Friday, May 25, 2018

"What I Learned While Faking My Way Onto A Canadian Game Show"

“‘Faked your way’?  You?”

I know, Blue Italics “catches everything” Person.  As man-child Lou Costello used to say when he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar,

“I’m a ba-a-a-a-a-d boy.”

I enjoy telling this story. I may be writing this entire blog post just to include it.  “‘Good Boy’ Does Bad.”  It’s so deliciously subversive.

Sadly, abject shame had deprived me of the details.  I was in Toronto during my twenties, I guess not doing that much.  I heard about this Canadian game show called “Party Game”, a north-of-the-border rip-off of “Charades”, featuring Canadian celebrities – which to some, barring William Shatner and Leslie Nielsen, and I will likely hear about moreis an oxymoron – as the game show’s teamed-up participants.

Hungry for show biz involvement, I called the “Party Game” production office, volunteering my services. Making no effort whatsoever to keep them from thinking I was my more recognized older brother who, with his then partner Lorne Michaels, was starring in nationally broadcast television specials. 

It was only when I showed up for the taping that they discovered it was me.  You could read the suppressed disappointment on their faces.  It was like,

That’snot John Travolta.  That’s Joey.”

“Too late.  You got me.”

But you know what?

I was pretty good.  I got numerous laughs, and proved a talented charades player.

I learned something very important on “Party Game.”  (I actually learned two things.  The other was that they gave the show’s participants all the answers.   Okay.  But I was highly adept at pretending they didn’t.)

After the taping, the “Party Game” producer thanked us for coming and presented us with our checks. (Partially, a payoff to stay “Mum” that guessing the charades was itself a devious charade.)

Referencing my successful comedic approach, the producer told me something I had never considered before but I believe to be correct.  

“You’re a ‘counter-puncher’,” he astutely observed.

And so I am.  This personal attribute going way back.

At a friend’s daughter’s recent wedding I was reacquainted with fellow wedding guest Rick Moranis, whom I knew from Toronto, but only as a seven year-old, racing rambunctiously around at his Auntie Selma’s backyard barbecue, Rick’s Auntie Selma being one of my mother’s best friends (which was why we were invited.)

At the wedding, Rick remembered seeing my teenaged older brother, accompanied by a large reel-to-reel tape recorder, allowing him to record his prepared stand-up routine later that evening.

I recall that performance as well.  But from a slightly different perspective.

With his tape recording whirring, my brother stood in the dining room, doing his act before a small gathering of assembled adults.  Standing unnoticed in the corner was me, quietly “counterpunching” his performance. (Earning serious laughter myself. Sometimes actually more than the “Headliner.”)

Setting aside the inappropriateness of my behavior – making it three disreputable acts in one blog post – faking my way onto the game show, colluding with the cheating when I got there, and sabotaging my brother’s post-barbecue performance – I am apparently not the angel I thinkI am – my reactive comedy M.O. was on view at a substantially early age.

As I said yesterday, my comedy has to derive from somewhere.  (Like someone else commanding the attention.)  That’s why I always had difficulties starting a script.  You’re facing a blank page, and it’s like,

“‘Counterpunch’ this, Big Shot!”

How couldI?  There is nothing to counterpunch.

Even worse was what they called the – always dreaded to me– “Free Joke.”

I hated the “Free Joke.” The “Free Joke” nearly singlehandedly sunk my career.

What, you may ask, is a “Free Joke”?

“What’s a ‘Free Joke’?”

Too late.  

A “Free Joke” is this.

The scene – or, frequently, the entire episode – begins.  But before that show’s storyline walks into the room – comes over the phone, is delivered in a letter, or accompanies the arrival of a long-lost “half-sister” – the writer is instructed to first insert, a “Free Joke”, a free-standing setup-and-punchline to “get the ball rolling” that has nothing at all to do with the episode’s story.


You know, like in school, they said,

“Write a composition about what you did last summer”?

Okay.  I went to camp.  Here comes the story where I didn’t know I was going.

