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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

If at First...

I've revived the blog I set up last year when I was drafting my novel Michael Drayton, Detective Guy. I'm not going to be posting it as I write it this year, but will just use the blog to post updates on its progress.

Join the expectant crowds gathering now at Michael Drayton Detective Guy!

Monday, October 24, 2005


(I wrote the original version of the following story in 1984. I've sent it out a number of times over the years in different versions, but have never succeeded in placing it anywhere. This current version is a total rewrite of the original and is substantially different. Since I can't find a home for it otherwise, I've decided to self-publish it here. Of course, as with all my posts on this blog, "Seminar" is copyright 2005 Len Cassamas.

It did once get an Honorable Mention in a short story contest. I hope you enjoy it.)

The thing to do in these situations is to just put your head down and work. Ignore the distractions and avoid anything that will distract you from your task. Sure, you can take lunch. You can even take a break, if you have to, but the thing is, when you are at your desk that is your world. Go beyond concentration. Live it. Discover the process. Find patterns and motifs heretofore unnoticed even in the most mundane and tedious of tasks. And remember: Interruptions are the enemy. Which is precisely why I went after him with an exacto knife.

Concentrate on the mechanics of whatever it is you’re doing, no matter how silly or mind numbing. For example, take your pen. Hold it. Sense it in your hand. Move your fingers over the long, stiff shaft. Now, grasp it firmly, lovingly. And write. Now, what do you hear? Anyone? What are you hearing? Is it a scritch scritch scritch or a pfft pfft pfft? Because there is a sound, and it is constantly lifting itself off the paper, waiting for you to hear it. All you have to do is allow yourself to experience the pen. Feel its penness. Connect with the inner pen deep inside you. Live the mystery of hand, pen, and ink all cooperating, all working together, all synergizing in the achievement of writing. Maybe if his writing had been more legible, I would have been less likely to stab him.

Okay, now, let’s talk about your desks because they are very important. When you are at the office, it is your home. When you are at home, it is your office. We call this “duality.” Okay, so you have a desk at work, and you have a desk at home. You cannot escape this. Unless, of course, you are in your car, which is why we have laptops and cell phones. Now, the thing to remember is this: Love thy desk as thyself. Respect it. Keep it clean. Don’t carve your initials in it. Somebody else is just going to end up sitting there anyway. And you wouldn’t carve your initials in your house or apartment, would you? Because this is how you have to think of it: It is your home. And it is a home that comes to you free and clear from the company without the two mortgages and the home equity loans. All it costs you is forty to eighty hours a week, depending on your commitment. My commitment was six weeks, entirely voluntary. Long desk. Cool desk. My desk. Put your coffee somewhere else; you’ll leave rings. Phone rings. Coffee rings. Onion rings. Answer politely. Give name even though they never get it and always end up calling me Herb. Right, right, Tuesday the 12th. We’ll reference it. It impacted me. We’ll have to address the longitudinalzation of our imprint in the asymmetrical market-zone firing place. Optimize. Maximize the minimization. Damn the torpedoes, full steam for the shoals and rocks. Quacking? I wasn’t quacking. I think it was a cough.

Of course, your desk isn’t just hovering around the building like the mail guy or an escaped thought. Oh, no, it is anchored securely to a cubicle, and the cubicular life comes with a certain amount of responsibility. Just imagine if you had a neighbor who had walls covered with pictures and magazine clippings, every surface covered with junk and knickknacks, and piles of papers all over the floor. What would you do? Why, you’d do the only thing you could. You’d get the city to condemn the place and have the neighbor thrown into the street and their house razed. It’s the only civic-minded thing to do. Now, what is a cubicle if it is not a house on a street? Isn’t the person in the next cube your neighbor? And the guy over by the printer and the lady next to the copy room? And a good neighbor keeps his area clean and orderly. You’ll find that loose papers cloud the mind and block the heart. So, remember, there’s a place for everything. And everything had better stay out of my way. I’m busy. What? The Feldman file? I think my shredder ate it.

