The good side to being away from home

So I’m waiting for my nurse girlfriend to get off her shift and finding a home in the fridge for the banana cream pie from San Fernando Valley’s famed Four and Twenty diner and I’m thinking of all the loved ones who serve us on these days.

We don’t have to look to far away lands to militarize the concept of service.  It could be that son of yours who works the drive thru at McDonald’s.  Or your daughter who works the swing shift at the paint factory. Some things are twenty-four hour industries.  Hotels.  I remember doing Christmas shifts opening doors at hotels.  My brother John has sucked up many a double at the blast furnace in East Chicago.  And my honey on the fourth floor intensive care unit.   She would hate me for bringing her into this, but I’ll cope with that wrath on my own.  Like many so-called heroes, they hate being called such.  Singled out as that.  What they do is a job. It has to be kept on that level otherwise it becomes something it’s not.  And life has a way of smacking any delusions of grandeur when you’re job is to tend to the most critical among us.

So here’s to the fire fighters tonight.  Hope they get to watch Christmas Vacation on repeat like the rest of us instead of be out in the cold putting out fires caused by faulty wiring and an old plastic Christmas tree.

Holiday pay makes up for part of it because certain things in our world don’t stop for family gatherings.  Like our need for late night taquitos or an infant’s failing heart. And each require one of us to delay our celebration.

I was on speaker with my family at home back in Northwest Indiana getting passed along in the usual holiday fashion.   It was an echo chamber made worse by being on my speaker in the car.  I fought off unnamed guilt for not being able to clone myself as the marine layer slipped behind the pass at Mulholland and the sky was quick to sign off in thin layers of tangerine.

I heard about mom’s ham and the beef from Portillo’s and I got just enough a taste of home to make me hungry for more.  When you live away from your kin, or your roots- these days take on new meaning.   I miss out on things like who got who what for Christmas sometimes but when I do get to go home, the days are marked with occasion and event.  And quality time.    My brother Dan was quick to remind me something the Drill Instructors were apt to joke about as punishment during basic training for him way back:  “Joe, we gonna cancel Christmas. Just like that.  That’s what we are going to do.”

So yeah, no one’s gonna cancel Christmas.  Jesus will get born again in the usual way next year.  The lawn ornaments and nativity scenes will light up the American night once again.   But it’s nice to think of everyone working on these days.  And the ones we don’t have with us.  But I also like to think of the ones who don’t know they’re not alone.  Who maybe just lost a job or a wife or a dog.  These days can be hard on those.  I’ll try to keep that in mind as I wait for my honey to get home and shuffle like a zombie to bed, mumbling gratitude through sleep starved eyes.

Tonight I feel apart of it all I guess.  And wanted to take a moment to share it with ya.  But if you don’t mind, I’ll keep it brief tonight as I got a few presents to wrap.  I managed to pay it forward with my Chicago contingent by sending off certificates that authenticated that I offset my carbon footprint by donating to wind turbines in Kenya or something  instead of guessing what socks or sweater or book to give.  Made me feel like I could wash my hands of the whole end of the world carbon crisis affair. At least for 2018-2019 is concerned.  A drop in the bucket no less, but my drop.  That’s cool, yeah, but.. I do love to spoil my gal, so I put my powers of deductive reasoning to good use and now I am about to seal my educated guesses in wrapping paper and scotch tape.  Gift giving is an art in and of itself.  And one I have yet to master.  Good thing they won’t cancel Christmas so I can practice again next year.

Goodwill and peace beyond all understanding to each and every one of you on this big blue ball in the sky tonight.  May we each find that star of Bethlehem up there in the twenty-first century night.    I’ll keep the light on for my sweetheart and maybe the Johnny Mathis playing. Cause that’s what she likes.

 

What it takes – Liner Notes for Dignity.

So I was on the floor body heave crying and unable to speak.  In the bathroom no less.  Argh.  My plan, whatever it was, wasn’t workin’ out.   I was supposed to sing a song with my then girlfriend on a candy sweet duet.  Not only couldn’t she show up to the session, she was moving on in general.  So I had my first real love song.  Which is written in joy and then recorded after.  These tunes take on a life of their own.  They often outlive the muses who inspired them.   Life unfolds.  It’s a mystery to us all.  And those who think they know will all wake up one day to learn what the rest of us know.  That none of us, in fact, know.    But, personally, I always forget to remember that.