But if they instead said,

“Write a composition about anything you feel like.”

That’s a “Free Joke.” In the form of a paralyzing assignment.

If I had two weeks to write a script, I’d spend one-and-a-half of them on the “Free Joke”, knowing– and here’s the insane part – that it would inevitably be replaced on “Rewrite Night.”  Because, though it took a week-and-a-half to come up with the “Free Joke”,

It still stunk.

How do you ‘counterpunch’ a “Free Joke”?  There is nothing before it to play off of.

(I just experienced a retroactive “Wa-a-a.”)

It occurred to me while thinking about this that “counterpunching” is the “Official Comedy of the Introvert.” Counterpunchers initiate nothing. But once the game is afoot, we respond impressively to the surroundings.

It’s an admittedly secondary attribute.

Which is fine with me.

You may not garner the accolades.

But the extrovert innovators take all the heat.

And you know what?  (I hate this even more than the “Free Joke.”)

It hardly even slows them down. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

"I Wrote A Joke Once"

And I am quite proud of it.

As iconic baseball announcer Vin Scully, concerning a dribbling single into the outfield would say, 

“‘Tis a small thing but thine own.”

That’s how I feel about my joke.

‘Tis a small thing but mine own.

Classically structured jokes did not come easily to me.   Which is a problem in a business that expects them in busloads. 

Jokes are the “raw meat” of successful sitcomery, particularly those filmed in front of a live studio audience.  And, like the plant in Little Shop of Horrors, the demanding beast is continually ravenous.

I have been in the company of many superlative joke writers.  I marvel at their ability to conjure something – something truly hilarious – out of nothing.  

Great joke writers are comedy initiators.  Their jokes are entirely sui generis– which has surprisingly nothing to do with generous pigs.  (I shall now move to the next paragraph so that the of stench of the previous sentence does not contaminate my subsequent remarks.)

Great joke writers are self-starting machines, in the most awe-striking sense of the word.  They are not “married to the moment”, or any specific joke they come up with.  Their only concerning moment is the practical “reality moment” in the arduous rewrite process.

The moment that needs someoneto come up with a joke.

With their ingenious invention, a once “dead spot” in the script now embeds an exploding canister of laughter.  It’s like they plucked “hilariously funny” out of thin air.  Saving the rewrite night, and getting us home before breakfast.

I was a different kind of joke writer.  (Or, as my first half-hour comedy boss once described it, not a joke writer at all.) Still, I somehow got laughs.

Unlike the “pure” joke writers, my favored M.O. involved jokes rising from a contextual underpinning. Dramatic, emotional, emerging directly from character.  Sometimes, the generating source was a vague knowledge of the territory, laced with personalized silliness.  

I recall a vignette in the Best of the Westpilot.  Daniel, Sam Best’s disgruntled eleven-year old son had just insulted his Dad’s new wife, Elvira, a high-born aristocrat from the ante bellum South.  Sam insists Daniel apologize to her.  And from that we get this:


DANIEL:  “I’m sorry, Mammy.”

SAM “Daniel!”

DANIEL”  “I thought in the South they said ‘Mammy.’”

ELVIRA:  “They do. But not to their Mommy.”

DANIEL:  “You’re not my Mommy.”

ELVIRA:  “Well I’m certainly not your Mammy.”

So there’s that.

By contrast, the only joke I can remember that I both liked and that fit the standard joke-writing template is the following, which comes from Taxi.

Yada-yada-yada – Tony is boxing a far superior fighter.  His supportive friends ponder the encouraging “upside” of this impending lopsided encounter. 

ALEX:  Y’know, playing tennis with ‘A’ players, it somehow steps up my game.

BOBBY:  “I know. Working with more experienced actors, I amazingly rise to their level.”

ELAINE:  “It’s the same thing with sex.”

ALEX:  “You get better?”

ELAINE:  “They do.”

