Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Children's Birthday Parties: The Case Against

I have lately been present at an increasing number of parties. This has less to do with my social capital than my status as a puppeteer. Ask any puppeteer and you will learn that puppeteers do not often get invited to parties for social reasons. Spend extended time with any puppeteer and you will understand why.

Nonetheless, in my capacity as entertainer, I am in significant birthday party demand, usually for people having the bad judgment to turn six or younger. Now on the one hand, I am grateful for these gigs, in that they allow me to pursue my cherished goal of earning an income so I can pay 90% of it in estimated taxes, with 9.99882% going to rent and, if I'm lucky, a nubbin left over for a little something to shave my legs.

Yes, the American Dream is alive and well among us freelancer entertainers, some of whom never have to sell both our retinas. Yet birthday parties for the younger set leave something to be desired, and here is why:

1. They are for the younger set.
2. The younger the set, the more fluids said set is liable to disperse. This is a true hardship for your weak-stomached birthday party entertainer, such as myself, who cannot deal with anyone dispensing anything beyond a pithy aphorism. However, the younger set never dispenses pithy aphorisms, and if they did, they would likely be crap.
3. No child has ever enjoyed him- or herself at a birthday party. The closest they come is not committing acts of mass carnage. It is a known scientific fact* that 35% of lifelong emotional trauma is caused by childhood birthday parties, with the rest attributable to sleepovers.
4. Increasingly, children are named things like "Brantleigh" and "Kooper." Every time a parent names a child something like "Brantleigh" or "Kooper," the hole intensifies in the ozone layer, which has led to horrific scientific consequences such as global warming, cancer and OKCupid. Therefore all small children should immediately, upon receiving names, be classified as biohazard.
5. But really, it's the parents who should be classified as biohazard.
6. Puppet shows are not a legitimate form of entertainment at a birthday party, because they require sitting quietly, which your average birthday-party-attending child can only do for .0000008 nanoseconds, and if the child is male, cut that figure in half.
7. This problem can be solved with tranquilizer darts, but that really cuts into my profits.
8. Puppet shows also afford the grown-ups in the crowd a chance to sit back and chat.
9. This problem can be solved with the death penalty, but that really cuts into my profits.
10. No one ever pops out of the cake.

So you - I am talking to you here, Mr. or Ms. Caring Parent - might want to keep these irrefutable facts in mind next time you try to give your child an organized birthday party, particularly one involving theatrical entertainment. A far more viable alternative would be simply to take the kid out in the yard and turn the hose on him; after, let him eat an entire thing of Cool Whip; then put him in front of the Cartoon Network for the rest of the day, retreat to the bedroom, and commence wild carnal activities. See how everybody wins here?

It's not your fault that you can't think rationally. Your problem is you've been blinded by being a Caring Parent. This state of affairs has addled your formerly respectable mind. It's much easier for me, a callow and inexperienced 26-year-old with no major obligations to anyone, to tell you what to do. So here, for your own edification, is the problem with hiring a birthday entertainer. Imagine you are a 5-year-old,** running around the house like an overcaffeinated fruit fly but with less self-control, gleefully ripping open presents and shrieking and smearing frosting into the sofa and breaking your presents permanently all in less time than it takes us adults to clear our spam folder; in other words you are LIVING THE DREAM; when all of a sudden a big adult claps his hands, seizes your flailing tiny body and announces in smarmy tones that now we're going to see a SUPER-FUN PUPPET SHOW, which, to you, turns out to be nothing more than some other unfortunate adult, this one with toys you can't touch, alternately shushing you and loudly writhing around before you and your friends in a wildly desperate attempt to get you to experience delight. Only you, by this point, are already off in the other end of the house, gleefully pouring fruit punch into Daddy's keyboard.

You see, parents? This is what you get for trying to force enrichment on your offspring. Your offspring who, I assure you, don't want to be enriched any more than you do. And definitely not at a birthday party, where it cuts into valuable time that could otherwise be spent emotionally destroying other small children. Are you really about to deny your child that joy?

