Saturday, October 14, 2017

#59 - The Tragedy of Attention-Deficit Disorder in Goldfish

I read recently that a new Microsoft study found that our average attention span has dropped to eight seconds.

This is down from an average attention span of 12 seconds, 17 years ago, in the year 2000.

Goldfish, the study said, have a nine-second attention span.

The average human, the study says, has a shorter attention span, in the year 2017, than a goldfish.

This got me thinking.

This is an interesting competition; human versus goldfish. Who has a worse ability to focus? Which species is more easily distracted?

Goldfish are winning for now, but it wasn’t always this way…and I predict this battle will take new, unexpected turns in the future, as we battle each other in the years to come.

The following scene (a transcript of an actual moment from a family of goldfish) will, I think, support my point well enough.

Bill Goldfish was a well-respected goldfish in the bowl.
He took care of his family, at least in those aspects of ‘taking care’ of a fish family that the humans didn’t fully provide. He loved his wife Susan, and provided his son Johnny with that tough-love that only a dedicated father can provide.

At least that’s the way he saw it.

Johnny saw things differently.

Bill worried about Johnny. The boy seemed to be reckless, more interested in finding the next quick thrill than in the sensible business of being a good Goldfish.

Bill and Susan also cherished their quiet time together. They would sneak away and swim calmly over to the castle, and stay there for a time, marveling at the castle’s creative design and homey welcoming feeling.

“Such a nice castle,” Susan said, as the two of them swam idly in front of it.

“Yes, nice castle,” said Bill. “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

“Don’t they?” Susan asked absently.

“Sure don’t,” said Bill.

“Who makes castles, anyway?” Susan wondered out loud.

“The humans, of course,” Bill said, in that matter-of-fact way that Susan didn’t really like much.

“I know,” Susan said, “but don’t you ever wonder about these things? Don’t you ever try to imagine what it’s like to be a human, living out there, out of the bowl?”

“No,” Bill said. “I do not ever wonder about that. Damn humans! Who would want to be like that? I hear they only have an eight-second attention span.”

At that moment, Bill and Susan’s tranquil moment was shattered by the wild screeching of their son Johnny, as he swam rapidly into a skidding turn.

“Yeeeeeooowwwww!” squealed Johnny, sloshing the entire bowl’s water sideways.

“Johnny!” screeched Susan.

“Stop right now!” Bill yelled. “What is the matter with you?”

“Just having fun,” Johnny said casually. “Hey, look at these blue rocks down here. These are awesome!”

And before his parents could say another word, he was off to the bottom of the bowl snooping around in the blue rocks.

“Johnny, get back up here!” Bill snapped. “We’re not finished talking to you.”

“Blah, blah, blah,” Johnny muttered. “My parent are B – O – R – I – N – G!”

“Johnny, come here right now!”

Reluctantly, Johnny swam up from the blue rocks. He couldn’t just swim straight back to his parents, though. As always, he became distracted by something else.

“COOL!” he shouted. “Look at this!”

“Johnny, put that down! Do not play with the algae! That’s disgusting!”

“It’s cool!” Johnny insisted.

Susan heaved a sigh as Johnny finally swam back in front of her.

“Goodness,” she said. “You have algae smeared all over your face. Come here, let me wipe it off.”

“I’m hungry,” Johnny whined. “What’s for dinner?”

“Goldfish food,” Bill said.

“Again? Why can’t we have something different?”

“Well,” Bill began, sounding slightly sarcastic, “I don’t know, maybe because we’re GOLDFISH?”

“Hey, what would you do if you woke up one morning and saw me floating upside down in the water?”

“Johnny!” his mother shrieked, “Do not talk like that!”

And a moment later Johnny was off again, inspecting the back wall of the castle.

“Hey, did you know there are some really weird bumps on the wall back here?” Johnny yelled.

Bill looked at his wife and shook his head. “I swear, that boy barely has a five-second attention span. Worse than a human!”

“What are we going to do?” Sighed Susan.

“The boy needs discipline. That’s all,” said Bill. “Leave it to me. I’ll knock some common sense into him.”

