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CRAP THROWING MONKEY

The Artist. For most of my life that's the way many people have referred to me. "You're the artist, right?"

Being an artist is pretty cool, you get away with a lot of crazy stuff that normal people wouldn't have the nerve to attempt.

Once I worked a short stint at a publisher in Philly. Everybody there was always dressed to the teeth, especially the women. Me? I usually looked like something the cat dragged in and peed on. Nobody cared though. As long as my pages were ready at the deadline, they looked past the holes in my shirt. If one of the Big Suits saw me near the elevator I'd hear, "Who is THAT?". A matching suited lackey would stage whisper, "Art Department" and then the Big Suit would nod. THE NOD. The nod that goes up first, pauses, and then goes down. The nod that says he understands you're a maniac, but he knows he's gotta put up with it.

In most companies people expect craziness when they're forced to visit the Art Department. It's like going to the zoo, you'd be disappointed if you didn't see a monkey throwing crap.

I was at one place, if the Art Director found out the boss was coming down, he'd put a Halloween tape on the stereo. At a real low volume though, so you could barely hear it, chains rattling, ghoulish sounds going "oooh oooooh". The boss was always twitching when he left. They had a real hangman's noose in there too, with a full sized dummy dressed like Santa Claus hanging by it's neck. Occasionally the dummy had a picture of the project manager's face taped to it's head. They used to shoot the dummy with modified pencils shoved in a toy dart gun. Once in awhile they shot each other.

Being an artist, especially a professional one, gives a person free reign to act and look like a luntatic.

All my clothes are black. I like black. Anything I like, I do to great excess. I haven't worn anything that isn't black since sometime in the 1970's. It's convenient and everything matches. For sure I get away with this because I'm an artist.

Once my washing machine broke and I had to take my clothes to a laundromat. My gigantic mound of black clothes drew stares, then questions, then a bonafide crowd so I handed out some business cards. People read my card and saw I was artist. I got THE NOD. I got some business too.

Yeah, it's cool to be an artist. I take full advantage of my place in society. How do you do? Meet a genuine crap throwing monkey.

I say and believe a lot of crazy stuff too, and a lot of it I'm gonna say right here so stay tuned. I may be a lot of things, but I guarantee boring isn't one of them.

 

 

HANG IN THERE

I learned one of the most important lessons of my life at a baseball game.

It was in the mid 70’s, at Veterans Stadium in Philly. Back then you could get in the very upper deck, the SkyDeck, for under a dollar. Every kid from South Jersey with a driver’s license became a fixture up there, as well as any kid from PA with access to a train. There was always a great party going on up there.

That night the Phillies were losing and slow but sure the place was emptying out. Me, my sister and 4 of our friends decided to leave the cheap seats and move down to greener pastures. We sat in the first row of the upper level for a couple innings.

By the top of the 9th they were behind 3 runs. People were really heading for the doors, we could see them streaming for the exits. We decided to make a move for some really good seats. We headed out the exit from the upper deck, and bucked the stream of traffic coming out of the lower deck.

We wound up almost behind home plate for the bottom of the ninth. The Vet held 52,000 people, looking around I bet there were only 2000 people left in there; it was a real ghost town.

Next thing you know the Phillies load up the bases and up comes Willie Montanez. When he hit the ball, because were used to watching the game from a half mile up, it sounded like a cannon shot to us. We watched that ball sailing toward the outfield, it looked so far to us from down there and bang, it was in the empty seats. Grand slam!

Usually any home run in the Vet, the crowd would sound like a roar, let alone a game winning grand slam, but like I said, it was a ghost town in there. By the time Willie rounded third base and crossed home, I get a feeling all he heard was the shrill screams of six teenage girls from Jersey, going wild in “borrowed seats” behind home plate.

He shook the hands of the 3 guys he batted in and then he stopped, turned and looked right at us. He tipped his hat. We went even more wild, jumping up and down and screaming.

That night I learned if you hang in there long enough, many times something unbelievable happens. I remember how I felt leaving that stadium, knowing that 40,000 people would hear on the news that they missed something great, and I was there to see it.

Many times since then, when I’m tempted to throw in the towel, I think of Willie Montanez. I see him tipping his hat, and I realize that as much as we appreciated his grand slam, I think he appreciated us staying until the end.

