Friday, December 11, 2015

Rules of the Road


I engage in an extremely dangerous and life-threatening activity almost every day… one that has the potential to seriously injure or kill me, no matter what I say or do.

I try not to think too much about it, otherwise I’d simply not participate.  I accept the risks and do everything possible to increase my chances for survival. The odds are in my favor, but eventually my luck could run out and there ain’t a damned thing I can do about it other than not participate at all.

What is this dangerous and unavoidable activity that has me concerned about my personal safety?

It’s called ‘driving my van on the freeway’.

Think about it: I’m driving a 3500-pound projectile at 75mph alongside dozens of other projectiles, all being driven by people that I will never know, people who could be drunk or high or stoned or sleepy or depressed or distracted or angry or upset or insane or otherwise in no condition to be driving a projectile at high speed. I take it on faith that the dozens of projectiles surrounding me will continue to stay in their lanes, that the operating humans will pay attention to the task at hand and not crash me into oblivion.

Unless they're texting, in which case all bets are off.  Dumbasses.

Thankfully, this life-threatening activity so many of us take part in is considered dangerous enough to be heavily regulated to mitigate disaster which, for the most part, drastically reduces the carnage.

But those regulations cannot and do not eliminate the carnage… they only reduce the carnage.

Our high-speed projectiles are regulated in so many ways it can make your head spin.  There are seat belts and air bags and warning lights and crush zones.  Regulations to ensure the tires don’t explode, the fuel doesn’t self-ignite, the seats don’t fly apart, the headlights shine far and bright enough, the glass doesn’t shatter or implode, the interior fabric doesn’t suffocate us, the fasteners don’t slip off or fail, the exhaust doesn’t poison us, the electrical system doesn’t electrocute us, ad nauseum.

As a result of the massive number of regulations, the projectiles have become amazingly safe to operate at high speed without spontaneously exploding into thousands of pieces, turning our fragile bodies into a red gooey mist. Naturally, there are Patriots across the country who HATE REGULATION OF ANY SORT and would prefer the Federal gummint keep its filthy laws out of their Patriotic lives completely. To those Patriots, I offer a hearty Fuck Off.  I like having a safe vehicle that works well, and I'm certain the Patriots haven’t fully analyzed their insane hatred of government enough to realize how dumb their assertions usually are.

But it doesn’t end there, oh no. There are also a massive number of regulations pertaining to the humans who pilot those projectiles, again all in the interest of reducing the carnage, which can never be 100% eliminated.

Anyone can buy one of these projectiles, but the regulations pertain to the legal ownership and operation of one.  It requires studying the established rules for the safe and sane operation of that projectile, taking a written and operational test to ensure the education was effective, whereupon a license is issued to drive the projectile that must be renewed at regular intervals.  The shiny new projectile must also be registered to ensure it is indeed safe to operate. But then you have to acquire liability insurance to cover the projectile just in case you you drive it drunk or high or stoned or sleepy or depressed or distracted or angry or upset or insane or otherwise in no condition to be driving a projectile at high speed and you injure or kill yourself or another human.

All of that is before you even begin to think about heading out onto those dangerous freeways populated with speeding projectiles driven by other humans who may very well be drunk or high or stoned or sleepy or depressed or distracted or angry or upset or insane or otherwise in no condition to be driving a projectile at high speed.

We all depend on the laws and regulations to make sure the projectiles are safe and the humans driving them have been thoroughly trained in the safe and sane operation of projectiles at speed.  There are no guarantees, but overall the system of laws, education and personal adherence to the laws mean I have a pretty damned good chance of doing my 50-mile daily commute without tragedy.

My high-school Driver's Ed teacher always spoke about 'The Rules of the Road'. I totally understood what he was talking about, even way back when in the dark ages of 1972.

If a driver acts lawlessly or with negligent disregard for others and someone gets killed as a result, more often than not they're charged with 'assault with a deadly weapon' (I'm looking at you, Suge) or perhaps 'involuntary manslaughter' or some other nasty legal term. The price paid for that transgression can be serious... not always, but usually.  That's what happens when you break the law, man.

You know where I'm going with this, don't you?

Try as I might, I've been unable to think of anything that we humans use while in proximity to each other that has as much potential for death and destruction as cars and guns.

But guess what:  one of those potentially deadly weapons is heavily-regulated, while the other is so wildly unregulated as to be essentially regulation-free. 

We accept that cars can be dangerous, so most of us also accept the myriad rules and regulations so we can feel somewhat safe while driving our projectiles at 75mph in close proximity to each other.  That's the price we pay to have piece of mind in a civilized society.

Sadly, it ain't the same with guns.

