Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Monday, February 28, 2011

Every Actor’s Dream

I submit for auditions on LA Casting almost daily and on occasion get sent to auditions by my Agent for commercials. I had one period a few years back where I was called back for three National commercials in a one-month period. But, like most LA-based actors I couldn’t make a living at the craft. A few do, however and within that small category are the very few who score recurring roles as Spokespersons for a product.

Like Flo is for Progressive Insurance.

After watching her in commercials for two years I decided I had to find out more about her. It turns out that the actor Stephanie Courtney, is local, has been a member of The Groundlings for years, married two years ago and celebrated her forty-first birthday two and a half weeks ago. In addition she has been in some big-time movies, Blades of Glory, The Heartbreak Kid, and Melvin Goes to Dinner. She has appeared on House, Everybody Loves Raymond, and had a recurring role in Mad Men. So she truly is living every actor’s dream.

I doubt if I will ever get my “big break”, and I am content to go to the occasional audition and the even more occasional paid booking. But I found myself dreaming again when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal last week entitled “The Funny People Behind the Famous Ads”. The article featured Stephanie, along with Matt McCarthy, the Cable Guy, and Pete Holmes, who is famous without anyone knowing what he looks like. He is the voice behind the E*Trade baby.

The article mentioned several famous actors who had lesser-famous parts in commercials when they were starting out. Specifically: John Travolta (Safeguard soap), Morgan Freeman (Listerine), Meg Ryan (Aim toothpaste), Tina Fey (Milwaukee Mutual Savings Bank), Brad Pitt (Pringles chips), and Leonardo DiCaprio (Bubble Yum).

As I watched The Oscars Sunday night I couldn’t help but recognize that likely almost all of those actors being honored had some exposure in commercials. Well, maybe not 14 year-old Hailee Steinfeld, but I wouldn’t bet against it. In contrast to big budget movies, most commercials choose to put their money into production rather than into actor’s salaries. So, they offer the unknown actor the best chance of moving up the professional ladder.

So, I’ll keep submitting and hope that someday I may realize Every Actor’s Dream. I’d be interested in knowing what some of your dreams are.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sic Semper Transit (Everything Passes)

The classic phrase is sic transit gloria mundi (thus passes the glory of the world) but somewhere in my mind I have the other. I was reminded of that this week when the news rolled in about the 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. At the epicenter of the quake was the spire atop the 103-year old Anglican cathedral. That spire, which used to be 100 feet above the ground before the quake, was on currency, stamps, and virtually every tourist poster and booklet about New Zealand. Some 700,000 people visited it every year.

And it may not be habitable any more.

Some years ago the U.S. Government hit upon a money-saving plan, which entailed giving every state a chance to have a quarter minted with whatever the state wanted to highlight as their state identity. The program was designed to introduce the coins at times staggered as to when the states entered the Union, beginning in 1999 and ending in 2008. I still have my collection of fifty quarters and that means that I have $12.50 worth of coinage that is out of circulation and is unlikely to ever be redeemed. Sort of like collecting stamps, where the Treasury gets the money for something never used. If even one million households followed my example, the government would save 12-million dollars.

Why do I mention that? Because the state of New Hampshire felt the most recognizable feature they had, which would be perfect for their coin, was a mountain that in profile was called “The Old Man of the Mountain”. Somewhere in the mid-sixties Mary and I saw the Old Man. My parents had dental friends who lived in Concord, and somewhere in our visit to see them, we passed the north face of the White Mountains at Franconia and the profile of the Old Man. Dorthea DeNault told us all the history surrounding him and, of course, every time we would drive to Vermont to ski, we would find a way to pass by to say hello.

The New Hampshire quarter was minted in 2000, sandwiched between two other 1788 Union-joiners, South Carolina and Virginia. Three years later, on May 3, 2003, the Old Man left. Weakened through time by ice, rain and other natural factors, heroic stabilization efforts proved insufficient to keep the face, and a 40-foot section slid down the granite mountain to become rubble. People were devastated and left flowers at the base as if the Old Man were alive and had died.

