She's a Real Mother

Mutha's got eyes in the back of her head.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood: Criminal Defense Attorney

Talking to artists, actors, musicians and writers (or for the too shy to admit it -- "people who write") about their work usually involves a description of what else they do. Otherwise known as : the day job, the paying gig, what I went to school for. For many folks this is waitressing, DJ-ing, house painting, even teaching. But then I talked to a writer named, Joe. His paying gig was being a Criminal Defense Attorney in the Chicago courts system.

My interest peeked, I asked him some of my standard questions.

What is the best part of being a criminal defense attorney?
Joe was a little hard pressed on this one, but what he ended up talking about were those moments when a trial goes in an unexpected direction. For example, instances in which he was able to argue a legal point or discover a piece of testimony that might have gone unrecognized or been glossed over. He described those moments as one's chance to "see the spark of recognition in a judge's eyes" and acknowledge that something might have been missed if you had not been doing your job well. Making a difference, now there's something I can understand.

What's the worst part?
Apparently everything else. Amongst everything: the times (hopefully few and as far between as possible) when an innocent man you have represented gets convicted. Joe reports that the other side of the dilemma -- having a hand in a guilty man going free -- has a sort of built-in professional firewall. His job is to make sure everyone has their day in court, that each individual he represents get a fair hearing. In this way, Joe points out that knowing too much about a client can cloud one's ability to represent him. Dwell on that stuff too much, and you can't do the job. That kind of focus seems to require a mind like a steel trap -- something I certainly don't have -- the trap part maybe, but more like a drain-catch. And it ain't made out of steel, no way.

Anything funny ever happen?
Joe says, "I remember a million funny things but I don't know if normal people would consider them to be so."
I say, "Try me."
Joe told me a story about a guy who was hauled in by the police for driving under the influence of drugs (in the interest of confidentiality, lets call him Drugstore Cowboy). Joe found several ways to punch holes in the case against Drugstore Cowboy, and told his client not to worry -- he felt confident the could get him a "Not Guilty" verdict. Drugstore had different ideas though. He wanted to testify. He said the cop had been lying, that the street number in the police report was wrong, he had a story to tell and he was gonna tell it! Joe tried and tried to talk him out of it -- but no dice, and as Joe pointed out to me, Drugstore has that right, no doubt about it. So, with a heavy heart, Joe had to proceed.

Attorney: (Speaking to client) Sir, I want to direct your attention to the night of (whatever). Can you tell us what you were doing that evening?

Client: (Confident) Well, I was all high when I realized I was out of cigarettes. So I got into my car to drive to the gas station to get some more.

Joe admitted to staring, mouth ajar at the guy while the judge leaned forward and said - "Oh, by all means, counsel, continue."

So, I guess I fail the Normal Person Test. Gallows humor must be my thing.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Birds, the Bees, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

The following conversation takes place in a car, Mutha driving, five-year-old son in back.

Son: Do girls marry boys?

Mutha: Well, women marry men.

Son: Can kids marry grown-ups?

Mutha: No.

Son: Can brothers marry each other?

Mutha: No.

Son: Can men marry men?

Mutha: Yes, but only here in Massachusetts and a few other places.

Son: Why?

Mutha: Because a lot of people think only men and women should get married.

Son: Well, I'm glad we live in Massachusetts because that's dumb.

Mutha: I think so too.

Son: Because girls are gross. Who wants to marry a girl?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Even More Stupid Fun

Getting a Kick Out of Butt

No one understands how baseline funny butts are like 9 year old boys. The word, the actual thing -- it's all hilarious. It makes me think of that Yoko Ono film in which she showed a series of behinds: young, old, cute, and not so much. I remember reading somewhere that she made the film to remind us of our shared vulnerability as human beings. Well, my nine year old points out that we have butts on a regular basis in order to remind us how incredibly absurd that fact is. How could something so funny be attached to each and everyone of us?

The other day my two sons were in a huge screaming fight, which sounded as if it most certainly would come to blows. I started to walk closer, trying to jump in if a boxing referee became necessary, but that is not what happened. As the fight reached operatic proportions, one of them ended the other one's sentence by saying, "Butt." They both got hysterical laughing and all was forgiven.

So, my suggestion is to give it a little thought. Check out someone's butt, or just insert the word somewhere it might be appreciated. See what happens. It could be fun.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Did They Have TV When You Were Little?

The other day, my son yelled for me to come and see something on PBS. Of all the things I thought it might be, I confess that a vintage clip from Zoom was not one of them. But it was in fact a clip from the original version of the children's series that now, in its 2006 form, is one of my children's favorites.

For those of you who did not know Zoom then, it was sort of a "kid power" notion which featured an all-child cast (not even a grown-up host, for crying out loud). They did skits, songs, read letters other kids sent in (following the directions and address sung to a very catchy tune), and performed science experiments you were encouraged to try at home (of the baking soda and vinegar erupting volcano variety).

