Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Little Sweetness

Two things happened recently that, while unrelated, reminded me of the surprising sweetness of life that comes up when you least expect it.

Last week at work a student came by my office to sign off on some paperwork to go to the State Board of Nursing, so she can take her boards and earn her nursing license. She was a lovely young woman, poised and well-spoken and what I think is now called "queen size". She certainly looked as though she would be a wonderful nurse, the kind of calm, sweet presence you'd like to have at your bedside if you were hospitalized.

So she double-checked some of the personal information that goes to the State Board and completed an online survey about her experience in nursing school and, as she left, she thanked me and I wished her luck. Then she stopped in the doorway and took from her purse one of those little pamphlets from the Jehovah's Witnesses, "Jesus Christ: Who Is He?" and handed it to me and said something like "Just for you to take a look at..." Then she was gone.

It had been a week or so of hard work, it being the end of the quarter with a lot of paperwork and other plates to keep spinning, and I had been feeling overwhelmed and a little panicky, wondering if I'd been performing up to snuff. All of which serves to bring me down. And then this beautiful young woman comes by and brings with her a sweet, calming presence, a beautiful smile...and a pamphlet.

The front of the pamphlet features a picture of Jesus, I presume, in a coarsely spun robe, sandals and a short, curly haircut. Unlike the typical long-haired Jesus artists usually portray. He's sitting on a rock, speaking, his hands in front of him, gesturing. He looks a little like Mandy Patinkin in "Yentl".

And I opened the pamphlet and glanced through it and was able to take a little comfort from it. I wasn't converted, I wasn't struck with a bolt of lightning -- I think it was the memory of Sunday school when I was a kid and the feeling of security I got from the stories about Jesus. It was a nice feeling, comforting somehow. And though it's been almost two weeks now, I'm still thinking about that student and thinking how lucky her future patients will be.

The other thing was just something that happened on the way home from the market tonight. We got to a stoplight just outside of town and could see, across the highway intersection in the high school parking lot, a carnival. One of those traveling carnivals with the rides that can be folded up and hauled away -- a merry-go-round, a Tilt-a-Whirl-- as well as games of chance and stands selling cotton candy and candy apples. It was just dusk and the western sky was that pale blue-green color that follows the setting of the sun. The horizon was blushed with a dusty rose and the lights of the carnival rides sparkled and flashed against it in a way that made it all seem perfect, meant to be, but only for that moment. Parents with small children in tow were going in and coming out, exhausted and exhilarated. It was so beautiful and so simple and reminded me of similar carnivals I had been to as a kid. Nothing fancy, but thrilling nonetheless. Real. And a kind of calm settled on me and made me smile. Then the traffic light changed and we had to move on.

I love it when life surprises me that way, touches me and reminds me that it's all okay: this is just the way it was meant to be.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Little Perspective











Pulitzer Prize-winner John McPhee once said the dramatic history of the Earth can be summed up in a single sentence: "The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone. "

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Great News Blog

I hope you'll all take a look at Metro Mashup/the Blinq blog on philly.com, to which my friend Kevin Riordan contributes (along with a group of other journalists and writers). He also has a regular features column on the online version of the Philadelphia Inquirer. News, opinion, video and it's not just for Philly, people! Check it out...

Katy Perry Bravely Gets All Divulging About Healthcare

"A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul."  G.B. Shaw


Katy Perry, who as I understand it is a pop recording star with masterworks like "Ur so Gay" and "I Kissed A Girl" to her credit, is totally brave. She was interviewed for the Special Summer Double Issue of Rolling Stone magazine and, in addition to assuring the world that she's for gay rights and that she's a gay rights activist ("I say that proudly") she boldly came out for free healthcare. “Anyway, not to get all politically divulging and introspective," she said, "but the fact that America doesn’t have free health care drives me f*cking absolutely crazy, and is so wrong.” Thanks for not getting all divulging, Katy.
     But, as they say on TV, that's not all! Perry went on: "I think we are largely in desperate need of revolutionary change in the way our mindset is. Our priority is fame, and people’s wellness is way low. I say this knowing full well that I’m a part of the problem. I’m playing the game, though I am trying to reroute."


(It's true, Katy. Every morning -- before I've even opened my eyes -- I send up a little prayer for more fame. "Please God, I pray, make me famous! And screw the wellness of the little people.")



