GOP Announces Alternative Candidate

1_132014_ap13031806488201_s878x615In a long-awaited move, the Republican National Committee has finally announced an alternative candidate who is expected to contest the party’s nomination of Trump at the national convention in July.

In a press conference this morning, RNC chair Reince Priebus said “I am happy to announce a new alternative to the current presumptive GOP nominee, Donald Trump.  The people have spoken in our primaries, but as you all know it has been a contentious process that left many dissatisfied with the results.  Our party has searched long and hard for a worthwhile candidate to carry forward the Republican banner.  Someone who embodies the small-government, states-rights, free-market principles that define our party.  Someone who appeals to the people.  Someone who in fact resembles a person, without being offensive to women, other races, those with mental and physical impairments, homosexuals, non-Christians…basically anyone who can walk into a room without getting punched in the face.

“We couldn’t find anyone, so we’re going to run this mop I found in my basement last night.”

Priebus was then joined on stage by co-chair Sharon Day, who wheeled out a bucket with a mop in it.  Day wrung out the remaining bucket water and propped up the mop on the lectern next to Priebus.  The wooden handle appeared worn and some of the mop threads were unraveling.  A little water continued to drip onto the lectern.

Priebus resumed: “I’m not sure when I got this mop.  It might have belonged to my dad?  You know how there are those things around the house you’ve always just had?  Anyway, after an exhausting search process I needed to blow off some steam, and I like to do that by cleaning.  I headed down to the basement and it just hit me.

“Literally, the mop fell out of the closet and hit me in the face.  And I thought, ‘why not run this mop?  Nobody can hate a mop, right?’  The more I thought of it, the more sense it made.  People see a mop, they think of hard work.  They think blue collar.  These are principles we want to identify with.  We also know that undecided voters often can’t tell the difference between a household object and a politician.  And most importantly, mops can’t make speeches or do interviews with the press.

“That will be all for now.”  Priebus left the stage, followed by Day rolling the mop off in its bucket.

Polls this afternoon show a three-way deadlock between Trump, Clinton, and Mop.

My new show opens tonight!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s showtime! Seth Freeman’s The Grade opens tonight as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival. “The challenges of intimacy can be heightened by unexpectedly blunt feedback.” It’s a sweet, funny romantic comedy and I’ve had a great time working on it. We’ve only got three shows, and you can get tickets here.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.

Diversity in the Oscars

Hey guys, have no fear! A young white man is here to solve all the film industry’s diversity woes.

Just kidding.

When stuff like this crops up (see also: Black Lives Matter, the Redskins, equal pay for women in film, basically everything you’ve seen on Facebook over the last five years), I do what comfortable people in the majority should do: I shut up and listen. It’s awesome! You should try it. Because you’re making the rest of us white people look really, really bad. And you’re making social media even more unpleasant than usual.

THAT BEING SAID, I have some thoughts I’d like to share, but only regarding the goalposts of the argument. I agree with the complaints that have been levied against the Academy and the industry. How could I not? Luckily we live in a world where people compile data about issues like this and share it with the public. It makes it so easy to be right, and it makes people who continue to say things are otherwise look even more foolish.

It bothers me that so much of the focus is just on the nominations. The counterarguments are all too easy and in the vein of anti-affirmative-action, which is well-worn territory for those who are happy with the status quo. It’s not about making sure we nominate more people of color. That’s a band-aid over a gunshot wound. It’s about making sure there are more performances from minorities that we can choose from in the first place. That’s the very definition of diversity: more choices. Because now all people have to say is “well, who got snubbed?” And we point to maybe five people who could’ve been considered among all the categories. Or “I think people should just get nominated based on talent but that’s none of my business.” Of course that’s true, and no one would say otherwise. But when the doors are only open for a certain kind of person, when only particular types of stories are being told, the talent available is all going to bear a certain resemblance to itself. The way the conversation is going right now, it’s like complaining about our Netflix not working because the house is on fire.

And holy crap you guys, look at the stats for directors. It’s mind blowing.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.

My thoughts on The Force Awakens

I owe chats with at least a few geek friends about this film, so I figured the best way to take care of this is with one public blog post.  A spoilery paragraph will come way down at the bottom of the page with ample warning, so anyone who hasn’t seen it should feel free to read the first section for a general sense of what I thought.  You’ll have plenty of time to bail before I talk about specifics.  So let’s dive in!

I’m a big Star Wars fan so I was predisposed to like this movie, despite the horrible taste the prequels left with me.  I say “big fan” but that doesn’t mean I’m some huge expert on the world.  I’ve only read one or two of the (now defunct) Extended Universe novels, but at least I know there is an extended universe and it’s all been tossed thanks to a massive corporate acquisition.  I have, however, played a lot of the video games for what adds up to weeks of actual life.  I regret none of it.  And I really liked this movie!  It didn’t blow me away or redefine Star Wars for me, but it’s a really solid film that feels like an honest, updated extension of the original trilogy.  I think they do a great job of honoring the sensibilities and tones of those movies, which is where the prequels went so grossly wrong.  It feels like a swashbuckle (not sure if that’s a noun but it is now).  There’s a cynical humor, solid fights, dogfighting in space.  Hints at a larger mystical legend and backstory that may be explained more in future installments.  Pretty much everything I liked about episodes IV-VI.  There are plot points I have a lot of questions about, which I’ll get into after the spoiler break, and concerns for the rest of the trilogy based on the events in this one.  It’s not perfect, of course.  But it avoided the awful combination of cutesy toddler humor and grave soul-crushing seriousness of trade agreements & airless struggles between good and evil that sank the prequels.  Can you tell how much I hated those movies?