Records are just that.  Records of moments in time.  Part of me feels fraudulent because that moment of time was stretched long due to my budgetary concerns and the time windows of my collaborators not lining up.  But records like tunes take on a life of their own.  Dignity taught me just that.  And patience.  And how to persevere.  Uncover new talents and so forth.  It also taught me about my sneaky expectation buried under the guise of folk purity.  Reverse grandiosity.

Then when I was done, I wanted to tuck it away.  And move on.    To get an inch from finishing and keep it to myself.  You may not know this, but it took courage to share it.  I felt like I was up against my own sense of resistance every step of the way.  Slings and arrows of doubt and money I didn’t have and the internal flip-flop of this is going to be better than Blood on The Tracks to this is a waste of oxygen and I sing flat always and everyone knows I borrowed my twang.  What’s the point-ism. A chorus of why does it matter … All of these branches of entitlement widdled down to faith in action.

And the miniscule splits streaming services give us will never be enough.  It can’t be why we do it.  Those days are over.  We live in the wrong century.  I say that without a degree of self-pity. Believe me, I once did. But not anymore.    I wet myself sticky with self pity long enough to know it leaves you feeling icky.  But we are in the midst of a cultural crisis.  Sure, on the low-end of the FM dial and here and there exceptions exist… anomalies.  But the gold rush is over.  The creek is dry.  Singular voices are being lost in the woods all over.  Not just mine.  And that matters or it should.

The other day my girlfriend and I were having a fiscal debate (yes there is life on the other side and it is beyond anything I would have hoped because it’s rooted in reality). She leans on the factual free market side of things and I am a recovering socialist with dreams of free everything for everybody.  I often lose.  Correct that.  Always.  I get too caught up in the feelings and can’t quite keep up with questions regarding facts.  And my gal loves questions armed in facts. Which isn’t really fair.

One of her arguments is that when things change swiftly in a pure state of free market economy and whole careers are made defunct, and lifestyles are swept away by disruptive technology, it simply means people need to buck up and accept that.  Those jobs are gone forever and they are never coming back.  Small business is stacked against the Goliath.   We have to adjust our metric.    But does that mean, there will never again be rock n roll?  Afraid so.  Not as we understand it.

The laws of Adam Smithe and supply and demand have brutalized it like a bass drum on stage  with The Who.

Wait, wait, wait, wait…

But I’m a lifelong nostalgia-ist?  I play the Banjo for god’s sakes.  Not well.  But I play it better than most people. I can keep it in relative tune with itself.  So, does that mean… I’m old and in the way?  (That’s a ref to a little known Jerry Garcia based Bluegrass band by the way).

Yikes.  It really is a company store.  Damn. Why did I take lessons at McCabe’s Guitar store?  Why did I learn Hawaiian Guitar.  Or listen to the Monroe Brothers.  Or read Pete Seeger’s How To Play The Five String Banjo.    But wait a second.  Just wait a second.  Hear me out before the next lemming in tweed jumps off the edge into the a corporate trademark factory.

That’s exactly when folk music is needed most.  Now.  Folk music is steeped in the amateur spirit.  When all the doors are locked and it becomes necessary and en vogue to tell truth to power.   Now if we could just convince the kids with the keys to the kingdom that.

True folk reeks of the oils and dust of our work a day lives in fields and factories – or in Woody’s case painting signs.  It came off the plantation and got passed like the banjo from slave ships to Irish peasants.  And everything ended up in a pot in New Orleans like Delta sludge.  What makes our roots so rootsy is the anonymity of it all.  The hard times and the rusty strings!  Et al.

So yeah I may not change the world.  But I did make a great song about the river Missouri.   From its own point of view.  (track 5 called 2300 Miles).  I’d like to think Cisco and Woody would have liked it cause it was written for them Standing Rockers.  And I tried to frame the chaos and hate and the lines between black and white.  And I made an invocation to the patron saint of Americana, Pete Seeger.  I got songs about old girlfriends from way back when… from all over the globe. Who helped introduce me into new ways of seeing before I could look deep within myself for all I felt I lacked.  And to top it all off… a song about a bowling ball.

But in this digital age of wax free zeroes and ones when instruments made of wood don’t cut through the static and haze so much, there is this:  Lauren (our producer) and I were able to send tracks over the internets and collaborate with Luke Halpin – a mandolin and violin player in Colorado and find Freebo and his tuba wherever he is.  And even my old friend Ryan Zawell in upstate New York.