Now, as will sometimes happen with neighbors, disputes can arise. I didn’t start it. He did when he stole my stapler. Hurt feelings produce more hurt feelings. My beautiful stapler. There’s a temptation to act out I’ll poison his coffee or shut down right after I finish this game of FreeCell. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The key, here, right off the bat, is to try to relax. Take a deep breath and try to reassert your own personhood, your own value as an employee. Say to yourself, “I am a person. I have worth.” More than they pay me for. Find your center. Nougat. And if you can do that, do you know what you’ve got? A twitch along my jaw line. You’ve got the beginning of the first step of the dawn of a new relationship.

Remember that your relationships with your coworkers should be open and friendly. You should be a seamless part of the group, and yet still your own functioning ego system. A whole within a whole. I wish I were in a whole. I miss my stapler. But not the guy who stole it. Him I’m going to hit.

Work should be a fulfilling experience. You should leave work energized every day because fulfilling the work fulfills you. Every time the company’s stock goes up, you should get a jolt of pride. Enjoy your work. Luxuriate in it. But don’t lag or you’ll end up in a line downtown. Use your time well, economically and efficiently, and you’ll find yourself more productive, more proactive, and a greater asset to the company than you’ve ever been before. You’ve got sixty minutes in every hour. And twenty hours in every minute. Use them to their fullest and you could find that doing the same work at the same place for the same pay on the same days in the same weeks can be a very enriching experience. Emotionally, that is. I want my damn stapler! I called it Fred. It used to sing to me with its simple ker-chuck ker-chuck ker-chuck. How we’d improvise, me and Fred. Fred the Stapler. The thing is, he shouldn’t have had his hand there anyway. And he didn’t need a tetanus shot, only a booster.

Now, speaking of emotions, another good rule to have is to keep work at work and home at home. This is why we don’t encourage you to bring in pictures of your family, or to take personal phone calls or e-mails. It’s for your benefit. Because a cocktail made up of equal parts of work and home is a very heady brew, and not everyone can handle it. That’s what my ex-wife said. There are studies with pie charts and graphs that prove this. According to our figures, a recent survey of studies showed that all the real money is in research. Be a rhesus monkey for fun and profit! Just draw the pirate! And quarter him, too!

What I’m trying to give you here is tools. What I need is Valium. But you should feel free to go out and explore, do some research, ask your friends, and see what kind of coping mechanisms you can discover in your own life. Yeah, but then how would I ever pass the random drug test? Maybe you could hit a loved one with a pillow. Maybe I could hit you with a brick. Take the long view. Must stop at drugstore, get razor blades. Watch TV. Feel like high technology is over your head? Try Compugram, the digital vitamin. Keep your perspective. I wouldn’t worry about downsizing. It’s the poor performance of the 401k that’s got me oozing sweat. Examine your options. What did I do with the classifieds? Sharpen your skills. Twenty-seven across is the same as three down except on Thursdays when it’s “erne.” But most of all, I want to leave you with this one final thought: Relax. All right. Who’s vibrating? You or me? Now, who’s ready for a break? I know I am. Yeah, I'm ready. I’m ready for anything.


Friday, October 21, 2005

XM Satellite Radio Is a Many Splendored Thing

As my small but faithful audience will attest, I am not prone to using this space for commercial purposes. Lord knows I haven't made a penny off it. But this is not a post about commerce; it is a post about love.

It has been just over three months since we got our satellite radio receiver and our XM subscription, and I am urging each and every one of you to get yourself some XM today. And I'm not just saying this because I'm hoping to get my show on there some day. That is just one of the possible rewards (or liabilities, depending on one's point of view) that will come with this amazing service.

Let me tell you the whole story.

We got it so that I could test it out and see what the satellite radio experience was like. Still, we installed it first in my wife's car. I had long been away from listening to the radio in the car because I am, by nature, a generalist and modern radio prefers to focus on the specialist. If I were to listen to something while driving, it would be a CD. Most of the time, I just treated myself to the noise of the traffic and my own neurotic ramblings. It seemed my wife would get more use of it than me, and everyone was pleased.

