Sunday, March 22, 2009

We'll Always Have Paris

From the television:
“Tonight’s news begins with a Stone’s Throw exclusive. Intimate friends of hotel heiress Paris Hilton have confided that the talent-starved celebrity has agreed to marry Quaker Bob, longtime spokesperson and package icon for Quaker Oats cereal. The two met at a party at the Scientology Celebrity Center in Hollywood. Fans and celebrity watchers were taken by surprise since Ms. Hilton had vowed never to wed after her breakup with fiancĂ© and Greek shipping magnate Paris Latsis…

“Yes, the two actually shared the same first name!

“Speaking of which, the irrepressible Ms. Hilton confided she broke off the engagement when she learned her fiancĂ© expected her to change her name to his, which would have made her the second Paris Latsis on the celebrity register.

"’I come second to no one,' she declared, sparking smirks and titters from members of the press corps who had obviously seen Ms. Hilton’s pirated sex tape…”

From the living room:
“Did you say something, dear?” I ask my wife Sylvia.

“I said they’re not going to ask about the ring. The guy gave Paris a 24 carat diamond engagement ring and they never asked if she gave it back.”

Looking at Sylvia with her spiky, imitation Brittany Spears hairdo, I think of how much I preferred her Jennifer Aniston look. “Remind me why you changed your hair?” I ask.

“You know how long it’s been since they cancelled Friends?” she replies curtly. “Besides, if it wasn’t good enough for Brad Pitt…”

From the television:
“Celebrity watchers will recall that Quaker Bob was once engaged to Madison Avenue kitchen phenom, Betty Crocker. There was never an official announcement from General Foods or the Quaker Oats Company but insiders say the engagement was nixed after Quaker Bob was seen holding hands in Las Vegas with fabled femme fatale, Elizabeth Taylor.

“Paris and Quaker Bob expect to marry next spring in Massachusetts, the only state that currently recognizes mixed marriages between celebrities and advertising icons.”

From the living room:
Sylvia’s mentioning Brad Pitt makes me think about his friend George Clooney who was in a movie I recently rented on Netflix about some guy who used to be on TV, Edward R. Murrow.

“Ever hear of someone named Edward R. Murrow?” I ask Sylvia.

“Sure,” she answers easily. “He was the host of Jeopardy before Alex Trebek.”

“You’re good,” I reply, smiling. “Real good.”

From the television:
“In other news, nobody could have been more surprised than Bernie Madoff, the Monster of Manhattan, when he received an unexpected visit from the ABC Extreme Makeover team. In an episode featuring Martha Stewart and her all-prison team of decorators, the former Wall Street Wizard’s prison cell was reportedly transformed from a basic green penal motif to something Ms. Stewart calls ‘Rainbow XCell.’

“As Ms. Stewart explained, ’I was particularly concerned with Bernie’s gray facial coloring, which could easily create a solemn, almost burdensome, mood in this otherwise airy eight by seven foot cell. So my team and I literally splashed color everywhere, festooning rainbow hues across lace-trimmed curtains, bedclothes, pillow cushions, even a knitted tea cozy handed down from Bernie’s maternal aunt. And then, for the final touch, we painted the cell’s solid steel bars in the full spectrum of rainbow colors—very sexy and polychromatic! By the end of the show, I think you’ll agree, we managed to bring a fruity and sensuous air of allure to an otherwise pedestrian cell unit. According to a very pleased Bernie, it’s almost as welcoming as his penthouse. But you can read all about it in my next issue of Prison Decorating Monthly.'”

From the living room:
“You know,” Sylvia says, pushing the mute button, “I’m starting to think the whole thing was a railroad job. A complete miscarriage of justice. Now that I’ve seen the real person on television a few times, I can tell Bernie Madoff is not as bad as everyone said. Probably just another victim of bad press and a lousy publicity agent. Like what’s his name, that governor from Illinois…?”

“You’re right,” I add, “and did you read in People Magazine about Bernie’s charity work, and him becoming a born-again Talmudist? Just shows you can’t believe everything you read in the papers.

“Could you turn up the sound, sweetheart.”

From the television:
“On a more serious note, U2 Rocker, Bono, back from a fact finding mission to Africa, met behind closed doors with Sting, Paul Simon, Donald Trump, Chelsea Clinton and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to begin developing a plan to halt the worldwide spread of AIDS. No word yet on the scope of the plan or whether it would roll out in conjunction with U2’s planned world tour next summer. When asked why Elizabeth Taylor, who heads her own private AIDS foundation, wasn’t invited to attend the conference, unnamed sources suggested her presence was vetoed by unforgiving friends of a still heartbroken Betty Crocker.

“For our final story, we turn to Stockholm, Sweden, where the winners of this year’s Nobel Prizes were just announced. We regret to report there wasn’t a single personality you would recognize among the prizewinners.”

From the living room:
“I’ll bet the Nobel Prize TV ratings really suck this year,” Sylvia says knowingly.

“You’re so right,” I agree. “If they were smart, they’d give at least one of those awards to someone famous.”

“Paris Hilton, maybe,” Sylvia suggests. “Or Brittany Spears, if she’s out of rehab.”

“You’re good,” I reply, smiling. “Real good.”