I really, really loved that show. I thought the kids were beyond cool and that Boston (where the show was produced) must be the coolest place in the world if they all came from there. I had a secret burning desire for them to read one of my letters on TV -- a desire unmatched since I was four and used to cross my fingers and close my eyes every time the lady on Romper Room said her Good Morning, wishing that this time she would say my name. My mom thought the show was really inventive and would watch it with me some times. I remember her saying, "See? Those kids are just like you." And I remember thinking that that was impossible. No matter how many times I did my little songs or dance routines in front of my bedroom mirror, I could never be as good as the Zoom kids.

Well, like so many things from our childhoods when viewed through an adult's eyes, the clip from the original Zoom revealed a different version than I remembered. But, it was funny what stuck out to me the most. The kids were barefoot, everyone's hair was really long and pretty wild, and the boys all had those Brady Bunch striped bellbottomed pants on. But that wasn't the surprise. After all, pictures of me and my brothers from that time reveal similar get-ups. The surprise was in how revolutionary the whole thing looked. In a tiny, not adequately-lit studio these kids looked as if they were left alone and pulling it off spontaneously, by themselves. Along with their ultra-casual appearance, the kids were cracking each other up, having real conversations, and were singing and dancing with below-professional entertainer abilities. This added so much to the energy and excitement -- and I realized, that as a kid, I probably was convinced there were no adults around at all. Cooooool.

There is certainly great TV out there for kids, and as much as violence and gore has bumped the spectrum in one direction, PBS and sources like them have raised the bar in the kind of content available and in the promotion of TV as a valuable learning tool. But there was something in that Zoom clip that is really no where to be found now. Beyond the DIY aesthetic that can be found on some local cable access, the show promoted the idea that the kids had something interesting to say, which is different of course, from saying everything (interesting or not) TO them.

Lou Reed Is God, Pass It On

Way, way back -- when the world was new and I was eighteen -- this nice boy turned me on to Lou Reed. When I met him, I had only heard Walk on the Wild Side, which he found a down-right crime. And so started my introduction to Lou and the notion that perhaps he was God (well, not THE God, just A God). I turned out to be a willing convert and have loved Lou and the Velvet Underground ever since. But beyond torturing my college room mate with the 8 minute version of What Goes On and teaching my kids the words to I'm Stickin with You (cause I'm made out of glue...) I don't think I have done enough preaching from the Gospel according to Reed. So, here are some of my favorite songs, offered in the same spirit of that nice boy. If you find any of them cool, pass them on.

Sweet Jane
There are many recordings of Lou doing this one, and very decent covers to boot -- but my favorite remains the one offered on the album Loaded. Cascading, dreamy guitars give way to Lou's voice at its naughtiest. The song tells us about Jackie, Jim, Jane and occasionally Lou (as narrator), but my favorite part (wouldn't you know) is when he talks about the views of "some evil muthas"
They're gonna tell you that everything is just dirt
And women never really faint
And that villains always blink their eyes.
And that children are the only ones who blush.
And life is just to die.

This Mutha doesn't feel that way, but I love his battle cry just after, asserting:
But anyone who ever had a heart,
they wouldn't turn around and break it.
And anyone who ever played a part,
they wouldn't turn around and hate it.

Perfect Day
Some would say that Lou's voice is not his strongest musical contribution. Could be. But this song pushes one to try and imagine a better delivery of these sweet lyrics, describing a simple but wonderful day with a person he loves. In a gentle, almost sleepy voice (as if he is recalling all of this for us as he drifts off, content and exhausted), Lou confesses, "You made me feel like someone else/ someone good."

Who Loves the Sun
First and foremost, the Velvet Underground were a New York City Band. I once read an account of their first tour to the West Coast, during the height of Flower Power, and was really amused to hear how deeply this black-leather-what-the-hell-you-lookin-at mystique went. Predictably, I suppose, they hated everything about Los Angeles and San Francisco, the "protest kids," what seemed like false cheerfulness, and --like bugs under a magnifying glass -- the SUN. Too damn much of it I guess. That is what I think of when I hear this stab at Beach Boy harmonies and bouncy delivery of lines like: "Who loves the sun? Who cares that it makes plants grow? Who cares what it does since you broke my heart?"

The Gun
Hanging with an artist through their rehab experience is dicey business for a fan. Lou Reed made The Blue Mask after quitting drugs and alcohol and the result is a wide range of hits and misses, the misses ("I Love Women" for one) making even his most heart-felt supporters wince. But the hits are breath-taking, displaying the true range of Lou's talents, and perhaps the highs and lows of the experience he has just endured. The Gun is a truly chilling song, in which Lou uses his sobered voice, spar lyrics and arrangement to force his listener to feel what it is like to be in the presence of a man with a gun. Enjoyment isn't what I experience when I hear this song -- admiration for the man's artistic ability is more like it.

