The Passive-Aggressive 10 Step Program


I wrote this many years ago for my friends Marilyn Langbehn and Scarlett Hepworth. They had a hand- written version on their fridge until the sun faded it so much it was blank. I was recently reminded of it, so thought I’d bring it out for a new life.

The Rabbit Hole

I have one of those minds that can become fascinated by anything, which can be a problem when technology like Google is available. When I was writing with Steve Mancini, we would often embark on one bit of research for our current story, only to end up, several hours later, on some site explaining why penguins are colored and shaped like that. (Camouflage from above and below, and streamlining in water, in case you wondered.)

Usually, what odd paths we took and the much odder information we found on them would end up in some form or other in our writing, which made the writing richer, quirkier and, possibly, more random. That assuaged much of the guilt associated with indulging in the diversion.

Today, my odd curiosity had me wonder, suddenly, if the Kingpin in Joni Mitchell’s Edith and the Kingpin was actually based on someone real. I recently read an interview explaining most of the inspiration for her song Carry, which was really quite literal. After some looking I found a bit quoting Joni where she explained that The Kingpin was a real pimp she met in Vancouver, but Edith was based on French songstress Édith Piaf.

But that was just a snippet and I wanted more, and found a huge blog post attempting to explain it that was decidedly silly. The writer pulled strange significance out of almost every other word that had little or nothing to do with this sad, beautiful song about a pimp and his newest prostitute in a seedy disco. Like a professor in a third-rate college explaining that every crossroads is a symbol for Christ and a rocking chair usually has sexual significance. It is amusing in the way watching someone in a tux trip and fall can be, but not very enlightening.

The story of Edith and the Kingpin is simple, like Carry, fairly literal and straight-forward. The lyrics, as with much of Joni’s work, are deep and evocative, the words chosen well, and the music is complex, masterful and exquisite. What more needs to be said? Certainly not that the humming wires referred to in the song signify that the Big Man is a victim of wiretapping rather than that it’s an old room in a rundown building and the wires hum. Like they do. In old, rundown rooms. Why worry about some mysterious underlying meaning when you have lines as elegant as “Sophomore jive from victims of typewriters… “? What wonderful words.

I also love that, in this song, Joni repeats words rather than rhyming them, and does it in a regular pattern. For instance, the above line is followed by, “The band sounds like typewriters.” Earlier, she says, “Disco dancers greet him. Plainclothes cops greet him.” Later on, she says, “A plane in the rain is humming, the wires in the walls are humming some song, some mysterious song.” Joni  is such a masterful poet, you know it is purposeful, even if you don’t quite know what the purpose is. And knowing wouldn’t enhance the pleasure of it all.

On this particular rabbit hole adventure, I also found a version of the song by Herbie Hancock and Tina Turner. I recommend it, if you can look it up.

Unlike when I was writing with Steve, going down the rabbit hole rarely enhances my work, mostly just distracts from it. I’m left with an uncomfortable feeling of betrayal; Mine, against the work I should be doing. I did get a podcast out of it, which, I guess, is something.

Now I have a website to design. But first, I wonder if the words to Joni Mitchell’s song California are really symbolic of the Earth-Mother and allude subtly to the Stations of the Cross.

I Swear…

When I was in college, most of my fellow students had fairly raw vocabularies. My roommate Jay was particularly varied in his creative use of the expletive. I didn’t object to it, but rarely participated. There were two notable exceptions.

During my sophomore year, we were putting on a production of the play Dylan, about the poet Dylan Thomas’ travels in America. It was a complex play with tons of characters and myriad sets. Everyone in the drama department spent some time doing all the different tasks required of putting on a play. In this case, I played several small parts and was the prop master. I was a good prop master, had done it on several productions, but this was a near herculean task, since each character required at least one prop, and each set required many. There was a set toward the end of the play that was to be filled with fresh flowers, so I made an arrangement with the local flower market to, each Friday of the run, pick up a car load of flowers that were just too old to sell, but still beautiful. I was resourceful.

TechHellThere were also several scenes with reporters and other characters that required pens, pencils and clip boards. I gathered more than enough and put them on the prop table. There was also a set with an alarm clock. I used my own personal alarm clock. It is a rule in theatre that no one ever touch anything on a prop table unless they are about to go out on stage with it. Well. During the rehearsal period, the pencils, pens and clip boards kept disappearing. I kept replacing them. Then, during one of the final dress rehearsals, I went back to check props and discovered, once again, that several of those items were missing, as was my alarm clock. I kind of lost it.

I tromped out onto the stage where Bob, the director, was rehearsing a scene, and announced in a clear, booming theatre voice, that I was done replacing the effing pens, pencils and clipboards and that the clock used for the hotel scene was my own and whoever had been taking things from the effing prop table had better by-God put them back now. I then tromped back and forced myself to calm down. I noticed that it was fairly quite in the theatre, something that never happened during a dress rehearsal, then Bob started the scene back up and the noise level returned to normal. He never mentioned the inexcusable interruption. Years later I was told by a fellow student that, “we were all nervous during Dylan, but none of us freaked out until we saw you freak out. Geoff never freaked out. It really freaked us out.” I had no idea I could have such an impact. Oh, and the pens, pencils, clipboards and alarm clock magically reappeared on the prop table within an hour or so.

