Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How To Piss Away $42,000,000 And Help No One

            The Olympics – a time everyone looks forward to, when nations join together and set aside their differences to celebrate the hard work of incredible athletes. Yeah right. Lesser concentrations of bovine manure can be found in freshly fertilized pastures. It would be lovely if we were really celebrating the athletes. I can actually relate to the people who compete in these events. Olympic athletes and classical musicians have a lot in common. We both throw ourselves into hours and hours of solitary training for short moments of performance that either result in glory or complete and total failure. People might know who we are for a week, but they quickly forget, for the most part. We do what we do because of an inner burning passion that drives us, not because we have dreams of offshore bank accounts and second homes in Tahoe. You do what you do with the awareness that you may struggle financially for the majority of your lifetime. Who cares? Money isn’t everything.
            That is actually not the case for the majority of inhabitants of developed nations. Money IS everything. In fact, it is ALL about money. Countries vie for the rights to host the Olympics with the hopes it will bring money to their economy. The US outsourced the production of the Olympic uniforms to China, no doubt to save money (that was patriotic, wasn’t it? And I'm sorry, but what was up with the berets?). NBC spent $1.3 billion for the rights to broadcast the Olympics so they could make money showing you lousy advertisements. That number makes me sick to my stomach so I’m going to forget it and focus on a smaller, yet equally sickening number.
            Let’s discuss the international pissing contest that is the opening ceremonies. In a rational world, this would be an event purposed to welcome and celebrate the competitors. It would be about the athletes. I can’t remember an opening ceremony I have seen that was about the athletes. The openings have turned into ridiculous events where the host country attempts to outdo the spectacle created by the prior host country. They have singing and dancing staged by movie directors and choreographers who have nothing to do with the sports that will take place. Famous people come to perform. There are usually fireworks. Often there are light shows, supposedly symbolic displays that are so esoteric they make sense to no one, and don't forget the technical malfunctions. All of this costs an obscene amount of money. The ceremony in London this year cost $42 MILLION, and I must include that number would have been higher if they had actually PAID the performers. They did not. That may be fine if you are Paul McCartney and have goo gobs of money, but as I mentioned earlier, most performing artists do not. How did they get around this? By asking musicians to volunteer their services. Those who would not "volunteer" were then informed they would not be needed. I can not even begin to tell you how offensive this is to those of us trying to make a living as performing artists – to think that people believe it is acceptable to expect us to perform for free and be honored to do so. No one else works for free. A lack of compensation does not say that we are doing it because the art is so important but the complete opposite. It says that they want us to do it for free because they do not put any value to the art.
            So $42 million…. I imagine they could have created a pretty extravagant spectacle for $21 million as well…. As food for thought, I would like to propose to you some things that could have been done with the other $21 million had they chosen to spend half the money on the ceremony and half the money on something actually worth while.

According to thewaterproject.org the average cost to provide clean water to one person in the countries they work in (Rwanda, Uganda, Sierra Leone, and Kenya) is about $20. So with $21 million they could provide clean water to about 1,050,000 people in Africa.

Blue Planet Network can provide a village of 110 families in Africa with a complete water system for $10,000. That would be water systems for 2100 families.

"Nearly 90 percent of all diseases in the world are caused by unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene. Every year, there are 4 billion cases of diarrhea as a direct result of drinking contaminated water; this results in more than 2.2
 million deaths each year—the equivalent of 20 jumbo jets crashing every day." Living Water International

$1.20 is all it costs to immunize a mother against maternal and neonatal tetanus. From my calculations, $21,000,000 would actually take care of a few hundred years worth of vaccinations in the world’s poorest countries, thus curbing the deaths of 180,000 infants and 30,000 mothers a year.

Another huge problem is polio. This disease is still endemic in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Eradication of the disease requires pretty much EVERYONE being vaccinated. UNICEF can get the vaccine in its many forms for an average of about 14 cents a dose (it's OPV in the table of vaccines listed). $21,000,000 could help vaccinate 150,000,000 children.