But if you simply must insist on a "traditional" birthday party, don't let me stop you. I only ask that you stop to think, before you hire Enriching Theatrical Entertainment, how much you would like it if your birthday party was hijacked by interpretive dancers.

* SOURCE: Field and Stream.
** Probably named "Brantleigh" or "Kooper."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Acting for Beginners

Most actors have a second job. This has been common practice since the days of Shakespeare, when your average actor was so cash-starved, he had to take a backup job as a codpiece. Still, I think we can agree acting is the best job. You get to wear wacky-ass outfits and you never have to do anything hard. For proof, consult the following chart, which does not lie:
                                                                  Other Professions                        Acting
WACKY-ASS OUTFITS?                                     No                                       Yes

EVER HAVE TO DO                                          Yes                                       No

(Source: Scientific American)

If you don't believe me, you might do worse than consider my in-depth analysis of Other Professions vs. Acting, as follows:

A complete list of the things people in other professions have to worry about: Advancing science, administering justice, furthering education, eradicating disease, whether a patient will die, whether a circuit is properly wired, whether a generator will power a neighborhood, whether a little boy named Timmy will get out of a well, the plight of the persecuted, ice dancing

A complete list of the things actors have to worry about: False eyelashes; thighs.

I am of course being reductive here. Some actors - these are the really intellectual ones - also worry about whether or not they were "on" last night. I recently heard the following conversation between two actors, which I repeat unretouched:

ACTOR 1: Last night, I felt like I was "on."
ACTOR 2: Awesome.
ACTOR 1: But I'm not sure I was "on."
ACTOR 2: Yeah?
ACTOR 1: Yeah. It's like, was I "on?" Or was I, like, not "on"? And like... I don't think I was, like, "on." You know?
ACTOR 2: Yeah.
ACTOR 1: It's like... I coulda been "on," though.
ACTOR 2: Right.
ACTOR 1: I mean, I felt like I was "on."
(Loop conversation 4,569 times.)

Granted, this sort of thing is not an issue for most performers, who are "on" at all times including in deep sleep, during which they can and will break into a rousing round of "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" if asked. I should note here that I'm referring to your up-and-coming actor, rather than your established one. The up-and-comer can never afford to be "off," lest a casting director come within range, which will be clear by scent. This is why most actors in the early stages of their careers never even go to the bathroom. Their bladders look like advanced-stage Marlon Brando.

Yes, our lives are not without hardship; to wit, we occasionally must also update our resumes. This is a harrowing task, especially if you haven't had work in awhile. Just think how much easier this would be if you were the employee of a regular corporation:

Employee of Regular Corporation
Position: Associate Codpiece

- Stapling (in many dialects)
- Once thought saw narwhal off port bow of conference table; turned out to be chair

Whereas we actors without work must instead bloat our "special skills" list:

Represented by Codpiece Mgmt., Inc.

- Organ donor
- Can pick things up with toes

Eagle-eyed readers will notice the weasel wording. The actor in question doesn't say he can pick things up with his own toes. It could be anybody's toes. I told you we never do anything hard.

Listing one's special skills can induce great cosmic ass-pain in a certain subset of actors such as myself who do not even have any regular skills, let alone special ones. The older I get, the greater my discomfort over having no actual skills. This is a very precarious state of affairs indeed. Oh, sure, things are fine right now. But I'm concerned for the days ahead, when I start to look less like Amélie Poulain and more like Grampa Simpson. What then?

Some of you will think I'm exaggerating about my total lack of skills. Others among you - those who have seen me attempt to open a door unfamiliar to me - will know better. So that you grasp the severity of my situation, here are some other examples of skill deficiency I live with on a daily basis:

- I can't properly spread peanut butter on bread. I don't know why this is. Other people get a nice even coating of spread across the slice, and I'm not sure they're even trying. Whereas I can only manage a sad and unmalleable blob in the middle. This one really makes me worry about the future, because you know how they say choosy moms choose Jif? Well, clearly I will never be a mom of any kind, because even if I had the intuition to choose Jif (which I don't, because the Target brand is cheaper and "Skippy" is funnier), I wouldn't know how to apply it to bread, and my children would grow up emotionally disturbed, eating sad sandwiches, and eventually become drug dealers.

