Dec 14, 2011

She wakes up in her dreams. That's the dream.  And it's the same dream in whatever continent she is traveling through.  She wakes up and she is in her coffin deep under the ground and there are coffins in every direction as far as the eye can see. And not the musty scent you would think, something else, sweet. She can hear the sound of the ocean coming from somewhere.  She is under the ocean or over the ocean; she cannot tell.  She sits up in her coffin and stretches.  Most everyone is dead to the world, but a few others in the distance, are sitting up as well, combing their hair or looking for a toothbrush.  She herself is tired of this place.  It's as though she had lain in bed too long.  Time to get up but someone a few coffins over is saying that nappy time is not over yet. "Go back to sleep," somebody orders. "We'll wake you when it's time."  But in the dream it's never time.

Dec 3, 2011

After the funeral there was a reception in the church hall. A short, blue-haired woman with quite a jaw suddenly appeared. She was very short and I am not tall but for a moment I felt like a giant. She wanted to know if I were the husband of the departed.  No, I said and looked around to point him out but he had disappeared.  Do I look like a man in my 80s, I wanted to say.  But then perhaps, I do, I thought.

Then I saw the priest.  I waited until he was finished eating and was talking to just one person, a widow I was told. I sat down next to him as the woman was saying, "pray for me father. I'm doing this surgery next Wednesday."

"I certainly will," he said. "Now which surgery is this again?"

"The growth I told you about," she said.

"Ah yes," said the priest. "But it's not malignant. Right?"

"No, thank God," she said. "But 've been seeing a man who would like me to have it removed."

"Why does it bother him? It's on your back, isn't it?"

"Yes, but he thinks it's unsightly.  Even though he doesn't see it, just knowing it's there bothers him."

The priest turned to me.  "Makes you think of Steve Jobs, doesn't it?"

"Well," he said turning back to the woman. "I'm sure he has some unsightly things about him, doesn't he? He may need me to say Mass more than you."

She nodded and asked once more for divine help.  The priest promised he would intercede as best he could, and then turned to me and bore into me with his look. "So what is your name again" he asked in his brogue.

I told him.  And I told him that I was touched by his eulogy for the departed.  "Sure," he said, "Well, we're all at the station, aren't we.  The train is always at the station, we're all there, looking down from the train happy or sad we're leaving, or else looking up at the people about to leave and happy or sad we're not going too."

And then he went on to tell me his whole life story in about 20 minutes.  You understand we'd never met.  And although we agreed to lunch, I don't suppose we'll meet again.  I even told him his church was  in danger of becoming irrelevant.  He was the first to agree.

Then, suddenly, I was the confessor and he was telling me about growing up in the old country and how his father beat the living bejesus out of him, and drank himself to death and it was Frank McCourtville if there ever was, all the cliches, and how he couldn't forgive his father until much later, and he described the scene exactly, how he was trying to help some man who reminded him of his father and somehow the moment drew out his compassion and that was the end of his hatred.  Almost.  And he went on about his father's legacy, all of his own drinking and carousing, even as a priest, and how he hasn't had a drink in a long time, but how long wasn't clear, but of course it's still a constant danger and then one night he was at a restaurant I think it was, and he had his hand on a woman's knee under the table and her husband was across the table.  Both parishoners.  When this was wasn't clear but it seem recently.

"Not a good situation," he said to me, his eyes glistening for some reason.  "But like I said we're all either on the train or standing at the station."

"Sure," I said.

"And which are you?" and he was looking right through me with those eyes, say what you will, doubt them if you like, but the eyes that see it all.

Nov 5, 2011

Berns stopped by for a drink the other night.  He was wearing his famous, tattered cashmere coat and not looking well.  "I feel like Greece," he said. "I am Greece."

I proposed some old Polish Vodka out of the freezer and he agreed.

"Everyone I know is still looking for work and not finding any," he went on. "Most are giving up."

"Get a grip," I said. "You didn't think you were going to get a job at your age, did you? It's all rigged. Haven't you figured that out?"

"I still have certain skills."

"What are they? List them."

He shrugged his shoulders. "Branding expert; illustrator; mechanic; furniture designer, 'idea man', zoo keeper....I was also a bon vivant once.  And before that, a jokesmith."

"What happened to that?"

"It didn't lead to anything substantial. Well, marriage if you count that. And now I can't remember any of the jokes.  But worse than that I just feel like Greece. I feel like everything is collapsing. I feel like my Parthenon is in ruins."

"What's your Parthenon?"

"My mind, basically."

I told him he needed to stop being so I-I, me-me.  Get out of yourself, I told him.

"No," he said. "I am.  Actually I did find a job.  Doesn't pay anything, but it keeps me out of trouble and actually it's a way where I feel I can go a and get a high dose of common misery?

"What is it?"

I've become a full time activist.  And then he went on to tell me how he goes over to Oakland every day to be with the occupiers.

"Your father was a banker," I said.

"Don't you think I rue the day?"

"But so what do you do over there?"?

"We have 'mike check' and I talk to these kids about the old days.  A lot of people are paranoid."

"You must feel right at home."

"I do and I don't."

"How long can you keep this up?"

"I can't; I'm done with it."

"Why?"

"You know why.  Because it's fucking boring.  I realize I can't stay with causes because they're so fucking boring."

Oct 23, 2011

It's what old people say, "I'm glad I'll be long gone before that happens."  Or, "That's something your generation will have to deal with, thank God, not me or mine."  This is always in the context of some  future shock: global warming, meteorites, or the terrible inequalities that go with population growth, or just now the notion that the United States is committing social and political suicide.

This is Pat Buchanan's latest call to despair, a wish-fulfillment based on the notion that America has been caught in the worldwide vortex sucking everything down the drain: a world never more fragmented and a country never more adrift.  Nothing holds us together is the thesis: not language, religion, state, or common history; nor a sense of a common destiny, nor the means to achieve the American Dream.  Not even capitalism itself.

And if you don't believe it, why just look out the window at all those protestors down in the street.  Whether Occupiers or Tea Partiers isn't that all symptomatic of 'end times'?  Isn't it in the air?

Everything is askew and the most forbidding proof of gloom is that in 30 years whites will be a minority in America, And just think of it —130 million Latinos; 66 million blacks — the house will be run by minorities and 'darks' and darkies: the uneducated, gardeners and short-order chefs, check-out counter types, and we won't have that calm, all-clear, now-don't-you-shout-because-daddys-home, assurance that everything will be alright, we won't have Reagan's voice, God love him, to help us remain steady and thoughtful. And hopeful.

We'll have to do it ourselves and whatever parts of life aren't already self-service, will be.  We'll have to find some new hope, some unknown, unforeseen reason for optimism.  We'll be living in like-minded communities, of course, and we'll have to reach out; and one day, sure enough, a meteorite will come and a dirty bomb will go off, and people will remember the good old days, they'll scold themselves that they weren't more careful, and mindful, and they'll come up with drastic new plans, and their kid's kids will get old and they will be ever so glad they won't have to deal with the future as they imagine it.

And that's all true. Every bit of it is true.  And it all means absolutely nothing, nothing at all, next to a cliche I suppose, but still, there it is, the sunlight coming in the window, just this minute, right now.

Sep 20, 2011

Here is a place to begin. You are whoever you are, "Sheenasakai" or  "SheenaBaby" , apparently. I have only the screen name, along with the photo of a half-faced, one-eye young woman.The image is reminiscent of the Tai-chi symbol of eternity.  Perhaps, that was your intention.
     And so you threw out this note in a digital bottle, to drift across the algorithms, and in the space of a Max Planck millennium, it washes up on the beach of my interest.
     My interest is memory and here is my question: apparently, you were recently in love, then not. Something happened. Right now on 9/20/11 at 21:59 your revelation is that "love is short, forgetting is longer."  
     But does whatever pain you're in now deter you from falling in love again?  Probably not.  
     This is my point.The forgetting, no matter how slow, is already beginning.  You can't stop it.  In weeks or years, or lifetimes if you are so unlucky, you will lose this memory.  It will be no different than trying to remember a face you saw in the next car on the way home from work today. 
     And then sooner or later you will fall in love again, and it will be long or short but eventually it will falter, it will become a ruin, and worth a visit from time or time or not, but you'll remember the sensation of having been in love and the pain you felt until you forget, and you start all over again.
     This is not an argument against falling in love.  On the contrary.          And you know all this already anyway. I am merely reminding you.  I am merely a messenger whose message will last only as long as the next funding round for this site or until whenever.  
On December 9, 2009 I wrote an entry based on an article I read in a local newspaper in San Mateo.  The article was about a woman named Suzanne Caadium, a Stanford graduate and just then apparently homeless.  She'd also had a run-in with the police. I did some research, found out more about her, and added what details I could.

