upon my life, I firmly believe that 6th grade was the year that irrevocably shaped my personality as a future teenager and later an adult.  I’m 34 now, and I can say with all certainty that the two halves of my personality lifeline run pre-11 and everything after.  Here’s why:

For one thing, being relegated by my peers to Quasimodo status basically forced me to rely on myself for everything from moral support to entertainment.  I was the son of working parents who weren’t home after school until dinnertime, and my younger siblings were still just kids.  So it was basically upon myself that I had to look for whatever I needed that could not come externally or was being teasingly held back by my peers and/or clueless adults.  And while a smart kid, I never then had the sense of doing well in school for its own merits.  I knew I was smart and I didn’t care if my parents or teachers knew it (though a certain few astute teachers did push me out of my shell, if slightly)—and this lackluster attitude towards external approval translated into mediocre grades.  I always passed my classes and got respectable, if not exemplary, grades.  I was far more into karate, which was a meritocracy: If you learned your katas (forms), your terminology, the dojo rules and acted like a respectful but hungry karateka, then you were promoted in rank.  Karate provided a structure and a discipline that I lacked as a kid, and its military-style insistence on respect for one’s superiors (notice I didn’t say “betters”) and the betterment of self physically and mentally were probably the best thing I could’ve been involved in.  (I still am.)

All of this solipsistic self-reliance aside, of course I did secretly hunger for friends and social acceptance.  Sitting in meditative silence alone at lunch every day for months on end can perform wondrous calcification upon a boy’s self-esteem.  Surely they must be right to exclude me.  They can’t all be wrong.  Thus came the flipside of the Two-Face coin: the desire to belong.  Kids are painfully attuned to the social pecking order, particularly in middle school.  When you’re at the bottom, there’s nowhere to go but nowhere.  Thus, even one or two “friends” could’ve boosted me even one or two rungs up the social ladder. 

And so here was the longing for acceptance and the burn of exclusion coupled with necessary self-reliance.  It is this dichotomy that defines me to this day.  I’ve been fortunate to blossom into someone who has literally hundreds of friends scattered around the globe, and I have conquered enough social anxiety to not only walk into a roomful of people I have never even met, but to own it and be “that guy” within minutes of doing so (thanks to that frequent friend of mine—alcohol).  Eleven-year-old Eric would never, ever believe what life would be—and is—like for 34-year-old EFA. 

But even now the other side is that…I often do still feel that I am an alien who is misunderstood and too different to belong.  My M.O. in a social situation is to typically smile, looking around me at fine friends and colleagues and to be thankful and feel blessed.  And yet underneath that is a two-pronged nagging from Little Eric: I simultaneously feel a drag upon my soul to get out of the situation as quickly as possible and retire to my room with a book or a movie or to a faraway land for a solo trip in my car with only some CDs as my companion…and yet while feeling these very thoughts comes an uncomfortable, infantile screaming that when I say goodbye to these people at the end of the night, I will never see them again; they will leave me behind and ignore me and not want to spend time with me anymore!  (When I was working towards my psychology minor in college, I learned in a child development class that toddlers think their mothers no longer exist when they are out of the room.)

These are both me, and they make up the unique concoction of confidence and neurosis that is EFA.  Self-understanding is a very important part of growing up.  I firmly believe that you cannot possibly empathize and engage with others until you first understand your own motivations, positive qualities and, yes, your faults and failings.

So back to our friend Mr. Bruce Wayne.  Because I first followed along in his adventures at that tender age of 11, I’ve shared a special affinity for the Batman universe ever since.  From the Animated Series through the decreasingly crafted sequels to the initial Tim Burton film, and right on up to returning back to the comics and then on to Batman’s rebirth (and “death”) in the Christopher Nolan trilogy.  I found the Nolan trilogy to be a well-crafted, finely written and acted, involving piece of modern pop culture.  Though certainly not without its flaws—most notably in the chapterhouse The Dark Knight Rises—there’s so much to love and admire in these films because, or in spite of, their ambitions to reach beyond “comic book movies” and into dark, finely tuned and modulated morality plays of complex motivation and choice.  I could—and someday will—write a treatise on The Dark Knight and its triumvirate of the Joker, Batman and Two Face making for a Greek tragedy as magnificent as anything in the Classical canon, but my purposes today are far less literate and far more humorous. 

You're here to laugh after all.

And thusly back to the question posed by my secondary title: How many laws has Batman broken?  For our purposes, I am using only the “Dark Knight Trilogy,” and I invite my more learned attorney friends to fill in any blanks that this armchair cross-examiner may have overlooked.

Seriously, for a guy who claims to fight the good fight, Batman has one of the most seriously egregious criminal records in Gotham.  Let’s roll out Bruce Wayne/Batman’s rap sheet, shall we?

Destruction of public and private property

Batman Begins (BB):
Batman uses a Bat-boomerang thingie to blow out half of a moving train car during his climactic fight with Ra’s Al Ghul, which almost certainly fell on buildings and possibly innocent passersby.  Below, his accomplice, Sgt. Gordon, blows up the stanchions holding up said railway line, ensuring the train crashes like its conductor was texting. 

The Dark Knight (TDK):
Batman breaches the wall of a parking deck with the Tumbler to interrupt the fight between Scarecrow’s goons and the fake Batmen.  Later in the same film he fires missiles from the Bat-Cycle to blow up multiple parked cars impeding his way during his “rescue mission” of Harvey Dent.  (Let us hope that no teenagers were exploring their first "batcaves" in any of said parked cars.)

The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR): Bats basically destroys half of Gotham in his showdown with Bane by land, sea and air.  Seriously, why is no one ever “accidentally” killed in these movies? 

Manufacture of weapons of mass destruction, combined with accounting fraud and securities fraud

Think about it: The “Applied Sciences” division is basically a private one-man’s army of shit that anyone but the Armed Forces should not be in possession of.  This includes, but is not limited to, the Tumbler, the Bat-Cycle (see previous note about missiles), Batarang, and the “Bat” plane from TDKR. 