So bottom line: if you consider yourself even a casual fan of the original trilogy I highly recommend seeing this one.  The characters & actors who return from those films are used well, and the new folks are very promising.  I really love the bad guy in this one and I can’t wait to get more of his story and see where his character goes.  This movie has stuck with me since seeing it a couple of days ago, to the point that I’d really like to see it again in the theater.  I can’t remember the last movie that hit me like that.

OK, if you haven’t seen the film you should stop reading now.  Spoilers to come after the white space below.

 

 

 

Seriously, turn back.

 

 

 

OK, ready?

 

 

 

Now:

 

Spoilers Below

My biggest concern for the future of the trilogy is the lack of Han Solo from here out.  Story-wise I totally like what they did here, and it sets a great trajectory for Kylo Ren, but Harrison Ford/Han Solo (it’s honestly hard to tell where one stops and the other starts at this point) really made this movie for me and his death makes me wonder what I’ll grab on to in Episode VIII.  I’m guessing it will be the inevitable training between Rey and Luke, for which I have set an extremely high bar, but one never knows.  As much as I enjoyed Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, Harrison Ford carried this movie for me.  At least now they’ve established Rey and Finn and they’re set in motion, so I think the audience is theirs to lose at this point.

I loved Adam Driver and Kylo Ren.  I can’t wait to learn more about the split from Luke.  I hope they give us some flashbacks, but my prequelphobia has me gun-shy of any sort of explanations in this universe.  The tiny glimpse we got in this movie was thrilling though.  That metal hand on R2!  I was digging everything about Ren and I assumed he’d take his mask off eventually.  When he did I realized how much of a challenge that sets for the actor, and it was a bit anticlimactic when Driver spoke in his normal voice.  But by the final fight when he was unmasked and furious I bought it pretty soundly, and I think that dichotomy will serve the character well during what I assume will be his struggle between Dark and Light a la Vader.  It makes him human and weak to take off the mask, which is probably one thing he’s fleeing as he moves to the Dark side.  His storyline in the next movie, whatever it may be, is probably what I’m most looking forward to (along with more screen time for Mark Hamill).

Speaking of Hamill, I’d avoided as much coverage as I could for this film but I knew he was absent from all the marketing.  I also knew they wouldn’t waste an opportunity to get his face on screen, so I’m very glad they ended the movie the way they did.  Rewatching the original trilogy last week before seeing this film, I realized that he’s actually a much better actor than I’d given him credit for.  Everyone knows how whiny Luke is in A New Hope, and it’s easy to fault Hamill or the writing for that, but what if it’s intentional?  That seems especially likely when you consider the stoic force he becomes by Return of the Jedi.  I had also been unaware until a few days ago that he did a good amount of Broadway in the 80s, good Broadway too: Elephant Man, Amadeus?!  He lost out to Hulce for the film role, likely because of his strong cultural association with Luke.  Point being, I think he’s going to kill it in the next movie, especially given the general life experience he’s had since filming Jedi.  Look how much he endowed into the few shots we had of him in this film.  I’m very excited about his presence in VIII.

There are plot points that left a few question marks for me.  Going into this I was curious about the seeming presence of the Empire when we know its leadership had been taken down thirty years prior.  We learn early on that there’s a Republic again, and the Empire has turned into the First Order.  But there’s a Resistance against the First Order that’s secretly funded by the Republic?  So is the Republic the sole governing body of the galaxy now?  If so why does there need to be a resistance against some splinter group of the last regime?  Wouldn’t the First Order really be the resistance?  How have they been able to continue funding what is obviously a massive military if they’re not the main government any more?  These are questions I’ve had, but I don’t know that I really want them answered because that’s one step closer to the dreaded Trade Federation and I’ll just take some contradictory mystery if that’s our way out.

I was also a little disappointed that this all hews so closely to a combination of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi.  I told a friend that Lucas had followed Campbell’s Hero’s Journey so closely that Luke is now the cover of that book, and this movie just hit all those same beats again.  A bored kid on a desert planet brushes up against a bigger world through a funny little droid, finds out she has these powers, begins a journey of using them and fighting evil.  Another character is fighting a battle between good and evil in his own soul.  He’s obviously a copy of Vader but that makes sense within the context of the story, so I’m fine with that.  It doesn’t feel like a rehash but a character trait and I’m fine with that.  A massive planet-destroying technology which is taken down in a weird hybrid of the two weaknesses of the other Death Stars.  You get it.  Again, it’s not a perfect film.  But it got its hooks in me.