I've never met Ms. Caadium, but my blog has apparently become a kind of home base for those who know her.  Occasionally, people comment on the original story, or a subsequent one I wrote some months later.

Today, I received this anonymous message:  "This person is sick and needs help immediately so she cannot put her family thru hell any more!!!! Running from the law and your problems is not the answer Suzanne! You are not in the CIA nor any other gov group for that matter, you are a mom who left her children. Get Help.... "

I would only say that if I can help any of the people involved in this case, I would be glad to do it.

Sep 11, 2011

Beyond the planes hitting the towers, which so resembled a special effect, and even the buildings collapsing, the most indelible memories of 9/11 to me were the scenes of people jumping out of upper floor windows. Forced out by the infernal heat and perhaps also by the sheer horror around them. Forced out by what the body couldn't stand and what the mind wouldn't accept.

And so from time to time, sometimes in a dream, sometimes not, my mind holds fast to the thought of the couple stepping out into thin air hand-in-hand, or by the sight of the man in the Drew photo, the 'falling man' portrayed by the performance artist in the DeLillo novel.

Or there is the moment a policeman described to me once. A teenage boy with a gun sitting on stoop. This was in the docks of Marin. The policeman approaches the boy, tells him to put down the gun, but the boy is locked. The cop says what you're trained to say in such a situation. But at some point the boy and the cop realize that there is nothing to be done, the force of destiny or just a broken down mind, something has gone too far, and somewhere in that moment the boy kills himself.

Or the scenes that keep repeating, where you under the surface of the tsunami, where human life is deconstructed, and at the same time blown apart and held in place. the sea's plunder, and in that vast black realm of oil and junk, from a toothpick to a two-story house, inside the real Godzilla, the bodies: patients from the Sendai hospital; the elderly couple whose daughter came to the rescue but couldn't quite them into the car in time; fisherman floating inside their boats; a child inside a car

Aug 19, 2011

Great americans are not doing well at the tennis courts over on Vicente and 24th Avenue.  A lot of bad blood lately.  Again, it's this devilish economy.  Just the other day two men got in a fight during the beginning of a doubles match over who should serve first.  They were supposed to be partners.

"Look, you always serve first," said one, a caucasian whose shorts were probably too short. "But today I'm going to serve first."

"No, I want to serve," said the Asian gentlemen, who wore a baseball cap and sweatpants.  He kept raising his racquet above his head, doing a stretching exercise and holding it with two hands like Charleton Heston used to do at NRA meetings.

"You're not," said the caucasian pointing at a spot near the net. "Now just go on."

The Asian gentleman didn't move.  "No, I want to serve," he said with a smile and in a friendly voice, although high and squeeky.

"How do I get this across to you?  You always, always serve first," said the caucasian. "Today, I'm going to serve first."

"But I still want to serve first," said the Asian who was absolutely unflappable and would not take no for an answer.

"I'm telling you that this time you're not.  It's okay. Today, you're not.  You just have to grin and bear it."

This went on for nearly 20 more minutes and by the end of it the light had fallen.  The two players on the other side of the net quit in disgust and went home.  The park ranger closed up the bathrooms.




Jul 21, 2011

Things are going awry again. You can tell by the strange calls coming into the Taraval Street police station. All over the Outer Sunset, people are afraid. It’s the fallout from the debt limit crisis, of course. It’s just what the pundits have been saying. Krugman insists we’re all to blame for going along with this Tea Party claptrap. Laura Ingram says that anybody that goes along with Obama is an idiot and a Marxist moron and should be committed.

The point is that the public is to blame and now we're beginning to realize our foolishness. I know I do. The truth is that we're all going crazy out of remorse and self-hatred.

In the Outer Sunset husbands are threatening to throw their wives off the top of buildings, although less because of the economy then because their wives don’t have sex with them; wives are coming after their husbands with kitchen knives. Or even stranger stuff. For all the old reasons. "You never cook, you never clean. You never wipe the toilet bowl. What about you doing the laundry once in a while?"

Then this happened just down the street. It could have happened to any of us. A suspect came up to a 74-year-old man claiming to be a prince who needed to give money away before he went back to Africa. It's the old story. He told the old man he could keep $15,000 if the old man would help him donate $70,000 to charity. That's a good deal, thought the old man. Charity to help all the jobless in America and the destitute in the new country of Southern Sudan, and the Japanese who have been irradiated.

The suspect/prince told the old man that it was all but a done deal but that he would need some ‘good faith’ money, just to make sure the old man was on the up and up and could be trusted. The suspect then showed the man a roll of money with $100 bills on top, but the old man does not know what was underneath. Could have been just green toilet paper. But at the time the old man had his lust eyes on that money. It had been a long time since he'd felt that much longing.

The prince had to step away for a moment to adjust his feathers and restack his bangles. He pulled a gray hair out of the top of his head. In the same moment he received a phone call from his “lawyer”, whose entire practice is focused on the problems faced by African princes in America. The prince shook his head and approached the old man saying, ‘you talk to him’, as though to say, 'I can’t understand what he’s saying, you Americans are all weirdy-white, three-dollar bill types.'

The lawyer told the old man that he was waiting for the princes. They were supposed to have lunch at the Slanted Door and they would lose their reservation if the old man didn't quickly accept this stunning opportunity.

The old man, having no idea what the Slanted Door was, bowed his head and allowed the suspect prince to get in his car. They drove around and picked up another suspect. An assistant prince, in full regalia. The assistant told a fable about the animals who come to the watering hole for refreshment but then get eaten.

"It's a sad world, is it not," said the prince.

Then they all went to the old man’s house to look for the good faith money. He lives a few streets away. One of these dreary streets all cemented up, no trees, no grass, no charm whatsoever. But the old man couldn't find the money, he couldn’t remember where he’d put it, he looked in the rice bags and under his mattress, in the crawl space above his wife's closet and in the old Toyota gas tank he’s kept all these years. But no money. He called his wife who polishes toe nails up on Irving and 20th. She didn't know what he was talking about and hung up.

The princes said that was no problem, the Slanted Door would hold their reservation for a little while longer, and now if the old man could just go to the bank and get a cashier’s check along with some cash, everything would be, how you say, hunky dory.

So the old man dropped the suspects off at the street at their request, near their ‘day castle’. Not their night castle, which is down in the Filmore District. The old man obediently went to the bank and withdrew $9,500 in cash and a $9,500 cashier’s check. The old man then went back near the 'day castle' and gave the prince and his assistant the money and the check.

Now the old man has lost all his money but he does have the memory of having met two princes in one day, albeit an assistant prince.

Again the analogy to Obama. Sean Hannity would say, “so you see this is what happens when you deal with Africans; you get fleeced. You fall in with them because they seem well spoken, they're well dressed, but as my sons could tell you — and did I mention what terrific tennis players they are — these black immaculates are all just corrupt.”

* * *

Meanwile, back in the neighborhood, more chaos. A man reported that someone is calling him on his cell over and over again. He can’t find out who it is.  This has never happened before. A woman said someone broke into one of her vacant homes and didn’t take anything or damage anything, but did use the toilet.

Speaking of feces, a man said he found two sacks full of feces in the back of his pickup truck.

A woman said she saw a man defecating into a bag near her car. She honked the horn to drive him away; he spit on her windshield and fled.

A woman said that when she was sleeping in her boyfriend’s room, his roommate came in. He French kissed her and left. She was scared and pretended to be sleeping. He was cited.

A woman said that she received text messages on her cell phone. The messages from the unknown person gave detailed information about her. Other text messages had statements about raping her.

An officer met a female student who said that she was asked by a male student to perform a sexual act. The student showed her his genitals. The male student said that he did ask, but she asked to see his genitals first. No sexual act was performed. The parents of the students involved were notified.

But wait, that’s not all. This is also true. People called the police because a neighbor knocked on the door yelling that he “needed to get laid.” The neighbor was cited.

What was that all about? Rumors in the neighborhood are that the man had exposed himself to so much Internet porn that he was unable to control himself. He didn’t know where to turn and so flipped a coin to decide whether he would go to the neighbors on the left or on the right to see seek relief.

Someone else said he was misunderstood. He was yelling that he needed to get ‘staid’. Not laid. He had come to Jesus and wanted to get "staid."

Jul 7, 2011

Scrap

It’s the post-modern life of a maestro. Just back from Switzerland and Germany. Catch a breath. Play full-on dad with the children, under the cherry trees in the garden. Talk to your wife about her work, about architecture and the orchestration of space. Invite people down from London. Talk about how the Arts are being undermined by uncultured polticians and what ever will become of this island.

Then back in the cab. A quick change of personalities. Heathrow, please. The transition from familial tones to orchestral tones is tart. You cannot be loyal to both at the same time. “Have a pleasant trip, Mr. Goodwin.” And before you know it North America is off the starboard wing.

