Tuesday, December 29, 2015

All I ever needed to know I learned from Jon Carroll

For Thanksgiving we tried something different — a picnic in San Francisco with our children. Low frills, simple, light on preparation and heavy on just spending time together.

That was my plan, and I was shocked that anyone had even listened to me when I uttered it long ago, let alone agreed to carry it out.

We ended up having the traditional Thanksgiving anyway — in addition to the picnic. It was the multiple-meal, multi-meat, Armageddon-in-the-kitchen Thanksgiving that inspired me to propose a picnic in the first place.

Even the picnic became an extravaganza, our son's girlfriend making something, our daughter making something, all of us bringing too, too much.

Change is hard.

We tried something else different — well, Nancy carried it out, since I'm often useless beyond instigation — called the Untied Way®™. It's not branded, but it should be.

The Untied Way©™is Jon Carroll's idea of charitable giving, and it too is low frills and simple: Withdraw money from your ATM — take out an amount that would sting a bit — and distribute your $20s in a part of town where people might ask for money. When someone asks, give him or her a $20 until you're done.

That's it.

The Untied Way®™ makes no judgments on recipients, Jon Carroll would say, and has its flaws. For example, a giver really doesn't know how the recipient would use the money, and couldn't control it anyway. It could be used for drink or drugs, for example.
You might expect gratitude from your clients, but you may not get it. Some of your clients may not process the denomination of the contribution, and therefore your special virtue will go unremarked. Sometimes, alas, your clients will say insulting or incomprehensible things to you. Other times, they may be overly grateful, and follow you down the street asking in stentorian tones for God to bless you. The Untied Way is not a particularly comfortable charity.

Jon Carroll wrote once of his non-traditional charity.
Sometimes people ask: Won't the Untied Way clients use their money foolishly? Won't they buy drugs or cheap booze or unsavory companionship? And the answer is: Yes, they might. Have you ever spent your money foolishly? Have you ever behaved unwisely? Untied Way clients are human beings like you.
Jon Carroll's words on this and any other subject are harder to find, because Jon Carroll is gone.

Not gone gone, but a funereal gone nonetheless. He retired as columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, about Thanksgiving time, and with his retirement went the weekly dose of words joined remarkably well, words I would have loved to have heard in person across a coffee table.

Carroll started with the Chronicle in 1962 as a reporter, joined a new venture called Rolling Stone Magazine, joined a variety of pioneering journalism projects before returning to the Chronicle in 1982 as a columnist. He's been there, done that.

His are words of level-headed mirth and just the right mixture of satiric rage at so much I rage against but don't have quite the way to say it.

Besides the Untied Way, he spun a description of circus life, specifically the San Francisco-based Pickle Family Circus, which his daughter belonged to, so joyful I wanted to join, and got the next best thing when that circus — no animals, just acrobats galore and hilarious clowns (yes, they can be funny!) in an itty bitty performing space — came to out-of-the-way Hanford, where Nancy and I were working, long ago.

He delighted in Mondegreens — writer Sylvia Wright's coinage for misheard lyrics — and his readers delighted in his delight, sharing their own over the years. "Mondegreens" come from Wright's own mishearing of a Scottish poem: She thought the enemies had slain Earl o' Moray and Lady Mondegreen — when the enemies had really "laid him on the green."

Rock songs are shot through with Mondegreens: Jimi Hendrix singing "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy," or Elton John pleading, "Hold me closer, Tony Danza."

Jon Carroll always sounded like he was just having a conversation — an erudite riff on the day, with witty asides so plentiful they pushed against the main point. Too often I've thought, "I'd like to write like that," and have emulated his writing, whether or not I wanted to.

Now he's gone.

And yet.

In his retirement — while he figures out what to do — he started a blog. His latest post: Make-believe answers to his annual really difficult Christmastime quiz, which he hasn't published in many years but which readers still clamor for. As with everything else, it's a fun read.

I give thanks.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A ponderous chain

cried the Ghost,
wringing its hands again.

“Mankind was my business;
charity, mercy, forbearance,
and benevolence, were, all,
my business. The deals of my trade
were but a drop of water in
the comprehensive ocean
of my business!”

