Archive for February, 2011

February 26, 2011

#10) Dear Mrs. Berman

Dear Mrs. Berman,

I took your class, “Art of the Essay”, twenty years ago, when I was a sophomore at Brookline High School.  You and I had our differences, but I still do remember you and thought I’d drop you a line.  You may recall that I was into music, and for a long time, that was my life’s work.  It still is, for the most part, but lately I’ve found myself heading back to writing.  I have discovered the format of the blog, and have become quite the junkie.  You may be happy to know that my hiking blog, http://www.nobodyhikesinla.com, has almost 50,000 page views and over 200 subscribers.  (By the way, I now live in Long Beach, CA).  Speaking of California, the wife of a friend I’ve made out here graduated B.H.S. around the same time as me.  Remember that sweet, timid girl from Russia named J. whom you made cry?

There were times when I hated you, but in fairness, I pretty much hated all of my teachers.  Yeah, you often couldn’t understand normal thinking and I always dreaded having to see you next Tuesday, and you made me actually hate the writing of E.B. White, but I remember you better than a lot of my other teachers, so you must have done something well.  In retrospect, I like that you told it as you saw it, even if you were demonstrably wrong.    You didn’t make apologies, and as politically correct as the world has become lately, that’s something we need more of.   I mean, seriously, what’s with these schools that don’t let teachers use red ink on students’ papers because it hurts their feelings?  Gimme a break!

As someone who has done a fair amount of teaching – both as a substitute teacher and as a classroom and private music teacher – I’ve learned that if you’re doing your job right, not everyone likes you. By that standard, Mrs. B., you’re employee of the month.

But time heals all wounds, as they say, and I’m certainly happy to bury the hatchet if you are.   You were just doing your job the way you thought was best.  Reasonable minds can disagree, right?  Truth be told, were I in your sensible shoes, I don’t know what I would have done differently or better – I certainly would have had a hard time putting up with myself.   Every so often, I see some of my younger self in the students I teach, and I ask myself, was I really that bad?

I don’t know, Mrs. B. – was I?

Never mind, you don’t have to answer that.

Best,

David Lockeretz

Brookline High School (sine laude), class of 1993

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February 26, 2011

#9) Groceries

Note: This is a simulblog, being posted on both my D-Theory and Positive Music Place blogs.

In a previous D-Theory blog, I described my use of “Weather Channel” as a safety phrase to keep myself positive when facing life’s day to day annoyances.   I have another one now, to do the same when I am teaching music.

Every teacher, music or otherwise, has moments when their job can be trying.  I have started using the safety word “Groceries” when I find myself getting negative during a lesson.   Why “Groceries?”  Well, it just so happens that a couple of days ago I was at a grocery store grabbing a quick snack before giving a lesson, and it occurred to me that, no matter what happens with my job teaching music, I’m not bagging groceries for a living.

Now, in no way do I mean to speak disparagingly of anyone who bags groceries: they’re out there earning an honest living and doing their part for the economy.  Many people who work at the market are in the process of getting a college degree; some perhaps are mothers who want to pick up a few extra bucks while their kids are at school.  I treat them with respect – just as I treat my waitress with respect.

But all that being said, paper or plastic is just not for me.  It’s not that I’m too good for it – it’s too good for me; I would genuinely suck at it.  At stores where customers bag their own groceries, I usually make a mess of it.

The point is that just as when I find living in Long Beach, CA to be trying, I can turn on the weather channel and see that it’s better here than virtually anywhere else in the country, I can remind myself that no matter how tiring teaching can get, for me at least it’s better than bagging groceries.

So, how many times have I had to use this new safety word?  In the last few days, a few times; but it’s good to have it and use it if it means a  better experience for the paying customer, a.k.a. the student.   It wouldn’t have been fair for my music teachers to shortchange me.

Another implication of “Groceries” is that, especially in this economy, any job is better than none.   Even if the bagger isn’t thrilled about getting up in the morning to go to the supermarket, at least he has a job, which many don’t.  And perhaps the bagger has his own safety word too.  Maybe between customers he glances at People and sees a picture of a former rock star being led off in cuffs following a public debacle and says to himself, “Musician.”

