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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Like Going to your Own Funeral

Packing is like going through your own effects after you've died, and wondering why you held onto any of it and what could you have been thinking of when you bought it.
I seem to pack up my stuff and move every two or three years or so. On the whole I'd rather have surgery. I've moved (seventeen times at the last count), and I've had surgery, and surgery is better. It is over in a few hours, you don't have to do it to yourself, and any parts of you that are removed during the process are decently disposed of before you come to.
I accumulate objects like dust on a lollipop. I'll probably be reincarnated as a Bekins van.
Moving is when every little stupid thing you ever owned, bought, or tried to do something with steps up and asks you WHY DID YOU KEEP ME FOR SO LONG? WHAT MADE YOU THINK YOU COULD EVER USE ME?
If you are a pack rat like me every little item has a meaning all its own. Memories, pleasant ones usually, come flooding back as you decide whether it's worthwhile to keep the unique and rare and delicate object that brought them there or wonder whether it isn't time to just let it all go and live in a bare, spare room with nothing but a bed, a table, chairs, a dish or two, and the cat.
For a while when you start packing it looks as if nothing is happening. That's when you pack the boxes with tears in your eyes, thinking that you will never, ever, get this stuff to go away, that the house is expanding with more stuff to fill the space that's vacated when you pack the boxes. This may in fact be true. It's when you fantasize about Japanese minimalist decor and vow to give everything to the poor. You haunt the building's basement and lend new meaning to the word 'garbagepicker' when applied to clean corrugated boxes; My Christmas presents were nice boxes from various objects that, when retrieved from the recycling bins and placed inside the larger packing crates, almost fit. It's like working on a faintly sinister and not quite complete jigsaw puzzle. Since no box is standard size lots of them almost fit. Which makes me almost lose my mind.
After all this packing the last thing I want to bother with is buying more stuff but after a few bookcases collapsed on me during the process (fortunately with no damage to me or the books or the cat) I bought some wire shelves on Ebay and will have them stay in their boxes so that they can be unpacked just ONCE when we get to somewhere in the Greater Toronto Area sometime in June. And they'll store the rest of the stuff that is now in the boxes. It remindes me of the Peanuts strip where Linus buys a wastebasket but has nowhere to put the thing's packaging except--inside the wastebasket--putting him back to Square One.
in the meantime, I keep on packing.
Whoever said seeing new places was good for you obviously was traveling light or was living at home with mamma.
And to think I used to enjoy this.
Well, when I get to Toronto, I hope all the angst and worry will fall away like excess packaging. But right now all I want to do is just rest and not have to put things on top of, inside of, or around other things. The cat being a natural exception to this rule of course. I must constantly reassure her that she will not be put in a box; she noodles around in the packing paper and runs with a crazy pattering sound up and down the hall when I tape the boxes shut.
I think we are both getting a little loopy, to tell you the truth.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

What's So Funny? or: It Takes Balls to Laugh

Men are naturally more comedic than women because of the male hormone testosterone, an expert claims.
Men make more gags than women and their jokes tend to be more aggressive, Professor Sam Shuster, of Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, says.

I thought I'd start off the new year with this horse pockey from the BBC.

It's another round in the war between the sexes. You can state anything you want as long as you portray women as inferior to men and offer no proof or corroboration for the statement. And it's official when it appears on the BBC!
But I agree that there does seem to be a connection between testosterone and a certain kind of humor.

Research suggests men are more likely to use humour aggressively by making others the butt of the joke.
And aggression - generally considered to be a more masculine trait - has been linked by some to testosterone exposure in the womb.
Professor Shuster believes humour develops from aggression caused by male hormones.
He documented the reaction of over 400 individuals to his unicycling antics through the streets of Newcastle upon Tyne.

I think the prospect of a professor engaged on serious research into the sexuality of humour while riding a unicycle is faintly comic already. Observant men in Newcastle upon Tyne apparently beeped horns, made suggestive remarks, and behaved in what the professor describes as an aggressive fashion. Fewer women reacted to the wheeled Professor with taunts or wisecracks. This, naturally, is the fault of sex and not simple good manners...

"The idea that unicycling is intrinsically funny does not explain the findings," said Professor Shuster.
The simplest explanation, he says, is the effect of male hormones such as testosterone.

As we say in New York, if you believe that, I've got a bridge I want to sell you. There's no research here, no proof, no control, just 'simple explanations'. And it appears that the good Professor did not actually fall off the unicycle, which would have been genuinely entertaining, especially if he kept taking notes on audience reaction in mid-tumble.

