Friday, March 24, 2006

Self-Portrait of the Bullshit Artist as a Middle-Aged Man

I wanted to call this post "Interview with Myself", but apparently, I'm only the one-millionth person to think of the title. The title I went with is a more accurate description of yours truly, don't you think? You don't have to laugh that hard.

Earlier this week, I came across a listing for a blog called "Netlogged" ( It's a blog about blogs, blogging and bloggers. It's done by a guy named Sandeep who, as far as I can tell, is based in India. Either way, he's a cool guy who does a very professional job. Sandeep is the George Plimpton of the blogosphere; on his site, he invites bloggers to be interviewed about blogging. The how's, when's and why's behind their blogs. A fine idea. Someone should record the backstory of the blogging phenomenon, right?

Always on the lookout for an opportunity to talk about my favorite subject (myself), I eagerly took him up on his offer. Sandeep provided the questions. My answers are on display at the above-posted link (just click on "John Left"). Let me know what you think.

I don't mean to toot my own horn (Hey! No "contortionist" jokes!), but I think I did a pretty decent job of interviewing myself. Having done my first interview, I'm starting to feel like a regular pop star. The next thing you know, I'll be compelled to jump on sofas and deliver endless lectures on my halfassed political views.

Oh, wait. I'm already doing that. The lecturing, that is.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

New Posting Schedule from the Kaiser of Crackpot Commentary

I'll admit it. Brother John has been sadly neglectful in regards to following a regular posting schedule. Mea Culpa.

I've been trying to post whenever possible. But I realize that I've got to give my faithful readers (both of you) some clue as to when they can check for the latest rantings from the Kaiser of Crackpot Commentary. (That's me, in case you didn't know.) Without readers, I am just a loony blabbling into the wind. I truly appreciate everyone who takes time to read my words. I resolve to show it by posting, from this day forward, on a regular basis.

Therefore, the new posting schedule, as of today, for "John Left's Field" shall be:

no later than the second and fourth Saturdays of each month.

I promise, nothing short of rain, sleet, snow, intoxication or a date with Natalie Portman will keep me from my posting schedule. Well, maybe not a date with Natalie Portman, but otherwise. . .

"He who is slowest in making a promise is most faithful in its performance."

---Jean Jacques Rousseau

Friday, March 17, 2006

On "V for Vendetta"

98.9% of American films made today are like pieces of bubble gum. They are identical, insubstantial, disposable and they promote decay (in the case of films, that's mental decay). Everyone knows this, but for some reason, shit like Steve Martin's lame "Pink Panther" remake continues to rake in million$ in ticket sales.

This leads one to make two conclusions: 1.) intelligent Americans stay home from the theater; 2.) mainstream U.S. audiences have become so easy to please, they'd pay $10.00 a ticket to watch a test pattern, as long as it featured voiceovers by Lindsey Lohan and Tim Allen, and soundtrack “music” by Eminem and Ashley Simpson. The bar for film entertainment has been set so low, it's now lying on the ground.

But fear not, small minority that can walk and chew gum at the same time. If you crave food for thought along with the sugary desserts that are fight scenes and special effects, you're in luck. "V for Vendetta" will satisfy your hunger.

And God only knows why. "V for Vendetta" has more strikes against it than the entire Chicago Cubs lineup in late September. After all, it's based on a "graphic novel" (i.e., a comic book) and those infallibly stink on ice ("Daredevil", "Electra", etc.). The author of the “Vendetta” graphic novel, Alan Moore, disowned this picture and removed his name from its credits. That’s tantamount to a parent disowning his child. Worst of all, “Vendetta’s” producers and the coauthors of its screenplay are the frigging Wachowski Brothers. If you’ve seen parts 2 or 3 of “The Matrix” trilogy, I’ve said enough. If you haven’t, then it’s analogy time. When you can literally see a movie trilogy losing its momentum, like a car that has run out of gas, that’s bad news. “V for Vendetta” should suck. No, it shouldn't just suck. It should suck like a Ben Affleck career retrospective.

But it doesn’t. “Vendetta” features three-dimensional, thinking characters—imagine that! It also contains cultural references and songs which actually serve to define character and atmosphere. Kudos to first-time director James McTeigue, who apparently paid attention in Filmmaking 101 class. Set in a totalitarian England of the future, his production uses political allegory to make a statement about our time, without resorting to the sledgehammer tactics typical of “message” movies. Three guys named Clooney, Haggis and Spielberg should put it at the top of their “To See” lists. Best of all, the film stars Natalie Portman. Portman, unlike most of the actresses of her generation, can truly act. She ain’t hard to look at, neither. You know a woman is beautiful when she can rock the shaved head look. So somehow, against all odds, “V for Vendetta” succeeds at being intelligent, substantial entertainment. And it’s a mainstream American film—damn!