 

February 15, 2011

#8) Five Hypothetical Movie Re-Makes I’d Actually Pay Money To See

It happens every so often: you see and ad for a remake of a classic movie and you roll your eyes and say, “Really?”  Yes, I know that the remake of “Karate Kid” last year wasn’t the disaster a lot of people feared; yes I enjoyed the Coens’ “True Grit” and many people preferred it to the original (which I have yet to see).  But by and large, most remakes fall short of the mark, and I’m not just talking about Vince Vaughan’s “Psycho.”

However, there are a few movies that I think might actually make for good remakes.  They all have in common that they come from roughly the same era (1984 to 1993); none were hugely successful but they all do have their legions of followers; none (besides “Nerds”) had sequels.  Also, they all have themes (technology, media, geeks, violence) that have been reinvented many times over the last twenty plus years.  In some cases, we have merely reinvented how we look at those themes.  Are you listening, Hollywood?

“Revenge of the Nerds” (1984)

Sorry, E.R. fans, but Anthony Edwards will always be “Gilbert” to me, the character he portrayed in this comedy.  I liken the plight of the nerd to that of the rapper(!?) in that, while now, hip hop and R&B have become main stream and geeks have become hip, there was once a time when the two institutions really were on the fringe and had to fight for their respect.  With computers a part of every day life, and geek culture becoming hot over the last few years, Gilbert, Lewis, Pointdexter and the rest of the “Tri Lambs” surely have been vindicated, and their story remains as relevant as ever today.   In addition to Edwards, “Nerds” also included John Goodman, Tim Busfield, Ted McGinley and James Cromwell.

“Real Genius” (1985)

Speaking of nerds, science prodigy Mitch Taylor, portrayed by Gabe Jarret, is as geeky as they come.  He and Val Kilmer’s Chris Knight make quite a team in this under-appreciated comedy.  It would be a blast to see this movie reinvented a quarter of a century later, with all of the advances in technology that we have seen.  Michael Cera, who had not been born when the film was made, would be my choice for Mitch, and perhaps Seann William “Stiffler” Scott could be Chris.  Just spitballing here, folks.  By the way, Jon Gries, who played the reclusive genius Lazlo, would show up years later as Uncle Rico in “Napoleon Dynamite.”

“Talk Radio” (1988)

When Oliver Stone made this film, Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern and Dr. Laura were yet to become household names.  It would be interesting to see how this story could be adapted to the 21st century, when the internet and Sirius have changed how radio is created and consumed.  Could you see Josh Brolin as controversial talk show host Barry Champlain?  Or, who knows, maybe the central character in the remake could be female – perhaps this would be the project that helps Lindsay Lohan get her life back on track.  At least she wouldn’t have to shoplift to prepare for the role.

“Soapdish” (1991)

Considering the star power in this film – Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert Downey, Jr., Elisabeth Shue, Cathy Moriarty and a young Teri Hatcher – I’m surprised it didn’t do better.  I’m not sure what drew me to it originally, but it’s one I’ve always enjoyed.  Shortly after this movie was released, MTV’s “The Real World” ushered in the era of reality TV, which would be a great platform for a remake of this film.  “Soapdish” satirizes the soap opera culture, both as it appears on the screen, and the infighting that goes on behind the scenes, and a reality TV based remake would almost be too easy.  Until that day, this film is worth a watch if you haven’t seen it: In addition to Downey and Hatcher as rising stars, look for Kathy Najimy (“King of the Hill”) and Costas Mandylor (“Saw”).  As if that wasn’t enough, we also get Carrie Fisher in a cameo, and even Ben Stein, whose character asks at a writer’s meeting, “When can we put someone in a coma?”