     In spite of the fact that she knows she's part of the problem and is trying to "reroute", whatever the hell that means, forgive me if I don't for a moment think that Perry drives down to the intersection of Santa Monica Blvd. and Highland Avenue in Los Angeles every morning to give away some of her millions to the day laborers standing on the corner looking for work. My guess is, admitting she's part of the problem is enough work for one day and just how far do you expect her to go? 


     According to the Best Reviewer website, La Perry's net worth is around 15 million and she earns approximately $130 a minute. (The Since you arrived on this page at 3:46 p.m. Katy Perry earned ticker is mesmerizing!) And, forgive me again but anyone who thinks healthcare should be "free" needs to get a clue about what "free" means. Especially when it comes to governments. I mean, if that's the case, why shouldn't groceries be free, or shoes or tickets to Katy Perry concerts? Dammit, why do we have to pay for anything at all in this fame-obsessed nightmare we call America?


I guaran-damn-tee you that three hours in a dingy, antiseptic-smelling clinic somewhere, waiting for "free" healthcare would give Katy pause: "Mmmmm... maybe we could come up with a different system where I could pay if I want to and just the icky people would get the 'free' care...?"



     Maybe I'm being too tough on Katy. After all, she's had her share of trauma and heartache -- and from an early age: “I started praying for [breasts] when I was, like, 11,” she said. “And God answered that prayer above and beyond, by, like, 100 times, until I was like, 'Please stop, God, I can't see my feet anymore."

P.S. Fearing that I was being too harsh on someone of whom I have only a passing awareness, I listened to a bit of "Ur So Gay" on iTunes and discovered that the first two lines of "Ur So Gay" are: "I hope you hang yourself with your H&M scarf, while jacking off listening to Mozart."  Brilliant. Cole Porter is applauding in heaven. Even taking into account the fact that she's not addressing a gay person in the song; and even assuming the whole song is supposed to be "ironic" -- why would I take her seriously about anything?  No, I have no qualms about mocking Katy Perry.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Elaine May (oh, and Mike Nichols)

I think my sense of humor began forming many (many) years ago when I was still in school. Apart from Popeye and the usual assortment of late afternoon cartoons, which never really did much for me -- and although I grew to appreciate the anarchic cast of Warner Bros characters, Daffy Duck being my favorite ---there was really only “Rocky and Bullwinkle” which was a show as much for adults as for kids.

At night, though, there was a whole other world of humor, the like of which we’ll probably never see again. I loved Jack Benny, as much for the subtle gay vibe he gave off as for the dry-as-dust, deadpan delivery. There was also Ernie Kovacs whose brand of humor was surreal and, well, weird. One of his standard set pieces was a group called the Nairobi Trio: three grown men in gorilla suits who played musical instruments and moved like the animatronic characters at a Disney theme park. It wasn’t riotous, laugh-out-loud, knee-slapping comedy. It was Andy Kaufman long before Andy Kaufman – if you remember Andy Kaufman. You can probably look it up on YouTube.

There was also the Steve Allen Show, the original “Tonight Show” from New York where, in addition to the guests who came out to chat, there was a cast of regulars who played the same characters in hilarious skits, week after week. It’s probably where “Saturday Night Live” got the idea, and Carol Burnett, among others. The cast included Louis Nye and a skinny little guy with a nonstop, nervous tick named Don Knotts, and another oddball named Dayton Allen who presaged Seinfeld’s Kramer in a way. Steve Allen loved his cast and as they worked you could hear him laughing helplessly off-camera, a raucous, high-pitched, infectious laugh as they did their stuff. I met Steve Allen years later in Los Angeles. Don’t get excited, I was cater waitering at a big, swanky event in Beverly Hills and Mr. Allen had a cold, so at his wife’s request I made sure he had a cup of hot tea in front of him at all times. He tipped me five dollars.

Around this time there was a humorist named Jack Douglas who, with his wife Reiko, would appear on the Jack Paar Show (which I also loved). Douglas was a writer and raconteur and wit who published a number of books of humorous essays, anticipating Woody Allen’s writing at about the time Woody was an up-and-coming Greenwich Village comic. The books had titles like “My Brother Was an Only Child”, and essays with titles like “Stella Dallas: The Story of a Blind Olive and Its Seeing Eye Pimiento”. I loved the non sequitir, surreal quality of stuff like that.

