Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Idol Attraction [no, I don't know of a song by that name. They can't all be song titles or lyrics. Well, they could be. But this one isn't...]

I sometimes ask myself why I spend so much time following "American Idol". In a way, it makes some sense, of course. "Idol" is the most-watched show on American television during its annual run. Each season has its own dynamic, its own little dramas. But sometimes I feel the same as spectators at a slow-motion train wreck must feel. I know what horrors will surely follow, and yet I cannot bear to turn my head.

This same Internet that you and I are communing on was rocked last week by reports that a series of photos had surfaced, revealing [for that is the seemingly-correct word] "Idol" contestant Antonella Barba in a variety of poses. In none of them can she be said to be displaying the kind of discretion that the shows producers or the FOX Network would like. In at least two of them she is performing an act that most of us [the opinions of one former President of the United States notwithstanding] would call a sex act. The show and FOX are withholding comment, at least of this writing. Several of Barba's friends are saying the photos aren't of her and, given the odds that someone out there must look like Barba [pretty good, given the world's population], it's possible that the whole thing is a hoax.

Still, pretending for the moment that the snaps are of her, the matter does raise a question or two. Discuss:

1. / Having been burned in a similar case once before [see Frenchie Davis. All she did was take off her shirt, albeit at an adult web site, and she was forced off the series], doesn't someone check on the chance of photos like these in some contestant's closet? Was Ms. Barba not forthcoming about the existence [or possible existence] of such material? Indeed, considering the state of camera technology today, was she even aware that such photos had been taken?

2. / If the photos were taken for non-commercial reasons, even if Barba was aware of it, shouldn't she have had the right to assume that they would remain private? Given the sad state of the world today, how could she have assumed that? Should she be punished for someone else's gross betrayal of privacy, not to mention trust [see next question]?

3. / Again assuming the photos are genuine [as of this writing, still not proven or admitted to by anyone, please remember], what happens next? Does Barba lose her seat on "Idol" [given the Davis case, a distinct possibility]? Do the producers, claiming the photos were not intended for financial gain, ignore the whole thing [given "Idol"'s appeal to pre-teens, not a likely result]? If she is excused, does Davis have grounds for a lawsuit [given our litigious society, probably]?

You see? Not even a month into the final rounds, and already a compelling storyline!
And you wonder why we watch? How could we not? (Please send suggestions for that last question as "Comments". I need to quit, but I'd settle for cutting down...)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Color Him Love

I seem to have an odd attitude about death, at least compared to many people I know. Oh, I don't for a moment think that I'll escape the embrace of the Grim Reaper. I don't have a secret hiding place in mind to avoid the Rapture. I don't plan to have my head amputated at the end, in hopes that future generations can cure what ails me and place me in a new body [not that there's anything wrong with that...].

But I also don't have a mental [or actual] list of death anniversaries. While I do attend funerals, memorial services and burials of those who are important in my life, I don't carry a lot of memories of those activities in my head. I don't visit grave sites, except to accompany others.In short, I sort of ignore the whole death process. But I'm not ignoring the regular reminders of mortality. I just prefer to remember people as alive.

My father died five years ago yesterday. I'd forgotten that fact, until The Woman I Love reminded me of it. She loved him, as I did, and holds him up to me from time to time as a positive role model. Actually, even if he hadn't been my father, I'd agree that his life was one to be emulated.

He raised five children from the 40's through the 70's. And he did raise us, along with our mother [also deceased], despite working the night shift for most of his employed life. When extra money was needed, he worked a variety of odd jobs. He drove taxi cabs. He delivered specialty newspapers to newsstands around Buffalo. He was a night nurse, and an aide, at Buffalo's Veterans' Hospital for most of his working career, before taking training and becoming a prosthetics builder, designer, and fitter for his last few years of work [He switched because I, the youngest, was going away to college, and he wanted to make sure someone was home at night with my mother.].

Despite working all night, he always made it to our moments of [to us, anyway] glory that took place during the day. He backed up my mother's parenting decisions, made in his absence. He was a god example in many ways. He ran our church's weekly bingo for years. He became a church trustee, replacing my mother when she died. He was an active volunteer in the community, both during and after his work career. He was patient when he should have been, slow to anger always, loving and caring for Mom and us kids.

But while I try to emulate those things, none of them is the quality of his that I admire most. To me, the most admirable and emulatable [if that's a word; I expect you know what I mean] quality of my father was that he was the least judgemental person I've ever seen.

I'm sure my father had opinions on life's events. It's hard to be alive and not have them. But, if they were critical, or even just not supportive, he kept them to himself. Who among us can honestly put that skill on a resume? We're smart enough not to put down those who could hurt us down the road. But how many of us can say they've never taken the opportunity to "kick someone when they're down", either in person or to someone else?

My father was old and sick before his passing. He was in pain. His body was beginning to break down. It was time for him to be with God. But there are still days when I wish he were here, teaching his lessons about acceptance, about being supportive, about love [I also wish that I had inherited his amazing skill for repairing mechanical things. But sadly, the tool-skills gene must have skipped at least one generation.].

I loved that man. I miss him still. I suspect I always will...

Friday, February 9, 2007

Goodbye, Norma Jean

I don't know much of anything about archaeology. But I have read that its practitioners find out the most about a civilization or society not from its monuments, but from the writings and possessions of The Average Citizen. Part of me hopes that whomever is looking at our present day ten or twenty thousand years hence can tap into the Internet. I would guess that the researcher of a distant tomorrow will be more than a little puzzled about the diversity of opinions concerning one Anna Nicole Smith.