“Oh, Bill, I worry,” said Susan. “Try not to be too hard on the boy.”

“I’ll be just as hard as I need to be,” he said, and he swam off behind the castle.

When he got there, though, Johnny was nowhere to be seen.

Bill looked to the left of the castle, to the right, up, down. He did not see his son.

Then, out of a small window in the castle’s turret, Johnny came speeding out like a bat out of hell, leaving a swirling wave in his wake.

“Got you!” he yelled at his dad. “Yeeeooowwww!” And he was off again.

Bill took a moment to collect himself. He took a deep breath. Then he turned away from the castle and began swimming toward the small plastic scuba diver, where Johnny was trying gamely to remove the small plastic scuba tank from the diver’s back.


“This is going to be harder work than I expected,” Bill said quietly to himself.

-Peter Wick
October 14, 2017

Thursday, September 14, 2017

#58 - Pets

This is the last picture I ever took of Bella, earlier this year:


She just made it to the age of 13 this month, before fading away in what I want to believe was a peaceful final few days. I like the picture. Even though it's from her final year, she looks healthy to me. She doesn't seem to show any of the signs of fading that seemed to hit her suddenly at the end.

In her final year she still had the ability to jump, often amazing me with her skill and dexterity.

I probably didn't feed her as well as I could have. Friends told me from the beginning that the grocery store food I was giving her - and her brother Bailey (more on him shortly) - was like a lifelong diet of fast food for a cat.

I'm sure it didn't help that I would often sit with her on my lap, in the evening, as I munched on some sort of chips, and occasionally gave in to her pleading demands to let her lick the salt off my fingertips. I tried to say no most of the time, but I admit that I gave in once in a while.

Bailey was her twin brother. I adopted them as kittens, impulsively, in 2004.

I am using the following 2 pictures without permission, because I am out of touch with Natalie, and I can only hope she is alright with me using these 2 pictures from either late 2004 or early 2005. Natalie has Bailey on her lap, and she took the picture of me with Bella. I think the pictures are a few months apart (Bailey looks like 7 or 8 months old, Bella probably just 3 or 4 months) but they are definitely both from the first year of their lives.


I turned these two cats into travelers. Beginning in 2007 I split my time between Seattle and L.A. before finally settling in L.A full time in 2012. I have to think back and calculate, but I am pretty sure that the cats traveled in a car with me, up or down the west coast at least a dozen times. They were loose in the car, in the back seat. Bailey was always more high strung. It took him longer to accept being in a moving car. Bella, on the other hand, came to accept what was happening after the second or third trip. I remember her settling down into the back seat, curled loosely,looking peaceful and calm, as we set out from Seattle one time. It was quite clear that she knew exactly what was happening, and she was okay with it.

Bailey's life ended with a little more trauma than Bella's. He was just short of turning 10, in the Summer of 2014, when a blood clot found its way through his body until it paralyzed his hind legs.

After her brother passed, Bella's final 3 years chugged along without incident.

I have been reading about the expected lifespan of cats - that Bailey's close-to-10-years equated to about a 50 year-old person.

Bella was on par with a 60-something person.

The end of Bella's run in life got me thinking about pets.

Some cats live to be 20, I've read recently. A 20 year-old cat equals a 100 year old person. 

Maybe I've been struggling with my casual approach to life with Bella. Maybe I worry I could have done something to prolong her life.

I asked my friend Smitty what pet he remembers the most and how long it lived. He responded with this:

"The dog Molly died in 2011 and I think she was 17, perhaps older, as her past was not known. She was found injured in the wilderness by some nice person. Why she was there we don't know."

Then Smitty went on; and if you know Smitty at all, some of this description is absolutely hilarious;

"She was the pet most like me; aggressive, smart, and crazy. She even had a sense of humor. She would growl in a crazed demonic voice, and then 'laugh,' like she knew she was playing."

Outside, walking down the street this week, I definitely pay more attention to people out walking their dogs. I look at the dog, and the person, and find myself wondering about their pet-human relationship. I want to read the pair. I want to get some sense of what they mean to each other.