- Nothing in my house is homey. Sure, everything in my house is nice, but that's different. That's because I have a knack for buying things. What I don't know how to do is arrange them tastefully. Any semblance of taste in my apartment is the influence of my landlady, who left pleasing objects to give me the illusion of having aesthetic judgment. Whereas left to my own devices I would not know how to position a salt shaker.*

- Nor does anything in my house smell good. I mean, it doesn't smell BAD, either. But it also doesn't have that nice smell I associate with the homes of fully operational humans. I'll spend the night at a friend's, take a sniff of the comforter and marvel, "Ooo! Fluffy comforter smells like flowers!" Whereas I'll sniff my own comforter and marvel, "Ooo! Fluffy comforter just smells like comforter."

- I cannot operate an unfamiliar coffee maker. This point was driven home to me long ago at a dull temp job I took while at college. The boss gave me very specific instructions on how to use the coffee maker, but predictably I failed, and the coffee maker spewed forth coffee onto all nearby surfaces, with expensive ones getting priority. I'm not sure whether this was true incompetence on my part or just the fact that I can't keep my mind on things.

- I can't keep my mind on things. In fact, I

So, to what fatal flaw in my being can all these shortcomings be due? Well, I can't answer that, but I strongly suspect an adrenal deficiency, just because it is the first thing I thought of, offhand. I should look into that further, but frankly, I can't keep my mind on it.

Meanwhile, if you have any skills I can borrow, feel free to drop them by my house at your earliest convenience. I'll give you a coffee for your trouble, but you'll have to operate the maker yourself.

And in a pinch, if called upon, I can do a mean rendition of "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" in my sleep.

* Martha Stewart advises that the correct position is upright.**
** I'm not sure if she was talking about salt shakers or what, though.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Insight Schminsight

Those eagle-eyed readers among you will notice I haven't blogged for awhile. I got bogged down in the notion that I had to have something to say. This turns out to be false. You can write tons and tons of words without ever having anything to say; otherwise the entire Sweet Valley High book series would not exist. I had those books as a kid. They concerned a suburban California town so deranged that the high school held a prom once per book. Also the townspeople were so fatuous and superficial they didn't even realize they were fictional characters.

(Don't you think you'd notice if you were a fictional character?* I know I would. The first thing I'd do is rob a deli, since the fictitious among us can't get arrested. Just speaking hypothetically here.)

Now it's all coming back to me. I think it went something like this: the heroines of the books were the blonde and beautiful Wakefield twins, who went around saving Sweet Valley from anyone who had the bad judgment to be poor or sexual or black or otherwise not the blonde and beautiful Wakefield twins. Then at the end they would have a prom.

Of course, as a kid I didn't notice much except the prom scenes, and the fact that everyone in Sweet Valley was extremely attractive. I now realize this was due to an efficient municipal culling policy whereby all ugly people were bludgeoned. But when you're little you don't read between the lines. I mostly read the books as light entertainment during meals. The books lived out in crumbling cardboard boxes in our garage in Florida, where, remarkably, giant roaches never ate them. I now realize this was because they had standards.

But back to me, even though I'm not a Wakefield twin. I've put up a brick wall against blogging for awhile, partly because I've been busy, but also because I thought I had to have insight. This is that peculiar power of observation that allows you to comment on things in a manner so profound that people make vague appreciative noises while thinking about other things. Observe the difference between an insightful person and a normal unobservant plebe:

STIMULUS: A glass of wine.
INSIGHTFUL PERSON RESPONSE: "The full-bodied overtones, sepulchral with a hint of nepotism, bring to mind the pituitary secretions of the Andorran jackal, but without the panache."**
NORMAL PERSON RESPONSE: "Gimme more wine."

