Saturday, September 20, 2008

The McBush Interview

I had the privilege yesterday of interviewing U.S. Sen. Homer McBush who, as you know, is running for president of the United States with a campaign slogan of “Three Gs for Freedom.” McBush appeared before us at the Faux Network superstation KBS-America, accompanied by his new puppy Pali. This is a partial transcript of the interview:
Faux: Tell me, Senator, all of America is curious about the puppy you have suddenly brought to most of your campaign appearances. Pali, I believe you call her.
McBush: That’s pronounced Pay-lee.
Faux: I notice she’s wearing lipstick and earrings. Is there a reason for that?
McBush: A joke. She isn’t a pig (wink), but even a dog can wear lipstick and maybe earrings too. You get it?
Faux: I get it.
McBush: Now let me say that it’s a privilege being here at Faux BS as a war hero and maverick to counteract the falsehoods put forth by my opponent, Senator O-Bomb.
Faux: I believe you mean Senator Obama?
McBush (laughing): We have whimsical sense of humor. We call him O-Bomb as a play on his name meaning every once in awhile he drops an oratorical bomb, if you get my meaning. We have to duck. (More laughter)
Faux: As a Navy pilot and later captive war hero you must know a little something about dropping real bombs.
McBush: Only on the Godless soldiers in ‘Nam. Should’ve seen those little brown suckers scatter! Hoo-boy! (Abruptly serious) By the way, I want to apologize on behalf of certain members of my campaign staff for saying that the senator is a close friend of Osama bin Laden
Faux: I don’t recall anyone ever having said that.
McBush (musing): Obama, Osama. Funny how close those names are.
Faux: That certainly doesn’t mean they were friends.
McBush: That’s the very reason I’m apologizing.
Faux: But if no one ever said…
McBush: Look at it this way, boy. Someone sure as heaven is going to say it, and that apology will already be in place. It will preempt the accusation. This is modern, electronic politics, boy. Call it E-truths.
Faux: I see. Well, I’d like to get back to the dog. I have a report from an excellent source that says Pali is illegitimate. Is that true?
McBush (angrily): Dastardly lies! I swear on my status as a God-given war hero and maverick that Pali was the legitimate offspring of a male corgi owned by a Pentecostal preacher and a bitch Doberman that was the constant companion of the pastor’s wife Tammy Sue. They were legally married and we have the papers to prove it.
Faux: The parent dogs were married?
McBush: In a holy ceremony attended by family, friends and owners in the pastor’s own church, the Conservative American Church of God and Angels in Flight of Nome, Alaska.
Faux: I notice that you keep Pali on a little pink leash. Does she bite?
McBush: That’s Pay-Lee, boy!
Faux: Of course.
McBush: She bites when she’s told to.
Faux: She’s an attractive puppy, that’s for sure, winking and blinking the way she does, but she seems exceptionally quiet today.
McBush: My daddy, the Admiral, while beating his noisy dog, used to say, ‘There’s a time to bark and a time to whine.’
Faux (teasingly): Do you also script her speeches? Like when to bark, growl, snarl, roll over or bite?
McBush: Something like that. More of a yap than a bark.
Faux: She’s actually scripted? I’ve never heard of a dog that…
McBush (interrupting): I’m not going to have my sweet puppy subjected to the cruel and ungodly questions of the liberal media without some form of preparation! Next question.
Faux: You mention God a good deal. Is he one of the “G”s in your campaign’s “Three Gs for Freedom?” The reason Pali is wearing a gold cross attached to her collar?
McBush: That is correct. It came to me in a dream while I was a captive war hero, and I swore that if I ever became a maverick candidate of any sort I would apply them: God, Guns and Glory.
Faux: I assume the chewable dog toy in the shape of a shotgun that she’s holding in her teeth is relative to the second “G”? For guns?
McBush: That’s right, boy. Guns ready to use on our doorstep if the A-rabs ever invade. And the third is for glory.
Faux: The glory of liberty and freedom?
McBush: Of war, boy. The glory of winning. The glory of the stars and stripes waving bravely over a battlefield of dead A-rabs. And may I add that I deny ever having referred to our friend O-Bomb by the A-word.
Faux: Again, sir, I don’t believe anyone has ever said you had referred to him as an Arab, or, as you put it, an A-rab. Are you apologizing again for something you have never been accused of? Isn’t that just another way of smearing an opponent without bearing the blame?