New Hampshire’s quarter may no longer be 100% accurate, but the imprinted state motto still remains, “Live Free or Die”, and the quirk of fate regarding the Face makes for good conversation.

I was raised not to become too attached to Things, as they will all eventually go away. Some would make a case that attachment to people inevitably results in the same disappointment. I disagree. This week I was at a memorial service for an 82-year old friend this. The service was conducted by a Rabbi, who made a very good point. He said, “Grief and love are joined at the hip. The depth of our grief reminds us of how much that person brought into our life. We do not grieve for those we do not love.”

I think that’s a good reminder. Would you agree?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


IBM’s new toy was all over the news last week as it handily defeated two all-time winners on Alex Trebek’s Jeopardy. While I have never been a great fan of Jeopardy, I certainly respect the fact that it has almost universal appeal (it has been running, in one fashion or another, on one continent or another since its inception by Merv Griffin in 1964). My contact is peripheral. It follows the 6:30 PM PST News that my wife watches, so the familiar song is always my clue that supper will be ready soon.

One of our favorite authors, Linda Fairstein, incorporates a contest for the Final Question into the lives of her fictional Police and District Attorney characters, and I am currently listening to the audio version of a recent book, “Legal Legacy” . I find it interesting how she uses the Jeopardy questions to develop the distinct personalities of her characters and make them more real and believable. Will have to remember that when I start writing fiction.

Two points about the contest interested me greatly. The first, triggered by a Forbes article by Mark P. Mills, was interesting because he claims this competition marks the third evolution of computing, following on the first, silicon technology and the second, desktop interconnectivity. He contends this technology, using The Cloud, will move computing and our lives closer to what is sometimes called “artificial intelligence.”

The second is harder to define. Earlier than the start of Jeopardy, my sister had a favorite vinyl record that she practically wore out when she was in high school. The record was “Manhattan Towers” by Gordon Jenkins, and was a terribly romantic story set to music about living in New York. The record won Jenkins the Keys to NYC, no mean feat, and was triggered in my mind by a visit Mary and I made to NYC and a consequent visit with our young niece, who has lived there now for almost ten years. We started talking about why people are attracted to really big cities and which ones have a unique identity. That started me remembering about the record, which I had not thought about for sixty years!

So I started on a quest to find out what record it was and who had performed it. In today’s world, finding that information was remarkably easy and I soon ordered it from, in the DVD format, since vinyl was much more expensive. What really amazed me is that when it came, and when I played it, a track called “The Party” came on. I had not thought about this record for sixty years, as best I know, had not talked about it, certainly had not heard it, but when I was listening to this track I said to my wife, “In a moment we will meet Noah.” Sure enough, as I am hearing the notes in my mind as well as through the speakers, we worked our way through to the point where I simultaneously with the narrator, said, “And a wonderful waiter named Noah.”

I was dumbfounded! How had my brain reconstructed that phrase, that narrative, when I sometimes cannot remember where my car keys are? Bring on Watson!

I asked my wife if she had ever had a similar experience, but in her case, as I had thought, in mine, she could remember stories from long ago, if they were reinforced by interim telling, but had no similar experience with a sudden flashback.

I wonder if any of you have had a similar experience?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Those Wedding Bells

One of the more surprising facts to come out of the 2010 census, to my mind, was the change in married status of the age twenty-five to thirty-four population. Across the board this group had dropped from more than 65% in the 1960 census to about 25% fifty years later.

I must not be the only one surprised at this change, because NPR and last week’s Sunday Morning television show both did an interview piece relating to this. Their conclusion for underlying factors included: birth control and the consequent Sexual Revolution, economics and the resulting need for two income independence, a change in attitude by women as to their purpose in life, and, a little different spin from the above, freedom of women to provide their own financial support and determine their life style: “ I want to do what I want, when I want.”