STIMULUS: A figure skater.
INSIGHTFUL PERSON RESPONSE: "His jumps are reminiscent of the legendary Ulrich Salchow, although they lack the fluidity of the late, great Hans Triple Flip."
NORMAL PERSON RESPONSE: "Gimme more wine."

STIMULUS: An express train decides to go local as you're rushing to work.
INSIGHTFUL PERSON RESPONSE: "Hey, don't stress! It's not about getting there fast, it's about reveling in the journey along the way."
NORMAL PERSON RESPONSE: (Takes out machete, heads toward insightful person first)

Of course, let me be clear: I'm NOT saying you should go out and buy a machete. They're expensive; try and borrow one first.

Now that I realize I'm more the normal type than the insightful type, life is so much easier. I can write about whatever I want without it having to have any point. Takes the pressure off!

With that in mind, I've taken it upon myself to prepare the following list of pointless topics about which I have many things to say:

1. Cab drivers who refuse to drive to my house, predicated on the argument, patiently and painstakingly explained to me, that my house does not exist
2. Bubble tea
3. Small children: The case against
4. Bubble tea
5. The speed at which my floor spontaneously generates filth despite the fact that I have just vacuumed or am actually vacuuming at that moment
6. Musical theatre: harmless pastime or leading threat to global health?

I'll let you decide that last one based on the following photo, taken at my neighborhood thrift store. These books were placed right next to each other. One is clearly the question, the other the answer:

Coincidence? I THINK NOT. Especially because I was the one who placed them there.

Anyway, you can expect to hear more about these topics, and many others, at the new 'n' improved Snark. And if you're thinking that now all my entries will have no point, well, that is exactly the point.

** Source: Your senior thesis.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Crying Foul

Lately I've been thinking about bad words. Like unwanted family members, they've become so much a part of the landscape that no one notices them anymore. For instance, I bet you didn't notice that even the friendly pre-recorded male voice on the New York City subway uses foul language ("Stand clear of the *@#!@-ing closing doors, please"; "This is 176th @!!&%-ing Street"). The barista at Starbucks says, "Would you like your #$%^-ing receipt?" and you say, "Yes, **&$# you."

Obviously this signals the degradation of our society, which clearly was not degraded enough to begin with, even when we started wearing thongs. (Think about it: as a society, we did this voluntarily. Of course there are honorable exceptions, such as the Pope.) (I am assuming here.)

My point, as you have no doubt guessed, is this: we need to return to the refined language of a bygone era. I realize most of us are ill-equipped to remember a cultural zeitgeist any longer ago than Full House, but I assure you we had even older eras. Think back to elementary school, when you learned about Abraham Lincoln. Can you imagine how the Gettysburg Address would read if written today?

Four score and seven #$%^^& years ago
Our fathers, those sons of @#$%!-es, brought forth...

But you know what's really weird, when you think about it, is that most people nowadays use bad words without even being angry. This is really jarring to me. I grew up in a house where no one used foul verbiage except in the case of a seriously rage-inducing event, such as a severely backed-up toilet. But now I hear people use these words in completely temperate situations, situations where no plunger is even thought of. ("Ya goin' to the &#$%-ing store?"  "Yeh, I'll pick you up some @($%^-ing Rolaids."  "Thanks, @#$%-er %(#%-er.")