Well, about a month into things, we planned on taking my car on a mid-length trip (about an hour-and-a-half each way), so I switched the satellite receiver and antenna over. And when we got back, I kept it. I started listening to the radio all the time. And I'll tell you why.

There is a feature on the receiver we bought--the Delphi SkyFi 2--that brings me more delight than I have ever gotten from a technological device before. You can program it to remember up to 20 artists whose work you enjoy. Every time a song of theirs comes on any XM channel, the receiver beeps. It shows you the name of the artist, the selection being played, and what channel it is on. And then you can either press a button and change over to the new channel or leave it alone and stay with what you've got.

This gets me all over the 150 channels and leads to occasional bits of serendipity. Take last night, for example. I'm driving to CVS and I hear the beep. I look at the receiver and find out that Bob Dylan is on Hear Music (the official channel of Starbuck's). They're playing selections from a CD made from a bootleg of Dylan in performance at the Gaslight in New York in 1962, and the first thing they play is "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall."

Now, frankly, the Starbuck's channel isn't my go-to channel. Without this feature, I would never had heard it. But thanks to XM and the SkyFi 2, I got to hear the young Dylan, his voice still supple, rich, and melodic, singing the greatest folk song in history live. (The thought struck me while I listened that it was no wonder that he abandoned folk music. Where could he go after "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"?)

Now there were a couple of weeks there when we switched the radio back over to my wife's car. She missed XM. But then I began to miss it, too. So we bought a Delphi Roadie 2 for her and added it onto our subscription. I got the SkyFi back, and this morning got to enjoy both Alanis Morrissette and Allan Sherman without having to surf across the dial. There are three menus of favorite channels that you can set, so that, with the touch of a button, I can go from the 60s to Sonic Theater to Frank's Place to Lucy.

So go ahead. Line up and sign up. It's worth it. Believe me.

I Hate Symantec

We have Norton anti-virus on our new PC, and I just made the mistake of okaying it to do the Live Update while I went ahead to work on other things. (In particular a rather lengthy post for this blog.) Once it was finished, a warning came up that I needed to get out of everything else I had going in order for the damn thing to automatically reboot my PC. Well, I didn't really feel like rebooting at that moment, and tried to x out of it instead of clicking OK. And the stupid thing rebooted the PC anyway!

The earlier post? Gone. The picture I uploaded? Gone. My patience? You guessed it.

What paranoid bonehead came up with this program? Is it named after Ed Norton? Who says we have free will? Screw you, Thomas Aquinas!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Beyond the Fringe

We were strolling through Border's over the weekend, just having finished our weekly troll for books, when we paused by the DVD section on our way to check out. My wife pulled the second season of "Bob Newhart" off the shelf, and we put that on the list for a couple of weeks hence. As she replaced it, my eye was drawn to the title next to it. My eyes bugged out and my jaw flapped open. They had finally released "Beyond the Fringe" on DVD.

This, for me, was monumental.

I've been hearing about Beyond the Fringe for more than 25 years now, since before Dudley Moore was in 10, at least back to the time that Cook and Moore appreared on Saturday Night Live and proceeded to cock things up by daring to be both funny and to-the-point, qualities rare on that program.

I've seen clips from the performance captured on this DVD. It was the farewell performance of the show, which had started at the Edinburgh Festival in 1960 and then transerred to London's West End where it became a smash hit. The four performers (Peter Cook, the aforementioned Mr. Moore, Jonathan Miller, and Alan Bennett) took Beyond the Fringe to Broadway for a year before returning to London. A legend was born.

I've been aware that it had been filmed for about ten years. Way back in the hazy '90s, I watched A&E's Biography of Dudley Moore, and there were clips of Beyond the Fringe in that. I was quite struck by the look of it, the aesthetic of the show itself. In place of elaborate costumes, they wore suits that they supplemented with hats, as needed. The set was a connected series of three platforms with a couple of flats attached to them. It was barebones basic theater, and even though I know that economics drove most of those choices, I liked it anyway.