I could write more about Bella. I could write about how she never let me leave papers out on the desk - she could not resist the urge to sit ony my papers and clean herself on them. I could write about how she would get annoyed with me for shifting my position during the night when she was sleeping on top of me. I could write about some of the car trips, or how annoyed she would get with her brother, who seemed to have rare and completely random impulses toward mild violence.

I could write a lot...

But I'm just going to sit here quietly a little longer, dealing with my fantom impulses to look up where she should be.

Peter Wick
September 14, 2017

Saturday, July 15, 2017

57 - (Very) early preview - The Time Traveler's Guide to the 20th Century - July, 2017

NOTE: The book, "The Time Travler's Guide to the 20th Century" will be published in the Spring of 2018. This is a very early preview of a small section.


In the 1920's the United States banned the sale of alcohol, ensuring that thousands of people from coast to coast would become blinded and disabled by cheap, poorly made moonshine, sold in back alleys.

I suppose this means it is time to start the chapter on the 1920's.

THE ROARING 20's:

The 1920's was the decade when sex was invented.

Not that people didn't have sex before this. Obviously no one would have existed if humans hadn't been having sex with each other.

And (never start a paragraph with 'and' except this one) Signumd Freud had been writing about how everything is about sex since the 1890's.

But (never start a paragraph with 'but' except this one) the 1920's were the first time that 'modern life' allowed for the excess and indulgence that would finally make sex the hip new thing.

If you visit...DO NOT HAVE SEX!

Just don't.

The youth of the 1920's were called "The Lost Generation." It was the first time anyone had thought of naming a generation. Prior to the 1920's people just slaved away trying desparately to survive. By the 1920's, however, modern life had created so much leisure time that an entire generation had time to get lost.

Let's take a look at a few things time travelers might want to see.

The New York Stock Exchange:

Since computers did not yet exist, all stock trades had to be made by sweaty over-stressed brokers who lived on the floor of the Exchange, yelling, throwing slips of paper around and, at the end of the decade, throwing themselves out of a 15th floor window.

the 1920's was the heyday of overblown stock value.

The market was growing rapidly, and everyone wanted to get in on the action, often borrowing money to invest. When the bubble burst in 1929 billions of dollars were wiped out overnight.

But it sure was fun while it lasted.

Speakeasy's:

The law that made alcohol illegal in 1920 was really just a grand experiment to see if America's organized crime families could get their act together.

The experiment worked besutifully.

People who illegaly smuggled alcohol into the country were called 'bootleggers.' Others, who distilled their own alcohol in makeshift backwoods homemade distilleries were called 'blind' or in some cases, 'dead.' This is because some of the homemade experimental concoctions that desparate people drank were laced with methanol. And even better than that; some desparate people drank paint thinner.

Congratulations! The experiment got results!

More common, though, were the secret underground bars and taverns known as 'speakeasy's.' Every major city had several of them. This is where the smuggled alcohol - usually from that corrupt and overly drunk country, Canada - was served.

Al Capone was the country's most famous smuggler.


(End note: There will likely be another early preview or two of "The Time Traveler's Guide," between now and when the book is published in the Spring of 2018. Watch this space!)
-Peter Wick
-July 15, 2017


Thursday, June 15, 2017

56 - The Fable of the Wolf King

(with a nod to James Thurber)

Once upon a time there was a wolf who wanted to be King of the Wolves.

"It is a dangerous thing to be King of the Wolves," a wise old wolf told him. "If the other wolves don't like you, they are still wolves, and when they get angry they will eat you."

"I'll be fine," the wolf said. "I'll be so popular, no other wolf will dare dislike me, except for the weak, low-energy wolves, and they'll be afraid to do anything. Anyone threatens to eat me, I'll eat him first, and then all that pressure will be laid off."

So the wolf went around the countryside, campaigning to be King.

"Vote for me, and I'll fix all your problems," the wolf said. "Don't listen to the others. They don't know how to do anything. I alone can fix everything."

The rank and file wolves liked what they heard. "He's one of us," they said. "He gets us."