I think I’m making myself pretty clear. I’d rather lives be saved than see fire and dancers on television help make NBC's $1.3 billion investment pan out. And I have an inkling that many of the athletes from these developing nations would feel a lot more celebrated and touched if instead of showing up for the flashiest, most boring party of all time, they found out that something was being done to improve the living conditions of the nations they represent. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

It's Fashion Friday!: Monstrous Marketing Muck-ups

            Whenever I find myself in an airport, I can’t resist buying a magazine. It’s pretty much the only time I spend the money on print media. I find that looking at pictures on airplanes is an acceptable activity. Looking at pictures and sleeping. Now I own a laptop, so a whole new world has been opened. As you’re getting to know me I can hear you thinking, “Sarah, do something different? No way! She bought a magazine anyway!” It’s true. I did. And as much as I wanted to buy the copy of The Economist calling out to me with it’s headlining article about the crisis in Syria, my shallow side won out and I picked up the latest issue of Vogue with the sole intention of reading it to rip it apart. What is it I have against Vogue, you ask? I don’t know. Maybe I just never forgave them for eliminating their horoscope section.
This is not appealing unless you are a
purple martian looking for a new bathrobe.
            Lucky for Ms. Wintour and her bland publication, I didn’t even get to their content before I found myself completely overwhelmed with distaste directly resultant from marketing failures. Did I go to sleep and miss some sort of shift in reality? I was under the impression that print advertisements, especially fashion print marketing, were to entice and encourage you to desire and purchase product. An effective marketing spread makes me not only want the clothing, shoes, and jewelry that the model is wearing, but also the life, looks, and location of the model. I want to BE the model. I want to be standing by that pool, drinking the martini, wearing the diamonds, having the perfectly tailored chiffon empire-waisted gown gently floating in the breeze as my pool boy waits for further instructions.  Right?
            Well, I opened up the August 2012 issue of Vogue and found myself staring at Lindsey Wixson decked out in giant purple slabs of agate (Maybe? That’s what it looked like. I’m no gemologist), with the most dreadful lilac space age bob, carrying a rock-like minaudière that resembled a coffin for a boutonnière, sporting all black Chanel. Perhaps in a different setting Karl Lagerfeld’s designs would have been appealing, but I looked at that picture and thought, “Good grief I don’t EVER want to look like that.” 
Hat trashcans - the portable way to make sure you have somewhere
to dispose of your recycling after lunch.
            Not many pages later, I found myself staring at some print from Louis Vuitton (they just can’t catch a break with me this month). Now I will say, the handbags these young ladies were photographed with were somewhat smart. I could like them in a different setting. The stylists RUINED it. These girls have upside down trashcans on their head. Felted wool trashcans. Millinery on LSD. No, scratch that. On LSD they’d at least be in pretty colors. It’s Millinery on meth. Toothless, dirty, ugly hats. The peasants in My Fair Lady had nicer hats. 
Little Miss Muffet sat under her tuffet, watched Edward
Scissorhands, and lost her mind (in quadruplicate).
            Even so, LV doesn’t take the cake for the worst showing in the magazine. It’s funny - these are the kind of weird photographs I expect from D&G, Miu Miu, Balmain, and the like….in comparison their ads were so tame. The winner of the worst editorial marketing photo of the year is…… drum roll….. Juergen Teller for Marc Jacobs!!!!! When you turn the page and see a bunch of dumpy anorexic girls in white cake makeup, with faux? Real? Fur hats (although they were big enough to be tuffets for Pomeranians), dowdy sweaters and brocade jackets, and think “Is THAT JOHNNY DEPP?” you know you’re in trouble. I don’t want to look like Johnny Depp. I don’t want to wear a fur tuffet on my head. And I certainly don’t want to hang out with anorexic girls in ugly sweaters. I want pretty dresses, diamonds, and pool boys. If anyone in your marketing department told you otherwise, they were sadly mistaken. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Meeting People Is Easy