That joke got a pretty good laugh.  Although it’s not what I normally shoot for, sometimes, it takes mimicking others to get by. When there’s no nourishing context to draw from, the “formula joke” is the only available bridging “B”, moving the dialogue from “A” to “C.”  Of course, I dohave my preference.  Or is it my natural proclivity that makesit my preference?  I never know which one of those comes first.

Again from Best of the West, a distraught Daniel runs to his Stepmom for comfort, his nose buried in her voluminous attire.  There is a touching bonding moment.  At the end of which a near smothered Daniel curiously inquires,

“How long has this dress been in the trunk?”

(ALA W.C. FIELDS)  Ah, yes.  “Exploiting the moment.” 

Anyone who understands traditional joke construction can concoct some version of a joke.

But I like to think the foregoing was entirely earli generis.

That’s not me, bragging. I was different and lucky.  

The successful rewrite room combines a variety of writing styles.  

Thankfully, one style they included was mine.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"Go Easy On The 'Bad'"

What immediately comes to mind is the childrearing expert who, when expressing his professional opinion about spanking children proclaimed,

“If you promise never to spank your child you will end up spanking them just the proper amount.”

Having promised – myself– never to call a movie I don’t like “bad”, I believe I have called movies I don’t like bad “just the proper amount.” 

That amount being less often than if I had made no promise in that direction at all.

(Note:  There’s a lot to be said for that “spanking” rationale. The number of spanking episodes goes down, making your children less likely to abandon you when you’re old.  Which is ultimately all it’s about, isn’t it?)

Anyway… recent exception...

When exiting the theater recently, after seeing Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, which we did not care for, I heard my disgruntled voice say,

“That movie was bad.”

Wait.  Can I stop for a minute?  Thank you.

We don’t see closeto as many movies as we used to.  Let’s leave out “Why?” for this outing and go straight to the consequence.  The consequence being that when, on those, now, infrequent occasions when we dogo to a movie, and we don’t like it, we inevitably get angry. It’s like,

“We decide to show up, and you reward us with that?

I just wanted to throw that in.  The fewer movies you attend, every screened clunker exerts a disproportionate negative impact.  

“I ate an achovy once, and I hated it.  (Batting average for “Anchovy Appreciation” – Zero.)

“I’ve eaten hundredsof anchovies.  And I have only hated, like, 78 of them.”

I will not mess with the math there.  (And not only because I can’t.)  But you see what I’m saying?  The smaller the sample size, the heavier the weight on each anchovy.  Or attended movie.  Or dating women with red hair.  Or whatever.

Okay, back to wherever I was.   Which was where?  Oh yeah.

I’m a professional writer. 

Wait, no.  First this.

No, forget that.

I’m a professional writer. Wait.  I just flashed on a meeting I had with the manager of the star of a show I developed about a Marine, and as it turns out, the manager himself had been a Marine.  In the course of our less than amicable conversation, the manager said, “Now, putting on my ‘Comedy’ hat…”  And I thought, “Wait.  I don’t have a “Marine” hat.  Because I did not earnone.  When did this bird get a “Comedy” hat?  (“I took it off a dead funny PLACE NAME OF MARINE BATTLEFIELD OPPONENT HERE.”) Because he’d certainly not earned one.      

I may have belabored that distinction just to get in the “hat” story.  (I keep mistakenly typing the “hate” story.  I wonder why that is.)  Anyway, through time and experience, I have paid my dues acquiring a ”Writer’s” hat. (With a comedy “Cluster.”)  Resulting in an area of assessment where I can authoritatively adjudge a movie as to being “good” or “bad.”  That area of assessment involves specifically, 

“How successfully did the film’s writer execute their story?”

And that’s it.  Beyond that, my opinion of a movie is no better or worse than anyone else’s.

A professional writer, evaluating the storytelling.  How can I reliably do that?  Because I have learned over the years that, whatever the subject matter, storytelling itself does not essentially change.