I’m also very happy that I avoided all the coverage that I did.  I knew some of the casting for this film, like Gwendoline Christie and Lupita Nyongo, but I didn’t know anything about who they were playing and that served me well since Christie’s character basically vanished after serving a story purpose and Lupita was all CGI.  I didn’t know anything about Kylo Ren, nor was I even sure about who was playing him or whether he was good.  All the better.

Speaking of CGI, my biggest complaint for the film might be Snoke.  They really couldn’t put someone in some prosthetics for that?  He looks like the bad guys in the Hobbit movies and we don’t need any more of that.  I’m really curious about who he is and I’m dreading any camera time with him because it’s just a huge letdown.  I couldn’t believe Andy Serkis played him.  I mean, I can believe it because no one else in the world does mo-cap, apparently, but the post-production work they did erased any sort of humanity from his performance (which I know he brought, because he always does).

So there you have it.  I’m on board for this trilogy.  I dread a little bit the onslaught of Star Wars that we’re facing for the next five years or so, because it’s a franchise near and dear to my heart and I don’t want them to wear it out.  I got so tired of the endless marketing tie-ins for this film, and I see no reason that will abate for any of the films we have coming up.  I think it dilutes the brand.  But, I’ll just keep avoiding it like I did for this one.  I’m also glad they’re using different directors for these films.  I think that helped the original trilogy, just like it helped the Harry Potter franchise as well.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.

I Cost $180

It is likely that as you’re reading this, I am marching on behalf of a bank in NYC’s Columbus Day parade. I’m doing this through my temp agency, and I’m getting paid $180 for it. So in case anyone was wondering, that’s how much it takes to buy my principles; in this case, principles regarding banks & finance and our recognition of Christopher Columbus. In order to atone for my meagerly priced sins, I’ve written this and set it to publish while I’m at work.

Regarding banks: they’re one of the chief institutions behind the inordinate concentration of capital at the top of the food chain in the US. They hold a reprehensible amount of influence over our elected officials. They are above the law because they define the law. Finally, they deal in an artificial system created by man which subsequently enslaved him. Hey, speaking of slaves…

Christopher Columbus was a fool, a racist, and a slaver. He was a fool because he thought, contrary to every professional geographer of the time, that the Earth was a fraction of its size. Scientists have been accurately measuring the circumference of the Earth since before Jesus was born, starting with the ancient Greeks. Had Columbus not stumbled into the West Indies, he and his crew would have died on a voyage that would have lasted three years. As it was, he insisted that the land he “discovered” (odd to discover a land mass filled with people, but anyway) was in fact India and spent the rest of his life looking for the Ganges River among the islands of the Caribbean. When confronted directly with facts—that he was not in India and that he was grossly incorrect in his calculations of the size of the planet—he clung to his errors and found fantastical explanations to maintain his ideas. He ventured so far as to think perhaps the planet was shaped like a pear and he lucked into sailing across the narrow part. He threatened to hang anyone on his crews who claimed they were not in India. And just as a footnote on how much of a dick Columbus was, he’d initially offered a yearly pension as a reward for the first man to see land. A sailor named Rodrigo saw it on October 12th, but Columbus claimed to have seen a light the night before and took the reward for himself.

He was a racist because he thought the people he found living in the land he discovered* were not his equals, or equal to those he’d left behind on the Continent. He immediately began seeking ways to subjugate them to his will in order that he may find and use the riches he thought promised him by his god. He was a slaver because, well, that often follows, doesn’t it? From his journal: “They would make fine servants…With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” He later sent a report to his financiers the king and queen of Spain, of whom he asked for a little help in return for “as much gold as they need…and as many slaves as they ask…Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities.” Apparently his lord god saw fit to reduce the native peoples of the Caribbean by overwhelming numbers, what would result in a true genocide of a people within decades of their introduction to Europeans.

We don’t teach our children that on the first boats sent back to Queen Isabella were humans being treated as worth less than the shiny rocks in the chests next to them. No, we teach them that people thought Columbus would fall off the side of the flat Earth but he, knowing better, persevered into unknown territory and discovered the land that all our ancestors could peacefully settle into over the coming centuries. Why teach them these myths? Why not tell them the truth? Why name a day after a man like this? Why build a country on such a rotten, filthy foundation?

Sources: Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferriss, and A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. I highly recommend them both.

*Again, explain the use of that word in this context?

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.

Don’t Call It a Diet

Earlier this summer I got the idea to try a little experiment. Most people would probably call it a diet, but when someone who looks like me tells someone they’re on a diet they get a reaction which then requires a follow-up explanation that I got very tired of giving.

So, yes, I experimented on myself.

I’m not sure exactly what kicked this off, though I have a few ideas. In January this year I ran my first race ever, the Austin 3M Half Marathon. I trained for a few months to get ready, and while my primary goal was just to run the race, I was shooting for a time under two hours. I ended up running it in 1:54. I also read an article about one of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno’s contemporaries in the Venice Beach muscle scene of the late 70s, Bill Pettis. Something about the simplicity of his approach (40 eggs a day and lots of pushups) and the results he was able to achieve struck me. I also regularly watch The Ultimate Fighter with a little envy of how dedicated the competitors can be with regards to their diets and training. Mix all of that together–training for a specific goal while changing my nutrition and making all of this a priority in my life–and I decided to run a two-month experiment.