Today I'd like you to look at something else!
Not only do I not have any motivation to write any content for the usual Tuesday post, I'm not sure that I actually have the strength left in my arms to hold them in the position required to type several hundred words. I'm at a yoga intensive this week, you see - spending time with one of my lifetime's greatest friends and pushing my mental and physical boundaries at the same time. I already have some funny stuff written for you for Fashion Friday, but today I would like to introduce you to a writer I am falling in love with. It's perhaps a bit awkward as I've never met Joslyn in person and I think our relationship is quite unbalanced (I'm not kidding. I think she's amazing), but when are relationships ever truly balanced?  Not-So-Young on Venice Beach is her post from June 21, 2012 to her blog Cirque du Malaise. Read her other posts too. I really liked this one, so I thought it would be a nice place to meet up. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

It's Fashion Friday!: Barneys - You're Not Purple And You Don't Sing... Please Don't Change.

I would walk in here and drool like a St Bernard on a hot day.

Very recently, a dear friend of mine, who I lovingly refer to as “Little One” moved forward in her career. She stepped up from being a successful sales associate for Bottega Veneta to selling accessories for Barneys. I’ve never really considered Barneys a huge presence in the Boston area, although I do love going into their Copley location. The buyers for their salon shoe department don’t even have to hit the nail on the head; they double dowel, screw and glue. I can’t remember a single time I’ve walked through there and thought, “What were they thinking?” I wish I had enough money to shop there. Regardless, since Little One kept me sane in my final months working at my worst job of all time, I decided that in her honor I would write up something on her new employer.
            Coincidentally, Barneys flagship (660 Madison Ave) opened a new SHOE FLOOR at the beginning of this week. You did read that right. A Floor. 22,000 square feet of high end, artfully chosen, designed, and constructed couture for your kickers – men’s and women’s alike. It is a well-known fact that I love shoes even more than I love scratch tickets. Of course, I jumped at the chance to talk about something shoe related. It is an excellent thing that I am not able to pop on over and check this new location out for anyone. My credit score and bank account balance would not survive that sort of research adventure, even if I tried to sell it to the IRS for hefty refunds come spring.
The pictures are quite appealing - bright, open, and expensively designed. They claim they will have exclusive styles from many luxury brands. I have to tell you, though, that is nothing new. Department stores and boutiques ALWAYS have exclusive styles. It’s the nature of how the fashion RTW industry works. The designers show their product to the buyers from the various establishments, and the buyers pick what they want to sell. Bloomingdales may not pick the same colors and styles that Saks or the boutique picks. That’s how you end up with a department store having something in patent leather that the boutique only had in satin. As a seller, I found that to be more of an irritation than a positive…. Anyways…
            You must drop everything and go and visit the shoe floor this weekend. I realize that is a tall order with not a whole lot of notice. Barneys is doing a good deed and donating 10% of their sales through this Sunday July 22nd to the Human Rights Campaign and its Americans for Marriage Equality Program. My first thought when I read that was “Seriously? Just 10%?” I’m just giving you a hard time, Barneys. That is a nice gesture and a brave one given how many people out there still think they will be personally harmed if gay people in another state get married (That makes ABSOLUTELY no sense to me…. It's like saying I'm going to have a heart attack because Arnold Schwarzenegger choked on a chicken bone while eating Cheerios). 
            So we already have three new reasons to fall in love with Barneys: shoes, social responsibility, and Little One. Let’s add a few more. I said I didn’t often visit their Boston Copley Plaza location; that doesn’t mean I don’t frequent their website! Aesthetically appealing and easy to navigate, this site is set up to help you find what you need, what you want, and what you didn’t know you needed or wanted. It’s mostly product and very little posturing. And if you’re trying to acquire something, isn’t that what you want? If you’re looking for all the other “stuff” they’ve been cramming into the department store websites these days, it’s not lost. Barneys has a section they’ve titled “The Window.” It’s full of articles and videos about fashion, art, travel, designers, and products you can purchase at Barneys.
            They have free shipping. You can buy things like $395 ice buckets. It’s pretentious as all get out. They’re not trying to convince you that they are anything but pretentious. Barneys actually began as a discount store, believe it or not. They very quickly realized that was not where they wanted to be and over the years built on their level of quality until they were importing the best of the best. They’ve had some financial difficulties in the last fifteen years, but hopefully that hurdle is in the past. So, go try and buy some beautiful shoes for me! I will live vicariously through you. Post pictures! Tell me what it’s like in that magical haven of podiatric pleasantry. I want to see what you get. And, Barneys, take care of my Little One! She’s a treasure that can’t be bought, even on the most magical of shoe floors.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Gumbyman Returns!