Not only that, Lucius Fox and Bruce Wayne circumvent multiple laws of accounting and securities by concealing Applied Sciences within cooked books, thereby misleading investors and shareholders as well as any relevant regulatory agencies.  (Wayne Enterprises went public at the end of BB, remember?)  Furthermore, consider the fact that when in TDK Coleman Reese tells Lucius Fox that he knows what they’re up to, Lucius then basically threatens him with all manner of shit if he spills the beans.  (Seriously, go back and watch that scene again…Lucius was seriously gonna have Bruce toss Reese off a roof!)

And never mind the “energy” thingie Wayne Enterprises was making that was revealed to be a nuclear bomb and became the crux of the climax of TDKR. 

George W. Bush must have gotten his fantasies about Iraqi WMD’s from these films. 

Manufacture and intent to distribute a controlled substance

BB: Lucius Fox develops an “antidote” to Scarecrow’s LSD-type poison that he and Batman basically manufacture in secret—without *any* oversight from the FDA or other government drug-regulating body—an untested, brand-new drug that’s designed to counteract the “really bad drug” that Scarecrow squirts in yo face.  No market trials, no beta testing, no list of “possible side effects” that may include but not be limited to hallucinations and believing you can fly and/or “disguise” your voice by simply screaming louder in supervillians’ faces. 

Conspiracy to kidnap a foreign national/illegal transport of a foreign national across international borders

Also guilty: Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Dent, Lucius Fox, Alfred Pennyworth

Remember in TDK when Andy Lau, the launderer for the Mob’s money, ran off to Honk Kong?  Shortly thereafter, Bats, Gordo, and Denty-pie meet on a well-lighted roof—in full view of anyone with even a crummy pair of binoculars—and come up with a half-baked scheme to kidnap Lau, who, as a Chinese national, is beyond Dent’s jurisdiction.  Ultra-illegal and ultra-crazy-enough-to-just-might-work.  Bats then has persons unknown fly a plane to snag he and Lau with a cable from a high-rise—no doubt in violation of various Chinese and FAA rules about airspace. 

Illegal rendition of a foreign national/torture

Notice how when Andy Lau is left with a “Dear Jim” sandwich board in front of Gotham PD HQ, he seems a little the worse for wear.  Hmm, what exactly were he and Batman “discussing” on that long flight back from Hong Kong?  My guess: most likely *not* the ramifications of 19th century British imperialism upon the Far East

Insurance fraud

Bruce “dies” and disappears in BB to go off on his Odyssean quest to live amongst the world’s criminals in an effort to “understand” them (oh, those liberal Wayneses!).  Meanwhile, all of the Wayne resources—and death insurance payouts—are left to Alfred for the duration, who, upon learning of Bruce’s still being very much alive, no doubt probably had an “aw, fuck” moment realizing that Bruce’s trillions of bucks, swimming pools and various other hot-babe magnets are going to go back to the boss once the estate lawyers untangle it all off-screen. 
And the worst part: Alfred, being the understanding, upstanding English bloke he is, goes back to work for Bruce!  So in a heartbeat, dude goes from millionaire to working-class stiff for this snot-nosed punk. 

And he’s actually *thankful* for it. 

I maintain that this is a warped Dickensian reverse-fantasy, and clearly was concocted by no one who ever had to sweat for his wages, eh, Christopher Nolan? 

Insurance fraud (again)

(spoiler alert)  Bats rides off into the sunset at the end of TDKR so that the big-ass bomb-thingie will detonate over the Gotham coast (no mention is ever made of radioactive fallout).  Wouldn’t you know it, he secretly ditched out of the Bat before the 'sploison and continues to live on and lead a healthy life of still looking none the worse for wear—no doubt as a result of continuously boning Selina Kyle/Catwoman in his new secret life.  And so for the second time, Michael Caine becomes heir to what remains of the Wayne fortune, which will provide him enough tea and crumpets to forget about ever having missed receiving his Academy Award in person while being on the set of Jaws: The Revenge.  Not exactly one to heed the basic tenants of spy craft and maintaining a low profile in the wake of an obviously faked death, Alfred then sees (or does he?????) Bruce and Selina out in full daylight at a Parisian café still munching on beignets and still looking movie star-handsome and happy.  (Apparently Bruce wasn’t as famous on the other side of the Atlantic.) 

Reckless endangerment

TDK: Bats blows up the Tumbler within 20 feet of several homeless bystanders who, because they are meant to arouse our sympathies, are fortunately not struck by any flying shrapnel. 

Illegal wiretapping and electronic surveillance

TDK: Recall the monstrous machine in Applied Sciences that Bats concocts so he can spy on everyone in Gotham in the hopes that the Joker will just happen to make a cell phone call and thus give away his location, in violation of numerous communications, surveillance and privacy laws (to say nothing of common sense).  Yes, I realize this was meant to be an allegory for the USA PATRIOT Act, but c’mon, Bats, you’re losing your cool, man. 

Tampering with evidence

“I need five minutes alone before your men contaminate the crime scene.”  Sure thing, says then-Leftenant Jim Gordon in TDK who, in front of multiple lower-ranking police officers, allows Batman to remove a key piece of evidence—the bullet—lodged in a wall to later dust off the fingerprint of the Joker’s skeevy minion in blatant disregard of the most basic rules in the policeman’s handbook. 

About 40 minutes later, Gordon—after faking *his own death*—is promoted to commissioner by a truly understanding mayor. 

Remember, these are THE GOOD GUYS!

Second-degree murder and manslaughter/conspiracy to conceal a homicide

Batman’s only edict is that he doesn’t kill, which was part of what made the ending of TDK so tragic, as he was forced to take down Harvey Dent/Two Face, inadvertently sending Dent to his death from a rather high fall.  Bats and Commissioner Gordon then cook up the cover story that it was Batman who murdered all of Dent’s victims and then Dent himself in the hopes that the memory of Dent’s good deeds—and the concealment of his evil deeds—will prompt the citizenry of Gotham to pass stricter laws and urge them to save their own city in Batman’s absence.  (Remember, Batman’s entire motivation in TDK was to retire and pass the baton on to Dent.)  This is a great departure point for the discussion of the value of legend versus truth and their respective use as motivators. 

But make no mistake, all of this shit is 100-percent, Rod Blago-joe-bitch against-the-law shiznat.  This was also like Gordon’s third day on the job as commish, and he’s clearly setting a fabulous example for the police force after all of his attempts to not be corrupt like half of Gotham’s police force already is (thankfully, the guilt for this was revisited in TDKR). 