The Mastro is coming to Carmel. To direct the Carmel Bach Festival. Mr. Paul Goodwin, it is: the oboist turned conductor, the “energetic master of gesture”, well known for his baroque-era interpretations. Best known for giving clear cues.

And to himself, perhaps best known for his love of both ‘ancient’ music and contemporary. Best known to himself for his appreciation of musical nuance, and showing those nuances: but also the intersection of competing artistic forms, the endless weave of the Arts, and for fulfilling his notion of what a good conductor should always be, above all — a magician.

Jun 22, 2011

I ran into my old friend Bernard coming out of Java Beach this morning. He looked exuberant. He had coffee in hand and was singing something. We said hello. I asked what he was singing.

He went right into it. “We all come from the goddess. And to the goddess shall return, like a drop…. of rain, flowing to the ocean….”

He sang it again —a little too loudly for that time in the morning, but that’s Berns — and when he got to the word “drop”, he made a conductor’s gesture, with thumb and forefinger, as though to enunciate the word. “‘like a drop’, then hold it a beat. ‘of rain.’ ”

What’s that? I asked.

“A little pagan thing.” He sang it through still again.

“Catchy tune. I didn’t realize you'd gone back to your old pagan ways”

“Trying to,” he said. “Last night was the summer solstice. There was a little ceremony down on the beach at Taraval.”

We sat down, he told me about it.

“Three, four hundred people. Circle around a fire. You sing songs. Pray for a good crop. Acknowledge the four corners. Make a wish. The idea is to clear stuff out. Make room for the new. That kind of thing.”

“And the wreath goes around”, he added.

What’s that?

“Symbol of the cosmos. Universe, atom. We’re all electrons, right? Earth around the sun. Circle of life. The seasons. I suppose you could say ‘the vagina’ as well. Although that’s more my interpretation.”

‘Blessed be’. I said.

“You always have to be sarcastic. But I understand.”

I defended myself but he waved it aside. He doesn't like it when you don't take his interests as seriously as he does. He also considers himself somewhat of an expert on the subject. Many years ago he wrote a story for the New York Times Sunday Magazine about pagans. But the piece never played. If you have about 10 hours Bernie could tell you his whole sordid history with The New York Times and why they wouldn’t take a piece they’d assigned on Neo-Paganism and on which he’d spent about six months. He always claimed that was when he realized the true distance between New York and California.

“Was there a lot of wild sex?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“It’s not about that,” he said marmishly. And a little disingenuously considering the tales he’d told me of pagan annual gatherings up at Harbin Hot Springs. He’d once caught a bug in his privates after being in a pool full of coupling couples. His wife has always assumed he went biblical with some of the witches but he assured me that was not the case. “Do you think I would jeopardize an assignment with The New York Times to get laid by people I was interviewing? Plus the really voracious people were not pagan. You want to steer clear of those. There's a lot of pretenders in the pagan community.”

“Well what then? Did people take off their clothes at least?” I asked.

“Oh yes. Of course. I would say there were between 50 and 100 people who went into the ocean.”

"Last night? In that cold?"

“You feel better,” he said.

“Did you do that?”

“No, my wife did though.”

“Just took off all her clothes and dove right in.” In appearance, his wife looks not unlike the Woman of Willendorf. But blonde and very funny.

“Up to her waist”, he went on. “Mostly women went in the ocean. All shapes, ages. A few men. Who were mostly older. The men were definitely older.”

“But not you.”

He shook his head.

“How did your wife like it?”

“I don’t know you’d have to ask her. But I think she would tell you that it was very cleansing.”

I never understand how metaphor can be so powerful, how people can walk into 55-degree surf and think they’re cleansed of anything except their wits. I said that.

“I know,” Bernard said. But that’s you.”

And then he went off on the sociology of the evening.

“Starhawk wasn’t there. None of the old guard. That was sad. And what was her name who used to live down in Santa Cruz, who was always railing against Christianity, wondering why anybody would want to worship 'a little dead man on little dead sticks'. Her name won’t come to me. But anyway Starhawk’s the best, of course. Nobody knows more about this stuff than she does. No one is more talented in teaching ‘the ancient ways’.”

Bernard paused. “I don’t know what’s happened to her. It’s just mostly a lot of kids now.”

He went on.

“Explain to me what it does for you again,” I said. “What’s the appeal?”

“Oh,” he said with a sigh, as though if you have to explain it you’ll never understand. “Of course, it’s all silly and serious at the same time. It's not about ideas, that's what I like. You don't have to pose or be cool or be smart or be whatever you're being at the moment....I don't know it's really just about giving up everything...." He paused to let somebody get by.

"But I have to say when we were standing there, all the naked bodies in the firelight, skin the color of limestone, and everyone is singing, just a single note really. And as you start your voice automatically synchs with the voices around you, high C, was it, you're all on the same note and there’s something very interesting about that. It’s just for a moment but I found that very interesting.”

“Connected to the universe,” I said.

“I suppose.”

Bernard was anxious to go. But he wanted to add something.

“Apropos of nothing,” he said. “Or everything. Every once in a while I look down, I’m on a wire at the very top of the tent, and it’s just so far above the crowd and you could fall, there’s no net, and you’d be done for, but you don’t even care about that. You don't care about anything. With all that's happening. You know what I mean? You're just losing touch with life, you can sense the other side and suddenly you lose your drive, your appreciation, and that’s when the pagans can help you. They’re sweet people, the ones I’ve known. It’s all much simpler. You don’t have to be anything. That's what it is, you just don't have to be anything.”

He made a little moue, shrugged his shoulders and turned away, back humming his riff.

Jun 10, 2011

So let's say you're mentally unstable, you're a sick bastard, and you're finally up and at 'em at 9 a.m. with your breakfast of champions, listening to the Rush because how else can you waste time, how else can you torture and burn the little animals inside you.

Meanwhile, he's on his daily rant about the immorality of liberals, and how the president has this insidious plan to keep the recession going, and the fat man is being particularly vicious and vile, and insistent, a human gopher, and you finally feel guilty for listening, you do, you have to admit that, but then you're back to daydreaming — about getting through Mr. Snerdly to say to the Rushbow, "Thank you for taking my call, mega dittos from the belly of the liberal beast, thank you for all you do. I just want to know, is it true, as has been reported in various places, that you're gay? I have no argument if you are. But you seem to have such disgust for gays....

And if I could ask a follow-up: have you had sex with any of your four wives?  Your third wife says no, and claims that at one point you were into child pornography. Is that true and has anyone told you that you were separated at birth from Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter?"

But before you've refined that question, while you're deep into a 140-character novel about the murder of a talk show host, something terrible happens. You thought  you heard him say, "Mamet".  But that can't be right.  You turn up the radio and then you're hearing somebody talking about their new book.  Wait!  This isn't David Mamet. Is it?  It couldn't be.  Does David Mamet have a brother.  Are there any other public Mamets.

No, this David "Second prize is a set of steak knives"Mamet and he has just written a book about his transformation from liberal to conservative. And he's decrying political civility. And he's doing it on this program.

And then you listen to David Mamet, whose work you've largely enjoyed, some of it is brilliant — no Pinter, but he had some interesting takes on America, and suddenly you feel like the Donald Sutherland character at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the day is lost from there....

Jun 9, 2011

While everyone is concerned with Mr. Weiner's schnitzel, and whether tweet flirting is evil or merely strange crude, the scandal echoes down through the daily lives of Mr. Everyman — and woman — down and down,  right down to 18th Avenue and Moraga in the Outer Sunset District.  Which is known for block after treeless block, after cement driveway, on top of sand to which it will return.  Once upon a time, Irish; now Chinese: monochromatic, the city's somnolescent ward.  There are some streets so lifeless, so lacking in definition on a cloudy day that you'd think no one could possibly live there.  And they don't.


This from a police report:

"A wife reported that her husband’s co-worker has been speaking with him on the phone to discuss work issues more than usual in the past 2 months. The wife discovered the co-workers phone number in the husband’s cell phone and suspects that they might be having an affair. The co-worker has been calling their residence looking for the husband. On 6/9/11, the co-worker sat in her car in front of the house for several hours. Then she rang the door bell. The wife did not answer the door. The co-worker then left a back scratcher for the wife at a neighbor’s house."


May 10, 2011

The suicide note begins, "I lack personal integrity." This from a mother of two boys.  Both adopted.  She's a single mother at wit's end.  Boys are tough love and she has loads of excuses.  Her job is falling apart, her partner has left her.  She feels she's lost control.

And all the while no noticeable foreshadowing. No metaphors, no slip-of-the-tongue, no red-wine hint. The whole thing comes out of nowhere. Whim gone awry.

No one remembers another more subtle attempt a few years ago.  And there was something she said once in college years ago.

But no one remembers.

The only flag is a receipt for "Final Exit" on a side table.  Found after the fact.

