Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mouth Organ Karaoke--HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

To help celebrate the birthday of my best friend Geoff, I have decided to release the final video in the Mouth Organ Karaoke series, entitled "Happy Birthday!" (Appropriate, no?) To watch the 50 second video, please click on the photo above. And if you know someone who is also celebrating a birthday, feel free to share it with them as well.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sty Wars: Revenge of the Cyst

Did you ever get a sty in your eye? It’s not a fun experience, as it feels like you have a piece of glass permanently rubbing against your eyelid. This actually happened to me this past week, and I had a very hard time dealing with it. Not so much because of the pain, but because I sometimes suffer from spurts of vanity that make it impossible for me to be seen in public with any kind of facial flaw. The neurosis dates back to my days of acne, when going out in public meant feeling embarrassed about my many blemishes. And I’m not talking about the kind of blemishes you see on those Clearasil commercials, where the really pretty girl gets one big zit right before the Senior Prom. I’m talking about a face filled with so many dots, people might confuse me for a painting by George Saurat. (Thank God for Accutane, which permanently cleared up the situation when I was in my early twenties.)

Nevertheless, the scars from many years of emotional turmoil still rear their ugly head every now and then. (Literally, in this case.) And so, when I began noticing a little white zit-like creature forming on my lower lid, I immediately went to WebMD for assistance. In fact, I Googled everything I could about sties and how to treat them, only to find there’s no real cure. You just have to wait them out. Hot compresses are highly recommended; though popping or lancing them are not.

As luck would have it, the sty appeared two days before I was going to the theater to see “Equus” starring Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. And though I’d hot compressed the thing to death, it only seemed to make the sty grow in size until it was practically taking over my entire face. (“Is that a sty in your eye, or are you just happy to see me?”) I am exaggerating, of course, but that’s what it felt like.

On the day of the show, the sty appeared to have grown several other whiteheads on top of it, like an out-of-control litter of bunnies. And since I was going out to dinner before the show with a bunch of friends, I was sort of concerned about how people’s appetites would be after they got a peak at my mushroom sty. Would they be concerned that the sty would suddenly pop and pepper their soups with a pound of puss? Or would they all take pot shots at it for the rest of the evening until they’d worn out every joke and pun that could possibly be related to a sty? And since both options sounded like recipes for disaster, I came up with an alternative plan that would hopefully curb my public humiliaton--I would wear sunglasses the entire evening. (Oh yes, vanity has no limitations.)

Wearing sunglasses during the daytime is one thing. Even if you go inside a building to shop for a while, people don’t really care if you’re still wearing your sunglasses. They probably assume at any minute you’re going back outside so you just didn’t bother to take them off. This might even be acceptable in a restaurant during the day, because you might be trying to avoid eye contact with people, or you have a paparazzi complex. But once the sun goes down, people naturally expect you to take your sunglasses off. After all, without the sun, they just look like dark glasses. Only mine happen to be really dark glasses---the kind you can’t see into.

When I met my friends at a neighborhood bar before we went to the restaurant, I explained to them about the sty and that I was actually wearing the sunglasses for their sake—so they wouldn’t have to eat while looking at such an unsightly cluster of grossness. As my friends are used to such “antics” from me, none of them really cared. Although I did have some difficulty when I tried to find the bathroom in the darkened bar. I managed to find the Owner’s office, the broom closet and the women’s room before I finally was able to decipher the strange hieroglyphics on the men’s room door enough to realize it was supposed to be a cut-out of a male body. Stupid me. .

Later, at the theater, I heard whispers as I took my place in the second row of the mezzanine. I’m sure people were wondering if I was some reclusive movie star trying to hide his persona, or just another wacko New Yorker who imagines himself much more important than he actually is. As I was neither, I tried to concentrate on the program, while everyone around me was apparently trying to solve the mystery of the man in dark glasses. At one point, a little girl came up and asked for my autograph, no doubt thinking I must be someone famous. I pretended I was foreign and didn’t understand her, until she finally went back to her disappointed parents, who might have been hoping the autograph would settle their bet as to who I was.

Once the lights went down, though, I took the sunglasses off. And I’m glad I did, because at one point Daniel Radcliffe looks up into the audience for quite some time, right at the point where I was sitting. I could only imagine what he might think if he saw someone with sunglasses sitting in the second row. Perhaps that I was Severus Snape coming to sabotage his performance, or one of the Weasley boys about to perform a prank.