I also listened to Jean Shepard on the radio as I fell asleep at night. Shepard was the storyteller who wrote, among other things, “A Christmas Story” which eventually became the Christmas movie classic. Shepard had no guests, no particular format that I can remember. He would just come on the air and start telling stories in that wonderful, slightly sandpapery voice that also had in it a little smoke and a smile. I’m sure he improvised every word and the stories were funny and sweet and always seemed to be about a great deal more than their plots. I guess, to a degree, that’s what Garrison Keillor does, so you see there’s nothing new under the sun. (I’ll be having a contest to see who can find the most clich├ęs in this month’s postings.) And Shepard seemed a good deal more genuine than Keillor does, at least to me.

And of course there was “You Bet Your Life” with Groucho Marx, whose use of the English language, coupled with that sly delivery and the animated eyebrows, was as much of an influence on me as anything I was taught in school.

The point, I guess, is that what I found funny most of my peers probably didn’t. This was humor based on words, wordplay, puns, using the language in ways that no one else had thought of. That’s all poetry is, really: someone writing about all our lives in a very personal way. And I loved it and began to think like Steve Allen and Jack Douglas, and to hone my delivery to match Jack Benny’s.

Nichols and May by Richard Avedon
There was also, about this time, a comedy duo named Nichols and May – for Mike Nichols and Elaine May. Yes, Mike Nichols, movie director and husband to Diane Sawyer, was once an actor and a comic. He and his partner, the very dry, deadpan Elaine May, wrote and performed routines about disaffected, neurotic, usually urban oddballs. He was always very well-groomed, his short blond hair slicked back, in a dark suit and narrow tie. She was always decked out in a simple shirtwaist dress, had the 60's bouffant hair and was really sexy, in that Manhattan-in-the-60's, offbeat way I can't quite put my finger on. (Occasionally during their routines they smoked cigarettes!) They appeared in clubs in the Village and on TV shows like the Tonight Show and on Jack Paar, and gained their greatest fame on Broadway in “An Evening with Nichols and May” and I loved them. (Check out "The $65 Funeral here.)

Their humor was subtle, sophisticated, and they didn’t speak down to their audience.  They called it quits as a duo in 1961 and Nichols, as noted, went on to a major career as a director on Broadway, helping to make Neil Simon a household name; and in Hollywood. His freshman effort was “The Graduate” and his resume also includes “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, “Postcards from the Edge”, “Silkwood” and “The Birdcage” among many others.

Likewise, Elaine May began writing and directing, and established herself as a major player in the theater and in films. As a scenarist she’s continued to work with Nichols on many of his movies -- including the aforementioned “Birdcage” – (which I consider an unfunny, heavyhanded mess, filled with stereotypes of all kinds and watchable only for the understated performance of the inestimable Diane Wiest, and for glimpses of Hank Azaria’s inestimable upper body). May often serves as one of those uncredited “doctors” who steps in to save floundering film scripts, which leads one to wonder why she couldn’t doctor her own script for “Ishtar”, reputedly one of the worst movies ever made.

But I was in the shower the other night and for some reason a line from one of her movies popped into my head: “I just hate you so much…” She utters it in a film she made in 1990 with Marlo Thomas called “In the Spirit”. It tells the story of a woman (May) whose husband is transferred from Beverly Hills to New York and who hires Thomas, a flaky New Age type (is there any other kind?) to redecorate her apartment. Soon enough they’re on the run from a crazed killer and there’s a prostitute involved, played by May’s daughter, Jeannie Berlin; another prostitute played by Melanie Griffith (long before she started with the collagen in the lips thing); as well as Olympia Dukakis and Peter Falk. There’s something just so oddball and fun about it... you can imagine May and Thomas sitting around having a nosh from Zabar’s, saying “Oh, we should make a movie... about this crazy woman and this other crazy New Age woman who are total opposites...and there's a murder and prostitutes!” It’s just another one of those wonderful movies you’ve probably never seen. Or, in this case, never even heard of.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Kona's Dream

A little footage, taken on my iPhone, from our visit to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Have the volume up a little...it's nice.

video

Friday, June 17, 2011

Now, This Is How You Sell Underwear!


