Archive for the ‘Glamour Profession’ Category

To The Show

October 23, 2007

Once again, we at the Northeast News Bureau® are called to the home office in DC (aka The Show) for the annual “Advisory Board Meeting.” Be advised that I will be very bored. In fact, my suffering will, once again, be legendary.

No reason you should suffer, however. I’m sending you all back to the Lesbian Bar with your ol’ pal Jonathan Richman.

You’re so lucky.


Stuck Inside of Newark with the Continental Blues Again

April 16, 2007


They overbooked the last overnight jumbo to Frankfurt,
by eight forty-five it was clear I was not gonna fly.
So I got a cab and I sat in it peevish and rancored
as all of my socks and my underwear flew to Mumbai.
Illustration by Didi Menendez

Tuxedo Tag

March 23, 2007


The Catholic schoolgirl on the number 2
declares I look like Uncle Penneybags,
“Monopoly!” she yells. Her friends in blue
St. Michael’s uniforms endorse the tag.

It happens when I shuttle in the tux,
my rented Mariachi rig, this suit
of penguin torpitude, the million bucks
routine. But Uncle P? That’s pretty cute–
the Parker Brothers Millionaire. I wish

I had a quarter of the attitude,
a quotient of the automatic swish
Manhattan subway Catholic girls exude.
Their impious affront would not prevail
if I could come back quick with: “Go to jail!”

Slow News Day

February 21, 2007


Photo: Alexander H. Tullo, PhD

Great Caesar’s Ghost!

January 18, 2007


I looked at my watch, I looked at my wrist,
I punched myself in the face with my fist!

Bob Dylan

I don’t indulge in too much Hollywood cliché reporter business. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink whiskey from a bottle in my desk drawer. Okay, do I wear the occasional fedora… And sometimes I talk a little switchyard, if you know what I mean.

It’s nothing too intense, mind you, but definitely not for publication. Think of it as Jimmy Olsen doing a PG-13 Perry White. I generally do it when I get off the phone with a particularly uncooperative flack or an obfuscating CEO. It’s alright, though. Really. I know how to do it. The trick, you see, is to always wait until two beats after the receiver hits the cradle before making with the Paulie Walnuts invective.

So. This morning, I’m on the phone with an uncooperative flack. I called him regarding a press release about his company closing some factories in the U.S. and expanding operations in Europe. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary, but I’m paid to ask questions. Which gets me this, and I quote:

“Listen. The press release is very detailed. You shouldn’t read anything into it.”

Well, I just can’t help myself. By mid afternoon, I’ve read quite a lot into it, and I give him a call to check facts and figures and discuss things other people say about his company. A courtesy call at very least. I get his voicemail several times, and I keep leaving messages. Finally, at about 5:00 p.m., he answers the phone. I get this:

“Oh…Hi Rick. Hey, I’m in an interview with my boss right now. Can I call you back in two minutes?”

“Yes, I’ll be here,” I say. “I do need to check some facts and figures tonight.”

He’s all assurances.

When he hasn’t called an hour later, I decide to try him again. I get his voicemail.

Now, you can imagine that I’m feeling a bit jerked around at this point. I’m thinking he’s at Happy Hour, if such a thing exists in the city where he works (oh, yes, I’m cranky). And, thanks to him, I’m nowhere near my hour-long drive home.

Well, here’s how it went:

Voicemail: Hi, this is X. I’m not in right now, but your call is important ,…etc..

Me: …Hi, X. It’s Rick. I will be around for another few minutes, if you could get back to me tonight, that would be great. Thanks a lot. Goodbye.

I drop the receiver into its cradle. And 1 and 2 and…

Me: %$@$&^%$#^& $%#@

…And 4 and 5 and…

My speakerphone (robot voice): If you would like to continue recording, please press one.

Yes, friends. When I hung up, I accidentally hit the speakerphone button, turning my workspace into an open mic. So, my voice message is likely to include the Paulie Walnuts bit!

Well. He shouldn’t read too much into that.

The Elements of Style

January 10, 2007


This is Michele, my one-time copy editor and a good friend. It’s the second portrait I painted of her.