McBush: (He smiles, shrugs slightly, winks at the dog, says nothing.)
Faux: I see. Getting back to an earlier topic, there are some who say no one truly wins a war.
McBush: These are the same traitorous liberals in America who said, may God forgive me for repeating it, that the New York Giants would never win a Super Bowl and you and I know that they sure as hell did.
Faux: Your dog is growling.
McBush: Forgive me. I did not intend to defame the name of God, and on my honor as a war hero, maverick and Christian, I apologize for use of the ugly H-word. It upsets Pali.
Faux: We all know you’re a war hero, but how do you figure you’re a maverick? Many feel that you’re very much like our current leader, President Twig.
McBush: Not so. For one thing I’m taller than Twig and when I smile there are those who say my whole face lights up. He just grins. Nothing wrong with grinning, but there’s sure a big difference between us right there.
Faux: Other than that, doesn’t your program, as Twig’s, favor the oil companies’ desire to drill wherever they chose? Doesn’t that profit them more than us? And doesn’t it harm Earth’s ecological balance?
McBush: Ecological my behind! We didn’t even have that word until the hippies made it up. A couple holes in the ground won’t kick the planet out of orbit. And there’s nothing wrong with Americans making a little extra cash, boy, just because they already have some. But we’ve got to be fair about spreading the wealth, so I’m proposing an increase in the minimum wage by 7 and ½ cents!
Faux: An hour?
McBush: A day. Who in the hell do you think we are?
Pali growls again.
McBush: Gosh darn, there I go again, defaming God. Sorry, Pali.
Faux: It seems to me that by saying ‘hell’ you were more likely offending the devil than God. Is the devil a part of your campaign too?
McBush: (He smiles. The dog winks.)
Faux: Thank you, Senator. Thank you, Pali.
McBush: God bless America.
Pali: Woof.
End Transcript

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Pregnancy Game

It’s pregnancy season again among Hollywood’s nubile, and not so nubile, women, who are increasingly photographed for magazines, supermarket tabloids and various blogs while parading around in bikinis that reveal the expanding nature of their midriffs. Their proud demeanor indicates that they believe their state of expectancy is an accomplishment few could ever achieve.
This is a cultural oddity which at one time would have been handed over to a science writer who specialized in procreation, but in the re-imagining of the L.A. by God Times, he has been downsized out the door. So I guess it’s up to me to make a few candid observations from the relative obscurity of my own blog.
I trace the prance of the pregnant celebrities back to that revealing Vanity Fair Magazine cover photograph of Demi Moore some time ago, in which she offered America a naked profile of her pregnancy in its 4th trimester. Well, anyhow, in its advanced stages.
This encouraged every female celebrity with sweet dreams of scoring the same notoriety to quickly begin wondering how to get themselves great with child and parade up and down the boardwalk or wherever for all to see. Those periodicals concerned with their activities realized that celebrity pregnancy was a cash cow and let loose the dogs of photography, which would be the paparazzi, and now even naturally obese women aren’t safe from the hairy beasts. “Are you pregnant or just fat?” they shout in the mantra of their new quest.
The subject of gravidity has become so all consuming that I am here today to explain just how it happens. The attitude of many readers of celebrity journals is that the pregnant women of Hollywood have achieved some sort of intellectual benchmark by getting themselves, well, knocked up; as though they have studied for it and passed a barrage of tests. The truth of the matter is all you have to do is get drunk and take off your clothes.
That will do it for many desiring to achieve the status of their cultural leader, Angelina Jolie, who became pregnant with twins and let it all hang out, big time. God knows what she will do next. Human cloning is not currently a legal option, but when you have star power, who knows?
It is probably wiser if one knows the name of the male sperm bearer, as it were, who impregnates her but that’s up to the individual female involved, who may or may not wish to know the identity of the guy she slept with. Some want picture IDs, other just want a stud.
My interest in the subject springs from two quarters: first a People Magazine cover photo of Angelina and Brad Pitt, the presumed father, promising to tell all about their new twins, Knox Leon and Vivienne Marcheline, names that are bound to make the news on their own someday if only for their lyrical qualities. Inside the magazine lurks the photograph of a slightly pouchy young woman under the heading, “Is Eva Pregnant?”