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” 

Well done, gentlemen.  Well done, indeed. 

Intention to commit first-degree murder

I’m probably one of the few non-lawyers familiar with the term mens rea, which roughly translates as “the guilty mind.”  Any lawyer will tell you that our legal system is based around both action and intent.  In BB, Bruce intends to bust a cap in crusty ass of a street thug Joe Chill, who offed Bruce's parents in front of his impressionable young eyes outside an opera theater (see, the opera visit was meant to show us that they're, you know, like wealthy and white and stuff).  Again, not one for subtlety, Bruce conceals a revolver in his jacket pocket and, on a bright sunny afternoon in front of hundreds of witnesses in the very well-lit Gotham Courthouse—where no one would ever see him—walks right towards Chill, fully intent on sending him to Minor Character Hell.  However, one of crime lord Carmine Falcone’s operatives offs Chill with a piece of her own mere seconds before Bruce can do the same.  Denied his vengeance—and vicariously taking it out on the rest of Gotham’s criminals thenceforward—Bruce and his poorly combed bangs coldly watch as Chill dies the death of the day player. 

Illegal use of restricted airspace

TDKR: I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure the powers that be wouldn’t be too happy if you flew your own private Bat-craft like 10 feet above teeming city streets.  Imagine if all eccentric billionaires started doing it with their own private Trump-copters and Branson-shuttles.  It’d be a madhouse, I tells ya! 

Assault and battery/making terrorist threats

In TDK, Batman, in cold blood, drops mobster Salvatore Maroni off a balcony, breaking his legs with a mind-numbing CRUNCH.  He then proceeds to jump on top of him and scream bloody murder in his face, pressing him to reveal the Joker’s location.  For serious Batfans, you may recall that in the comics Ra’s Al Ghul often refers to Batman as “Detective.”  Bats clearly needs to brush up on his investigation techniques.  Tossing a suspect—and one whom you’re trying to question—from a balcony so that he’s basically in shock with pain…and then threatening him with further bodily harm if he doesn’t cough up the info, has been proven time and again in real life to not work.   
But see, Maroni's an Italian, and since we learned that all Italians in movies are gangsters, clearly he must be bad and therefore “deserves” such treatment. 

Here’s a partial list of other little naughties that Batman & Co. committed throughout the trilogy:

Interfering with an ongoing police investigation
Illegal interrogation of a suspect in police custody
Assault and battery upon multiple police officers
Impersonating a police officer
Making threats against a police officer
Resisting arrest
Conspiracy to fake a death
Criminal trespassing

So what we've learned from this—aside from having a few good laughs—is that Batman is, indeed, a vigilante and criminal by even the most conservative definitions of such.  But the distinction must be made that although Batman is absolutely an outlaw, he is not a villain.  Pick your cliche (the ends justify the means, etc.), but Batman is actually far more of an interesting "hero" precisely because he operates outside of the system—a system that in his universe is completely broken, and only an outlaw can make a difference under such circumstances.  So he paradoxically does right by doing wrong. 

Like the best heroes in fiction, Batman is flawed, arrogant, narcissistic, risk-taking, short-sighted and ultimately purely self-protective.  (Bats is, well, bats!)  Heroes in the "Man With No Name" mold do just like Batman: show up, fuck shit up (illegally), kill the bad guys (very illegally), bed some chicks (hopefully statutorily), then walk or ride out of town on a horse/convertible (usually stolen), but they are not "good" guys per se.  The major difference is that the archetypal hero-wanderer does so *without wearing a mask.*  Bruce Wayne hides not only from the world, but from  himself.  By giving himself an alter-ego, he never has to truly face up to the consequences of his actions.

It wasn't me that did that; it was all Batman's doing.                                                   

And it also must be said that the key to the Batman mythos has always been the depravity of his nemeses.  Only when you have true sociopaths like the Joker on the loose would you ever turn towards a schizophrenic narcissist like Bruce/Batman for help, a guy who is clearly mentally unsound and suffers from delusions of grandeur. 

And who's rich.  Let's be real here: If Bruce Wayne were just some penniless dope who worked minimum wage at a bowling alley and made weapons out of discarded Coke bottles from the dumpster, no one would care.  It's *because* he's rich that the character works.  A guy who has everything in the world risks it all every night to go out and fight criminals.  (Whether or not this is a heroic or profoundly selfish routine is your call.)  That's the key to his appeal.  Deep down, we all want to be rich or at least financially comfortable to never have to work again.  Because he's a zillionaire, Bruce needs a hobby, and because of his extensive psychological damage, he chooses a rather questionable one.

But the point is, he does something!  He uses his resources and his ample fortune to do something that he thinks is right.  Hopefully so that no one will have to go through what he has.  That's something we as readers/viewers can identify with.  No one wants to see a two-hour movie about a rich white guy who drinks bourbon all day and has his proverbial shit together because that inspires only envy and enmity as opposed to empathy. 

That's why it's called drama. 

The Batman universe is deep, but Christopher and Jonathan Nolan made it even more healthily profound and more morally complicated by forcing upended expectations upon the hero.  Maybe that's why I gravitated towards him as a boy.  Here was an outcast who doesn't really have any friends, who's in tip-top shape, drives awesome cars, is attractive to women, and blows stuff up...and does it all in the name of cleaning up his hometown. 

What's not to love?  :)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Tradition is something that baffles me.  On the one hand, I understand that for many of us it creates a sense of continuity and purpose in our lives as well as a semblance of community with friends, relatives and strangers alike.  For instance, we gather on the final Thursday each November to give thanks for all our blessings—more accurately, to gorge, get drunk and argue with people we never really liked in the first place. 

There are no phrases that grate on me more than “It’s tradition” or “Because it’s always been done that way.”  Well, no, clearly something wasn’t always done that way.  One guy had to be the first one to stare up at the blank sky on July 4th with his tri-corner hat slightly askew before turning his cannon up towards the heavens and firing off a ball into the sky to celebrate his homeland.  (I pray that there was beer and/or wine involved in that decision.)  Soon other lemmings in his village decided this was a good idea, and they too began firing their muskets up at the sky to up the game.  Then like wildfire it spread to other hamlets, and before long, it was “tradition” that we set off fireworks on the American Independence Day.  (Take that, Puritans!)