The first was painated shortly after her successful bout with breast cancer. She commissioned a painting of herself sitting on a couch in front of the window of her sunny apartment on Prince Street in Soho. It was a portrait of a peaceful, beaming survivor. The painting above was done a few years later. I’d asked her if she wouldn’t mind posing again—I was in a portrait phase, painting any friend who agreed to sit still (I would spread out canvas tarps in people’s living rooms on which I knelt and painted them, fast, on 9” x 12” canvases). She agreed to sit, but only if I let her wear her Halloween costume. My instinct, of course, was to withdraw my request until she told me she had a dominatrix costume with a red wig. I suddenly became very interested in painting her again. For one thing, she was a pretty tough copy editor, and the costume seemed appropriate–it was kind of a fun idea, given the copy editor’s role at a weekly magazine. When she mentioned that a riding crop would be involved, I really had no choice.

I see a lot less of Michele these days—she moved to Brooklyn and I work in New Jersey now. About a year ago, we went to the theater to see a way-off-Broadway production of Einstein’s Gift, a play more about Fritz Haber. Then she took me to dinner.

Michele, who has long brown hair, is a great model, an incisive editor, a beautiful woman, and a wonderful friend. We get each other’s jokes and finish each other’s sentences. She corrects my sentences. I found this picture in the basement last night in a pile of the 9 x 12 portraits. I also found my living room tarp–I may soon be back on the lookout for people who can sit still.

Now—speaking of things editorial, I am finishing a cover story under pulverizing deadline pressure. Above is a portrait of me—I found this drawing of a cassowaryesque journalist via a Google search for journalist images. Most of the others that came up were a lot uglier. Where I’m working now, by the way, there are four people who do the job Michele did single-handedly. Yep. She’s that kind of tough.

[Editor’s note: No, I don’t smoke like the cassowary scribe (I know, it’s a vulture, but close enough). And despite various items you’ve seen in my studio photographs, I do not have a severed human hand on my desk at work. Where, oh where did this cartoon come from?]

Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2006


“There ain’t a holiday made that Chucks* can’t make better!”: Robin G., production chief, home office, Washington, DC.

*Photo: Robin G. in her new Converse Chuck Taylor Candy Cane High-Tops , 2006.

Bill Nye’s Coolest Shot

December 19, 2006


Bill Nye the Science Guy is best known as the frenetic science proselytizer with the bowtie and the kid’s show on PBS in the 1990s. He came to that job after years at Boeing, where he developed a hydraulic pressure resonance suppressor that is still used on 747 airliners. He also worked as a consultant to the aeronautics industry, in which capacity he worked on the A-12 stealth attack aircraft. He had level three security clearance on that one. He is also a member and fellow the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. (Killjoy!)

Here are some final stretches of our breakfast interview. I found him charming, genuine, and an expert enthusiast. I’d like to thank him for granting me clearance to use parts of my day job interview at Cassowary.
Rick: Why did you give up a career as a mechanical engineer to start a kid’s science program?

Bill: Well, sir– I was feeling that my bosses were paralyzed by self doubt. In the 1980s, Japan was this economic powerhouse, making all these fabulous products. These guys I was working for were in fear of–terrified by–anything made in Japan. Looking back, they should have been! Compare the innovation and success of a Toyota with the thoughtless retro-thinking of modern automakers in the U.S., which started in the 1950s. My bosses were obsessed with making a profit every quarter, and when you’re making a new navigation device for a business jet that’s supposed to be 3/8 the size of the original, you can’t do that in three months. There aren’t enough smart people in the world that you can coordinate to make that happen. I was very frustrated with these guys, and I thought the future is kids, not these people.

Rick: But the guys you were working for grew up in the era of better living through chemistry. College students today won’t touch chemistry with a ten foot pipette. They’d rather pursue careers in video and sound engineering.

Bill: Well, that’s my mission. To change the world. There is noting more exciting than science. What could possibly be more fun than science? No! Really!

What does everyone say to chemists at every cocktail party, maybe with the exception of the Chemists Club Eggnog Party because they’re all chemists? They say, “You’re a chemist? Hey, can you blow something up?” Nobody says that to the video guy. And the chemists had better look out if somebody can blow something up better. There is nothing more exciting and cool than blowing something up. I work in television, I’m around television professionals all day. And they want to blow something up. They want the coolest shot of the explosion. I remind everybody that the reason Alfred Nobel got so crazy wealthy, is that he was so good at blowing stuff up.

Rick: Let’s toss around the idea of “being human.”