One might ask “Eva who?” at first glance, but that is quickly explained. She is Eva Longoria Parker, who, we learn, is attempting to look “frumpy” for her role in next season’s “Desperate Housewives,” in which, one supposes, her character will stuff herself with beer and sausages and sleep around with similarly inclined men who devote their lives to meeting frumpy women in bars.
So now, as I understand the trend, we are looking for celebrity women who are not pregnant in order to speculate why they aren’t and whether they are likely to become so. It is said that hotshot investigative bloggers have already obtained the sperm counts of many of Hollywood’s most eligible men, and those who aren’t so eligible, and are watching to see which women they are spending the most time with.
One of the more-or-less eligible men, People informs us, is someone named Balthazar Getty, who has already proved his virility by fathering four children. He was seen making out with Sienna Miller as his wife and kids vacationed nearby, if you can believe that little arrangement. Sienna was once “romantic,” by the way, with Jude Law and before him Matthew Ryes. A line forms to the right.
Is the Pre-Pregnancy Derby off and running again?
Not until Miley Cyrus assumes the permanent role of Hannah Montana and begins filling her shelves with how-to books. It may take awhile. She’s a rock star and they’re terribly slow learners.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ticking Away an Era

They’re shutting down DeLauer’s, the 24-hour news stand in Oakland at 13th and Broadway. It’s just around the corner from the Tribune Tower, which not too long ago was abandoned by the newspaper and now sits like a haunted castle, its clock ticking away the fading hours of an era.
DeLauer’s has been in that same spot for 101 years, selling newspapers and magazines from all over the world. I used to hang out there when I worked the night shift at the Trib. It’s where cops sometimes gathered before the sun rose when their shifts were done and there was no place else to go.
Old man DeLauer, who is 91, inherited the stand from his father. He left it to his accountant to say that no one was reading newspapers anymore; they were getting their news online. At least all the news they cared about: whether Angelina Jolie was pregnant and who the poor, troubled Britney Spears was dating now that the kids had been taken away and her life had become a sad joke.
A friend emailed me the story about DeLauer’s that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. Its closing didn’t really surprise me. The news stand belonged to a period when newsboys shouted “wuxtry!” on downtown corners and when people who couldn’t afford to buy anything crowded into DeLauer’s to stand around reading magazines without paying. Nobody hassled them. They were a part of the scene.
For awhile there was a dwarf in his 50s who sold papers on the corner not far from the news stand. He was about four feet tall and a little peculiar. Never spoke to anyone, not even a thank you when someone bought a paper. He just shouted his wares and made up stuff on dull news days. It was like, “Wuxtry, Read all about it! Murder in Oakland! Blonde bombshell found dead!” One had to wonder what those who bought the paper thought when there was no blonde bombshell murder story in it.
In the 1950s The Trib competed with Hearst’s Oakland Post Enquirer. Across the bay there was the Chronicle, the Examiner, the News, the Call and the Bulletin. They dropped one by one, sometimes two by two after they merged. Today, only the Chronicle exists in any kind of viable form. The Examiner, once touted by Hearst as “Monarch of the Dailies,” is a shabby little distorted mirror image of what it was.
When I left the Tribune to come south in 1972 newspapers were already beginning to show signs of dissipation as television news coverage increased. Bill Knowland was the Trib’s publisher and had begun shutting down the suburban sections and laying off reporters. A rewrite man I remember only as Fitz was the first to go.
A small, edgy guy, his hands trembled and his face twitched under pressure, which on an afternoon daily was just about all the time. How he ever got on rewrite was a mystery of the age.
We all felt pretty sorry for him and tried to help, but with Stanley Norton hovering over him screaming and cursing, there wasn’t a lot we could do. Norton was the assistant managing editor but acted more like one of the old time city editors, loud in his conduct and brutal in his style. He had polio as a kid and dragged one foot, coming at you like some kind of creature out of a nightmare, predating Freddy Krueger by 40 years.
The Trib was a pretty good newspaper back then. Its circulation was the best in the Bay Area for awhile, up to about 350,000. It ran the Post Enquirer out of town and was competing with the Chronicle and Examiner when I left. It began falling apart after Knowland gave up a seat in the U.S. Senate to run for governor and lost. He took over the paper, and that was the end, my friend.
