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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Why "Fantasy Island" was Right!

If nothing else, Facebook is FAT with quizzes. 

What TV Mom are you? (Samantha Stephens!) What funny lady are you? (Liz Lemon!)  What song are you? (Wild Thing!)  What kind of booze are you? (Gin???)  More often than not I pre-emptively refuse to take a quiz, like the one which promised to calculate my ACTUAL age by my taste in music.  Everyone I saw got a flattering number, but based on the Burt Bacharach, John Denver and E.L.O. I have in perpetuity on my car’s sound system, I figured mine would hover in the neighborhood of 100. 

This is the “time suck” factor people speak of when they talk smack about FB (although, to be fair, the quizzes usually take all of three minutes.  That’s how you KNOW they are clinically accurate!)  Recently I saw a welcomed break from all these quizzes:  a POLL.  Fresh!  The question:  what TV show would you like to live in?  (GILMORE GIRLS!!!  I would fit right in to Stars Hollow!  If the people of Stars Hollow all swore like drunken sailors.)  One person, a stranger to me, chose Fantasy Island.  A choice to which my friend David Jay wisely remarked, “Are you kidding me?  Almost all of the “fantasies” on Fantasy Island go badly awry!” 

True ‘dat.

Every one of my generation knows the show Fantasy Island, unless they are Amish.  Paired with The Love Boat (best product placement EVER, Princess Cruise lines!) on ABC Saturday nights, this was the perfect nightcap to a long day spent watching cartoons, playing outside and making our parents wish for a 6 day school week.  Even my folks, who were notoriously strict about our media input, let us watch these shows.  Mainly because Saturday night also tended to be cocktail night or date night, I suspect. 

But no matter!  Always a thrill when the iconic voice of Tattoo signaled the arrival of the new victims (I mean guests) at this tropical paradise.  It looks really good at first:  leis and cocktails (not the kind my parents drank—they preferred Manhattans) and Ricardo Montalban in an impeccable white suit; what could go wrong?  But these paying customers usually leave a little sadder, a little wiser and without what they came for—unless they end up dead. 

Hey, it happened!
Not to go off topic, but I saw the movie Jurassic World (it takes place on a tropical island too!) and as things started to go bad, as they inevitably do in any Frankenstein-inspired tale, one of the characters shakes his head and says, “They never learn”.  What do they never learn?  Don’t go messing with stuff you have no business messing with; anything that smacks of time travel, even if only accomplished in a strictly controlled environment, usually has catastrophic results and BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR!  

All of these lessons are well taught by Mr. Rourke on Fantasy Island, too.  In the vast majority of cases, the victims (I mean, guests) show up with a very clear idea of what they think they want and often a well-organized plan for how they think they will get it.  Mr. Rourke is the very excellent father figure who gently suggests these plans might still be abandoned but always lets his “children” learn their own lessons.  In other words, Mr. Rourke would have shaken his head in dismay at John Hammond’s plan to clone dinosaurs, but he would not have stopped him.  Mr. Rourke believes in free will and destiny!  He is so deep!

There seemed to be very little Mr. Rourke could not provide, but one thing he made clear to his guests was that once the fantasy was set in motion, he would be unable to intervene. We were never 100% sure this was true; for example, he was once able to save Tattoo from a rather hare-brained exploit during a birthday fantasy gone horribly wrong.  But very much like the parent who says “If I let you get a dog, it will be your responsibility”, almost always he allowed people to experience the full consequence of their decisions. 

This was the delicious irony of the show:  people came to the island looking for an external intervention that would change life for the better, but more frequently learned it was the internal life that was the real problem.  Arrogance, aggression and abdication of personal responsibility always had the direst of outcomes.  Most of all, the guests were taught that if you are not okay with yourself to begin with, there is nothing you can add to your outside that will make it any better. 

So Fantasy Island was right:  be careful what you wish for.  A myriad of studies has confirmed that once our basic needs are met, there is no dollar amount or success level that guarantees happiness.  We have all had the experience of having a dream-come-true that didn’t bring with it the satisfaction or joy we had imagined it would.  Like visitors to the island, we save our pennies and work towards our desires, often with eyes so firmly fixed on the end-game that we miss a lot of the fun in getting there. 

We all have our fantasies of how we would like life to be; fortunately, unlike the guests on the show, we have an infinite number of opportunities to course correct and re-prioritize.  The whole world can be your “fantasy island” if you remember to stop and smell the roses.  The late, great Iris Murdoch once wrote:  “People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” 

So don’t wish your life away; become mad with joy NOW.  There are flowers everywhere.  And even a tropical drink, if you’d care for one. 