So, the other night, I actually got to watch Beyond the Fringe. It was sublime. It was funny. It was beautifully staged. It made thoughtful points and was often just plain silly. One sketch, concerning Civil Defense preparedness in the shadow of the H-Bomb was frighteningly relevant here in the day of Homeland Security. When they demonstrated one method of warding off the effects of a nuclear blast, I had to think of the current administration. The protective device was a large paper bag that one pulled over one's head and body as protection. This seemed to me about as sound as using duct tape and plastic sheeting to protect one against chemical weapons.

I found much of the satire still effective, and it is for that very reason: They got beneath the headlines (mutally assured destruction) to the underlying ideas (fear as the basis for governance) of the things they were satirizing. Peter Cook's portrayal of the Head of Scotland Yard, updating the progress in the hunt for the perpetrators of the Great Train Robbery could have been any of the boobs who talk about dealing with terrorists these days. He hides his incompetence behind a smoke screen of words. (Interviewer: So, you think criminals are responsible? Cook: Oh, no! I think criminals are very irresponsible.) One feels certain that Mr Cook's Inspector would have assured the then-Prime Minister that catching the perpetrators was a "slam dunk." Plus ca change....

Cook is the funniest of the four and Bennett the best actor. Moore is very funny and easily the most musical. Jonathan Miller is, well, Jonathan Miller, intelligent and sardonic. Highlights include the above-mentioned Scotland Yard sketch, the above-mentioned Civil Defense sketch, Dudley palying "Colonel Bogie's March" from The Bridge on the River Kwai as though it had been written by Beethoven, Cook's monologue of a proto-E.L. Wisty sitting on a bench and explaining why it was he became a coal miner rather than a jurist, Bennett as an Anglican priest giving the homily on the text (allegedly from Genesis) "My brother Esau is an hairy man and I am a smooth man," the famous sketch "One Leg Too Few," and Jonathan Miller flailing about the staged after being stabbed in their Shakespeare parody. And everything else.

If you like British comedy in the line of The Goon Show and Monty Python and if you still chuckle at Sir Arthur Grieb-Striebling (or is it Strieb-Griebling?) detailing the menu of The Frog and Peach, you will definitely enjoy Beyond the Fringe.

N.B. There are a few glitches with the sound, but the journey is still well worth it.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The (Pause) Laureate