A word to the wise. Your enjoyment of this film will be appreciably heightened if you know a thing or two about a dude named Guy Fawkes and why, each November 5th, Brits use him as an excuse to party like it’s 1605. You can do that by going to for an overview. Then make your friends jealous with the backstory you just “happen” to recall from your sophomore world history class. Only you and I will know that you took advanced P.E. instead.

I hope you enjoy “V for Vendetta” as much as I did. If you don’t, go bitch at Warner Brothers, not at me. Until next time, friends, the multiplex is closed.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Job Search Redux

I promised myself it wouldn’t be like the last time. It’s a new year; I’d take a new attitude and a new approach. After all, the newspaper columnists and newscasters were harmonizing like happy Munchkins over the melted body of the Wicked Witch of the Recession: “Ding-dong, the economy is on the upswing, the economy is on the upswinnnnggg. . .”

This time, however, there would be one difference. I told myself I would not be returning to retail. I’d played the name tag and counter game for 12 years. I’m in my mid-30’s, which is too old to be wrestling swing sets into customers’ cars in the rain. Plus, with my shoulder injury, my doctor told me that it was in my best interests to pursue a job that did not require heavy lifting. Okay-fine with me. Let the teenyboppers stock the shelves of America’s money pits. Slap the dog and spit on the fire, Johnny-boy’s moving on to Bigger and Better Things! Ki-ki-ki-yiiii!*

What then, would I do? Well, everybody (including some of you kind readers) tells me I’m a pretty decent writer. With my B.A. and my college newspaper experience, I decided to give the publishing game a try. I made up some resumes geared toward that job field. My counselor at the Career Center inspected and stamped them with his approval. I checked the want ads—not a damn opening in sight. “Not to worry!” I said to myself. “Most jobs are not located through want ads. Companies, said Career Center counselor, take out ads only when they’re desperate to fill positions. This time, I’ll take the initiative. This time, (with all due respect) the mountain will go to Muhammad!” Out went the nifty new resumes. Days passed. Back came nifty “not hiring now” post cards or. . .nothing.

At times like this, Common Sense says it’s important to have a Plan B. Did I? Did Pinocchio have wooden balls? During those 12 years I spent in the retail trenches, I gathered more than just a large collection of obscenities. I also accrued a dozen years of customer service know-how. I can communicate with customers. I can facilitate customer experiences and administer to customers’ wants and needs. With my skills, I can emblematize a company well in the public eye, portray their corporate culture in a way which will entice customers and stimulate business. At least, that’s what my Career Center counselor said. And yes, like everyone else there, he does speak in italics. So I set my sights on the hospitality industry—you know, hotels, resorts and shit.

A glance at the Sunday classifieds told me I was in luck. The Toffeenose Resort & Convention Center, located mere minutes from the Left family home, was in need of a “Front Desk/Guest Services Person”. The job and the location were perfect and if nothing else, I would finally have a chance to take a look at this gated haven. The resort resembles the gloomy Xanadu estate from “Citizen Kane”, if Xanadu were plopped down onto an 18-hole golf course, with tennis courts out back. Nobody I knew in town could afford the place. Its clientele is strictly out-of-towners. On Monday, I called the advertised number. A woman brandishing a sharp German accent told me to be at the Front Desk in the Main Lobby, “widt work herstiry und references handy”, at 10:00a.m. on Tuesday. No problem.

When the clock stuck ten the next morning, there I stood—showered, shaved, combed and clad in the brown suit great-Uncle Ian left me in his will. It was okay—I’d hung the suit on Mom’s clothesline for a few hours the day before, to kill the still-lingering scent of Glenfiddich. The lobby was twice as big as the entire main floor of my parents’ house. Plush maroon carpeting complimented the snow-white paint on the walls. Soothing Muzak played on a P.A. system. To the right of the Front Desk was a glass wall, overlooking some kind of atrium one floor below. In the atrium, white wrought-iron tables and matching chairs were arranged around the atrium’s centerpiece, a fountain. A limestone cherub stood in this fountain playing the flute, while water dribbled out of the pedestal he was perched on and collected in a tiny pool beneath him. Shiny happy people sat at these tables, enjoying coffee and the lively art of conversation, as the relaxing sound of dribbling water washed their cares away. I sighed, swept up in a momentary reverie.