In our culture, throughout history, good storytelling conforms to an unwavering narrative template.  I mean, think of the Bible – Samson, David and Goliath, Jesus – crucified and comes back? – Who the heck saw thatcoming?  There is no question.  Those Bible stories really hold up!  Why? Because they unfold generically “the right way.”  

The way that consistently works.

The “right way” may vary between cultures.  (Or it may not.  I am only familiar with one culture.)  But, in thisculture at least, a right and wrong way of telling a story actually exists.  (See:  Joseph Campbell’s theory of mythological storytelling.)  (Confession: I once found its delineated parameters overly constricting.  But now I am entirely on board.  What changed?  The experience of telling 2600 stories in this venue.  The best ones seem to organically shape themselves.)

Signals of substandard storytelling include:  Logical plot holes – as distinguished from pot holes – inconsistencies in the characters’ behavior, unclearstorytelling, excessive length due to cluttering extraneities, an unsteady climactic build-up, an unsatisfying resolution – any or allof these elements, and others I cannot currently access – a meandering self-indulgence, though I’d go easy onthatone –producing a leaky ship of a narrative approach. 

Untutored moviegoers simply react with their gut.  Yet their verbalized reactions – “It was good; it was bad” – reflect a, to me, misplaced and unjustified, evaluative response.

Why not just, “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it”?    
No one can say to those reactions, “No, you didn’t.”  Or tell you, “You’re wrong.”  

“I’m ‘wrong’ about what I don’t like?  Well you know what else I don’t like?  You!

People have differing reactions – imagine that. But, whereveryou stand, “good” or “bad” has likely nothing to do with it.

Final point.

If saying “That was bad” is simply your colorful way of saying, “I didn’t like it”,

Never mind.

But if you really meant it was bad,

Maybe you’re spanking that child just a little too often. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

"The Miraculous Workings Of The Mind... And It Can't Be Just Mine"

It was a great thing that happened yesterday.

And I had virtually nothing to do with it.  That’s what made it so special.  My mind put it all together.  And I just stood by and watched.

And, as a bonus, it was less downbeat than usual.

A welcome alternative, don’t you think?  From writing about things that can’t change, or things that canbut nobody wants them to so why are we talking about this? 

A welcome break from Quixotic futility.  And not just for the reader.

Tomorrow, it’s back to “business and usual.”  (Because temperament is destiny.)  But today, I am bouncing giddily on the front parts of my feet, the back parts going rhythmically up in the air with no idea why that’s happening.

“We like the whole foot on the ground.”

Soon as I’m finished.  I promise.  Although it is not easy bouncing and typing at the same time.  It’s like typing on a ship.


Yesterday morning, on my traditional “Thursday Walk” to the Groundworkcoffee emporium, my mind worked magnificently, with no outside pressure or provocation.  

It did it all on its own.

And I amazingly watched it transpire.  Or is it “amazedly”?  Or is it a completely different word entirely?  Oh, dear.  You see what happens when you intellectualize too much?  You get tied up in knots.  

About nothing!

Okay.  I’m calm now.

So I go outside for my traditional “Thursday Walk”, and I give my brain this instruction:

“I have a vague notion about today’s blog post.  I will now stop thinking, and let you miraculously ‘fill in the blanks.’”  

Not that it writes the whole thing.  But this perambulatory “Zen Mode” provides useful material that, more often than not, winds up in the post I will inevitably write later and then post on the Internet for immortalizing posterity.

“Grandiose”, but what the heck.

That’s the procedure. I essentially switch my brain to “Play” and recede passively into the background. 

Here’s what took place on this particularwalk, though the described phenomenon is rewardingly reliable.

I hear a bird go “Chee-chir-ree.”  

And everything instantly changes from that point.

I abandon my intended post idea – which I will likely write later –  “Waste not, want not” – and proceed in the direction suggested by the bird.

The bird reminds me of spring, because it’s a returning migrating bird, whose cheery “Chee-chir-ree” had been audially “Missing in Action” since autumn. 

From there, my mind totally “Takes the wheel.”