There is no air conditioning in my house. We have those old fashioned window units in the bedrooms, but for the basic living spaces we are SOL. In these heat waves like we’ve been having in New England of late this translates to me relocating to coffee shops to work. My local coffee shop crowds pretty quickly on weekends, so I usually end up at the Barnes & Noble Starbucks just over the NH border. When I discovered Gumbyman’s existence last weekend, I really didn’t think I’d ever see him again. You can imagine my surprise on Sunday when he pulled up a chair at the table next to me and began a variation of what I have concluded is routine. Of course, we’re practically B&N café family now so I had no problem staring and taking notes.
            I don’t know why he only needed one table and one chair this week. Perhaps it was because he was not wearing his Gumby shirt. Without Gumby along for the ride, naturally he wouldn’t need as many chairs. His shirt was clean and pressed, a grey t-shirt with the sleeves cut off at the shoulders. No deviation from the forest green shorts. There was little rustling as he settled into his chair. No nerves. Just easy squatting and a plopping down of four books and a brown paper bag of a shape that would indicate it contained a sub like sandwich.  The literary choices were A Ship Without A Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart in hardcover, The Three Stooges Scrapbook, The Color Companion to Walt Disneyworld, and a paperback of title that remained covered at all times. The only words I could see were “full of coupons.”
            Gumbyman got up not long after he sat down and walked to the condiment/straw station on the other side of the café. He grabbed a hefty portion of coffee stirrers (again), two packages of salt (again), a two-inch stack of cocktail napkins, and seven small plastic dixie cups clearly meant for other customers to use for water. He split the seven cups into three stacks. Snap and fizz, a can of Pepsi was poured into one of the cup stacks. Hgggckkkk spit, into a second stack of cups, followed by a crumpled napkin. (Gross, by the way).
The next activity disturbed me a bit. Gumbyman seemed to pull out of air two $5 scratch tickets. Of course, they were Three Stooges scratch tickets. The Three Stooges scratch tickets in Massachusetts are only $2. Why do I know this? Because I am a compulsive gambler. This is why I am disturbed. Gumbyman and I now have two things in common. That is two too many.
            Rub rub, scratch scratch, foil filings are droppings on top of the coffee stirrers, which would soon touch food, and the pile of napkins. Every so often Gumbyman’s top lip would pull back and curl up away from his teeth as if he were a billy goat chewing sod. He shook his head after he stopped scratching and stuck the ticket inside the dust jacket of A Ship Without A Sail. I gather he did not win. He then reached inside the paper bag and pulled out his snacks. Cheese Doodles, M&M’s, potato chips, and Fritos. Brand names must have been on sale at the gas station where he picked up his scratch tickets.
            Cheese doodles and book pages aren’t friends. My heart started to race a bit. Do not fear - Gumbyman had a plan. His right hand reached and grabbed three of the coffee stirrers as if someone else were racing to them, and he snapped them like a chicken’s neck. The splintered edges of the stirrers were violently used to rip a hole in the cheese doodle bag so that the bag could be opened into a flat plate. The stirrers were then used to stab the doodles as if they were cocktail wieners. He shoveled them in as quickly as he turned chunks of pages of Ship Without A Sail from right to left, unaware that it was in English not Arabic.
            New snack, new book. The M&M’s didn’t last very long. Gumbyman tore off the corner of the bag and poured them all into his mouth as I dreamed of pouring adult beverages down my throat to cope with what I was witnessing. The Three Stooges Scrapbook would have to make it through M&Ms and potato chips. I wondered if he would use the coffee stirrers to try and stiletto the potato chips. He didn’t. He did stiletto the bag though. I also hoped to see him pour the salt all over the table, but was disappointed that he didn’t use it at all. Perhaps brand name potato chips use more salt than the store brand he had the week before.
            For the final act he shoveled the Frito’s into the trap while paging through the book about Disneyland. He never made it to the fourth book with the coupons in it. Perhaps its purpose was just to act as a shelf for the other books. As soon as he finished the Fritos he finished his Pepsi, which he had been drinking from the plastic cup, not the can. He tried to empty more from the can, but it was dry. He forcefully smacked it down on the table in such a way that it leveraged his body up from the chair. Purposefully and with great speed, Gumbyman turned and, belonging-free, walked straight towards the public washroom, never to return to clean up his mess.