And somehow it sounds like we are all in the same room.  Or in the case of my song about my ancestors crossing…

Down in the belly of the ship
Packed in The Dark for a one way trip.

As indeed we are.  In the belly of the ship.  So, put on some cans and sail up the Missouri with me.

Head waters of Missouri
Flow from the Great Divide
feed that muddy river
And the countryside. 

Two-thousand.  Three hundred miles. 

Along the way, we may discover a love of ragtime or Chicago blues.  As we count the miles toward the sea.  Those miles, my miles, were tramped out on with old friends Greg and Jamey and with old flames back and forth across this great land in the footsteps of my heroes in search of something.  That something.  Oh that something…

Dignity is available now on Itunes Cd Baby and for free on Spotify if cash is tight.  Search for my name and Dignity.

 

 

 

 

Waiting

Never been good at it.   Like tying knots. Never been good at that either.  Try as I might, I can’t seem to recall with sufficient force whether the rabbit goes into the hole or comes out. But I don’t need to worry about tying knots too much ever since I realized I wasn’t a good enough carpenter to charge people for mediocre work and I only own a truck in my mind.  I do, however, need to practice waiting on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, there isn’t an aspect of this deal called Hollywood that doesn’t involve Olympic level patience.  So, it’s an occupational hazard.  Maybe that’s why I bite my nails. But only on my left hand.  I need the ones on my right for fingerpicking the guitar.  Which also eases the pain of waiting in a more constructive way.  It’s a choice.  Chew on myself or use my hands for good.  So, I limit my anxiety to my left side.

Waiting brings out the worst in me.  It’s like this existential Sartre baked endless foggy night where I end up doing prat falls and hat tricks to keep away the thought that Godot ain’t coming.

On set, you get the job and are asked to keep a spark lit in you because what you got hired to do involves you describing things of unspeakable horror (think any crime show whose guest stars report what can’t be shown because they lack the budget) And then you are asked to lend reality to some kind of tragedy and are forced to wait for eight hours and then deliver that truthfully in what really amounts to a fifteen minute window when everyone wants to go home or get a latte off the coffee cart.

The whole thing devolves into a downward spiral of tension.  Staying loose is not half the battle, it’s the entire war.

Because waiting is the name of the game.  How many times does a writer or actor or director or any of us on an interview feel confident only to watch it all wither and vanish as we wait in the room before our chance.    Because it is there, while we wait past our ability to stomach it, that we begin to tell ourselves stories.

I used to tell myself that whoever walked into a casting room after me – right before I was to go in would be the guy to get the job.  The door would open from the hall and I would endow the victor with qualities I lacked. His shoes were new.  He had product in his hair.  Even his backpack looks more successful than I. What am I doing?

All of these barnacles of ego arise when we wait.

Waiting also makes me construct an invisible prison cell where I can hold myself hostage.  Call it the hole.  Or solitary.  You know.  And the conditions I enforce as my own jailer are less than humane.   Under the conditions of delayed gratification, my usually wonderful imagination finds new employment and whisks off into the future in some kind of deranged time machine where I end up the loser.  It’s called catastrophizing.  And it’s the logical result when I give my power away.  And the nature of our work invites us to give our power away every day.

So what we do about it?  If it is a fact of this deal.  And baked into life itself.  So much of what we do involves waiting in traffic, waiting in line, waiting on hold, on test results, on credit approval, on fertility tests, etc and on.    It’s contained in the being part of us being human beings. 

Being.

And part of being is being bored.  Uninspired.  Understimulated.  Even empty. It’s contained in the being part of us being human beings.  Yet we live in a culture that is result orientated and refreshes its feed every thirty seconds with the click of a button; and  yet we wonder why we are anxious or empty – — because the precise intent of these manufactured illusions is to keep us from feeling bored.  And so we get less patient.  And more medicated.  Etc.

But anything good takes time.  That the understanding we all crave, that elusive thing that evaporates like a bubble every time we get our hands on it – requires us to wait.  To wait and not know. And therefore trust.

The secret to waiting is not waiting.  For me.  I have learned that by staring at the phone to get it to ring has produced little to no results over a close to thirty year trial period.    But does that stop me from still feeling like I could will it to ring by staring at it?  If I were honest with you, at times, yes.  I forget.  I forget I’m not Neo.  And I can’t bend the spoon.

There is no spoon.

