Monday, June 19, 2017

Note to my daughter-in-law: Everything is a miracle.

My daughter-in-law called me up on Father's Day and asked me what I do to keep life exciting. Do I open myself up to new experiences? How do I keep life from getting stale? I responded it's not what I do, but the perspective that's available to me while I do it. To my mind, everything is a miracle. For instance, we were talking on cell phones. 
She was hundreds of miles away yet whispering in my ear. And by moving her tongue in the right way, while pushing air out of her lungs the resulting disturbances in the space around her created a sound we agreed would represent an object or emotion. Let's say of a  "dog". Objectively the sound "dog" is nonsense, until it's agreed on by the English speaking world it's a metaphor for the critter (just as we agree that the squiggles on this screen also represent a "dog". These squiggles right
Then the phone converts the disturbance in the air to electricity sending it to a cell tower that relays it to another cell tower sending it through space again so it can be picked up by my phone and that phone can disturb the air one more time before relaying it to a receiver, namely, my ear. And that's the way she communicated to me what was in her mind, a mind firing countless neurons effortlessly. That's a magical dog.
And what is this miraculous phone replicated by Apple and Samsung billions of times?  A conglomeration of trillions of atoms forming elements, forming molecules coming together to work in concert with each other. What is a trillion? If you counted up to a trillion at ten numbers a second it would take 25,000 years to reach your goal. And there are a trillion stars in our galaxy and there are a trillion galaxies in the universe. In other words, there's plenty to get excited about in life.  
Bring a person from 200 years ago, here, now, and give them a phone and they would be blown out. It would be the most amazing thing she had ever seen. Send her back, and she would spend her life talking about it with everyone she met (and probably end up in the loony bin or burned as a witch) But for us it's too often ho-hum.
Everything I perceive with my five senses is miraculous. The odds I'm  alive is the greatest miracle of all. The universe is 15 billion years old and will survive another 15 billion (at least in the relative world, there is a good argument that time doesn't exist except in our mind...another thing to contemplate in awe)  And here I am...right...NOW! Alive for this brief, brief time. We've all won the Mega Millions lottery. Who in history wouldn't give everything they had to be where we are now. Luckier than Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Shakespeare. How come we're not spending every moment with our mouths open in awe, thinking "we're alive!" for this blink of an eye. 
The size of the universe. The allusion we exist, the number of sentient beings on the planet. Relativity. Quantum Physics (true magic, not the silly activity I practice). The periodic table (chemistry is mind blowing), the electron microscope.The advances humans have made since the industrial revolution. How many tools we've created are taken for granted, we, having no idea how they are made. Like a car? Not how it runs, but how can they make the tires in those shapes, the doors, the steering wheel, all the computer stuff in the engine and put it all together in such a way that we can drive out of the lot with it and drive for 200,000 miles without a hitch. It's a friggin' miracle, that's what it is.
Examples are ubiquitous (it's a miracle I know what ubiquitous means). I could write a full length book listing them. How can a pill cure us of a headache or a cold? Someone knows. People who've dedicated their lives understanding cells, DNA! but what a miracle someone chooses to learn that and knows where to go to learn it. And the miracle of birth! That alone is worth the price of admission. Did you ever read how a fetus is conceived and develops in the womb? Damn, that's mind blowing.

So when my daughter-in-law asked me what I do to keep life interesting, that was my answer. It's not going on another vacation, taking a new drug, hearing a new song, meeting a new friend, (though those work too, why not?) It's being in awe. Of everything.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

An epiphany why sex is rated X and violence only rated R

Steve and Harry's "Conversations With My Dummy" podcast

I had an epiphany a while ago that I wanted to share with my readers. Like any good liberal I was always incensed with the hypocrisy that sex was rated X in the movies and violence was rated R. As Jack Nicholson supposedly said (but was probably apocryphal) If you kiss a tit, it's rated X, if you cut it off, it's rated R.
My epiphany hit me one day while watching the Daily Show. They were showing these horrible scenes from Law and Order SVU. And they are pretty gruesome but guess what? EVERY SCENE WAS SIMULATED! All those dead bodies were posed with make-up. There was no real violence being perpetrated and we all know it. When the bodies pile up in an action feature the viewer can be assured they're paid actors and the blood is ketchup.