Lisa Says
To me, Lisa Says (especially the version on the Velvet Underground's 1969) is the polar-opposite of The Gun in that it holds the same kind of power, but only in its vulnerability and optimism. It recalls a kind of date conversation with Lisa in which she asks for a kiss and Lou wonders, "Why am I so shy?" Deceptively simple, the song is so real in its description of human frailty, and (again) Lou's delivery drives home the heart-thumping emotion only such an encounter could provoke.

Beginning to See the Light
Lou as a Pentecostal minister. Say what? I have heard many versions of this song and am impressed by the consistency of emotion with which Lou brings it home. Lou describes his experience of "seeing the light" as a kind of cheerful and determined separation between himself and the rest of the human race's take on life, all while conjuring up a group of Little Richard-like calls and cheers between lines. But the real goods come for me at the end, when, on top of rhythm guitar hero abandon, Lou begs, "(won't somebody tell me, please!) How does it feel to be loved?"

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood: Tow Truck Driver

#2 Tow Truck Driver
I met Barry the tow truck driver under some pretty special circumstances, circumstances that allowed me to experience the range of skills such a job involves. You see, I had just been in my first car accident ever and was beyond shook up. I had insisted on standing out in the cold with my bashed-up car and so by the time Barry rolled in, I was shivering pretty badly. He took one look at my pathetic state and told me I could climb up into the cab of his truck. Barry operated one of those serious tow trucks, no wimpy-ass "hook" models here, this was the car-carrier variety. Well he had my car up there in no-time flat, but when the poor guy got behind the wheel, I was crying. He took one look at me and said, (and I quote): "Aah come on're not gonna cry in my truck, are ya?"

The drive to my town was a ways, so Barry made due with the situation by suggesting we listen to the radio. After a little while, I calmed down and he warmed up -- giving me the perfect setting to ask my questions.

What's the best part of being a tow truck driver?
Barry reported that the best part for him is that he knows how to get any vehicle, in any state, up onto his truck. He told me, "I don't care if your SUV is upside down, in a pond. I can get it out and on this bed, by myself."
He also made the destinction that he works for Triple-A, so he comes when he's called. He acknowledged that this means he's helping people, rather than his counter-parts who take illegally parked cars. Barry reported: "The only thing that kind of work is good for is getting you shot."

What's the worst part of being a tow truck driver?
Apparently the hours suck. Barry is "on call" for a pretty hefty number of hours a week and ALWAYS gets calls. He also said that working through the Massachusetts winter is pretty harsh and makes people incredibly impatient and bitchy: "Like the weather's my fault?!"

Anything funny ever happen?
Barry said what's funny to him is the sheer number of people who do stupid things. He said a common winter time call involves an individual starting his/her car to warm it up, then locking the keys inside. The next level of "DOH!" is when their house keys are also locked in the car. Another variety of common call involves "Sunday Morning Pay Back." Apparently it is a ritual of sorts in South Boston to puncture all the tires on your boyfriend's car if you see him out with another woman. Barry added that keying foul messages into the paint is also usually part of the deal, "But I can't help the kid out there. That's for the body-work guys. There's only so much I can do."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

What Do Women Want

An overheard conversation amongst a small group of 8 and 9-year-old boys:

Boy #1: I know that girl. She used to be nice to me but now she's mean.

Boy #2: That means she likes you.

Boy #1: Nah-uh.

Boy #2: Yep. My brother is 16 and he said that when girls do mean things to you it's because they like you.

Boy #3: That's stupid.

Boy #2: Yep. My brother said, It doesn't make any sense -- get used to it.

Boy #3 (to Boy #1): Well then, maybe you should ask that girl out.

Boy #1: Yeah...only I'm -- DUH! -- nine years old.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Just a Second, Say That Again #2

"He not busy being born is busy dying"

This is a quote from a very young Bob Dylan. I will skip the often made point that Dylan did most of his important song-writing early on. On the contrary, this quote resonates with me because Dylan is an original to this day. Recently, I got the chance to see him live for the first time and he played the whole set at the keyboards. Dylan the keyboardist? He sounded great and played an incredibly interesting mix of tunes (begging the question: when you're picking from that songbook how bad could it ever be anyway?). All this for a reasonably priced ticket and a small venue. It made me remember that this was the man once heckled and threatened because he went electric, who has always gone about his business his way. And as I watched him on stage, wearing a cowboy hat, clearly enjoying playing with a great back-up band, I couldn't help but notice how true to his folk and revolutionary roots he still is. Busy being born, show us how it's done Bob.