Another beat in the funeral drumming of an era occurred when the bar across the street called the Hollow Leg closed shortly after Nels died. He was not only the best bartender in town but a guy we considered our friend. He’d pour free drinks when the owner wasn’t looking and filled us in on what the downtown honchos were talking about when they gathered to drink at the Leg. Just before he died, he gave me a white German shepherd puppy that we brought to L.A. when my career at the Trib fell apart and Otis Chandler beckoned from the Times.
What I left behind in Oakland was a block of time that was already receding into history, like the Jazz Age or the Big Band era. None of us fully realized it down here. The L.A. Times under Otis Chandler was going strong. We had come onto the world stage, a big, rich, muscular daily emerging from what had been an angry little right-wing rag. New bureaus were opening across the nation and around the world; new talent added a glow to a newspaper envied by just about every working journalist in the country.
I had the job of a special writer, often criss-crossing the country by air and land to see how the people were doing during various recessions and gasoline crises. How were they managing when a changing job market tossed them aside, when they couldn’t buy gasoline or afford to pay rent? How were they feeling about America? Sound familiar? Everything old is new again.
I covered presidential elections and followed guys like Alex Haley across the country when “Roots” was storming the nation, and Howard Jarvis when Proposition 13 was altering the nature or property taxes. I spent time with Rosa Parks in Detroit and tracked down former presidential press secretaries going back to the era of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
It was a dream job, but all dreams end. The Times began unraveling when the Chandlers sold it to the Chicago Tribune, at best a second class newspaper, and making money became more important than making history. I was writing a column by then, but it was more whimsy than newsy, and whimsy wasn’t playing on Spring Street as far as the new editors were concerned.
Moved from Metro into a corner of Calendar, I was silent witness to the slow devolution of what Chandler had built, eventually blind-sided by a graceless little man into a forced buyout. John Montorio was an assistant managing editor in charge of features and just never did like me personally, probably because I wouldn’t pal around with him at lunch and listen to his rants against other staff members. I’ve never been a gossip and sure as hell wasn’t into back-biting.
The readers brought me back with thousands of emails, letters and phone calls. A new editor, the one we have now, fired Montorio. He was an anomaly on a staff of otherwise good, qualified people who aren’t out to get you and who know how much we’re all in this together.
I’m back out front now, every Monday in the California section. More buyouts and layoffs are in the wind, so who knows how long any of us are going to last? We’re facing down the Internet Age, which is a new peril to print journalism. The kids don’t read newspapers anymore, we’re told, so we’re trying desperately to be a part of the new trend, jazzing up the product to suit the tastes of the MTV Generation, and edging into their Internet world.
I see the demise of DeLauer’s as a sign of the shifting fortunes of reader-oriented publications. We’re fighting back by rethinking the product, redesigning the pages and galloping into cyberspace like acolytes on a holy mission. There are those who predict the end of print journalism, which will be a sad day for anyone wanting more than snippets of news.
I’m going to keep doing pretty much what I do, which no one has been able to define, not in more than half a century in newspapering. I believe that as one era collapses into another, smart people are still going to read writing that creates images and transports them to new biomes of the imagination. I’ll be there doing what I do until I can’t do it anymore, remembering DeLauer’s and the guy on the corner selling fantasies.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Ernie Saga

I feel sorry for Ernie, our cat. He sits at a glass door looking out longingly at the birds and the squirrels that flash playfully into view. I think he wants to eat them. Kibbles and an occasional indoor mouse just aren’t enough.
He meows pathetically and cocks his head to one side and licks his lips. I don’t let him out for a very good reason: he’s a house cat and there are perils out there to which he is not accustomed; coyotes, dogs, rattlesnakes and owls.
Yes, owls. Stories abound in Topanga of large birds of prey carrying off cats and even small dogs. One woman tells of an owl swooping off with her little Portia. That’s her Pekingese, not her granddaughter. She ran down the street in the direction of the bird, screaming and swearing. The terrified owl dropped Portia on the road.
The dog was OK but that wasn’t the end of the story. A car swerved to miss the Pekingese and scraped another car. There was a fistfight. Sheriff’s deputies were called. Meanwhile, a man who claimed he was once abducted by occupants of a UFO saw the dog drop from the sky and thought it was an extraterrestrial.
He summoned other believers by blowing on a ram’s horn. They surrounded Portia, who was pretty bewildered by all of the commotion. This also attracted a large group of Christian fundamentalists who thought the dog a manifestation of the Holy Spirit dropped from the sky to pronounce the end of the world.