The next day the whiteness and puffiness of the sty calmed down, or perhaps retreated out of embarrassment, and is now just a small scab waiting to heal. I just hope I never get stymied like that again.

But that’s just me. Have you ever had an embarrassing experience with a sty?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Robot Resort--Orientation

Please click on the photo above to watch a short video from the "Robot Resort" series. In this episode, two robots vacationing at the Robot Resort learn about all the activities they can participate in. Part Two of an ongoing series.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Pain, the Pain, of Shirley MacLaine

Did anyone else watch the recent Lifetime Red Carpet presentation of “Coco Chanel,” starring Shirley MacLaine? If you didn’t, the only thing that you missed was a very passionate performance by the beautiful Leading Lady. And when I say “Leading Lady,” I am NOT in fact referring to Ms. MacLaine. But rather to the charming newcomer Barbora Bobulova, who plays the role of young Coco Chanel, on whom most of the three hour biopic thankfully concentrates. She is feisty and passionate and fiercely driven, and most importantly, sports a rather heavy French accent, an attribute Miss MacLaine apparently forgot to maintain once the character matured to her age level.

In fact, there is such a stark contrast between Miss MacLaine’s interpretation of Coco Chanel, and Miss Bobulova’s portrayal, that you might assume the famous designer went through some kind of schitzophrenic metamorphosis once she reached middle age. Although it’s never really clear what age Miss MacLaine is supposed to be playing during this lengthy biopic (60? 70? 109?), she certainly boasts all the attributes of somebody with Irritable Bowel Disorder. She scowls, she snorts, and generally appears so cantankerous throughout most of her short appearances in the film, that you can’t wait until the next flashback sequence just to get her off the screen. It doesn’t even appear that Miss MacLaine bothered to do any research on the infamous Ms. Chanel before she agreed to tackle such an iconic figure. She simply approached the role like she appears to approach most of her roles these days--with pepper and gusto and a lot of hot air. But once you peel back the superficial layer, you realize she’s still playing the same character she’s been playing for the past twenty years. The aging misunderstood firecracker with a heart of….cold.

Not that I’ve always had such an aversion to Miss MacLaine’s onscreen antics. There once was a time in my life when I thought she was funny and zany and a real free spirit. But that was back when she was doing movies like “Sweet Charity” and “Around the World in 80 Days.” Or even during “The Turning Point” or “Terms of Endearment.” Those were great performances. Except then she seemed to settle into the “Terms of Endearment” role for the rest of her career, until she’s finally become sort of a punch line to her own joke. Now she only appears in movies in small doses, as the wise and smart aleck older woman who dispenses politically incorrect advice or sassy repartee. Someone who can not only “stir the pot,” but also looks like she might have been smoking some as well.

After all, this is the woman who gave us “Out on a Limb,” a book which not only changed my life for a brief period of time, but also caused me to become obsessed with the idea of astral projection. My mom had read the book and passed it along to me, and though I was skeptical at first, there was a lot of what she said that made sense. (Granted, I was still in my late teens and naively optimistic when it came to the ways of the world.) But once I read the part about Shirley lying in a hot tub and then suddenly being pulled out of her body and sent into orbit, I wanted to sign up for classes on how to do it.

Unfortunately, my college did not offer such a course at the time, so I decided to practice on my own. I can still remember lying in my college dorm room at night and imagining myself flying out of my body and into the unknown stratosphere above me. I would even chant the word “levitate, levitate” in my head, which as you may have gathered, is not really the same thing as astral projection. Nevertheless, the only thing I ever managed to do was get my feet to rise about two feet in the air, an involuntary act that might have been caused more from a charley horse, rather than actual mind control. So though I still read the next few books Miss MacLaine wrote, I began to get more and more lost as to what the point of all this drivel was. Eventually I came to the conclusion that Miss MacLaine must have had access to some pretty powerful drugs to get her to go flying in the air like that. Either that, or a really good broomstick.