Friday, July 13, 2012

It's Fashion Friday!: Polka Dots - Art or Affliction? Yayoi Kusama for LV Unveiled

Yayoi Kusama at the Serpentine Gallery in 2000 with her work
 Dots Obsession. Photograph: Graham Turner

Japan’s Yayoi Kusama …… Some say she’s the greatest contemporary artist to come out of Japan. Art is completely subjective, but I have to believe those people are wrong. My most recent experience with the work of Kusama was in print. I happened upon an edition of Alice In Wonderland that has been published with her illustrations. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but the combination of the perfect illustration with a story can have an unparalleled impact. I happen to recall, as a child, seeing a disturbing image of a man’s drooping face alongside a story in a collection of works by Lewis Carroll and being frightened to the bone. An ill-placed illustration just leaves the reader confused. This Alice in Wonderland is just a whole lot of confusing. The illustrations are at best cute, but they don’t make sense to the story.
            Let’s talk Louis. Let’s talk Louis and Yayoi. Yayoi Kusama’s “thing,” if you will, is polka dots. She is famous for covering things in polka dots. Louis Vuitton has often collaborated with artists for limited edition collections. You may remember my favorite, the Takashi Murakami smiling cherry blossom monogram bags. I generally think paying large quantities of money for handbags carrying other people's initials is a laughable activity, but even I wanted one of those bags. Marc Jacobs, artistic director at LV, decided the brand should collaborate with Ms. Kusama. And now we have a lot of dots. Dots, dots, and more dots covering the monogrammed prints and textures.

            The line has only been launched this week (Tuesday, while I was busy complaining about the bookstore where I discovered the Alice in Wonderland edition). Perhaps it’s too soon to tell how people will react. I am not impressed. I admit, I do not care for Ms. Kusama’s art in general. I hesitate to even call it art. 
3.1 Phillip Lim Homage
to Roy Lichtenstein
            It is less artistic than the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein, which, coincidentally, you could also be wearing this season. 3.1 Phillip Lim has some Lichtenstein-inspired pieces for pre-Fall 2012 (such as The Break-Up at Netaporter). This PVC handbag titled The Break-Up is actually just a barely modified version of the face of the blonde woman in Lichtenstein's work Kiss V. While also not my style, it's fun. 
            Don’t get me wrong - the Kusama line for Louis is fun, lively, and colorful. Some of the pieces are cute. I’d probably wear some of the accessories if they happened to appear as gifts in my closet. Is it new and revolutionary? No. Seurat did dots, long before Kusama, and to a much more impressive effect. Are they stunning, mind-blowingly beautiful clothes? No. Is the line distinctive enough that people will see it and know, “Wow, that’s limited edition Yayoi Kusama for LV!”? Probably not. It doesn’t really look any different than anything that might appear in the average Moschino line. Would it be cheaper to let me paint polka dots on your LV monogram bag? Of course. Is it art? You know how I feel. You decide. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Adventures of Gumbyman and The Crapstore