“Excuse me!” said a stern, familiar voice. “Vat ist yoor budiness here?”

It was the woman I’d spoken to earlier. She resembled Miss Kraus, the German housekeeper on “Benson”, whose perpetually severe expression and grim attitude suggested that she hadn’t moved her bowels since the Third Reich fell. Beside Kraus stood a doe-eyed slip of a girl, about twenty-five years old. Her blonde hair was tied back into a bun and streaked with Lucille Ball red. Her wide greenish-brown eyes blinked infrequently. She grinned goofily and giggled constantly. At what, I wasn’t sure.

“I’m John Left,” I said. “I called yesterday. I’m here to apply for the Front Desk/Guest Services job.”

Silently, Kraus reached under the desk, pulled out a clipboard and pushed it into my hands. On the clipboard was a generic 3-page job application. To be honest, I was disappointed. As far as stationery was concerned, I had expected something bearing the magnificent green and yellow shield-shaped crest of the Toffeenose Resort, custom-printed on textured, creamy 24-pound bond. This form looked like a Xerox copy of something you could buy at OfficeMax.

“Go sit over dere,” barked Kraus, pointing fiercely to a nearby sofa. “Fill oudt dese forms, den return dem to me.”

Giggles, still giggling, offered me a pen. It was a common everyday blue Bic, for crying out loud! Apparently, she thought I'd just ridden down from Milwaukee on a beer truck. But I'd fix her little red wagon. With one fluid movement, I reached into my shirt pocket and withdrew the sleek, imitation-silver Montblanc that had been rotting away in my dresser drawer since the day I graduated from college.

“No thank you,” I said with confidence, clicking the retractable pen's button with my thumb. “I brought my own.” This, I thought, showed them. A Montblanc man didn't fart around. Giggles looked impressed. Kraus looked like she had a boil in need of lancing.

I took a seat on the sofa and went through my paces. It didn’t take long. After filling out so many of the damned things, I had memorized the required information. Giggles mucked around behind the desk, smiling and laughing like a glue-sniffer. Kraus stood next to her, arms crossed, frowning at me like Berliners must’ve frowned at the invading Red Army in 1945.

When I was finished, I returned the clipboard to Kraus. She glanced at the application.

“Stay here,” she said. “De boss vants to speak wit you.”

Kraus took my application and disappeared into a rear office. My spirits rose; this was a good sign. Usually, they just take the paperwork, say they’ll call you and kick you out. If you get to talk to the boss, that means you’re on the inside track. Soon, I thought, I’d be having coffee breaks with Giggles next to that dribbling cherub in the atrium!

Kraus emerged from the rear office, trailed by the boss. The boss, holding my application, came around the desk and shook my hand, weakly.

“Hi there, John,” he said. “I’m Sunji, the dayshift manager.” Sunji was a chubby kid with spiked hair and two hoop earrings in each ear. His beardless, line-free face told me he was younger than Giggles, no more than twenty-two. Sunji flipped through my application. “So you’re looking for full-time work?”

“Yes,” I managed to say while biting my tongue. This was an example of what I call a GODQ (Glaringly Obvious Dumbass Question) . For reasons unknown, 90% of job interviewers insist on asking these types of questions. No, I wanted my afternoons free for canasta. I checked the "full time" box on the application just for shits and grins.

“Have you ever worked in a hotel resort before?”

My Career Center counselor and I had discussed this type of scenario and I was prepared. I had to indicate how the skills I'd developed in a separate field could suit his purposes, and do it quickly. It's called an "elevator speech" and I'd rehearsed mine thoroughly. With confidence, I launched into my spiel. “No, but I do have extensive customer service experience—”

“I can see that,” Sunji interrupted, his eyes stuck to the page. “So this would be your first experience working in a resort?”

“Yes, I wanted a new challenge. I think Toffeenose’s standards and my skills would be a good match for—”

“We’ll be accepting applications until Friday. My supervisor will make the final choice this Saturday. Either way, we’ll call you by the middle of next week.” Sunji grabbed my hand and shook it again, weakly. “Thanks for dropping in, John.”

The following Wednesday, the phone did not ring. At 3:00p.m., I called the resort. Giggles answered the phone.

“Um,teeheeheee,” she said, “they’re still, heehee, looking at all the applications. Teeheeheehee! You’ll know by Friday, -kay? Heehee!”

That was two weeks ago. I haven’t heard from them yet.

*An official “John Left’s Field” No Prize will go to the first reader who can identify what this is.