All these other wolves, though, did not realize that the wolf who wanted to be King owed money to the coyotes. The coyotes had whispered friendly things to the wolf who wanted to be King. The coyotes still wanted to attack and eat as many wolves as they could, but they had compromised the wolf who wanted to be King. So, the wolf went around advocating for better relations with the coyotes.This is exactly what the coyotes wanted.

Then one day, away from town, in a dark corner of the woods, several coyotes attacked and ate some of the wolves. The incident caused a big uproar.

"The coyotes have eaten some wolves!" everyone yelled.

They asked the wolf who wanted to be King what he thought.

"I don't know that it was coyotes," the wolf said.

"But several wolves saw the coyotes eating the other wolves," some responded.

"Can you say for sure that it was coyotes? It could be foxes. It could be cougars. Maybe it was some 400 pound bear sitting in his den."

No one understood why the wolf who wanted to be King would not admit that it was coyotes who had eaten the wolves."

"Coyotes are killers," a reporter said the wolf one day.

"There's a lot of killers," the wolf said. "Lots of killers. You think wolves are so innocent?"

Several months after the wolf had become King, some of the wolves began quietly complaining about him.

"He is in the pocket of the coyotes," some of the wolves whispered.

"And he doesn't know how to fix all the things he promised to fix, either," others whispered.

"I think it's time we eat him," one wolf said.

They began creating a secret plan to eat King Wolf, but the King heard about the secret plan and snuck up on the rebel wolves, and he ate them instead.

"THE KING EATS WOLVES!" a headline screamed out.

The incident created a big controversy, and eventually a Special Wolf Investigator was appointed to decide if the King Wolf had broken any laws by eating the rebel wolves.

After many months of investigating, the Special Wolf Investogator declared that, yes, the King Wolf was guilty. All the other wolves descended on the King Wolf and began eating him. They ate and ate, until the King Wolf was all eaten up.

Moral; You are what you eat....and you will be eaten by what you eat!

Peter Wick
June 15, 2017

Monday, May 15, 2017

#55 - Cartoons vs. Kittens vs. ULTRA CUTE KITTENS

Every so often the debate flares up; are we becoming dumber as a culture than we used to be?

I have offered my opinion a number of times in the past. My opinion has not changed. I say no, we are not getting dumber.

Those who believe we are getting dumber usually respond with countless examples, from the internet, of people doing dumb things, saying dumb things and, most importantly, recording dumb things and posting those dumb videos to social media.

I always respond the same way; were you around in the 1950’s?

This isn’t really a fair question, since I wasn’t around in the 1950’s either, but it makes my point for me; we are not getting any dumber than we always were. We aren’t getting any smarter either, that’s for sure.  The only thing that has changed is that our state of dumbness is more exposed and out in the open for all to see. Dumbness cannot hide in the modern age. Even if it tries, it will be exposed. Scientific methods of seeking out and analyzing humans true state of mind will not be denied.

I recently ran across the following on sciencedaily.com:

If you're creating a message to educate, inform, or persuade, don't underestimate the power of a well-executed cartoon. A new study suggests if you're trying to convince the public to change their stance on a topic such as wind energy, you may be more successful if you use a cartoon rather than a photograph.”

This is fantastic news. In order to persuade or convince anyone of anything, don’t use a photo. And for the love of god don’t WRITE something. Your best option is to use a cartoon.

My first thought after reading this is; maybe that explains why we are electing cartoon characters to public office. Of course we were always electing cartoon characters, with the exception of John F. Kennedy; he was a Michelangelo sketch, not a cartoon, but the popular image bears about as much resemblance to reality as a cartoon does (okay, fine, people, send me your angry JFK responses).

I think we can do the cartoon advice one better though. I am actually kind of excited about this. If you want to persuade or inform the public, don’t write. Don’t use a photo. Don’t even use a cartoon. Just use kittens.

Everywhere you go, take kittens with you. If you want to convince people that something is bad, show them a sad kitten. Something is good? A happy kitten.

