Friday, July 30, 2010

How Peas Changed the World

The consumption of green vegetables created a paradigm shift in European culture that would reverberate through the centuries.

Let me explain.

Back in the Neolithic Age of my intellectual development, I attended community college for two years. Say what you want about community colleges, that they’re deplorable cesspools for single mothers, underachievers and knuckle draggers too stupid to apply themselves. I found it to be a stopover for my eventual transfer to a state college and a chance to learn the things I couldn’t in high school.

One of my professors was this old goofball named Dr. Mahoney, who wore these tweed jackets and looked like a character from a Thomas Hardy novel. Dr. Mahoney taught history of Western Civilization, the kind of elective you take because you wanted to cheer the accomplishments of white Europeans.

He taught with flourish and histrionics and always addressed us as “scholars.”

“Good afternoon, scholars,” he’d begin.

He was the kind of professor you wanted to have for the sheer entertainment value.

I remember one day Dr. Mahoney talked about the medieval period and just how rough those times were. He explained the incessant combat, the chaotic ruling structure, the iron grip of the church and its struggle with the crown and a plethora of diseases that infected the populace. Pretty basic textbook stuff it you’re studying the Middle Ages.

Then Dr. Mahoney told us about the profound changes that occurred between the medieval period and the Renaissance.

Overnight people didn’t grab brushes, start painting and, – viola! – DaVinci’s Mona Lisa came out. There were gradual, almost insignificant things that occurred in society that changed Europe forever, that brought Western Civilization out of the Dark Ages and into enlightenment.

One of these things was diet. Dr. Mahoney said people began eating better, thanks to newer farming techniques. The meat and grain diet of old gave way to more vegetables and that meant better nutrition, which led to developing immunities against diseases that led to a robust population.

Sickly peasants died out in great numbers, while healthier peasants lived longer, produced more and made their little fiefdoms thrive. This in turn enabled their landholders and noble class to become richer, patronize the arts, fund explorations to the New World and raise armies to conquer vast, uncharted regions of the globe.

People eating better meant longer life spans and healthier children who would in turn pass healthy genetic traits to successive generations.

This is all thanks to peas, according to Dr. Mahoney.

“So the next time you’re in the supermarket and go by the frozen foods section, just stop and say ‘Hi, peas! Thank you!’” Dr. Mahoney said.

I told you the guy was a goofball.

As a side note, my father referred to Dr. Mahoney as “Mr. Peas.”

The professor’s argument was compelling. What role does nutrition have in a society’s success or failure? Did a medieval farmer who deviated from the norm and grew green leafy vegetables know what he was doing when everyone else sustained themselves with wheat? Was the first European to eat a salad mocked, ridiculed and called a fag like vegetarians are today?

Humanity has done a complete 360-degree turn on its eating habits, shucking vegetables for processed foods that are making us fidgety, irate and miserable.

Technology has given us preservatives that keep food longer in our pantries and store shelves, but may be doing harm to our bodies. It’s not bad enough that we’re eating chemicals. We’re a society of coprophagists, eating shit and loving it, so long as the shit we’re eating tastes good.

While nutritionists tell us to have a balanced diet and eat more fruits and vegetables, they are sadly outnumbered by corporations whose bottomless advertising coffers fund massive campaigns designed to push us towards juicy cheeseburgers, snack chips and other high-fat, low-nutrition delicacies.

Not satisfied with existing junk food, people are diligently working to enhance the suck factor of what we eat. Our solution? Fry it. Fried Twinkies? Fried Oreos? Then there are things that are so ridiculous, like bacon cheese rolls, that make me weep for the future. In today’s kitchens there aren’t any problems a little hot oil, whipped cream filling or melted cheese can’t fix.

I’ll be the first to agree that vegetarians are preachy and annoying and that veggie burgers are a pox upon the planet, but they do have a point. Eating vegetables makes sense from a health perspective. Organic growing is catching on in recent years, probably because of a lack of pesticides and a return to “clean farming.”

With a reliance on fast food, junk food and shit from vending machines, we’re suffering from obesity, sickness and are generally more pissed off. I’m going out on a limb here, but a lack of green vegetables in our diets is turning us, as a collective, into assholes. We’re plagued with stress, anxiety and are developing things like high blood pressure and diabetes at alarming rates.