The goal: gain weight while losing body fat. I wanted to see if I could add a few pounds of muscle and get a six-pack, though I’ve read a few things about the difficulty of getting your abs to look that way and keep them there. I’ve been running and working out at home regularly for years now, and I’ve been quite happy with how I look and feel but I’ve always been doing those things to be able to eat more or less however I’d like to eat. I have a killer sweet tooth and I eat like it’s a competition. I’ve gotten healthier with my diet over the years, but what I might have considered treats a long time ago became routine at some point. So another side goal was to see if I could get myself away from that sweet craving, especially the one that comes every time I finish a meal.

To accomplish this, I decided to cut out all snacks and as much sugar as I possibly could. The main place the latter would hit would be my coffee, which I always take with a few teaspoons of sugar. Most of my snacks also came with a little sugar. I also decided I’d avoid any intensely carb-heavy meals–bagels, pizza, big sandwiches, burritos. Anything that was really bread-heavy. Another big change was no alcohol. This mainly affects our weekends. Amy and I split a bottle of wine both Friday and Saturday nights with takeout, which is again something that started as a treat but became routine. That’s not to say I took it for granted–I still very much enjoyed it! But it became expected. I’d also make the occasional Manhattan for myself or have a beer if we had some in the fridge, not to mention going out with friends.

I wouldn’t avoid carbs altogether. This wasn’t going to be Atkins or anything. I just wanted more of my calories coming from protein-rich sources so I could add the muscle I was looking for. To that end I got some protein powder and protein bars, and I put together a smoothie for after my runs and workouts (recipe below) to incorporate the powder (which also went into my coffee and hot cereal at breakfast). I also got more plates to add to my dumbbells so I could kick up the intensity of my workouts. Finally, I picked the start date of 8/10, and on that morning weighed myself and took my body fat percentage (165 lbs, 12.1%). And I was off to the races.

I didn’t want to microanalyze my progress, so I decided I’d weigh myself and check the body fat again in one month, and then again when the whole thing finishes on 10/10. Things went well the first month. I didn’t do much to change my runs. Generally I do a roughly 3, 5, and 6 mile run every week. The biggest change in runs was to really push myself on that three-miler. I’d read on Men’s Health or somewhere that your cardio during a program like this should be pretty intense, but I also didn’t want to give up those longer runs because I just enjoy running. I did push a few five mile runs pretty hard, and my longer run has now expanded to eight miles. My times have gotten a little faster and I can do a long run averaging under 10 minutes/mile without breathing through my mouth, so I’m pretty happy with how that’s gone. I feel like it wouldn’t take long to get ready for another half marathon, and it would be a reasonable expectation to finish faster than the first one I did. I felt like I might have plateaued a bit with the weights, so my friend Jeffrey who’s a trainer recommended upping the weight more and doing four sets of fewer reps, then upping again and doing four sets of still fewer reps. So I’m in the last stage of that.

I saw a visible difference within a couple of weeks. I had more definition in my chest and stomach, but I couldn’t tell if I’d actually gotten bigger or not. Turned out at my one-month checkin I lost eight pounds, and my body fat dropped to 9.7%. The math on that means I lost about five pounds of fat. So not ideal with regards to my goal, but still a great place to be. Jeffrey recommended mixing in more snacks, so I started doing peanuts, almonds and pumpkin seeds as snacks and eating an omelette as another meal on days I did weights. I have five more days before I check my numbers again, but I feel like I’ve gotten bigger but kept the definition I had after one month. That makes me think my body fat will still be down where it was a month ago. When I see my upper arms out of the corner of my eye, like when I’m doing dishes or something, they don’t look like my arms. I’d gotten used to the size they were before, and it’s a subtle difference but when you look at the same thing for years it doesn’t take much to throw you off. It’s a weird sensation.

I’d like to take a moment here to talk about some body image stuff. Without minimizing at all the constant barrage of body messages women are subjected to on a daily basis, let it be known that there are plenty of expectations on men as well that can play havoc with how we view ourselves. I only bring this up because I saw this ridiculous cartoon on Facebook or something about the differences between how men and women see themselves, and it was way off the mark. This isn’t exactly it, but it’s the same idea:

My own idea of my body hasn’t really changed since I was 13 or so. Maybe a little hairier, but I’ve always seen myself as that same scrawny kid. I have to look in the mirror and actively tell myself “this is what you look like now, get it into your head.” Never have I seen a six pack where there’s a soft little roll, or extra muscle over my gangly arms. Which is why it’s extra off-putting when I see my arms out of the corner of my eye now. And it’s fun to these changes take place based directly on the actions you’ve taken. There’s a nice sense of accomplishment that goes with that. But the six pack? Still not there. I’ve got more definition, for sure, and it’s easier to feel the muscles under the skin on my abdomen, but I wouldn’t classify it as a six pack. Which just reinforces what I’ve read about that particular goal. I have had zero lapses with my diet this entire time–literally not one drink or sugary snack or teaspoon of sugar in my coffee. I haven’t missed more than one day a week of exercise, and at least once went two weeks without a day off. And still no six pack? So I say no thank you, that’s not for me and I am perfectly fine with it.