And who should read this note first,  who comes across the scene first, up in an attic, no less — can you imagine this?  Her best friend, and someone who is herself fragile and who has survived big time doubt and isolation.  Who has herself helped so much to keep those two boys on track.

The words from the body on the floor are,  'Oh, and here's your thanks.  Tuck it in your heart forever.'

If you're going to commit suicide in a situation like this,  you need to run it past your supervisor first. But I can tell you now, talking about how you don't have any personal integrity will not get you out.  You fouled up.  And now a lot of folks have to clean up the mess. And your two boys will be among them.

You have no idea what it will take and how long it will take. And worst of all, how they'll miss you like mad.....

May 4, 2011

Mark Levin, the ever popular conservative talk show host, also known as "the Great One," has defined the standard for accuracy in the media for many years.  Just the other day he said, "I'm the only one that tells like it is. I'm the only one that tells the truth.  Hear that, you back benchers?"

Mr. Levin, who is meticulous with the truth and never exaggerates, has the fourth largest radio audience among living broadcasters. He's very proud of that, and by the tone of his voice you sense he has more contempt than respect for those with larger audiences.

He's a populist, although his critics say he is an intellectual skinhead — and actually he is bald and often wears a tan cap to hide the fact,  In photographs he has the dark circled eyes of a raccoon. Critics would have you believe that Mr. Levin belongs with all those lost souls in Dante's 9th circle, the bowge for fraudsters, the sowers of discord.

They would also insist that despite his claims to being an institutional scholar he's nothing of the sort.

Of course, his followers insist he is brilliant.  "I just want to thank you for all you do," they are always saying.  "The addicted", as they sometimes refer to themselves, insist Marky Mark Levin is a prophet who has rightly named America's clear and present danger: Obama.

This man is a true danger, Mr. Levin often says. He's driving this country into the ground, his whole intent is to destroy everything we hold dear.... He's akin to Nazis.  When Hoffas Jr. referred to people in the Tea Party as sons of bitches, Levin called Hoffa one of Obama's brown shirts.

Incidentally, Mr. Levin's daughter is a pop singer. Perhaps, she's the one who suggested he use part of  the opening of "Somewhere I Belong", by Linkin Park, in his promo.

Critics at "PMSMSNBCLSD", "The New York Slimes" and even "The Washington Compost" , the statists, might also point out that Mr. Levin's argument for showing photos of a dead Bin Laden to the public was that he, himself, simply wanted to "revel" in the goriness of the scene and by his own admission pin those photos on this office wall so that every day he could be reminded of how much he hated such a monster.

The Great One, not to be confused with The Annointed One, his nemesis, the president, graduated magna cum laude from Temple University and has written several best selling books, including Foot Men In Black and Libel and Tyranny.  He is often honored by strict constitutionalists and was once nicknamed "F. Lee Levin" by one of his mentors, Rush Limbaugh.

"He takes pride in being snide", is one his call lines.

Mr. Levin's other nickname, "The Great One", was bestowed by Sean Hannity, a former Chinese figurine, who often appears on the Levin show and begins his participation by asking Mr. Levin, "so what are you wearing today?"

Sometimes at home The Great One will turn on his friend and say to nobody in particular, "Did you hear what the Inanity said on his show tonight? That chubby coward." And then he'll say to his wife, "And you can tell him I said that."

Although many of his listeners might guess that "the Great One" is a short man by the sound of his high, shrill voice,  Mr. Levin is 6'4".  He also describes himself as "husky."

Mr. Levin, who has a signed picture of Robert Welsh above his tie rack, has become particularly popular among Tea Party activists and serves as the de facto voice of the Koch Brothers, who pay him a six-figure annual salary to promote their organization, Americans for Prosperity.  Critics claim that few of Mr. Levin's listeners realize the very close relationship he holds with the Koch family, particularly Charles. Both share a fascination with small rodents and bowler hats, as well as politics and meet regularly at a tiny Italian restaurant in an undisclosed mall in New Jersey.

Mr. Levin's role model is less de Tocqueville or Burke than the legendary conservative talk show host, Robert Ciro Gigante, also known as "Bubba" Bob Grant.  Over the years Mr. Grant has made a number of statements that might be considered racial slurs by people who pay attention to such things. "Bubba" was also one of the first conservative personalities to call for President Obama's long-form birth certificate.

Mr. Grant's radio style has been imitated by Mr. Levin, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, who Mr. Grant originally castigated as a radio host.

Mr. Levin's own radio style is much more refined than Mr. Grant's, although he has his own irrepressible style.  He refers to supporters of the president as "Obama thugs".  He refers to the president himself as a "moron" and a "liar."

"There, I said it," he'll say.

Or sometimes he'll say something that would raise an eyebrow at the FCC but then adds, "Can I say that, Mr. Producer?"  As though to taunt the censors.

He even expresses contempt for conservative callers, particularly those sympathetic to Donald Trump. He may say to a caller imploring Mr. Levin's support, "get off my phone you idiot."

On the other hand, if a caller offers even a bit of a kind word, or complements Mr. Levin's torch stories about his dogs, Mr. Levin will reply, "All right my friend, thank you for the call."

Last year Mr. Levin made $250,005.49.  He gave everything above $250,000 to charity.

As for 2012, Dr. Levin has refused to endorse anyone until the last moment.  He prefers Santorum and Bachman because they're the only "true conservatives."  He would like to get Gov. Romney on the show but his people say he's just too busy this week and in fact throughout this entire campaign cycle.

Above all, Mr. Levin is fair-minded, always careful with the truth, and reaches out to his listeners to find out what they think. He never cuts people off.  He believes in debate.  He loves firefighters and security personnel.  And soldiers.

On Fridays, to mark the end of the week, he plays Kate Smith singing God Bless America.  Then he goes home and weeps.  He literally weeps.  But actually before he goes home he stops by his favorite restaurant to have a heart-stopping cheese burger.  This is an everyman.  This is what endears him to millions.

He is actually not the petty, angry, foul-minded little psychopath he sounds like. (He's 6'4". And husky. He also has a club foot.)

Critics insist he has no heart, despite his claims he has had open heart surgery.  They demand proof of the surgery but so far nothing has been provided.

"The Great One" is also known for his sentimentality for dogs.  Three of his dogs have died in the last year or two.  No person has ever received more adulation or respect than one of his dogs.  No sorrow can match it. This was particularly true after "Griffen" died. About whom a book has been written.

However, questions have been raised about where the money goes in honor of "Griffen's" memory.  Mr. Levin uses his website to solicit money for a reputed animal charity. . But what is it really? A think tank for radical canines, perhaps.

None of those reports have been verified.

Mr. Levin once held a position in the Reagan administration, in the Justice Dept., or Injustice Dept. as he would say about the current department.   He was much beloved by the First Lady and also dated Betsy Bloomingdale! She later had some very unkind things to say about Mr. Levin, but then she said the same things about her husband, Alfred.

Mr. Levin, who apparently now refuses to step foot in Bloomingdales. He reportedly has a Reagan shrine in his study and on an old victrola listens to Fr. Coughlin speeches before he goes to bed. He knows them all by heart.

"Should I call myself, Rabbi Coughlin?", he'll ask his wife in the middle of the night. "I think I shall. That'll get 'em up in arms."

Several stories have surfaced recently that Mr. Levin's wife has had another nervous breakdown and has had to seek psychiatric help. Mr. Levin, himself, suffers from various bi-polar disorders.  What he most want you to appreciate is that he's someone the framers would like to have shared a cheese burger with, and he's a big man, he's not the little man he sounds like.

May 3, 2011


"52"

Have a seat and wait for your number,
To be called. To explain. To account.
To give up bad blood to be tested,
Where you had been, and now just the wind.
Where thought and books to be written,
Promises forgiven, memory forgotten
Your overhead smashes unreturned, and now,
Where you stood, just the wind.

Apr 27, 2011

Once again I'm late to the revelation. The other day I made the mistake of seeing The Inside job the other day. I knew the story line well enough: I watched some of the congressional hearings a year ago. I read Krugman et al. I've studied the greed-ridden face of the principals. And I know some people who have been knocked down by it. Directly and indirectly.

I'd also read Matt Damon's reservations about the Obama administration, even Obama himself, and then promptly dismissed them.

The problem is that when you see the drama all laid out, all of a piece, and you see how in administration after administration the villains never go away, much less get called to account — not to mention the insidious link with academe in general and Harvard in particular – it changes your perspective. Or it did mine. I was most struck by Obama's introduction of Larry Summers.

And so you think, well Obama is saving the best for last, he'll deal with it after 2012. But I'm beginning to wonder if that's true.


Apr 24, 2011

Every few months I'm invited downtown to 250 Sutter Street to participate in a focus group. There's always a strange scene or an odd encounter. Last time, during a discussion about potato chips, a woman leaned out of her chair and part way under the conference table to smell her high-heel shoe. She was clever about it but I saw the whole thing.

