Thursday, February 18, 2010

I Am A Dancing Clown

A man danced on the sidewalk along a busy city street dressed in a green robe too cheaply made to be described as flowing, a green crown made of foam with spires pointing straight out from his head, and a green torch held high in his left hand. Ratty sneakers and black plastic sunglasses did not necessarily complete the look but there was no mistaking his intent to look like the Statue of Liberty.

He waved at the cars as we zoomed passed, most of the motorists oblivious to or ignoring him. I waved back because I felt sorry for the guy. As a salesman, I deal with a healthy amount of rejection every week. This poor fellow was averaging one rejection every 1.2 seconds at high speeds. Come on, people, throw him a little love! He has a plastic torch in his hand, not a gun. All he's there to do is hold his little advertisement and wish you a pleasant day. Plus, you're going by at 45 miles per hour. Would it kill you to wave at him?

Think of him as subsidized entertainment -- a dancing clown paid to spread a little cheer. You wave back to the clowns at the circus when they goof and joke and pratfall for your entertainment don't you? This guy serves the same purpose as a circus clown, only you don't have to pay $29.50 a seat to watch him do his thing. He's got to be regretting the life choices that brought him to this level of employment, so wave at him, already! He probably needs it more than you do.

I also waved back, in part, because waving is fun. It's good for the soul. People don't seem to exchange greetings with passing strangers any more apart from a grunted "Hey" or a mumbled "How are you?" It's like we are embarrassed to acknowledge one another.

I like waving. When someone waves at me and I go by too quickly to return the wave, I feel bad about it. When I wave at people and they miss it, I feel sorry for them. When I wave at someone and they intentionally don't wave back? Well, just see if I give THAT guy another wave! Actually, I probably will. What can I say? I'm a sucker for waving.

So, on that sunny yet cool morning, I waved and went about my day which involved shuttling lunch to an office of 100 people and presenting to them the benefits of doing business with my employer. After arriving and scoping out the space we had to work with, leaving my boss behind to set up the slide show and sodas, I left to pick up the food. Trouble was, picking up the food meant finding a way to squeeze five five-foot subs into my two-door Toyota Echo.

By the time I had the chips, cookies platters, vegetables, condiments, ice, plates, cups, napkins and twenty-five feet of subs crammed in, there was little room left for me. With the driver's seat pulled as far forward as possible without forcing my face into the windshield, I putted slowly back to my client's office.

Along the way I passed the same spot where the Statue of Liberty was still dancing and waving. When he saw my car, packed to bursting and moving slow so as not to topple any of the precariously placed items, he raised his cheap sunglasses and stared in disbelief. Much as I had likely done earlier, he saw, he considered, smiled weakly and waved sympathetically at me in my little clown car.

I can only imagine his thought process. Chances are he was wondering if I was regretting the life choices I had made that had led me to that point...

Monday, February 8, 2010

Give Me Back My Weather Channel!

What the hell is happening at the Weather Channel?

When I was in college, we watched the Weather Channel for two reasons: (1) to find out about the weather and (2) we thought Jeanetta Jones was a hottie. Now, hottie or not, Jeanetta seemed to know her stuff. You could rely on her and her colleagues to tell you about the weather and know their geography. Best part was, when they were done with the weather, they stopped talking!

Here's the weather. Cut to commercial.

Here's the weather. Cut to Doppler radar.

Here's the weather. Cut to someone's home movie of kids playing in three feet of snow.

Back then, the Weather Channel knew what it was. It's on-camera talent did not seem to think of itself as anything other than what it was -- a bunch of people who tell you if today's weather requires shorts or a sweater. In recent years, however, the channel has been taken over by wannabe celebrities.

It started a while ago with the likes of Jim Cantore throwing himself into the paths of raging storms and natural disasters. While I'm sure Cantore has gained considerable knowledge in his time served at the Weather Channel, I'm not sure standing in 70-mile-per-hour winds in a Denny's parking lot watching the roof get ripped off a gas station teaches you anything you couldn't have learned watching it on video from the safety of a studio.

Let's face it, anyone else standing outside, yelling at the top of his lungs in the middle of a hurricane, clutching to a street sign while gale-force gusts threaten to tear off his rain slicker would be considered an idiot by most people and a strong example in support natural selection. But put a camera in front of him and a mic in his hand and somehow he's performing a public service?