The bird reminds me of spring.

Spring reminds me of the “Signs of Spring” scrapbook project, assigned at The Toronto Hebrew Day School.

Which reminds me of the only otherscrapbook project we were ever assigned, celebrating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second of England. 

Which reminds me of the commemorative coin distributed to all the schoolchildren in the (then) British Commonwealth around the world.

Which reminds me that the schoolchildren attending The Toronto Hebrew Day Schooldid not receive a commemorative coin.

Which reminds me that I had never forgotten that unjust exclusion.  (Discovered years afterthe discriminatory event.)

Which sparks the idea to write Queen Elizabeth The Second herself, “petitioning” remedial redress for the undelivered commemorative coin.

And so it went. Writing, by virtual “Auto Pilot.” I’m telling you, it was my mindthat said, ”Do it as a letter”, not me.  

Iwas just going for coffee.

Anyway, that’s how I got yesterday’s post – one connection leading to another, leading to another, and yet another, and still another, eventually crystalizing into the format for a post, which I went home and immediately typed up.

And I must say, though it took three hours to complete, there was surprisingly minimal revision. (Why did it still take three hours? I don’t know.  I guess I’m a really a slow typer.)

You know, I have written, to date, more than 2600 posts.  The thing is, if I essentially write what I intended – concisely, coherently, persuasively and, hopefully, somewhat entertainingly – I consider the completed post a success.  

In that regard – minus a couple of personal favorites – if you asked me to compile a list of ten or twenty of my “best posts”, I would be unable to do so, considering a large number of them – based on the above-mentioned criteria – equally successful.

Having said that – and at the risk of hurting the other posts’ feelings – I liked yesterday’s blog post a lot.  It feels alive and spontaneous, with no discernible patchkying around.  (Minimal fingerprints of effort and exertion.)  

“A petition to Queen Elizabeth the Second of England requesting the commemorative coin that was never delivered.”

I think it’s really good.

I can say that because I did not essentially write it.

So it’s not entirely bragging if I do. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

"A Belated Petition"

Dear Your Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second of England,

I do not know if you read my blog.  Nor am I privy to Her Majesty’s e-mail address.  

I am hoping that one of your Royal Secretaries will see this and pass it along for your “Royal Consideration”, if you are not too busy knighting people and overseeing “The Trooping – or is it “Trouping” – of the Colours.”  (I threw that “u” in for you.  I am an expatriate Canadian so I know about the “u.”  By the way, thanks – at least to your forbearers – for granting us qualified independence in 1867.  Your face is still on the money, though – with apologies – not all of the money.)

Anyway, let me tell you why I’m writing to you.  

Straight out?

I would like to request a favor.

I am sure you get a lot of requests, and I am truly sorry to burden you further.  I mean it’s not wildly unreasonable, like “I need a kidney”, or anything.  In fact, when you hear what it is, you might say, “Spit-spot! – It’s done!”  I have heard you are really decisive.

Nor is this some “lifelong obsession.” I just feel… not wanting to put too fine a point on it… that a serious injustice has been done, and it would be great if it were finally alleviated.  

Here’s what returned this issue front and centre to my consciousness.  (The “r-e” in “centre”?  Just for you.)

While enjoying my traditional “Thursday Morning Walk”, I heard a bird go, “Chee-chir-ree.”  It was the first detected “Chee-chir-ree” of the season, indicating – if you allow birds to make this particular designation – the official arrival of spring.

That happily heard “Chee-chir-ree” reminded me of the “Signs of Spring” scrapbooks we were assigned in elementary school.  (More about which school that was later, as it plays a central role in this petition.)   

Truth be told – and who would lie to a monarch? – I was not a big scrapbook enthusiast.  I essentially did the minimum.  Pluck a newly-arrived blade of grass out of the ground, tape it into the scrapbook – Boom!” – “Sign of Spring.”

The point is, recalling that assignment reminded me of the only other scrapbook I was scholastically required to assemble:

“The Queen Elizabeth the Second Coronation Scrapbook.”