But I think that most people simply walk through life blindly accepting the minor rituals of our contemporary life without any thought whatsoever to the wherefores behind them.  For example, I’m a USC alum—and despite this fact, I’ll get back to my irritation with the group-think involved there another time—and I enjoy attending one or two football games in the fall if I happen to be in L.A. at the time.  One of the long-held, though never explained, traditions is that as all of the students and alumni make their way from the main USC campus across Exposition Boulevard to the Coliseum, we kick the bases of the flagpoles at the extreme southern edge of campus just before Exposition.  On the way back from the game back onto campus, the ritual is repeated. 

One guy, I’m guessing a drunken fraternity bro, had to be the first, and for whatever reason, everyone behind him thought it was a good idea.  And so a tradition was born. 

The last time I attended a home game, on the way back onto campus, I simply walked past the flag base without kicking.  For one thing, I was wearing sandals and didn’t feel like breaking a toe.  For another…I came to the realization that who really cares?  My friend “Politico” saw this, and a look of consternation crossed his face as if I had just raped his grandmother.  “You didn’t kick the base,” he said.  “No,” I replied, “I didn’t.” 

Even to the most superstitious person…the game is already over and, if memory serves, the Trojans won.  So what’s the point of re-kicking the post after the game was over?  Is it somehow going to take away from the Cosmic Trojan Post-Kicking Karma prior to the next game?  Am I somehow going to upset the balance of the college football universe’s juju?  It clearly has no influence on the outcome of the game since every week everyone does it and they still win or lose regardless of the number of taps of sole-upon-metal.  Were you just not kicking hard enough that day?  Did one guy too many opt to sleep off his hangover in the dorms? 

I like football and I like when the Trojans win, but their win or loss has nothing whatsoever to do with my kicking the flagpole base or not.  And if you’re a Trojan and for some reason you still think it does, then clearly your faith in their skills on the gridiron is in need of some reenergizing. 

At that moment I realized that I was done forever with that little “ritual.”  It’s not a tradition; it’s a ritual.  Just because everyone else does it doesn’t mean that I need to.  I minored in psychology in college and took an entire course in social psychology.  People hate standing out, and they hate being looked at for standing out of place.  In group psychology, this is the same phenomenon that makes it difficult for anyone in a crowd to help out someone in need in their midst.  I believe it was Dr. Zimbardo of Stanford who did experiments on this and found that one’s proximity to someone in need combined with the number of others around you is inversely proportional to your decision to help or not to help.  I.e., if you come across a guy screaming in pain while jogging through empty countryside, you’re more apt to help than say if you’re part of a group of a hundred runners in New York who all pass by a screaming man without a second thought. 

But back to the point.  As I’ve gotten older, I’m becoming ever more comfortable with my swim-against-the-current mindset.  The absolute best way to get me to do the exact opposite of what you want is to tell me that everyone else does it precisely in this way.  Society tells us to conform to certain strictures of behavior simply because it’s what’s expected or how it’s always been done.  And for many things, this is in fact a good idea when it comes to such things as respecting another person’s property, life and right to live without being harassed or physically intimidated.  That’s why we have laws against such things.  When we start making laws against nonconformity, then we no longer live in a free-state democracy.  Don’t believe me?  Why don’t you go ask women in Saudi Arabia how swell it is to have state-sanctioned, male-favored morals enforced upon them without the choice to say no? 

So to clarify, I’m not talking about things here that are illegal and for which society should expect a certain level of obedience so the rights of all our citizens are respected.  What I’m talking about are the small little rituals that we engage in every day without even thinking about it.

For instance, what exactly is the point of taking your cap off during the playing of the National Anthem?  
You’ve seen this shit at every sporting event you’ve ever been to.  “Gentlemen, please remove your caps for the playing of our National Anthem.”  First of all, why do only men have to remove their caps?  Does Uncle Sam simply love women more than men?  You never hear them say, “Ladies, please remove your bonnets…”  What if some dude is going through cancer treatment and isn’t comfortable with the idea of showing off his bald head to a bunch of complete strangers?  Should that be forced upon him?  Isn’t cancer enough of an insult to his manhood already?  And what if the Pope’s in attendance?  Should Joe Girardi politely ask His Holiness to remove his castle hat?  And what about the purple skullcap he always wears underneath it?  What about yarmulkes and kufis?  How come the armed forces personnel aren’t required to remove their headgear and only need to salute Old Glory? 

And I know that people will invariably say, “Well, it’s respectful to remove your cap…”  Respectful to whom, exactly?  To the athletes down on the field?  I guarantee you the only thing they’re thinking about down there is how they’re going to scoop their teammates to the hot blonde with the bit tits sitting in the front row during the seventh-inning stretch. 

Is it really respectful to country?  This is where it gets thorny for me, because you know they always show a montage of the flag and Mt. Rushmore and the Lincoln Memorial and such during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”  So someone might say, “Taking your cap off is respectful to our veterans and our soldiers.”  Now I want to just stop right here and say that there’s no better way to show your love and your respect for your country than by treating your armed servicemen and –women with the respect they’ve earned and deserve.  When this country goes to war—or off on a “god-directed errand”—by those folks at the top, it’s never the richest or the whitest among us.  This is one reason I’m actually in favor of bringing back the draft.  It’s easy to cheerlead for a war when it’s somebody else’s kid over there in the sightlines of a Kalshnikov (and let's be frank, often someone with a darker skin color). If we had a compulsory two-year enlistment for every able-bodied man and woman from the minute they graduated from high school, you’d suddenly see a lot more folks at the top suddenly concerned about where our armed forces get sent around the world. 

But folks, it goes without saying that our “all-volunteer” army goes where they’re told without asking questions, often returning home with not only missing limbs, but often with pieces of their souls ripped out by things seen and done.  You want to honor our veterans, then volunteer for organizations that cater to their needs.  Remember that their wars continue long after they put their rifles down.  Then come years of nightmares, PTSD, disintegrating social relationships and a largely ignorant public who show up initially for a “good job” pat on the arm and then forget about them. 

And that’s just for those vets who are lucky. 