"We'll Always Have Paris" is from my soon-to-be-published "How To Train A Rock", a collection of short insights and fiction flights. Watch this blog for the publication announcement, probably next month.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Dear Lord, Can I Have A Raise?

It’s been two years since the Archangel Gabriel came down from Heaven and announced on NPR that God was putting Humankind “on His payroll.” At the time, few of us understood that cryptic remark but fast-rushing events quickly overran our ignorance.

As you remember, it was called the ‘Universal Salary Adjustment’ or U.S.A. and it somehow managed to supercede all payroll functions on the planet, doling out weekly paychecks according to some new and remarkable productivity standards.

At the time I didn’t think much about it though it struck me strange that The Creator would bother Him- or Herself with such mundane busy-ness.

Why not take over the management of Coca Cola, or some industrialized nation, I wondered? Why not end hunger, outlaw war…or maybe cut back the work week to three or four days?

Why not do something that seemed a bit more, well…divine!

And then, of course, nothing was more surprising than the paychecks themselves.

The first sign that something was ‘different’ came when my Augusta, my Salvadoran housekeeper, ran up to me and lifted me in her arms.

“Thank you, thank you, Senor Paul Steven!” she cried, spinning me around in a way that clearly indicated the size of the raise The Divine Paymaster had given her.

When I received my own paycheck I realized I’d be getting scant Heavenly encouragement to continue my work in advertising. There was no point complaining to my colleagues since they were all out looking for jobs in social service or menial labor, two of the “growth industries” created by the U.S.A.

For the first few months I heard nothing but disaster stories. Friends who worked as stockbrokers, lawyers, car salesmen and real estate developers were devastated by the new salary scale. Many of them began frequenting bars and were only saved from a life of alcoholism by the sad fact they didn’t have enough money to pay for the liquor.

Yes, under the impetus of the fat weekly paychecks now being cashed by nurses, dairy farmers, teachers, social workers, secretaries and street cleaners, there was intense competition for these new “high roller” jobs.

I’m sure you remember the riots that took place when the New York City Board of Education announced teacher openings in the South Bronx? Or the shock of seeing professional athletes out on the street in tattered uniforms holding paper cups and begging for spare change? Or when Money Magazine reported that all Peace Corps volunteers were now officially listed as millionaires?

Yes, it was a brand new deal with a brand new twist. Diplomats, McDonald’s restaurant owners and heads of state all contemplated new careers as the U.S.A. brought them down to a social status previously reserved for migrant farm workers and newsstand operators.

And now finally, two years later, most people have grown accustomed to the change. Many of us have sold off our SUV’s, quit our country club memberships and stopped buying expensive Christmas presents, if we still actually give Christmas presents.

And speaking of Christmas, a few weeks ago I noticed with mild interest a Salvation Army Santa being picked up by his chauffered limousine at the completion of his shift.

Pausing in my work as a meter reader, I looked over at the sign above his kettle and saw that, in the spirit of the U.S.A., this good man had been collecting money for the children of stockbrokers, bankers and CEO’s.

I would have taken a few coins from the unguarded pot but I knew that YOU KNOW WHO would only deduct it from my next paycheck.

"Dear Lord…" is from my soon-to-be-published "How To Train A Rock", a collection of short insights and fiction flights. Written over a decade ago, the story is ironically prophetic, highlighting the unprecedented greed and screwed-up values that have brought us to our current economic crisis.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Something There Is

Something there is that loves balance and righteous redress. That tips the scales to measure out justice and knows no judgments other than the ones we declare for ourselves. Something there is that equates giving with the gifts we receive and arrows sent into the darkness with barbs that wound us without warning.

Something there is that deals out measure for measure as though they were cards placed thoughtfully in a solemn pack of Tarot. For each Fate dealt to another there is one that comes back to the dealer. For each smile offered to a stranger there is another that comes back as an unexpected offering.

Something there is that won't allow me to denigrate another without denigrating myself. Or to devalue my efforts when I have given my all to the enterprise. Something there is that knows when laying down bricks of kindness and devotion to others I am building a home for my spirit that casts shadows on palaces and mansions.

Something there is that knows true wealth accumulates in the heart and is the only capital I can give away and never exhaust. Were I to gather all the riches of Rockefellers and Kings and Oil Barons and hold them locked with a miser's love in the deepest vault, I would be the most impoverished of spirits walking the planet.

Something there is that won't allow me to take away the rights of others without losing the ones I hold most dear. With each wall I erect to keep out those I fear, I carve out deeper levels to the prison in which I am held captive. How far from the sun I fall when I build a world to exclude those on whom the sun shines freely.

Something there is that lifts up and honors the gifts of life and love. That breaks through the darkness of a wounded spirit like tendrils of grass breaking through the deepest asphalt. Something there is that will ever rise above fear and the pitiful acts of frightened people and self-serving governments.

Something there is that knows the measure of a man or a woman and the gifts which, by their offering, they have chosen to receive. Something there is that tips the scales to measure out justice and knows no judgments other than the ones we declare for ourselves.

Something there is that lets us build a world for ourselves as we would build a world for others.

Something there is that is writing this now.

Something there is that is reading this now, as well.

"Something There Is" will be featured in my new book "How To Train A Rock", a collection of Short Insights And Fiction Flights due to be published in April, '09. Published by Blind Elephant Press, "How To Train A Rock" will be available through