What happens, you might ask, if someone else comes along and out-cutes your kitten? Let’s say you want to convince people that the destruction of the planet’s eco-systems is a bad thing, and you make your point by pantomiming the world (words are too intellectual and ‘elite,’ we only have the attention span for pantomime) and once your audience understands that you are referring to the world, you bring out a sad kitten. Your audience is instantly transformed. They are adamantly opposed to ecosystem destruction. The sad kitten is too much for them. But….

Someone else comes along with the most adorable kitten in the history of adorable kittens, and re-pantomimes the world. Then they pantomime destroying the ozone layer (How do they specify the ozone layer? You have to ask? You’re so behind the emoji zeitgeist!) Then they bring out ULTRA -CUTE KITTEN! No! The audience is convinced! Destruction of the Earth’s eco-systems equals ULTRA-CUTE KITTENS!

Unrealistic, you suggest? The populace is too sophisticated to fall for cute kittens?

Wait a minute….am I proving my original point or arguing against my original point? I’M CONFUSED! Were we always this gullible?

Yes! We were. You don’t believe it? Three words….Snake oil salesmen. That phrase exists because guys used to walk right up to strangers in the street and try to actually sell them….the latest mindless tech gadget…um….sorry, I mean….snake oil.
-Peter Wick
May 15, 2017

Saturday, April 15, 2017

#54 - Whatever Doesn't Kill you.....Almost Kills You

The fact that my brothers and sisters and I (there are five of us) are all alive and thriving as mature adults (I use the word 'mature' loosely) is an absolute miracle.

If you had taken bets when we were, let's say between the ages of seven and fourteen, odds would have favored at least one of us dying in a hilarious - I mean tragic - accident.

Children - when they come in a PACK, like we did - have a job to do. Their job is to try to kill their siblings. Well, not kill. That's going too far. Their job is to flirt with death and dismemberment, stopping just short, right on that borderline, before the incident becomes tragic, just when it is at its funniest.

Our poor parents wanted order in the house. My dad, especially, wanted law and order. He wanted rules to be followed. He wanted calm, quiet, well-behaved children.

He was out-numbered.

One simple truth about The Natural Order Of Things that he overlooked was "The law of brothers."

When there are three or more boys in a house, "The law of brothers" will always overrule any actual laws laid down by parents.

I was the youngest (of the boys - my sister Keren is youngest overall), and I was always being tripped down the stairs, having my head shoved into walls, having my hand grabbed and made into a fist, and then forced into punching my own face, over and over, one or both of my brothers yelling, "Peter, quit hitting yourself. Stop punching your own face!" Then they would let go of my hand and run away laughing.

I almost got them back a few times, with the darts downstairs.

We had actual darts in our house. Darts are actual weapons. We had weapons in our house!

Okay, sure, there was a dart board, and the game in its intended form is an innocent way to pass the time in freindly competition.

BUT....I shouldn't have to point this out...THERE WERE DARTS IN OUR HOUSE....sharp, metal, pointed, flying weapons, in a house with five out-of-control children, three of them boys!

Throwing the darts at the dart board became boring pretty quickly. So....it was a short natural progression from that to - trust me, this makes sense - throwing darts at a family member. Any game of skill is twice as much fun with a moving target!

I could go on. I could talk about head trauma (I was always smashing my head into things), firecrackers, bringing frogs into the house, playing with fire, broken body parts, you know, all of childhood's greatest hits.

The point is, we survived it....barely.

Now put those scissors down! Hey, stop running with them! And get them away from your borther's EYEBALL!

Peter Wick
April 15, 2017

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

#53 - Shaquielle McKissic

There are moments in life that surprise you. Some moments surprise you in negative ways. Some surprise you in happy ways, make you smile, give you a favorite new thing, bring some unexpected fun into your life.

Recently I re-connected with a friend. I hope I can call Shaquielle a friend. We haven’t seen each other for several years, and we only spent one month hanging out together. After that I plead guilty to losing touch with him. It is because of Shaquielle, though, that I have a favorite new sports league to follow; the Turkish Basketball League. And I love it.