I'm reminded of the flack Bernard Shaw took during the Gulf War when he was reporting for CNN from Baghdad. Missiles started flying through the streets, so he hid under his desk in his hotel room. Some people called him a coward. Not me. Had I been in his place, not only would I have been hiding under a desk, I would have needed new underwear. While news people may be gutsy, entrenched, or even in danger, the truly brave journalists are those who tell us what we don't want to hear, not the fool-hardy ones who pointlessly jeopardize their welfare to show us what we can already see.

Back to the Weather Channel: Would somebody please put a muzzle on Stephanie Abrams? Who among the ownership of the Weather Channel is this gratingly annoying motormouth related to that she keeps getting one failed vehicle after another wasted on her?

She might be the sweetest, nicest, smartest, most generous woman ever born but watching her on TV is painful. Maybe I'm getting old, maybe age has diminished my tolerance for ceaseless blabber, I don't know... Just please make her stop. I understand her job requires her to talk for a living but she never seems to know what she's talking about, like each sentence that springs out of her mouth comes as a complete surprise to her.

I'm not heartless, mind you. A few months ago, when the Weather Channel launched "Wake Up With Al" featuring Al Roker with Abrams as co-anchor, I feared for her. Done teaming her up with other Weather Channel rank and file, the powers that be expected Abrams to hold her own against a seasoned professional like Al Roker.

Fortunately for her, Roker has proven to be unprofessional, unprepared, and exponentially more annoying than anyone in the history of televised weather reporting. Who knows? Maybe teaming Abrams with someone less likable was the plan all along just to help her image. That, or Roker simply hasn't realized he can't get by his entire professional life imitating Willard Scott.

Whatever is going on at the Weather Channel, I wish they would stop it.

Last month when snow and ice hit North Carolina, I didn't need Jim Cantore standing next to a snowbank along I-85 telling me the storm was heavier near the airport in north Charlotte (the airport lies west of uptown Charlotte) and even heavier just an hour away in Raleigh (actually a 170-mile drive). I would rather he stay in the studio doing his research to get his geography straight.

Jeanetta Jones would have.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dawn of a New Age...

It finally happened.

After lurking on the approaching horizon for more than twelve years -- dodging and ducking behind the usual landmarks and obstacles of childhood and adolescence as it lunged closer and closer -- the inevitable reality of maturation smacked me full in the face last month. My daughter has a boyfriend.

We took her home from the hospital seemingly yesterday. Fat pink cheeks, big brown eyes, curly brown hair. All seven pounds and eleven ounces of her barely taking up the center of her car seat, she slept much of the day away in her newly-painted pink room with bunny-centric wallpaper border.

The very next day she started talking. She would point at anything that caught her attention and say either "dog" or "what's that?"

The following day she learned to surf the furniture and had mastered walking by bedtime. Regardless of the milestones, her height never seemed to change. I can remember standing in the front yard looking through the window to see her cherubic face straining to peek out at me over the two-foot-high window sill.

A few days later she started kindergarten and enrolled in Girl Scouts. She learned to play the violin but after a few minutes' consideration switched to the flute. By the end of the week she was getting straight A's in seventh grade science and math, texting her friends throughout the afternoon on her fancy little flip phone, and taking the SAT as part of a Duke University talent search program.

Okay, so it only seems like the last twelve years shot by in the span of one week. The passage of time is annoyingly relative. If recollections of my pre-teen years are accurate, childhood from the perspective of a child seems to last forever. My daughter no doubt finds her adolescent days dragging as she anticipates the awesome changes her future holds in store. I find those same days whizzing by in a blur as I flail around trying to find some way to make it last.

Some of my more vibrant and cherished memories seem like ancient history. Meeting my wife backstage at a community play, our wedding day, seeing the real beauty of her face on the days she gave birth to our children... First days of kindergarten, countless school programs and recitals, and an additional twenty-eight birthdays celebrated since the kids showed up...

Thousands of photographs and miles of video and digital tape may document our lives but how often do we sit down and look through our past? Who has the time these days? When I was a kid we had time to pour over photo albums and discuss friends and relatives of yesteryear. All afternoon I would play with neighboring kids or watch the Mets on Channel 9. These days, our eight-year-old sons have a busier social agenda than I do. Between dance, girl scouts, Beta Club and band, we barely get any quality time at home with our daughter.

A boyfriend? She may be mature enough to handle it but I'm not sure I am.

When our daughter informed my lovely wife and me about the boy at school who asked her to be his girlfriend, a mixture of bemusement and panic welled up within me. When she told us she had agreed to be his girlfriend, I might have smiled and joked about it but inside I registered the end of an era. In that one moment I was graduated, willingly or not, from one stage of parenthood to the next.