(I just looked it up so I wouldn’t embarrass myself and immediately put the kibosh on this petition due to “historical inaccuracy.”  I know for sure it was the early 50’s because of that – forgive me – stupid school scrapbook assignment.)

There I was, trudging from travel agency to travel agency, asking for illustrated brochures of England and having the proverbial door repeatedly slammed in my face.  Do you recall the crushed look on your sister Margaret’s face when you said ”No” to her marrying Group Captain Peter Townsend?  Same look on myface when they told me, “No brochures!”  Minus the abject heartbreak.

Anyway…  here’s the thing.  (Answering your likely impatient, “What’s the thing?”)

I learned this many years after the fact.  (Along with hearing about “Canadian Thanksgiving”, although at not exactly the same time.  I link them together because my response to bothilluminations was “What!?!”)

I don’t know if they told you this – I’m sure your plate was really full at that moment – but when Your Majesty was coronated, they struck a commemorative coin in your honour (sic) and sent copies to every school in the commonwealth, to distribute to all of the schoolchildren.

Well – getting straight to the point here – 

I never received a coin.

Not just me.  Nobody in my school got one.  That school being,

The Toronto Hebrew Day School.

Let me be clear here. I am not accusing Her Majesty or Her Majesty’s Government of anti-Semitism.  (Although there was that one misstep when you – well, I mean, not you, but one of your predecessors – expelled all the Jews out of England in 1280.)  (Applauding anotherpredecessor for later allowing them back in.)

Maybe it’s because we were designated, what they called, a “Parochial School.”  But for whateverreason, our school did not receive any coins.  (Unless we did, and our principal Mrs. Snider kept them all for herself, distributing them piecemeal to her grandchildren as Chanukah gifts, or for finding the matza.  (It’s a Passover tradition.  Ask someone to Google:  “Afikoman.”) 

Which finally brings me to my request.

I am aware it was a long time ago.  

But do you think you could find me one of those coins?

Here’s the thing, which will, perhaps, make things a bit easier.  I’ll be in England – specifically at Oxford University, the second week of July.  So if you want to deliver the coin personally, that would be really terrific.  (I am not clear on the school’s “Visitors Policy” but I am sure they would make an exception for you.)

Otherwise, you could just mail it to me.

That is, if you happen to find one somewhere, like maybe while cleaning out your drawers, or something. I’m not asking you to cancel any Royal Visits to look for it.  Just, you know, you’re rummaging around some rainy day when you are unable to inspect your gardens and it’s like, 

“Oh, look – a leftover commemorative coin from my royal coronation!  I think I’ll bestow it on that former Canadian who wrote me that nice letter.”

Well, I guess that’s it; I just thought I should try.  Anyway, congratulations on your being the all-time longest reigning ruler of England.  Or perhaps anywhere, for all I know – I am no student of “monarchical longevity.“

I am not going to grovel, or anything; I imagine you hate grovelers.  It’s just, if you can see clear to respond to this ‘umble petition, I would really appreciate it.


Your loyal Commonwealth (ex)-subject,

Earl Pomerantz.

(Address provided, on request.)

P.S. (Not to be fawning):  I always believed you were the prettier sister. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

"Filling The Void"

I am writing this because a man I recently mentioned to it said it was “a great insight.”  So if you think it sucks, blame him.  You don’t need to know who “him” is.  Just as long as it’s not me. 

Okay, so here it is.  

“A Jury of Your Peers.”  

A longstanding tradition. 

With a strong adjudicatorial rationale.   


Let’s set the contextual stage here.

THE YEAR: 1792.

“What month?”

Leave me alone.

One of your peers is on trial for committing a civil or criminal crime.  Let’s call him Clem.  As a member of the jury, you are listening to what happened so you can make a fair and equitable decision.  

While the facts are presented, you inevitably wonder, 

“Would Ido that?  (“That” being the illegal act Clem is charged with having committed.)