“Falling Down” (1993)

This movie, about an unemployed, malcontented middle-aged white guy’s rampage through L.A., was polarizing.  Some saw it as an accurate portrayal of society’s degeneration and took vindication (if vicariously) in the plight of “D-Fens”, Michael Douglas’s character.  Others saw the film as basically a racist temper tantrum.  The years since this movie’s release have seen many events that brought dialog of race issues to center stage, from the O.J. trial to the Obama presidency to the recent Arizona bill 1070.  We have also seen a string of violent acts that make Michael Douglas’s behavior seem like that of a cranky toddler: the Unibomber, the Columbine shootings, the Virginia Tech massacre, the recent killings in Tucson, and more that I could get into, except it would probably depress you and I both.  Whether the viewer sees “D-Fens” as a cold-blooded psycho or the last crusader for all that is right, his story can definitely be retold–and one could only imagine that the changes in the world since 1993 would make him even more unstable.  Perhaps Colin Farrell could play the role – or maybe this is another remake that might benefit from a strong female presence!  The only drag is that, with cell phones making pay phones obsolete, the new “Falling Down” would have to lose one of my favorite scenes.   (Check it out here.)  I don’t know if a remake of this movie–or any of these others–would be “economically viable”, but I’d be there!

February 14, 2011

#7) The Waitress

It’s been said that a woman can learn about how a man will treat her in 20 years by how he treats the waitress on the first date.  Recently I’ve found this concept to have a couple of parallels in my own life.

Many people who know me know that music, once the love of my life, has been a struggle for me lately, and anyone who read my “Weather Channel” post knows that my relationship with my city of Long Beach, CA has become, to say the least, love-hate.  That hiking (see http://www.nobodyhikesinla.com for more info) has become my #1 priority in life is as clear to me as the view of the San Gabriels after winds have blown away the smog; also relevant is the fact that not a day goes by when I don’t imagine a life away from the so-called “LBC.”

But it’s also occurred to me that perhaps how I now feel about music and Long Beach represents, respectively, how I just might feel about hiking or living elsewhere in five or ten years.  It’s that age-old theme of the grass always being greener.

So what have I been doing with this idea?  In music, I’ve been trying to find more meaning in the shows I’m playing and the lessons I’m teaching.  When my band played our sacks off to a less-than-enthusiastic room this last weekend, we didn’t dwell on the luke-warm reaction; we just took pride in playing well and started looking forward to our next gig.  I also was happy to teach a new student this year who found my name from a business card that I had left at the local coffee shop.  Most of my students have come from the internet or by word of mouth, but it was nice to have one contact me from a business card.  In addition to the fact that that one lesson itself paid for the business cards, it reminded me of a time, about ten years ago, when I was first starting out teaching music and every call, every new prospect, was exciting.  I’d put up posters and business cards everywhere I could – I nicknamed the practice “territorial pissing advertising.”

Sometimes the magic never can be recaptured.  I know that while I have been winning a few battles lately, I might lose the war, and there may come a day when I simply don’t teach music, either by choice or economic circumstance. We might not live in Long Beach for ever; being closer to my family may be necessary at some point.  (I’d say the same for M’s family but that would require us to move to Waco, TX, something for which no one should hold their breath waiting.)  True, also, is that the customer’s relationship with the waitress is often only temporary.

But it’s a nice feeling to go back to a restaurant and have the server remember your name; it’s nice to be able to make conversation with them.  So too, it’s nice to be able to enjoy the little things about my job and my city – the student who finally “gets” it; the new pub that opens up down the street.  Even when my current situation annoys me, I’m a big boy and I have to deal with it.  I must respect Long Beach and I must respect music, and no matter what – first date, 10th anniversary, IHOP or RM Seafood in Vegas – I must respect my waitress.  After all, she’s the one with the final say on exactly what’s in my food.

February 10, 2011

#6) “Mommy, what’s a guitar?”

It’s only 2:12 pm, and today already has presented to me a sad piece of symmetry.  Earlier, while running errands, I was listening to KUSC, L.A.’s premier classical music station.  They were playing a performance by Andres Segovia, whom as the radio announcer pointed out, helped the guitar get taken more seriously.  For a long time, it was considered little more than a novelty, but in the 20th century, the six-string’s celebrity was powered by many great musicians in just as many genres: Segovia, Robert Johnson, Django Reinhardt, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Edward Van Halen and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name but a few.  However, when I arrived home and saw the news online that Activision is planning on cancelling Guitar Hero, I had to wonder – is the instrument that gave so many their voice going to return to marginality?