— Charles Dickens 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Go jump in a lake

Nothing focuses the mind quite so well as slinking headfirst into a winter lake, the water hovering just above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

My mind, anyway.

Your mind might hold a different opinion in this scenario, such as: "Ooooowwwwuuuuuu
oooooowwww!" Or maybe,
"Get out! Get OUT! GET OUT!!!

I get it. Perfectly reasonable. "Reasonable" is an excellent word here.

Chances are your mind and body are not used to doing such a thing, may in fact desire very much not to do such a thing, because your mind, being smart, and your body, being precious, would react negatively to this being done — to the point of avoiding the near occasion of this precise happenstance.

Being used to it, however, I do not think such things. I get in immediately anymore, have done so for more than two years now, after the buddies I used to swim with decided they weren't putting up with my ritualistic easing-into-the-water bit, and left me behind.

I first think, upon first slink, "This is cold," in a detached, Spockian (Mr., not Dr.) manner, simply acknowledging a fact. But about 120 strokes (counting every other stroke), I think, "This is ideal now, so I might as well start slowing my stroke and practice slipping my arms in without making bubbles."

Sure enough, 120 strokes in (it's not an exact science; sometimes it's 117, others nearly 145) I am calm. I am suspended in solution, my limbs carrying on as if they had become the water, my left eye (I flunked bilateral breathing) checking progress, but both eyes looking down mostly, into the streaky green nothingness of my lake, my mouth frowning a little at the sight of bubbles.

I think spend a spare bit of thought to keep my arms wide and straight out, and resolve that I shouldn't be able to see them when my face is straight down in the water. It's an ongoing experiment.

In the chooka-whaush-splick-splacka-chosh of my moving, constantly moving, breathing and letting all the parts do their thing, I think things.

Sometimes I mean for such thoughts to happen. I think, "Something has been bugging me for a while; maybe this is a good time to work it out."

Sometimes the thoughts present themselves without warning, and I begin mulling unexpectedly. I suspect my mind has a mind of its own, and worries that I'm not worrying enough about such things.

In the former category are work things. A drawing I want to do is just not getting drawn, because it is literally a puzzle I'm trying to solve. Just a couple of days ago, the drawing appeared before my eyes in the green nothingness, bright little atoms of tiny things floating around each other to form a big thing. In the chooka-whaush-splick-splacka-chosh, in the mantra of sound and movement, I could see and think no other thing than these floating atoms, moving about at my will.

Many other days lately, I have been thinking about a writing project I need to finish, which wouldn't be so bad except I've barely started, and too much depends on it, too soon. I have been writing about the trees and ignoring the forest, I decided in the green nothingness, and have gone back to work trying to write the forest instead. I know a tremendous amount about bark, but bark won't get the job done.

These problems don't get solved entirely in the water; almost none of them do. But the sensory deprivation chamber of cold Lake Natoma helps me to see around and through them in a way that sitting in front of a computer in a warm office never will.

In the latter category of things my mind urges me to think, are things my conscience knows but won't admit to. More and more lately, for example, it urges me to consider I have gotten larger. And larger. I am regarding this thought these days in the green nothingness.

It is my own doing, of course. My life has changed; I am an office now, a real office and not a former bedroom, and nearby are snacks for everyone, that other office workers consume judiciously, The only diet plan that has worked for me is to not have snacks around in the first place. It worked fairly well at home; don't buy the stuff and they won't be there to be eaten. Lead us not into tin of cookies. Simple.

But there they are, in the real office, and I take them. It's my own doing.

I used to tell myself swimming would keep my weight in check, and now my conscience is screaming in the green nothingness it's not necessarily so. I swim routinely longer distances than I did in the first two years of open water swimming, but my conscience is pointing out, screaming politely, my body is just used to it now, and all this swimming is doing more wonders for mind than body, this daily solitude of cold green water.

My mind is using the swims to suggest I should do something in addition to swimming, to improve my health.

These problems don't get solved entirely in the water. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Not enough black ink

Oh, how I wish this was a comic book!

Like the wonderful Watchmen, a grimly layered tale about costumed semi-superheroes who must adapt to a world that no longer tolerates them.

In it, Adrian Veidt, a former superhero who trumps Donald Trump in wealth and chutzpah, plots to unleash a horror so catastrophic that it fulfills his grand wish — the entire world abolishes divisions to unite and vanquish the horror.

I want Donald Trump to be that horror — a thing so devastating, so harmful, that people denounce their own ugliness and hate to turn against him and choose civil, reasonable leaders.

I want Trump to be what some pundits have proposed: So awful an impersonation of a human being that he'll drive followers away so that he can back out of the race, or drive voters to the Democratic ticket. I want him to be playing such a monumental prank on us all, if only to massage his giant ego, with the breezy gall of someone who has more money than God.

I want him to be a Democratic conspiracy, a trick deployed on the Republican Party, a massive inflated parody of itself, a hulking chicken having come home to roost.

But I'm afraid Donald Trump is real, and that he is in fact the runaway leader of the Republican ticket, and that he may win that party's nomination to the presidency.

And that makes me angry.

This cartoon, this little exercise with typing paper and Pilot®™ Razor Point pen, doesn't even begin to express my anger. I thought it would, but it's an ineffectual doodle.

I wanted to portray what makes me angriest: Joke or not, Trump has now made it OK for people to act out their hate. Like the bully he is, the demagogue he has become, he encourages followers to demean and demonize, even hurt those not like them. He cracks fear like a whip, pitting one group above another, and followers hear his whipcrack as permission to blame an entire group for the actions of a few, and to diminish them and compartmentalize them, and to act with violence against them.

Followers say many times Trump tells it like it is; Trump himself insults his critics and says they're just upset because he's not politically correct. Neither are right: Trump doesn't tell it like it is — he calculates to tell it like people want to hear, things on their hearts already, things written in fear and anger and blame. As if Trump saying it makes it true.

Trump is not being politically incorrect: He is insulting and humiliating and defaming, and stirring up others to do the same, under the strange off-color of authority he has built through the years, in the boorish, piggish televised persona we can't seem to get enough of.

At a Trump rally this week, a "Black Lives Matter" protester was detained by the crowd, one Trump follower flashing what looks like a Nazi salute, another shouting, "Burn that motherf----r alive!"

This is Trump's legacy. Joke or not, this is what he has wrought. Donny Demonseed has sown a dark harvest. Expect worse to come, unless we come to our senses. I'm trying to imagine him as president, the divided mess of a country he purports to make great again.


I'm really, really hoping I have overreacted. I really hope that months from now I'll look at this post and laugh at my usual hyperbole and misplaced anxiety.

We are a horribly imperfect country, a moving experiment so broken with hypocrisies and sufferings and broken promises upon broken promises — either forgotten or repackaged as patriotism and progress. But we are an experiment; we experiment with this counter-intuitive idea we can rise above our base fears and impulses, that we can, with vigilance and patience and hope for ourselves and one another, be a country that accommodates and accepts. A country that can still be better than itself.

Donald Trump will wreck that experiment, that long-held dream against all odds.

I still hope it's all a joke.

The joke on me is that Donald Trump makes some of the other Republican candidates —namely Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee and Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson (remember Ben Carson?) — who at least (for now) couch their demonization in old-school rhetoric, look almost statesmanlike.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ties that bind

My facebook™© feed has already blossomed with ties, most of them knotted around the necks of semi-naked bodies — all symbols of support for a woman many of us know but have never met.

Swimmers have rallied around her.

She is Helena Martins, and last week in south London, a man attacked her as she walked home from work. She said she believes the attack was because she is lesbian, and that the tie she was wearing became some kind of signal to the attacker.

The attacker punched her in the eye and choked her with the tie. Read more here.

On facebook©® afterward, Helena wrote:
I don't think I'll be rocking a tie in the near future.

Today, one street away from my home, I was assaulted by a man who just went berserk at me, trying to pull my tie off.

I've got a scratched and punched face, a sore neckline by all the tie pulling and a very bruised soul.

I did fight back a little, but when I saw my (cochlear) implant being tossed around on the floor and stepped on, I just wanted the guy to leave me alone and crouched against the wall with my hands and arms above my head and chest.

The all thing was over in 2 minutes.

Please. Homophobia Transphobia are still very much alive. If you hear or see someone making fun with pub jokes, harassing or bullying of LGBT people, making comments while watching TV or a movie or whatever...

Act. Speak out.

Your silence makes them feel that they are right. They're not.

Tell them. Please. Be part of the solution, not the problem.

Some women wear ties, some men wear skirts. Get the heck over it.

One thing is true: I shouldn't be punched in the face for wearing a tie.
Helena became deaf as the result of Ménière's Disease, a disorder of the inner ear that can also cause severe dizziness. The attacker may have identified Helena as an easy target, she said, mistaking her unsteady gait for inebriation.

Almost immediately, swimming fans rallied and began rocking ties. Fiona Bettles, like me, doesn't know Helena personally, but follows Helena and a myriad other swimmers in their daily open water and pool endeavors. She's among several who are organizing today, Tuesday, for wearing a tie in support of Helena.

Swimmer Suzie Dods posted the same on the Marathon Swimmers Forum. The grassroots campaign is #tieforhelena.

Here's my bid.

Many swimmers didn't wait for today, instead showing up at their group events over the weekend in (swim)suits and ties. Their sartorial choices made their way on facebook™® over the last four days.

Helena Martins, as well as those who have stirred this campaign, urge supporters to stand up and speak out against homophobic and racist attacks. Scotland Yard reported that homophobic attacks in London had increased by nearly a third in the year between July 2014 and July 2015.

Rock your tie today.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Those who can't

From a project I keep trying to get off the ground.
Yes, I do know the meaning of the word irony.
Be a teacher, they said.

More than 100,000 teachers in California are leaving soon, they said. See, they're grabbing their car keys and out they go, they said.

You'll make a great teacher, they said.

I did. They didn't. They weren't. Meh.

It seemed like a good bet, becoming a teacher. I read the tea leaves, looked up at the sky, felt the vibe. Be a teacher — try to be a good teacher — 10 years, maybe 15. Wrap up a working life.

I lost the bet.

Those 100,000 teachers? They didn't leave. A little thing called the recession. Pensions crumbled below their feet — for which somebody, certainly not teachers, got filthy rich — and they held on to their jobs.

Schools played musical chairs, each removing two or three chairs at the end of the year. Last hired, first fired. Make do with less. Cram each classroom with a few more kids. Yeah, the law says you can't do that, but it turns out you can, and what're you gonna do, make the taxpayers mad? Can't make the taxpayers mad. That's their money, they decide what to do with their money, and they're not spending it on schools, future be damned. Won't be around to see it, anyway.

So I was gone, sitting in one of those thrown-out chairs, after a full year. My five-year plan to become an effective teacher went to smoke and sputter. My rookie year was thrilling and frustrating and hopeful and hopeless. All the time I tore myself up about whether I was doing right by these children.

I went to the district office to see what could be done with me after I got my dismissal. Lady runs her finger across the line on the spreadsheet where my name is. Zero-point-zero. No official tally of my having taught, of credit toward my credential. I did not gain any ground, any traction, anything. I was a thing that happened. Thanks for being the adult in the room all those days, keeping the kids safe, I guess.

You can substitute. You want to substitute? That's all that I can offer, lady says.

I substitute. One school secretary admonishes, "You're too early! You're not supposed to be here this early!" Thank you, may I have another?

Same school, teacher provides no lesson plans, no map from yesterday to tomorrow. No warning: Hey, you're supposed to take my kids to an assembly; I get six competing voices of opinion from the students instead. Don't you have games or activities you bring with you? Most substitutes do, the teacher says later; it's supposed to be an apology, I guess. Yeah, I say back, but I'd rather help you teach your students.

I go back to school for another credential, but it doesn't take.

It still bothers me wondering whether it just wasn't meant to be, or if I quit before the fight even started, as I have done many times before. If only I was 20 years younger, I excuse myself. But I wasn't, and the time and energy I'd have to spend playing Frogger®™ in alien classrooms, waiting out another opening somewhere or the other, seemed better spent otherwise.

It was the first decision I ever made in which age played a role.

So this week, on the way home from the job I have now — a good job, fun and various, challenging and creative, a teensy tiny bit teacher-y — I hear on the radio that our area's largest school district is scrambling for substitutes. The district needs subs so that the full-time teachers can break away for professional training — need them so direly they're raising the per-diem fee and providing extending health benefits to them.
When the school year began, stories popped up in the news about teacher shortages in districts across the country, and that full-time teachers have to cover multiple classes because districts lack the subs to fill the spaces.

That same large district near us had earlier urged students' parents to come in and sub.

Sure, now the teachers are leaving — eight years too late.

How do I feel about that? Let me know, will ya?

Had I waited — and who would really know this? It's not like hedging the market — then I'd have more chance to continue teaching. Had I acted much sooner, way back when I first thought about teaching, I'd have had a long teaching career by now, and be aces at surviving the career troughs and bumps.

But I didn't. I bet and lost.

Eating from my harvest of sour grapes, I can conclude I wasn't cut out for teaching. I was in long enough to say it's incredibly hard, and those who teach do so with courage and fortitude and deeply drawn creativity. They are not well served, not by their community, by the families whose children they teach, by lawmakers, by taxpayers, by the schools that are supposed to mold them into teachers.

Sitting exposed atop an iceberg of dysfunctional society, teachers bear blame for the iceberg. The screwed-up world expects teachers to fix it, and buy their own paper and pencils to do it. Make do with less. And less. But save us. Save us all.

Teachers who teach despite it all are valiant.

Which is why I rode home feeling deep conflict, hearing about a district's for subs so teachers and learn how to be better teachers. Teachers were getting help, yet getting no help at all. They can't go be better teachers unless subs take their place in the classroom.

Part of me wants to rush over and help. I can sub! My sub kit is still there in the garage, one small heave into the truck of my car and I'm ready. Part of me reminds I have lost the spark of courage to do that.

And of course, I can't. I have moved on. As have many teachers, far younger far more creative than I, with fresh ideas and strategies; they've gone to other jobs, which compensate fairly and competitively for their skills and talents.

We don't think educating our children, the most important job there is, is all that important.

Go figure.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A love letter

The face that launched a thousand thousands
and thousands of spams!
Dec. 8, 2015

Donald Trump
1 Trump Tower
Trump Town, NJ USA 11111

Dear Mr. Trump,

Thank God for you, sir! Thank God!

We at Amalgamated Spammer Services, LLC, can't thank you enough for saving us. You are a savior, sir! But I'm not telling you anything new.

Truth was, the spam industry had been running on fumes. Email users were ignoring more and more of our emails as the years went on — and believe you me, we were sending more and more email! Just phenomenal, what we've been able to do! I guess users got burned one too many times clicking on one of our links; infested hard drives will do that.

But even as consumers wised up, we still had a vast empire of sheep yet to fleece, and our shears were going 24/7. It'd been fantastic for a long while. New and naive folks were clicking on the garage floor sealant ads, the window treatment stuff, the walk-in tubs, the prostate hoohah. Hell, we weren't even trying.

When that group resisted and shrank, we didn't worry. Plenty of ammo left, my friend, plenty of ammo, and still plenty of sheep. We threw the erectile dysfunction stuff at 'em; people even crashed their hard drives clicking on the oogy one with the illustration of the clogged penile blood vessel! "That ain't sexy!" We said around the office. "No one's gonna go for that!" But damned if it wasn't click-a-palooza! Cha-ching!

Then we shotgunned the cheaters' anonymous stuff, the meet-your-neighborhood-MILF stuff, the Russian fø*k buddies, and people still clicked because, you know, the sex thing. We told folks Obama was the devil incarnate. Click click click click click! Those were gravy days, my friend, I'm telling you. We thought it'd last forever.

By mid-winter last year, we could see that wasn't gonna happen. Not even the sex stuff. And people just weren't going for the brain pills "endorsed" by that Elon Musk fella, you know, the Tesla car guy. Fewer people seemed to care that Bill Gates' daughter became a genius by taking the very same pills.

It's like they got knowledge, or something, if I may be ironic.

The end was near, and after this Christmas season, after we had doubled up on the 700-lumen flashlight powerful enough to take down hijacked airplanes, and doubled down on the Star Shower®™ Laser Light thing (it's legit! I've got one in my yard, just turning the creche into some kind of weird holy disco!), we were going to pack it up. A couple thousand more pitches per account of "get your child a letter from Santa," and that was gonna be it.

Tie it in a bow. The end. Finito!

Then you came along!

Do you believe in miracles?! Yes!

You are the godsend to our industry. Correct that: You are the god of our industry!

That's not over the top, is it! Of course not: That's not possible with you!

You prove it every day, Mr. Trump God. I don't know how you do it, but you do it — every day, you say some interesting things (that's industry talk for any lie — any stupid, insane, vile, hurtful, outrageous, divisive notion), and people believe you. Fact, schmacts!

They not only believe you, they follow you! They want more! The more — interesting — you get, the more they want. I mean, ban all Muslims from getting into the country, like you called for yesterday?! Anyone else says it, he steps down the next day — from his job, from his campaign, from the planet. He disappears in shame.

Not you, though! No, not you! On the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, after Japanese-Americans were rounded up in our fear and sent to prison camps, you tell your people what they want to hear — fear Muslims now! That is rich and bold, because you know so well, people never really learn, and if they do, it's certainly not about history! Bunch of old stuff! Who needs it, am I right?

You tell your people Mexicans are rapists! You congratulate followers for roughing up a "Black Lives Matter" protester at one of your rallies! You denigrate women! You flail your arms and buck your teeth in imitation of a reporter with disabilities, for daring question your interesting assertion that thousands and thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheered the fall of the World Trade Center. And your followers roar, "More!"

Genius, sir! Pure genius! You are the Genius' Genius! You should bottle and sell whatever it is you got!

That's a joke, Mr. God. I know you're already bottling and selling it.

We're doing the same. Your followers are our people!

We are reviving the spam industry on your back. Every day, dozens and dozens of times a day (maybe we should do it thousands and thousands of times a day, in honor of your interesting assertion about the cheering Muslims) we're spamming everyone on the planet with your "Trump Economic Plan" or your "Trump American Plan" that says they can double or triple their income by clicking on the email.

We've got another one, the Trump Financial Plan (doesn't matter the name of the thing, as long as it incudes "Trump," but I'm not telling you something you don't know, am I right?!), that guarantees $7,000 to $8,000 income per month.

Did you really promise that? Wait — don't tell me. It really doesn't matter. People are gonna believe. They are gonna click like they've never clicked before.

We slap a news network logo on it, coupla magazine logos (they're so easy to get off the Internet) and plaster your picture on it. Same picture each time, the one I attached at the top of the letter. Some in the office say it's not very flattering, but I say, "It's the Donald, being Donald."

It looks like you're really sticking it to someone in that photo, like you're condemning another minority. Atta boy, Mr. Trump!

People love it, and they love you! Thank God for you again!

The gang here at Amalgamated Spammers Services has dropped almost all our usual spam product lines and just wanna post the Trump Economic Plan ads. They don't wanna run the "Date Exotic Asian Women Now" emails any more, not even the "Buy a Yacht" ones (though we may wanna slap your photo on those and revive that line; we've got a lot of "yachts" to move, if you know what I mean. Now that I think of it, those 700-lumen terrorist-destroying flashlights could use the Trump treatment too).

All they want is Trump Trump Trump! We revamped the whole "genius pill" line by putting your pic and a network logo on it, too. Forget Gates and that Elon Musk! Coupla losers! It's Trump all the way.

We're trying to keep a level head about all this, but it's hard to keep from dreaming where the spam industry can go once you become President! Every spam will be Trump! The sheep won't be able to get enough! We could be the leading industry in this country you're making great again — optimum profit by the minimum investment of lies (interesting statements, I mean) to foment fear and confusion.

Needless to say we're pulling for you, Mr. Trump! You're our boy.

Just had an idea! That finger thing, where it looks like you're sticking it to some loser in the photo were using in our spam? Have you ever thought about making it into a salute? You know, you raise your finger, and all your followers — every patriotic spam-loving American — raise their fingers in response.

I understand a salute like that went over big in Germany and Italy, back in the day.

Keep doing what you do!


s/Adolf Mussolini, Chairman
Amalgamated Spammer Services, LLC

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The force is weak with this one

Would this 'toon have been possible without the Star Wars®™ military-industrial-entertainment complex? No indeedy!
(Reagan on the left, Gorbachev on the right. Ask your parents.)
A new Star Wars®©™ movie is coming soon.

Oh, I'm sorry: Spoiler alert! I think it was supposed to be a surprise.

Merry Christmas!

I was being facetious there. You couldn't miss the advent of Star Wars®™©: The Force Awakens if you tried, and I tried.

Devotion to this mega-movie has been inserted into your DNA already, and at a signal you will storm(troop) the aisles of any and all officially licensed Star Wars©®™makers of branded goods and foodstuffs, forming long and ordered, though slightly tingly, lines at the cash registers, slimging the economy along at warp speed (which may be reference to another space movie, I don't know).

You won't know quite why you're doing this, so I'll tell you now: Thank you for your service (to come).

Hope is still strong in me: I had to go back and look up the official name of the coming movie, so I'm not subject to Star Wars™© mind control just yet. Years ago I became confused about which Star Wars™™®© installment is which, and moments later stopped caring. Episode I®™ is really the fourth movie? What?

When someone refers to a Star Wars™® movie (God help them!) by episode number, I still have to ask what happened in it before I know what she's talking about.

So — Star Wars©®®: The Force Awakens. What, no episode number? It's not (um, let's see here, pulling out the calculator …) Episode 7, or VII? Hey, Powers That Be: You're going to go and confuse me further?

No escaping the Star Wars®™ iconography, there is.
This is the badge I designed for the adult patrol when
our son was a Boy Scout. A Lucasfilm®™ lawyer said,
politely, that we couldn't use it. Now that Disney®™
owns the
Star Wars®®® franchise, better luck I may have,

No matter. Until the nucleotides start rearranging in me, I can assert with confidence I will not see the film. I have become my parents, who at my age decided they didn't like the crowds and sticky floors and the weightlessness of their wallets that watching movies in theaters produced. I thought them mad back then. But this is now.

Especially for a blockbuster movie such as Star Wars™®, a saga for which I had long ago lost interest. Absolutely no desire to share the experience with the madding movie crowd.

This is not to say I have not enjoyed Star Wars©® as entertainment. For some strange reason, I am attracted to a Disney®® computer-generated animation TV show called Star Wars™® Rebels, about a small group of creatures and androids from various worlds (don't know, don't care) who battle the Empire (bad guys) from the outer fringes of somewhere (don't know, don't care).

Maybe it's the perfect storm of a long day and fatigue from channel surfing, but I find landing on a simple half-hour space opera (as I've heard Star Wars©®™ described) scratches the itch. Though the show might have an episodic quality — that is, each show may follow the other in a great story arc — it doesn't really matter. Good guys and bad guys are forever pitching battle, barely moving the line.

The larger truths remain intact whether I tune into the seventh installment or the 37th — truths carried over from the three Star Wars®™® movies I did actually watch, long ago, in a galaxy far away:
  • The good guys are ragtag and poorly outfitted, the odds always stacked against them
  • The bad guys speak in British accents and wear strange caps with bills that must make it hard for them to see — except for some of the top bad guys, who speak with breathy assisted devices or from behind masks or in ssssnaky (British) voices
  • The Imperial Storm Troopers never hit anything they aim at — ever! — with their weapons which shoot out red beams (our son, obviously infected, relays the theory that the guys in white plastic suits are/were trained to miss the good guys, as part of a trap; he also instantaneously named the new bad guy in the new film — looking him up now — Kylo Ren)
  • The good androids bumble around,  "speak" in squawks and zings universally regarded as cute, and once in a while save their good-guy owners (?) from the bad guys
  • The Empire's armored vehicles — the ones that travel on land, anyway — are ridiculously stupid and vulnerable to spectacular destruction
Last month, I also stuck around on YouTube®® one night to watch a nearly 20-minute analysis of a two-minute trailer for the new movie. Why? It was entertaining on two levels (see for yourself). The two guys reverse-engineering the trailer and its portents are fun and funny, for one thing; they are supremely aware of their geeky joy.

For another thing, they are joyful geeks.

The Internet does not lack for other geeks with their own shows, breaking down the new movie's heretofore released nibbles and hints. I scanned a few (for scholarly purposes entirely) to find many a bit too concerned about every hint and micro-hint. (The bad guy made his own light saber! In homage to Darth Vader! Light shoots out the hilt! Why?! Is it an Imperial plot?)

This is the heart of the Star Wars©®© franchise, though — the part that has eluded me.

The Star Wars®™ I know is a Saturday matinee of movie theaters past, way before me, probably even before George Lucas, who created the franchise. It's the serial Hollywood of nearly a century ago would have made had it the time, technology and money.

It's silly. Come on, isn't it silly? And campy. But in a dazzling way. Everyone is a cowboy-pirate, or a Nazi automaton. Everyone swashbuckles.

Our son's girlfriend said the original Star Wars™® movie (now known as Star Wars®©™ Episode IV: A New Hope — see what I mean?!) didn't impress her. But she was born long after it came out, and by the time she saw it, the rest of the cinema world had caught up and surpassed it in technological pyrotechnics, so the first movie can appear lackluster alongside.

It's like watching the Gary Cooper Western High Noon after growing up on a steady diet of Gunsmoke and Bonanza and Every Other TV Western Ever Made, and thinking the lonely showdown on the empty street, bad guy versus embittered good guy, so been there, done that, ad infinitum. Instead, it was the showdown that begat almost all other Western movie and TV duels.

Before the first Star Wars®™, movie-goers put up with imaginative shortfall — the spaceship superimposed on a shaky star background, appearing to shrink and move. All of us in the theater would think, "Oh, the director wants us to think the spaceship is flying away from us into space. OK, we'll pretend."

In Star Wars™®, a real spaceship was moving in real space! The techniques and effects stunned viewers, and ultimately George Lucas should be known more for the effects technology he marshaled to all of movies, than for this movie saga.

The first Star Wars©®™ sort of made sense — ragtag good guys blow up the bad guy Darth Vader's big planet-sized weapon. Luke Skywalker might have a future.

We first learned what has become embedded into our pop-culture DNA — Vader, Yoda, storm troopers, Death Star, light saber, R2 D2, Han Solo, Obi Wan Kenobi, Chewbacca.

I was too old for light sabers, and never could tell a TIE fighter from an AT-AT (had to look them up); I was probably too old to buy the soundtrack too, but I did. Not really the record you want to throw on the turntable when friends come over.

The second movie (Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back®™) spent more time on a compelling story — Skywalker may not be just a gifted kid — and one more everlasting icon, which you don't even have to explain when you say it: "I am your father!" Everyone is a James Earl Jones impersonator.

Then Star Wars®™ Episode VI: Return of the Jedi … something about creatures called Ewoks and the smell of marketing and licensing and plush toys and Legos™®.

I was done.

Somewhere along the way, Star Wars®™ was taken seriously. I mean, really seriously. People began tracing the arc of wars and battles, the relation of planets to one another, creatures to one another, bad guys to one another. They now the weapons, and they geek out about the new ones.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell had expended a great deal of energy on Star Wars'®™ mythic bloodline.

By the time Star Wars®™® Episode I: The Phantom Menace (the fourth movie, duh!) came along, I was willing to give it another try — until Jar Jar Binks opened his mouth, and big-name real-life actors seemed to sleepwalk, daring not blaspheme the gospel of Lucas.

I turned it off, done again.

Enjoy the next installment. It'll muddle along without me. From the 20-minute microanalysis, I get the idea the latest Star Wars®™™ is a retelling of the first — fourth, whatever — anyway. Sour grapes save me $11.75, or whatever movies cost nowdays.

And if you see me in line at the store, spare me the "I told you so's."

Careful where you point your light saber.