Let’s backtrack a little. Several years ago I made an independent film called “Rock Paper Scissors” (yeah, you can find the movie on Amazon, blah blah blah, I’m not here to promote the movie…okay, maybe a little….but no….but yes…but no).

In the film I play a high school basketball coach. I was also directing and producing the film, and I struggled with the casting of the star player of the high school basketball team, a character nicknamed “Easy.” I wanted someone who could act, but really I wanted a real basketball player. I put out a few notices around the Seattle area, and found myself communicating with a gentleman who wanted me to take a look at his nephew, Laron Daniels.

I liked Laron and asked him to be in the movie. He said yes, and we went on with pre-production. We scheduled our first shoot day to include an outdoor scene where “Easy” and I, as player and coach, play some one-on-one at an outdoor court, trash-talking just enough to bond a little.

A couple days before shooting was set to begin, Laron backed out. He was worried that the project – and the acting – wasn’t quite right for him.

Making a film is a perilous venture. Anything that can go wrong, probably will, and a few things that can’t possibly go wrong, probably will also. I made some phone calls, and the gentleman who first suggested Laron told me over the phone, “I think I got someone for you. It’s Laron’s friend Shaquielle.” This was one day before we were scheduled to shoot our first scene.

I could have shut down the first shoot-day, rescheduled, and methodically problem-solved my casting dilemma. OR….I could roll the dice, say yes to Shaquielle over the phone, and open myself – and my whole film – up to the randomness of the unknown.

I said yes. I met Shaquielle for the very first time the next day, when he showed up for the outdoor one-on-one scene. He didn’t even know what the story was about. I just told him, “Let’s just play. Be yourself. Oh, and let’s trash talk a little.”

It was a risky decision, but it worked out beautifully, and Shaquielle turned out to be a pretty good actor. He made the character his own, and seemed happy to oblige me, in a later scene, shot a few weeks later, when I told him, “Just go for it. Tell me I suck as a coach.” He nailed the scene. I still feel a little pain if I see that scene (it’s in the long trailer on youtube…..but I’m not here to promote the movie…but yes….but no….).

(A few pictures from the shoot)





Then I lost touch with Shaqiuelle.

It turns out he was going through a lot of personal turmoil over the next few years. I won’t go into detail – you can find all the background on him if you want; It’s out there. Eventually he landed at Arizona State University, where he played for 2 years, and then went undrafted in the 2015 NBA draft.

There is no shame in this. I’ve hung out just a little bit on the fringes of the professional sports world (in the past I’ve played in a soccer league with and against ex-professionals, and I’ve definitely played both soccer and basketball with WANNA-be professionals). It is a brutal world, with limited openings, behind-the-scenes politics, and very demanding standards. I remember talking with a graduating wide-receiver on the University of Washington Huskies football team, several years ago, and he opened my eyes to the brutal honesty Pro scouts use when they come into the locker room. If they don’t make eye contact with you, you know you aren’t going to be drafted. And the vast majority of college athletes – even at the top schools – experience this let-down.

Shaquielle is driven, though. He played in Italy (hey, Kobe Bryant and his dad know something about that league), South Korea, and now in Turkey. He has also played the last 2 summers of NBA Summer League.

I connected with him over Twitter recently. I didn’t know what to expect, whether he would respond, or even notice. I never really knew what role the film played in his life. It was probably just a passing novelty for him. He had bigger things to deal with. He responded, though, and I want to thank Shaquielle McKissic for bringing the Turkish Basketball League into my world. It’s not a weird thing at all to me. I follow soccer leagues in four different countries; England, Spain, Italy, and the United States (yes,  I am an unapologetic MLS fan – GO SOUNDERS!). Why not add Turkey to the basketball leagues I follow?

Really, though, my message to the NBA is, GIVE THIS GUY A ROSTER SPOT! Come on, what’s a guy got to do? Does this help? I’m pasting a link at the bottom of this post to a recent Turkish TV Top-ten-plays-of-the-week segment. Guess who’s number 1. Is there any doubt?


-Peter Wick

-March 15, 2017