What are you really buying, anyway?

paper lantern It's been an interesting week so far, and it's only Monday.

First of all, something seems to have been dislodged in my brain, that thing that keeps me from processing stuff I don't feel like, like paperwork and phone calls (wah wah wah, First World white girl) and from finishing things I've started, like work. Not that I've gotten everything tidied up and on its way: today saw the dispensing of my DMV registration, some queries about my post-COBRA world (universal health care cannot come soon enough) and a number of other annoying/scary if smallish items, but several others are getting rolled over (again) to tomorrow, my favorite day. (Just like my favorite week, month and year are "Next.")

I made a dent in it though, especially by my standards. And I felt so gosh-darn good about it, I decided I would spread a little of that sunshine and head over to My Country House (a.k.a. The BF's) to visit the dog (a.k.a. Arno J. McScruff) as his master (a.k.a. The BF) is living in the Land of the Stupid Day Job for the next several weeks and poor Arnie, well, he has dogly needs.

Now, this sort of thing does not occur to me usually, and when it does, to actually do it feels burdensome. Yes, I'll go see you in the hospital or water your plants or take in your mail, but only if I'm allowed to feel grumpy and put-upon, at least to start with. Do not let the cheery photo fool you, my Internet friends! I am a crab and a bee-yotch of the highest order, and I've got plenty of real-life backup on that.

But today, I'm driving the five miles from my place to Arnie's and practically whistling. At 3:30, no less, pretty much guaranteed that I'll hit traffic going at least one way. In fact, I think I probably was in traffic; it just didn't bother me, so it didn't feel like traffic. And as I'm cruising through this traffic-that-is-not, I pass a place I've passed 1,000 times before. No, really: this is the route I take between my place and The BF's; I could probably drive it blindfolded. Once, anyway.

It's a shitty little storefront restaurant, nominally Chinese, but selling all manner of crap from gyros to boba tea like every other shitty little storefront restaurant I've seen like it. Might not, probably isn't even run by Chinese people. Could be Koreans, could be Salvadorans, could be Armenians: it's that kind of neighborhood.

But whoever owned it had hung one of those bright paper lanterns with the fringe on it that you see in Chinatown stores. It was kitschy and alive and pretty, and one thought flitted through my head:

I want.

Now let me assure you that while my taste in furnishings is somewhat eclectic, it's not so boho-funky that a Chinese paper lantern would fit right in. In fact, it would look dreadful. I know this because I'm a designer, and I make my living knowing what will look right and what will look like ass. This would be the latter, trust me. There's not one place in my place it would look right, including outside my front door, bapping about in the breeze just like it was in front of the not-Chinese restaurant.

Instead of feeling disappointed, though, I had this amazing flash of insight into why, for most of my life, I've been a hopeless accumulator of crap: I want that feeling.

That feeling that a particular shirt or dish or gadget gives me. The promise that's inside that book, I want to retain that rush of inspiration I felt when I pulled it from the shelf. Or to be the person who has absorbed and processed its contents. Or to have a piece of that author (or artist, or musician) in my hands.

Or I want to be the person who can cook a perfect omelet with that pan. Who has pictures filling frames hanging on walls that burst with life, a host of beautiful craft projects made from these bolts of fabric, a lady who has the carefree life requiring, as my old art director, Sherry Scharschmidt used to call them, "Running-on-the-Beach Dresses."

Maybe that's why Peter Walsh and his ilk are making so much money these days: because we all have needs we're shortchanging ourselves on; we're all spending money instead of time, which becomes starting instead of finishing, which becomes a heap of never-worn, never-used crap we eventually haul off to Goodwill. And, since I've trained myself to understand that I never will have the time, that I will rush and rush, on and on, never stopping to take a breath and do the thing or even feel the feeling, I buy the souvenir instead.

It's scarcity thinking in the middle of unprecedented abundance. And it's a bitch of a habit to break.

I stopped myself today, though, in the middle of a thought of buying such a lantern. Because for ONCE, I realized I wanted the feeling of serendipitously stumbling upon a beautiful thing like that, blapping around in the clean, post-rain breeze. And I can't own that any more than I can bottle happiness and save it for later. The wet jewels you find along the shore on holiday are just dull bits of rock when you get them home; a fleeting whatever is beautiful, in part, because it's fleeting.

I'm not quite ready to do a spend-out yet, although I'm starting to see how it might help people like me who are used to going too fast and treating themselves too roughly. For now, though, I think I'll try something else: going slower and treating myself more kindly.

Better. Cheaper.