This bothers delicate lilies such as myself. I was raised to believe you never use these words without just provocation, such as you are being garroted or have just been presented with tickets to Wicked. That's why our language needs to change. Only when we "up our game" verbally can we pull ourselves out of the current linguistic dark age. One good option would be to hearken back to the verbal modes of Shakespeare. Consider the following exchange, before enhancement:

PERSON A: I think Football Team X is a %^$*#-load better than that pile of %($^ Football Team Y.
PERSON B: Oh YEAH??? C'mere, you @$*%#&!
(They pull each other's ears off)

Whereas with a few Shakespearean tweaks, voilà! Iambic pentameter:

PERSON A: My lord, my liege, in sooth I do aver
That worthiest of entities, Team X
Doth kick real good the nutties of Team Y.
Dost thou agree?
PERSON B:      Thou prick, c'mere, let's fight.
(They pull each other's ears off)

No, wait, that's no better. Plus, this option requires training, so that you'll be able to pull out those Shakespearean flourishes at a moment's notice, and who among us has that kind of time? This is why machetes are useful, in a pinch, but that is not my point.

Another, potentially less time-consuming alternative would be simply to give well-considered, articulate voice to your every waking thought. I will use the example of a person I know whom we will call Mrs. R.,* who was once bitten on her finger by her dog while feeding it (the dog) (not the finger) bits of meat. Whereupon Mrs. R. unleashed the following stream of bad words:

MRS. R.: (Feeding the dog)
DOG: Omnomnomnomnom (BITE)

Pretty unimaginative, am I right, folks? Now think how much more articulate of a contribution Mrs. R. could have made to human discourse if she had verbalized her emotions as follows:

MRS. R.: (Feeding the dog)
DOG: Omnomnomnomnom (BITE)
MRS. R.: I feel great rage at this moment, as manifested both literally and in a sense symbolically, by the seeping wound upon my finger. A curse upon you and all your hairy little ancestors.
DOG: Boy, are you ever an ***hole.

Yes, verbal communication is extremely important. You see how they hashed that out? Just think of the pent-up feelings that might otherwise never have been communicated. Can you imagine, for example, the pain and suffering that might come of never cursing your dog's ancestors, let alone never knowing that you're an asshole?

This is why my dream stands strong of one day living in a world devoid of emptily used dirty words. Yes, granted, they are an instant and handy thoroughfare to emphatic self-expression. But I urge you to take a brave first step by using them at least sparingly. When, you ask? To make it simple, let's limit your bad-word use strictly to the following extreme situations: (a) when evil ninjas attack your house; (b) when you burst into flames, and of course (c) those Wicked tickets.

* This is so you will not uncover her true identity as Mrs. D.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Another Year, Another Set of Extremely Moderate Goals

Now that 2013 has passed, it's time to reflect at length and smugly on your proudest accomplishments of the year. Because however inconsequential they may be to the rest of the world, you know -- deep in your heart -- that they surpassed the accomplishments of people more pathetic than you. At least, probably. On which note, here are mine:

  1. I achieved a 94% success rate in leaving one or both appliance chargers at home en route to far-flung lands, and
  2. I spent an estimated 10,391 hours on the phone with the state health insurance hotline, which is pretty impressive when you note there are only 8,760 hours in a year.
Call me a braggart if you will, but I believe these accomplishments are pretty darned admirable, especially when you consider I wasn't even working with a life coach

Let's take a closer look at #2 in particular. I'm going to go ahead and call this my most heroic feat of all time, given I spent all but 20 minutes of it connected to the Helpful Lady-Bot. The Helpful Lady-Bot is a merciless android monster with a warm, cheery voice who taunts you periodically. Her function is to interrupti the Herb Alpert waiting music with cheerful sadist comments like, "Did you know your question may be answered on our website? Go to www.hahahadiepunkthismeansyou dot com and click on..." And so on. 

But here is the problem. And allow me to put this in bold and capital letters for emphasis:


Of course the Helpful Lady-Bot knows this; she just likes to toy with you. In Bot school she was the bully who took all the other androids' lunch money, then waved it over their heads trying to get them to grab it before yanking it away. (Talk about accomplishments: this she managed despite not existing.)