Exercise relieves stress and burns off pounds, but we wouldn’t have asses as big as luggage if we ate healthier. Now I enjoy a good bag of chips and a burger as much as the next red-blooded American male, but we have to watch what foods we consume. There should be no stigma against eating salads and vegetables.

These can’t be seen as the meals of craven, liberal wussies, but as acts of self-preservation. By consuming more green vegetables, especially leafy ones like lettuce and spinach, we might just pull ourselves out of a morass of general complacency, mental laziness and mediocrity. A vigorous, healthy population just might jumpstart the Second Renaissance and begin painting timeless masterpieces again. You know, art that doesn’t look it’s crapped out of a penguin.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Life in the Moment

There are sacred moments in our lives, times that distinguish themselves from others and make us feel wholly alive and happily human.

Some of these moments are spent with friends and loved ones, others when we’re alone and reach some kind of inner clarity. We’re caught musing about the universe and our place in it, and as a result, we’re rewarded with a glimpse of the larger picture and the joy of existence.

These “frozen moments” are indelibly etched and fixed in our minds and can be rewound and replayed, but never re-experienced.

Replaying my life, I find certain fixed moments I’ll always remember, whether it was a person, an aroma, or an event. We attach significance to these moments and they shape us:

It’s 1973 and my grandmother is dunking me in the surf in Ocean City, New Jersey. It is sunny and pleasant. The water is black and dirty, and tar sticks to my feet. I do not like this. Afterwards, we go back to the motel and I’m treated to coconut macaroons and saltwater taffy.

It’s 1977 and I’m on vacation in Maryland in my grandparent’s trailer. Brown wooden paneling, shag carpeting, swinging saloon door divides the living room from the kitchen. There’s tall grass behind the trailer and I discover a three-legged frog I name Jeremiah.

It’s 1979 and I’m in my grandparent’s house in Barrington, New Jersey on a Saturday morning. I watch cartoons and eat cereal. Granny has a drawer in the dining room that she stocks with candy and gum. I sneak some candy and go into the den, which smells of sandalwood. I take the leatherbound books from the shelves and flip through them. I feel relaxed.

It’s 1982 and I’m in a chalet with a loft and a large stone fireplace in the Poconos. My parents and I spent three hours in the car to get here and it’s nighttime. I hook up my ColecoVision to the TV and play video games while mom makes nachos: round chips covered with cheese and jalapeños. Afterwards, we watch Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live.

It’s 1986 and I’m on a date with a girl I met in high school. We’re holding hands as the snow begins falling. Our breath clouds and resembles smoke in the chilly air. Snowflakes cling to her eyelashes as I kiss her cold cheek.

It’s 1988 and the day after the senior prom. My friends and I pile into my car and head down to the Jersey shore. We end up at my parent’s vacation home, go to the beach, binge on hoagies and soda and talk about our plans for the future. We're young and confident.

It’s 1990 and I’m in a campground somewhere in Quebec on a summer night. I’m staring at a billion stars glittering in the velvety black void. The air here is clean, cool and moist. The aurora borealis pulses and dances overhead, an undulating wave of spellbinding light.

It’s 1992 and I’ve just made love to a beautiful woman. We cradle each other and fall asleep in my dorm room, under my black and white checkered comforter. As the first rays of morning sunlight filter into the room, I count the freckles on her back.

It’s 1994 and I’m in Dover, England with a classmate staring out at the British Channel. The fierce wind coming in from the channel nearly knocks us off the stone wall we’re standing on. We lean into the wind and shout loudly, raging at this tempest bearing down on us.

It’s 1996 and I’m accepting my first journalism award at the New Jersey Press Association banquet in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It is the Lloyd P. Burns Memorial Award for Responsible Journalism. I take the plaque and get my picture taken while the audience applauds. I started working at the weekly a year and a half ago.

It’s 1998 and I’m standing on a scenic overlook in Monument Valley, Utah. Three large red rock mesas tower in the distance over the landscape. The serene blue sky seems infinite overhead and a Navajo guide volunteers to take us on a jeep tour into the majestic wilderness.

It’s 1999 and I’m getting married in Wilmington, Delaware in my wife’s church. The day is surreal; there's a room filled with strangers and lofty promises and poetry about love. The limo ride to the reception feels like prom night. We are giddy and terrified.

