Puzzled

puzzle iphone

Over the holidays I came undone. What got me wasn’t the stress of holiday shopping or the added holiday traffic. It wasn’t the extra work of decorating the house or even the dreaded holiday travel necessary to meet up with family. No. In fact it was something so benign, that it surprised me. It was the close-up of a single bee hovering over a dew-drenched flower, or perhaps a whole field of orange poppies glowing in the afternoon sun, or a glassy lake reflecting the purple mountain behind it. I don’t even remember what serene landscape it was that’d been deliberately chopped into a million tiny pieces for no reason but to vex me.

When we first discovered the puzzle at the AirB&B beach house, I thought it was the perfect thing for a holiday with cousins. “How fun.”, I said. Something we could sit down and do together, over laughs with family. Good old-fashioned fun at a slow old-fashioned pace. But for some reason, whenever I sat down to what should have been fun for me, the work of piecing together one of the millions of little pieces made specifically for the purpose of trying to trick me, became quickly tedious and I kept finding myself getting agitated. There was much good conversation to enjoy with my very smart relatives during this little brain game. Yet still, the very notion that some quiz master somewhere had assumed that I would care enough to take up their stupid little challenge, and hang in there, through the mist of that pretty waterfall up in the right-hand corner where all the colors are COMPLETELY INDISTINGUISHABLE just PISSED ME OFF.

“Come on now, Renaissance man.”, I thought to myself. “You run a theatre. In L.A.! You can do this. Just relax.” But then I’d look down to see the seven lousy pieces of the straight edge that I’d managed to put together against the trillions of pieces in the middle that seemed to be multiplying faster than rabbits. I know that I have a longer attention span than the kids today with their digitally wired brains. At least I used to know that… but now I sit staring at the pieces trying to calculate how many weeks it will take me just to get the center of this ridiculous recreation stitched together. I envision uniformed officials with a gurney standing behind me as I’m slumped lifelessly over the table with the sounds of laughter wafting in from the summer beach. One of the paramedics says after removing the puzzle piece that is stuck to my cold forehead with his blue-gloved hand, “That’s sad. He was only 5 pieces away from finishing it.”

The whole puzzle thing left me disappointed in myself. The frustration I felt every damned time I faced this stupid little fun thing left me facing the sad truth that I too have devolved to an attention span of zeroes and ones. What if the puzzle was digital, and to put it together you’d drag and drop the pieces into place on your phone? Okay, now that sounds fun, right? Wait, what? See, I just failed the grown-up test yet again. That’s the point of a real puzzle; to calm you down and exercise your patience. I know that. Slow, like a fine wine. But then…every time I walked by that table I was reminded that I hadn’t even made a dent because some puzzle maker somewhere decided that 1000 pieces isn’t as good as 5000 pieces. Why not multiply the frustration by 5, or 10? I stand alone by the table while the relatives clink glasses by the fire and fantasize about telling whoever turned a perfectly good nature photo into a haunting pile of 10,000 bits what my average day looks like. And in that rant I savor the words “how dare you” and “the gall!”

The last thing we did as we scurried around our rented beach house the day after Christmas cleaning up all of the evidence of our debauchery, was to break it all up. With absolutely no ceremony whatsoever, all the work, the few pieces we’d managed to painstakingly marry were snatched up by one of my cousins and thrown into the box with the other gazillion pieces that had refused to be tamed. Just like that. Game Over. We never even came close. We never even got the outside border put together. And I get that the point of this hideous puzzle wasn’t in the completion of it but rather in the joy of the process. I get it. The fucking joy. But I also get that I am now a digital kid. An ancient millennial. With a shamefully short attention span…who looks at quaint, real-time things like puzzles with bored eyes that say, “Seriously? There must be an app for that, right? Like…right?”

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The First Millennial

Bill_Clinton_in_the_White_House_Music_Room_(cropped1)

Long before Uber was a spark in the eye of a 20-something, the comeback kid was already disrupting the system and driving his elders crazy. Bill Clinton was the first millennial. Clinton was the kid on the scene in the 90’s, the young handsome Southern governor playing the sax on TV and talking about his underwear. HIS UNDERWEAR, FOR GOD’S SAKE! The Washington establishment thought he was damaging the office of the presidency and had the vapors over the new connotation of “presidential briefs”. Or was it boxers? Well back then, everyone knew which one it was! He changed what was acceptable, and many people thought it was the beginning of the end. And in many ways, it was.

The Clinton era ushered in the beginning of the lowering of the bar of American culture and couth that has led us to where we are today, which is shamefully devoid of couth and culture. Not because he was bad, but because he was so hated by the right. The Gingrich Revolution followed Clinton to Washington as a radical check, to restore balance after this horny little youngster from Arkansas, who was caught in extramarital affairs while Governor, defied the odds and was elected anyway! The dusty old Washington establishment felt threatened by Clinton because he was a very smart politician who challenged the rules. His wife was a feminist laywer. That was unheard of, and it pissed them off royally. And she was sassy to boot. So in came the backlash of Gingrich and his flying monkeys who proceeded to take the Republican party into batshit crazy territory. The angry white Tea Party of the 90’s. The Contract with America was very divisive politics that took us to new lows. The Republicans broke The Water’s Edge Rule for the first time, trash-talking Clinton publicly even while he was abroad. It was about destroying your opponents at all costs. It was the counter balance to the disruption of Bill Clinton. And his smartass wife.

And then, after skating by all those affairs and lies, he gets to Washington and immediately pisses that establishment off by ignoring protocols inviting congressional leaders to the White House, to the inaugural balls, etc. They hated him so much blood ran from their eyes. Opponents didn’t hate Nixon this much, or Reagan, or Johnson, or Carter or either Bush. Oh they were hated by their political foes, but nothing even close to the way that Gingrich declared vitriolic nuclear personal war on Bill Clinton and on the American system. By challenging it in a way that would begin to give challengers a short cut, by being on the offense and putting the other side on defense, and by being willing to destroy your opponent personally, he found a winning combination that has become the tragic norm in the U.S. today.

Clinton beat them at every turn, which just made them angrier and angrier. His opponents were so mad that they impeached him for having an affair even while Gingrich was… uh, having an affair. And even at that, Clinton clung to his bible and waited them out until the public grew tired of the spectacle. He took Republican’s proposals and made them his own. He beat them at every turn. He innovated. He reverse engineered. He developed the first human apps.

Clinton was ahead of his time, which drove the establishment utterly insane and paved the way for the poisonous atmosphere that dominates the country today. It would take FOX a couple of decades to gaslight the red state conservatives and it took the technology of social media to divide us into tribes. But here we are still struggling with that philosophy of personal destruction and as a result our government is in tatters. As is the truth. We’re almost to that scene at the end of The Planet of the Apes where Charleston Heston runs across the remains of the Statue of Liberty on the beach. But the first scene of this tragic movie began with Bill and Hillary pissing Republicans off so much, that they’d go on to destroy our democracy just to get even with them.