Bill: Okay–to think of something and make it? Amazing! When I look at squids, gold fish… I don’t think they’re doing that. I don’t think that’s what’s going on with them. Ants—mmmm-maybe. Kinda.

But What makes you human? It’s your ability to know that you’re part of the cosmos. That you’re aware of your place in the cosmos. I don’t think that even my favorite dogs are thinking about that. The biggest thing humans can do is imagine the future. Our brains are big enough to do that.
Rick: …Pee-wee Herman!

Bill: Yeah! Rocky and Bullwinkle–same deal! Sesame Street!

[Here are Parts I and II]

I Imagine Doors Slamming

December 18, 2006


(Occasioned by the recent run-off in the election for 2007 Chemical Enterprise Association president)

Things must be exploding
in excitement at The Show,
just as they are here
at the Northeast News Bureau.

I imagine doors slamming,
people running down halls
in a flutter of paper,
editors running
into each other.

The chief has his top
Button unbuttoned,
His tie hangs askew:
He wants answers.
No calls in or out, though—
the lines are all jammed.

Send out for pizza.
Yeah, and coffee.
‘Cause, friends, this could be
What we call an all-nighter.

Bill Nye the Science Guy vs. Mr. Machine

December 17, 2006


Part II of my interview.

Bill Nye the Science Guy and I had breakfast at a diner on Madison Avenue last week. Well, he had breakfast and I just had coffee–it was 11:00 a.m. in New York and he was still on California time. We discussed, among other things, science critics and Ray Kurzweil’s dream of the human machine.

Rick: Is the world of science reevaluating itself in the 21st century?

Bill: It seems like it is because we have this anti-science thing. I think it’s bad for everybody. When you have a problem like global climate change or HIV, you need people who understand how it works to solve it. And, furthermore, you need voters and tax payers who believe there’s a problem.

The idea that science will solve everybody’s problem is a little old fashioned. I remember reading an account of Lou Gehrig. When he was diagnosed with this crazy disease, he thought, “Modern medicine will solve this problem for me.” It turned out to be a pretty intractable problem. Nevertheless, if it is ever solved, it will be a science solution. I cannot accept that there is going to be a faith-based solution to Lou Gehrig’s disease. Not to say that one’s frame of mind doesn’t affect one’s immune system. No question that it does.

Fanatics have been around for a long time. You can claim, “Well, Bill, you’re a science fanatic.” But our claim is that we don’t have all the answers. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. What we claim to have is a process for finding out the truth about nature. That’s the extent of our claim. If you want to find out what’s going on in nature, here’s how you go about it.

I am very reverent. I am astonished by my place in the universe. And I claim that I have greater reverence for the earth than many, many people who consider themselves deeply religious. I was brought up in a religious tradition, but I am no longer a believer.

Rick: A lot of people believe it is some kind of affront to in any way question the idea of natural selection. But, elegant as it is, it’s really just another scientific theory, and it’s completely open to challenge.

Bill: Scientists challenge Darwin all the time. You read about these entomologists, trying to figure out what the heck are the bees doing. They are willing to die for the queen when their own genes aren’t at risk! Similarly, my claim is that when the Yankees get eliminated from the World Series, Yankees fans in New York still root for an American League team–even if it’s Boston! Because Boston is in their league, even if they have nothing to do with them. They can feel it. I find that just astonishing.

The thing that’s so creepy about evolution–and fascinates me–is that not only are your size and shape, how many fingers you have, and your hair color determined by your genes, so, also, are your feelings to a large extent.

Rick: What do you say to Ray Kurzweil whose new book, The Singularity is Near, contends that humans will leapfrog their own biology through technical innovation, thus curing all disease, by 2045?

Bill: OK, I’ll meet him Botswana in 2045 and we’ll see how that’s working.

Rick: He also writes about spiritual machines.

Bill: A human brain develops not only by its genetic programming, but by what happens to it in its environment. This changes the way your brain works. With so many human brains running around experiencing so many different environments, I’d be surprised if the line between humanity and machines becomes blurry. On the other hand, the human brain is finite, it only has so many cells. It’s very possible you could make a machine like a human. But it’s gotta have some energy source. And that’s where the colossus takes over the world!

(Stay tuned for the next and final episode of My California-Time Breakfast with Bill Nye the Science Guy or Pee Wee Meets Bullwinkle!)