So you wanna honor America and honor our troops, then donate to the USO and other organizations that keep our troops entertained and their morale high while they’re fighting these ass-backward bastards in the world’s worst hellholes and do some good work for them upon their return home.  Vote out politicians who support unnecessary wars and who vote in Congress to keep them going.  Taking your cap off at the ballgame is literally the absolute least thing you can do

So I say, if that’s all you’re gonna do for our soldiers, I say keep your fucking cap on.  Hell, why not keep your cap on anyway?   What’s going to happen to me if I don’t remove my cap during the “Star-Spangled Banner”?  Nothing!  Is Uncle Sam gonna haunt my dreams for a year?  Will he show up in my nightmares raping the Statue of Liberty or some shit?  Is a bald eagle gonna squawk relentlessly above me and then release its droppings on my head during the National Anthem if I don’t take my “Jimmy’s Gator World” hat off?  If that’s the case, then I’d rather keep my fucking hat on as a shield!  That’s just common sense!

Here’s something else that often happens at sporting events or other mass gatherings: observing a moment of silence for someone who has recently died.  Does this shit really matter?  Once again, it’s simply done because it’s accepted and expected that it will be done without question.   Nobody ever asks why we do this.  What if you have Tourette syndrome and it’s simply impossible for you to go even ten seconds without blurting out “fuck…shit…blow job…”?  What if before the playing of the National Anthem they ask you to remove your cap and observe a moment of silence for someone dead but you’re an observant Jew with Tourette syndrome wearing a yarmulke and you happen to be sitting right next to an open microphone? 

Do you think the ghost of Uncle Jehoshaphat really gives a shit if you observe a moment of silence on his behalf?  Uncle Jehoshaphat's ghost probably wants to find out from the mystical keepers of the great beyond how many chicks he could've banged on earth but didn't realize it at the time.  That's the first thing I wanan find out when I get to the hereafter.   

Speaking of death, you’re getting this from me first: When it’s my time to kick someday, I don’t want any of this crap of people wailing over my iceberg body and reading Bible passages and shit.  No solemn procession, no tired retread of clichéd Old and New Testament passages about the temporaneousness of this mortal coil, no priests who barely knew me talking about what I good man I was (tee hee), no fucking moments of silence.  Have a rock concert.  Keep the party going.  Sing songs and drink with people who are still here.  Keep living your lives.  Take me with you in spirit on your adventures. 

Or how about this: A week after I’m gone, I’d like the following announcement to be made at the next New Jersey Devils home game:

“Ladies and gentlemen, please stand and observe a moment of farting sounds, cat noises, and running in dizzying figure-8’s in honor of our recently departed EFA.”
Now that’s a legacy I can get behind!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What Am I Doing Here?

I am walking up a mountain.  I used to live here.  It is getting dark.  Southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains envelop me, take me.  They are silent and watchful, careless of my meager problems and insecurities.  Neither knowing nor caring that a solitary human among them hiked these hills thousands of times and felt at one with them. 

And yet I love them.  They do not love me because they are only rock and moss and the action of uplifted and subverted fault line tectonics.  Beautifully profound and yet existentially indifferent. 

Why, after not living here for over a year, did I return to the San Gabes at sunset?  Partly to reminisce.  I arrived in Southern Cal as a scrawny, inexperienced 17-year-old.  I moved to Altadena in 2001 because it reminded me briefly of home in New Jersey and because of the extremely tenuous geographical congruity: Like New Jersey, Altadena is on the northeast edge of its parent.  It seemed a natural way to preserve my link with my homeland.  Unlike my home, northeast greater Los Angeles is a land of mountains and warmth 12 months of the year.  These mountains that form the LA Basin mark the northernmost—and most rugged—boundary separating “Southern California” from the High Desert.  Beyond it is only uncertainty and poverty and no stars nor stripes.  To the west, the Pacific.  To the east, the real world.

I used to live only a few miles from here.  When I first mounted these hills I was barely in my twenties.  I got lost, but a guy named Marco told me to take a path down to his home, where a long-haired guy would refill my water bottle and give me a power bar for the hop back to the valley just below JPL.  I ran into llamas from a local farm and imagined the terrain along the trail teeming with drooling Uruk-hai.  On a trail up to the higher grounds I came up with a story about a swordsman who opts not to kill a foe after winning a duel—the opponent winds up becoming a wicked king and thus the question is asked: Was the swordsman’s mercy at all beneficial? 

Mostly, though, I recall these mountains and hiking them with A.  In these mountains we argued and laughed, we explored and walked until the sun went down.  In this present moment I stop at a spot where we once made love standing up in the dark with the lights of Pasadena below us. 

I don’t miss her.  I do miss the mountains.  But I don’t belong here.  I lived here for 15 years and yet never once felt that I truly belonged.  I was always a visitor and a foreigner in this land of sun and fun.  My friend Screenwriter once said that the great illusion of L.A. is that there is no sense of time passing.  When every day is sunny and 70%, there is only one continuous burn of narrative without time passing. 

But I am older now.  I moved to Altandena barely 23; now I am 33.  When I think back on all that has happened to me in those ten years—good, bad and ugly—I stand now here amongst these rapidly darkening crags and ponder all that went wrong.  All the wrongs that were done to me.  All that I forgave and all that I’ve forgotten. 

I am at a turning point.  After 15 years in the Land of Sun and Fun, I left last fall.  I moved back into my childhood home with my rapidly aging parents.  Back home is where I am from, where I “belong” but not where I “should be.”  But the truth is that there is no “should”; there is only is. 

It is darkening and the fallen sun turns these rocks red with extinction.  I have cheated death numerous times—by car, by train, by plane—and yet some dark part of me almost believe it’s near.  No one gets by forever. 
I’m not sure I’m ready to go.  With only the silence and the dark of these dying mountains for company, I come down.  I’m not sure where I’m supposed to go, but I’ll go there anyway. 


Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Art of Acceptance and Moving Forward

I had drinks with a very close friend recently, “E.”  We’ve been pals for over a decade and have seen one another through everything.  We’ve survived several major bumps in our relationship, including several near-catastrophes with romantic feelings (me towards her).  There’s no real definition for what we are.  We simply…are.  Through it all, we’ve simply maintained and have been there for one another through thick and thin.