It’s 2001 and I’m watching a jet airliner strike a skyscraper on TV. I’m trying to comprehend the sheer horror of what I witnessed, and feel helpless and angry. I speak with my father and wife on the phone. We are living through history, cowering in the shadows of madmen. That night, when the house is dark and silent, I sit in the living room with the TV on and start crying.

It’s 2003 and we’re just north of San Francisco in the Muir Woods National Monument. The air smells of eucalyptus and pine. Ancient redwood trees tower over us, stretching up to a green canopy. A light wind causes the trees to slightly sway, and their leaves whisper softly.

It’s 2005 and I’m on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. The building’s Art Deco façade is both classy and elegant. Manhattan stretches beneath me, a city of concrete, metal and teeming multitudes. Staring across the Hudson, I see New Jersey’s sprawl and the Statue of Liberty.

It’s 2007 and I finish my set at an Atlantic City comedy club. Afterwards, my fellow fledgling comics and I head to another club and enjoy another comedy show by professional comics. We invite the comics to Hooters and eat chicken wings and drink beer and later are driven around the city by a former professional wrestler in his Cadillac.

It’s 2010 and I’m filing for divorce. After a five-year separation, I feel like I can finally breathe. I sit outside the lawyer’s office with the weight of the world spilling off my shoulders. We are a flawed species, each thrown into a chaotic world we are tasked with making sense of. But there is no sense. Everything is a random jumble of events, some good, some bad, some indifferent. As I write the check and give it to the attorney, I realize just how botched everything is. My marriage produced no children, no enduring love or great happiness. All people want is for love to be reciprocated. We want to be acknowledged in life, with a realization that our existence is meaningful, that we will not be forgotten when we depart.

In the end, life is all about chances. It’s about our collected experiences and about these frozen moments, events that stand out from every other ordinary day. Falling down and getting back up, loving and losing, standing in awe at the beauty of the natural world and being cognizant of your place in the universe.

Bundle all of this together and you get wisdom. You get a life richly lived, warts and all, filled with summer night skies, sweet grandmothers, family vacations, kisses in the snow, comedy clubs, desert sunsets, making love, pine forests, cityscapes, heartbreak and laughter.

These are the moments that make life worth living. In this rapture and sorrow, we discover self-awareness.

We realize how alive we are.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Appropriately Inappropriate

Ever laugh at something inappropriate and realize that because it’s so inappropriate it makes you laugh harder? Breaking some kind of taboo by jesting at something off-limits doesn’t fill you with shame, but propels you toward making a mockery of it.

I’ll give you an example. Wouldn’t it be funny if the voices in the movie Schindler’s List were dubbed as Muppets?

When Ben Kingsley delivers the line “The list is life,” a Kermit the Frog voice comes out. Oskar Schindler could sound like Fozzie Bear.

That’s so wrong, isn’t it?

What the fuck is the matter with me?!

Why do I labor to see humor in the most inappropriate things? Why do I continually throw sexual innuendo at everything and hope something sticks, like the panties of a sorority sister riding her first Sybian?

See? I just did it again!

I blame my parents. They gave me an appreciation for comedy without realizing it. When I was little, I discovered my father’s record collection. It was mostly doo-wop bullshit, but what attracted my attention wasn’t the music. He had comedy records stashed away, with comedians like The Smothers Brothers, Flip Wilson and Bill Cosby.

Bill Cosby’s “Wonderfulness” was my favorite. I liked how Cosby talked about his childhood, about building and racing go-karts, about getting his tonsils out at the hospital and about booby-trapping the living room by smearing Jell-O on the floor because he was scared the monsters in his favorite radio horror program would attack him.

When I was 13, my mother gave me a copy of Cosby’s album “Bill Cosby: Himself.” Most kids got a football or basketball when they turned 13. I got Cosby talking about raising his kids, going to the dentist, the stupidity of drinking to excess and anecdotes from his childhood. I memorized each routine on that album and repeated them verbatim at school in the cafeteria to my friends.

That’s where the comedian in me began.

I learned to make people laugh at an early age and enjoyed it, though I was too unpopular to be the class clown. I was more of the class clown’s understudy. If the wiseass kid who made the teachers and students laugh became sick, I’d fill in.