However, I emerged triumphant. On December 22, I succeeded - in a Christmas miracle the likes of which George Cukor would have killed to enshrine for posterity - in enrolling for health insurance. I reached an exceedingly competent and kind professional named Tanisha, who swiftly enrolled me in a plan despite the fact that her predecessors, on the odd occasion I had reached one, had failed to determine that I exist.* Of course I suspect these folks also regularly failed to chew and swallow correctly, but this is all water under the bridge now that I am (presumably) enrolled.

Obviously the moral of this story is don't give up on your dreams, or something like that.

Now clearly the foregoing has been addressed to those in pursuit of a goal. A goal might be anything: it could be enrolling for health insurance, but it could also be winning the World Cup, or winning the World Cup if you ever get off the phone with health insurance. Whereas this next part I would like to address to the goal-seeker's loved ones. Remember that your support is of the utmost importance to this person. That's why you should holler encouragement really, really loudly in their ears:

HELPFUL LADY-BOT: Did you know your question can also be answered on our website? Go to www. ...
YOUR LOVED ONES (in your ear): YOU CAN DO IT, BOB!!! YOU CAN DO IT!!!!!!!
YOU: Can you pipe down, please? I can't hear.
YOUR LOVED ONES (louder, because you need more encouragement): GO, BOB!!!!!! YOU GOT THIS, BUDDY!!!!!! YOU GOT THIS!!!!! GO GO GO GO GO!!!!!!!
YOU: Look, I'm really touched, but could you...
INSURANCE REPRESENTATIVE (picking up after 3,706 hours): Good afternoon, New York State of Health. How can I assist you?
YOUR LOVED ONES: YEAH!!!!!! BOB!!!!!! MY MAN BOB!!!!!!!! YOU CAN DO IT!!!!!!!!!!! ROCK IT, BOB!!!!!!! WORK IT, BABY!!!!!!!!! 
YOU: Shut up! Someone might answer! I need to hear!
YOU: For the love of God, shut...
YOU (in tears): PLEASE!!

But encouragement can also be a negative thing. I base this statement on a lethal encouragement incident I once saw with my own eyes.** I was at a figure skating competition, where a teenage figure skater named Charles was performing before a crowd of a few hundred spectators including, unfortunately, his own parents. Regrettably, the family had positioned themselves close to the boards, so that Charles, who would probably have preferred death by maggot, instead got the full onslaught of their affectionate encouragement. It was a sequence of events that went like clockwork: the family would send out an encouragement-beam, and instantly, Charles would fall. It went like this:

(Charles is skating; sets up for a jump)
FAMILY: Oh! OH! Here he goes! Here he... GOOOO CHARLES!
FAMILY: Ohhhhh! Go, Charles! It's OK! You can do it, buddy! You can do it! (Charles sets up for a jump.) You can-- whoaaa! Here he goes! Here he goes again! GOOOOO CHARLES!
FAMILY: Ohhhhh! Don't worry, Charles! Just a fluke! Ellie! Ellie, cheer for your brother!
(Charles falls while not even jumping)

Of course, knowing what young sibling relations are like, it is entirely possible his little sister had put a curse on him. But one way or another, my point is that encouragement can be a force for evil. By the end of the program Charles had fallen about 75 times and ended up placing 335th in the competition despite the fact that there were only 12 competitors. He was even beaten by the Zamboni driver and the head of the local skating association, who had spent the competition sitting in the bleachers scratching his personal region.*** So, as loved ones, you must use your own best judgment as to when to cheer and when to stop, unless of course you are a dum-dum, in which case there is very little I can do to help you, aside from suggesting a career OUTSIDE of the insurance hotline industry. Did you hear me? I said OUTSIDE. Here, lean your ear closer if you like. 

And to those who continue tirelessly chipping away at a long-held goal in 2014, I can only urge you to keep plugging. Keep your head up high and never give up. Unless, of course, you're trying to break into the New York theatre world, in which case I can only say to you, in all sincerity and from the deepest depths of my heart: get outta my way. 

* I admit I have my doubts.
** As opposed to with somebody else's eyes, which could potentially get you into trouble.
*** But then, his technique was flawless.