But sex! That can't be simulated. If Janet Jackson shows her breast at half time at the Super Bowl, it's really a breast we're looking at. If you see nudity in a movie or on TV, that's real nudity. No way around it. You can hide nudity with blankets and camera angles, but once it's there, it's there. A kiss is a kiss. But a stab is not a stab.

We know this on the deepest level. Look at kids. They know the difference better than adults.
If an actor is killed on TV, the kid has little reaction (unless they're really young of course) but if someone is killed in their living room, they will be traumatized for life (this applies to adults too of course).

In fact, if a real tit was cut off or if someone was really killed on screen, you would see how fast it would be headline news. The network or movie company would be in serious trouble. People would talk about it for weeks if not years.
To argue with Jack Nicholson, if you kiss a tit on TV, that's really a tit being kissed, cut it off, and it's faked.

Here's another example. At the end of movies it often says "No animal has been harmed in the making of this film." Why don't they say "No humans have been harmed in the making of this film"?
Because it's self-evident.

Once I realized that, I was a lot more comfortable with the rating system. I mean, shouldn't children be protected from seeing boobs, tushies and penises in action?
You decide for yourself if that last sentence was sarcastic. Comments welcome.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Joke Blog- Four of my favorite jokes and why

I love jokes. My favorite ones gives a little lesson about human nature. If they have religious or spiritual overtones, all the better. Here are four of my favorite jokes that have a religious or spiritual nature  and make a comment about man's stubbornness to stay human. After all, flesh aspires but remains earthbound.
 Here the are in no particular order.

1. A rabbi, a cantor and the custodian of a synagogue are all engaged in prayer. There's a prayer in Judaism that reminds the practitioner of his or her insignificance.
The Rabbi is wailing. Roughly translated from hebrew, he intones: "G-d, I am nothing. Absolutely nothing. Zero. Zilch...completely and utterly...nothing. 
The Cantor cries to heaven beating on his chest: G-d, me...nothing. Less than nothing. A complete zero, me...nothing, nothing, nothing.
The custodian is also crying, his head in his hands: G-d, please...accept that I am nothing, less than zero. Worthless. Nil. Nada. Nothing.

The Cantor looks over to the Rabbi and pointing his thumb to the custodian whispers, "Look who's nothing."

2. Jesus and St. Peter are playing golf. St. Peter hits the ball and it lands on the green about 5 feet from the hole. He's pretty happy with himself, figuring he has a birdie. 
Jesus now swings his iron and misses the ball entirely. But the wind knocks the ball off the tee just as a rabbit runs out from the woods and grabs the ball in its mouth and starts running down the green. An eagle soars down from above, grabs the rabbit and flies over the hole. Now a bolt of lightening strikes the eagle. He drops to the ground, the rabbit falls out of its mouth. The ball falls out of the rabbit's mouth and a sudden gust of wind blows the ball into the cup. A hole-in-one.
St. Peter looks at Jesus and says, "Hey, you wanna play golf or you wanna screw around?" 

3. A 90 year old woman insists on going to Tibet. Against the pleadings of everyone she knows she buys the ticket, flies 25 hours with several stops in India and Nepal and finally lands in the small dusty airport in Lhasa. When she leaves the plane she immediately insists on going to the Long-Chen Nying-Thig Monastery.
"Lady, do you know how hard it is to get to the Long-Chen Nying-Thig Monastery. It's a three day journey over the mountains on yaks traipsing through four feet of snow."
"I don't care. I want to go to the monastery!"
So to make a long story short, three days later she's at the gates of the majestic religious residence and insists on seeing the great Rinpoche himself.
"Lady, NO one sees our great teacher. He's in a five year retreat and is in deep meditation."
"I don't care! I want to see the Rinpoche!"
After much consulting, they give her a test. "You can see the Rinpoche but first you must do 1000 prostrations and then you'll only be allowed to say three words to him."
And so, after several days this poor 90 year old woman completes the 1000 prostrations and is ushered into the great hall where the great Rinpoche himself sits at the highest seat surrounded by gold brocades, priceless tankas and silver goblets. He has a long black beard and fine satin clothes. His tall black hat studded with jewels glares from the hundreds of candles lit in the Buddha's honor. 
She walks up to him and mindful of the three words she's allowed, says, 
"Sheldon, enough already!"