But that’s just me. What are your thoughts on Shirley MacLaine?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bird Bits--Sand and Sushi

Please click on the photo above to watch a short video from the "Bird Bits" series called "Sand and Sushi." In this episode, Robin and Belinda Bluebird share a pleasant morning exploring a sand castle and going to a local Sushi cafe.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Extracting Irrelevant Expertise from Expert Advice

Did you ever have a friend or co-worker who professed expertise on a topic they were clearly not proficient at themselves? For instance, I once had a friend who would constantly give me advice on how to “work out.” He would often come over to my apartment to hang out, and talk to me while I lifted weights, and then make little critiques about what I was doing wrong. And this so-called “expert advice” was coming from someone who never worked out, did any kind of aerobic activity or ever lifted a weight. In fact, the only reason he even had a membership to the local gym was so he could go sit in their steam room and exfoliate.

But that didn’t stop him from pointing out all the various things I apparently was doing incorrectly. Or instructing me on the best methods for curling or bench pressing, or any number of other body building techniques, all of which he obviously never practiced himself. And whenever I questioned him about this, he simply said that he didn’t enjoy working out any more, though he used to do it all the time. Of course this was way back in college when he and his fraternity brothers would go to the gym every day to get ready for the weekend’s big “Mixer” with a neighboring sorority. And though it’s been maybe twenty years since his love affair with physical fitness, he still felt it necessary to regurgitate all that acquired knowledge on me all these many years later. (Yeah!)

Then there was the co-worker that always wore one of those buttons that reads: “Want to Lose Weight? Ask Me How.” The button was a not-so-subtle advertisement for her other business venture—a diet weight loss program that she sold on the side to earn extra income. And though I’m never averse to losing a few pounds, I certainly would not take my advice from a woman whose physical appearance reminded one of a giant Gummy Bear. Round, cute and cuddly, with the jiggle of Jell-o.

But before anyone takes offense, I am not trying to make a joke about losing weight. Or even of people who are overweight. I know that losing weight is not an easy task to accomplish, even under a doctor’s care. And some people have medical conditions that prevent them from losing as much as they’d like to. So I know it’s a touchy subject matter. My point is, if you had to choose a sideline business to make some extra money, why not choose something you might actually look credible selling? I mean, I wouldn’t buy a hair restoration product from someone who’s bald, because he’s not a living example of the product he’s pedaling. (And no, I am NOT currently looking for a hair restoration product. That was just an example.) Anyway, the same is true with weight loss products. If you don’t represent the “miracle” product you’re pushing, perhaps you should be investigating another option.

Another example of an obnoxious expert is a certain female family member who was a stern advocate of strict discipline when it came to child rearing. And even though she was unmarried and had no children of her own, that never stopped her from giving her married sister with children all kinds of advice on what she was doing wrong when it came to parenting. “You have to break their will,” she would tell her sister any time one of the children got sassy or threw a tantrum. “If you don’t do it now, they’ll be totally out of control when they’re older.” And like they say, Karma is a bitch. And now that she’s married with two boys of her own, she does everything she can to avoid dealing with them at all. And as for “breaking their will”…well, let’s just say, that these boys might be considered perfect examples of being “totally out of control” when they’re older.

And finally, the biggest offenders of this type of hypocrisy (and here’s where we take a little turn toward a more serious tone) are those extreme religious organizations whose hateful and discriminatory actions belie the teachings of their supposedly loving and forgiving God. To me, anyone who calls themselves a Christian should try to act like one. And not just when they’re doing some kind of charitable work, but also when they’re dealing with their fellow human beings. And for fear of instigating some kind of exhausting religious debate, that’s all I’ll say on the matter.

But that’s just me. Do you have any “experts” in your life that drive you crazy with their lack of expertise?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cat Clips--Reflective Blues

Please click on the photo above to watch a short one minute film from the "Cat Clips" series called "Reflective Blues." In this episode, the male cat tries to figure out why the female appears to be suffering from depression.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Dialogue on Dueling Doors

I have a very strange bathroom right off the landing between the first and second floor of my house. Because of its odd placement and tiny accommodations, it is extremely obvious that it was added AFTER the house was finished. (Otherwise, there would have been no bathroom on the first floor.) In fact, it looks like the previous owners simply closed up an area which used to be a short set of stairs in order to create a small powder room. But in order to enter the small space, you actually have to step down a step, then turn around and pull the door closed behind you. It is such a small, narrow space that it's often quite difficult to maneuver in, even for the most dexterous of bodies.

