Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Laying off "The Office"

So, Steve Carell has announced that he is leaving NBC's marquee sitcom, "The Office" after this coming season. Carell's a talented guy, but I'm glad he's moving on. His departure may ring the death knell for the show, but I think it's time anyway. Pack up the docu-comedy cameras, kids, and good riddance to the insecurely egotistical character of Michael Scott, the manager everyone loves to hate.

Well, maybe everyone except me.

Over time, I've just come to hate him. There's less and less "love" in my painful observation of his behavior. I laugh infrequently now, and I shudder more. Yeah, I get that we're supposed to be appalled by Michael's ineptitude and boorishness, yet pity his wretchedness. But, honestly, my willing suspension of disbelief is no longer willing.

I've reached a point where I just really want someone to:

1. fire his ass
2. slap him with a workplace harassment suit
3. coldcock him for being such a big weasel

I would also like for Jim to take some calcium tablets and strengthen his spine. And for Dwight to be canned and/or arrested for some of the crap he's pulled.

Yes, I know it's just a TV show. And yes, I can just turn the channel. But after a viewing investment of several seasons, you still want it to be as good as it once was; the decline starts to wear on you more than a little. Just like Michael Scott's obnoxiousness.

I know the writers want to keep their jobs. And, in order to keep their jobs, they will churn out what the network wants/needs. The network, in turn, needs to appeal to the largest common denominator groups that punch their Nielsen buttons and buy the cars and fast food and alternatives to The Pill that they advertise. (Side note: anyone else terrified by the side effects listed in those ads for Mirena, the intrauterine device? HOLY SHIT! That is the stuff of nightmares!!)

So, the network asks the writers to keep churning out "Michael Scott is an HR horror story who still manages to keep a job and his staff stays on board, despite many opportunities to sue him and the whole company" scripts for a group of increasingly one-note characters. And, after this coming season? Well, there's the problem - you can't really lay a foundation for success with a group of one-note characters left in the wake of Carell's departure.

It's a tired premise. And - speaking as someone who was once in a real-life miserable work situation - increasingly frustrating to watch. It's just not all that funny anymore. Are there still moments of comedic brilliance and warmth? Sure. But they come in flashes now (take Andy and Erin's romantic kiss in the middle of the city dump.) I don't fault the writers as much as I fault the network for not knowing when to say "when." Take a page from the UK TV playbook, NBC. Know when to stop flogging your superior workhorse before it actually *is* dead.

I'm just not feeling the pathos anymore.

And, seriously, what documentary team is hanging around this one office so long? That's a production team that maxed out their personal credit cards (and their parents' credit cards!) a long time ago. Sundance? Christ, if they were real, they'd be doing a pole dance soon to make rent!

It's time to downsize the Scranton office. And Michael Scott? Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, son.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

No lions and tigers and bears, but...

Pink eye and deadlines and insomnia (oh my!) and a drunk neighbor playing ZZ Top's "Legs" over and over again at the 1 a.m. hour is no way to go through life, son. The neighbor and the itchy eye didn't let me sleep until about 3 a.m. Again. Same as the night before. Ugh!

But up I'm now, and I understand that the weather is going to be as miserable today as last Thursday, when we were crushed with a 104-degree heat index. (Yes, my European friends, that's 104F - as close to the surface of the sun as I care to get, thanks.) So, it's a fine day to do some writing and then curl up with a book and a glass of wine in the safety and comfort of the air conditioning here at Chez Merde.

Hope your Sunday is sunny, friends! (But less skin-sizzling and eye-frying than here.)

I'm off to write about a dead pony. This dead pony, as a matter of fact:

Fig. 1: Dead, stuffed pony. Creepily smiling, dead, stuffed pony.

Intrigued? Horrified? Hopefully both. And, when I'm done and you hear the story, I'll hope you'll be intriguingly, horrifically amused. I'll leave you with that for now. :) Now, where is my corkscrew? It's 5 o'clock somewhere, right?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again

At last! My muse is out of rehab.

Fig. 1: Before

Fig. 2: After

Went to Mayorga in King Farm for the first time in eons and spent a couple of hours with pen and paper. No laptop, no distractions, no messin' around. Nursed a skim milk sugar-free iced mocha (with a shot of sugar free Irish creme) and pounded out a few pages of text.

It was good.

Welcome back, muse. I'm not sure what cut-rate version of Promises Malibu you were in, but they did a fine job!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

In my hands, a faded history

It's D-Day. The Sixth of June.

It's the 42nd birthday of my dear, wonderful friend, the Sasquatch. The 24th anniversary of my father's death. And, of course, it's the 66th anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy.

Big day at Chez Merde. Lots of memories. Some good, some bad.

Some, simply sad.