One of the biggest challenges these two months has been leaving the house, especially for social gatherings. It’s pretty rare that people say “hey, let’s hang out this weekend. Wanna eat a nice salad somewhere and drink water?” I got used to ordering Diet Coke at bars, or just not drinking anything at all. That ends up being much less of a deal than you may think, initially. There’s always the fear that you’ll feel awkward standing around with nothing in your hand at a party or bar, but it passes. What doesn’t pass is the reaction people tend to give you when you’re not drinking. It seems like a lot of assumptions get made, like no one really understands not drinking for general health and well-being rather than you’re sober or you’re pregnant (only one of which applies to guys). And good lord do we all drink! This is a drinking city. I don’t know anyone who gets together socially without drinking. Which is fine! But it wasn’t something I really realized until I stopped. It was also frustrating to have to explain myself, like I needed to apologize somehow or make excuses for not stuffing my skinny face with all the sugar and fat and bread that I can find. People couldn’t seem to process why someone who by all appearances is thin and healthy would undergo any sort of change in their diet or exercise without some sort of medical reason. It’s not that I was unhappy with anything before. I was just curious about the sorts of change I could effect in my body, especially since those sorts of things come fewer and further between as we age. And to that end I’ve seen success.

So, looking forward, I’m interested to see how much of this sticks. First things first though, I’ll get my final numbers Saturday morning and then get a bacon egg and cheese sandwich on a pumpernickel bagel and cry into my sugar-sweetened latte. Then Amy’s making me mocha fudge brownies, my request. I will drink beer at dinner and it will be glorious. All that being said, I’m going to keep making that smoothie for myself. It’s probably the healthiest thing I eat. I might keep the protein powder around because it makes my morning old-man-hot-cereal breakfast a little more palatable, and I don’t get enough protein as it is. I made myself a dinner of chicken breasts, rice and asparagus a few times and it was delicious, so that will come back into rotation. And I’ll probably keep eating nuts as snacks rather than anything sweet or carby. I think my sweet craving has been reduced, but I’m worried that it’ll escalate again over time when I start periodically indulging again. We’ll see how that goes. My main concern is the mental aspect of letting go of any fixed ideas about how I should look, because I’m not interested in keeping this diet up indefinitely and I don’t want to hurt myself training. I’m amazed and grateful that I’ve made it this two months without hurting myself or getting sick or anything. So it’s inevitable that I’ll lose some muscle mass, and I have to be OK with that. Everything changes with time, and now I know how to get back to this if I need to. In the meantime I’ll be enjoying Donut Plant, sweet coffee and Manhattans.

Colin’s Kitchen Sink Smoothie

Makes about 1 liter, roughly 800 calories and 54 g of protein

1 cup almond milk
1 packed cup of spinach
2 tsp chia seeds
2 tsp flax seeds
1/4 cup walnuts
1 serving protein powder
1 6-oz. container of fat free plain Greek yogurt
1 banana
1 cup frozen fruit (my favorite was pineapple followed by blueberry. Strawberry was OK, raspberry wasn’t sweet or juicy enough–a juicy fruit helps offset the thickness of the other ingredients)
1 cup-ish of ice

Blend it up and drink!

America is an Idea

cloudAmerica is an idea. Ideas are like clouds. Seen from a distance they make sense; you can describe their shape, their color, their direction. Get closer and things blur. You can’t define the edge—where is cloud and not-cloud? You begin to see the constantly shifting nature of the thing you call “cloud.” Eventually the cloud goes on to become something else entirely and you’re left with a memory, which is again something that shifts even as you examine it.

This political season, as all that came before and all yet to come, each candidate speaks of America as if it were a crystalline object, a brick of precious metal in an oxygen-free vault five miles underground. The idea of America they cling to and espouse may be theirs, it may be what they think their target voters imagine, or it may be some freakish hybrid of both. The candidate fiercely defends this America they’ve created in their mind. Anyone with a different idea of America, which is to say anyone but the candidate, is incorrect. This is an object of scorn or pity on the part of the candidate.

It is of course true that there are some who focus more on the America yet to be. I personally find more value in this than attempting a return to the America that was, or putting down or holding on to the America that is. The past no longer exists, and the present is water slipping through your hands. No one can control the future, but we can make educated guesses and plan accordingly. This requires more effort and insight than simply saying you will be the next [insert party figurehead here]. That figurehead lived in a different time and responded to a different environment. Our history’s greatest value is in showing us what worked and didn’t work, but the variables will rarely repeat. That is not to say we should discard lessons from the past; however, we have to translate them to the present & future to act accordingly. Who is doing that work, and who is listening?

America is a drawing on a map. It’s a collection of documents. It’s some 300 million people, individuals, each with an interior life as full as the next. To pin it down as one sharply drawn thing and then say you will make it another thing is to lie.