“If Clem didit, was he understandably justified in his actions?”

“If, as Clem proclaims, he didn’tdo it, do I believe him?”

If, based on the situation and your personal knowledge of Clem, the answer to those questions is “No”, “No” and “No” – “Guilty as charged.  Take the prisoner away.”

If the answer to them is “Yes”, “Yes” and “Yes” – “Case dismissed.  Sorry for the inconvenience.  Although you really looked guilty.  Though come think of it, Clem, and I have known you a long time, you alwayslook guilty.”

That’s the advantage of “A Jury of Your Peers” in 1792.   You know the people involved.  You know their experiences.  (Because they are also yourexperiences.)  And you know if their sworn word can be trusted.

All of which colors your ability to decide.

“Y’know, I once went into Clem’s hardware store to buy some nails.  I say, ‘Clem, I need thirty-seven nails.’  He says, ‘Comin’ right up, Henry.’  Clem counts out the thirty-seven nails, he slips them into a paper bag, I pay for my nails, and I walk out of the store.  That night, I’m home eatin’ my dinner when there’s this ‘knock-knock-knock’ at my front door.  It’s Clem. He tells me that while he was slippin’ those nails into the bag, one of them accidentally dropped on the floor.  The man walked eleven miles to bring me my full compliment of nails.  That’s Clem.”


No Clem.

By which I do not mean no more scrupulously honest people. I mean no one beyond family and a few close friends that we indisputably know and trust – or do nottrust – that we can therefore unequivocally vouch for. Or its opposite.  Vouch against?

By diametrical contrast, in today’s highly populated metropolises lacking all aspects of communitarial “glue”, we are intuitively connected to nobody.   We don’t know their characters.  We are unaware of their proclivities.  We are alien to any shared experiences.

Everybody’s a stranger.

And yet we persist in the charade of

“A Jury of Our Peers.”

Why do we do that?

Try thison your harmonica.

Years ago, the Israeli army hired psychologist Daniel Kayneman to develop a test that would predict the future success of the assembled recruits in combat.  Years later, in an evaluative follow-up, it was discovered that, as a predictive indicator, Kayneman’s test was entirely useless.  

The Unbelievable But True Punch Line:  

The Israeli army kept using the test.

Why did they continue to do that, although it demonstrably didn’t work?

Because that’s all they had.

Does that sound crazy to you?  It’s like, “We’re lost, but we’re making good time.”

The idea of “A Jury of Your Peers” was a viable concept in the homogenized communities of 1792. (And in feudal England, where it originated.)

In the anonymous, urbanized culture of today?

We don’t know any of our peers.

Yet we behave like “A Jury of Your Peers” like it’s a still viable approach.  

Why do we do that?

Because that’s all we have.

“And that, Your Honor, is why I feel unqualified to participate in Jury Duty.”

So what do you think?

About my “great insight”, notmy just-came-to-me excuse to escape Jury Duty.

Although, come to think of it,

It’s a pretty good excuse.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"Sometimes You Can Learn Something From Learning Nothing"

Being seriously engaged in this undertaking, I am forever on the lookout for new blog post ideas.

A couple of weekends ago, I believed I had foundone.

In the course of a “go-to-sleep” stroll down Santa Monica’s Main Street with daughter Anna and her drowsy, “Snugglied” daughter Golda, we occasionally stopped along the way for some casual neighborhood store shopping.    

Without mentioning the particular store in question, I will simply say this:

I bought a shirt there for forty dollars.

I do not know where you live – L.A. is hideously expensive – or what your personal clothing allowance may be.  If “talking price” is personally insulting to you, let me I preemptively apologize.  It’s just that… where I live, and in my current situation…

Forty dollars is a really cheap shirt.

It was a nice shirt. Long-sleeved.  Linen.  No collar, like I like them, being an inordinately short-necked individual.  Note:  Let me be clear before you get an erroneous suspicion.  I have not sunk to becoming “I bought a new shirt” blog writer. Unless the exigent circumstances merited mention.  Which in this case, well…

There was just something about the price.