From the moment I met her, E. has always been clear that she wants to be a stay-at-home mom.  She’s never married and the men in her life don't seem to hang around very long.  So when we had drinks, she said something rather Zen that tapped into certain things I have felt in my own life as well.

She said basically that she’s beginning to accept the fact that she may *not* in fact be married and have children.  I’m one of the few people she tells this to because friends and family would simply say “Oh no…there there…you’ll see.”  Her point was that she was coming to terms with simply accepting her life as it is.  She has a magnificent social life and tons of friends.  She's a lovely, wonderful lady.  What has eluded her has been a mate.

Skipping the tension between us, what I took away from the conversation—and what I shared with her in the moment—was that I’ve begun to have similar feelings on a number of levels.

Firstly, I am in the midst of a major transition right now.  After ten months of unemployment, I have been picked up by a major tech company as an offsite editor.  I’ve lived in my parents’ home—back in my childhood bedroom—since last fall, and soon it will be time to move out…or pay rent.  (Rather, there is no “or” in this disjunctive.)

So I'm doing the most responsible thing possible: hopping a plane to the west coast for five weeks.

The move to new digs is hitting me on more of a gut level than I had originally anticipated.  While I've been home for eight months, much of my personal effects remain in my friend Nermfgo's basement in L.A.  Part and parcel of this trip out west is to get all of that squared away and moved...


I've had at least seven different addresses in the past three and a half years.  I haven't really ever stayed in any one spot long enough to call it "home" in my adult life.  Four different residences through college, one in the hills of Altadena from age 23 to 30 (dubbed “The Love Shack”) and then three more in SoCal, an apartment in Brooklyn, and back to where it all began in my parents’ house in Whitehouse Station, NJ.

I spread myself and my belongings out, trying to be everywhere.  I often wonder about the premise that if a man’s belongings burn in a fire, is he officially “free”?

Such histrionics aside, in two days I board a plane for L.A., where I lived from age 17 until 32.  Nearly half my life—enough time to set up a life, friends, jobs, loves, careers and missteps.

What’s it been like in my absence?  Will it have changed?  Will *I* have changed?  And how will such mutual transformations affect us both?


This just in: A few days ago I sent my ex-girlfriend, "A.," a note to let her know I would be in town and would she like to get together at some point for a drink and catch up.  She’s been dealing with health problems for nearly a year, so I’ve felt a certain tender devotion to someone who was basically the main person in my life for nearly four years.  We’ve been split up now for nearly as long.  She was the one in the breakup discussions who maintained that I was her best friend and she didn’t *ever* want to let our friendship go.  Yet with each passing visit or discussion on the phone, I’ve become ever more cognizant of what I knew but didn’t admit to myself during the relationship.  I tried and tried and tried as a boyfriend, and I tried and tried and tried as a friend.

Today she sent a terse note basically saying that she will be busy all of July.  I get it: It’s summer and we all have travel plans and obligations and things we wish to do.  But if I responded to anything, it was not only the flip tone of the message but also that there was barely little mention of trying to meet up with me another time for a bloody cup of coffee.  I got the impression that I *might* get a text from her if the Lint-Watching Channel suddenly goes blank.

Maybe I'm being unfair, and this is of course only my side of the story.  Where my ex is concerned, we had a complicated relationship, and now we have a complicated post-relationship.  I continue to often feel a turning in my stomach when we interact, because I know that I will be in for her taking the excitement I feel for everything I express and tossing doubt onto all my plans and accomplishments.  And I feel strong enough to say that the only reason I’ve put up with that kind of “friendship” is because it’s her.  Had we never been a couple, I wouldn’t have tried so hard just to be a friend.

And because I genuinely do care.  It'd be much harder to simply step back if I didn't.

But I’m about done trying.  I want to spend time with people who *want* to spend time with me, especially on a cross-country excursion.

I’m getting sidetracked.  Going back to my original point with this specific post…
Just as my friend E. begins to allow herself the possibility that she *may* not wind up a stay-at-home mom…I also must begin to allow myself the possibility that I *may* not in fact become the celebrated writer and man of letters I would so love to be.

What E. and I spoke of was that what is important is to at least try.  She admired me for at least trying to get my writing career off the ground and going.  This is a good step.  Not a first step—far from it—but a step notwithstanding.  She encouraged me to keep going.

As I did for her in return.  I continue to encourage her to get out there and try.  It's very easy to not meet your mate by sitting at home in front of the "The Great Race."  That's why she and I remain as close as we do.  We support one another without prejudice.  Past is prelude; the future remains unseen.
With that in mind, I have a plane to catch this weekend.  It's all part of this grand adventure we call life.  Just needed to air out some doubts and anxieties floating about of late.  I won't let them weigh me down...but as Eckhart Tolle said, at least acknowledge that they're there.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Troubadour

I was an Angeleno for 15 years, and in that time I experienced the good, the bad and the decidedly ugly.  Most of them are the perennial "only in LA" stories that are so frequently told they become practically cliche.  E.g., my sister's yoga teacher has Harvey Keitel in her class and he agreed to read our script...which, legend goes, is how Tarantino got him to do "Reservoir Dogs."

However, most L.A. stories are far less grandiose.  They can be painful, awesome, excruciating, unnerving, but never dull.  I had so many in my decade and a half of life there and I'd love to put them all down in "print" at some point.  Now six months removed from my tenure as a Golden State-er, I'm able to take advantage of both the time and the distance to reflect and truly appreciate what I experienced and how such episodes enabled me to both grow and change, and perhaps even to see the world just a little differently.

As I've said before, pain is funny, and L.A. has a habit of producing those soul-crushing stories, but that's not where my head is at today.  Rather, I'd like to focus on a dude I met in one of those "only in Hollywood" ways and who became one of my favorite musicians.

So it goes like thus:

In February 2003 I was working on a now-forgotten (I hope) TV show called "Oblivious," the premise for which was that it was a hidden-camera game show.  The host, Regan Burns, would, over the course of the various setups, drop questions into conversation with the marks.  If they got em right, that increased their eventual takeaway.  (The marks were often then "turned around" so that they in turn would ask fresh marks the same questions--with Mr. Burns coaching them via hidden earpiece.)  The premise produces a mild chuckle, and the results were often somewhat more generous in hilarity.  But it didn't last, which is probably for the betterment of the world's aesthetic.