So who’s telling the truth?

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.

Edgar Goes to the Store

For Edgar’s previous adventures, please read:

Edgar’s School Days
Edgar Sees an Acquaintance and It Goes Badly

Edgar ducked into the health food store on his corner as he walked to work. His objective was to buy just one item for lunch. He wan’t necessarily healthy, and what he was buying was only marginally food, but its flavor was slightly better than neutral and most importantly, it was $3.50. His stomach tightened as he entered. One of the greatest burdens in this city was knowing exactly what you wanted and where you were going, two things Edgar always knew.

Edgar made his way quickly through the bright freezing produce & dairy aisle, adeptly slipping by a woman having a conversation with chia pudding, and cut over to the ready-made food corner. He rotated his lunches between three Asian-ish noodle boxes. Feeling bold today, he opted for the Szechuan. As he turned towards the front of the store, a man in pajamas with wild hair asked “Are those good?”

“Yes. They’re OK cold or at room temperature but if I’m home I’ll microwave them.”

At this last bit the man’s eyes widened and he shook his head. His hair wafted, muppet-like. “Oh, you mustn’t! Don’t you know what that does to food?”

Edgar laughed politely and began to step away. The man cut off his retreat. “No, really. I’ve looked into this. The radiation infects your food and gives you cancer.”

Edgar hesitated briefly, then decided to take the plunge. “Microwave ovens send photons of a certain wavelength through food. The photons only affect polarized molecules, like water, causing them to vibrate, which creates heat. None of that has anything to do with the processes that can cause cancer.”

The man gaped like a trout. “But…but…it’s radiation.”

Edgar gestured upward. “Technically so are these fluorescents. And it’s a higher frequency.” The man squealed and ran from the store. Edgar sighed, then steeled himself for what waited up front.

He found the scene he expected. The store had ten registers side by side behind a counter; no more than four were ever manned. There were no barriers or markers anywhere. The only indicator of the behavior expected from customers was a sign posted at intervals: “Seperate line each register,” spelling and questionable syntax faithfully reproduced each time. Rather than a short line at each of the four open registers, people milled aimlessly, jostling about in the space between where the lines should have been, in flagrant violation of the signs’ request. They all hesitated to declare allegiance to one cashier over another, fearful that they may be stuck eternally behind a complicated transaction involving personal checks, foreign currency, and a price dispute.

Edgar’s armpits immediately dampened, his pulse quickened from the adrenaline being dumped into his bloodstream. Somewhere right this moment in the Middle East a soldier about to break from cover under fire was experiencing the same feelings Edgar was having at the prospect of awkward interactions with strangers and possibly waiting two minutes longer to leave the store.

Edgar entered the orbit of people between registers three and five. There seemed to be some degree of seniority established already, so he hung towards the back and did his best not to think of the improvements he would make to this setup. That way lay madness, as he knew from experience. He did his best to simply focus on his breathing and avoid thought. Especially the thought that he should already be two avenues east of here to avoid being late.

After a couple of false starts which were cut off by aggressive seniors, Edgar realized it was down to him and a young woman by his side. He wasn’t sure when she had been absorbed into the group. Uncertain how to proceed, he glanced into her basket and noticed it only contained a few items. She was dressed professionally, and her features and clothing seemed local. He decided that civilization could prevail, and he would let her go ahead when a register became free. He discounted register five, where a short woman peering over the counter engaged the cashier in a spirited debate over the merits of hemp seeds as a laxative. Register three, however, seemed to be wrapping up.

When the customer there stepped away, Edgar gestured magnanimously to the woman next to him. She smiled and said “Merci.” Edgar smiled back, inwardly cursing himself for assuming. The French woman walked up to the open register and began peppering the cashier with questions, fishing out a handful of bills, change, and euro in the process.

I should’ve known. She was standing far too close to me.

The conversation at register five finally concluded with the two parties agreeing to disagree about their feces. Edgar swooped in, cutting off the advance of the chia pudding enthusiast from the dairy aisle earlier. His time had come, hard-earned. He placed his noodles on the counter and said “I don’t need a bag or utensils.”

The cashier began a complicated keying process on her register. “Good morning sir and welcome to West Side Health Market. Did you find everything you need today?”

“Yes.”

Still punching keys seemingly at random, the cashier said “I’m happy to hear that sir and are you a member of our rewards club?” She had yet to make eye contact.

“No, thanks, I’m not interested.”

“I see sir. Would you like to sign up? It will only take a moment.”

“No, no, I’m not interested.”

“Membership entitles you to discounts on items and points that can be redeemed for rewards.” Still punching keys.

“I’m really not interested. And these noodles aren’t discounted for the card anyway, I checked.”

“Once you’re enrolled you’ll just need to punch in your phone number and everything else is automatic.”

“Please just let me buy this thing and leave.”

“Excellent sir.” Having finished her Enigma-worthy code on the keyboard, the cashier slid Edgar’s noodles across the scanner. He noticed on the screen that it misread them as a ham sandwich for a full dollar more than they should have been. He just bit his tongue. There was no time. The cashier started to slide them into a bag.