            I am a dinosaur living in a modern age. I cling to old ways like a toddler clings to his favorite stuffed toy or blanket. Perhaps it’s neuroses. Perhaps it’s the medications I’m on. Perhaps it’s a fear that once the old ways are gone they can never be retrieved. I recently acquiesced and bought my first laptop – not just a laptop, a MACBOOK. I must stress that the last computer I owned personally was loaded with Windows Millennium edition (and what a shitshow THAT was… for those of you blessed enough to have not experienced it, I must share that it was not even compatible with Itunes). And within the last year or so I also gave in and bought a “Smartphone.” I did buy it unlocked, off of the Internet, from England (it has a Euro and Pound key, but not a Dollar sign – fancy) and both immediately and intentionally befuddled the settings so that it doesn’t use the data functions, and my wireless carrier can’t detect it. Effectively, it’s like having an old school phone that looks like a Smartphone. What I’m trying to say here is that I DON’T LIKE CHANGE!
            I take greater issue with some change over other change. New England Patriots lineup? Don’t give a flying pig’s arse; I really don’t like American football. Change the menu at Friendly’s on the other hand, and I might throw a toddler-sized temper tantrum. It used to be the case that if you were to name a store something like “The Paper Store,” that store would sell paper. Seems logical, right? JoAnn Fabrics would sell, I don’t know, fabric? And Barnes & Noble BOOKSELLERS would sell BOOOOOOOOKS.  Sadly, this is no longer the case. It has become a point of needling irritation in my side, between the ribs. The bookstore is now a crapstore with a side of books. To make matters worse, they don’t even have the books that I want. I’m not talking esoteric, obscure, out-of-the-box wacky books. I’m referring to the classics, such as the poetry of Baudelaire, the complete dramatic works of Henrik Ibsen, catalogs of great artists such as ANYONE OTHER THAN Toulouse-Lautrec. It’s not that I have anything against Toulouse-Lautrec, but a lot has happened in the art world that was created by artists other than Toulouse-Lautrec… you know, like, maybe Monet, or Renoir, or… I don’t know, Da Vinci… But DAMMIT, THEY HAVE Toulouse-Lautrec, and Fifty Shades of Pornographic Vampire Trash, and psychedelic-colored Jonathan Adler pencil cases, and toddler toys, so it is ALL GOOD! And DON’T FORGET THE JUSTIN BIEBER CDS!
            Clearly, I am less than enchanted with the stock at Barnes & Noble. I am also not thrilled with their organizational skills. When I took the half step to move from the Drama section (a meager three shelves smaller than my person, where I erroneously hoped I could replace my copy of Jean Cocteau’s Infernal Machine) to the Poetry section, I discovered utter pandemonium. The shelves said “Alphabetized By Author.” There is absolutely no way they used the Roman alphabet to organize this section. Maybe it was a Romanized version of Urdu or Farsi, or better yet Hmong. I found Rilke between Apollinaire and Beowulf. A few shelves down from that were the works of Dante. I’m not sure, but I think whoever was responsible didn’t realize Dante had a last name. Then I turned around to the next shelf to find more Rilke followed by some C poets, then more Beowulf (I guess if you’re written by Anonymous that means you should be filed under many different letters so as not to offend), and a lot of Tomas Tranströmer, whom I like, but he’s no Baudelaire. Then I gave up. While I was wandering around, I overheard some employees discussing how they were going to make more room for the teen fiction sections. Great.
            I do enjoy that there is a Starbucks in the bookstore. I like a side of coffee with my books. It gives me a chance to decide if I actually want to purchase the goods or put them back. It also provides some interesting people watching. I’m not sure why, but bookstore coffee shops seem to be a feeding ground for society’s ultra strange in what seems to be their natural habitat. Yesterday I observed GumbyMan, sporting a green Gumby t-shirt with the caption “Gumby, buck naked since 1956” and also a pair of forest green sweat shorts. He dragged two tables screech to screech across the tile floor to meet each other and then assembled three chairs around the tables for himself, as if to sit in all of them at once. He pulled four different snack-sized bags of grocery store brand potato chips and a can of coke out of a plastic bag and arranged the items on the table before settling himself down in one chair. He really just couldn’t get comfortable or find an arrangement of chips that was agreeable. Then, out came a one inch tall stack of cocktail napkins, about six paper coffee stirrers, and two small packages of salt (the double tube kind with red printing on the outside) that had clearly been taken from a fast food restaurant. 
            I looked away so as not to stare, maybe for a minute. When I turned my head back, Gumbyman was gone. All four potato chip bags were torn open down the center like a book and emptied. There was salt sprinkled all over the table. All coffee stirrers had been used, but not in a liquid, and folded up and strewn over the potato chip bags. The coke was gone. And the books he had brought to look at were in a messy pile. THIS is what happens when bookstores stop selling books. People lose their minds and turn into Gumbyman. I cannot prove this with any scientific evidence, but how can we prove that it’s not true? Perhaps that is what he’s trying to say with his t-shirt? Gumby hasn’t changed in 56 years. The mega-bookstore did. And it sucks. Oh how I miss the independent bookstores…..  