Everyone interprets the Guitar Hero story differently.  Mine stems from the belief that the guitar is an instrument of very under-appreciated difficulty.  Even playing simple chords and riffs can be hard for a beginner; unlike an electric keyboard, which works from the moment one takes it out of the box, guitars can require additional set-up procedures, and even tuning it can be a challenge for a novice.   Guitar Hero allowed people to interact with their favorite instrument and play their favorite songs vicariously, not unlike karaoke.  I acknowledge that saying that the game’s pending cancellation might mean the end of the guitar is a stretch, but it does beg the question, does instant gratification really do take too long?

Neil Peart, of Rush fame, once speculated that rock history can be traced to people wanting music that is simple enough to play without a lot of training or practice.  In the 1970s, when progressive rock started to become big, many found their voice in the minimalism of the punk movement; later, in the wake of big 1980s studio productions, grunge was born.  One could argue that Guitar Hero is an extension of this trend–and if you buy that idea, it would follow that a new form of rock music is on its way.  The question is, what?  I don’t mean to speak disparagingly of Guitar Hero or imply that it doesn’t take a certain kind of skill – especially since the one time I tried the game I butchered it – but most would agree that it’s easier than actually playing a real guitar.  So if not playing the guitar is now too difficult, is anything going to be easy enough?  Or will people just write off the guitar as a waste of time, not worth the effort it requires?

I hope I am wrong and paranoid.  I hope that even without Guitar Hero, today’s youngsters want to learn how to play, or at least listen to, the classic rock that the game popularized.  I hope that the guitar doesn’t go the way of the serpent, the viola da gamba, the oboe da caccia, the hurdy-gurdy and other obsolete instruments.  But it’s hard not to see this is a nail in the coffin.  When I was a freshman in high school, one of my friends was a crazy French kid with wild red hair that looked a little like the Sideshow Bob character from “The Simpsons.”  He was outraged that Metallica had just released a video (“One”–yes, I know I’m dating myself); they had sold out they were doomed to commercial mediocrity.  We laughed at him – but in the opinion of many, time has proven him right.

If there’s anything to be learned from the rise and fall of Guitar Hero – which seems to parallel the arcs of the careers of many rock musicians – it’s that music can’t be taken for granted.  Like other traditions, the guitar will die unless people keep it alive.  With Youtube, iTunes and more, the channels are there – with or without Guitar Hero.  Even the guy massacring “Eruption” at Guitar Center is doing his part.

While no empire lasts forever, some have left enduring influences.   However long the guitar lasts, it has certainly made the world a better place, and will hopefully will continue to do far into the future.

February 5, 2011

#5) DDDSS Day 1: A simulblog of a 24-hour experiment

8:19 am, PST

I once heard a story of a student who got kicked out of college for submitting the same paper to two different classes.

Good thing for me I’m not in college.

I suppose before I continue, some translation is in order.  I am calling this a “simulblog”, because it is going to be posted on two of my blogs: Nature Pic Mercenary and D-Theory.  It is also different in that it will be added to throughout the course of today, making it a sort of time-lapse.

DDDSS stands for: D-Lock Doesn’t Do Shutter Stock.  The gist is: I have decided to ban myself from Shutterstock for 24 hours, and in true obsessive-compulsive content geek form, I am blogging about it.  This is the first of I don’t know how many times I will impose a 24-hour restraining order on myself from a web site which with I have become a little bit obsessed.

As a provider of internet content, I have a presence on several sites, both blogging and stock photography oriented.  Shutterstock is the site on which I have had the most success with my nature pictures, but, as long-time readers of Nature Pic Mercenary will attest, it is also the one with which I have the most irrational fixation.  I check it compulsively: have my new pictures been accepted yet?  How many downloads have I had?