Anyway, so one week early that month I was asked by the production coordinator--a true Hollywood douchebag--to go over to the soundstage on the Hollywood Center Studios where lunch was being set up to inform the caterers that the production meeting was in fact running late.  I was to keep them "happy" and assure them the company was in fact coming soon and so, I guess, not to allow them to let the food go cold.

So off to the soundstage in question I went.  There were only two people working the meal: a woman of probably 30-plus and a tall dude with jet-black hair and an indeterminate, practically occluded, accent of nebulous origins (turned out to be Swedish).  So we three began shooting the shit over the heated tins and bread and lemonade.  Only folks like us who truly work the bottom rungs of the Hollywood food chain really understood the fine art of simultaneously bitching about our crappy jobs while doing our best not to pretend that we are in fact holding out some hope of eventually getting on to bigger and better things.  It's a fine line between being a miserable son of a bitch and an astutely observant miscreant.  These two were definitely on the same page.

The meeting ran even longer than expected.  At one point when we started talking about the lesser points of the local dating scene, the woman chuckled and told us that women basically have "one good week a month."  (I've met some who have four "good" weeks a month and some who PMS 28 days out of each moon...but men can be just as much moody pains in the ass, so I'm actually gender-neutral on this one.)

Shortly before the company came down for lunch, the dude, Martin, said that he was actually a musician--a cliched Hollywood trope if ever there were one--and that he was in fact playing a gig that Friday night at the Kibbitz Room, the music space attached to the famous Canter's Deli on Fairfax Ave. In L.A. you typically get about ten such entreaties from new acquaintances, but I took it in stride and said "perhaps."  The guy was nice and he had a natural charisma that I appreciated.  And since we three had spent the past hour kibbitzing, we were best mates for life anyway.

So that Friday night happened to be Valentine's Day.  I was then smack in the middle of a three-year-plus dry spell and thus tragically unengaged for the evening.  My first stop was the Norris Cinema Theatre at USC, my alma mater.  Every Friday night they would play recent films for cheap and this night was "The Ring," a film that was both better and more frightening than it had any right to be.  (I'm a horror movie freak, and I freely admit that I had trouble falling asleep for like three nights thereafter.)  The film got out around 10:30.  The night was still young.  The prospects were go home and try not to ponder my perpetual singlehood, or...

I phoned up my buddy Chris, a childhood chum from New Jersey who came out to California five years after me.  Was he doing anything, I asked.  No?  Well, here, I have this idea: Would you like to come along with me to the Kibbitz Room at Canter's to hear this guy I met the other day at work and see him play some tunes?  Chris, who was usually up for an ill-defined adventure, immediately agreed.

I parked on Melrose (this will be important later) and met up with Chris in front of Kibbitz.  We paid the small cover and went inside.  Immediately I recognized Martin from a distance.  I came over and re-introduced myself.  Bless him, he recalled meeting me a few days either but could not remember my name.  (I never said there wouldn't be at least a few cliches, kids.)  He seemed even taller than he had that day on the soundstage, and for the first time I noticed that his arms were absolutely plastered with tats.

Chris and I bought some brews and took a booth close to the stage.  This being Canter's, of course they had a beer called "He'Brew, the Chosen Beer," which demanded to be sampled.

Don't believe me?  Check it, yo:

Martin soon took the stage with his ax.  He plunked out those first chords with his backing band taking up the cheer.  When he opened his mouth out came a vocal styling that was somewhere near supreme joy and strained, painful pleading.  He had a fabulous range and a gruff, projecting voice that filled the small room.  His tropes were somewhat typical of a troubadour of his type: love and loss, pain and regret, bitchy ex-girlfriends and ex-wives who left him out to dry.

But there was something different about him than the millions of other wannabes around town.  When he sang, the emotion and the hurt seemed all too real.  Not only that, but the dude was incredibly talented as a guitarist and vocalist.  And it certainly helped that his songs were good!  As we got progressively drunker Chris and I shared many quiet asides as to the pleasant surprise we were having.

Valentine's Day was saved.

During a set break, Martin bought Chris and I a round of drinks.  He handed us copies of one of his CD's, "Subject: Crazy Girl."  A barfly who looked just like my high school drama teacher dropped into the conversation with us.  Martin spoke with another barfly in Hebrew.  I was starting to get fuzzy.

We stayed for the second set.  When he left for the night, Martin and I hugged like old friends, which, in the Hollywood sense, I suppose we were (since, you know, we'd met twice and stuff).

Chris went to his car and I walked back up Fairfax toward Melrose.  I knew then, and I know now, that I was far too intoxicated to drive my 93 Toyoto Paseo home to Altadena, but the list of things I've done in my life that were probably better left undone would take volumes to exhume.  Anyway...not only should I not have driven, but upon walking up to the Paseo I saw that both of the hubcaps on the driver's side had been bogarted.  This was in addition to the passenger side front hubcap...which now left me with a grand total of one.

Valentine's Day may have been salvaged, but as it was closing time, February 15th was starting out as a pisser.

Chris and I agreed that Martin had been the best local act we'd ever seen in L.A.  We started getting notices for future Martin gigs, and we basically chased him around town with the small horde of other "Martin-heads" who trolled about town in his wake.  It became a running joke between Chris and myself that Martin could NEVER seem to remember Chris's name, despite the fact that we invariably showed up to gigs together.  Chris and I go ahold of the new CD, "Roll Up Your Sleeves," and brought along other friends to become new disciples.  A personal favorite night was an album release party at Club Lingerie on Sunset Blvd. preceded by the documentary "Foot to the Floor."  It's always nice to say "I'm with the band," especially when you actually care about the music and the man.

Later that year I was working on "The Man Show" when it was re-hosted by Joe Rogan and Doug Stanhope.  When that gig ended, I joked to Martin that if he needed a roadie, he needn't look very far.  However, as Martin was in America on a visa, that August he had to leave to return to Sweden.  He had a going-away party in Hollywood.

Over the next three years, Martin would come and go from Malmo, Sweden, back to Los Angeles with each new visa he was granted.  New CDs and new gigs ensued.  Chris and I were always there right in the front to support.  We did our best to bring along friends and whatever girls we were dating at the time.