Tonight, it was a former kindergarten teacher. A very striking woman by the way. She wore hot rod-red lipstick on a chalk-white face. Like a mime or a kabuki dancer. She was about my age. Not Asian. Her hair was grey and wiry like an unshorn sheep. She wore expensive blue-streaked shoes, from Mexico she said. They fit her as though they'd come out of a Tastee Freeze machine and swirled right on to her feet.

At the last minute she and I were not picked to participate in the focus group. We were told to remain for 15 minutes, until it was clear no alternates would be required. Then we would be paid and could leave.

When told she was not chosen this woman, whose name I didn't get, said she was insulted. "Aren't you?" she asked me mockingly.

"I am deeply hurt," I said.

"My husband will be devastated that I'm coming home so early," she went on.

I showed concern.

"We're in therapy," she said. "But it's not going well."

Why not?

"Nothing's working. We've tried everything. Part of the problem is that my husband worked in the district attorney's office for thirty years. Actually, one thing did work, for a while. The therapist told us that we needed to surprise each other more. You know, try to bring back the glow. Don't we all want the glow?"

What did you come up with?

"Lately, mostly new restaurants, weekend trips up the coast. It's all what we were doing before. I'm going to take him to see "No Exit" when that opens next month at A.C.T."

Does he like Sartre?

"He has no idea who Sartre is. But he has a taste for the bizarre."

Clearly, I thought. What's the most memorable surprise he ever gave you?

"He took me to Harbin Hot Springs for a four-day weekend with Neopagans."

How was that?

"A lot of overweight people frankly. A lot of standing around in circles with no clothes on. Surprisingly boring but perverse at the same time. I found that part interesting."

What's the most memorable thing you ever gave him.

"Once, I woke him up at 3 a.m. by playing opera out of a boom box as loud as I could. He hates opera."

She was clearly reliving the thrill.

What opera?

"Boris Gudonov. Mussorgsky's noisiest, if you know it. It was between that and anything sung by Gertrude Grob-Prandl. I think she's considered one of the loudest opera singers of the 20th Century. I literally put right the box right next to his ear."

It occurred to me that despite her wild imagination this might not be the ideal wife.

"But that wasn't the surprise," she went on. "Then I blindfolded him and drove him up to Napa for a balloon ride. But on the way up I almost ran over a dear and when we got there the event was cancelled. It was a bad end but still memorable."

Ten minutes had passed. One of the girls at the front desk told us we could leave. We went up to sign out. Before being given a check we had to show some proof that we had given to a favorite charity — a magnet to put on the frig, a thank you card.

It was at this point that the woman dug into her PBS tote bag and drew out a bloody arm. It was in a shirt sleeve, buttoned at the wrist. From a small man clearly. With stubby fingers and a wedding ring.

"Will this do?" the woman asked. One of the girls behind the desk fell out of her chair.

I had to look at this arm for a long time to realize it was rubber. It even had an odd smell. The blood stains in the shirt where the arm would have been torn from the shoulder were particularly life-like.

"My favorite charity is Doctors Without Borders," said the woman.

We took our checks and got on the elevator.

What do you do for a living, I asked.

"I was a kindergarten teacher for 30 years. Now, I'm just a housewife."

Not just, I said.

"No, not just," she replied, standing in the elevator looking up at the ceiling, the bloody fingers reaching out of her bag.

Apr 16, 2011

Apr 3, 2011

This may have happened to us. It could have. I just don't know. The last thing I remember is arriving at the Clarion Hotel on Sisk Rd. in Modesto around 1 p.m. Three of us. In driving rain. The hotel was empty, dark. Steel plates around every door lock, low ceilings, some of the acoustic panels coming loose, Cinny the sinecure behind the front desk, and then a single figure standing absolutely still in the indoor pool. Turn of the Screw, I thought later. And then the crooked-scent of Pall Malls off the carpets, the snuff-like effect of fresh skid: 50 years of tobacco, sucrose, Propylene Glycol, Glycerol, Licorice extract, Diammonium Phosphate, Ammonium Hydroxide, Cocoa, Carob Bean, and all the artificial flavors. The place had the atmosphere of a minimum security prison; three pools notwithstanding.

In the old days, when Ronald Reagan was acting emperor-in-chief, this was a Red Lion Inn and a swinger's paradise. Well-to-do farmers lounged in the indoor pool listening to Dean Martin, watching Jetson reruns, dreaming of Marilyn Chambers while the lettuce pickers hummed Steinbeck.

The boys didn't care about the history of the hotel or the central valley. It all looked good to them. Particularly ika. Plus he was still reliving his goal off a bicycle kick in a state cup game earlier in the day, up in Ripon. Ika's from Georgia, the country, and the back of the country at that. So when we're on the road, no matter where we stay, it always seems like swanktown to him.

I told the boys they should try the sauna and wash their uniforms. I don't do 'valet' anymore.

I went to the weight room. There was a man with a pony tail watching Nancy Grace laboring on about dead prostitutes in Long Island. The man was in his 30s, dressed in tattoos the color of Mystery Oil. He was thin, forbidding. I couldn't figure out how to get the bicycle machine going. It occurred to me that he might have been able to help.

Meanwhile back in our room, out the window, the parking lot is a great puddle, a single car parked, that would be ours, and beyond that HWY 99, Meth route 66, the 18 wheelers running back and forth, belching and blowing, the drivers wide-eyed out of Fresno.

How many times have we been out here? How many games have I watched in Ripon? And always we have a problem. Traffic tickets, bad directions, bad games. Bad things here, always. Whenever I see the water tower I get the shivers.

That night we go to a Mexican restaurant on the other side of Modesto, in a mall full of vacancies. We sit at a corner booth. Ika goes on a rant about some boy in his class that always has a toothpick in his mouth and gives his teacher shit. The waitress rushes us. The table is a mess. You can hear Ika all over the restaurant. The people at the next table are saying that Obama told some woman with eight children she shouldn't have had eight children.

Dash just sees it all for what it is. Hears the face value. He doesn't care about the scene or the context.

We get out of there and back to the tiers in time to watch Saw IV. Then I pass out and in the fall direct the boys to get their crap in the washer and dryer before they sleep. They said they were going to do it much earlier. They said, they said. Finally, they bundle it all up and go off.

The next morning we get up at 9:30. Game is in two and half hours. On the field in one hour. It's still raining but clearing; 99 is still roaring. The mechanical blood of America is still flowing.

The boys go back to the dryer to get their things and return almost an hour later. I have a bad feeling. Sure enough. They come back to say the uniforms are gone, along with underwear, socks, sweats, slacks, about all we have. Why would it be otherwise? Teenagism can never be in remission.

Room disservice has no clue. I go mashugana-man and yell at the sinecure big time. There will be an apology later, but just now we have 40 minutes to get back to the field, which is 10 miles away. They can't play without uniforms. We've talked to the coach. Can't play without uniforms. There are no extras.

The boys talk to housekeeping. I talk to anyone I can find. I knock on doors. I'm thinking of the mind of criminals and the odds. The clock is running. The game starts in 20 minutes. Warm up is over. All players must check in. This is the state cup. Cinny says the night watchman isn't answering his phone. What about the cameras? I ask. "Could you come back next week?" Cinny's manager won't talk to me. The Cinnycure, is cracking.

"Come back on Monday," she says.

You don't understand, I say. Then she tells me someone checking out saw the boys sitting on the dryer at 12:30 a.m. Huh? What boys are we talking about? Someone checking out saw these boys? Who was that.

I think they were asleep closer to 10:30, having played two games the day before and the machines aren't big enough to sit on. But so what if they had been sitting on the dryer, what does that have to do with it?

"They've stolen their own clothes?"

Cinnycure will not look up from the monitor.

Okay now we're down to 15 minutes. At 75 miles an hour we could make it. The head of housekeeping says she's never heard of a theft in all her 10 years of housekeeping. The beer distributor wants to know why Cinny is crying. The coach is calling to say we have 10 minutes.

Suddenly, I realize, we're out of time.

I give up.

We walk back to the room. We pass the kitchen. I see a woman cleaning up. I duck in. I explain. She has a hard face. The eyes are brown and browned and quick. She's wide-bodied. Dirty blond. And oh but she's tired. Done in, too. And not about lost uniforms.

"Look," I say. "You're our last hope." The boys are in my ear about how they've already talked to her. She's washing a griddle top.

"If you were us, where would you look?"

She throws some eyes over her shoulder.

"Well, I'd start with the trash cans. Fact is there's a lot of missing and stolen stuff here. Happens all the time."

Boys shake their heads. They've never heard of such a thing and plus it's not cool to look in the trash. I go for it. Sure enough, five minutes later, fourth can on the other side of the building, just down the stairs from the washing machine room, there are the uniforms. I don't look further. I give the woman $40. She's nodding. She doesn't seem happy or sad.