Thanks to a seriously flawed misunderstanding of The Second Amendment to our Constitution, along with an insane lust to fondle deadly weapons, our Exceptional America is experiencing a gun-driven bloodbath unique among the world's industrialized nations. It's so easy to obtain a high-caliber weapon in the US nowadays that the idea of owning one is almost blase'. Our government's actual knowledge of the gun violence, its causes and results are woefully inadequate by design (Thanks, NRA and Republicans!), oversight of purchases and misuse are almost non-existent given the volume of guns purchased, and don't even get me started on the insane idea that if you can buy it, you can use it without ANY training or testing or licensing or insurance.

This has to stop.

Lots of words have been written on this subject, and I'm surely not the only rabid wolverine to place this stake in the blood-soaked ground, but the time has come to treat guns the same way we treat cars, both devices that we use while in close proximity to each other that have the potential to injure or kill ourselves and those around us.

This has nothing to do with quashing individual freedoms, government tyranny, watering the Tree of Liberty with Type O Positive, black helicopters, the wild-eyed fanaticism of every ilk/persuasion/religion/political bent, or any of the archaic and inane reasons spouted by The Armed Ones about why more laws won't make a difference.

IT WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE, DAMMIT.

Right now, all over our gun-obsessed nation, we're forced to be in close proximity to people who are carrying loaded weapons but may also be drunk or high or stoned or sleepy or depressed or distracted or angry or upset or insane or otherwise in no condition to be armed. We don't know if that person has just been audited by the IRS, been informed their spouse is gay, been fired from their job of 25 years, been called a pussy by their teenage son, found out they have cancer, had their paycheck garnished for child support, had their home taken away by foreclosure, dropped their Big Mac Combo Meal on the floor at lunch... whatever.

We don't know where or how that person got their gun, if they understand how it works, if they've ever fired the weapon, or even if they understand the deadly force they have concealed in their pants, especially if they don't like the way you looked at them while standing in line at Starbuck's.

On the freeway, we have a pretty good idea that everyone around us is trained in the basic operation of their speeding projectile and have accepted the legal and ethical responsibility for doing so.

On the other hand, we have no clue if the person packing heat in your proximity has the faintest notion of how/when/why their weapon could or should be discharged. 

WE SIMPLY DON'T KNOW.

However, we do know that in the same way humans get VERY AGGRESSIVE when they put their hands on the steering wheel, guns have the unique ability to convince their owners that they are superheroes, imbued with special powers of invincibility and hubris that often ends in needless bloodshed. 

Extra Credit:  the next time you're in your speeding projectile on the freeway, think about how many of the drivers around you are doing so drunk or high or stoned or sleepy or depressed or distracted or angry or upset or insane or otherwise in no condition to be driving a car... AND are carrying a loaded weapon.

SCARY.

The answer to this situation is actually very simple. Treat ownership of a gun the same way we do as a car, nothing more, nothing less. Make it as rote and bland as going to the DMV.  Require the potential gun owner to be more personally invested in their choice to own a weapon, to understand the responsibilities of owning a weapon, to accept the personal liabilities that come with owning a weapon, and to think hard about their choice.

If you're screaming "BUT BUT BUT... SECOND AMENDMENT!!!!" right now, just remember: this is about our personal survival and civility in the MODERN WORLD. We're not shooting each other with fucking muskets, you know. This is the year 2015, not 1875, and the deadly matte black death sticks that are currently all the rage are at least as dangerous than any speeding heavy projectile on the freeway. 

Cars have come a long way since the Cugnot Steamer (don't be lazy, look it up!), and we all benefit from two centuries worth of scientific and technical advances that make cars amazing tools for daily driving... yes, even the lowly and much-derided Mitsubishi Mirage kicks all kinds of ass over most cars built in the 80's. The driver's challenge is to keep up with all the things modern cars can do, but the responsibility of legally owning and driving one is even more important.

So it is with guns.

This form of boring SOP regulation won't end tragic gun deaths... nothing could, because human beings can be stupid and venal and will do stupid and venal things, especially when they're armed while drunk or high or stoned or sleepy or depressed or distracted or angry or upset or insane or otherwise in no condition to possess a loaded weapon. But car-like regulations WILL prevent people who have no business owning a weapon from being able to legally obtain one, and will also reduce the flippant ownership of one.  Could they get one illegally?  Of course they could, just like they could also own and drive a car illegally, but the odds are against them doing it for very long, and most law-abiding citizens will do anything they can to avoid being law-breakers.

As for the 'open-carry' fans, when we see that hog leg on your hip or strapped to your back, swinging around like a metal penis, at least we'll know that you did your due diligence, followed the rules and passed all the tests necessary to allow you to openly display that Steely Dan.  Good for you, nice job, enjoy your death stick.  But if John Law sees your metal penis and asks you to prove you have a license and insurance and you don't, well... you have your metal penis confiscated and maybe you even go to jail if it's happened more than once.

That's what happens when you break the law, man.

Just like a car.

