Thursday, March 24, 2011

les aventures du marionnettiste

So, as many of you know, I'm doing this puppet show, The Golden Stoat.  In which, the puppets have breakfast.  Which necessitated a tea set.  So I went to the toy store:

SALESLADY: Can I help you?
ME: Yes, I'm, ah, looking for something in a tea set.  Do you have one?
SALESLADY: (beat) Yes.  (longer beat) For ... children.

Don't judge, lady.  I gots puppets.  And they hold grudges.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stop and Smell the Roses (it'll look good on your college application)

Normally, I don't like to get too deep, but today's topic is: life.  This is a pretty universal topic, because chances are most of you reading this are alive, or at least university trustees, so it probably applies to you.  And let's not beat around it; life is hard! Just think of all the problems we encounter in a single day: war, recession, prejudice, inadequate Netflix selection, the gumball not coming all the way out of the machine EVEN THOUGH WE PUT IN A QUARTER JUST LIKE IT SAID. 

Yes, in these troubled times of ours (3:40 and 3:41 P.M., Daylight Savings) it's all too easy too get caught up in the "small picture" and ignore the "big picture."  The reason for this is all too simple: your television has "picture-in-picture," and you have set the small picture to porn while the big picture is on C-SPAN.  Your best bet would be to switch them.

So, how exactly do we learn to "stop and smell the roses?" Ideally by following the words of the great writer Henry "James" Joyce, who said, "Stop and smell the roses."  Of course, moments after Henry stopped to sniff the nearest rose, sixteen killer bees crawled up his nose and pretty much exploded his whole head, but we appreciate the sentiment just the same.

Of course, maybe you don't want to be like Henry, who after all had to go around for the rest of his authorial life with an exploded head, which led to some pretty comical dust-jacket photos.  But you also don't want to be like the other extreme, as represented by the Manhattan mother who recently sued her 4-year-old daughter's pre-school for $19,000, claiming the school damaged the daughter's chances of one day getting into the Ivy League.

Now this is what we would call an example of "small-picture thinking."  Can you imagine claiming that a child's college admission chances could get damaged at age 4? The very idea! No, parents, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but in fact your child's college chances are "made or broken" while he or she is still an unfertilized egg.  Everything rests on the ovary environment.  Is it nutritive* or not? What are those other eggs doing in there? Are they reading The Economist and listening to Bach? Or ... are they reading the National Enquirer and listening to Aaron Copland?**  Your child will come out accordingly, parents.  And no amount of elite pre-schooling can make a damned bit of difference, except as measured in ear infections.***

Besides, no offense, but here's the thing: what were you like when you were four? Because, with all due respect to your little super-spawn,**** four-year-old children have approximately the same academic capacity as Q-Tips, only much shorter attention spans.  Naturally, though, this improves with age, as goes without ... LOOK! A PENNY!

Ha ha, only kidding.  (It was a quarter.)  Now of course I don't claim to know what you were like when you were four; maybe you already had big Harvard dreams.  I myself had but three Life Aspirations:

1. Go to McDonald's.
2. Acquire Happy Meal toy (the girl one, not the boy one).  (Then, before exiting restaurant, promptly lose Happy Meal Toy somewhere in the vicinity of a black hole, leading to extremely loud grief and rage, leading perhaps to acquisition of a replacement Happy Meal toy.)
3. Try to ride the dog.

So naturally my life experience leads me to be a bit skeptical of pre-schoolers' abilities to be on the Ivy League track in the first place, although, admittedly, I could be wrong.  Also the Indian Ocean could be made of "Berry Blue Typhoon"-flavor Hawaiian Punch and the next Nobel laureate could be a Labrador retriever named "Boomer."*****

Which is all to say, take time each day to remember - in the words of somebody who was probably not Henry "James" Joyce, because by this time his head had already exploded - "don't sweat the small stuff; there is no big stuff."  This means, if you absolutely HAVE to sweat, take care only to sweat a little bit and not a lot, because otherwise you will stink and nobody will want to date you.

Also, I personally got into an Ivy League college after having been home-schooled for 12 years, which I mention in order to (a) buoy you hopeful parents out there and (b) say nyah nyah.

But what do you care anyway? You're not listening to me.  You're still watching that picture-in-picture. 