"Remember this," she says, "and I've been in this business a long, long time. You lose anything in a hotel, no matter what it is, look in the cigarette cans, look in the trash cans. People take things and put 'em in places, somewhere where they can come back to."

She puts the money in her apron pocket, and goes back to cleaning the griddle, reaching far over the stovetop, pushing the grease this way and that and then pulling it into the grease trap....

(We get to the game, win, beat last year's champion; and then the next weekend in some other god forsaken place, up in Sactown, north of the Arco Arena if you know where that is, just the other side of Elveret, a few streets past Eloise, under a glide path, in the semi-finals, on fields as flat as medium surf, they lose in double overtime and just like that it's over. Some of them 10 years together and the coach is gone before the third whistle.. But that's all another story.)

Mar 9, 2011

A month ago you heard the news from Cairo as though it were the birth of a grandchild. And you thought, "well, look at those crowds in Tahrir Square and God's speed to a democracy. What a long journey it will be, but worth every step."

And now tonight you, yourself, are in the streets. Figuratively, at least. In Madison or Lansing. How did this happen? This was just a matter of some teachers who realized they needed to give up benefits but just wanted the comfort of collective bargaining. And now this outrageous plan to privatize local government in Michigan, and the local dukes and viscounts will need more than $150,000 per annum, thank you very much. Indeed, you'll need to pay them more than the governor to take apart the local school district, to delete city hall and put a whole town out to pasture.

And you realize that suddenly we are fighting much the same struggle as Egyptians. Better commentators will illustrate the point.

But what may not be readily apparent is how the Left's anger, and righteous it is, is now out of the bag. And now you're going to hear the equivalent of the Tea Party, the new howl, but now the same fear — that some nut will go after el Rushbow or the Kochs.

It is hard to imagine how much Republicans have overplayed their hand, but then they are acting roles they're not quite familiar with. The most interesting part of it is how a handful of people, "the 400" as they should be known, have stirred up a hornet's nest of 153 million people.

And how the Thanesters and the Koch heads and Innanity, NFL owners, and Gov. Walker, who imagines himself the new Reagan, how they're are all linking up... How they're all joined in this effort.

And you wonder when the president will give up the pretense, see through these people who he seems to admire and for what? Because he really did want to be their friends all along? Is that really it? Tell me it ain't so...

Mar 3, 2011

How extraordinary it is that four months ago conservatives held such a grip on public sentiment. From deficits to healthcare a progressive could not get in a word edgewise. Obama was turning into political poison, the righteousness of the Right was "on loan from God", as el Rushbow would say.

And if the puppet's hands were stringed to the Koch control bar, and even if some people knew that, it didn't matter. Because you couldn't feel that effect. It didn't seem to make any difference if that were true. What was important was that you had your anger and you were right to be angry, and anger was effective. It was fun to have power, to feel that wind in your hair.

A blink later and now you can see the plot. It's not a "conspiracy theory" anymore; it's just the way it is and, you could argue, always was. And now everyone has a front row seat so they can actually hear Gov. Walker's reverence for Charles Koch. You can understand their strategy. It's all so clear now.

And isn't it odd how those union protestors suddenly seem to have stolen the place of the Tea Party. Now the vindication is theirs.

But here's the point: As crazy as it might have seemed, there are a group of conservatives who really want to undo this country, who really want to crush unions and constitutionalize the power of the corporation and put in stone the wealth and influence of how many is it, 300,000 people?

And we're not talking about people who can't spell or who live in a car phone in Fremont or who believe the president is not an American or who say, how dare that Aunt Jemima in the White House tell me how much grease I'm gonna eat....

Meanwhile, in the background, those other protesters, from Casa to Baghdad. And there is a resonance, a vague connection between them and teachers in Madison and cops in Newark. The common protest is against those who would take away rights. It's the many against the few, those who imagine they have lost power against those who imagine they have power.

And maybe in this country this really is part of the last stand of a wealthy, Caucasian empire. No matter what you call it, or how you think of it, the truth is that the intermittent spirit of socialism that runs through America, in communes and coops the American Utopian movement — Brook Farm, New Harmony, and Shakers — and certainly with the industrial age, is burning brighter. Materialism, as we've known it here, is flickering.

Of course, there's still the desire to acquire, to buy and possess, to get the new new thing, but that desire seems increasingly mixed with fatigue and a kind of listlessness. You could argue it's the last legacy of the age of Aquarius. We've been told that for a long time and now perhaps we're beginning to accept it.

The long slow decline into the 'littler world' of Europe is what right wing labrador retrievers would say. That's party true. But it's also America maturing, and getting smarter and wiser, not just more frail.

The essence of America and the American experience is the role of the individual. Of course. We would all agree on that. And that's what needs protection. And monitoring. In the end, our well being in every sense is less a measure of the competing powers of unions and corporations, than nurturing the instinct to remain free, to hold on to a sense of individual freedom even as we slowly, painfully, even appropriately disappear into the great morass of ever larger communities and anonymity.

Feb 28, 2011

We went to watch the oscars with the Unwanted man and his wife. He was in the badly lit parlor room, sitting in his customary spot on his sofa nearest the old television. He designed the sofa, along with the chair his wife sat in: a clever wrought iron frame with a canvas seat, so comfortable you need to be excavated to get out of it.

They are getting a divorce, there's no question now; the papers are already in files underneath newer files. The reality is new but already old.

During the show they don't address each other. She makes fun of him and rolls her eyes; he comments on all the women he sees. How this presenter has a great body but her dress doesn't suit her, or that woman's body should be hidden, or this woman was in a film 20 years ago called such and such. He remembers all the details. He remembers the plots, who the actress was married to at the time and the director...

The Unwanted man talked with guests but never took his eyes off the screen. He said he was looking into moving into a high rise where many of the city's wealthy live. And for sure his own house will sell for a lot of money but the profit will all go to the bank to pay for indulgences long forgotten, trips and cars and chancy investments. He will be lucky if he doesn't have to live in the Tenderloin.

The unwanted man was himself was always a cinematic character, and even tonight, in his Fellini fedora, huddled in one corner of the sofa, hiding his gnarled hand, yelling at the Rhodesian Ridgeback when the pizza arrived, and when the faces appeared of all those who had died over the last year his lower lip turned over and he sobbed, really sobbed, but so quietly only I heard him.

He was grieving in that way when you are overcome by some sad reminder of life's quick trip and then just as suddenly you catch yourself, a long cloud on a cold clear day, you're in the shade one moment and out the next. The grief is so deep, and so shallow at the same time, and so tied to the memory of years ago and those actors and the lives they portrayed — you're so caught by that — that you almost can't tell what was real and what was not and which was your life and which was theirs.

Feb 24, 2011

The worst part of the day came in low and fast like this...

First, there was Hannity, that all-in-one Abbot and Costello, saying how poorly the president had reacted to the situation in Libya — "pathetic, isn't it?" said the Innanity, and wondered what would it take Obama to see the light, have some guts and take a stand?

Perhaps, he said, 'if the protesters in Tripoli joined the teachers in Madison The Annointed One would do something.'

With that I turned off the radio, got out of the car, went down five flights, and made my way to an Information desk where I was told to 'have a seat for a moment'. After 20 minutes, the girl leads me down to the trailer. The Mustang Ranch, as it were, where they service your wits, take apart your last remaining sanities. You put anything metal in the drawer, save your wedding ring. But your belt, your coat, not your shoes, you can leave those on, which I don't normally do, and now there are two girls — can I do this I'm thinking? — and then they strap you down on the tray and — and you think of executions, but no it's not that, yet something nearly as Sfi-Fi, they move you into the fallopian, and there you go, wearing ear plugs and a face mask, going up stream with the salmon, home somehow, all in the embrace of an acronym, MRI, or you're like a torpedo in a tube, in sinking submarine, or a football player who they think has a neck injury and as they get you on the cart you want to be sure to wave to the crowd, even if just the little finger, give them some sign of life, get a kind word from Ron Jaworski but you can't, and then the clanking begins.

It's the test of mind sinew, of course. Can you delete all your material world files and be a baby Jesus. Be just clean and open and fearless. Or maybe find cultural links. "This sounds like something Philip Glass might like," you think. Or not. After all, how much more koyaanisqatsi can we get here, folks? No, there's just no tempo except once, for a few minutes, as though someone was saying "Tony" over and over and very fast: tonytonytonytony, and soon you're imagining you're a Peruvian miner and then you're the girl in True Grit and the rattle snakes are in the tube with you and then you desperately shuffle through the pages of better thought, noble thought, and there's the enigmatic smile of the buddah statue in the entryway at home.