“I don’t need a bag, I’ll just use this.” He gestured to his messenger bag.

“Would you like to buy one of our reusable shopping bags? They’re just a dollar.”

“No thanks! Got a bag here.”

“Excellent sir. Would you like utensils?”

“NOPE.”

“Will that be cash credit debit?”

“Credit.”

The cashier began punching keys again. Edgar’s heart fell into his stomach. “Go ahead and swipe sir.”

Edgar did so. The card reader beeped angrily. “Please swipe again sir.” Edgar swiped more slowly. The same angry beep. As a bead of sweat ran down his temple he imagined his supervisor strolling by Edgar’s desk, raising an eyebrow at the empty chair. Edgar swiped again, slightly faster than the first time, trying to find the exact speed at which the magnetic reader would do what it was designed to do. A more pleasant beep indicated success.

“Would you like to donate to children’s cancer research?”

Edgar pressed no on the screen, which was unresponsive. He pulled on the attached chain, which came up empty. He pressed again, harder, with no luck. He whipped his bag around to the front and dug out a pen, successfully pressed no with it, and almost broke the screen. As he did so he imagined a sick child’s face, hairless, eyes huge, and felt a pang of guilt.  I’m sorry. I’m just trying to buy my lunch.

“Cash back press yes or no.” Edgar smiled tightly at the cashier and pressed no. “Please confirm your purchase.” Edgar thought that enrolling in his 401k required less red tape. Finally the receipt began printing.

“Thank you for your purchase sir. On your receipt is a number for a survey. If you call this number, you will be entered into a contest for—”

“I’m sorry, please, I really have to go.”

“—a cash prize of $500 or store credit for even more.” The receipt kept printing, feet and feet of paper slowly spooling out. It was impossibly long. The cashier pulled out a small cardboard pouch and began folding the receipt into it, droning on about the survey and its benefits. Edgar felt a snap, an actual physical snap inside his brain. He shrieked and grabbed the noodles from the counter. He sprinted for the door, shouldering aside the chia pudding woman. Dozens of containers of chia pudding flew from her basket. He burst through the doors and sprinted for Sixth Avenue, stiff arming a dog walker, his messenger bag flapping behind him in his own breeze.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.

Edgar’s School Days

Edgar hated manning the door during changeover at lunch. He’d taken the job in the offices of the West Village Early Childhood Development Center because, well, it was a job. A thing with a desk and a computer and tasks he knew how to complete, or could at least learn how to complete after a quick internet search. But this direct interaction with the children was overwhelming. His main objective was something like stopping them all from blindly running into the street like feral cats. His obstacles were many. Edgar didn’t know these children, didn’t spend his day with them like the teachers. He was a slightly animate statue to most of them, not a trusted person whom they needed to obey. In addition, he didn’t know ANY children. How do you control a child with only your voice? Edgar could control animals. Brusque shouts of an animal’s name followed by sharp hissing or claps would usually stop it from doing whatever it was doing. Could he clap at these children? How loud could he be without scaring them or looking like a monster to the other adults in the hallway? What were most of their names? And if there was a communication breakdown with an animal, there was always the last resort of a good rump slap. Definitely out of bounds here.

The changeover was only about ten minutes long, but it was ten minutes like a few rounds of boxing is ten minutes. Edgar placed himself by the door shortly before the morning period ended. A nanny or two would trickle into the hallway from outside, absentmindedly reading the New York Post or some paper in another language that seemed to consist entirely of coupons for TVs. A few of the caregivers were young like Edgar, trying actually to do something else, like Edgar. He could carry on decent conversations with them. More nannies and even some parents filled the hallway, waiting to receive or deliver a child. Edgar came to know a few of the afternoon session children who waited in the hall. It did him little good. They weren’t steadily ebbing to the door pulled by some suicidal urge to bolt into traffic. Their day was just beginning, so they were eager to make their way to the classroom upstairs.

Eventually the door on the second floor would open and the voices of a couple dozen juiced-up four year olds echoed down the stairwell. The children waiting to go up became agitated by their peers, who were agitated by the wide open afternoon in front of them. It all agitated Edgar. The children came down the stairs single-file, led by a teacher in the front and herded along by one in the rear. The line fell apart near the bottom, as the morning kids spotted their friends and family and hired proxies. This part was manageable for Edgar, and sometimes entertaining. It was when the parents started catching up with each other or asking the teachers questions that it got hairy. The children, having dropped out of focus of all the adults except the one who was mostly terrified of them, starting shambling towards the door. Edgar, that last line of defense between them and certain abduction or roadkill, had to stand politely strong. The first child, Bobby or something, reached the door and stared out the lower window. He looked at the doorknob, then back out the window. He put his hand on the doorknob. “No Bobby, you can’t go outside yet. Where’s your mom?” Bobby slowly turned his face up to Edgar’s, staring blankly. Did this man-shaped furniture just make sound? Was that sound something like language? “You have to wait for your mom before you can go outside.” More blank staring, hand still on doorknob. Edgar gingerly placed his fingers on the doorknob, taking care not to touch Bobby’s for fear of impropriety. What Edgar lacked over the children in terms of command, he made up for in dexterity and strength. Bobby tried turning the knob but Edgar’s fingers held strong. More children bottlenecked behind Bobby, trying to glimpse the wide open world on the other side of the door. Snatches of the adult conversations floated over their heads; about how Gabriella didn’t get orange juice at home because of the sugar so please don’t give her any here, about how Jackson couldn’t wait to have a sushi date with Darby.