The Christians began praying loudly and shoving the abductees aside, a confrontation that eventually turned into a riot. This attracted the attention of the sheriff’s deputies who’d been handcuffing the two fist fighting motorists. The deputies called for backup.
The media picked up the call on their scanners and sent in traffic helicopters to check it out. Since Topanga is near the ocean, rumors began circulating that terrorists had come ashore and Topangans, cooperating with local police authorities, were trying to repel the invaders.
Others from Malibu and Woodland Hills heard the reports on news radio, armed themselves and headed for the fight. When the chopper pilots saw the armed militia coming over the hills, they assumed that the terrorists had formed an army and a full scale invasion had begun. The U.S. Air Force was summoned.
Fighter jets roared over the Santa Monica Mountains blasting everything in sight, including a few collaterals who bled much like real people, but were only collaterals and shouldn’t have been in the way of the bombs in the first place.
Naturally, everyone ran like hell except for Portia’s owner who got so angry at the bombardment that she began screaming and running and shaking her fist in the direction of a fighter jet that had just launched a missile at a building that housed the Topanga Feng Shui and Yoga Society of which she was a charter member. The pilot of the jet swooped low and gave her the finger which really enraged her. She called an Arab friend who was a known member of Al Qaeda.
Word spread among Islamic radicals that America was in disarray and it was time to invade. They alerted cells in L.A. peopled by movie set designers and Hollywood extras who armed themselves and marched on Topanga. Naturally they were greeted as visiting foreigners who are always welcomed here, so everyone stopped fighting and organized a Welcome to the Mountains party.
Soon they were all happily guzzling Two Buck Chuck and making out, including the woman who owned Portia, leaving the dog to stagger back to its house alone and whine pitifully at the door. But the music and the moaning were so loud that no one heard the poor creature. Soon Federal authorities moved in and arrested everyone under the Patriot Act for collaborating with terrorists and for violating laws against passion moans that exceed a wren’s tweet.
Topanga is empty now except for me which encourages animal predators to roam free, and that’s why Ernie is not allowed to leave the house. The End. (That’s one hell of a story, Al. I know.)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Brief History of Nudity

Ever since Adam and Eve discovered that there was more to life in the Garden of Eden than picking apples, the world has become obsessed with nudity.
It began with curiosity, segued to intense interest and then blossomed into lust, where it remained for a good many years, sweeping the world’s continents and finally ending up in America where it was forbidden.
Puritans believed that nudity equated with sex, which was also strictly forbidden outside of Christian marriage, although a few managed to work it in on the side.
We railed against what came to be called smut as it was celebrated in books, music, art, photographs, movies, neckties and stained glass windows. Most difficult to exclude was classic art, notably portrayals of naked women created during lapses in the world’s purity wars.
All was going very well for morality until the 1920s when a form of madness caused women to begin revealing more than was allowed, kicking and squirming to wild music in public places and drinking alcoholic beverages until their eyes went white.
Sanity was restored during the depression when we were too busy looking for work and praying for pork chops to be concerned with nudity. But then good times returned with World War II, restoring previous interests but without prurient content. It was, after all, the Eisenhower Era. There was laughter and sweetness in the air.
Who could have anticipated the 1960s?
They began when, for the first time in history, the sex microbe was isolated in a Berkeley laboratory to considerable fanfare, reviving interest in its potential when combined with nudity as a catalyst. The government immediately banned any use of an extract refined from the microbe, but it was too late.
Free love and free will were upon us.
During riots that accompanied sit-ins and protests on the U.C. campus, students broke into the endocrine lab, stole the sex formula and sold it to Timothy Leary. That was once more the end of a morality cycle in America.
Bras flew off, panties came down and bare nakedness in public soon became, for reasons obscured by the revolution itself, the new morality, created in the name of peace and freedom. Exactly why it was established as a logo for social change remains unclear, but it worked. The Vietnam War ended and we elected Nixon to lead us into the future.
But, alas, instead of once more retreating into a climate of purity, we continue to be obsessed with nudity, led by movies, the Internet and the hedonistic behavior of those such as Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and, to some extent, daddy’s little girl Miley Cyrus, the 15-year-old Hannah Montana of Disney fame.