I liken Shutterstock to the super-hot girl that you have a secret crush on: You have to let her know you’re there, but if you’re constantly in her face, she’ll run away.  So while I will be continuing to maintain my presence on several other sites, Shutterstock and I will part company for the duration of today.  The good news is that I have already spent eight hours away successfully, with no withdrawals to report so far.  The bad news is that there are still sixteen to go – and I have to be awake for them.

11:37am

Almost half way through the day.  I have successfully avoided Shutterstock, although that’s not to say I’ve been all that productive.  At least, however, banning myself forces me to find new ways to be unproductive.

I did do some reorganizing of my photo files and records, and I submitted seven new pictures to Dreamstime.  Sometimes when the super hot chick is unavailable, her better than average looking friend can be a decent substitute.

12:45pm

Off to work!  Getting out of the apartment is never a bad thing, and I have a couple of neighborhood hikes planned in addition to my teaching schedule.  I have to keep things in perspective: as much as I want my content providing career, photographic and otherwise, to take off, right now, I typically earn more money in one hour of teaching music than I have to date from all of my internet ventures.  I just have to give it time–and not stalk the hot chick for fear of driving her away.

5:48pm

Got my teaching done, and took two short walks at suburban nature parks in Orange County: Huntington Beach’s Bartlett Park and Costa Mesa’s Canyon Community Park.  The second in particular was a pleasant surprise, with some wooded areas, sandstone geology and a small pond.

Of course, my stats were on my mind, and I eagerly checked up on Canstock and Dreamstime to see if any pics had been downloaded in my absence.  None, as of yet, but with a bunch of new pictures taken today, I’ll have some more stuff to upload.

9:58pm

I continued to flirt with the less-attractive friends of my true crush: I uploaded six more pictures to Canstock, including two from today, and submitted several to Big Stock Photo and 123rf, neither of which I had sent anything to for a while.  Even if I’m yet to have a download on either of those sites, it’s always interesting to get a cross-reference of which photos get accepted were.  And who knows – if I build my presence on some of the other sites, my number might come up.

Only two more hours to go!

7:51am (next day)

I ended up falling asleep before midnight, so when I woke up I reunited with Shutterstock.  I was disappointed that I hadn’t had any downloads since I last logged on, but it’s not the end of the world–hopefully more will come soon.

So was this experiment a success?  Yes, in that I concentrated on other areas that I would have had I spent time on Shutterstock yesterday; yes, in that although not all of my time was productive, I had to be a little more pro-active about my time wasting, but no in that “absence didn’t make [Shutterstock’s] heart go fonder” and no in that my relationship with that site – and the results of my work as an internet content provider – hasn’t become any more sane or rational.  (Case in point: I just referred to a web site as having a heart).

But if nothing else, it’s nice to know that I can put at least one of my obsessions on ice for 24 hours.

February 4, 2011

#4) Weather Channel

I have a new safety phrase: “Weather channel.”

Safety words are usually used in a sexual context – particularly in adventurous sex, where pain might be involved.  The idea is that if a person wants to stop what is happening, they have a code-word that they can yell.  (Ours is “aebleskivers”, a Danish dessert.  But I digress.)

However, lately we’ve been taking this outside of the bedroom.  M has used the same safety word as a way of keeping herself positive when she is feeling stressed out or upset.  I too have found my own safety word, although instead of using our mutual one, I have a new one.

Why “weather channel?”

Any place has its pros and cons.  Having lived in California for over 10 years, and the Long Beach area for the last 7, I have a love-hate relationship with my adopted home.  When I find myself getting annoyed, or even angry, at any of the nuisances of living here (I won’t bore you with specifics), I say, “Weather channel” – to remind myself that all I have to do is turn on the, well, weather channel.

Chicago is expecting a high of 28 degrees today; Philly is looking at 37 with “freezing rain.”  My home town of Boston is comparable.  On http://www.ehow.com, the featured article tells readers how to calculate how much snow their roof can handle.  Currently featured videos on http://www.weather.com include “More winter weather for the South”; “Watch a big rig crash on black ice” and “What happens to boiling water at minus 22 degrees?”

We know that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, or as the case may be, the snow is always whiter.  But sometimes it’s good to have  quick an easy way of putting things into perspective.  In my case, it’s four little syllables.