But hard to keep that smile front and center because of all the clanging and clanking, gonging, and every once in a while they recalibrate, you feel the pulsing on your fingers, they start all over again, and one of the girls is talking to you, the speakers are very bad. Here's this million dollar machine but the speakers are incredibly poor and the she-Hal is saying 'you're doing fine' as though, 'yes, you're doing fine, you're almost dead now, we just want to knock out any remaining life forms, and we'll have you right out of here'.

As Ram Dass once told me, I keep coming back to that, "you'll be dying and I'll be surfing', and that's how life is, and once more you feel the pulsing as the magnetic coils dismember you cell by cell, and you feel yourself becoming no more than a gopher out in a plastic yard hole.

Suddenly, there's the sound of birds, little yellow birds, or else something needs oil, because clearly the valve lifters are coming apart. No, those are definitely birds, what an odd thing, and something about the sound makes you think they're as yellow as sunup. Which brings to mind the mechanical bird, or was it a real bird, on the branch out the kitchen window in Blue Velvet and a whole other train of dark insanities comes roaring along.

Finally, it ends and five years later you can't remember if you ever had one of those, and the girl gives you your belt and your coat, but no kiss, as though there's nothing intimate that's gone on here, they should give you a kiss, no question, something to go with the $50 co-pay and the $1,100 a month, and the fact that you didn't call for help, but no, all you get is the 'attaboy', and frankly I wanted a little more sincerity, because the fact is 42.3 percent of the people who get in the magnetic orgamatron can't stand the pleasure and have to be pulled out of there. They squeeze the little red bag and then endure the humiliation of not being able to do it... The nurse smiles, a grim smile but still a smile. Remember, she's doing 18 people a day. How much affection does she have for you, especially when you can't do it....

So then I rush out the trailer, down the metal steps, into the hospital, through all these metaphors, and up the cement stairs, to street level, like popping up out of the ocean, and you get your ticket validated, up the elevator, I remember the floor on the first try, how sane am I now you frankendocs, and then throw yourself into the car, at 257,000 miles and the permanent scent of Jack-in-the-box, home sweet home, and then you turn on the radio for a little face cream for the mind... Silence would never occur to you.

And for just a fleagasm of a moment you wonder how could that possibly be, what kind of person are you to turn this on, especially at a moment like this, what is it? You haven't a clue, you have this obsession with political fanatics. You're sick. That's why you went to the hospital....

No matter, the on-life switch is on and you're just at the dot of the hour, at the beginning of another resonance machine, it takes a string theory to understand this, but there it is, the ever effervescent, and Mr. Evanescent, Mark Levin, always introduced by the heavy rumble of guitar grunge, and the barker's faux life-in-wartime prologue, "He's here! He's here. Now broadcasting from the underground command post deep in the bowls of a hidden bunker, somewhere under the brick and steal of a nondescript building.... We've once again made contact with our leader....(Grunge dirge up... swell) ....Mark Levin.

And it's all strangely comforting, even the sound of someone so absolutely malicious and vile and, under any other circumstances, bonkers — a recall unit if there ever was.....

Feb 19, 2011

I'm always happy to get a note from Tim Phillips, whose function reminds me of the ball and claw on the leg of an old-fashioned piece of office furniture, something called the Kock Brothers Corner Chair, perhaps.

No, always a delight to hear from Tim, who's not only a great American but he's an American for prosperity. So many are not these days. Why you look around and you see how people hate prosperity and run away from it as though it were the devil.

Tim began his missive today on the horrible situation in Wisconsin:

As I looked out from the stage on the faces of thousands of folks at the "Stand With Walker" rally in Madison, Wisconsin today a young 7 or 8 year-old girl atop her dad's shoulders stood out. She was waving a "Fight Back Wisconsin" sign and cheering happily. Before the rally her dad had told me they gave up her basketball game today to come to the rally because "It's time to stand tall." Next to them in his hard hat was Mansfield, a tall, wiry gentleman who runs a small brick laying business near Madison. These two individuals symbolize what's at stake.

Such an accurate personification of the conservative view: an 8-year-old-girl atop her daddy, and Mansfield. And can you not hear the little girl saying, "Daddy dearest, I've been listening to Rush Limbaugh, what an old pussycat he is, and he said people who want to know something about government should listen to his show. So that's what I did. That's where I went on all these mornings when you thought I was watching Spongebob, Wizards of Waverly Place, That's so Raven, and Suite Life of Zach and Cody.... But I gave that up to watch the Rushbow ap on your I-phone. I luuuuuuuuuuuv it. But this morning he said there were bad teachers in Madison who just want to do bad things and they want us to pay for it. He asked me if I could believe it and I said no, 'Uncle Rush I can't.' So then he said I should make a sign up to express my feelings. So then it jsut came to me, "Fight Back Wisconsin". Yea, because we're fighters, aren't we Daddy? Aren't we?

"And then Daddy I wanted to ask if you could make it so I didnt have to go my basketball game tomorrow because it's like Uncle Rushbow said.. No, wait. Uncle Hannity said. He's the other fatty guy, right. Boy wait 'til Mrs. Obama gets on HIS case. Well he said we all have "to stand tall". And I want to stand tall, too. So can we go to Madison tomorrow, and I could sit on your shoulders and together we'll stand tall. Can we daddy? Can we?"

But then what about Mansfield, the tall, wiry gentleman with a hard hat and a brick-laying business symbolizing all those hard working tall, wiry gentlemen with hard hats and a brick-laying business.

If Wisconsin isn't really about the survival of the Democratic Party as Rachel Maddow believes and it isn't about the brass balls of the Tea Party movement as Tugboat Limbaugh believes, I'm glad Tim's got his finger on what's at stake: the obscure, off-key symbolism of an 8-year-old girl used by her father to make his political point and Mansfield, a tall, wiry man, a brick shithouse of a man, who never takes off his hard hat even when he's finished laying bricks.
I want to offer a public apology. This is no joke. Some years ago I wrote a profile of Ram Dass which appeared in West Magazine, the Sunday magazine of the San Jose Mercury News. He told me something in a way that I didn't understand. Now I do. I think I do. I didn't see it then. I'd like to apologize.  He was seeing AIDs patients and then on his 60th birthday he was going off to Australia to go surfing.  He'd always wanted to do that.  And I asked him how he would do that, thinking it must be very difficult to leave people who depend on you so much.  He said, "well I'll be surfing and they'll be dying. And that's just the way it will be."  Something like that.  And I thought how coarse, how tough.  What kind of guru is this?  Where's the compassion in any of that?  But I understand now.  I get it, as best I can.  I see how this works.  Although quite honestly I can't explain it.

Jan 28, 2011

Who am I to say, but I would explain it this way: The leadership model among Arabs has always been the charismatic strongman. Beginning with the Prophet. Who you will remember brought together the warring tribes around Mecca and for a moment kept the peace. As soon as he died, the tribes returned to their feuding. Without someone to hypnotize them, they are at the mercy of their nature.

And so Arab history is filled with good and bad charismatics. Saddam Hussein on the one hand; KIng Hussein on the other. Although don't forget Black September if you remember him only as the monarch with the kindly smile.

And why this obsession with the dictator. Because, as a Moroccan history professor explained it to me, Arab know themselves. "They have always sensed that they need to be 'ruled' and they have been convinced by religion and circumstance that chaos is their true enemy."

But now, you could say, the Arab Awakening is over. Now, it's time to get up and do something.

From Rabat to Riyadh there is a drive to write a new history. What they are saying is, "we have endured this self-imprisonment long enough. We're sick of our ghosts. Now we want to try something else."

Of course, the incendiary for all this is poverty and the incredible distance between rich and poor, the lack of strong middle classes. The false promise that education would be an elevator. The dangling images of wealth and freedom, and sexuality, that they have access to.

So now we are asked to watch whether they can solve this riddle of their nature. Can they find a way out of their fear and ignorance, their addiction to the past, and form a new image of themselves. Can they accept freedom? Can they trust themselves in a way they never have before. Can they find a new way to imagine 'the tribe'.

As for Mubarak, he's finished. The only question is how long it will take him to accept that. His son has fled to London. His son had been the reason to hold on to power.The mob has taken over the central government buildings. But their argument is not with technocrats, which is why Mubarak turning out the whole government is not a solution. The people in the street want the end of a regime. Which is also to say they want a new regime. But what does that mean?

The danger from a Western perspective is that the Muslim Brotherhood, whose party has 10 percent of the power, can somehow take more than their share. They are the medical doctors and Islamic intellectuals who ended up in prison, whose offspring is al qaeda, who murdered Anwar Sadat, who are a fifth column, to be sure....

But they are not the authors of this. They may instigate, they may take advantage. But this turmoil is much more widespread. Much deeper.

Remember this is a country of 80 million people. There are a couple hundred thousand people in the streets. It's not like in Tunisia with a much higher proportion of the population in the streets. That's a true turn of events. This is not that. Yet.