Of interest is that the United States is following the pattern of life-style that has existed in Scandinavian countries since the end of World War Two. The number in Sweden and Denmark is about the same as ours, and has been for twenty years. Couples live lifetimes together, have children, some with hyphenated names, pass on inheritances and live socially acceptable lives, all without the benefit of rings or licenses.

I have two grown sons, one who has married twice, unsuccessfully, although the unions seemed to work, the first for five years, the second for thirteen. His younger brother remains unmarried at age forty, perhaps influenced by his brother’s history. When I asked the unmarried if he ever intended to change his state, he was strongly insistent that he would not. “The sex part isn’t really a problem, Dad,” he said, as if that explained everything away.

While pondering this, sitting in a Chicago bar, I started a discussion with a couple from Cleveland, visiting the city for a vacation, though why they chose Chicago in February with a negative chill factor, seemed to escape me. They were mid-thirties and have been living together for six years, have no plans for children, find no problems with finances though both hold blue-collar jobs, and in response to my question as to why no ring, stated simply they felt no need.

I married right out of Dental School and, although I had no accumulated wealth, quickly assumed responsibility as the sole breadwinner. We would have no children for five years, but it was not a planned thing. Security came from the fact that I remained in the Navy for twenty-five years (and had five years reserve service while in school) and then retired to the corporate world. We have remained married for fifty years now. Often asked how and why, Mary and I have different explanations. I contend that we have had a mutual respect for how our lives and selves have changed. Mary is more pragmatic, citing our Catholic faith and independence developed during long separations as better explanations.

Regardless of our state, my analysis of the drop in marriages leans toward a change in expectations. We expected to meet surprises and expected that we would change habits, locations, friends and family attachments as we framed our lives. Young people today seem unwilling to commit to change. They seem to want the freedom to opt out, if a change is unsettling. It is not so much that they are unwilling to make a commitment as that they are unable to commit for an indefinite period of time. The unknown brings fear into their lives in a way that precludes the pomp and circumstance of a wedding.

But my Cleveland couple said simply, “We have used the $20,000 or so a wedding would have cost in ways we find better.”

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dog-gone It

Tonight they will be judging the Best in Show at the Westminster Dog Show in Madison Square Garden. I am always amazed at the coverage this show gets, although I am aware that dogs play a very important role in people’s lives, including ours.

We had a mixed breed Cocker-Pekapoo who weighed about seven pounds at her peak and who lived with us for seventeen years. During those years she travelled with us through probably seven residences the Navy found favor to send us to. While our adaptation was more to job description, school curricula and social contacts, Brownie’s was adaptation to the local fauna.

She chased squirrels in Virginia, birds in Rhode Island, cars in California, and eventually, monkeys in the Philippine Islands. We worried little about anything except the monkeys, since, to the best of my knowledge, she never caught anything. But the Alpha Monkey, who roamed the fence on our back yard, was not against carrying the battle to the enemy. Marietta, our maid, hardly larger than the monkey itself, would bravely brandish the Filipino short broom and throw some serious Tagalog to protect her charge.

Mary and I have had several other dogs as we were growing up and have no problem with a Password Clue asking for your Favorite Pet, but Brownie held a special place in our lives. And we are now partial to mixed breeds, rather than purebreds. But I have my favorites in the Westminster competition. I often commented when I was in the corporate world that what some Department of Division needed was “a few good weeks with a Border Collie”. And who cannot fall in love with a Golden Retriever or Labrador? As I was growing up, I was influenced by “Bob, Son of Battle”, and in fact had a collie named Lassie (who never had to find me in a well). So we know purebreds.

Last night, watching the news about the show, I was somewhat surprised to finds that Terriers are the odds-on favorite, almost every year. What really caught our attention though was the statement that neither a Lab nor Golden has ever won best of class. Mary and I have always joked that they just wouldn’t feel right about things if they won, because those other dogs seem to want the honor so much more. The commentator said there is a real flaw though in that they seem to want to turn around as they make their final show presentation. As if to ask, “What is it you want me to do now?” Or, “How am I doing?” Or, “When do I get my treat?”