Willie’s image in my head has made me hang in there through all kinds of setbacks, in all kinds of situations. I always have the hope that I can come up with the goods in the bottom of the ninth. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but because of that night, I never leave anything before I give it my best shot, no matter how tired I am or who is there to see it.

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SCARECROWS


I’ve seen a lot of people with college degrees who don’t seem to know very much. You’ve probably seen them too on shows like shows like “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” Jay Leno’s “Jay Walking” and the predecessor of both, Howard Stern’s various trivia games. I don’t have to preach to the choir on this. Everybody knows there are a lot of morons out there.

In our world people believe a piece of paper makes them smart. Like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, he got the paper, and he was instantly smart, a genius in fact. I call anybody who graduated from college and doesn’t know there’re 52 weeks in a year a Scarecrow. Some college grad who thinks the capital of New York is New Jersey: Scarecrow.

How often I’ll run into a person who doesn’t know there are 24 hours in a day or that the Earth revolves around the sun, and then, through more conversation or torturous prolonged interaction, I find out they graduated from college.

I have said more than a million times to myself. “What kind of school would give this idiot a diploma?” Sad to say through the years the answer to this question has been some prestigious institutions.

There are well known Scarecrows, you see them quoted in newspapers and magazines and on TV interviews. The scariest ones, if you ask me, are political Scarecrows; the ones in charge of our nation and safety.

One of the most famous: Dan Quayle, our 44th Vice President, from the George H. W. Bush administration. A graduate of DePauw University with a BA in Political Science, and a degree from Indiana University School of Law; he couldn’t spell potato when he visited a grade school. The VP corrected a kid who wrote it correctly on the blackboard. Mr. Quayle told the kid to fix the word and put an E on the end of it: potatoe. Scarecrow. Once he was quoted as saying he supported the “bondage between a mother and her child”. Definite Scarecrow.

At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, there are whole websites devoted to “Bushisms”, our 43rd president’s garbled responses to questions and nonsense from his speeches. For example: from 1/29/07 on National Public Radio: “And there is distrust in Washington. I am surprised, frankly, at the amount of distrust that exists in this town and I’m sorry it’s the case and I’ll work hard to try to elevate it.”

My favorite Bushism: on June 14, 2006 President Bush was asked if the tide was turning in Iraq. He said, “I think--tide turning--see, as I remember--I was raised in the desert, but tides kind of--it’s easy to see a tide turn-- did I say those words?”

Wow, here’s a Yale graduate, class of 1968 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, raised in the Desert in Texas. I hate to say it about a former leader if the free world: Scarecrow.

I was in a hardware store, there was a young woman working as a cashier. She had a sweatshirt on under her smock from our local state college, supposedly a pretty good school. I put 24 brackets down on the counter. She asked how many I had and I told her 2 dozen. “Twelve?” she said. I repeated 2 dozen, with an accent on TWO. “Twelve.” she said again, more like a statement this time. I had to tell her that there were 24 in 2 dozen. Maybe she was wearing somebody else’s shirt. Maybe she didn’t graduate yet, and they’ll get to how many brackets are in 2 dozen or maybe I smell a Scarecrow.

These days they encourage every kid in high school to go on to college. There was an article in the NY Times that said 30% of new college students need remedial classes because they don’t read, write or do math adequately. I’ve read a lot of articles on the “dumbing down” of colleges: how many schools are lowering their standards to let more kids in and keep the graduation rates up. That’s a lot of future Scarecrows.

I hear a lot of horror stories, how kids graduate from college with a diploma and a mountain of debt. I’m wondering if secondary education might be the biggest scam out there. It seems a lot of degrees today don’t leave any real option in the workplace but teaching, feeding the vicious circle of Scarecrow production.

I’d love to hear from people who feel their diploma got them little or no real benefit. Tell me your story. Are you working in a job that you could have gotten the day after high school graduation, while your college diploma gathers dust on your parent’s wall? Are you chipping away at your student loan, still looking for a job in your field? Did your college education deliver the benefits they dangled before you when you graduated high school? I’m curious and little afraid to find out what’s really going on out there.

I’m afraid in the next 20 years we’ll have to change our national symbol from the majestic Bald Eagle to a Scarecrow in a field with a college diploma in its hand.

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