1ST COCKNEY:     Here.
2ND COCKNEY:     What?
1ST COCKNEY:     You hear the news?
2ND COCKNEY:     Sometimes.
1ST COCKNEY:     I mean today.
2ND COCKNEY:     What’s that, then?
1ST COCKNEY:     They been givin’ out the Nobel Prize.
2ND COCKNEY:     Have they?
1ST COCKNEY:     They have.
2ND COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) Which one?
1ST COCKNEY:     What?
2ND COCKNEY:     Which bloody prize?
1ST COCKNEY:     Which prize?
2ND COCKNEY:     That’s right.
1ST COCKNEY:     You want to know?
2ND COCKNEY:     It makes no difference to me.
1ST COCKNEY:     But you’re interested?
2ND COCKNEY:     I don’t bloody care!
1ST COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) You don’t?
2ND COCKNEY:     Not especially.
1ST COCKNEY:     I thought you might.
2ND COCKNEY:     Well, I don’t.  Nobody don’t.
1ST COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) I bet he does.
2ND COCKNEY:     Who?
1ST COCKNEY:     Him.
2ND COCKNEY:     Which him?
1ST COCKNEY:     The him what won it.
2ND COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) Oh.  (PAUSE.)  What did he win, then?
1ST COCKNEY:     Who?
2ND COCKNEY:     The fella that done won it.  Which prize?
1ST COCKNEY:     Lit’rature.
2ND COCKNEY:     (PAUSE) You don’t say.
1ST COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) And he won it.
2ND COCKNEY:     Did he?
1ST COCKNEY:     That’s right.
2ND COCKNEY:     Then, who’s he, then?
1ST COCKNEY:     Who?  Him?
2ND COCKNEY:     That’s right.
1ST COCKNEY:     He’s that fella.
2ND COCKNEY:     Yeah?
1ST COCKNEY:     The one what wrote those plays.
2ND COCKNEY:     Which plays?
1ST COCKNEY:     Oh, you know.  All of ‘em.
2ND COCKNEY:     Who?  Shakespeare?
1ST COCKNEY:     No!
2ND COCKNEY:     He deserves one.
1ST COCKNEY:     It’s not bloody Shakespeare!
2ND COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) Tell us, then.
1ST COCKNEY:     Who?  You?
2ND COCKNEY:     Come on.  Tell us.
1ST COCKNEY:     Guess.
2ND COCKNEY:     Give us a hint.
1ST COCKNEY:     Pause.
2ND COCKNEY:     Oh!  Pause.
1ST COCKNEY:     Pause.
2ND COCKNEY:     Oh, what’s his name, then?
1ST COCKNEY:     Who?
2ND COCKNEY:     The fella.  (PAUSE.)  With the pauses.
1ST COCKNEY:     That’s him.
2ND COCKNEY:     Is it?
1ST COCKNEY:     As far as we know.
2ND COCKNEY:     What’s his name, then?  Pinker?
1ST COCKNEY:     What?
2ND COCKNEY:     I said, “Pinker.”
2ND COCKNEY:     I did.
2ND COCKNEY:     What?
1ST COCKNEY:     His name.
2ND COCKNEY:     Yes?
1ST COCKNEY:     His name is (PAUSE) Pinter.
2ND COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) Are you sure?
1ST COCKNEY:     Yes.
2ND COCKNEY:     His name?
1ST COCKNEY:     Yes.
2ND COCKNEY:     Pinter?
2ND COCKNEY:     Not Shaw?
1ST COCKNEY:     Got his.
2ND COCKNEY:     Did he?
1ST COCKNEY:     Yes.
2ND COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) That’s good then.
1ST COCKNEY:     Is it?
2ND COCKNEY:     I suppose so.
1ST COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) Yes.  I suppose so, too.
2ND COCKNEY:     Well, you would.  Wouldn’t you?


Thursday, October 06, 2005

Notify the Pulitzer Committee

Last November, I participated in something called National Novel Writing Month. This is an event held each November in which people from all walks of life and all around the world take a stab at writing a novel (the goal is 50,000 words) in 30 days. Last year, I participated and wrote 20,000 words of a novel I call "Michael Drayton, Detective Guy."

Since "Drayton" went unfinished last year, I have decided to take another stab at it this year.

This will not be an official entry since I am working outside the rules by resuming a work already in progress, but that's okay. I'm not really interested in winning a tee shirt anyway.

Unlike last year, I will not be posting the new stuff on a blog this year. Don't know why. Just don't feel like it.

I'm also going outside the rules by starting the other night. I've begun revising the chapters already to hand with the idea of using that to get a running start on the second half. With luck, I'll be finished with the revision by November 1.

I'm also not going to worry about going past November 30. The time has come to finish this--at least get it into good enough shape to send off. I'm not going to worry about writin' no radio scripts until this book is done. Unless, of course, somebody comes around with a wallet full of money.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Tooth and Nothing But the Tooth

We've just returned from a long weekend in Charleston, SC. Over the course of this trip (which was otherwise quite delightful) a wisdom tooth of mine decided to make merry some of the other wreckage in there, and I was periodically entertained with waves of excruciating pain.

When we returned, I took the opportunity of updating my Three Stooges page-a-day calendar, and was greeted with the following message:

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To add insult to injury, it was followed by today's entry:

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This is a prognostication of my tomorrow with me taking the part of Moe and the dentist Curly. I can't wait for the iron frying pan anesthetic.