Wednesday, June 10, 2015


So, unless you live under a rock and have an endless supply of food and drink there, chances are good at some point in the past few weeks you have happened upon a story about Caitlyn Jenner.  I have not personally read any of these stories, but the number I have happened upon is legion.  For the record, I admired Bruce Jenner when he was an Olympic athlete and I admire Caitlyn for living her truth.  Folks are trumpeting the coverage this woman is getting as “groundbreaking” and a triumph for transgender people everywhere.  But I perceive it a bit differently.  For me, what would be “groundbreaking” is if we just left the woman in peace and didn’t turn her life into some kind of circus side show.  Now, I do understand that Caitlyn courts the press; “Keeping up with the Kardashians” is a chapter of this person’s life I do not particularly admire, although to be fair, I have never seen it.  But from my point of view, Caitlyn has a perfect right to live her life now as a woman without questions or scrutiny.  I believe that her life is none of my damn business.

Obviously I am in minority here and I know a lot of people would want to argue with me about how good it is to have “the conversation” and how wonderful it is to live an open life.  These things are both true, but only up to a point.  I think a big problem in society in general is that we are having conversations about things that are none of our damn business.  Case and point:  a woman’s right to choose.  How did this become a topic for national debate?  How can it POSSIBLY be anyone’s business but the woman in question?  It boggles my mind to think there are people who feel within their right to make major, life altering decisions for someone they have never met.  It nearly paralyzes me to consider they think it is appropriate to legislate what is 100% a deeply personal, soul wrenching choice.  This is not a “Keep Your Laws Off of My Body” scenario for me…it is a keep-your-laws-as-far-away-from-my-heart–and-soul as possible thing.  A woman’s right to choose is the epitome of nobody’s damn business but her own.
Gay marriage is another subject that I believe is a non-subject.  When two consenting adults decide they want to make a legal commitment to each other, that is none of my damn business.  Why does anyone in the world believe they have the right to tell another person, most especially a stranger, who to marry?  The religious people who make ridiculous arguments for the sanctity of the institution need a serious reality check: marriage is what you make of it, nothing more and nothing less.  If people are allowed to marry and divorce multiple times, get hitched in Vegas on a whim, marry for legal status in the country, marry for financial security, marry for any reason other than the nonsensical belief that God has sanctified this particular union, then all arguments about whether or not gay marriage is right or proper are off the table.  A better argument can be made as to whether or not marriage itself is right and proper, IMHO.  But that is a topic for another day.  Today we are reminding ourselves that when two grown people decide to marry, it is none of our damn business.

Not to pick on Mark Zuckerberg, but I do think Facebook along with reality TV and omnipresent phones with cameras installed in them have fooled us all a little bit into thinking other people’s business is our own.  We are so up in each other’s trees, it is sometimes hard to stay grounded and maintain a healthy neutrality.  As for forming opinions about other people’s business, I am as guilty as anyone.  Long before the Duggar scandal broke, I was grumbling to anyone who would listen about these folks who apparently believe their genes are so superior they are out to single handedly populate the earth and somehow this narcissism makes them newsworthy.  Keeping in mind I never watched the show; it’s existence so irritated me that I started to believe the Duggar’s overactive sex glands were my business, because I was forced to hear about them against my will.  This leads me back to Caitlyn Jenner.  There is absolutely no avoiding her, so how many people will resent her merely for that, as I did the Duggar family?  The Duggar family is none of my damn business and I wish I had never heard of them.  Bet a few of their fans are feeling the same way nowadays. Being famous for being famous is insidious and simply courts scorn.  Ask Monica Lewinsky.
Familiarity breeds contempt, as anyone who is currently living their life in front of the camera knows.  We used to revere celebrity, but now those idols are being torn down as we are allowed to see more and more behind the masks.  This one has cellulite, that one has a drinking problem, this one’s marriage is crumbling…none of our damn business.  But the omnipresence and unavoidability of the information makes it seem otherwise.  No one and nothing is sacred anymore, and while on the face of it that may seem like progress, the reality is that we are all vulnerable to this kind of scrutiny.  Those cell phone cameras mean that your hangover, your bad mood, your bad hair day all have the potential to “go viral” against your will.  Victims are humiliated in their greatest moment of weakness, misguided children seeking approval are degraded in front of millions as it is all available for public consumption.  Lives are being ruined for nothing.  Because it really is none of our damn business.  Live and let live could be our salvation if we could tear ourselves away from the endless news cycle.  The next time you find yourself getting worked up about anything, gut check with this:  is it really any of my business?  I think we would all be a lot happier if we could agree that most often, it is not.
see this also on The Huffington Post:

Friday, June 5, 2015


Everybody loves a “good sport”; those gracious playmates and teammates and friends who live in their own skin with such ease that nothing seems to faze them.  They roll with life’s punches, congratulate you on your win, go with the flow—not because they lack self-esteem or a competitive edge, but because they are so confident in their skill set that they can take life as it comes without being threatened.  Good sports totally rock!  And I am not one of them.  In fact, if there is such a thing as a “terrible sport”, that could be me.  I think it might, at least in my case, be an inborn trait, because I do not remember a time in my life when I was not a bad sport.  My very earliest memory in this world is of watching my older sister and brother playing outside in a massive snowfall; I had been deemed “too little” for the activity and in fairness to my Mom, I was not yet three.  But I remember exactly what my toddler brain was thinking as I watched my siblings frolicking in the cold:  “It’s not fair.”