At Heritage Junior High, I was the only 8th grader to do spot-on impressions of Ronald Regan and Michael Jackson. This was in 1983 when both were still popular and not the subject of senile or pedophile jokes.

As a side note, I can’t figure out why some Republicans lionize Reagan like he was the American Winston Churchill. I understand he worked with Gorbachev to end the Cold War, but besides that speech at the Berlin Wall and lying about the SDI, what did he actually do? People forget that the guy was senile in the end. He let his crazy astrology-worshipping wife run the country. Reagan just sat around eating jellybeans while the Iran-Contra scandal raged around him. But now he’s some kind of national hero? Republicans in the ‘80s must’ve loved bad B-movies and big deficits.

See? I just tore apart a former Commander-In-Chief for being a senile relic.

I’ve been told there are sacred cows in comedy.

A comic should never joke about three things: child abuse, domestic violence and rape.

Let me see… child abuse, domestic violence and rape. Sounds like the Catholic Church, doesn’t it?

Incidentally, there’s nothing in the Bible prohibiting sex with children. Nothing at all. Homosexuality is forbidden, along with bestiality and letting your semen hit the ground. Yet the text is clear: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” Leviticus 18:22

A man and a child are two different things. Perhaps the church uses this loophole to justify boffing choirboys. Maybe there should be something in the Bible prohibiting sex with kids. If they make that official, maybe then Father Pedo might not troll around for prepubescent victims to violate aboard the Magical Chloroform Bus of Shameful Secrets.

Not only that, but the Church covers up sexual abuse, like these kids had it coming. But what do you expect in a place where every Sunday you’re on your knees half the time?

See? I just offended Catholics. I called the functionaries of a religion a bunch of child molesters.

Surely there’s some group that’s too taboo for comedy, some belief, practice or religion that must not be crossed no matter what.

Muslims?

Okay, don’t make fun of the Muslim faith. Islam is the only sacred cow out there, as Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the South Park creators learned when they received death threats for depicting Muhammad in a goofy bear costume.

So I won’t make fun of Islam.

But I will go after the terrorists:

Why do terrorists wear smelly, dirty clothes? Because if they shit themselves during a failed suicide bombing, nobody would notice!

See? I went after the terrorists just to prove a point about comedy, which is this:

All good comedy (and even bad comedy) contains a kernel of truth. That’s why politically incorrect stereotypes are funny, because they’re based on factual elements and traits. Blacks don’t tip at restaurants. Jews are whiny. Asians drive like crap. Republicans are gun-toting fundamentalists. Democrats are passive hippies. Rednecks are stupid. People from the northeast are snobs.

Surely these stereotypes aren’t literal. Not all Jews are whiny. Just the ones from New York.

What I’m seeing is a return to stereotyping. Politically incorrect humor works because it’s inappropriate. It shatters the polite norms of the last 30 years and shoves them in your face, exposing them for the ridiculous bullshit they are. Laughing at the inappropriate derides the stifling societal taboos.

As I grew older, I became a fan of George Carlin and Bill Hicks, two comedians who used the beer-stained pulpit of the comedy club to rage at stupidity, the establishment and an America that had lost its way. They were both Holden Caulfield with a megaphone, shouting at the phonies and blasting the pretentious and asinine conformists responsible for war, commercialism and fear mongering.

Carlin and Hicks weren’t jokesters or safe comics; they actually had something to say. They both delivered their messages in a blunt, scathing way that occasionally eviscerated the sacred cows.

Both were intelligent, quick-witted and deftly punished those who needed it.

Carlin had a great aphorism that applied to comedians: “I think it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.”

Just because a truth is uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s off limits. Sometimes those lofty truths or conventions should be scrutinized or ridiculed just for the hell of it, whether it’s politics, religion, sex or something dark and forbidden.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Morons With Money

Wealth is an overall factor in determining a person’s worth and position in society, and to deny this would imply a mental and physical detachment from the real world or an addiction to prescription painkillers.

Money, as it turns out, really does make the world go ‘round. People with an exorbitant amount of it can change the world, both for good or bad. You could build schools in Africa or suppress voter’s rights. You could save a hospital from demolition or clear-cut the Amazonian rainforest. You could fund meals for indigents or make a sequel to “Grown Ups”.