The second time I let loose was in my Senior year, during a production of Max Frisch’s The Firebugs. Several of the first year students were in the production as the Firemen chorus. Since most of them hadn’t yet gotten their own makeup kits, I let them use mine. One day, I noticed that someone or several someones had dipped their brushes (or fingers) into several of the color pots without cleaning them in between and several of the color pots were quite polluted. I channeled my inner longshoreman and said some version of, “if you’re going to effing use my effing makeup, have the effing courtesy to clean your GD brushes between colors!” There was a stunned silence, then Jay (remember Jay? Roommate Jay, who liked to swear?), said, “Geoff, I’m ashamed at you!” Everyone laughed. But no one ever polluted my makeup colors again.

Very selective decisions to swear can be effective, it seems.

Since college, I have taken up the occasional profanity to the point where I have to be careful and really monitor my speech around children. I don’t, as a habit, use profanity in my email, however. Until the other day. I was bantering back and forth via email with a good friend about the fact that ABC still wasn’t going to stream the Oscars© unless you had one of a select few cable services. I don’t own a television, so streaming is the only option. That, or inviting myself to someone else’s party. I thought I found a solution, but, after writing my friend about it, discovered that, for several reasons, it wouldn’t apply to me. I wrote him back with several “F”s and a couple of “S”s. Only, when I hit reply before writing that email, the wrong email was highlighted. So I sent that email to someone else. A client.

A little while later, I received my client’s reply. It was a simple, “huh?”

I apologized profusely to him, explained the whole thing and sent the email to it’s proper recipient. Luckily, the client has a sense of humor and thought it was funny.

I did get to see the awards show. Sort of. I invited myself to my friend’s house. It was raining and his cable went out about 3/4 of the way through the show. If I believed in instant Karma, I’d say that was because I’d used such language in an email.

I won’t ever use profanity in an email again, though. I swear.

Go to College, Young Man!

In this week’s episode, Geoff explores his time at college, a small, private, liberal arts Catholic Girls school, in Spokane Washington, where everyone (except Geoff) smoked and everyone (except Geoff) drank and he fell in love and learned more than he could have expected or imagined about acting, theatre, life and the real world. He went in, was swallowed up for four years and was spit out a different human being.

Why I Drink Coffee

Today, Geoff explores his history with and his desire for coffee. It was a long road from surreptitious spoonfuls of Grandpa’s special coffee ice cream to the current cup each morning, but along the way, we discover exactly why he drinks the bitter brew.

Taking Care of Mother

In this week’s podcast, Geoff remembers the surreal and absurd time he went north to take care of his mother for the last five years of her life. It involved a log cabin, old friends, the triumph of meatballs, blended squash, a coloring book and surgical gloves. This one probably isn’t quite safe for work.

Another Passing

This weekend, writer/actor/comic Taylor Negron passed away. I’m not quite sure why it affected me so deeply. I had never met him in person, although we did have many friends in common. I’d exchanged a few comments with him on Facebook, which is, I suppose, the modern incarnation of a deep friendship.

Taylor died of cancer. I hadn’t even known he was sick, although I’m sure many did. He was younger than me by a few years, and in part, that alone made me stop and think. I’ve had a couple of health scares myself this last year, and have had more than a few moments thinking about my own mortality.

I suppose the real thing that hit me about Taylor’s death was that a dear friend of mine has recently been battling cancer. He’s had one operation, but they missed a bit of it, so he must now go in for another, more extensive one. He has completely changed his lifestyle, his eating habits, his outlook on life in the past two or three months. I suspect, because I have a need to be there for him, I have tamped down my own feelings of fear and sadness about his condition, so when I heard about Taylor, all the pent up emotions about my friend found a safe outlet.

I’ve spent the weekend grieving.

Taylor Negron was, by all accounts, a gentle, talented, funny man who loved his friends and created a very odd, Bohemian life for himself. My friend is doing will, at least mentally and emotionally, at least most of the time. Now that I’ve had the time to safely indulge in the luxury of sadness, I can do what needs to be done, both for myself and for my friend.

Sorry, no punch line. Next time, I promise.

What’s In a Name?

In this week’s podcast, Geoff examines the source of the name of the podcast by taking us on a journey all the way from a sublime British verse play from the 50s set sometime during what seems to be the Elizabethan era through a profane Hollywood cabaret show from the 90s set sometime in what seems to be Las Vegas in the 50s. Hopefully, it will all make sense once you listen.

A New Years Recollection

Happy New Year! This week, Geoff recalls the wild parties his grandparents gave every New Years Eve when he was a kid. There was drinking, hors d’oeuvres, party hats and noise makers, balloons and lots of smoking. He helped set them up, but was never allowed to attend. Ah, the sweet memories of childhood.

The Happiest Place on Earth

Today, Geoff tells us of his first Christmas in Los Angeles, one fraught with strange and surreal details. It involved his first “apartment” (a small room), his neighbor, a street hustler, and a spontaneous trip to Disneyland in the rain. The room, the city and the theme park – the happiest places on Earth.