Oct 26, 2009

On the Bryan Sussman radio show the other day a caller suggested the reason President Obama is closing down Gitmo and transferring some prisoners to the US mainland is because he wants the prisoners eventually released so they can commit crimes, which will enable the president to suspend more basic rights and erect a dictatorship. An Islamic dictatorship.

Good call, said The Suss.

Oct 18, 2009

I pay the gas cashier. She drops change in my palm, ever so careful not to touch me, even with her hand in a surgeon's glove. I get out the door, not wanting to touch the door handle. To my left a lady in a van spots me. "Like to make your marriage better?" she calls out and motions me over.

I keep walking, watching her as though she's a buffalo out the train window. Big dark glasses, tall face, red lipstick, chubby fingers, a bible with the worn-to-yellow leather cover, kids in the back seat.

"Would you like to make your marriage better?" She keeps asking. "Would you? Wouldn't you like it to make it better?"

Okay, I'm thinking: she's on her way to Fort Worth to catch the Get Motivated seminar with George Bush and Rudy Guiliani. I'll contribute to Route 66. I go over.

Five minutes later I know all about her deadbeat alcoholic husband, how he beat her, berated her, belittled her, befuddled her, bitched at her, bamboozled her, baited her, bombed her with abuse, and finally she said, 'that ain't me babe.'

Then she became a JW. And happy being single. 'Okay,' I say. 'That's all good and just listening to your story makes my marriage feel better.'

No, no, but that's not all, she says. She wants to read me something from 2 Timothy and opens her bible. I don't remember a Timothy. Later, I look him up in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Timothy was the son of heathen Greek and a Jewish mother named Eunice. His grandmother was named Lois. Tim became Paul's assistant. Here's a description of how they met.

"On this 2nd visit to Derbe and Lystra, Paul was strongly attracted to Timothy, and seeing his unfeigned faith, and that from a child he had known the sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament (2 Timothy 3:15), and seeing also his Christian character and deportment, and his entire suitability for the work of the ministry, he would have him "to go forth with him" (Acts 16:3). Timothy acquiesced in Paul's desire, and as preliminaries to his work as a Christian missionary, both to Jew and Gentile, two things were done. In order to conciliate the Jewish Christians, who would otherwise have caused trouble, which would have weakened Timothy's position and his work as a preacher of the gospel, Paul took Timothy and circumcised him."

Who writes this stuff, I'm thinking. And is the author suggesting that Tim and Paul were lovers?

"This know also," my van lady teacher begins, in a deep manly voice, "that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves." She reaches out, takes my right forefinger and guides it along the line, following each word. "Covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy. Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God...

She stops there and taps my finger on the word, pleasures. "That was my husband," she says. Then she taps my finger on Traitors. "That was my husband." Then, incontinent. "That was my husband."

"Really," I said. "All that and he was incontinent?"

"That was Tim," she says.

"You mean Timothy? Not Timothy..."

"No, no, my husband, Tim."

"Oh," I said. "Well that's terrible. No wonder you left."

She wants to go further, go through each word again and how that describes her husband exactly. Meanwhile, I'm flipping through the most recent Awake, which has stories about "Living With Albinism" and "What if my sibbling has committed suicide?"

"Don't you feel better now?" she asks, as though I've just been exposed to a transformation? "Do you see now how to make your marriage better?"

I walk away repeating to myself, I am not incontinent.

Oct 16, 2009

Balloon boy was in the attic all along. When asked by cops why he hadn't revealed himself earlier, he replied, "We did this for a show." Then the boy threw up.

But maybe the boy was misunderstood. It's not clear. Let's say, it was a show. The family from Wife Swap went to the Fame Shop. It was all a hoax to get publicity for an alien-watching, storm-chasing family with an fish eye for recognition. So what.

But this hasn't gone down well with a lot of people. I overheard this kind of comment more than once. "Yes, but after watching that story for nearly all afternoon what you wanted was that either the boy was found dead, or better, alive, of course. But not hiding in the attic."

Dead or alive — you could feel horror or you could sigh a great sigh of relief. You could feel clear about what happened. But the boy curled up in a basket in the attic above the garage was a rude ending: a little too human. Too ambiguous.

It would be like giving a young president in his first term a Nobel Prize. It would be like letting Ken Lewis resign from Bank of America — instead of giving his head to Madame Lafarge. It would be like finding out that it wasn't the NFL players union that undid the deal with Rush Limbaugh, it was the powers-that-be at a New York Law firm, whose partners once included Rudy Guiliani and whose clients include many Republican candidates.

And then what if we never find out whether this was a hoax? What if that's the real ambiguity? What if we're left with our suspicions, which in turn are tied to how we view children in general and our own children and our own flights of ambition?


