Thursday, May 17, 2007


I was reminded today about the association certain sensations have with a particular person, time or place. The smell of a cigar will always remind me of my father, the smell of a pipe (exceeding rare today) reminds me of one particular uncle. Yoohoo, a chocolate drink popular mostly in the eastern United States, recalls childhood days spent at Jones Beach on Long Island, New York. Chlorine reminds me of the New Hyde Park public pool. The Good Humor chocolate bar that's called the chocolate eclair reminds me of when I could buy it off of the Good Humor ice cream truck that passed through our neighborhood every summer day. Likewise, freshly cut grass reminds me of my old neighborhood.

I also remember certain food landmarks, for lack of a better word, the represented my childhood culinary preferences (hmmm, sounds important, doesn't it?). My McDonald's order was always a double cheeseburger, chocolate shake and french fries (health food? What's that?). At the International House of Pancakes (now known simply as IHOP), I would almost always order silver dollar pancakes. Many times, my dinner would include a particular desert - a sweet, heated item called a "honey bun." My grandmother would make a great dessert consisting of a stack of graham crackers covered in chocolate pudding.

I know someone who eats the same food at the same restaurant every day. I suppose he has his reasons, but I like to revisit my fondest food memories occasionly.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Special Meanings of the Commonplace

I'm currently in Rocklin, a community north of Sacramento that began as a way station for prospectors making their way to San Francisco (no gold was ever found here). It then became a major source of granite for foundations, graveside memorials, etc. (hence the name, Rocklin).

When you take history down to the level of the individual, even the most mundane sites become intriguing. Quite a while ago in this blog, I attempted to map out my travels in my old home town - literally my "stomping ground," as the saying goes. Commonplace landmarks take on special meaning: the lamp-post where we waited for the school bus, the intersection where an informal bike race began between the neighborhood kids, or the curbside where I set up my lemonade stand. Overlay with that the memories of the generations and residents that followed, and each of those locations take on multiple meanings, each special to the individuals involved, but unknown to anyone else.

In any old western town, buildings and landmarks with histories that go back well over one hundred years likely have special meanings to many, many generations of residents, most long gone.

Schools in particular hold simulaneous memories from countless generations. A particular tree, a particular locker,a corner of the lunch area, or the PE field. To passerby, any school is bland and generic - to those who attended, the special meanings of the commonplace are everywhere: the place where you and your friends met during lunch; the place where you had that fight, the fence you used to climb; or the classroom you hated. To those who preceded you, and those who followed, the meanings are different, but just as vivid: where you met at lunch may have been a place they knew to avoid; where you had that fight might have been the site of a school prank; the fence you used to climb might have been totally unknown to another generation as a means of escape; and the classroom you hated might have once been the classroom where someone else's life changed forever.

Live in a house or apartment where others have lived before, and you're living in the faint echoes of their own lives.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

YouTube Pays

Coincidentally with my recent entry, YouTube has announced that it will reward the top several dozen most viewed Youtubers with financial rewards (the specifics weren't revealed). As I suggested, it is rapidly becoming profitable (for a few lucky, quirky people) to just live their lives - or at least create an illusion of reality that's entertaining enough to draw a large following.

At some point - and perhaps it's already here - major media will attempt to take part in this new form of entertainment. While many media outlets already broadcast excerpts from their programs on YouTube, and some other content meant to supplement media on other platforms, I expect that they will attempt (or are attempting) to create their own YouTube characters.

The trick, though, is not creating a feeling in the audience of being fooled and deceived. If, for example, a character is created that proves to lead ultimately into an upcoming television sitcom, will viewers tune in to the show, or resent the manipulation? Would a Daxflame (see earlier blog) sitcom fly?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Flavors of LA

I had the opportunity recently to shoot an episode of "Flavors of LA," in which Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti introduces the viewing audience to communities across Los Angeles through visits to a variety of restaurants in selected council districts.

Los Angeles is such a international city - but I wonder how few people really have the opportunity to experience the international selection of restaurants - from Cuban to Lebanese to Indian to Salvadoran - almost any fare around the world is represented here. For example, we were treated to a fantastic meal at Maroush, a Lebanese restaurant. For the purposes of the show, the restaurant prepared many of their signature dishes, providing us with a real introduction to Lebanese fare. I believe, at times, we miss the chance to explore establisments and foods like these strictly out of unfamiliarity - the same reason, I suppose, many Americans avoid international travel.

Fear of the unknown, whether we're talking about international food or culture, leads both to ignorance and arrogance.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


One of the most discussed channels on YouTube is by an individual called Daxflame. While there's an ongoing debate as to whether this individual is "real" or an actor, Daxflame is ostensibly a fifteen year old, excitable, socially inept high school student. His apparent view of the world has been described by his viewers as somewhat autistic, while others claim he appears to have Asperger Syndrome, which exhibits some of the same symptoms. Still others, on the basis of the angst-ridden world he relates in each video, are convinced that no acutal person can be living his soap opera., and that he must be a talented actor. All agree, based on the comments left, that his videos are funny, entertaining, and lots of fun. With well over one million total views and over 18,000 subscribers, he's one of the Stars of YouTube.

Real of not, Dax hints at the development of an entirely new form of entertainment in which the viewers, through their messages and videos, interact with the central "character," creating an ever-widening world. Search for DaxFlame on Google, and you'll find that he's the subject of debate and discussion in groups all over the world. Search on YouTube, and you'll find videos about Dax. Some are direct responses to Dax's own videos, while others are extensive investigations into Dax's true origin. Still others are Dax inspired - imitiating or emulating his videos.

Characters on YouTube, real or not, have a much more intimate connection with their audience. Their 3 or 5 or 10 minute videos seem personal and unedited. The most popular people on Youtube aren't slick, well rehearsed or even particularly articulate. They feel real. Their connection is more personal.

This isn't "reality television," as conventional programming has defined it. Audience-based programming, perhaps?

McDonalds Aint Not Doin Nothin Good

In the event that you missed his comment to my recent blog about illiteracy on McDonalds receipts, my friend Stephen, with whom I visited the McDonalds in question has an interesting update.

Stephen brought the receipt in question to the attention of the manager of the McDonalds. The manager looked at the receipt, crumbled it up, and threw it away.

Stephen's father reports that he came across the same badly written blurb at another McDonalds, which suggests that the cash registers receive programming from a central location - corporate headquarters, perhaps? It's frightening to think that someone with such a poor grasp of the language wields such responsibility. I hope McDonalds is more careful when placing individuals in positions related to food safety.

Stephen also sent an email to McDonalds corporate headquarters. A form letter apologized for his poor experience, and referred his complaint back to the local McDonalds - the same establishment with the paper-crumbling manager.

Since receipts are the single greatest source of literary contact that McDonalds has with the public, I suppose they reflect McDonalds' respect for its customers.

Or Lack Thereof.