But the issue I have right now has nothing to do with the bathroom itself, but rather the door that leads into the bathroom. When I first moved into the house, the doors on the bathroom were your typical accordion style, which are usually reserved for closets or to create a temporary separation between rooms. The style seemed to work perfectly for the small out-of-the-way bathroom, as the door never went too far out onto the small landing. However, the handle on the back of the door kept falling off, which would temporarily trap worried guests in the room until they eventually figured out that simply pushing the door in the middle would cause the panels to begin folding.

The door also creaked a lot, even after several coatings of WD-40, and there was enough of a gap underneath to allow my cats to play “footsie” with whoever went inside. The cats would lie on the floor on the other side of the door, and reach their paws underneath to try and touch whoever happened to be in there. This was especially noticeable to bathroom attendees if they happened to be sitting down at the time, because then they would be facing the door directly in front of them. You can just imagine their enthusiastic surprise, and sometimes screams of utter terror, when they suddenly saw a pair of furry paws reaching for them under the door. One guest commented to me later that the shocking “attack” actually helped him take care of “business” a lot quicker. (I know, too much information.)

Anyway, I’d decided it was time the door was replaced. Not only because I wanted to fix the creak and the gap, but also because I wanted to create a totally different esthetic on the landing. But instead of replacing the accordion style door with a traditional flat door, I decided to try one of those mirror doors that also folded like an accordion. I thought the addition of a large full-length mirror on the landing would not only help create the illusion of a bigger space, but it would also give me a great place to “check my appearance” right before I made my grand entrance into the living room area (which was directly off one side of the landing).

So I measured the door frame to within an inch of its life, and went to Home Depot to buy a mirror door. Only Home Depot didn’t have any off-the-shelf mirror doors that fit the specific needs of my little makeshift bathroom. So I had to special order a door directly from the manufacturer, which meant several weeks of waiting around until it finally came in. Once it did, I asked a friend to help me replace the old door with the new one, hoping to save a little money on installation charges. Probably not a great idea. Especially since the door frame of this makeshift bathroom was crooked, so the door itself would have to be hung on a slight angle, leaving a rather large gap at the top. At the time, I convinced myself I could easily hide this obvious imperfection with the clever addition of wood, putty and paint.

However, once we had actually hung the door in place and stepped back a bit, we began to notice a wealth of other “imperfections.” For one thing, there was a huge gap where the mirrors folded in the middle, where you could literally see into the bathroom. (Not a very comforting attribute for anyone who equates the word “bathroom” with the word “privacy.”) And then once you got inside the bathroom, there wasn’t a handle on the other side to pull the door toward you. (As most people use these doors for closets, the manufacturers never added a handle to the back of the door, as presumably no one would ever have the need to close the door from inside. No one but me, that is.)

It quickly became apparent that the mirror door was not going to work either. And despite the fact that I’d just spent all that money on a customized door, I again went back to Home Depot to order something more traditional. I wanted a solid wood door this time, something that made my guests feel safe and protected once it was closed behind them. (And without any gaps or cracks for paws to get through.)

Several weeks after ordering the door, I called Home Depot to inquire about its whereabouts. After searching their files extensively, I was told that the door was never ordered, and they were very sorry for any inconvenience. Then they asked if I would still like to order the door, apparently assuming that I might no longer have the need for it. I assured them that I did, and several weeks later two workman showed up at my house to finally install it. (This time, I was taking no chances by using a friend.) And though the workman huffed and puffed about how the doorframe was crooked, and they would have to shave some of the door off in order to accommodate the angle, I was steadfast in my desire to get that door in place. And finally, after several hours of shaving and adjusting, the door was finally hung.

It was only later that I noticed that the door was actually a hollow door, and not the solid door I’d ordered. Within minutes, I was back on the phone with my local Home Depot, who didn’t seem to have anyone at their location who could help me. So I called the National Customer Service Line and talked to Dave, who looked up the records and discovered that someone had incorrectly decided on their own to switch the door from solid to hollow. After several heartfelt apologies, Dave assured me that I would not only get credit for the difference between the two doors, but that he would immediately order another solid door at no cost to me. Not only that, but he would definitely call me back to keep me abreast of the situation.

That was four weeks ago. I am still waiting for the door, as well as the phone call back from Dave, who was apparently let go in a recent down-sizing to Home Depot’s national customer service team. That left me with no alternative but to start the process all over again with a different Customer Service agent. And so it goes. The more you try to change things, the more they stay the same. Will I ever get a door that makes this bathroom work? Will my guests ever feel safe within the confines of a bathroom with a hollow door? And most importantly, will Home Depot ever call me back in a timely fashion? Right now, I sincerely doubt it.

