Friday, January 15, 2010

The Freshner!

I have gone on sometimes about the tedium and monotony of my life and job here. That's because this is a blog. Also, under all the griping and kvetching there was hope and optimism, mainly hope and optimism that I wouldn't spend the rest of my life answering calls and emails from mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging idiots incapable of figuring out the simplest things on their own.

I did finally get my wish, and already my life is nothing like it was a year ago. Not only that, I didn't make some lame-ass incremental move, like from a guy who fields moronic questions about databases to a guy who fields soul-crushingly stupid questions about websites. It was something completely unexpected, which was wonderful in a way.

It started one morning when I grabbed my coat and gym bag from the laundry room in the usual daily struggle to get out of the house on time. I didn't really notice it until I got in the car, but there was an overpowering smell, like a very strong chemical banana smell. I had no idea what was going on, but I think one of those plug-in air-fresheners had accidentally exploded all over my coat. It made me woozy and I rolled down the car windows in the sub-zero temperatures.

That didn't really help, and the fumes killed a lot of my brain cells, zapping away a lot of the higher functions that had been lying dormant for years anyway. It was kind of like a Terry Schiavo moment for my intellect. I am sort of sorry not to be able to think about the kind of complex things I never really got to think about at my former job anymore, but now I have a higher purpose.

I had several lost weeks, wandering on the streets in a semi-conscious air-freshening state. I really made the crackhouse I hung out in at my lowest point a lot more livable. Kids on the street started calling me 'The Freshner'. 'He's so Fresh, He's the Freshner, Fresher than the man Hans Messner'. I think they were making fun of me, but they gave up and left me alone because there aren't really any good rhymes for 'Freshner'.

I moved on from the crack house, because my work there was done. I taught the residents a valuable lesson about taking pride in your dwelling space, so that the freshness would live on long after the crack they were smoking there neutralized the effects of my fumes.

My next home was the public library. An elderly librarian noticed my talents and took me under his wing. He told me I had a gift, and I had a responsibility to use this gift to benefit humanity and fight evil, or at least musty dank or generally unpleasant smells. He would also touch me a lot more than I was really comfortable with.

Around this time I was tracked down by my former employer. They called me and laid the sob story on me. They were too cheap to pay anybody anything near the market rate to do my old job. They begged me to come back, ignoring my inability to construct full and grammatically correct sentences and my tendency to space out for a minute or two at random times in the conversation. They were so desperate that I felt sorry for them and agreed to a meeting.

This was a really stupid move, but as I said before, the same chemicals which gave me my new found freshening powers also really fucked up my brain.

Sometimes when a person comes home from a long vacation, they notice the smell of their house, which they are unaware of while living there day after day. This can be disturbing when a strange smell makes itself known. This is exactly what happened when I walked into my old place of employment after being away for so long. When I met with my old colleagues the odor was even more pronounced, and I recognized it as the funk of desperation and failure. I knew what I had to do: I would hide under the conference room table while they conducted interviews. This damning smell would be masked, and candidates would not be scared away. I was NOT going to come back to work for them, though. Not even part time. I'd seen people do that and get suckered into going back to full time gradually.

This plan was successful, and after a handful of interviews a replacement had been found. I had saved the day. Of course, he would pretty much figure out on his own what a horrible mistake he had made in time, but as John Maynard Keynes said, in the long run we're all dead, so cut me a break. As I walked out, never to return, people who had paid me no notice for years asked each other 'who was that man who smells like one of those Renuzit things?' 'Let's call him 'The Freshner!' 'That's a good name for him!'

I am sure there's a question in everyone's mind right now: how am I making any money doing all this? Well, as with social media experts and Internet gurus, I don't actually make any money doing this, I make all my money as a motivational speaker. The freshening activities are brand-building efforts. In these days having your own personal micro-brand is very important.