The quality's not great but you'll get the point... 

I Am Fred's Brain

Many moons ago, before the Internet and iPads and other miracles, there was a little magazine called The Reader’s Digest. It was everywhere, especially in doctors’ and dentists’ offices. Inside were abbreviated articles from various publications, pieces covering a wide variety of subject matter that had been whittled down to their absolute essence, presumably for people who were too busy (or cheap) to buy and read all the periodicals the RD culled for its content. Reader’s Digest also published a line of “condensed books”, along the lines of condensed milk, I guess, and hewing to the mission of the little magazine itself: to present current best-sellers and informational tomes, pared down to their essentials for quick digestion.
It says something to me about the books that were condensed that they could be read and enjoyed, even while missing large chunks of their original content. Mind you, we’re not talking really high-brow Lit, here. I suppose in younger days I read a few of these freeze-dried tomes, but I don’t recall ever seeing any condensed John Updike or Saul Bellow. And the RD was a family-friendly company, for sure, so it’s unlikely very much in the way of “adult” lit made its way into any reader’s digestion.
(Reader’s digest is still in existence, including an online version, and according to Wikipedia, is currently published in 52 editions and 35 languages and is available in over 100 countries, including Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, and the People's Republic of China.)
Mixed in among the digested articles were a number of little features that appeared regularly: “Humor in Uniform” and jokes and short pieces submitted by readers. Among the regular features was a medical one called “I Am Joe’s….” the blank space filled in with some internal organ or other, thus: “I Am Joe’s Liver”, “I Am Joe’s Pancreas” and so on. In it, the specified organ would explain where it was, what it did, how much it weighed and so on. Occasionally there would be a female version, “I Am Jill’s Whatever”, since of course there are parts of Jill that Joe does not have, but which the world was apparently eager to hear from.
Since I’ve spent a good deal of time over the years trying to figure myself out via various self-help books, groups, one-on-one counseling, meditation, psychics and, once or twice, the Ouija board – I thought I’d submit an article to Reader’s Digest myself. And I wanted you to be the first to see it. For your delectation, then:


I AM FRED’S BRAIN

           
Hello. Yes, I am Fred’s brain – an amazing organ, housed in Fred’s cranium. The center of the nervous system, I weigh about three pounds and I’m about the size of a cantaloupe. Eighty-five percent of me is made up of the cerebrum (suh-REE-brum) the “thinking” part of Fred’s brain where voluntary muscles are controlled.
            I am made up of over 100 billion nerve cells, and each of those cells is connected to around 10,000 other cells, which equals around 1,000 trillion connections! I am actually very soft, jelly-like and not grey but a deep red color.
            I am such a complex, miraculous structure that even I can’t comprehend myself!
            Which is pretty much what’s wrong with Fred. He has so many talents and abilities that I can’t keep them all straight, especially when he starts getting all ADHD on me and begins an art project, only to drop it in favor of starting a new play which then gets sidetracked while he goes shopping at the Ralph Lauren 40% Off Sale (and as you know, 40% off Ralph Lauren is a “sale” in the same way that imagining you’re at the beach is just like being at the beach).
            It is generally said that I have three parts: the forebrain, the midbrain and the hindbrain, each of which controls various functions in the body, voluntary and involuntary. I think I have a fourth part: the worry brain. This is where Fred carries on loud and vigorous dialogues with himself about what’s wrong in his life; what has already gone wrong and how much he regrets it; and what is about to go wrong sometime in the future, he’s just not sure what it is or when it will happen or what the consequences will be... but he’s sure it will be terrible and he’s worried sick about it.
            You’ve probably heard it said that you only use 10% of your brain. Well, I am here to tell you that, as Fred’s brain, every bit of me is used every day and it’s exhausting. Even when he’s sleeping he’s having these dreams you wouldn’t believe! I don’t get a moment’s rest. Every so often I try to nudge him along and have him think good thoughts. You know, “Hey, schmuck, cheer up! Things are great! Why don’t you just enjoy your life for five minutes, for Chrissakes, and give me a break! Do you enjoy the stinking thinking? The worry? The stress? As Cher said in Moonstruck: ‘Snap out of it!’”
            I think I finally got to him today. He’s beginning to realize that if he’s so good at negative thinking, he’d probably be a whiz at positive thinking, too!
            Of course, I’m also very good with money. Good thing, too, since Fred loves his Shop Therapy. Doesn’t matter what it is – new shirt, antique chair, movie poster – it always helps, so I do what I can, within the budget of course. For example, let’s say Fred sees a beautiful sweater at Macy’s, on sale for 60% off, (final price $89.00) a steal! He decides to think about it, goes home, then goes back to Macy’s the next day to buy the sweater, but it’s gone! “Damn!” says Fred. But then he realizes that, since he didn’t buy the sweater, he’s $89.00 ahead, meaning that when he sees those shoes for $119.00 at Nordstrom Rack, he can buy them and they’ll only really cost him $30.00, since he already had the $89.00! See? Genius!
            And now I have to get Fred back on that writing project he shelved a few months ago. I’m convincing him there’s something to it, and he owes it to himself to figure out how to finish it. Then he’ll get discouraged and drop it, and pick up something else and...you get the picture. This is my life!
            Well, I hope this little self-profile has been enlightening... and entertaining.  (I’m sure I’m more interesting than Fred’s pancreas, which I understand has also written one of these for Reader’s Digest. It’ll be a tough sell.) 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tracy Morgan: Myrna Loy Must Be Spinning in Her Grave