Friday, July 6, 2012

It's Fashion Friday!: Profound Fashion Wisdom From Watching 4th of July Revelers

If you are planning to sit in the dirt, don't wear a white dress. 

(Yesterday was my birthday; I was on a boat. What more do you want?)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Are Those Fireworks For ME?

Happy 4th of July!!!!! (photo
copyright S Botham 2011)

            There’s not much to do in Chelmsford - during the week or on the weekend. It is small town New England at its finest. I LOVED going to the liquor store when I was little. It was an overwhelmingly exciting place. Not only was it filled with beautiful glass bottles of colorful treats that I could only imagine tasted like various melted popsicles, there were kid friendly toys! When you turned to the right and walked towards the refrigerated walls at the back of the store you would find the wishing well. Can you believe it? A WISHING WELL! With an acetate thatched wooden roof and blue water on which was floating a smiley yellow rubber duck. Little did I know that this was actually just a wine cooler.
The real treat though is one that still returns every Christmas. Model trains. The largest display I’ve ever seen. It runs the entire depth of the liquor store (and this is NOT a tiny establishment). I can press the button to start the trains on their journey around the tracks and feel about 25 years shed from my pericardium. The joy and wonder spreads from ear to ear, like it did the first time I set foot inside the walls of Disneyland. And when I analyze it, I realize that a tiny piece of this spark is present every time I set foot in Harrington’s liquor store, and I am certain that many other children and adults feel the same way. Then I wonder if perhaps it isn’t normal to instill this association of joy with liquor stores in small children.
            You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced small town New England patriotic celebrations. The first thing that must be realized is that the beginning of this country in this region is a matter of sick and twisted pride. There is a remembrance of bloodshed. After all, the Revolutionary War started HERE. People fight about whose town is more important, as if we were living in a bad Christopher Guest film (something similar to Waiting for Guffman). This is the place where people regularly dress up in costume from the 1700’s, and march around playing fife and drum and waving flags, and pretend that the British are coming. Naturally, these people need something to do so most towns have a 4th of July parade. Chelmsford is no exception. We have a parade, a road race, and on the 3rd of July there is a county fair-style mess (to us it’s “the booths”) on the town common where different groups from town either sell food or have raffles and silly games where kids can win things like glow in the dark bouncy balls (which they then take home and immediately test out in the closet with their little brother, and accidentally crush little brother’s fingers in hinge side of closet door, leading to a trip to the emergency room).
What does it mean to be an American? Is it something we should be proud of? There was a time when being an American stood as an association with those who saved the people of Normandy from the approaching doom of Hitler’s invasion. Being an American also matched you up with the painted caricatures of US government heads like Reagan and Bush and negative words on the sides of buildings in Havana. While the paintings are propaganda, it still remains true that the embargo made it near impossible for Cubans to access much-needed antibiotics and other medications produced by American pharma corporations. (Thankfully, now a lot of these medications are being produced overseas so I would hope that has changed).