For me, the family sadness of D-Day starts a little more than a year before the beaches were taken at Juno, Gold, Omaha, Utah, and Sword. In April 1943, my mother was training to be a WASP, and her brother, a Naval aviator, was in the Pacific, flying carrier-based bombers.

My mom's brother, Franklin

Mom had only been at Avenger Field in Texas a few weeks when she got the first of two telegraphs on the same day.

First, one came from her father:

And then, another, from the Navy:

In her wartime photo scrapbook, Mom would later write:
"Telegram from Navy arrived notifying me that my brother was missing in action - found out later from other navy pilots that he was bombing Bougainville from a converted carrier (USS Chenango) based at Guadalcanal - his flight disappeared in vicinity of a tropical storm. Not known if they ever reached their target."

Franklin would never be found. So many men were lost in the Pacific Theater, there wasn't enough space to put all their names on the memorial at Pearl Harbor. Franklin's name is inscribed on a memorial in the Philippines. Mom wanted to see it someday, but never made it there.

Lt. Junior Grade George F. Hardman

While serving at New Castle (Delaware) Army Air Force Base after training, Mom requested a posting on the West Coast, to be closer to her family in Nevada. She felt her father and stepmother would be comforted to see her once in a while. The military, of course, had an odd idea of "West" and eventually, in 1944, posted her to Fairfax Field in Kansas City, Missouri and then to Officer Candidate School in Orlando, Florida, where Mom met Dad.

During my parents' whirlwind courtship, Mom's beloved stepbrother Jack - a man who had already done a good amount of time in uniform - re-enlisted for military service after a recruiter came through town, talking up paratrooping. Along with thousands of other young American men, he shipped out to Northern Ireland in advance of Operation Overlord.

Jack Quaid (on left) with two buddies, Northern Ireland, 1944

D-Day came and went, with expected radio silence from Jack; no one expected any word from the men in France in the days just following the invasion. Back home, my parents married on June 24, 1944 on a sweltering day in Richfield, Minnesota. And less than a month later, on July 20th, Mom got another terrible telegram:

A few days later came the crushing blow:

Jack had died at Sainte-Mère Église, which was the heart of the airborne operations for D-Day, with many men dropping right into the center of the town. Mom's handwritten notes in her scrapbook tell the story:

"(Jack) killed while setting up a roadblock by mortar shell a few days after parachuting into Normandy June 6, 1944."

Jack was buried at the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, but his widow had him repatriated and reburied in Reno. This upset Mom - she felt Jack should have stayed in France alongside his fallen brothers in the well-tended, much-revered cemetery not far from Omaha Beach. But we all mourn in our own way, and Jack's wife needed him home. She needed something tangible. I can understand that.

Lt. John A. "Jack" Quaid, Northern Ireland, just before D-Day

The only tangibles I have of these lives are the snapshots and notes Mom kept from a lifetime ago. I never knew them except through her words and these images. I think I would have liked these guys. Mom adored her brothers, and while I'm sure their memories became a little idealized in death and mourning and celebration, I have confidence that they were pretty damn fine men.

Rest in peace, uncles I did not know. I'm glad Mom left fragments of your stories behind for me to ponder. I wish I knew you better.

In my hands, your faded history
A stack of yellowed photographs
And crumbling Western Union words
I puzzle out how much you meant
To people I did know and love

Assembled telegrams, your faces smile
But no voices speak your story
I wonder who you would have been
Had you not been cut short by war
Now just
Tear-stained bookmarks in a life

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


I was flat broke this last holiday weekend. Lots of bills came due at the same time. Co-pays due for some medical tests. And, the State of Maryland (or the USPS) managed to lose my 2009 tax return and accompanying check. The kicker was the double whammy of having to redo my taxes, pay late fees and interest, and then cough up $36 for a stop payment fee to my bank. Hilariously, the Maryland tax clerk I worked with to resubmit my taxes said, "Well, why stop the payment? We can just cash that check and apply it to your account."


Because everyone can just cough up their taxes twice.

Of course.

As I sat in her cubicle - festooned with dachshund photos and posters - and waited for her help, she was looking at pictures of Donald Trump on a celebrity gossip website. "This guy," she drawled in a heavy Eastern European accent. "How he gets all these pretty women, huh? Money. That's it. Money."

Yes, babe. It's money. And that's what I came to discuss with you.

An hour later, I'd had my taxes done (again.) Wrote a new check. Got the hell out.

Amusingly, this adventure in civil service was followed up by a letter to me from the State of Maryland, stating I owed them money for 2009. This letter was dated after they cashed my replacement check.

Not sure which part of the holiday weekend I enjoyed more: that letter, repeated bloodletting with cranky people bearing needles, or the arrival of DC's stinky swamp heat.