Edgar marvelled that these children even knew what sushi was, yet they wept blood at the mere mention of a peanut. His childhood diet consisted largely of Chef Boyardee and various applications for peanut butter; only once at the same time. The fact that these children were attending the West Village Early Childhood Development Center already put them several tracks beyond anything Edgar experienced in the suburbs of the South. The limited, sought-after slots here were the first steps on a path that ended with trying to dodge the estate tax, a building named after you at your alma mater, and several ulcers.

Finally, a few nannies who didn’t speak English and thus could not converse with the teachers or parents had gathered their wards and made way for the exit. Edgar was prepared for this after several weeks on the job. He boxed out the growing mass of children by the door like he was about to make a quick jumpshot, then opened the door in a manner that swept them aside while allowing the nannies and strollers to leave. This required an exact timing that he had learned the hard way. Opening the door too early or leaving it open just a second too long led to a panicked sprint down the sidewalk to shepherd back a child wild-eyed at the prospect of freedom. If Gabriella’s mother knit her brow at the thought of orange juice and all its sugary glory tainting her child, the look she gave at the sight of Edgar guiding Gabriella back inside could melt glass.

One by one children were plucked from the milling herd and, each now matched to an adult, all left the building in one last noisy push. Edgar closed the door behind them and his shoulders slowly began to make their way down from his ears. Mariel, the kindergarten teacher, said “That was an easy one. See you tomorrow Edgar.” She led the afternoon children up the stairs in a line.

“Uh huh,” Edgar sighed, his shirt sticking to his body in dark patches of sweat.

We’re smarter than we think

I’ve seen/heard/osmotically absorbed a decent amount of press for the new film The End of the Tour, about the end (duh) of David Foster Wallace’s press tour (duh) for his 1996 novel Infinite Jest.  If you’re not familiar with Wallace, first off do yourself a favor and read his essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” a.k.a. “Shipping Out.”  Harper’s thought, correctly, that it would make a good article if they sent this acerbically funny, intensely intelligent, awkward writer on a giant cruise so he could record his observations about the human race in that context.  See also a similar effort in “Consider the Lobster,” about the Maine Lobster Festival.  Wallace has a few books of essays and short stories out there, and one big novel, Infinite Jest. He unfortunately committed suicide in 2008.

Every single piece of press I’ve seen regarding this film talks about the monumental task of reading Infinite Jest, as if it were some given that a large percentage of the population would be lucky to open the book and recognize the words written in it as English.  I’ve read Infinite Jest.  I love it.  It is long, and it has footnotes.  Lots of footnotes.  But it is a delightful, inventive book, and we do ourselves a disservice by pretending it’s something that most of us couldn’t pick up and enjoy (after properly stretching–seriously, it is a large book).  It’s not Ulysses (at least I think it’s not; that one’s still on my to-read list).  It’s not The Crying of Lot 49, or Gravity’s Rainbow.  It is not the Benjy chapter of The Sound and the Fury. It’s a contemporary narrative with three storylines which begin to reveal their connections to the reader as they progress.  And it’s hilarious.  It contains one of the funniest scenes in any medium I can think of.  But for whatever reason, the press and our culture have decided that this is A Difficult Book, and proceed accordingly, leaving those who aren’t familiar to assume this is correct.  It becomes a meme in the proper sense of that word.

I can readily remember this phenomenon happening one other time, recently.  It became customary to say that Inception was this dense, impossible-to-follow blow-your-mind movie.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like it.  I like all Nolan’s stuff.  But it’s just an action movie about people dreaming dreams in dreams.  It’s an original blockbuster.  It might not hold your hand like, I don’t know, Transformers or whatever–does one need hand-holding to be yelled at by CGI?  Anyway.  It’s not a slow meditation on the nature of human existence.  It’s a summer tentpole with one of the world’s biggest movie stars having a dream in a van, and in that dream he’s dreaming about…skiing?  It’s been a while.

MY POINT, and thank you for hanging in there, is not about short attention spans or dumb entertainment or ‘member the good old days when people had face to face conversations or whatever Andy Rooney used to talk about.  My point is that we, you, I, whoever, we can read a long book.  We can talk about something more complicated than last night’s Real Housewives.  We don’t need to let “them” tell us what we can and can’t fathom.  Because remember, as Patton Oswalt rightly said, “There is no ‘them.'”

And why does this matter?  Because when I watch political debates (any of them, this is bipartisan) all I hear are soundbites meant for a public that doesn’t read long books and doesn’t understand the movies it watches because that’s who the candidates have been led to believe we are.  Prove them wrong.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.

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