But that’s just me. Have you ever had a home remodeling project that never seemed to end?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Robot Resort #1--Welcome!

Today, I am launching a brand new video series called "Robot Resort." Unlike my previous video efforts, this series features an ongoing story that is part satire/part mystery. The premiere episode chronicles two robots as they first arrive at the swinging singles resort for their vacation. To view the short video, please click on the photo above.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Is David Hasselhoff Suffering From a Bout of Abdulitis?

As I watched last week’s two episodes of the utterly obnoxious “America’s Got Talent,” I kept thinking to myself “What’s up with David Hasselhoff?” As he began giving his critique of each performer, he seemed to continually get confused about what he was trying to say. Not only did he become terribly long-winded, but he also began slurring his speech and getting very expressive. (An amazing accomplishment in itself, given the amount of botox his face certainly must have endured over the last several years.) You could even see tears welling up in his eyes several times, as if he was actually emotionally touched by some of the performances. In fact, during his often unintelligible mumblings, he showed an emotional range that was far superior to anything he ever displayed on “Baywatch” or “Knightrider.”

What I found even more interesting was that his comments began to get shorter and shorter over the course of both evenings, as the producers began to cut him off with loud musical interludes after only a few sentences. (A technique that has been perfected on Award shows like the Oscars or Emmys, when the swelling of the music let’s everyone know that the winner’s acceptance speech is threatening to become a one act play.) And what’s even weirder is that I don’t think Mr. Hasselhoff even realized it, as he obliviously kept prattling on until they eventually turned his microphone off as well. Even Sharon Osborne seemed confused by the Hoff’s behavior, particularly when he stood up to show her the neatly embroidered “Back Hoff” on the back of his pants pockets. (One hopes this wasn’t a prototype for a new line of designer jeans, as I can’t imagine any store would want to stock them other than maybe Wallmart or Odd Lots. And of course, the entire country of Germany, who often mistake Mr. Hasselhoff for a really good singer.)

This kind of erratic behavior is similar to another iconic judge of talent, Miss Paula Abdul, who has become more famous for her bizarre onscreen conduct than whatever it was that made her a star in the first place. (Oh right, she was a singer/choreographer/actress/girlfriend to Emilio Estevez.) Is the pressure of being a judge on two of America’s most popular talent contests too much pressure for these two faded celebrities? You would think instead of (allegedly) drinking or drugging away their time on camera, they would celebrate this opportunity to actually be in the spotlight again. After all, it could just as easily be Tiffany and Larry Hagman at the judge’s podium, since the judge’s panel almost always consists of at least one has-been, one Brit and one person you’ve never even heard of. (And sometimes all three of those qualities can even be found in the very same individual—i.e., Piers Morgan.)

I’m not convinced that “America’s Got Talent” always showcases the best of what America has to offer. It seems to me that every year they put through one or two acts that are more focused on shock value than anything that has to do with talent. Otherwise, there is simply no explanation for last year’s choice of Boy Shakira (exactly what it sounds like) or this year’s Rommy B, whose rendition of “She Bangs, She Bangs” conjured up images of another “American Idol” favorite, William Hung. (Which was utterly intentional, I’m sure.)

And what’s with all the dance acts that got through this year? It seemed like the judges cut a lot of very talented singers and individual dancers in favor of several large groups of big breasted girls bobbling around on stage. Clearly their talents are purely superficial, so why expose us to so many acts of a similar vein? If that’s what America views as talent, then plastic surgeons all over the country certainly have a solid future ahead of them.

But back to Mr. Hasselhoff, who in recent years seems fairly determined to self destruct in front of our very eyes. First, there was the embarrassing rendition of “Jump in My Car,” a song which was apparently supposed to put him back on the charts. (Though I’m not even sure it made the German charts this time.) Then there was the embarrassing video his daughter took of him eating and wallowing in self pity. And now, the introduction of the David Hasselhoff “Back Hoff” line of designer jeans. Not to mention the prevalent use of his last name in phrases like “Don’t hassle the Hoff” or “I’m getting pissed Hoff” or “Don’t be a jerk-Hoff.” Can there be no end to this madness?

But that’s just me. What do you think of David Hasselhoff or “America’s Got Talent?”