The wealthy truly are in the driver’s seat. They get invited to all the best parties, are friends with the high and mighty and even have things named after them like streets, colleges, or small Caribbean islands.

Yet despite the attractiveness a life of wealth and privilege offers, it stings when the truly affluent don’t possess the decorum that they should.

I’m not talking about the nouveau riche. I’m talking about younger generations from old money.

Old money was built slowly, usually by a few hard-working ancestors who started a business from scratch. Gradually through time, wealth accumulated and was maintained and expanded by subsequent generations of caretakers. The Carnegies, Morgans and Astors helped build modern America and became some of the nation’s first multi-millionaires. They cultivated high society, an insulated royalty built on privilege and finery like the European monarchs. This wealthy class established institutions of higher learning, private clubs for socializing and sport and a culture of extravagance.

These elites were the finest examples of pampering since Louis XVI rode his sedan chair to an all-night Lounging Around on Silken Pillows and Binging on Éclairs Soiree.

With these creature comforts came the need to give back to society, to use their family’s wealth to help those less fortunate and build things that would benefit America and the world.

But something happened on the way to the Hamptons. The elite culture of sophistication and education became clouded by stupidity. Instead of pedigreed millionaires, wealthy families began siring idiots raised on a glut of cash and luxury but sans the personal responsibility and call to stewardship.

Instead of millionaires driven to a life of philanthropy and industry, we have a bunch of Lacoste wearing retards who take daddy’s yacht out to Martha’s Vineyard for a weekend of drinking Grey Goose and raping coeds by moonlight.

Who wants a summer job when you can hang out with Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch and do bodyshots off a supermodel?

The Kennedys were the first blue-blooded hellraisers in America whose antics were longtime fodder for tabloids and comedians. Booze, mistresses, politics. What normally would kill anyone’s career only made the Kennedy mystique more interesting. Uncle Teddy drives his car into the water, Cousin William wiggles his cock at anything in a skirt, Uncle Bobby secretly murders Marilyn Monroe.

Spoiled playboys and debutantes are handed everything and feel they shouldn’t have an education or develop responsibility. What you get aren’t fully developed adults. You get the anthropomorphic representation of the Id and Ego, all juiced up on materialism with an adrenaline rush of partying like a perpetual teenager.

I’m not saying that everyone born rich should take up the family business. If you’re happy repairing cars, then make that your vocation. If you’re into nature photography, then pursue that. Just do something constructive, or something that will contribute to the world, not leech off your family’s savings like some bloated tick sucking blood from a cow’s shoulder.

Despite their wealth and prestige, these retarded offspring of America’s richest families float through life with a cadre of support staff, publicists and handlers. Paris Hilton and the Kardashians are example of people who are famous just for being famous. Though they donate money to charity, it still doesn’t absolve them of douchehood.

This clueless jet set travels the globe and remains in an amniotic sac of luxury, from seaside villas to five star hotels. Their raison d’être is to consume alcohol and cause havoc. We eat this up - every last drop - because we enjoy seeing the high and mighty toppled at their expense.

I have no problem with these spoiled brats dodging the law, skirting responsibility and delaying adulthood. They’re not hurting anyone but themselves and their family’s expectations and legacies.

In the movie “Arthur”, Dudley Moore plays the scion of a wealthy family who drinks at night, sleeps with hookers and has an elaborate model train set in his room. He’s a drunken eccentric, an uber-rich manchild and man of leisure. Moore plays the character with falling-down-drunk comic effect.

This depiction doesn’t bother me as much as when these morons with money try to pass as adults. They put themselves out in the public square and run for office, promising to lead us. The problem with this is that these people aren’t leaders at all. They’re stupid. They’re children whose every appetite has been indulged. They’ve never had to work nine-to-five jobs, pay the mortgage and balance a checkbook.

They eventually win the elections, not because of their detailed plans to right society’s wrongs or make America a better place, but because of the size of their bankrolls.

When they finally get into office, they’re clueless, often inarticulate and scraping for a way to pass themselves off as educated and enlightened. So they hire handlers to groom them, to teach them oratory skills and make them better speakers and to make sure they don’t fuck cocktail waitresses on the way out of the convention center.