* Get it? Eggs.  Nutritive.  HAH!
** Stop that crying.  Now.
*** But at least they will be elite ear infections.
**** Unless he or she has a name like "Brantleigh" in which case I take back the respect thing and replace it with snickering.  Brantleigh! Hee!
***** I'm going to come back to eat my words on that one, aren't I.  I've doomed myself.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Puppets! (and an excuse to say "stoat" a lot)

A number of you have asked me about The Golden Stoat, the puppet show I'm directing.  It'll be taking place April 17 (afternoon) and 19 (evening), at Columbia University, for those who are in the NYC area and want to come.  I highly recommend it.  It's not often you get a chance to see such a crack ensemble of puppets, puppeteers, musicians and of course one luminous golden stoat.*

Here - I'll let the synopsis I wrote for our promotional posters speak for itself:

Welcome to Groin, France (pronounced “Groin” – it’s French), in the year fourteen hundred eleventy-two – or, as they say in French, mille quatre cent eleventy-two. Trouble is brewing in the royal family! King Drut wants his daughter, Princess Marcheline, to marry her cousin the Marquis de la Confiture – but Marcheline loves Alban Turtulutu, a poor mouseherd.  When King Drut sentences Alban to death, Alban comes clean to Marcheline about his mysterious past, even revealing the top-secret story of his father’s forbidden love with a stoat – but not just any stoat! The GOLDEN STOAT – the most beautiful stoat in all the land.   It is this tale, and this stoat, that will guide Marcheline on her quest to save her beloved … if she can.

Admission is free.  Lavish donations are of course accepted.

To tide you over in the time being, here's me and her royal highness, whom I made on my sewing machine:

I'm hoping to do a "making of the Golden Stoat" post sometime soon.  Stay tuned.

* Side note: I believe I've mentioned before in this space that "stoat" is one of the three funniest words in the world.  The others are "gerund" and the whole entire Italian language, which I'm counting as one word.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Doctors with borders

So, I don't usually think of myself as a rebel renegade rule-breaking law-flouting system-spitting-at type, but this morning I attempted - yes, I freely admit it - to make a medical appointment.  At the university health center.

(Music: "Night on Bald Mountain")

As you have no doubt guessed by the music, this is problematic on several counts.  First of all, I had a medical need, which quite frankly does not thrill your modern university medical practice.  Your modern university medical practice has no particular desire to see students.  They essentially see us as great festering pestilent wads of social disease with the rational capacities of phlegm.  Needless to say, I heartily object to this characterization of college students, on grounds I have currently forgotten.

But anyway, my point is that the health professionals prefer to keep as great a distance from us as possible, preferring to administer medical care in a more "hands-off" kind of way, like through catchy Health Initiatives, as seen on fun posters in the student union:


Therefore, if you should try God forbid to make an appointment through the health services website (, you will get the following notices:

Do you need a same-day visit? --> No --> There are no appointments available in the next two weeks.

Do you need a same-day visit? --> Yes --> Is it life-threatening? --> No --> There are no appointments available in the next two weeks, asshole.

However, if by some ungodly happenstance you should actually manage to make an appointment, you can rest assured that this will probably not make things any better at all.  In fact, it will probably make things worse.  I remind you we are talking about college health services here, which means that the medical professionals, bless their hearts, may be affected by certain "environmental schemas" about just what might be wrong with you:

University medical professional: What seems to be the problem?
Me: I have a sore throat.
University medical professional: Do you think you might be pregnant?
Me: No, I said I have a sore throat.
University medical professional (with gentle, soothing caring): It's going to be okay. 

I seem to get this a lot, but in fact, I have a suspicion it doesn't really matter who you are:

Patient: I think I shattered my ribs.
Doctor: What makes you think that?
Patient: Well, I fell 20 floors, and they're like all shattered, and every time I try to move, I'm in unbearable agony, plus this bone here is sticking out and inexplicably playing songs from Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," the Broadway smash hit musical.
Doctor: Do you think you might be pregnant?
Patient: No, sir.  Um, I'm a virgin.  And, um, male.
Doctor: What is your estimate of the date of conception?

In other words, college students, you can never win, and it is best, if you have a modicum of common sense, to forget medical care and tough out your medical problem.  The alternative will benefit no one.  You would do better to go to the student union, and get a bubble tea, and space out on posters featuring Syphilis Sheep.  Or, if you absolutely must go to the university health center, at least take advantage of the free condoms on the receptionist's desk, which are useful, among other things, for making fun balloon animals while you wait.