4. A man steps into the confessional and addresses the priest. "I'm 84 years old and my wife of 50 years died a few years ago. Recently I met a 35 year old woman and we've been making love every morning, afternoon, and evening for the last two months.
The priest aghast finally mutters, "I understand my son. Say 50 hail Marys and with the rosary, 50 Our Fathers."
The man says, "I don't think I can do that, Father. You see, I'm jewish.
The priest is taken aback,"So why are you telling me this?"

The man replies, "Are you kidding, I'm telling everybody!"

Saturday, May 20, 2017

What Trump has in common with my 6th grade G.O. President.

I'm taking a  break from illusion to tell a TRUE story. Sixth grade. 1962. P.S. 117.  Queens (I note the location only to point out it was the same borough Donald Trump comes from). 
During the campaign for student body president one of the candidates stood at the podium and promised the school a coke machine in the cafeteria. This met with a cheer bordering on hysteria. As one of the hundreds of students sitting in the musty auditorium (it was an old school even in 1962). I wondered how the hell this crummy sixth grader was going to get a soda machine into the lunchroom. And I couldn't believe the student body wasn't skeptical. Not even his opponent asked for details.
He won in a landslide.
A few weeks later I met him in the cafeteria. This was our conversation:
Me: So, where's the coke machine?
Newly elected President: I asked the principal if we could have one.
Me: What did he say?
Newly elected President: He said, no. 

During last year's presidential campaign, that story kept running through my head. When Trump promised to make the country great again, I thought yep, and we'll get a coke machine in the cafeteria, too.
When Trump promised to build a wall that the Mexicans would pay for, I thought yep, and we'll get a coke machine in the cafeteria, too.
When he said he'd bring back jobs for the coal miners, I thought yep, and we'll get a coke machine in the cafeteria, too.
When he said I'm going to overturn Obamacare, I thought yep, and we'll get a coke machine in the cafeteria, too.
I didn't want those things (but I really did want a coke machine in the cafeteria) but enough people did want them, that it got him elected.
So now the conversation could be:
Me-Why didn't you overturn Obamacare
Newly elected President-I went to congress and asked them to do it.
Me-What did they say?
Newly elected President-They said, no. 

As P.T. Barnum was supposed to have said, but didn't, "There's a sucker born every minute."
But most of us already knew that, right?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Metaphor as illusion


I've been thinking about metaphors lately. I love them. 
The world is filled with metaphors. Speech and text are metaphors for objects or emotions. When I write 'cup', obviously there's no cup there. Cup represents an object in the world. 
(stay with me here, I'll be getting to my point soon).
The same with photos and movies. The images aren't the things themselves, they represent something in the outside world. Duh. 
Chess is a metaphor for war. Monopoly for business. All games are metaphors.

Tools are metaphors. A rifle is a metaphor for our teeth, a table for our lap, a knife for our nails, a hammer for a fist, adding machines for fingers, binoculars for eyes and on and on. 
Harry, my ventriloquial dummy is a metaphor for a boy. He's also a metaphor for impishness, irreverence and questioning authority. 

In Understanding Media, Marshal McCluhan talks about content and the medium that conveys it. It's the medium that changes society, not the content emanating from the medium. So first there was the stage, then movies, then radio, then TV and now computers. The content he says, stays the same, it's the technology that effects us. The technology (or medium) isn't the metaphor, the content is. 

Thoughts are metaphors (all right, I'm getting closer).  When we have a thought of a cup, it is NOT the cup. It's a neuron firing reflecting something that our visual sense picked up in the past and is now reminding us of. So the medium of our ego is the mind, the content are our thoughts. But because thoughts are metaphors, they're  illusions. (Bingo!) 
The mind is the medium, the content are our thoughts. And so, it's all an illusion, until we get past our thoughts and see the mind itself or as the great Tibetan scholar, Herbert Guenther put it, mind as such. More about this later. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Jokes as Illusion

Steve and Harry's "Conversations With My Dummy" podcast

A good joke is a small fruit that peels back a layer to reveal a kernel of truth. This is why I like them. Because I'm into illusion, as my blog readers know, whether it's my work as a ventriloquist, my podcast "Conversations With My Dummy, my stage act, being a magician, or my meditation practice. 
Jokes cut through our ignorance and share a greater truth causing us to laugh. The punchline pops our bubble of complacency and shows us our delusion. I don't mean something necessarily profound is revealed (though it can be) just a small truth that was there the whole time but we couldn't perceive until the punchline revealed it to us. 