The left viewed former President George W. Bush as inarticulate, incompetent and ineffective. His communication skills were weak and he often found himself at the end of many verbal gaffes. Though he attended Yale and Harvard, he didn’t come across as one with an Ivy League education. He said he would make decisions “in his gut” and govern from the heart. Bush said he looked into former Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “soul”:

“I was able to get a sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country,” Bush said during a 2001 visit with Putin.

If anyone else talked like this, they’d be fashioned with a straightjacket and thrown into a rubber room.

These silver spoon simpletons crave power and approval. Their quest is to make mumsy and daddy happy, yet it often ends in disaster, usually with one of them being elected president and some foreign country invaded.

Author William Saroyan wrote, “Good people are good because they’ve come to wisdom through failure.” When you’re given infinite chances and live a life bereft of consequences, when you view the world as your personal plaything and when people are simply a commodity you can buy off, you really haven’t failed. And if you’ve failed, like Bush had when his oil company went broke, others bail you out.

Yet you don’t learn anything. You’re stuck in childhood, lashing out for the attention.

It’s hard for anyone to take you seriously when you’re a martini-drinking dick in an ascot with no real world experience except partying in Cancun and Aspen every year. When your resume consists of all the countries you vomited in and how big the family’s Learjet is, you’re not the one to run for any political office.

This country and world is in turmoil and the people crave real leadership, not manufactured leadership or hollow buzzwords that sound like something from a Tony Robbins motivational seminar. The last thing we want is to stroke the ego of a plutocrat’s son and make him feel better about himself.

If your intentions aren’t selfless, then stay on the family compound, drink Glenlivet and bang another aristocrat. Maybe there’s hope that your kid won’t be a posh hillbilly like you.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

More Early 20th Century Man



The second video for Early 20th Century Man is completed. This time, our hero waxes poetic about technology, innovation and civilized entertainment in the early 20th Century. Life's not all skittles and beer, however. Wait! It is! To the cinema for another rousing moving picture adventure of the age's most admired and manly chronicler, Early 20th Century Man!


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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Early 20th Century Man

Sometimes characters just come to me out of the aether, popping into my head when I least expect it. One such character is Early 20th Century Man. When I was younger, I used to make movies with my friends. This was back in the 1980s, when we used videotape and the editing process involved two VCRS hooked together. It was long and arduous getting the exact cuts and the editing was pretty much hit or miss, yet we did produce some funny videos. I'm convinced that if the Internet existed back then, we would be famous today.

When I did standup, I performed a character named Lazlo Fink. He was this snarky Jewish comedian who thought he was the greatest standup comic in the world, but who in fact was really, really lame. He performed harmonica solos and talked to a rabbit puppet. Performing as Lazlo gave me the opportunity to develop a character. It was the most fun I had on stage doing standup.




Early 20th Century Man just evolved much the same way Lazlo Fink did. One night, I put on this costume, set the PhotoBooth on my iMac to the sepia effect, and just did improvisation, making it up on the fly. I liked where it was going, so I set up a more formal shoot a few days later, polished the monologue and did several retakes until I was happy. Then I edited everything digitally. Early 20th Century Man is a product of his time, a bigoted but good-hearted person, an optimist in this incurably pessimistic age. Celebrate Independence Day with his wise, patriotic insights.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to wrap this up. I must scrape the spirit gum off my top lip from that damn mustache.

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Journalism: Don't Do It

If I could go back in time to 1991, I would warn my younger self not to study journalism if it wouldn’t cause a massive alteration of the space-time continuum.
You never know with time travel. You could go back and tell your grandfather to sell his stocks in 1929 before the Great Depression hits, and when you return to the present, you shockingly discover that Hitler won the war, everybody’s driving Volkswagons and Glenn Beck is a senator.
So if my meddling in the past wouldn’t screw up history, I’d tell myself the following:


Journalism is a difficult profession. You have to really love writing, love informing the public and love being paid the same as a busboy at Sbarro Pizza.

If you want to be a reporter, you can’t be shy, can’t have thin skin and can’t care about what people think of you. Martial artists are taught to lose their ego, for without the ego you will be unfettered and open your mind up to higher teachings. The same with journalists: lose your ego.