Anyway, I’m sure they have more fun at the show than a Fox Terrier. They have fun under almost any condition. Do you have a favorite breed? And, if so, why?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Won’t You Be My Valentine?

I suppose it started when I was in second grade. When the teacher made a suggestion that we should celebrate the Valentine’s holiday by sending a card…to a friend…whoever that was. So I did what every child of that era did…I went to my Mother.

“Why one card?”, she said. “Doesn’t everyone deserve a card?” So I sent thirty cards and hand delivered them to all my classmates. As did they. And we all ended up feeling acknowledged…and loved.

But life moves on, and we clarify whom we love. And the list gets smaller. Today I asked my wife whom she sends cards to. “To my Literacy students.” she says, and “to my immediate family.” meaning sons and grandchildren, and me. Which, I guess means I don’t have to send to them, us.

So, I send to immediate family, which I define as surviving members. I used to send to grandmothers and mothers, but they are deceased, so now there is only my wife.

I have not asked my children (fully grown), but one, divorced and with no romantic interest in sight, probably sends none. The other, single to a fault, possibly influenced by his brother’s behavior, probably sends none.

But sometimes, maybe spurred on by the Charles Schultz cartoons of poor Charlie Brown, who never got past not receiving the Valentine from the blonde girl, I am intrigued that there are people from my past, whom I loved, whom I remember, and may even be able to stay in contactwith. Peoplem, who are deserving of remembrance on Valentine’s Day.

If I can only find their address!

Who do you remember? And why?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Pack is Back!

Like more than 111 million people I watched Super Bowl XLV, attired in my yellow shirt and green sweater. I even donned a cheese head for a picture commemorating our eleventh charity party to support the Orange County Performing Arts Center, now called the Segerstrom Center.

Unlike my wife, and most of Wisconsin, I was able to leave the game after it was finished.

Most of the above-mentioned celebrated non-stop, and are still in the midst of that activity. Unlike celebrants in Los Angeles and New Orleans, there was no looting, little alcoholic revelry, and zero civil unrest. In fact, the major local activity was clearing the snow from Lambeau Field for the celebration when the team returned from Arlington, Texas. There was serious snow. A call went out that the team would pay $8 an hour to shovelers, but I doubt if any money changed hands. My relatives were coming from as far as Milwaukee to do their bit to contribute to the celebration. My wife would have come from California except she no longer has warm enough clothes to face the weather.

What is the appeal of this team? Part of it comes from the fact that it is hard to have an attitude when you live in Wisconsin. I’ve yet to see a picture of a Packer player in a mink coat. Aaron Rogers leads the team in prayer, as did Reggie White before him. As a matter of fact the team participated in a unifying activity, not a hardy party, but piano lessons, culminating in a recital that was perhaps not ready for Idol Prime Time, but did result in knowing that weaknesses can be supported by one’s teammates. I have relatives who have chatted with Donald Driver at a MacDonald’s.

One tends to forget that the name, “The Packers” came from a time when the team left the field to rest for their real job in a meat packing plant. This is a team that, when other football teams in Racine and Detroit were going broke during the depression, survived by selling stock to the people of Green Bay. While that stock is no longer of value, subsequent offerings have made Lambeau Field a money maker 363 days a year and have retained the original front seats of the stadium so a Lambeau Leap is really only about seven-feet, and the view remains unobstructed.

One also tends to forget that in a sport where loyalty is an ephemeral spirit, two Quarterbacks played for a total of 30 years: Bart Starr and Brett Favre. I find it pleasing that the biggest display of individuality seems to be Clay Matthew's hair, rather than a celebratory dance step.

The only downside in the day’s activity came from my sister-in-law, who on her way to watch the game with her Chicago-residenced son, found that there “were no cheese curds left in the state of Wisconsin”. Curdless, she nevertheless enjoyed the game. As, I hope, did you.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Super Bowl Sunday

Estimates are that more than 100 million people will watch tomorrow’s game. And I will probably miss most of it! Not for lack of interest, since I have strong feelings about Super Bowl XLV. My problem is that for the last eleven years Mary and I have hosted a charity Super Bowl Party for Debussy, a Chapter of The Guilds which support the Segerstrom Performing Arts Center in Orange County.