Today, there are all these affirmation programs based on the laws of attraction. California has no shortage of guru psychopaths who will tell you about the power of positive reinforcement and how it will change our lives but no matter how much money we spend on self-improvement, we still can’t get the phone to ring.   We lack the power.

Cause… there is no spoon.  The Matrix taught us that. Like many of you maybe, my first foray into this realm of confronting my relationship with waiting and need for control began as an excursion into over correction.  Stay busy.   When life gets turned upside down, it is in those very moments when we scrub behind the sink and dust.

It’s the most wonderfully industrious way in which I deceive myself and slip into denial so I can procrastinate.  By cleaning.  But sometimes we have to just sit there.  And feel it.  Feel how finite and vain and unimportant it all is and we are.  To laugh.  And look at the ugly and resist all the urges to blame or inhale a king sized bag of Chips Ahoy soft batch or vent to a friend –  just let it be a mess.  Whatever it is.

The mean fact of this business has taught me that sometimes nobody wants what you’re selling.  That maybe it is just not time.

And it doesn’t mean I need to go back to get a Master’s Degree or walk the Camino just accept that I’m being asked to wait.  And if I pay attention, I may see clearly.

It’s what we do while we’re waiting that matters  most.  Where we lend our time.  To me, that is where I found what was sacred.  Most sacred to me.   It’s in that unknown where all the wonder is.  Where all my relationships are.  And where I learned who I was and what I stood for.

Groundlessness reveals darkness in us. And not darkness as in a bad thing – but that which we were unable to see any other way.  In fact, if we were not in a pickle, we would never have found what them Buddhists calls “the places that scare us.”  Oh, how often we don’t ever let ourselves venture into the darker parts of those woods because of the fears we feel that maybe the whole world we built around ourselves might come down.  The bravest people I know are familiar with these places.   Have made friends with it.   This mystery.  It is the very essence of the hero’s adventure we spin out in our stories.  And the reason why we like that story is because being human demands it of us.  Constantly.  It’s the calling of our heart to return home.   It is baked into us as an essential ingredient of what it means to be alive and on this earth.  We will wait.  And when  you wait in stillness in the woods, all that is left to be wild  in this mad world comes alive.  Things start to stir.  At first, it may feel like only snakes and worms and we may get a chill, but soon, we will start to hear the song of the universe and feel what the Inuit people call “the great day that dawns,” and learn our proper orientation to all things and then our actions and our words will take on a whole new meaning.    It’s either that or figure out how to move the phone with our brain power alone.

So, yeah, I try to practice the art of waiting.  But I’m just a beginner.

 

The Imobilizer

It’s funny now, but it certainly wasn’t then.  Paying rent on your car due to your own lack of life skills.

The Denver Boot: originated by a Violinist to help save the city of Denver money in towing costs and prevent vandalism to maximize the punch from their enforcement of repeated parking offences.

Otherwise known as the Imobilizer.  Hmm.  The Imbolizer.  Feels like a movie  Jason Stratham passed on and Steven Segal couldn’t turn down.

This imobilizer and I were on very intimate terms.  Just ask anyone who lived in the 300 block of Cloverdale back then and they would confirm.  It was like a quarterly ritual for me.  I somehow felt … I don’t know, civically obligated to fill the coffers of the Los Angeles Parking Bureau with passive income due to my inability to get up and out of my bed to move my car by 10.00 am.

Like five days a week.

Yeah.  Not a very high bar to get over.

Especially since all I had to do was apply for a  parking pass to hang on my mirror or stick to my bumper.  But my name wasn’t on the lease, so instead, I just collected parking tickets.  And then let them age.  They yellow in the sun.  And get crinkly.  Like all of us out here in the desert.

They sat in a little knick-knack bowl, marinating at room temperature, as I waited to grow up and learn about responsibility.

See, I was very Bohemian.  Which means I had a brillo pad afro, velvet pants, and I played a lot of hacky sack.  In addition to my Bohemian tendencies, I was a cash cow for the city of L.A. between the years 2000 and 2003.  I would like to think my efforts helped fix a few potholes or maybe bought road crews new orange vests.

I was too busy trying to blow up an inflatable world and put on my Uncle Sam costume to protest War Without End out front of the Federal Building at rush hour to worry about such basic levels of citizenry.  I would take hits from a little pipe I called the Blue Bus and read Rousseau essays and the collected works of Thomas Paine to prepare me for the day the revolution began.