And takes up a lot less room in a tiny apartment...

xxx c

Image by Geopelia via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

better to light a single flame

blackout the rolling blackouts have started and my building is dark or will be when the sun sets

no power for the two old ladies who have lived there since it was built way, way back in '59

not that they have A/C or insulation or even the magic of cross-ventilation

(that's not how they built things in '59 no matter what anyone says about the Good Old Days)

but there is no power for their fans or their ancient refrigerators or a light in the bathroom so they can run a tub of cold water

plenty of power on Wilshire, though-- can't have those personal relocation devices hitting each other

and they say there's so much power at the mall that the air-conditioned merchants leave their doors open to help cool the shoppers

(nice merchants)

lately I swing between wondering if this is the end of the world and hoping it is

there would be a kind of satisfaction in watching the wolves set upon the drivers of SUV Nation and the barons of McMansion Estates and other members of the Clueless Majority

stay here long enough and you'll know what I mean unless you don't in which case, the wolves will probably get you next...

that is if they don't take me out on my way back from Peets where I came to cool myself with stolen dinosaur bones and a strong sense of irony

xxx c

Posted at 9:31pm. I'm home and so is Mr. Watts...for now.

Image by Spamily via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Blow up your TV

When you calibrate your afternoon not by the subtle changes in the play of light through your office window but by the shifting of the shrill Judge Judy into the 'shucks, ma'am' sucker punch or Dr. Phil...

When you feel your ire rise as basket-base-football cuts into The Simpsons and back-to-back repeats of King of the Hill...

When your evenings are filled with the wall-to-wall hum of America's Next Top Apprentice to the Surviving Bachelor

When you have seen every episode of every Law & Order in all three franchises at least twice

When you can spot the new edits to accommodate additional commercials in Columbo and the Quinn-Martin ouevre and anything that used to be on HBO

When you let your sister and your clients and your best friend since high school (in town for three days only) go straight to voicemail because Ryan is announcing the Bottom Three

When you cannot remember the last time you spent a day without television

Maybe it's time to spend a day without television.

Maybe it's time to spend seven of them.

A whole week doing something else One day at a time. (With Bonnie Franklin and Valerie Bertinelli.)

Besides, there's always TiVO...

xxx c

On hummers, moral rectitude and paying the rent

hummerbird.jpg A couple of days ago, I read a brief article/interview with Tim Robbins in this month's issue of Los Angeles magazine. Mostly it just reinforced my impression of Robbins as a smart, talented guy whose impressions of himself are exactly the same, only more so, but there was one item which caught my eye.

Despite the popularity of his 1992 political mockumentary, Bob Roberts, Robbins elected not to release a CD of the original songs created for the film for fear that they might one day be used out of context by the very people he was satirizing. I think of this very real possibility for artists every time I listen to (gulp) the Dr. Laura show on my local yak-radio station, KFI*. Because while some of the musicians whose songs her engineer plays as bumpers might be alright with the implicit endorsement of a rather inflexible if well-meant credo, others would likely be aghast.

I suppose there's no way around it in radio land. I'm not familiar with fair use rules on commercial radio, but I'm guessing that if you or your station pays publishing clearinghouses ASCAP and BMI**, you're allowed to bumper away.

In advertising land, of course, it's a different story. When I started out as a copywriter in the early 1980s, the first uses of boomer pop as boomer bait were just turning up. Naive young pup that I was, I remember being surprised when some people actually took umbrage at the co-opting of "art" for commerce. Me? I figured if someone wanted to sell their shit, that was their own damned business.

I'm [of] divided opinion now. Obviously, for many years I've made my own livelihood has depended upon either shilling directly for The Man or, briefly, filing papers and designing PowerPointâ„¢ presentations for him. I've written and acted in commercials for plenty of superfluous consumer crap products, and in my last day job, I designed the company's greatest presentation ever for one of the most insidious marketing tacks it's been my distaste to come across. On the other hand, I had my limits: I've always refused to work on tobacco products and feminine deoderant products, finding them equally morally reprehensible.

The new limit, it seems, is the Hummer.

While it's unlikely that I'll ever be asked shill for Hummer, plenty of musicians have been approached about it. Poor, struggling, indie musicians, whose tuneage has the gloss of rebel cool Hummer would like to co-opt for its ads. And apparently, they're saying "no" in droves, even the starving ones. "We figured it was almost like giving music to the Army, or Exxon," said one member of a D.C. group, Trans Am.

I'd chalk it up, some of it anyway, to political correctness, only the amounts that were being thrown around were too huge to dismiss, especially for starving artists. They start at about $50K; one went up to $180K. That's a lot of scratch for anyone, but especially for people whose mode of transportation often doubles as their home.