On one hand she was, to be kind, the Ultimate Cliche Made Flesh. It was as if the cartoon that opened her self-named reality show had taken life. But there was no Pygmalion behind this Galatea, no one guiding a topless dancer from Houston in What To Do When You Hit The Jackpot [To hear Hugh Hefner tell it, he did what he could when she was picked as "Playmate Of The Year" in 1993. Oddly enough, I tend to believe him. But once the deals came from outside his company, there was little he could do.].

For most people, becoming the fantasy bed-partner of 14-year-old boys who never grew up could be enough. A comfortable living can be made from being a "Playmate Of The Month", never mind "...Of The Year". But God, or Fate, or Whatever you believe hands out Fortune, wasn't quite done shaping this little Cautionary Tale. She enthralled, wedded, then outlived an 89-year-old multi-multi-millionaire. Of course his stepson said she wasn't entitled to his step-father's 550-million [It seemed like there was enough there for everyone. Couldn't they have just split the estate? I guess not...]. A long court battle ensued, with both sides taking notable victories. Last June, the stepson died. His family said the courtroom maneuvering would continue. Now, both principals are gone. But the battle will continue, if only to ensure (or not) the future of Ms. Smith's 5-month-old daughter. Who's her daddy? Oh, that's another whole series of questions! Indeed, a whole cottage industry developed around the life of Anna Nicole in the field of gossip research [some of today's biggest gossip stars did their internship in one of the many areas of Smith exploration: weight (up? down? stagnant?), relationships (no way to summarize that topic briefly...), the Court battle (see above), or what she was selling (are you looking a little suspiciously at your TrimSpa this morning?), just to name a few.

And yet, the question remains: why all this interest in someone whose chief claim to fame was, as the old joke goes, being famous? Any one's guess is as good as mine, but you've read this far, so here goes. The world loves a good Cinderella story, especially if it has a little bedroom intrigue to keep it interesting. So Anna Nicole dropped her top instead of her shoe! She still found a Prince (or old King, as the case may be). It almost seems a shame that she never really got to enjoy life.

Around the Building, the consensus last night was that most people felt at least a little sorry for poor lost A. N. Smith. And when was the last time that a group of average Americans legitimately felt sorry for someone worth hundreds of millions of dollars? Maybe we're all afraid that, confronted with mindless wealth, we'd be just as lost as she was.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

(I'm An) Old Man, Take A Look At My Life

I had to stay up after work today. Normally, I have breakfast, hopefully interact with The Woman I Love, then hit the rack for Z-time. Today, tho, I had to run a couple of errands [as much as can be done on-line, on-phone, on-and-on, some things seem to work better if I do them in person. On balance, though, Dracula could take care of virtually all his business from the enveloping darkness of his coffin, never having to risk exposure to brutal daylight.].

When I got home, TWIL had an odd little smile on her face. She hugged me, gave me a little kiss, then pulled an envelope from behind her back. "I figured I should be the one to give you this", she said, enjoying the moment as much as a person could. I looked at the letter. It was an invitation to membership in the AARP.(For those unawares, particularly those from outside the United States: AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons, is a lobbying group extraordinaire. Their focus is on improving the life of older Americans - the "Retired Persons" referred to in the group's name).

It was, to say the least, a moment of mixed emotions. On one hand, AARP has accomplished much for its members [including lowering the age definition of "Senior Citizen" for the coffee discount at McDonald's to 50. (Offer not available everywhere. Please check your local franchise for details...). Then again, I don't drink coffee.], and I had been quietly looking forward to my invitation to get in on the price breaks. On the other hand, I had five fingers {that remark for Bob Sikorski, a former employer. He said that virtually every time I started a sentence with, "On one hand". Bob, if you're reading this, you should know that it really PISSED ME OFF when you said that, and it did nothing to change or improve the situation. I've needed to get that off my chest for over 20 years. Surprisingly, I feel better. I guess there really IS a therapeutic value to blogging...].

Seriously, on the other hand, the invitation to join was nothing more than the "Golden Ticket" to Old Age. Sure, nowadays 50 is not particularly old [FYI: my birthday actually isn't until September. Just in the name of accuracy...], I mean, it wasn't until the year 1919 that the Life Expectancy for men in the US rose above the magic age of 50. As of 2003 [CDC statistics], it had reached 74.8, a virtual 75 [Ironically, the same grade I got in Philosophy my junior year in college. But I digress.]. Still, AARP membership means admitting that you're on the Slippery Slope to Oblivion. Yes, I want to see God. I'm just hoping His Social Calendar is full for a few more years.

I suppose my thinking on the whole subject is incredibly out-of-date. After all, no matter what you thought of him, Ronald Reagan served two terms as President, ending his second four years when he was in his 80's. The age of the oldest person on earth, which for years seemed to be no older than 109 or so, has gone up to 114, in the last couple of years [of course, it's not the same person. I've often wondered about the fact that people at that end of the age spectrum are living longer. I credit reality court-TV shows, and the continued success of Jerry Springer. Love him or hate him, how many TV show hosts are the inspiration for an opera?]. With this weight-loss campaign that I'm on, I'm healthier than I have been in years. Medical science has made countless improvements, allowing people to live longer, healthier lives [and yet, a cold seems to confound them after hundreds of years of research. What's up with that?].

Well, there's little I'd want to do about it. Life, thank God, goes on, and I, for one, can't wait for my Membership Card [My first request: let's get a Senior Citizen discount on tea, OK?]

Hope you keep getting older...

-Mike Riley