Ah, the street blend of misdirected youth and … wait for it… Entitlement.

I estimate paying more than ten grand in parking fees over those years if you could imagine.  That’s determination.  But, you know, we make sacrifices along our path to mastery.

Persistence is one of my natural virtues you know.

Again, youth.    Perfectly cast for Uncle Sam I was: with huge aspirations, true knowledge for what is needed to make a better world and complete inability to look inward and move my car one block by 10:00 AM.    There’s a metaphor there but I will leave that for you to assemble.  Another child of the empire broken on suburban pasture running into his own, let’s say… limitation.

I would blow up my inflatable globe and heft it, like Mr Chaplin in The Great Dictator up and down the mean streets of West L.A. when I wasn’t talking through plate-glass security glass at a trusted employee of the DMV to educate her on the “quality of mercy.”  In case you are wondering, after you get a certain kind of reputation, the DMV doesn’t accept personal checks.  Go figure.  So I would talk through more plate glass at mini mall check cashing stands to obtain cashier checks, and so on.  It was a full-time job getting my imobilizer removed.

Our early twenties are like a Hindenburg. Full of promise but ultimately hot air.   I would like to say the internet would have changed all that, but I doubt it very much.  There are things even convenience can’t repair.   Only sufficient pain can.    I think on that today as we wait down the crossroads as a society, lead here by some kind of shadow of unformed youth in our collective unconscious.   If I was able to stop getting the boot and move my car by 10.00 AM then maybe we can do something about all of this.  I think you know what I’m talking about.   The problem, of course, wasn’t the boot.  Or the parking laws.  It was something else.  And that was something I had to figure out.  Name.  And then I had to get real uncomfortable, change just about everything inside out and give it time.  Months turned into years and now I can say I am Denver Boot free for fifteen years.

But I had to start somewhere.

 

 

Landmarks or It Gave Us a Sense of Direction

The Chicago Assembly plant was a way to orient where you were and help you get where you want to go.  In case you forgot the lake was to the East.  The smoke rising up from the Sherman Williams plant or the spires of the Inland Steel skyline– especially when the air got cold– told us the temperature.

But it wasn’t smoke.  We just called it that cause we didn’t know what else to call it.  It was really made up of compounds and things that we couldn’t pronounce.  All things that you passed when you crossed over the old I.C. tracks in Hegewisch and made your way into South Chicago.

There were stories of where Al Capone used to dump his bodies in Burham Woods and everyone knew Calumet City was in the bag.     And if you don’t know what that means, you don’t need to.

My oldest brother John told me a story that the old Polish ladies on the South Side could  telegraph the weather change by if and when they took  their clothes lines down.  Cause if the wind shifted and blew hard off the lake, then the soot from the smoke stacks would fall on the South side and paint everything black.

There’s a beauty to industrial decay.  The Japanese call it wabi-sabi.  And anyone who stared out the window of the South Shore Line at the 95th street switch can see what’s left of our so-called greatness in the rust and weed.  Wabi-Sabi is a cultural ascetic based on the beauty and acceptance of the inevitable breakdown of all things.  I am no expert, but I do know it is a ritualized form of imperfection.  And it can inform our future in how we treat what remains of our past today.

We don’t have the ruins they have in the old world.  Outside of these industrial graveyards. War didn’t rob us of these, in a rain of endless firestorm, rather, our dependence on progress.   Adjacent to these singular bodies left in the borderlands you will find, if you are unfamiliar, the gaudy neighbors of opportunity – our gambling boats… that dock alongside ghost ships where the war was won in a steel foundry– we gather there now to pray to chance and hope to hit big.  The eternal flame atop the landfill.  It is as fixed as the north star.  Climbing higher each day.  Releasing the methane and giving us reminder of why we were number one and no longer are every time we breathe deep along the Bishop Ford Expressway.  That’s the name Old Man Daley gave to the concrete river they flooded to separate black from white.

Breathe it in. For breathe is life. Here more than anywhere. 

The bobtail fence that hides the retention pond and filled in quarry, yeah, those our leaves of grass.  The oil rich water.  Viscous. And ion charged.  Feel it.  Look for the ghost of the stockyards and listen to the call from Jack Brickhouse, Carl Sandburg, and Muhammad Ali.  Hear the birthing cries of  the labor movement, and the rat-tat-tat of our glorious terror.  These our pyramids cobbled by first and second born Native Daughters and Sons.  We exported it all.  And now nothing remains.