Here's an example:

You give a man a fish and you feed him but for a day
But if you teach a man how to get rid of him for the whole weekend. (ba-da-boom)

To reiterate, punchlines are small verbal explosions that cut through our illusion. The set up leads you down a garden path. Taking advantage of learned behavior, cultural norms and society's collective knowledge until the punchline reveals the deeper level underneath. 

We all know how the above joke is supposed to end: 

You give a man a fish and you feed him but for a day
But if you teach a man how to feed him for the rest of his life. 

When we hear the first two lines, we expect the old cliche. It's so tired and corny our mind is being put to sleep. But suddenly, bang! Everything changes with "you get rid of him for the whole weekend." Now we're talking about long term marriage. That wives want the freedom of a weekend to not have their husbands hanging around annoying them. 
It's suddenly about women's  empowerment. Now we understand the joke was never about how to keep man from starving, but from the get go, it was about how a woman can get rid of her man for the weekend. It was funny at the expense of the males of our species. When I tell this joke in my comedy act on stage, the women always laugh more than the men.

Here are a few more: Note how the last line makes you go back, rethink and reinterpret the joke. You are awakened to its true nature. This takes a fraction of a second. But it leaves you amused and educated. 

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend.
Inside of a's too dark to read. 

Don't drink and might hit a bump and spill it all over yourself. 

I became a Godfather last week...I had my uncle rubbed out. 

I was walking down the street yesterday and saw a dead baby ghost in the middle of the road...on second thought it could have been a handkerchief.

When it comes time to die let’s hope we go peacefully in our sleep 
like my grandfather... and not screaming in terror like his passengers

I’ve been smoking for 25 years and there’s nothing wrong with my lung.

I felt like a man trapped in a woman’s body. Then I was born.

I've been married 40 years and it feels like ten minutes...underwater.

Even knock-knocks contain sudden enlightenment (enlightenment with a small e, not the Enlightenment of the Buddhas).

Who's there? 
Picasso who? 
Picasso you, I'm telling this dumb joke. 

Or lightbulb jokes. 
How many surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb? 
How many?
A fish. 

A lot of Henny Youngman jokes take us to this place. 
The most famous: 
Take my wife...please. 

The first word take, takes on a different meaning when the fourth word, please, is included. Before he says please, you think he's going to finish the sentence with a description. Take my she's a good cook. Take my wife...she's really intelligent.  But with the word please, the joke dives to a deeper level. Please take her away from me. And we're left to ponder the hell this poor slob is going through. 

Put downs do this too:

You have beautiful hair...coming from each nostril.

You're pretty...pretty ugly. 

You're like an angel fallen from the sky...too bad you had to land on your face. 

Puns, on the other hand, work on a different principle. But pun spelled backwards is N-U-P. And that's a nup out of me. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Pooja and the Wooden Detective- Family Therapy with a dummy

Steve and Harry's "Conversations With My Dummy" podcast

I slipped on a wet rock in the woods and fractured my elbow a few days ago making it difficult to type (or produce my audio podcast "Conversations With My Dummy". Fortunately it's my left hand so I can still perform ventriloquism when I need to talk to Harry.  So I figured this is a good time to do a cut and paste job. Keeping up with the theme of illusion in the past blogs, I'm sharing an excerpt from my young adult novel "Pooja and the Wooden Detective".
The leitmotif of the novel is illusion (see below) and one of the themes is Steve Dubois' illness. He can't differentiate his dummy, Dicky from reality. 
Below you have a synopsis of the novel and then a page or two of  Steve's reply after Pooja, his protege, who's learning ventriloquism herself with her puppet Maya, asks him what he talks about in therapy with his dummy. Dicky is upset because he's not going on a double date with Steve.