Last year we raised about $700. Not bad for less than 30 people. We have become very creative in raising money. The largest chunk comes from the entry fee of $25 per person, but we supplement it with the traditional football pool, half of which goes to Debussy. And we have a pool for who scores the first score, and whether it is a field goal or a touchdown, and even who wins the coin toss. Half of all the contests goes in the kitty for The Guilds.

My favorite contest, and the one that costs me the time in watching the game, isn’t a big money winner, but has become increasingly popular over the years. That is the Trivia Game.

Now most of the attendees are, charitably termed middle-aged, and when they started coming to the game they barely knew the rules of football. Imagine then the hard sell that we were going to try to imitate the Trivia Games played at the Sports Bars, with their little black boxes and coded contestant names. But now, we have several teams who repeat year after year. They are given the question and the clock starts to run. Large boards with clues are shown in 30-second intervals with the first two clues designed to identify wrong choices, and the third to identify the correct choice. Scoring is on the honor system as the team can change their answer as the clues assist them and the final time determines points given for a correct answer. Perhaps not surprisingly, we have always had a clear winner. I’ll give you one of this year’s six, since it is on YouTube by Tiki Barber.

1) The Green Bay Packer logo features a large “G”. This stands for:
a) “George” for their revered coach, George Halas
b) Greatness, which the team strives to reach
c) Green Bay
d) Gouda, the local cheese
a) Cheddar Head
b) Bears not Packers
c) Strive for a goal

Answer b) “Greatness”, because Packer equipment manager, George Brasher was looking for inspiration in 1961 and the Packers won the AFL-NFL Championship in 1967.

Not so easy. Right? Only problem is that it only costs $5 a team so Debussy makes about $15 on the contest. And it not only takes a lot of prep time to do the questions, clues and posters, My son and I have to do three of these each half. That’s why I miss a lot of the game.

The highlight of the event is the food. Each couple brings munchies and in the second half we all hit the Chile lines. Mary makes red (beef) and white (chicken) and most people try both. We have two large-screen HD that, more often than not, are synchronized as to sound. The men get their football and the ladies (some of whom are becoming avid football fans, one day a year) can assuage themselves, knowing they are supporting the arts.

Mary and I met at Marquette, so Go Pack! Do you have Super Bowl traditions?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Put That on my Calendar

Tomorrow marks the celebration of the Chinese New Year and that got me thinking about calendars…and Chinese food.

I have a friend who has made a lifelong study of calendars and can dominate a conversation on the topic for hours. My interest is much less scholarly, and basically stems from a joke wherein comment is made that “This year marks the year 5682 in the Jewish calendar and 4719 in the Chinese calendar. What is the significance? Well, it means for 973 years the Jewish people couldn’t get Chinese takeout.”

Not a bad joke, but it makes light of a fairly important factor in our lives: how we mark our time.

I read recently that watches are making a comeback in fashion, which seems strange because everyone seems to have a cell phone which may drop calls but can keep time across time zone changes with pretty reliable regularity. But hours and minutes aren’t much help in meeting the challenges of larger issues, like paying taxes or going to church. And this has been true for thousands of years.

The Spanish found the Aztecs using a calendar that only had 260 days in a year and recycled itself every fifty-two years. For their part they were then using the Gregorian calendar which had been adopted only a year or so before by the Pope to even out when Easter was celebrated. Previously the Julian calendar was the rule because Caesar Augustus and Julius Caesar had modified the calendar in use to get their own month. And then there were the above-mentioned Jewish and Chinese calendars, which marked religious holidays in their own right.

For my part, I celebrate holidays from several calendars. I mark the Chinese New Year by preparing a meal framed around Chinese food, a tradition I started some twenty years ago when my mother was visiting and I hosted a party for her friends. I also celebrate Easter and Passover with traditional foods. My stomach evidently could be a model of religious tolerance for my mind.