For the first time since – I don’t know, the fifties? – I had purchased an adult-sized sport shirt for forty dollars.

And being a lazy liberal – that’s a liberal who smells the whiff of injustice but that’s as far as it goes – I thought I’d write about the nagging guilt around purchasing a forty-dollar shirt.  No ameliorative action.  Just the guilt.

I had found an idea.  

Upon further consideration, however, I could not get excited about that idea, partly – no, largely– because, though I had this discomfiting feeling – “Why is it so cheap?” – I planned to buy the shirt anyway.

I then imagine a way out, a plan to salvage the post, delineate my discomfort “for the record”, be hopefully entertaining in the process, and perhaps plant a seed of empathy and corrective suggestion for the visiting readership. 

My ingenious proposed strategy:  I would write it as an analogy.

I even imagined an italicized foreword:

“Analogies are paralleling examples that don’t hurt as much.”   

(Which are generally more fun than dry, pedestrian reportage.  “I saw a forty-dollar shirt. – What makes it so cheap?... where’d they go?”)

I would reset the analogical scene in 19th Century America.  You can see where I’m going with this, right?

NORTHERN CUSTOMER:  “Why is this cotton shirt so inordinately inexpensive”?



The only difference being that they knewwhy, and I didn’t.  (And was not overly inclined to find out.)  (And I just lied about “overly.”)

Almost immediately, the scenario took shape in my head.

FADE IN:  A Men’s haberdashery in 1850’s America.

A customer comes in, looking to buy an “everyday” new shirt.  The store’s energetic proprietor shows him a shirt the customer appears to be taken with.  

CUSTOMER:  “How much does it cost?”

PROPRIETOR:  “Seventy-nine cents.”

The same situation, right? With the salving element of “distance”, and scaled backwards, for inflation.  

(Note:  I tried to research how much a cheap shirt would cost in nineteenth century America, but what I ran into were companies selling replicas today.  Quickly tiring or “serious research”, I contrived a “funny number” instead.)

As the narrative progressed, I had the proprietor purring, “Feel the fabric.  Soft as butter.”, the uncomfortable customer explaining, “My shirts usually cost more.” and the proprietor playfully responding, “You can pay more.”
The morally upright customer reveals he traditionally buys English-made shirts, which, although more expensive, he knows are produced by “free labor”, as England had banned slavery numerous years before.  (In 1833, being historically specific.)
“I am against slavery”, the customer proclaims.
“I don’t have any,” answers the proprietor.
The proprietor concedes that he cannot stop the customer from paying more for the same garment elsewhere, possibly one that’s not quite as “soft as butter.”  He also reminds the customer that, from a practical perspective, one man rejecting a shirt because of who originally picked the cotton would make no tangible difference to the lamentable “pickers.”  It may, in fact, make things worse– lower profits for the plantations would likely pass along as worsening living conditions for the “Unfortunates” he ardently wished to support.  When you think about it, buying that seventy-nine cent shirt could actually help them.
The planned post would go on in such a fashion, ending, perhaps, with a flurry of “offers you can’t possibly refuse”, rising to the giddy level of “Six shirts for three dollars! – What you’d normally pay for one shirt, and I’m offering you six!
Well… you know what?  

It was the same story – a congenitally guilty consumer challenged by an enticing bargain – which turned out assuaging none of my original concerns as an analogy.

There was a hole in this imaginatorial balloon.  I decided to let it go.

Although – “Full Disclosure” – there is a terminating codato the story.

What elsedid I do, besides abandoning that blog post and then explaining to you why?

I just sighed.

Okay, here goes.

Two weeks later, I went back to the store where I had purchased the forty-dollar shirt and bought a wonderful pair of shorts.

When they were “ringing me up”, however, I breathed a sigh of satisfying relief.

The shorts were more expensive than the shirt.

I know that’s lame.

But beyond talking about it, 

I have no idea what to do.