Excerpt from Pooja and the Wooden Detective
A Young Adult Novel
By Steve Charney

POOJA is a 13 year old East Indian girl in love with ventriloquism. She's smart, savvy and precocious. Her teacher, STEVE DUBOIS, is a magician and ventriloquist way too attached to his dummy, DICKY, for his own good, but Dicky protects Steve from his personal demons until his therapist can cure him.

Pooja, Dicky and MAYA (Pooja’s own puppet), solve mysteries on stage and off. And with her pal, COOPER, they discover who murdered the man at the BrouHaHa comedy club, who and why foreigners are after an 80 million dollar CANDI® doll and what makes Steve Dubois tick.

The leitmotif is illusion. This is reflected again and again in the animated dolls, Dicky, Maya and the quantum computerized doll, Candi. Several key characters are in disguise. Even the murder in the first paragraph has been faked. The metaphors and descriptions continue the theme. The key to solving this humorous mystery is exposing the deceptions and uncovering the truth.

But first Steve had bad news for old Dicky. Dropping to a bench in a small park, he turned the boy's head towards him and looked intensely into his glass eyes. "I’m not taking you to Lulu’s." 
"She invited me. It’s gonna be a double date. Remember?"
"My doctor is right. You're an enabler. I'm leaving you home."
Pooja sat next to them. "What's an enabler, Mr. D?"
"It's someone who protects you out of love. Because of that, it's harder to cure yourself. Right, Dicky...Dicky?" Dubois poked the boy. The dummy jumped. "Yeah, So?" He looked at his ventriloquist and raised his eyebrows.
"Mr. D, I'm not an expert or anything but can you really blame Dicky? I mean you're  making him talk, right?"
"But I can't help it. He's protecting me from inner demons.
Pooja perked up. "Demons? You got demons, Mr. D?"
"It's like this, Pooj. You sit in the back of your classroom with Maya, your puppet, on your lap. When a kid wants to be your friend, Maya bites her head off because you're scared. Maya protects you so you don't get hurt again. So Maya is the only friend you have. But she's imaginary! And every time you make a real friend she convinces you to act crazy until your new friend runs away. You don't get hurt, but you're all alone.
"That hurt would have to have been a whopper, if you can't even remember what it was."
"Yep. That's what my doctor says. Dicky won't face it either."
Dicky whispered, "Nothing to face. I wasn't there. I came later."
"It split me in two. To heal, I need to face it head on. The problem is, Dicky likes things the way they are."
Dicky raised an eyebrow."Why wouldn't I? Steve doesn’t drink, smoke, do drugs or eat junk food. I'm his only vice. What’s the big deal? It's good I'm enabling him. Keeping him from getting hurt is why I stick around."
"I get it now, Mr. D, he's fighting for his survival. If you're cured, you won't need him anymore and like one of your magic tricks, he'll disappear. But you gotta do it. I'd hate it if I didn't have any friends except a puppet."
Dicky shook his head. "Some pal you are, Poo, trying to break up best friends. That's mean." 
Steve gave it to Dicky good. "She's right! It’s not normal. Don’t you see? I want real friends. Not you." 
"What about Pooja?" Dicky said. "She's cool. Or was, until she tried to break up our friendship."
"Pooja is cool. But she's a teenager. I need to be with someone my own age."
"I'm your age."
"You know what I mean!"
The boy hopped up and down on Steve's knee. "This is the best relationship you’ve ever been in! I shudder when I think of your mom. Or that girlfriend who sponged off you for three months and then disappeared.  I never ask for a dime, and I help pay the rent as part of our comedy team."
Steve was welling up. "This isn’t healthy. Don’t you see that?"
He began to weep. Tears dripping down his cheeks. Dicky and Pooja stared. 
Embarrassed, he lowered his head into his hand. "I don't wanna be like this."
Pooja wanted to hug her teacher and tell him it was all right. But she couldn't. "I'm not an expert or anything but you gotta remember who that person was who hurt you so badly." 
Dicky tilted his head. "Are you talking to me or Steve?" 
Pooja patted Mr. D's shoulder. "You, Mr. D."
Now both of Dicky's eyebrows sprung up. "What about me? Don’t I have a problem too?" 
"You are the problem, dude."
"Oh, snap."

Mr. D sniffled. "You wanted to know what I talk about at the doctor's. Now you know."