That’s what I see when I look east in memory at the 95th Street switch and orient myself.  In fact, to orient means, literally, to face east.   Go west, young man, but always face east…

Our south side is riddled with the exhaust of progress.  The cost of western expansion.  And now looks like a war zone.  And in some places is one.  No matter how me mark the ledger.  Without infrastructure, it turns on itself and breaks down, block by block.  In insurrection.  Without authority.  Or Autonomy.  Or pride.

But it is noble in the blood.  It is what makes us Southsiders.  More than anything.  It is tattooed to our soul.  Written in slag on our very hearts.   Even after we move, and only our parents or grand parents can claim to be true Southsiders – it still makes us South Siders.  Steel cut the letters of our name.  And if you look hard enough, yours, too. And it, too, was paradise for a time.  And our backyard.  Even under the gray of a late November sky.

Wabi-sabi is a living eulogy to all that no longer is, but remains.  It can guide us, as we consider tearing down Confederate Calvary sculptures and retrofit old rail yards as lofts – Chicago is a second city.  It burned itself down and transformed itself into the shining city.  And it still does.  Probably always will. There is an anxiety that must drive it. An insecurity maybe.  To inch higher.  And wider.  And hard-sell farmers without kids to forfeit their hold now that soybeans are at their bottom and still falling.

All cities are living breathing things, I guess.  And we hustle today to make them and ourselves over.  Improve.  Everything is improving.  Improving ourselves, improving our homes; flipping properties– as the AM radio dial barks at us to do — and drives us to sign up for free seminars, and auto update in between: we zap ourselves in the endless loop of  a reality program that shrooms from this gag order fact: that something is fundamentally flawed and needs to be remodeled or replaced.

Condemned?  How about pardoned?

Cause sometimes we just want to look at an old barn.  Battered and beaten by the years.  Left to rot.  With patches for the light to come through as nature reclaims it.  It’s not sentimental.  It’s full of rot.  But it still has the beauty of an old workman’s hands.  We just need to teach ourselves to see it again.  Yucca Mountain glows somewhere and pulses from the inside.  Fukushima.  Chernobyl.  Malibu Creek.  That big island of plastic rocks in the rising sea as lost as Odysseus.  These are elements of our world.  Scars of our own doing.  Part of our character.  And lessons for the future.  Maybe we shouldn’t level them all in the great tear down and put up a coffee shop.

A Vanishing World

And then he pointed to the Post-It stuck to the wall and said, “look at the mark, wave at the, you know, all the stuff that we’re selling, improv-improv something, please look at me, like me, look how brilliant I am at the improv, and yeah… any questions?” 

The Snarky One in the back by the C-stand, that looked vaguely like someone you know on TV, but wasn’t, said, “so, they want us to write their commercials now for’em, too?”

“Pretty much. Anything else?”

I looked around at the rest of my type. Beta tests of versions of me.  And me versions of them.  Like a car show of a particular class of people hand-selected by a calculator to have the most Umph in terms of selling power according to some person with a degree from Brown.

Some of us had beards.  Most of us wore plaid; a majority were dads, with or without dad bods – all of us used to have skate boards or dirt bikes and or shit brown Mexican weed, and collectively, we now faced the general decline of our bodies, career goals, and faith in our talent.  We were an uninspiring lot.  Perfect blend of quiet desperation, ennui, mild displeasure that marked us for the Guy Who Really Needs Whatever Product We Are Selling Type.  There were a few chipper ones who probably had a spot of two running among us, or had some of Daddy’s money left to play with, but, for the most part, we were meant to be an average slice of American Male.  Slanting white.   Meant to embody the dinosaur class that got us in this current predicament.

In addition to be being the target audience projected as protagonist, or “hero” of the spot, we were the lucky hundred or so actors to get the call out of seven thousand submissions.

That’s right.  Seven thousand.

That’s seven thousand who are already in the industry, with representation and relevant enough either by fruit basket or year-end commission statement to even be considered to be one of the seven thousand sent over the inter-nets.

And now we get the honor of doing battle.  Kind of like pudgy unarmed Gladiators for Farmers Insurance or AT&T.  I’ve never been good at math, but the odds aren’t very good.

If we thread the needle – in other words, make funny enough AND look like the guy the story board artists hired to draft and win the face lottery, we get to further press our luck for a chance to attend the “All-Back”– once known as the callback– now known as the “all-back” –because of the fact that everyone who went out originally (minus the totally inept and maybe criminally insane) get to advance to round two.