Women can and do have a great sense of humor. Many of them even marry jokes! Here are some quotes from a few women who might have a thing or two to say about the Professor's researches, and who might tell him where to put his unicycle:

When you see what some women marry, you realize how they must hate to work for a living-- Helen Rowland

His mother should have thrown him out and kept the stork. --Mae West

If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised. --Dorothy Parker

A woman's a woman until the day she dies, but a man's only a man as long as he can.--Jackie "Moms" Mabley

If the world were a logical place, men would ride side saddle. ~Rita Mae Brown

I'd rather rot on my own floor than be found by a bunch of bingo players in a nursing home. --Florence King

and finally, in closing:

There are two kinds of humor. One kind that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity -- like what Garrison Keillor does. The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule -- that's what I do. Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel -- it's vulgar.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


It was December 1978. I was a senior in the first class of the California Institute of the Arts’ Character Animation Program. And I was heading home to New Jersey for winter break.
I’d recently visited the Richard Williams L.A. studio to interview Art Babbitt. Assistant animator Jim Logan spoke highly of a New York studio called Zander’s Animation Parlour. “Talk to my old boss, Jack Zander, when you are back there, and tell him I sent you,” he said.
They were a busy studio. I was asked to come back a week after reporting for the original interview.

So that is how I found myself sitting for a second time, in the same outfit, carrying my most recent pencil tests in my Dad’s old briefcase, in a decidedly odd office. Odd to anyone except an artist, that is. Red flocked velvet wallpaper would not be out of place in many animation studios. This one, however, was located in a very posh Madison Avenue building. I found out later that the red wallpaper and the name “Zander’s Animation Parlour” were designed to suggest the ambiance of a San Francisco whorehouse. It was the first hint of the owner’s sense of humour.
Jack Zander’s art director was the first to view my reel. Student work was not highly regarded then (no one in the East had heard of Cal Arts.)

One minute into the reel, the art director stammered, “Who did this?”
“I did.”
YOU did THIS? ExcusemebutIthinkI’dbettergogetJack!”
A minute later a small, neat man with graying hair, a goatee and moustache, and horn rimmed glasses moved quickly into the screening room. He watched about a minute of the three minute film which was actually still running.

“I’ve seen enough”, he barked. “Stop the projector. Sit down. Draw me something!”
I drew him a sheep. Jack looked at it for a minute.

“Come to work for me now—we’ll pay you. Why the hell do you want to go back to school?”
“My mother will be standing on the doorstep with a gun if I don’t have a degree in a few months.”

So the upshot was that Jack Zander hired me for a week in December 1978. He then made a deal with Jack Hannah of Cal Arts to let me graduate early, and I started fulltime as an animator at ZAP in May, 1979.

Zander’s Animation Parlour produced advertisements for Hamm’s Beer, the Dime Savings Bank, Conoco Oil, Crest Toothpaste, and many other large accounts of the time. Full animation was in vogue and the shorts were lavish and beautifully produced. Zander was also directing a television special, THE GNOMES, and I’d walked in just when they were starting production.
Jack Zander was the type of studio head that has become a rarity today: he’d been an animator himself (animating Jerry Mouse on the first seven TOM AND JERRY cartoons) and he hired people for talent. I could not have picked a better studio to start out with. For one thing, the standard of animation and production there was actually higher than that of many feature studios of the time. The atmosphere was informal yet professional, colleagues were supportive, I could live on the salary, deadlines were reasonable, and the work was fun.

How many studios can make that statement today?

Jack was invariably impeccably groomed and I remember he wore the best men’s cologne I’d ever smelt. I never had the nerve to ask him what brand he used. I was also surprised to hear that he was already in his seventies—he appeared much younger and his appearance never seemed to change in subsequent years.
Despite the neat appearance he had a wicked sense of humor. There was an American Primitive portrait of a sour-faced woman holding a small posy hanging directly over the toilet in the studio bathroom, so that any man using the facility would meet her disapproving gaze. The grey flannel companies that shared the building hated having a cartoon studio as a neighbor.

Jack was an avid motorcyclist, with the most expensively turned out BMW cycle I’d ever seen. He insisted I ride it during one studio party at his home in Pound Ridge. I managed to stay on it for ten feet, coasting. Jack rode that bike on a regular basis until he was nearly ninety. Once he took a spill on a patch of grass and knocked out one of his front teeth. Instead of hiding this until a replacement was found, he went around showing the space off to everyone, clients included.

Jack was actually used as a model for a character in an animated show made by people who obviously had never met him. The program had two young animators, one female, one male, confronting Hollywood-era “Pop” and showing him how cartoon violence was Out and socially responsible animation was In. The reality was somewhat different. The following loosely-remembered dialogue took place between Jack, me, and director Dean Yeagle.

Me: “How come we can’t tear his arm off?”
Jack: “You CAN’T do that! CBS would never let us air it.”
Dean: “You got to have all the fun doing those Tom and Jerry cartoons, how come WE don’t get to have any fun?”

Eventually the Madison Avenue types got the landlord to agree not to renew Zander’s lease. We needed to move anyway since the Gnomes project meant that the studio was expanding beyond the minute premises we enjoyed on Mad Ave. So we moved around the corner to 18 East 41st Street, an attractive terracotta-faced building that came with interesting surprises such as the body in the window seat that was found by assistant animator Juan Sanchez. But that’s another story.

Thanks for giving me my start, Jack, and for showing everyone how to have fun and run a successful studio at the same time.

Jack Zander died just before Christmas, 2007 at the age of 99. A memorial service will be held in Pound Ridge at his home on January 26, 2008.