Oct 15, 2009

Originally uploaded by macnamband

Claire, of course

Oct 14, 2009

Capt. Chignell has reported these events in the Outer Sunset district in the last 24 hours:

300 block of Ashton — Missing, 39-year-old woman

1500 block of Brighton — Found, elderly icon walking on the beach

200 block of Chester — Unfounded suspicion, released on its own recognizance

First block of Granada — Apathy overdose, dragged downtown for questioning

Second block of Sevilla — 30-year-old hope, abandonned

200 block of Harold — Criminal assault on intelligence

First block of Lomita — Found in trash, 2004 promise

Second block Lomita — Unacceptably dark countenance reported

3100 block of San Jose — Fraudulent use of the word, love

700 block of Taraval — Graffiti, displayed on victim's remorse

2700 block of Taraval — Code violation of sincere apology policy

3700 block of Taraval — Blasphemer shouting at the moon

Ulloa and 27th — Kiss gone awry

First block of West Portal — Discovered, 20 pounds

300 block of West Portal — Remains of the day, cited & released

1800 block of 9th Avenue — Death/85-year-old woman (rebirth/her 50-year-old son)

1800 block of 19th Avenue — Fraud/vanity unknown

2500 block of 38th Avenue — Unleashed emotion (had to be put down)

1300 block of 43rd Avenue — Wife taken in, over husband's dead body

2400 block of 44th Avenue — Hate-radio, reported stolen

2200 block of 46th Avenue — Lost, desire (last seen under a country moon several years ago)

1500 block of 47th Avenue — Mediocre middle-aged male mind, vandalized

2200 block of 48th Avenue — Found, 13-year-old runaway ambition

Oct 12, 2009

Stone, I'm telling you: enough is enough.
"You want to sleep, is that it?"
I start telling him what that's like, how I imagine trying to shut down all the control levers — on a wall that extends as far as the eye can see — banks upon banks of levers, all classes of levers but particularly the large fork levers, the kind you use to throttle back a Pratt & Whitney F100, drop the landing gear, and cross into deep space; and then every specie of button and engine light, along with edge switchers, network switches, toggle switches — the kind you'd see on the mahogany dash of Uncle Ducky's 1960 Mark IV Jag — rounder switches, dials, rockers, everything clicking and whirring as the turbines wind and whine down, even as the fans go on zooming, cooling things off, subsidiary motors purring, the whole taxonomy of ever smaller devices in decline, the rackety-clack of valve lifters banging their heads ever more quietly, disks spinning down, and down, look at the spin I'm in, that old black magic, those old clocks trotting along on the grass, out the train window, screens blackening, old-fashioned flash bubs popping; the last crackles of a rotting fire.

Oct 11, 2009

Peet's Coffee, Opera Plaza. 8:06 a.m. ... Man in a gray flannel suit, double vents, silk tie, blue striped shirt — from the Custom Shop if that still exists — with white, French cuffs, small gold cufflinks. A three-inch silver pin across his French collar, underneath the tie knot, so the silhouette from belly to jowl is like a prow. Out the top of his shirt a bullish gray head, a prominent chin, thin lips, glistening cheeks, hair barbered not cut, and no attempt to out the gray; combed carefully but not effeminately; horn rim glasses; blue eyes; sandalwood cologne, the way Brooks Bros. used to make it, altogether, less distinguished or refined than blunt, worldly, supremely confident — even after all these years, even after all the betrayals he's seen. With The Times under his right arm, a mocha in his right hand, the alligator watch band, his left hand, the dreamer, pushing its way out the door.

A marketing man for the opera, we said. Maybe, I thought, but whatever he is now he was once a Mad Man.

Oct 7, 2009

And so you wish to book passage? asked Mr. C.
"I do."
But you're going in the wrong direction, said the boatman. Where were you before?
"I don't know. I have no idea."
You have no memory, said the boatman.
"Think of it as though I were on ship that sank. All hands lost."
Except you.
"Even me."
And what was she carrying, this ship of yours?
"Pure gold, exotic metals, some school boy blazers, old airplane tickets, headshots of starlets, one of a woman with her head thrown back; a Jack Kramer tennis racquet, the scent of Wainscott in summer, a Joseph Conrad novel, an Old Angler Italian leather briefcase filled with family lies and deception, and a few other odds and ends."
The boatman nodded and turned his attention to a manifest. I don't see your name, he said.
"I'm early."
Come again, said the boatman.
"A change in plans."
Well, said the boatman, looking out at the river, which was running high and black. You can do it. Sure. But you know you can't get back.
The passenger had moved away, but he did look back. That's worth noting. The problem was, he couldn't hear anything above the roar.

Oct 4, 2009

I've begun researching a piece about teenagers who kill themselves. It is partly a story of mental illness and partly a story of the pressure parents put on their children to get into the best schools.