Politicians are often insecure and shallow. They flock to public office because of some deep-seated psychological need for acceptance. Many politicians I’ve dealt with, particularly at the start of my career, were very inadequate and flawed adults who bloviated about the high ideals of public service while digging their claws into the juggulars of their political enemies. Psychoanalyze many of these people and you’ll find children who were weaned from breastfeeding too early, serial bed-wetters or schoolhouse bullies.

Authority figures hate the media. They loathe the scrutiny and the last thing they want to deal with is a reporter asking questions. That’s why they’ll pass you on to a press secretary or public relations lackey instead of deal with you directly. Getting through to important people is often frustrating, with gatekeepers telling you that the important person you want to speak to is in a meeting, when in fact they’re cringing underneath their desks in fear or humping an intern in the cloakroom.

Develop an internal bullshit detector. I can tell when somebody is lying to me. Be a skeptic and check everything out.

Total objectivity is a myth. Journalism professors and professionals repeatedly proclaim that journalism depends on objectivity, that reporters must not only include any opinions in their stories but also must eschew personal opinions of any kind. Bias indicates a tilt in coverage favorable to a particular side or opinion, yet some journos believe that they mustn’t have any opinions themselves. Self-actualized adults have their own beliefs they’ve formed over a lifetime. These beliefs shape and distinguish us from everyone else on the planet. Conversely, people bereft of opinions, beliefs and creeds are automatons best suited for careers in government, advertising and public relations.

Read everything, even if it challenges your personal ethos. I despise Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter, yet I’ve read their books. I’ve also read works by liberals such as Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore and Al Franken. The more you read, the more well-rounded and educated you become.

Your editor is your best friend, not your adversary.

If you’re still going to go through with this journalism bullshit, you need to read the following: The Vintage Mencken (collected writings from journalist H.L. Mencken), All the President’s Men (Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter S. Thompson), The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Tom Wolfe), and The Elements of Style (William Strunk, E.B. White).

In addition to these, you might want to (if you’re not busy playing video games) read the following: Democracy in America (Alexis de Tocqueville), America: What Went Wrong? (Donald Barlett) and the United States Constitution.

Realize that as a journalist, you will be lumped with every bottom-feeding member of the media in existence including paparazzi, supermarket tabloid journos and vapid pundits. The public’s estimation and approval of journalism and journalists is just above the flesh-eating virus and just below cannibal pedophiles. If you think the world will kiss your ass like it’s made of marzipan and treat you like royalty then you’re in the wrong line of work. Grow a spine, pay your dues and ignore the ignorant bastards. If they insist the media is part of some vast liberal or Zionist conspiracy, so be it. If you’re truly bothered by what some amateur media critic spews about your career, then leave the newsroom, sit at home and write Star Trek fan fiction.

Cultivate sources from various sectors of government and the public. Get to know the local police and fire departments and have a contact person in city hall. Become chummy with city council and members of community groups. Only by gaining their trust will they willingly impart information. Also, learn how to request documents from the city clerk’s office. Not everyone will want to cooperate with you.

Since people bitch about inaccuracy in reporting, invest in a high-end recorder. I have a digital recorder I use when I conduct interviews. If some slapnuts complains that I misquoted him, I just play the tape back and watch him cringe with shame.

Be ethical. I know it’s hard to do in an America where everyone is on the take, but ethics in this business will distinguish you from the rest of the parasitic whores who prosper from corruption. If you’re honest, admit to your mistakes and write balanced and fair stories, you’ll develop a good reputation. However, if you goof around and sleep with a politician like one reporter I knew, you end up being a hooker with a steno pad. As a side note, the reporter went on to a career writing for some shitty medical publication after the politician got her into grad school.

If you’ve been paying attention and are serious about a career in journalism, then my mission failed. Most communications majors don’t write for newspapers and instead work in public relations, advertising or at the Olive Garden.

Life is tough. There are no guarantees you’ll end up a success. Sometimes you’ll fall into a job that becomes second nature and you gradually improve. Spend enough time at it and you’ll be a veteran reporter. If you’re really persistent and competent, you might receive awards for your writing, which is validation for slogging through documents or having elected officials threaten a libel suit.

Yet the reward of a media career is a sense of accomplishment, of informing the people, exposing corruption and making this country a better place. It's the First Amendment in action, a free press that educates the populace about its government, community and world.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to return to the year 2010. I don’t want to miss my shift at the Olive Garden.