PLEASE NOTE: The following post contains language and words with asterisks in them that might be considered offensive, even if you're not seeing the actual words. Just so you know.


Earlier today I received several emails informing me that several of my Facebook friends wanted me to visit a Facebook page having something to do with Tracy Morgan, who is apparently some kind of entertainer ("Why I No Longer 'Like' Tracy Morgan"). After determining that this wasn't a phishing expedition, I took a look and found a page devoted to a recent "performance" by Mr Morgan at Nashville's Ryman Theater, during which he made some pretty vicious, violent anti-gay-woman-handicapped comments, to wit: "The "30 Rock" star added that "if his son was gay he better come home and talk to him like a man … or he would pull out a knife and stab that little n**ger to death."

Photo credit:
Albert L. Ortega/PR Photos


Apparently Mr Morgan also feels that "born this way" is bullshit and that the gays need to stop whining about being bullied and get out there and just bust some ass. There was more, according Kevin Rogers, author of the Facebook page: "Tracy then said he didn't f*ing care if he pissed off some gays, because if they can take a f*ing dick up their ass... they can take a f*ing joke...I won't even get started on his rant about how women should be home cooking him a f*ing meal and not becoming CEOs or him talking about f*ing the moms of retards."

And there, ladies and gentlemen, you have it: this is what passes for humor these days. Of course, Mr Morgan apologized faster than you can say "Oh, shit, my career!"

 "I want to apologize to my fans and the gay & lesbian community for my choice of words at my recent stand-up act in Nashville. I'm not a hateful person and don't condone any kind of violence against others," Morgan said in a statement. No, of course not, none of the statements Kevin Rogers quotes on Facebook is hateful at all.

"Choice of words"?! A poor choice of words involves choosing the wrong word(s) in a sentence or two. When you've gone on for ten minutes, dropping the F-bomb every other thing and saying the things this "comedian" said, that's ignorance and anger and hate. Worse, it's probably what he really believes. He can apologize till the end of time, it won't change the fact that Mr Morgan has revealed his true colors, and they don't add up to a rainbow flag.

Meanwhile, if he thinks being gay is such an abomination, why does he recommend we "stop being pussies...whining about being bullied" and get out there to defend ourselves? (To be honest, I almost agree with that one.)

As I said somewhere on Facebook (I still don't know the difference between "posting" and "sharing" and my "page" and my "wall" so what I wrote is probably lost in the ether) I'll be interested to see how this is spun in the media and on TV (especially by NBC -- the company Mr Morgan works for on SNL and "30 Rock" -- when he isn't pulling down upwards of $90 a ticket for his "comedy"). 