Next time: The Freshner! negotiates an end to years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and solves NBC's even more intractable 'Leno problem'.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Art Clokey, the creator of Gumby, is no longer with us

As a kid, my entry point into the Gumby world was via Eddie Murphy's portrayal of Gumby as an aging, bitter show business hack. I was too young to catch the original Gumby show on TV as a kid. Later I rented some videos of the best of Gumby, and I very much enjoyed the claymation and rich imagination of Art Clokey, Gumby's creator. The real Gumby was nothing like the bitter jerk on Saturday Night Live. He was a cute and curious character, loyal to his pony pal Pokey.

Since then I have been a big fan of animation in general, including claymation. While I do love Pixar movies that are made by teams of hundreds using the latest technology, I have a soft spot for animation that seems to be the product of one or perhaps a few imaginative minds, like Gumby or Wallace and Gromit. The relative simplicity and the more down to earth nature of these cartoons has a special charm not found in bigger productions.

Just 2 days ago I was reading an interview with Clokey in a compilation of the writing and comics in WFMU's 'LCD'. Although Clokey was involved with the preachy and much lampooned (see 'Moral Orel') Christian cartoon Davy and Goliath, the man was in fact very open minded:
LCD: We talked a little bit before about if you used psychadelic drugs.

AC: From 1955 through 1966-67, I didn't touch the stuff. Then I got caught up with the Flower Children in San Francisco. I met Alan Watts - we smoked hash together in Japan!

LCD: Did you think that the drug experience would open up your creative powers in some way?

AC: I think it probably loosened up and broadened my imaginative inclinations. Actually, it made me more interested in how Gumby acted, how he acted toward other people.
Gumby also inspired the collective PaperRad, who have done their own Gumby cartoons, and no doubt many of the creators of claymation and animation in general of the last 40 years were inspired in some way by Clokey.

The day after reading the interview with Clokey, I read a post in the Cartoon Brew blog informing readers that Clokey had passed away at 89. While he led about as long a life as any of us can hope for, and was recognized for his talents and skills, as we all hope we will be, I'm still sad to hear about his passing. RIP, Mr. Clokey, and thanks.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

I broke the joke, baybee!

I haven't mentioned it explicitly, but I'm sure some readers have detected the influence of Bob Zany in my posts. You can find his website, a clever parody of late 90s web design, here. Bob is something of a trailblazer, with his 'fix the joke, baybee' being a good example of pre-Twitter and social media crowdsourcing.

This inspired today's feature, 'I broke the joke, baybee!' You readers at home can play along after these examples to get you inspired.

Q: Which way to Carnegie Hall?
A: Practice

My wife, for example...please.

A guy asked me if I wanted a frozen banana. I said sure, but I'm not going to eat it until it thaws out.

A horse walks into a bar. The bartender asks: 'why so glum, chum?'

I would not belong to a club that didn't have me as a member.

Get the idea? Post your broken jokes in the comments!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Free and Worth Every Penny: 'What Matters Now' by Seth Godin

People need help. I know I often do. Lots of us are stuck in schlubby jobs, wage slaves to the man. While we can find some consolation in knowing we are not alone (a report from the Conference Board research group tells us only 45% of Americans are satisfied with their work, and only 51% find their jobs interesting), or can lose ourselves in youTube/Facebook/Twitter reveries of low-to-no productivity, we can also strive and aspire to something greater.

Online personalities like Gary 'Cash in on your Passion' Vaynerchuck and Guy 'I worked on the Mac team in the 80s' Kawasaki, blessed with some sort of genetic high-energy levels and delusional unchecked optimism are out there inspiring us, and thanks to the Internet access most of us have at our shitty jobs, it is easier for these guys to get their messages out than ever.

Seth Godin, motivational speaker, internet personality, and writer of lots of books, recently released the book 'What Matters Now', and it's free! I downloaded it myself, because I am always keen to find free stuff to put on my Kindle.

The book consists of 200-word essays about 'big ideas', so we're already in oxymoron territory right out of the gate. I don't care how your Twitter-Fu is, really great ideas can not be crammed into 200 words. Sometimes a 200 word bite will pique your interest and inspire you to dig further, but most of the essays are about single words (Enough. Productivity. Focus.) It is unlikely somebody is going to get on Amazon and start shopping for 'Focus' books.