Fast forward to the end of 2006.  Martin sent out an email that he was performing at Genghis Cohen with some "fellow students" from Santa Monica City College as "The Martin Sosinski Show."  Unfortunately, the gig was two days before Christmas and I was already booked on a flight back to Jersey.  Chris went alone.

That was the last time either of us really heard from Martin.  There were no further gigs or CDs.  Emails bounced.  We assumed he had returned to Sweden again or moved elsewhere.  Our nearly four-year fandom threatened to come to an end.

Still, we had between us several CD's to continue to enjoy the man's music.  Recently I've been spinning one called "Breath of Life: The Story of Fay and Valentino."  I got in touch with Chris about burning me a new copy as mine has audio problems with the first few tracks.

On a lark, I decided to do some Google-ing to see if I might find our old pal Martin.  Turns out I found this:


Turns out Martin is now using the name Martin Marks.  Apparently he's still in L.A. teaching guitar, but that gig in December 2006 was in fact a farewell performance.  After 20 years he decided it was time to take things in a different direction.

If nothing else, I'm glad to know he's still out there and still playing the guitar.  Not so thrilled he put down the performance mic, but I can well understand why.  It's a grind, especially when you're trying and trying and trying to make a living at it--to say nothing of making it "big."

So this is the somewhat melancholy end of this particular tale.  It's nine years since I first heard him play in public and I miss him and his music.  I have great CD's and memories.  I'm going to try and send him a note through his website to see what he's up to and how he's doing.  If you're so inclined, I'd *highly* recommend checking out his site and listening to some samples.  Grab a CD if you can; it's better than giving your cash to Lady Gaga, whom I assure you is doing fine.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My Parents Are a Broken Record: The Hazards of Living at Home in Your Thirties

I'm 33.  And I live at home.  Not by choice but by necessity.  I've been unemployed for seven months and, shortly after my last job ended last summer, I took the trip of a lifetime to Australia and New Zealand, for which I remain in a substantial hole compounded by the insistence of my creditors that I continue to pay my bills.  (I swear, I'm about two variables away from making my bills pay themselves in my prize formula.)  All things considered, I really shouldn't complain.  For the better part of 15 years I lived on my own in California, first attending college and then making my way through the worlds of entertainment, publishing (more on that later) and of course the table-bussing arts, one big step on the Hollywood hierarchy below the venerable bourgeois class of waitrons.  Last summer my career brought me to New York, next-door-neighbor to my home state of New Jersey to work on a bridal magazine (more on that later as well), a contract position with both a start and a defined end date.  When my term ex officio expired, I tossed all caution to the wind and dumped a tremendous chunk of Chase Manhattan's cashola into my journeys Down Under.  (Who knew the good folks at Chase would actually want their money back eventually...plus interest...?)  Upon returning to California from the Oz, with no job, no home, no prospects and a rapidly diminishing bank account, I made the pride-quashing decision to pack up my 2010 Scion tC--as a non-parent, my only "child"--with as much of my personal belongings as would fit and hit the road east.  (Most of the remainder remains in pal Nermfgo and his Mrs.'s basement.)

After 15 years as an honorary Californian, my tenure as a Golden State-er for the moment was finished.

(Note: The above pic is from happier times: the day I picked up the Scion in July 2009.)

Living at home as an adult is not easy, especially for the simple reason that our parents ever allow themselves to believe that their children have ever graduated to the level of equals in earning, intellectual acumen and freedom from their influence.

But then you come home.  The rent is unbeatable; the psychological barrage less so.  I've been back up in my childhood room in Readington Township, NJ for four months now.  I'm still alive...but not really kicking.  I need to pause to say that I'm grateful for the option.  They took back their adult (bum) son in when options simply ran out.  I realize that in this modern world we live in, many, many others are as bad off (or worse) than I am and who simply don't have the option to come home and shack up with Mom & Dad rent-free.  So for that, I can be grateful.  In the meantime, I fire off on average 100 resumes a week, send query letters for my completed novel to numerous agents in New York, attend as many networking events as possible...and in general whittle away the remainder of my days sleeping, drinking, uh, drinking some more, making love to my Netflix account, four-hundred-and-twenty-ing, and seeking out the next adventure or date that can be supported by the joke that passes as my remaining bank account (thank you, ladies, for caring not that I'm a pauper).

My old standup comedy teacher in L.A. used to tell us that from pain comes comedy.  I have enough compounded heartbreak to last me a lifetime, and from which I got OK-if-not-awesome standup material.  Living at home with my aging parents has presented many challenges, not the least of which is my headstrong, fiercely independent and territorial personality crashing headlong into those two of similar characters who spawned me (or who adopted me after finding me in a field after the Martians left me behind).

As I said, this has produced some rather hilarious results.  Not the least of which is repetition.  I'm convinced that once the human brain reaches a certain age, it becomes incapable of retaining new information or making new connections.  In laymen's terms: senility.

To wit, on any given day, my father is guaranteed to drop any one--or all--of the following phrases into the conversation:

"I'm just testing my memory."

"I'm having a senior moment."

"Not that it matters very much, but..."

"...not that it matters very much."

"I don't talk about movies very much, but..."

"That's the most interesting thing I've heard all day."

"Mother Nature is ill, and she's not going to take this from us very much longer."

"Goddamn, fucking airplanes."

This last one, I should explain: We live very close to a very small private airport, the beacon for which the jetliners on their way into Newark utilize upon final approach from the west.  Heaven forbid my dad is ever actually in the yard when a plane happens overhead.  I shit you not, the man will literally flip off the mechanical bird that is "impinging" upon Dad's "space."  When asked about this, his inevitable response is:

"Well, they're low enough that they could see me."

We all have our inner voices, and I fight mine very hard from spilling out in utter frustration.  I'm an ADD child of the '80s, and I get super-bored VERY easily.  And nothing, and I mean nothing, bores like repetition.

And so in the meantime I find myself in a bit of a hard place.  They're my parents, and I love them dearly.  But man they can be boring!

I'll end with a laugh.  I think George Carlin said it best:

"I like people, but I can only tolerate them for short bursts.  Once you get up around...minute, minute and a half, I gotta get the fuck out of there."

George Carlin: People Are Boring