My tolerance level for SUVs falls far short of the Hummer. After years of driving in steel canyons created by the piggy hugemobiles of the drivers surrounding me, I am over the high clearance vehicle, period. If you drive one, basically, you can go fuck yourself. (I make an exception for minivan drivers, who are actually choosing a responsible transportation option for hauling rugrats and for light truck drivers who actually use their truck beds to haul truck-appropriate items.) Tax 'em, make 'em park in the "c" lot ghetto, bar them from carpool lanes unless every seat in the motherfuckers are occupied.

On the other hand, I briefly dated someone who drove an SUV. I've never established a no-fly rule on SUVs with my agent. There are, fortunately, good men out there who still drive sedans (cf The BF) but as money gets harder and harder to make, will it get harder and harder for me to exercise my moral principles? It is one thing to be Tim Robbins and turn down the money; it's another to be an indie rocker or someone with three kids to support or me, in transition, and do it.

I have an audition today for Philip Morris. That's Philip Morris, not its parent company, Altria Group, which also manufactures various food brands. The client declined to give out specific information, a common practice with a new product. So when I got the call, I confirmed with the proviso that if it turned out to be a tobacco product, I was out. Unfortunately, I won't find out what this mysterious new Philip Morris product is until I drive out to Santa Monica and sign the NDA to audition for it. Which means that I might drive 25 miles out of my way today for nothing.

Oh, well. At least I'll be doing it in a Corolla.

xxx c

*More on my love/hate of the strident, inflexible Laura Schlessinger later...

**Bonus little-known fact: I am actually a member of BMI, owing to a filthy little ditty I wrote with Ana Gasteyer about our twats.

UPDATE: The audition was not for a tobacco product, but an anti-tobacco message. I took it, still conflicted, but secure in the knowledge that (a) my getting it is a million-to-one shot; and (b) I'm heading to SXSW the day of the callback, turning that million-to-one shot into a billion-to-one shot.

Photo, "Opinion," by Evan G. via Flickr.

Buy now, pay later

black friday As if the disturbing display of consumptive zealotry to the left above (found at Drudge via my new-favorite blog, Gawker) wasn't enough incentive, an excellent post this morning on Eschaton has me pondering the heretofore unthinkable: a gift-free holiday season.

Hecate's point is to use a shop-out in protest; as he says in the headline to his post, "All I Want for Xmas is Fair and Verifiable Elections." Which ain't a bad gift. I'd sleep better at night knowing that the rightfully chosen candidate was presiding over our fair country for the next four years, even if I didn't vote for him. (Okay, especially if I didn't vote for him.)

But thousands (or hundreds...or dozens...) of people picketing...Diebold HQ? Maybe not so impactful. Thousands of consumers putting the Visa on ice? Now there's an interesting proposition:

This year, I'm urging everyone I know to refuse to spend money for Xmas as a protest. Stay out of the stores. For Goddess sake, don't run up credit card debt. Give your family and friends the gift of your time and attention rather than a new sweater that they won't wear or some object to clutter-up an already over-cluttered life. But just not buying isn't enough. You've got to contact the retailers and credit card companies and tell them: I'm not going to be buying Xmas stuff and I'm not going to be charging Xmas stuff until this country has a system in place that ensures fair and verifiable elections. Reader Kate has done the research and discovered that The National Retail Federation “is the world's largest retail trade association . . . .” Write to Their Vice President for Legislative and Political Affairs, Katherine Lugar. Here's her contact info:

National Retail Federation 325 7th Street, N.W. Suite 1100 Washington, D.C. 20004 Phone: 1-800-NRF-HOW2 Fax (202) 727-2849

Write to your credit card companies and tell them the same thing. You can find the address on the back of your latest bill. And, heck if you're really angry about this last election, write to the large department stores that you patronize, or at least cc them on your letter to the National Retail Federation. CC your Senators and Congressman or Congresswoman as well.

I will also have to write to my beloved agent, assuring him that his annual Guitar Center certificate will be on its way once the mess is behind us. He is one of the real Christians, so I'm sure he'll understand, but it makes me feel terrible just the same.

xxx c

P.S. An interesting skew on the boycott issue in an excellent post from Fact-esque (via Eschaton) as well. S/he points out that a targeted boycott of, say, Wal-Mart might be more focussed and effective and serve the additional end of bringing attention to the nefarious practices of one of America's ickiest retailers.

P.P.S An even better suggestion posted at Eschaton by Thumb: go small, go local, go green, go etc. As a small business owner of sorts myself, I'm surprised I didn't think of it (except that I'm still in Thanksgiving coma).

I'm sure there is a dandy local gee-tar shop in L.A. that would love my gift certificate biz. And I don't think Harry & David is a big-box giant. (Not sure about their labor policies, though. Damn. I love those pears...)