Part of my attitude problem might be attributed to “nuture” as well…when you grow up in a house with a lot of kids and you are one of the smaller ones, you tend to become a “counter”.  I have noticed this phenomenon in other children as well, not just inborn bad sports like myself.  For an example, one of my favorite dinners growing up was my Mom’s chicken and dumplings.  I, however, could have lived without the chicken part.  It was those dumplings I craved:   yeasty lumps of culinary perfection (at least to the under-10 palette).   The minute Mom started scooping those divine dough balls out onto the plates, I started counting…would I get my fair share?  Or would my brother, who at the time was twice my age and size, get what was in my mind a disproportionate allocation of the bounty?  I’m certain you can guess the answer.  So I became a chronic counter, always fretting about whether or not I was getting my due.
This idea that I was “due” anything also contributed to my poor sportsmanship, because from a supernaturally early age I had a very clear sense of who I was, including the specifics of my likes and dislikes, and I genuinely believed that it was unfair to force me to do things I did not enjoy.  Fortunately for me, I enjoyed things like reading and school; I did not, however, enjoy sports.  And I come from a very sporty family.  This meant that I spent the vast majority of my brother’s illustrious career in both football and basketball under the bleachers putting slightly torn ketchup and mustard packets under the heels of enthusiastic spectators so they would go home with condiments on their pants cuffs.  Total bad sport behavior.  Worst part?  I enjoyed doing it!  Hand in hand with my dislike of sports was my dislike of most outdoor activities, especially when food was involved.  Picnics were a sheer insensible hell:  who would eat where flies and ants and spiders were free to crawl on you and your food when there are so many empty rooms with doors and window screens where you can eat in relative peace?  Needless to say, I spent many a family outing eating in the car.  Worst sport ever!

Then, when I was in high school, I was recruited to sell Cutco knives, as the fine people at Cutco had good, solid evidence to support their belief that high academic achievers also make great salespeople.  This evidence, in my case, turned out to be false.  Not only am I a bad sport, but I am a piss poor salesperson as well.  They are actually related, I have realized.  Because in spite of the fact that Cutco knives are TOTALLY AWESOME (30 years later, my “sample set” are still the only knives I need), I just didn’t have the gumption to try to convince people to buy them unless A) they were already in the market for knives and B) it would not present any kind of financial hardship to pay for them.  Because those knives are expensive; how else to justify sending teenagers door-to-door on a commission basis?  The Cutco people paired us off into sales teams and intuitively matched me up with another bad sport…she and I referred to ourselves as “The F*ck Up Division”.  We were never going to get rich selling anything to anybody.   Unless they really needed it and the price was right.  And we didn't have to go to their house to sell it to them.  We were useless.
Now I am a Mom, and my opportunities for poor sportsmanship have exploded! I am the chaperone with the attitude problem, the “soccer mom” who hikes on a nearby nature preserve rather than watch her son’s practice and the one who serves store bought cupcakes at a birthday party.   Last December I received a call from the school’s assistant Principal telling me my son had qualified to participate in the 4th grade spelling bee and I was strongly encouraged to attend.  That night at the 4th grade holiday concert (I sit in the way back so the good sport parents who are pretending the chorus doesn’t suck won’t see me chortling) I hunted down the family of another child I knew was in the competition.  My approach:  “Which one of you chumps is going to this spelling bee with me?”  The answer:  they would both be there, along with extended family.  They hoped there were enough seats!  “You can have all of mine”, I offered, but not in a good sport sort of way.  “I’m the only one I’m going to make watch 9 year olds SPELL WORDS.”

Somehow their enthusiasm did not clue me in to the fact that this was a big deal.  So I arrived, surly, on the Thursday before Christmas, grumbling about all the stuff I needed to get done before the holiday.  12 fourth graders were competing for the title, and I knew enough of the parents to engage in a little bad sport smack talk before the event.  “My kid is taking your kid DOWN!” I crowed, knowing full well that I had done nothing to help my child prepare and he likely would go out in the first round.  Everyone acted amused; I am pretty well known for my attitude problem and most good sports seem to take it in stride.  But then the unthinkable happened:  my son won.  Crap.  Now he was headed for the regionals.  As I watched the first runner up cry at his loss, I couldn’t help but think to myself:  WOW.  I am kind of an asshole.  So now I just own it:  I’m a bad sport.  This does not mean I do not have many other wonderful qualities; it just means good sportsmanship is not among them.  So when I roll my eyes and crumple up the chaperone request form for the kid’s 15th field trip of the year, please understand:  like Lady Gaga, I was born this way.