Jan 21, 2011

This solicitation appeared today — for a ghost writer to tell a man's story. Here's the assignment: weave these threads into a story that anyone would wish to read:

I have written a 45,000 word account for my daughter (9) of my experience of trying to maintain contact with her since her first birthday. The aim of this project is to publicise the extraordinary family court process and in particular the fecklessness of the senior judges. Although a harrowing tale, it needs to be presented with lightness and humour. The story has several threads:
1. My pioneering struggle to build a successful organic dairy farm and business from scratch.
2. My health problems a) infertility leading to successful embryo donation, b) colon cancer.
3. Mother's history -- finding her "dead" father after her mother disowned her for marrying me
4. Being marginalised from my daughter at birth, then separated by broken contact orders, eventual
alienation.
5. Divorce and allegations of cruelty to animals, physical, mental and sexual abuse, domestic
violence, 2 arrests: all cleared in courts.
6. I lose my home, farm, company and my daughter
7. 50+ hearings, over £200,000 wasted, 18 different judges, LIP.
8. Constant assurances from judges and Cafcass to support contact and keep a link with my
daughter, even residence change. Last order from high court judge denying my parental right to
even know my daughter's school.
I cannot identify my family so ghost can be named author

Jan 13, 2011

As great as the president's speech, as moving and unifying as it may have felt to so many, it will make no difference to the tone of political debate. Nor will it lead to a general civility. Which is not to dismiss the speech or mock its idealism, or to say that it will not initiate a subtle but profound change in this country. Nevertheless, for the moment, through 2012, this speech will make no difference.

Indeed, the voice of fear and ignorance will only become more shrill. Why? Because of bad economic times, of course, but more because hatred is now commerce. It's now become a sophisticated product, and bought the same way you might buy gold to protect against inflation or buy an accountant's help against the IRS, or buy a posturpedic mattress to fight sleeplessness.

It is finally a remedy and although sold under another name, another label — knowledge, for example — cynicism and skepticism are the natural ingredients.

Earlier this week Mark Lavin excoriated Chris Matthews, as he often does, adding, "Is he still drinking?" Lavin is more vitriolic than ever.

And you understand, it's not just a matter of personal animosity, it's not just an ideological difference, much as the haters hide behind that conceit, it's knowing the taste of the crowd in the coliseum, how and when to bring on the lions and the gladiators.

Or think of it this way: What is the best entertainment? The mystery, the thriller, the disaster movie, the horror movie... The Hills Have Eyes.

We pay to be frightened, because that's the way to get out of the doze. It's the only way we know, have ever known as a specie. We have to be reduced to fight or flight to find ourselves. We need to be at the most dangerous point to be saved...

Meanwhile, gun sales are up, and in one state or another it has been reported that gun owners have been coming in droves to shooting ranges with their Glock 19s to see for themselves how it is that this man had such a problem putting in a new magazine.

Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh goes right on with his mantra, this morning looking for insincerities in Obama's speech, finding solace in David Gergen's criticism of the "pep rally" atmosphere during the President's address.

In the end, I don't believe Limbaugh really believes his shtik. He simply found a way of political being that fits with his personality. He has discovered his nature in an ideology and a culture that has increasing value these days.

Jan 9, 2011



On the morning after Jared Lee Loughne’s attack his political identity remains unclear. A classmate describes him as a liberal; his writings, to the extent they makes sense at all, reflect both libertarian and conservative themes.

Whatever his politics, I was struck by how much both language and views reflect what you hear on say, The Mark Levin Show.

For example, listen to the Lavin show on December 15, 2010 the same day Loughne posted his youtube ramble, which touched on immigration, the Constitution and “property.”

Lavin’s own ramble that day touched on those three issues as well. Here’s a rough transcript of one excerpt.

“The way they (Democrats) see it, ‘we’re importing Democrats’… The more the entitlements, the bigger the welfare state, (and) the more they’re going to win elections… The Democrat party and the government are intertwined… We conservatives don’t believe that. We believe that the federal government has certain responsibilities. The constitution gives us the guidelines, and that’s how we want our society to function… Democrats are about evading the constitution. They use the federal government to improve their own political situation. Ours is legitimate; theirs is lawless."

Lavin, who often points out that few people except his listeners have ever read the Constitution, continues his rant saying to one caller, “That’s what I said in Men in Black and Liberty And Tyranny: What have we become? If we’re not a constitutional republic, a representative republic, a federal republic, what the hell are we? Well, we’re a country that is spiraling into this soft tyranny. That’s why I say what I say. I wish I could give you a more comforting answer, but there is no more comforting answer.”

Loughne writes,

The majority of citizens in the United States of America have never read the United States of America's Constitution. You don't have to accept the federalist laws. Nonetheless, read the United States of America's Constitution to apprehend all of the current treasonous laws.

In conclusion, reading the second United States constitution I can't trust the current government because of the ratifications: the government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar
.

But it was on the issue of property that there was the strongest resonance with something Loughne wrote:

If the property owners and government officials are no longer in ownership of their land and laws from a revolution, then the revolutionary’s from the revolution are in control of the land and laws.

The property owners and government officials are no longer in ownership of their land and laws from a revolution.

Thus the revolutionary’s from the revolution are in control of the land and laws.


Toward the end of his show that day, Lavin interviewed Walter E. Williams a black professor of economics at George Mason University and a well known conservative. Williams has been a substitute guest on the Rush Limbaugh radio show since the early 1990s. He was on the Lavin show to publicize his newest book, Up From The Projects: An Autobiography.

Williams' website includes various conservative links and references and this: Wisdom of the Month: "I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." --Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush [September 23, 1800]

Williams made this comment to Lavin. Again this a very rough transcript:

“I am my own private property and I belong to Walter E. Williams and you belong to Mark Lavin... if we accept self-ownership… the reason murder, rape, and assault is immoral is because it violates private proerty. It violates me, it uses me in a way I choose not to be used…. When the government takes my money and gives it to a farmer or a poor person, or to Haiti, they are forcibly using me for the purpose of another…. We’re becoming totalitarian. We live not by law but by orders… ordering us to buy health care and wear seat belts… The founders would be disappointed at how we’ve allowed people (to take our rights away)”

Lavin adds, “They would also think we’ve been pretty quiet… They would take to the streets.”

To which Williams says, “The reasons they gave us the second amendment...(was) the right to protect ourselves not against criminals, but against the United States congress…

“We’ve been pretty quiet,” says Lavin. “we haven’t gone to the streets. Am I allowed to say that?"

Jan 5, 2011

I told you about the man who'd lost his mind. Who had a stroke, fell into a depression, then disuse and finally now has become Mr. Unwanted. Recently, he was thrown out of a care facility up in Bolinas. He was too abrasive, always insulting the staff, always wanting to see the breasts of the volunteers and nurses.

Ten years ago, fifteen maybe, he was a bon vivant. He was on top of the world. He would come to your house and assume the role of raconteur, tell you about old French movies, tell you about his travels around Europe. Tell you about his fabulous adventures. He was loud and funny and kind. He dyed his hair black. He dressed elegantly, and always with a flourish. He wore berets and Australian outback hats. Sometimes he wore very long scarves. He drove exotic cars: an old Ferrari for example. He seemed to have an endless amount of money but he didn't do anything.

Actually, that wasn't true. He designed les objects d'art. He made furniture and drew up plans for extraordinary gardens. He had studied landscape architecture but never finished. He never finished anything.

Then a little less than five years ago he had this attack. It followed a car crash on the Golden Gate Bridge. And right near the spot where a close friend of his had committed suicide.

After the attack one side of his mouth had an avalanche. His brown eyes turned white. He decided he wasn't going to walk. He had people running around like crazy. He started drinking. I told you all this. He had women come over and undress, just so he could watch. He would invited people over and while his wife was making dinner he would talk about women he had had affairs with years ago. Or maybe not years ago. There was always an ambiguity. But he would go on and on, about this woman and that. And all the while his wife would be cutting the onions into ever small slices.

They were living in Marin at the time. They had a huge indoor pond with the most exotic ferns. Orginally the idea had been to make it into a hot tub but after the accident they gave that idea up.

And then when his daughter wouldn't bring him wine, he would call the police and try to have her arrested.

Eventually, he went up to Bolinas, but now he's been thrown out of there. He's back in his little room at the bottom of the house: Mr. Unwanted at a dead end. No one wants to see him. His daughter won't take his food down. His wife has stopped cooking. He himself refuses to get out of bed make his way up some stairs and prepare his own dinner.

It's as though he's on strike and now his wife has all but left him. His friends are reluctant to come by. He tells them strange stories, how his family is trying to kill him, how he has millions of dollars hidden away under the seats of his sports car.

But the car was sold several years ago. There's nothing in the garage now. His tools are long gone.