Actually, I know what I enjoyed most: spending time with the Sasquatch. My friend is a damn good guy (and it's his birthday on Sunday, so Happy Birthday, buddy - a wee bit in advance.) We grilled steaks indoors for Memorial Day. Grill pans rock. So does picnic food in glorious air conditioned splendor. Ahhhhh!

We feasted and then watched a strange little Norwegian zombie horror film called "Dead Snow." The big difference between American and Norwegian zombie horror flicks? The Norwegian ones have much more beautiful scenery for blood splatter and the zombies are Nazis who have been holed up in the mountains since WWII. Good times, good times.

Otherwise, there's little difference between the Scandahooligan and American horror formula: hot guys and girls go to a cabin for a weekend of drinking and sex; old guy shows up to offer ominous pronouncement about terrifying things in the woods; there is beer; there is music; there is cabin sex; and then, there is blood, guts, and lots of screaming.

The most horrific part of this film? The cabin sex. All I will say is, it took place in an outhouse, there should have been lots of Purell applied to someone's hands, it made me dry heave, and it will be a cold day in Hell before I kiss anyone's fingertips.

Let's just leave it at that, shall we?

Along with the zombie picnic in my living room, the Sasquatch and I made a trek to the Raiders of the Lost Ark warehouse-sized repository of used books that is Second Story Books in Rockville. I had cleared out a good quarter of my books in the hopes they might buy them from me and give me a little grocery/gas cash for the coming work week. Alas, no cash was to be given. But I did get forty bucks in credit.

So I could buy more books to fill the holes in my shelves.

When I'd started pulling books from my shelves the night before, some papers fluttered out from the pages of an oversized hardback book I hadn't opened since, most likely, high school. There was a big promotional photo from a Moline High School production of "Blithe Spirit" (in which I played Madame Arcati, the extra large medium) and my membership certificate in the International Thespian Society. Dear lord! And then, there was a pencil sketch from 1976 of a bright-eyed girl with her hair pulled back, looking confident, assured, and with much less frizz framing her face than I remembered.

It was a sketch done by an artist working from a kiosk at South Park Mall back in Moline, Illinois. I remember going to the mall with my mom and vainly asking if I could have my portrait done. Not sure why Mom gave in and let me get immortalized in pencil, but she did. The result was a confident, butter-couldn't-melt-in-her-mouth idealized image of a kid who really was rather homely and couldn't drag a brush through her thick hair without hitting a tangled snag. I would like to have known this self-assured kid on the yellowed paper.

And, after a little reflection on life and how things have changed over the years, I realized I did know this kid. This was me at ten. And I was happy - mostly unaware of the ugliness of the world, believing in the adventures out there, instead. And it mattered less then that I was a homely, fat kid with tangled hair. I didn't know I'd be a lonely fat chick at 44. I didn't know then that I would be filled with regrets at things missed or lost - marriage, family, children. I was just happy.

For the most part.

As readers of my blog know, I was already being bullied back then, and, just as now, I couldn't fathom it. I see the name of the sister of my tormentor on Facebook comments now and then, and I have to fight the urge to ask her if he's still a miserable jerk. But then, I take deep breaths and simply hope he hasn't passed along a legacy of hate and cruelty to any children in his home.

And, instead making that the icon for that time, I try to think back to ten and remember the things that made me happy: my friends, riding my bike, reading, singing, swimming in the city pool all summer. (To this day, "Silly Love Songs" by Paul McCartney and Wings will remind me of going to the pool, which sat below a cemetery hillside that shelters one of Charles Dickens' sons among the daughters and sons of a city of industry.)

I'm trying to develop an adult sense of that happiness I had back in childhood. Some of it is gone forever, of course. Some things will never fill the empty spots where a partner or child would have been. But there are basic joys common to all ages. I lost a lot of that in recent years, and I'm working on rediscovering it. Simple pleasures for simple people with shallow pockets.

Here's to hoping I can find it. And here I am at ten:

Naïve in a tractor town
The world not yet so fearful
Of bubble gum cigarettes
And swing sets over cement
You walked home alone from
Barely-lit parks in the dark

Unafraid at ten

Metallic yellow Schwinn with
Plastic tasseled glitter handles
Banana seat and bell
Flying down chipped concrete to
Prospect Pond at high speed
Hands and feet outstretched, no brakes

Unbroken at ten

Frizzy hair unruly in
Long brunette curls and tangles
A fat girl in tight shorts and
Homemade smocks with
Heart-shaped pockets that
All made you cringe years later


Unaware at ten

Taunted on the long walk home
Bully target painted wide
On a slow-running back
A taste of grown-up cruelty
Disguised as a boy named Kevin
Who carried a plastic bat

Already a little crack appears

At ten