For example, there is a hairdresser in Palo Alto who trained to be a breast cancer surgeon in China. But she and her husband decided that the most important thing was to get their child into a UC school. So they found relatives and moved to America, to a neighborhood where they could get their child into The Gunn School, a public school for the children of Silicon Valley executives and Stanford University faculty. Gunn feeds many kids to Berkeley and UCLA. As far as this woman was concerned any other UC school, with the possible exception of UC San Diego, was a sign of a failed education.

This is not a new story certainly, it's just that every few years people forget. Or if they are immigrants, particularly from China, they just never thought about it. The third edition of The Hurried Child came out in 2001. But who reads that anymore?

Here is another anecdote. One day recently an 11-year-old boy comes to a local Montessori school to make a presentation to his class on the subject of the Terracotta Army soldiers of Qin Shi Huang. The boy arrives with elaborate maps showing just where the soldiers were found in Xi'an. He has photographs. He has a bullet point presentation on his computer and most amazing, he has a box filled with sand and small handmade replicas of the soldiers — so you could see just how archeologists found them....

The boy gives the presentation, which he prefaces by saying he got some help from his parents. He shows great poise. At the end there are questions and at one point he begins to cry. The teacher goes to him. What's the matter? The boy inconsolable. But this is a wonderful presentation says the teacher who has been struck by how extensive this presentation is.

The boy looks up, "I didn't do it. It's not my work." The teacher is able to calm the child but later, he falls down on the sidewalk and bangs his head on the cement.

Later, the teacher talks to the mother, who admits the role she played in putting together the presentation. She is an artist. And she agrees that she went to far, that she took away her son's expression, in part because of her own A personality desire for excellence. Nevertheless, she gets the point and promises she will pull back.

A week later the boy arrives in class with a history book. The margins of every page are filled with yellow stickies, each with several ideas and arrows pointing to the text.

What is this? asks the teacher.

"My father," says the boy. "He wanted to help me get ideas."

Oct 3, 2009

Mr. Sussman,

I am 61. I served in the Air Force for four years during the Vietnam war. I support an allied war against the Taliban. I am wary of both government, and corporate, intrusion into private lives. I have occasionally voted for conservatives.

Having said that I often ask my 15-year-old son, on his way back from football practice, to listen to your show. We listened the night you offered Orwell’s 1984 as a portrait of what you think America is becoming. Perhaps, you had only time for the Cliff Notes version and clearly you don’t know much about Orwell, who although difficult to categorize was committed to much that you repudiate. About 1984, he wrote:

"My recent novel is NOT intended as an attack on Socialism or on the British Labour Party (of which I am a supporter) but as a show-up of the perversions to which a centralized economy is liable and which have already been partly realized in communism and Fascism. I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive, but I believe (allowing of course for the fact that the book is a satire) that something resembling it could arrive. I believe also that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere, and I have tried to draw these ideas out to their logical consequences." [CEJL vol. 4 p. 564]

But what was really stunning was that this was all the result of your time with a couple of Russian Arms dealers who are advertisers. And so a lengthy advertorial. Which without a disclaimer become the view of KSFO…. As an aside, one wonders who finances City Arms and where the arms come from. That you in effect endorse these people makes me all the more determined to fight for a fairness doctrine, which I never thought I would say, much less support.

Incidentally, City Arms urges customers to resist state legislation, AB962, which among other things would demand….

1. Registration and finger printing of handgun Ammo Purchasers
2. Mandatory storage / Display requirements for Ammo Dealers
3. Ban on the Sale of Handgun Ammo through the Internet or mail Order

This has nothing to do with hunting… animals. Or target shooting. Or the Second Amendment. By not supporting this legislation you are endorsing neighborhood gangs and the likes of the Zeta drug cartel. How on earth could one justify handgun ammunition through the mail?

That’s stupidity and that’s dangerous. And it’s dangerous that you endorse violence among your listeners, as you did the night a man called to say that in a post-abortion age women who get abortions should be executed. ‘Good call,’ was the essence of your response. And it’s dangerous — not the way you encourage opposition to Barack Obama, I have no argument — but the way you give credibility and intellectual succor to people who would do him harm.

I think the president will be harmed. I think it’s come to that. And if that happens you personally need to be held responsible, among others. And KSFO, which endoreses your behavior. You are the local Fr. Coughlin, and a man who makes a good living by trashing others for no good reason, by encouraging ignorance and hatred, who has no ideas of his own, who builds nothing, who has only false humility, and is becoming part of the undoing of this country. It’s nothing to do with Left or Right, it has to do with the need for simple human decency. Ironically, you are now the enemy of a free society. You are the one saying there’s a fire in the theater when you know perfectly well there is no fire…. The fire is your ignorance.

At the least my son now understands it. He gets it. Knowledge and moral will are everything. You are the best argument for an elite education I’ve heard.