I can call Barack Obama a f#$%$@#^ chucklehead many times a day (and I DO) and not have to sleep with a gun under my pillow, but for how long? How long until I’m no longer allowed to own a gun? Things are changing here, and some things I find worrisome. I applaud people’s right to worship or not as they choose. And I understand that people want the separation of church and state. I completely agree. I become concerned when people no longer want to be gracious to the country in which they live. And even WORSE, people are more worried about offending others by being gracious to their own country. THAT is offensive to me. To pledge allegiance to the flag, to me, is like saying thank you. Thank you; I’m lucky to live here; I’m glad I don’t live in Bhutan. When you’re in elementary school, and you are reciting the pledge of allegiance, you don’t yet know that you are glad you don’t live in Bhutan. But you are. And you will figure it out. Can we learn to appreciate the sentiment, and stop arguing about the dogma?
            As a musician, I am lucky to have an opportunity to play pops concerts for patriotic holidays. I am divulging a well kept secret right now: I LOVE playing patriotic pops concerts. I don’t mind playing off beats in Yankee Doodle and Sousa marches. It is unbelievably rewarding to play the Armed Forces Salute, which goes through the theme song for each branch of service, and the veterans and active members are generally invited to stand during their respective songs. I always think about my grandfathers during the Army and Navy tunes (they both served in WWII), and my friend Latoya who’s a Marine (Afghanistan). As select audience members stand I watch the pride beaming from their eyes, these noble people who let their guard down for a brief moment, just long enough to allow someone to acknowledge how much they have sacrificed. It brings tears to my eyes. At a recent concert, I had a similar reaction during God Bless America. It’s not one of my favorite songs (it’s growing on me), but it strikes a chord with many. During our performance, about halfway through, three men of my mother’s generation or a bit older (definitely old enough to be around during the War in Vietnam), rose up out of their chairs and loudly started to sing along. It wasn’t the kind of singing you get in a drunken show tunes bar party. They held their heads high and their shoulders back and opened their mouths wide. You could see and hear from their conviction that being American DID mean something to them. I fear for the day when these people are gone.
I think our government is filled with a bunch of rich buffoons who wouldn’t know what it was to struggle unless you threw them naked in a 20 feet deep, glass shard filled pit of starving lions. They’re out of touch, and they don’t care, including that dickhead of a president who has spent more tax dollars on vacations than I will make in a lifetime. They are not America. They are just a used up old Philippe Starck for Target fruit bowl. We are America. The struggling soulful people inside the fruitbowl. Fresh kumquats and tangelos.
            My next-door neighbor, who has since passed on from cancer, was Cambodian. He spent a large chunk of his life hiding in the jungle from the oppressive militia of Pol Pot to try and get here. He saw his own family shot down in front of him. He was the kind of person who would pick up hitchhikers and drive them anywhere they wanted to go. He felt it was his job to help other people because he was lucky to have made it here. I still can’t buy anything with a “Made in Cambodia” tag on it. His wife and daughters are still living next door. He has a beautiful granddaughter now. And thanks to his courage, none of them will ever have to worry about lions and tigers (or despots) again. That is something worth being proud of.