Photographs by Annie Leibovitz in Vanity Fair show daddy’s little girl in various provocative poses but exposing only a little of her midriff and a corner of her “pea green bra” as one writer put it. She did not bare it all as first suggested but revealed just enough to continue piquing our curious obsession with nudity.
While teenaged girls flash considerably more than pea green bras on the bikini-rich beaches of Southern California, those girls aren’t being promoted as Disney’s shiny little virgin while Miley Cyrus is. She’s supposed to be Tinker Bell, not Lolita.
Because she is worth a lot of money to Disney, Cyrus will no doubt continue in her role as the unblemished little girl next door until the day that she really kicks off her clothes and declares herself grown up. Then she will show us every aspect of the body God gave her and we will look upon it until we are drained of our drool and then we’ll return to other more profitable indoor activities.
Perhaps it is my age or my familiarity with human anatomy, but I am growing weary of our obsession with the human body. However, I do understand that there are men who have never seen a real naked woman and women who have never seen a real naked man, leaving them to wonder if the pictures they study are real or altered. Curiosity alone can keep them awake at night.
I suggest that for their sake and as a possible way of turning the titillating nature of nudity into just another boring aspect of neighborhood life, we appear every Monday at exactly 7 p.m. after the cocktail hour, standing naked on the front porches of our homes facing the street. By that, you see, first-timers will have their curiosities satisfied and we will all be so damned tired of looking at naked bodies that our obsession will pass and we can move on to other interests.
Stripped of our outer personages, we will appear as human beings, differing in details but the same in basics, and no matter how many of us you look at, it will always be just that. Now scoot inside before you’re arrested. All of you.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

India: A Magical Journey

There is a magical quality to India that floats through memory like a warm breeze.
Without even concentrating very hard, I can see its jungle forests, tall and green in a lowering sunlight, its domed mosques and temples rising above the bustling cities, and the palaces of maharajas that still stand in the enduring landscape of its long history.
I see a wild elephant trotting toward us, head lowered and ears flapping, on a winding road of the James Corbett Tiger Preserve. I feel the gentle rock of waves as we glide past jungles and villages aboard a houseboat on the backwaters of the Arabian Sea.
A dream walk through the Pushkar Camel Fair lingers in my head, silhouettes of ancient animals on the edge of a rolling desert, moonlight illuminating reality with a glow that lights fairy tales. I see campfires twinkling and a Ferris wheel turning through space like time in the dim light of eternity.
It has been two months since Cinelli and I spent 30 days wandering 6,000 miles through the heart of this timeless kingdom. To describe it in simple terms is just not possible in a few hundred words. One absorbs India. It is a part of the physiology that composes scenes beyond memory, when the inward eye shifts to a focus of feeling.
India was not on my agenda. My wife, the adventuresome Cinelli, had lobbied for years to take the 18-hour flight to one of Earth’s most exotic lands. I usually opt for less strenuous journeys, maybe to Paris or Rome or even Prague, but she sees the world in grander terms, so we go to Africa and China and Russia too. It was time for India.
Research led us to Easy Tours of India, an organization operating out of Austin, Texas. I was lured by the adjective. I am beyond the age of mountain biking or alpine skiing so the term “easy” naturally caught my attention. I never dreamed I would be riding camels or elephants, but then in the land of Gandhi, that’s considered easy.
As it turned out, planning an extensive and expensive trip had come at an inconvenient time. In June 2007 I was blindsided into an “accidental” forced buyout, apparently engineered by a graceless little man who headed the section where my column was then appearing. I wrote a goodbye essay. My audience roared its protest and I was hired back with an apology from the editor.
I mention this to grant a look into our thinking process in mid-planning for the India trip. Prudence would dictate that we should cancel the journey and save the money. We pondered it and then said to hell with it. We’d go to India and deal with the future as it unfolded. We’ve never been afraid of tomorrow.
Travel is more than a trip. It’s a learning process, an awakening to the value of cultures rooted in the timelessness that predates our concepts of history. We saw pieces of India in the “dream time” of antiquity, in its colonial period of subjugation, in its reach for independence and its emergence on to a new world stage. We stayed in 5-star hotels and walked along roads where the poor lived in squalor beyond imagination. We ate in world-class restaurants while women with babies tapped on the car windows at traffic stops and begged for food.
Delhi, Mumbai, Agra, Cochin, Jaipur, Udaipur.
