On other nice days.

Forty years ago, today would’ve been the sort of temperate, sunlit day that I might’ve spent with my buddy Mark, walking all over our borough until we’d seen all there was to see, solved a substantial number of world problems, and gotten myself thoroughly lost while mere miles away from home.

Or, we might have jumped on the subway into Manhattan, grabbed a reasonably-priced lunch at one of two Howard Johnson’s diners that still existed on Times Square, before venturing into the twisty escalators of the Loew’s Astor Plaza for an inevitably disappointing, pre-Star Wars genre movie.

On more ambitious days, handball at a local court. Probably the only sport in which I could claim some momentary competence, at least on days when I could get out of my own head and refuse to defer to almost any other human being’s presence.

comedy, spew

Is it safe?

A swift recovery from today’s dentist visit to fill two cavities. To my surprise, it was the least-unpleasant such procedure I’ve ever undergone. By far.

I traditionally have a swift and specific reaction to the effects of novocaine: equal parts panic and nausea. But today was the first time I had my own music available on headphones for the duration.

After skipping through some plaintive Radiohead and introspective R.E.M., I realized what I really needed was the post-modernist accompaniment of a previous decade’s high melodrama. Cue Alexander Courage’s 1965 soundtrack for—what else?—Star Trek‘s second pilot episode.

wherenomanhasgone181It worked better than I’d hoped. Space-opera suspense functioned amazingly well to satirize the sight of a masked, lab-coated professional leaning in to mutilate, then repair a tiny portion of my deadened head. Thanks to the serendipitous timing of two practitioners separated by almost half a century (and possibly half a planet), I found I had to work hard to not bust out laughing at least twice during the procedure, and entirely forgot to feel either panic or nausea once the music pitched up into the danger, mystery, and terror of old-style action-adventure network television. Even the arch dialog associated with some of the musical cues worked to my advantage.

I try very hard to make other people laugh when circumstances permit. Today I found a way to do that for myself, the ability for which I’m grateful to every actor or comedian I’ve ever admired or tried to emulate.

family, spew, theater


My immigrant mother didn’t understand Halloween, and so I wasn’t raised to participate in it. She hated the full evening of apartment-doorbell noise, and I mostly lost out on experiencing a bit of kid socialization. I bought into her irritation because I had no idea what I was missing.

Too many years later, I realized it was kind of fun to roll some dice and pretend to be someone else in a game for a few hours. Then, even more years later, I realized I got an even bigger kick out of dressing up and pretending to be someone else onstage for a couple of hours.

Don’t waste your kids’ time filling them full of your bullshit.

spew, theater

On the loss of an important friend.

Today I learned that a dear, exceptional woman who got me into theater almost three decades ago, and lovingly supported some of the most creative work I’ve ever done — or may ever do — has died of a heart attack.

She was a friend I never learned very much about, but with whom I felt absolutely comfortable discussing my own faltering attempts at behavioral adulthood. I had few filters. She had many, covering reactions to my spew with a smile that said she preferred diplomacy to unfettered candor. Despite this, I rarely felt judged. I did feel support, though.

And she brought me in. She gave me little nudges towards performing in public, right when I needed them. At a time in my life when I sorely needed new ways to express some sort of creative impulse, she guided me towards the best efforts I’ve ever been part of. 

She was responsible for my first, awful steps as a shitty bit player in medieval-fair comedy skits. And later… for helping me believe I could do a lot more.

Were she still around, she could no doubt remember more details I’d want to relate. I’m not qualified to describe her achievements, except insofar as I never saw her play a part with anything less than full commitment, and I never worked alongside her with anything less than the total joy of unguarded collaboration.

This is unjust. I am so angry I can barely see the screen.

politics, spew

A brief message from twelve years ago.

From a letter to the editor in Wired, May 2001.

America’s ideologically driven fear of “state interference” has allowed its corporations to be far more intrusive and abusive than any European government would dare to be. As you are finding out the hard way, basic services like electricity are not effectively supplied by market forces alone. Blind faith in science and technology may have made US citizens richer than we are in Europe, but rather than curing your diseases it has made you world leaders in obesity, mental illness, and drug dependency.

Your way of life is killing you: More of you are in prison, in debt, and in therapy than anywhere in the world. More of you just plain kill one another. Each of you produces three times more pollution than Europeans do. To think that having more money makes all of this OK is moronic. There is more to human freedom than shopping, more to compassion than lower taxes, and more to security than bigger guns. Why don’t American’s get this? It’s Europeans who look over the water and mutter, “What a bunch of losers.”

Yes, we’ve certainly come a long way.

science, spew

The Brood.

They're climbing the building!

“Don’t see a lot of your kind around here.”
“At these prices, you’re lucky to see any.”

Too bad if you missed them. They were worth seeing.

A remarkable horde of fascinating visitors to our neighborhood are dying off, having run through most of their brief life-cycle with a degree and quality of sound I’d normally attribute to heavy industrial machinery.

Ten days ago we marveled at the degree to which their nymph forms covered certain trees. Last week, we tried to avoid their adult forms as they fitfully crawled across sidewalks and shrubbery. Soon after, we had to duck as they capriciously flew from tree to brick wall to rain gutter. This week, we’re sadly avoiding the dead bodies of these beautiful, ephemeral creatures as the first wave of them begins to die.

Their sound was composed of several components; an understandable result of their population having been composed of several species (more background for the curious can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/04/science/one-place-cicadas-get-a-warm-welcome.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

My first impression of the massed whirring noise they made was that of a 1964-era Star Trek phaser cannon, possibly boring into the side of a nearby mountain or Cayman Islands bank vault. A closer listen to a local stand of ancient trees which they seemed to favor revealed a secondary sound, which reminded me of thousands of tiny tambourines being shaken by thousands of underappreciated backup pop singers. I doubt my recording does any of this justice.

One visitor to our home-office window gave us our first performance of a component song. It was all exhilarating.


You should see the lawn flags we didn’t get a good picture of.

I can understand how homeowners with gardens might be upset at the consumption of some of their carefully-tended flora. But this will pass, unlike the more profound devastation wrought by the gypsy moth infestation of a previous decade.

We’ve been privileged to observe a remarkable event, a tiny slice of a big picture we don’t often get to see much of, and one which our forebears could only view with superstition and ignorant fear. We should revel in its novelty and celebrate the science it teaches us.

Farewell, Magicicada. Most of my neighbors — posh suburbanites who’d rather not deal with too much of the natural world or hear about where most of their food comes from — probably considered you a frightening, squishy pestilence. I did not. Hope I get to see you critters again.

A bit of science: http://magicicada.org/magicicada_ii.php

A few more of my images: