And you are…?

For the sake of consistency – and only that – I will note that yesterday was a strange day, terminated by a bizarre night in which someone could have taken out my gallbladder without awareness on my part.  I tend to rise with the sun, 4am or so in the summer and no later than 7 in our dark season, and this morning I opened my eyes to find my wife gone and the clock mysteriously saying 9:30.

A lot is going on here, virtually all of it positive in the long run, but it’s messing with me on some level, I assume.  My mood is good but my coordination is shot, if that makes any sense.  I don’t suspect degenerative illness or psychiatric decompensation or possession by the ghost of Mercedes McCambridge.  Just a weird time.

My son is amused, my daughter is curious, and my wife is really too busy to notice, although I’ll note that we did our best to help her celebrate a birthday yesterday.  Maybe that was it.  Birthdays, change, crazy me.  At any rate, I remain alive if woozy.  Tomorrow will be another day.

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Wednesday Archives

Wednesday has been Column Day for 12 years, and over 12 years some stuff will happen. My rule of thumb is that one should not re-read oneself unless one is willing to pay the emotional price, which usually involves groaning, but at least it’s some sort of record of what I was thinking, or not thinking. Some of these are collected in my books, but I’ve decided to ignore that for the time being and just find one from the past, every Wednesday, and post. If not for your edification, then mine. Groans are acceptable.

From March 1, 2006


Last summer, during a weekend on Whidbey Island with some friends, I brought a surprise.

Usually on these getaways with the guys we’ll all bring movies, something to watch after a day of hiking, exploring and eating food that can’t possibly be good for us.  A lot of times we’ll opt for nostalgia; one summer it was “The Great Escape,” another “Westworld.”  This time I had something special, or at least I thought, something to evoke a little childhood.  I brought “The Incredible Mr. Limpet.”

It wasn’t as good as we remembered from when we were kids, but Don Knotts was always fun to watch, and after hearing of his death last week at the age of 81 I’m glad I chose it.

Nostalgia is fun, a warm and fuzzy.  I’m a big fan of nostalgia.  But there’s something else, something that looks like nostalgia but really isn’t, and that’s been irritating me lately.

You’ve probably seen something like this.  Versions scoot around the Internet all the time, usually accompanied by a note from a well-meaning friend that says, “This is so true!”  It talks of a simpler time when “we” were kids (some of these focus on the 40s and 50s; some include the 60s, which would be me).  It points out that we played outside instead of watching TV, drank water out of hoses instead of plastic bottles, had parents who never read books on parenting, didn’t use seatbelts and never wore bike helmets and hey, we all survived.

Except for those of us who didn’t, of course, the ones who suffered brain damage or death, the ones who flew through windshields and broke necks.  Which is why I get so annoyed.  Add to that the inherent smug, condescending snottiness of these things (we were better than today’s kids), the undercurrent of “the world is going to hell in a hand basket” (helpful to no one), and a blind yearning for the good old days and I just shake my head.

Polio, anyone?  Smallpox?  Segregation?  The Great Depression?  The Dark Ages?

Are our kids coddled these days because some smart folks figured that a cheap bike helmet would prevent head injuries, as rare as they might be?  Have we somehow lost something important because we buckle up?   Are we spoiling infants from the get-go by putting them in car seats instead of holding them on the way home from the hospital?

Sure, we rode our bikes all day and played outside and made forts and entertained ourselves instead of playing video games, but only because video games didn’t exist.  You think our children are sedentary and obese?  Try looking in the mirror (gently now).  The marvels of modern technology have given us a culture of comfort and easy choices, which is why health professionals have been screaming for 40 years that we need to do something that once came naturally: Walk.  Run, bike, row, whatever, but exercise.

Real nostalgia is different.  It makes us smile and shows us where we’ve been.  We can’t go back and probably wouldn’t want to, but it’s nice to peek once in a while just for fun.  So, in no particular order, here’s a short list of stuff I miss and remember fondly.

Drive-in movies.  Soda pop in bottles.  Steve McQueen.  Getting up early to watch the latest Apollo mission blast off.  Old men in barber shops who talk to little boys.

I miss liberals and conservatives, the real kind, the ones who had the convictions of their consciences and reeked of sincerity instead of sound bites, even when you disagreed.  You knew where Hubert Humphrey and Barry Goldwater stood; I have no idea about Hillary, or George W. Bush.

I miss the late Curt Gowdy and yes, Howard Cosell, calling games.

I  miss Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke, Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Tom and Huck, Barney and Andy, Rocky and Bullwinkle.

I miss Ed Sullivan on Sundays and Saturday morning cartoons.  I miss Mr. Rogers, Mr. Wizard, Mr. Magoo and Mr. Ed.

I miss, in other words, being a kid, what it was, when it was.  Riding my Sting-Ray to the barber shop with two bucks in my pocket, listening to the old men talk and thumbing through incomprehensible GQs before getting my buzz cut, stopping at the gas station on the way home to buy an orange soda from the machine for a dime, knowing mom was already making dinner and “Batman” was on that night.

Nostalgia is a pair of rose-colored glasses with no bifocals for the small print.  We sweep by reality and remember what we want to, and sometimes what we need to, just to slip away for a moment.  There’s no judgment here, no regrets and no remorse, just fun and memories, of Walt Disney and Walter Cronkite, the Skipper and Gilligan, Gayle Sayers and Good Humor bars, and Barney Fife, who kept one bullet in his pocket so he wouldn’t shoot himself in the foot, a lesson I should take to heart, if I could only remember.


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Lost and Found

I got lost on the Internet this morning, sucked into a Wiki-ish vortex in which one thing links to another and I found myself several layers deep before I came up for air.  It was terrifying.  Like being stuck in a…web, or something.

I started to trace this out, how it led from cartoon history to 1940s radio to Cold War fantasies to false flags and obscure national security laws and Orson Welles and “Dr. Strangelove” and Mel Blanc and so on.

But it’s not the same.  You have to experience it yourself, and you probably have.  It can get scary.

Instead, watch the greatest badminton shot ever.  You will think you’ve seen it, but you haven’t.  Wait, wait.  All the way until the end.  And then turn off the computer and do something else.  Stay away from Wikipedia, too.  Don’t be looking up “badminton” now,  just out of curiosity, for that way lies madness.


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Almost Nothing

Years ago – and I’m thinking it was a good 20 – we used our American Express card for almost everything.  It was one of the first cards to be accepted at grocery stores, if you can imagine such a primitive time, but there were plenty of other places to spend money.  It made convenient sense, too; this was an affluent time for us but it was still a self-employed world, where invoices got misplaced and checks were late.  It was nice to have access to an interest-free cash flow for those times, and then once a month we just paid the bill.  In full, of course; that was the American Express deal back then.  An annual fee, then nothing but that monthly bill.  It was fine.

Until one month, when we couldn’t pay it.  I can’t remember how that happened, but it was a huge bill and things just got out of hand.  There was no wiggle room, either; no sliding over into a credit account.  The Amex people seemed nice enough but, again, there was no negotiating.  You owe us this money now, please pay.

And we did.  Drew it from some line of credit somewhere, cut up the Amex card, moved on, but it was a good lesson.  Credit makes the world go around, houses and cars and companies, but it makes me nervous for the little stuff. I rarely have cash but my debit card is the default payment for everything.  Buying groceries with a credit card, even avoiding interest by paying it off every month, is asking for trouble, for me.  I’m not that disciplined.

I tried doing that for a while with my Alaska credit card, earning airline miles in the frozen food section, but eventually it just made me weary.  Weary of tracking, wearing of paying it off before interest kicked in, weary of worrying about forgetting, etc.  The miles aren’t enough for the busyness involved, although I’m sure people are really good at this sort of thing.  Just not me.

It’s still listed as a card option on several of my bills, and sometimes I accidentally pay my car insurance or something else with it, not a big deal or a worry, but I noticed one payment I never got around to changing.  It’s tiny, a micro-payment, and I never think about it, and I never really will.  I pay for a small service that I rarely use, but sometimes I do.

I have several of these, in fact, and most of them have to do with convenience, and entertainment, as this one does.

Hulu Plus is one.  Hulu has been around for a while now, a one-stop shop for TV shows.  If you missed last night’s Whatever, Jon or Stephen or CSI something or something with “girl” in the title, it’s there on Hulu.  You get a few commercials and you get your show.  If you’re willing to ante up for Hulu Plus, for 8 bucks a month, you get HD quality and can watch on a variety of devices, phones and tablets and TVs.  I use it mostly for The Daily Show and those remaining Thursday-night NBC shows I like (The Office, Parks & Recreation, whatever Community is now and however long it lasts).  I’ve pretty much memorized the commercials by now, most of them watched from behind the handlebars of my stationary bike.

Is it worth 8 bucks a month?

How would you tell?

In my house, I mean.  I understand there are households that watch every penny, and need to, and in that case 8 bucks can go for something else.  I’ve been there and may be again, but in the meantime $8 isn’t an extravagance.  It’s inconsequential, trivial.  If someone stole 8 bucks from me every month I wouldn’t notice.

This means that Hulu Plus, for whatever use I get out of it, is essentially free.  As is Netflix, which costs roughly the same per month and which I use maybe a little bit more, although not all that much.  And then there’s Amazon Prime, which, again, costs roughly the same on an annual basis, gets me free shipping on most things (we buy a lot of books and other things that Amazon does particularly well, so a Prime account is a money saver for us), and gives me a whole slew of free stuff to watch if I’m so inclined, films and TV.

This sounds like nickel-and-diming, small things adding up to big numbers, but it’s not.  It adds up, in fact, to less than half of what I was paying for cable TV back in the day.  For something less than 300 bucks a year, I’m not lacking for entertainment options.  It works for me, and it feels almost free.

Kottke made the same point this morning, which is why it’s on my mind.  There are plenty of things (i.e., healthcare) that can drive us crazy with escalating costs, to the point where employed people are literally priced out of the market for really important stuff.  So maybe we can be excused for forgetting from time to time that things are really amazing, some things, and they are practically free.

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Defending My Day

This is how crazy it is.  I woke up this morning and made a list of the things I did yesterday, in an attempt to justify my existence to, like, nobody.

I wouldn’t say that being lazy is my default mode.  I wouldn’t say that because it makes me look bad.  Also, I don’t think it’s particularly true.  I’m restless, for one thing, always picking things up and putting them down, wiping off a counter, washing a glass, walking from one room to another, trying to remember why.

And I make an attempt, usually daily, to move my body in some sort of exercise fashion, at least to offset the sedentary nature of a keyboard and a monitor lifestyle.  It’s hard to pin a lazy tail on that donkey, maybe.

I also have several things I juggle on any given day lately, not to mention just family responsibilities, needing to brush my teeth, etc.  I do stuff.

Yesterday just seemed spectacularly lazy, though.  I felt an explanation was needed, although, again, I can’t imagine who would possibly care.

You can’t blame the weather, which was ordinary and perfectly acceptable for outside chores, which exist, waiting.  You can’t blame my health, which seems fine, no sniffles or sore throats.  Time wasn’t an issue, and I got up early enough to do pretty much anything I needed to do, and still.  Even now, with the day done and gone, I can’t quite figure out how I spent 16 hours or so.  At least if I’d stayed in my PJs and watched golf all day, I’d remember.

I made two separate messes in the kitchen, one for chocolate-cinnamon bread and one for ordinary bread to take to church.  I also tossed some veggies and chicken in a pan for stir-fry Saturday dinner, after getting John a pizza.  I was responsible for some calories, then.

Otherwise I have nothing to show for the day, and now I feel a little guilty.

I support laziness in all its manifestations, relaxation and stress reduction and sleep and regeneration and peace and so on.  I theoretically appreciate the idea of taking a day off from pretty much everything and doing nothing, and I think I could drum up support for such a day.

I just didn’t expect it to be so uneventful.  The problem, of course, is that I don’t know how many days I have to waste.  This is existential calculus and it happens at my age, trust me.  I was reminded yesterday, in fact, thanks to an e-mail from my mother, that my small family history is filled with people who did not live all that long.  This is an actuarial statistic and doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but one needs to take family seriously, particularly when one does nothing much on a day he has off.  Those blackberry brambles in my backyard only look dormant.  They’re planning stuff.

But, hey.  I feel rested, really.  Maybe even a little recharged.  And everybody needs some time off to do nothing, I’m thinking.  It’ll get busy again tomorrow and I’ll be back in the groove, wandering and walking and maybe even weeding, so get off my case.  I might just take a nap this afternoon, and if I never wake up at least I’ve left some really good chocolate-cinnamon bread behind.

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Comfort Food

I have no dog in this race, but Nate Silver took a look at the Academy Awards and gave guessing a shot, based on what looks to be a reasonable statistical analysis but who knows?

Or cares.  I certainly don’t, and I assume those of us without personal connections to the films involved don’t, not really.  I’m all for distractions, and this is what the Oscars is about, but on Monday morning we will begin to forget.  By Thursday we won’t be able to answer questions, and by March we’ll be talking about something else.  Maybe Nate Silver has a prediction about what that will be.

My guess is weather.


We had bluster yesterday, some rain and mostly wind, just to nudge us a little, remind us that this is, in fact, still winter, although not for long.  My plan was to stay inside, but family group think decided that lasagna was a good choice for dinner, so being without a car I trudged the half-mile up to Safeway (at most), coming home with ingredients and a dislike of sideways rain.

But the lasagna turned out fine, even a pretty ordinary lasagna, and made our house smell like an Italian restaurant.  When Julie got home we gobbled, the three of us, and made lots of comments about Lasagna Night every week and so on.  Why not?

I get shaken by normalcy, sometimes.  I’m wary about thoughtless routine, interested in change for its own sake, and I look forward to time, now.  I look forward.

But it struck me last night that we’ve been hanging in there for 10 years, these three of us.  In 2003 my daughter was finishing up high school and preparing for her temporary move to Texas, which became not temporary at all, and we all wondered what we’d be then.  Four has so many possibilities, so many combinations, so many conversations between just two.  So many moments like that, just two.

With the three of us, though, it seemed unbalanced and a little fragile.  And it was, for a while, for various reasons.  There were times, honestly, when it looked like we might all go our separate ways, independent and very, very alone.

But we survived, and now we still do plenty of one on one, but we also have these times when the three of us come together for something simple, a meal or a conversation, and that’s when I marvel at routine.  I get comfort, I know, from certain same things, and this is one.  Lasagna, eaten around the counter, talking with our mouths full, describing our days and our schedules, and it feels just so normal.  And that’s where I want to be, sometimes.  Embracing the ordinary, staying in the moment, and not interested in predicting the future at all.

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Radio Days

If this were a meme – and such a thing it not really possible, given that this is Seattle and we’ve all got our noses stuck in books or iPads, searching for more coffee – it would be simple: This is the most boring Seattle winter ever.

And it’s documented, by Northwest weather guru Cliff Moss.  Bo-ring.

I mean.  It has snowed more in Phoenix.

Wind, rain, floods, the white flakes that make us crazy – all missing this winter, and since winter for us is statistically about over, it doesn’t look good for excitement.

This is not a bad thing, just boring.  Boring can be good.  Boring can mean no roof leaks, no slippery roads, no trees tumbling down, no cars stuck in ditches, no houses parked by one of our 10,000 local rivers turned into wading pools.  It could be worse.

But timing is everything, and as it turns out I’ve been pretty busy for the past couple of weeks, and today I actually have free, and today we actually have a taste of weather.  Pretty boring all by itself, a bit of wind and rain, nothing to write home about, but long walks or proactive weeding would not be fun, not really.  So I will chillax in the comfort of my home, talking into this.

I’ve been doing some recording for a project, something that will show up eventually, somewhere.  All I have to do is talk, and someone else will make it sound good.  But it’s hard to resist a new toy, especially when it has such heft and retro flair.

I waste very little energy trying to change the past, a learned skill, but I can’t help the occasional stray thought that borders on regret, and a lot of that involves radio.

Or, really, anything that involves a microphone, a waveform, and not having to comb your hair if you don’t feel like it.  For someone who spent a fair amount of time as a young person standing on a stage, occasionally moving and in some cases even singing, it seems an unlikely attraction, but there you go.  I love radio, and podcasts, and news on the hour and voice actors and movie trailer announcers, and I think, sometimes, that I could have been happy, especially with the not-combing thing.

That assumes, of course, that I had what it takes, which is questionable at least.  I spent a year as a college DJ, widely regarded as sort of a disaster, mostly because I wasn’t particularly interested in music, or at least Top 40 music, which we were supposed to play.  People would call up and say, “Can you play ‘Private Eyes’?” and I wouldn’t know what to answer, unless another staff person happened to be in the vicinity, rolling his eyes and pulling the 45 out of a stack.  Hall & Oates, that sounds familiar, but really, I preferred reading the news and playing novelty records, which amused me to no end.

We live in a do-it-yourself world now, though, and it’s easy enough to create your own radio station, although I’ve never come up with a good idea for a podcast.  My daughter and I have talked about an intergenerational ongoing conversation, since sometimes we get enthusiastic, but that’s never worked out.

Still, I had this thing that I said I’d do, and although I had a pretty good mic Julie found this Yeti Platinum from the folks at Blue, and I went for it.  It corrects a USB microphone annoyance, which is a latency in monitoring (i.e., you can’t hear your voice in the headphones, or, rather, you hear it about half a second late, which is no way to run a radio station.  This is because the mic is its own hardware and doesn’t plug into the sound card, and so there’s a delay as your recording software sends the sound to the card, etc.).  The Yeti has an analog jack for headphones, which gives you the pleasant sound of your own voice in your own ears at the same time as your mouth is moving.

There are other audio bells and whistles, and of course a good mic is always limited by the mouth in front of it, but there’s something about this sturdy, old-fashioned piece of hardware that takes me back to radio, to talkers and players, to the old cassettes I played as a teenager of Fred Allen and Jack Benny, to Larry King and any number of Phoenix DJs, to Terry Gross and the other podcasts I listen to on an almost-daily basis.

This is not a big deal, this project, but I have to say I’m enjoying it, enjoying leaning into that big ol’ microphone and talking to imaginary people.  When you hear it, you’ll understand.  There’s a little magic there, in sound.  Try not to think about my hair.


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Letting The Air Out

We are six weeks into 2013, and the only universal change I can think of is that nobody is talking about the Mayans so much.

Personally, I drink more water.  I’m not exactly sure why, and I’m pretty sure that there’s really not a good reason to, but it makes me feel better.

Otherwise, I’m doing the same 2012 dance pretty much.  I eat more turkey, for some reason.  Four weeks out of seven I did a good job of eating light and exercising a lot; the other three were not so good.  But my routine stays the same, more or less.

In fact, the only big change I can think of is that I grew a beard.

This was planned.  With our upcoming summer film project, and thoughts rumbling around about certain looks that I might or might not have, it seemed a good idea to grow a beard and try to document what it looks like at various stages, two weeks, four weeks, etc.  It turns out to take me between 4 and 5 weeks to get something I’d be comfortable calling an actual beard; anything short of three weeks is not attractive, trust me.

It used to be less time, although I assume the facial hair grows at pretty much the same rate.  It was just easier to see where it was going when it was a brown beard, and it hasn’t been a brown beard in a long time.

I don’t understand why beards tend to be the first body area to go gray.  Or why the hair on my head insists on not going in that direction, even though I’m well past the age when gray to white is the accepted color.  All the kids are doing it, etc.

So given the discrepancy between the hair on my head and that on my face, a beard is a choice, a statement.  A manifesto, maybe.  Or I could be just imagining all of this, but I swear I sense a different attitude from strangers when the gray-white comes out to stay, in all its glory.  “Old guy walking,” I can almost hear.  There’s comfort there, then, in wearing a badge of degeneration.

This might explain the little incident at the pizza place.  It could have been something else, a look on my part that was misinterpreted, just common courtesy on this woman’s part, etc.  But I noticed it and resented it a tiny bit, the way I resent it a tiny bit when a grocery store person asks me if I need help taking my measly two sacks out to the car.  A tiny bit.

And that led me to Michael Jordan, and him turning 50, and some words of wisdom, or at least experience.  Probably just experience.  But have some respect for the beard, please.  And I don’t need to sit down quite yet.

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Wednesday Archives

Wednesday has been Column Day for 12 years, and over 12 years some stuff will happen. My rule of thumb is that one should not re-read oneself unless one is willing to pay the emotional price, which usually involves groaning, but at least it’s some sort of record of what I was thinking, or not thinking. Some of these are collected in my books, but I’ve decided to ignore that for the time being and just find one from the past, every Wednesday, and post. If not for your edification, then mine. Groans are acceptable.

From February 23, 2005


If you’re any sort of a movie fan, and I’m assuming you are or else I’d feel really dumb writing this column, you know that this Sunday, February 27, is Oscar Night.

So, if you’re one of those like me who looks forward to the annual Academy Awards, and you’re starting to get anxious about the winners and losers (and who doesn’t?), I’m here to help.  I’m giving you a head’s up on who’s taking home the statues.  No need to thank me; my pleasure.

I’m actually the perfect person to pick the winners in advance, as I’ve only seen one of the nominated movies.  This is a good thing, trust me, since Oscar predictions are usually based on three criteria:

1.  Who SHOULD win.

2.  Who WILL win.

3.  Something else I can’t think of at the moment.

This year, though, having little first-hand knowledge of the films involved (and thus no personal bias), I decided to approach it scientifically.  The Oscars are voted on by individuals, and over the past decades there has been little, if any, scent of scandal or corruption, so we can first of all figure it’s a clean race.  Plus, it seems pretty easy; I don’t think there’s much chance of someone intending to vote for Leonardo DiCaprio for Best Actor, for example, and accidentally casting their ballot for Pat Buchanan.  This will be a chad-free vote.

And, although these are individuals, a look at history gives us a sense of a group think mentality.  After all, these are people in the same industry.  So, after doing my usual exhaustive research, which frankly I don’t think I get enough credit for, here are my predictions.

Best Supporting Actor:  Morgan Freeman for “Million Dollar Baby.”

Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett for “The Aviator.”

Best Actress:  Hillary Swank for “Million Dollar Baby.”

Best Actor:  Jamie Foxx for “Ray.”

Best Director:  Martin Scorsese for “The Aviator.”

Best Picture:  “The Aviator.”

There.  Now you can relax and enjoy the show.  I feel very confident about this.  And please, someone let me know if I’m right.

Because I’m going to miss the Oscars this year.

Oh, I might catch a little of the end, if it happens to run a little long (you think?).  But I’ll be otherwise engaged.

Sunday I’ll be marking the 50th anniversary of an event that profoundly changed my life, as well as many other lives.  I’ll also be marking the 22nd anniversary of another day that changed my life, if in subtler ways.

Did you know we’re re-living 1983 this year?  Yep.  Wonder what day of the week February 27 was in 1983?  Just look at your calendar; same as 2005.

On that Sunday in 1983, I took my girlfriend to meet my parents.

They’d met her before, actually, briefly, back when she and I were just co-students in college and co-workers in a restaurant, but this was different, and I sensed they were dubious.  I’d switched girlfriends in mid-stream, after all, and I’m sure they worried this would be a pattern, a bounce from love to love.  Still, they were gracious and friendly.

And my mom had baked a cake.  Because it was Julie’s 28th birthday, that day, that Sunday, the one I remember so well.

My mom does things like that.

I bought her boots for that birthday.  The next year I gave her a shower massage thing, but we were married by then.  We still are.

We still are.  I have no explanation, no sense of why she hasn’t kicked my sorry rear out the door on many occasions, except that maybe everyone needs a project in life and I am hers, I dunno.

But after 22 years, I still like to lie on the bed and watch her stand in front of the closet in her underwear, trying to make a decision.  I still perch at the top of the stairs and listen to her sing.  I still, sometimes, sit on the sofa and watch for her out the window.  I still want her to laugh at my jokes and eat what I cook, to read what I write and remind me to take a shower once in a while.

So Cate and Leo and the rest will have their shindig without me this year.  I take what I can get, and what I got was brains, beauty and talent, all of it wrapped up in five and a half feet of Texas’ Finest, and if I forget that once in a while then shame on me.

But not this Sunday, no sir.    This is my girl’s day, and she will have a good time, knowing she’s at the height of her powers, knowing that life is just now getting very interesting.  This beats the movies any day, but particularly this one, and the fortunate few who come away Sunday night with a little gold man will have nothing on me, nothing compared to what I’ll be bringing home that night, knowing, as I do, that I wander through life bathed in the glow of reflected light, lucky man that I am.


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The Adjustment Bureau

I stood in line for a couple of hours, at the Cine Capri theater in Phoenix, in the heat, in the early summer of 1977, waiting for “Star Wars.”  I went with Sharon Dillon, a friend from college.

Sharon lives in Seattle, by the way, with her husband and two kids, although the movie had nothing to do with it.

Since the Lucasfilm people have been pretty energetic about repackaging the franchise, making sure that new generations have easy access to Boba Fett and the rest, my 1977 experience has become sort of an origin story in this family, something I haul out from time to time until my children start getting patricidal.  I mean, really, who cares?  I don’t even care.

But I remember, and specifically I remember that the tickets for “Star Wars” cost 5 bucks.  Apiece.

That was a huge jump, and never jumped back down.  Suddenly movies were splashier, special effect-y and expensive, and a few years before VCRs and movie rentals became common, you paid your money over and over again, as many times as you wanted to watch the film before it disappeared.

But hey.  It was only 5 bucks.  Five dollars is nothing now, a latte and a tip.  No wonder the kids get mean.

Still, I got curious.  Five dollars in 1977 translates to what now?

Ah.  There’s the truth, right there in numbers.  In 2012 dollars, five bucks becomes $18 and change.  You can own the DVD for 18 bucks.  I was right, and remain right: It was a big jump.

I listened to a Mel Brooks interview on Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF with Marc Maron, a great one, and he talked about going to movies as a kid, and how it cost 10 cents and his mother had him return some bottles for the deposit and then borrowed a penny from a neighbor to get him up to a dime.  Assuming it was around 1935, 10 cents becomes $1.68 in the 21st century, still a deal.  Plus cartoons and a newsreel and probably a double feature.

All of this came from the President’s proposal that the minimum wage be increased, a subject that’s so full of opposing statistics that I don’t know what to think.  Does it help or hurt?  Do jobs dry up, or does money get slammed into the economy?  Who actually works for the minimum wage?  Should it be tied to the poverty level for a family of four?  I’m a little unclear, although my heart leans toward anybody earning a little more, particularly if their job involves grease.  Economics is hard, though.

The minimum wage was $1 when I was born, by the way; that correlates with a little less than 8 bucks an hour in today’s money.  In 1977, when I was spending what money I had on Skywalker and friends, the minimum wage was $2.30, which equals $8.71 today, slightly less than what was proposed in the State of the Union.  I still am unclear.

But it’s fun to translate, and wonder.  A year after “Star Wars” premiered, I was working doing data entry for an HMO, just typing in vital signs and handwritten notes on a primitive computer network.  Mindless, boring work, but one day I noticed a tiny paragraph in the employee manual that discussed an incentive program.  The more of those charts you process, the more money you make.  It was an epiphany to me, that I could earn more by just working harder, even at a dumb, college student sort of job.  So I did.

And by 1978, I was making about 7 bucks an hour, which is – wait for it – about $22 an hour today, or roughly $45,000 a year.  You’re not buying McMansions for that, but then I was 19.  It was a pretty amazing income, enough to save and indulge some dreams.

Anyway.  You can use the Bureau of Labor calculator yourself and play with numbers, if that’s your idea of a good time.  An exercise in relativity, but with some truth hiding in the calculations.  If you’re just hanging in there, making more than you did 10 years ago but somehow you don’t seem to be better off, you’ll find some answers there, maybe.  Just don’t start talking with your kids about it, trust me.  They get this nasty gleam in their eyes.

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