If you would ask me what experience has remained the most indelible in my string of memories about India, I guess I would say the elephant incident at the James Corbett Park and Tiger Preserve. Annoyed by the presence of tourists, the big tusker turned from a lunch of tree branches and began trotting toward us, for what purpose one can only imagine. He didn’t look happy. Our jeep driver must have set a record for escaping in reverse on a narrow, winding road because the big bull, impressed by our facility, finally stopped its advance and lumbered off into the jungle.
Was that more important than the beauty of the countryside, the gleaming towers, monkeys on rooftops or streets simultaneously occupied by cars, trucks, rickshaws, motorcycles, camels, elephants and oxen? Not really. But it translates into an image of existence on the Asian subcontinent that is both unique, larger than life and occasionally dangerous. It is India, impressive and determined, charging forward uphill while we wonder about its final destination.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Littlest Martini: A Six O'clock Fable

Once upon a time there was a little Martini who always wanted to be a Mai Tai.
“I’m too short,” he cried to his parents one day. “Mai Tais are tall and elegant. I’m a squirt!”
“You’re young,” his daddy said. “Some day you’ll grow from a single to a double. Just give it time.”
“Mai Tai is young too,” the little Martini said, “and he’s already tall.”
“It’s just his mix,” his mommy said. “Some drinks are just naturally taller. But that doesn’t mean you’re any less important. Be proud of what you are.”
“You’re a Martini!” the daddy said proudly “We have a honorable history! Franklin D. Roosevelt favored us and so did Winston Churchill, two great leaders of the free world! We helped win the war! You have nothing to be ashamed of, Little Martini.”
“Remember Shot?” mommy said. “He certainly wasn’t tall! And now he’s a Double Shot and the star of some very sophisticated cocktail lounges. And you’ve got a lot more growing to do.”
Little Martini wasn’t satisfied. “Even when I grow up I won’t be tall,” he said. He turned to his daddy: “You’re not tall and mom isn’t tall! You don’t even look alike. How, come you don’t look alike?”
The parents glanced at one another. Their little Martini had reached the age when he was asking questions. They knew it would happen. It was time to tell him.
“Son,” the mommy Martini began hesitantly…
“Let me tell him,” daddy. “Son, your mother and I fell in love when we first met at a disco club in L.A. We knew our love was wrong, but the attraction was so strong that we…well…ignored the differences between us.”
His voice was beginning to choke, and he didn’t want to break down before his son so he gestured to his wife to take over.
She took a deep breath and said, “You’re the result of a mixed marriage.”
The husband spoke: “I’m gin and you mother is vodka. I’m straight up with a pimento olive, she’s on the rocks with a lemon twist.”
Little Martini stared at them open-mouthed. “Does that mean I’m going to die? My mixture is wrong?”
“No, of course not,” daddy said. “It only means you’re…well…different.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being different,” mommy said. “But others may not accept you. Half gin and half vodka just don’t mix.”
“Why did you do this?” little Martini demanded in tears. He turned to his father. “Why didn’t you just marry that tonicy woman you’re always talking about! She was our kind! Then I could be just straight gin!”
“It was your mother I loved, son. I never thought I’d feel that way about vodka, but I did. And I hear that there are more mixed marriages being performed across the country. Someday, no one will notice the difference between gin and vodka. We’ll be equals in the Barnes & Noble Book of Cocktails.”
Little Martini gave up trying to be a Mai Tai. Rum just wasn’t in his blood. But the realization that he was different altered the course of his life. During his wild teenage years he turned into the worst kind of screwdriver. He was picked up twice for harassing martinis that favored onions and called themselves Gibsons. He served jail time for beating up a Cuba Libre.
His life was a mess. Both parents tried to get him into a psychomixologist but he refused, preferring instead a dissolute path toward self-destruction, loving and leaving a series of tawdry mixes and garnishes, never happy with anyone, spurning those who cared about him. Then one evening while working as a well drink in a Montana cowboy bar he spotted a Beer shooting pool. He was a tall, cool lager. It was love at first sight.
It was the kind of love that must not be spoken, but clearly it was deep and abiding. They moved in together in a duplex just outside of Butte and Little Martini openly declared himself a Cosmopolitan. His parents accepted his decision, glad that he was finally settling down, and loved it when the two adopted three babies also of mixed gin and vodka marriages that they called Betwinis, and they all lived happily ever after.