Now, this “All-back”  will probably move from midtown to downtown Santa Monica, near the end of the world, where it’s close to  the clients and Ad Execs – heralded around like part-Saudi Princes / part-sheep on a  lost weekend tour in paradise by the demon spawn of Don Draper – before they go back to suburban Houston.  Usually, we learn about that privledge an hour before 5.00 when we are arranged to be there so we can waste another four hours of our lives  to sell America shit they do not need.

It’s a racket if there ever was one, where the industrious quickly learn to get in on the fix rather than get in line.

But we should be grateful.   So we put on the face of gratitude despite the grapes of wrath our Battle Hymn of The Republic talks about.   Now, this face, this mask is the same face  I’ve seen at the staff level – the unelected employees of our government in D.C.  “I’m grateful to have the ability to serve, business as usual type of thing.   Again, it is not unique to our little bubble.

For you millennials out there who are overly despondent at the state of things… It wasn’t always like this.

I got started in the glory days of Chicago commercial land. The boom of the 80s. And Saturday morning cartoons necessitated a demand for cereal commercials.  It was like the beginning to Narcos – with the narrator  talking about the good days when we were riding high.  This was the American Cartel.  I was nine or ten years old.  And blessed to be born with the cultural advantage of freckles and red hair and a good-natured Midwestern disposition.  Plus, the added benefit of looking young for my age. Which is the secret umami of all actors.  Especially child ones.

I was really good at biting and smiling.    Frosted Flakes, Cap’n Crunch, Kraft cheese products,  Fish sticks, et al.  So good, that my mother used to drive me all around the South Suburbs in our Chevy Caprice looking for the best interest rate on short order Certificates of Deposit.  I used to stack them on my lap.

But those days are long gone.  Sure, trade wars … and gobble up corporate policy … and the internet… and reality stars… oh, and Tevo & DVRS… and logarithms to personalize pop up ads … and celebrity endorsements and athletes parading as insurance salesman and branded content have contributed to the general trickle down lack of work in my chosen field, but there’s also one big ass white elephant stinking up the whole waiting room of the casting office.

Just so you know I’m not just some actor who writes bitching about the way things are on a blog to keep from screaming “I’m angry as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” which I am– let me put what I do, as a cog in the wheel, in some kind of perspective for what it MEANS for us all.

No one is spending any money on advertising anymore.  For a society dependent upon the sale of goods and services, what does that signify?

Sometimes when I wait for the audition for a product I consciously try to block out the identity of, I look around, and swear I can hear it.

Not that scene in Tootsie where Dustin argues his way out of a job because of his fragile performer ego, but…

The silence.

Where the canary once chirped..

But no one else seems to hear it, the canary in our coal mine.  Or maybe they do, but are better at letting it go than I, or are institutionalized;  I don’t know, because we are  all flipping on our phones or talking about our next improv comedy show.

Again, it wasn’t always like this.

We are the vanguard.  Out there. With the lances and our dad-bods.  Probing against the Visigoths.  Us work-a-day level actors dependent on a roll of a dice and a good haircut for our health care.    We take the pulse of the health of our economy.

Think about what you see on TV?  Not the shows.  But the ones who supposedly fund it all.  What do you see?  Insurance.  And Pharmaceuticals.  Drugs to help us pee and asist with back pain and funny bits with ducks and reptiles and a woman named Flo competing for the acctuaries who were wise enough to becomes acctuaries to begin with.

Sometimes a cell phone.  And bank sponsored credit cards.  Oh and Priceline for when we want to get away.  Once in a while, around the holidays, there’s a Campbells Soup add, but really look.  Deep.  Look the way Noam Chomsky asks us to look.  And you will see everything.

Maybe this is all a good thing. This… whatever it is.

Because when the price is high enough, change happens.  It’s built into the code of economics since we bargained in rice and beads.   Sometimes that change is violent and sudden.  Other times, it involves thousand mile walks to the sea led by people like Gandhi.  Or bus boycots. Or etc… And in our personal lives, we often don’t do what’s needed to be done, what has been needed for some time to be done, till it hurts enough.  Till the pain out-pains the pain of not doing what we know in our hearts what really needs to be done.

And I feel we are long since past that point.  No wonder, our nation is hooked on opioids.