There are many hotshots and celebrities of the inspirational/self-help/internet world within: both Vaynerchuck (THNX) and Kawasaki (Evangelism), and even good ole Tom 'In Search of Excellence' Peters (his essay is on Excellence, and every third character is an exclamation point! It's annoying! I get it! You! sound! like! a! fucking! Henry! Rollins! SONG!!!! AAUUUUGGGHHHHHHHH!), and many more. I was somewhat surprised that there's no essay from Oprah, but she is mentioned twice.

Ultimately the book comes off like a lot of feel-good 'Chicken Soup For The Short-Attention Spanned Soul' empty calorie bullshit. I felt like Seth was sharing something personal with me, specifically, he was showing me his high school yearbook and pointing out all the cool and popular people who signed it and wrote cool things in it.

I suppose I shouldn't be so negative and am only hurting myself with my curmudgeonly ways. Actually and sincerely I'm happy all these people have been successful and gotten rich and made it happen for themselves. But as surely as they didn't get rich by writing a lot of checks, most of them got rich by working, not by writing empty fake bullshit, and probably not by reading really vapid value-free garbage, either.

As far as free books go, I like the book of Elric stories Amazon was giving away a few weeks ago a lot better. Believe it or not, when Elric says 'Arioch! My Lord! I give you blood and souls!' it is somehow less corny than every single essay in 'What Matters Now'.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Things I need to do in 2010

Here's the beginning of the year post most of you have probably not even started to read, being as you are a bit burned out by 'end of year' and 'end of decade' retrospectives. If you missed those, the consensus seems to be that the 00's really sucked, although I completely disagree as my daughter was born in the last decade, and this was a decidedly good thing.

New Year's resolutions are somewhat trite and often fail, but there's nothing wrong with the idea of assessing oneself and trying to better yourself in general, so here goes...

1) Get out of the I.T. ghetto

This one is my 'get in shape', the resolution I've made pretty much every year since 1999. Usually all I accomplish is pissing off people in IT who actually enjoy devoting their lives to installing and then upgrading software written by other people, people who may or may not have had serious substance abuse and personality problems when they wrote said software. There is no shortage of really interesting things in the world, and eventually most people get shoved out of IT as they age whether they want that or not, so I'm as hopeful as ever that this will be my year as far as this resolution goes.

2) Write more

I don't think writing is my ticket out of the IT ghetto. It is something I do genuinely enjoy doing when I can motivate myself to do it, so I believe this would be a worthy goal. There's also that whole thing that even if 95% of everything is crap, 5% of 200 posts is twice as much non-crap as 5% of 100 posts. I found this post from 'The Last Psychiatrist' (one of the better blogs I've discovered in the past year) particularly inspiring.

3) Find someplace other than Soma to hang out

I did manage to get a lot of the writing I actually did in 2009 there, and I witnessed or overheard things said by hipsters and/or douchebags that made for some nice tweets there. A couple of days ago I had a really great cappuccino there in a huge bowl of a coffee cup that made me regret and feel embarrassed that I'd ever had a cappuccino in a cardboard cup with a plastic lid on it. I have nothing against the place, it's just that I need to shake up the routine a bit and see if there are other spaces in town which are not geared toward getting some money out of me and then shoving me out the door so more people can come in and spend money.

4) Go to Disney World

I am not a 'Cats in The Cradle' dad. I spend a lot of time with my daughter and enjoy it and appreciate that such time is finite, but on that note, she's not going to be a little kid forever and is probably at prime Disney World age this year.

5) Learn more about electronics

I've had a lot of fun playing with my Arduino last year, but while my programming knowledge is reasonably good, I'm not so strong on the hardware and electronics side.

6) Call in to The Best Show on WFMU.

I need to face my fear of the heave-ho. Also I think Tom is looking for some new blood, so it's a prime time to be a new caller.

7) learn to 'hover' on the unicycle.

I think that's what it calls when you stay in one place. I'm good if I keep moving, but as with the other items, here's another plateau I need to get over.