Actually, I can imagine the press release: "While we are sorry Mr Morgan made comments during his routine in Nashville that were offensive to members of the gay and lesbian community (oh, and women and "retards" and, oh yeah, his little n**ger son), we also understand that Mr Morgan is a passionate artist who improvises much of his material and can sometimes be swept up in the moment, speaking without thinking. Mr Morgan is a valuable and respected  member of the NBC community, especially the cash cows known as '30 Rock' and 'Saturday Night Live', and we trust that his sincere apology and promise not to do it again will make everyone just shut up and go away.

"In any event Mr Morgan, being African-American, cannot possibly be prejudiced against another group or minority. That's just crazy talk. So Mr Morgan will be welcomed back to NBC with open arms following another apology and a skit on SNL spoofing his ignorant, unfunny performance and his hollow, totally insincere apology. Hugs, NBC"

Remember a while back when Michael Richards, (aka Seinfeld's Kramer) apparently lost his mind on the stage of an LA comedy club and starting a vicious, racist rant at some black people in the audience? It was all you heard about for days, weeks, on TV and in the papers and tabloids. But this is different, I guess. I wonder why. (Although it's probably true, as someone suggested to me, that the ever-escalating Anthony Wiener debacle* is just too much of a behemoth at the moment to be displaced by l'affaire Tracy Morgan.) 

In summation, Mr Morgan just seems to me to be a hateful, angry man, not a homophobe-- a word which, in my opinion, lets people off too easy: phobia means fear and people like Mr Morgan aren't really afraid of us, they just hate us. (I won't get started on what I understand is a real disgust of homosexuality in the African-American community.) 

According to the Facebook page 10 to 15 audience members walked out on Mr Morgan, while the rest (and who knows how many of the Ryman's 1,064 seats were filled that night) stayed on to cheer and applaud and stamp their feet. It's sad and it does make me a little afraid and it has nothing to do with "gay rights" (on which more later) -- it's like making nice with the Taliban: they smile and nod and, recognizing what they see as weakness, they "keel" you!

I wasn't even alive when entertainment like "The Thin Man", starring class acts like William Powell and Myrna Loy was considered the apogee of comedy, but I sure miss those good, old days.

*Only slightly unrelated thought: So many pundits, talk show gasbags and liberal newspeople seem eager to dismiss Rep. Wiener's sordid secret life as just a pecadillo, and suggest that anyone who's offended by such behavior is just a backward, ignorant, knuckle-dragging -- dare I say it -- Christian! I wonder how they'd feel if their spouses pulled the same thing on them. Forgiving and understanding, I'm sure.








Sunday, June 5, 2011

An Address to the Graduating Class

This week at work will be a hectic one for me (well, all of us) since it's finals week of Spring quarter at a major, metropolitan university.  I've been dealing, off and on, with students who are in the throes of graduating, moving on, starting careers -- their lives, if you will -- and now starts the season of The Commencement Speech: words of wisdom from academics, college presidents, eggheads, celebrities, politicians and assorted other blowhards. We'll start seeing them on the news, now, Congresspersons and movie stars decked out in cap and gown, standing before throngs of what I'm sure they believe are eager young faces, educated, wise and just busting to lap up the words of wisdom about to pour forth.

The sentiments will generally run along two fairly predictable lines:

A. "It's a much different world out there than when I was sitting where you are..." The theme here is that things are so much more complicated and dangerous and frightening these days-- yet so exciting-- that the graduates being addressed will be admonished to get out there and "change the world" somehow. Don't settle for the status quo, they will be told; make your mark, be who you are! Stand up! Speak up! Be an agent of change, you diverse yet predictably homogenous young men and women, with your iPads and your cell phones, spanning the globe with your Twitters and your Tweets...

B. "Follow your bliss." Or your dream. Or your heart. Or your heart's dream. Whatever. But follow it! Don't let the fuddy-duddy suits tell you what to be or how to be it. Screw your parents! Don't lust after the almighty dollar, be true to your self: pull the ripcord on your parachute, whatever its color, and float down onto the road less traveled which will, inevitably, lead to your heart's desire. Student loans? Pfaugh! Isn't there some sort of government, you know, agency that, you know, forgives all that...? Go! Live! Dream!

Whichever message they get, the students and assembled faculty and honored guests will applaud, mortar boards will be tossed into the air and the speaker's words will be forgotten as soon as the first drink is served at the celebretory luncheon.

Of course, if some school, any school, invited me to address the graduating class, I'd be more than happy to offer my wisdom and experience, thusly:

"President Hooha, Dean Martin, Dean... Acheson, Hollywood bigwig, minor luminaries, tenured faculty-- bitter, unpublished faculty-- cater waiters, students. It is indeed an honor to stand before you on this glorious day, in this swell robe -- come on, be honest, am I the only one who got into their robe today and started humming the "Harry Potter" theme? -- looking out over your bright, shining faces as you prepare to enter the world, armed with your diplomas and your dreams.

"I have no words of wisdom to offer, no cut-and-dried, one-size-fits-all philosophy of life. No, for you are all too diverse, too multifaceted and, I'll be honest, too well-educated to want to sit here listening to the philosophical ramblings of a man who once thought he could make a good living hand-painting silk table runners, or moving to London to appear in grainy, black-and-white British movies with Alec Guiness and Rita Tushingham.

"I'm sure you've heard a great deal from souls deeper and wiser than mine about following your dreams, your heart's desire, creating your own bliss. Do what you love, as the book title advises, and the money will follow. Well, for the better part of forty years, on and off, I did what I loved, and I can stand here and tell you in no uncertain terms that my money was clearly unaware that it was supposed to be following me. I don't know where the hell it went. Maybe it lost the Trip-Tick. There was no GPS in those days, so it's anybody's guess.

"Oh, I had wonderful times, don't get me wrong. Some things worked out, most didn't, at least not to my satisfaction. I've got some swell memories. But no matter what I did, things kept changing. (If you want to hear God laugh, make plans.) Some of you are planning on careers in law. Or education. Or government, God help us -- I mean, good for you! Whatever path you have in your sights, let me tell you this -- and you can take this to the bank, because it follows as the night does the day: it will all change. Plan away, map out your life, get ready to rid sub-Saharan Africa of all disease, or forge lasting peace in the Middle East. Plan on preventing the filming of "The Hangover III". No matter what you plan on or look forward to, it will in all likelihood be pulled out from under you like a four-by-six Karastan area rug from Sears.

"And, boy, are you going to be pissed. You'll wonder why that business you just knew would take off is now but a banker's box full of depressing tax returns. You'll wonder why that once-in-a-lifetime spouse who was so on board with all your dreams (not to mention that tickling fetish), has overnight become a sullen, crestfallen lump with a teeny drinking problem, who greets your latest Big Idea with a heavy sigh. You'll wonder if, at the age of forty- or fifty-something you should maybe start seeing a shrink to work out the anger and jealousy that keeps coming up around the success of total strangers who seem to have nothing more going for them than dumb luck, good bones and too many big, white teeth.

"I see you shaking your heads, smiling, scoffing. Never happen to me, man! I hear you cry. Good for you. I hope not. I wish you all the best. But I cannot, in good conscience, tell you that just because you dream it, it will come true.

"The best I can offer is to ask that you put one foot in front of the other, do the next right thing, take the next indicated step. And then wait. Enjoy the moment. Or hate the moment. Either way, it will pass. But believe me when I tell you that that moment is your life.

"Some years ago they had Sally Field on 'Inside the Actors Studio' and during the Q&A with the students, in response to one of their questions, Ms Field said "You have to let go of the life you've planned so you can have the life that's waiting for you." At which point Sally Field became my favorite philosopher.

"Years later I learned that in fact Sally had paraphrased E.M. Forster who said "We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." Okay, so Norma Rae plagiarized a little. No matter. That philosophy has stuck with me, and by me, ever since. Words to live by, Graduating Seniors! It all changes. Every day.

"So be prepared. You can fight it, you can roll with it, you can laugh about it (the best thing to do in most cases). But it will all be different tomorrow. Hell, in five minutes it could be a whole new ball game.

"So, sally forth (I couldn't resist) and begin your new lives. Okay, take a well-deserved vacation, just don't drink too much and wind up on 'Cops'. Then begin your new lives. I wish you well. I honestly do. It's a hell of a ride. But thinking you have all the answers is like getting on the Wild Mouse without being buckled in: it'll be fun at first, but sooner or later you'll be thrown from the car, through the air over the boardwalk and into the wine-dark sea.

"And by the way, if you haven't packed your parachute correctly, it really doesn't matter what color it is: dead is dead.

"Thank you and good luck!"