This sea-change won't be easy, and there will be much screaming and teeth-gnashing and upheaval from The Armed Ones, but that's the price they must pay to keep their Beloveds with them at all times, like a deadly security blanket. That's the price we all must pay to survive and thrive in a modern civilized society.

"We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools." -- Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)



Lead image, gracias de drgrobsanimationreview.com; Deep Purple 'Highway Star' video, muchismas gracias de youtube.com; Fuck the NRA.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Close Encounters Of The Rasta Kind




It was just supposed to be a trip to the local swap meet... that's all.

Through the misty haze of time and space, I recall it was either 1981 or 1982, hard to know for sure, but definitely somewhere in that vicinity. Waaaay back... before I'd met The Artist, before my then Soon-To-Be-Ex-Wife dumped me and all my belongings on the curb in front of our apartment building, before my counseling-inspired epiphany about WTF was going on in my life that was making me such a miserable and depressed wolverine.

On yet another tense Saturday morning, I'd convinced the STBEW that it would be a good idea for me to take our Awesome Daughter (then 3 or 4 years old) for a mellow morning stroll at the Foothill Drive-In Swap Meet in Azusa (CA).  I really just needed a little daddy/daughter time away from the apartment, away from the anger and hostility, away from her cigarette smoke choking up the place, away from... reality.

So there we were, me and the AD, her just barely holding my hand, straining ahead with excitement as we walked along the long aisles of furniture and clothing, tools and stacks of old Playboys, knick knacks and used underwear, the excreta of so many garages and storage rooms and exasperated lives that needed some extra cash. The sun had just popped over the high peripheral walls of the drive-in, but the cool of the morning still demanded our hats and sweaters and cups of coffee or hot chocolate or whiskey, if you were so inclined.

We meandered along each aisle, criss-crossing back and forth from one side to the other, one hump to the other, stopping at some booths and passing others by, focusing on stuff that I didn't want or need but was interesting to look at. Natch, the AD was drawn to the used toys and headless dolls and anything shiny and pretty and light enough for her to grab and show me, shouting "LOOK, DADDY!!", putting a smile on my face as only she could.

At the end of each aisle, more people selling their stuff were lined up along the high walls, taking up the periphery with a vengeance, begging us to see their piles before doing a u-turn into the next long aisle. Of course, we always looked at their stuff, because they were there, and we were there, and it was a way to kill some time on a Saturday morning because there was no tension, no unspoken words of derision, no snarky comments, no fucking cigarette smoke.

About half-way down the asphalt grade, we passed by and stopped in front of one booth along the vengeful sidelines. There were lots of books and records, some interesting clothing,  furniture and other household stuff, like so many other booths. What pinged me was the music... it was reggae music, that much I knew, but I had no idea who was singing a tune about not rocking his boat. After a moment, I glanced at the seller and noticed his long brownish-blonde dreadlocks, which were something of an anomaly at the time.  The more I looked at him, the more I realized that... hey, I know this guy!

He was selling something to another dude, finished up and walked over to where me and the AD were hanging around when I realized exactly who he was.

Me:  "MAX (not his real name)... is that you?"

Him:  "Oh wow... Bob, is that you?"

And that's how we began our Close Encounter of the Rasta Kind.

Max and I had been classmates all through grade and junior high school, sharing the same teachers and pre-teen schoolyard angst that was so much a part of growing up in the 60's. We'd also been fast friends and belonged to the same Boy Scout Troop, with countless camp-outs and hikes and shared scouting experiences between us. He lived only a few blocks from my house, sharing a home with his older sister, Mom and Step-Dad.  I knew it was his step-dad because his Mom had a different last name, and his folks were always really nice to me because I used his house (along with several other friend's homes) as my hideout when my own jail grew too stifling and scary.

Max loved music like me, but he was far more in-tune with the musical context and meanings than I was. His room, a place where we hung out quite a bit during junior high, had black walls and psychedelic fluorescent posters and black lights and incense burners and lots of Beatles posters on the walls.  He was smitten by the whole Sergeant Pepper phenomenon, and we'd lounge on the floor, listening to vinyl records spinning, incense burning, curtains drawn, black light on, day-glo colors bouncing on the walls, dreaming of pretty hippie girls. He introduced me to music I was barely aware of, music that would become integral to my life's journey:  Cream, Doors, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf,... and The Beatles, he always played The Beatles.

As we grew older and started high school, we drifted apart as childhood friends always do, me to my hot-rod cruising and Drama groups, him to the crew that hung out in a notorious walled-in area of our campus called 'The Patio' where all the stoners and hippies gathered, smoking cigarettes and daring the narcs to bust someone. We never friended again, our lives rocketing in different trajectories.

Until we met again at the Foothill Drive-In Swap Meet.

It was a great reunion, he so glad to see me with my daughter, me so glad to see him looking so weird and wonderful, with his freckled face and crazy dreads. We stood there, talking and talking, my daughter happy to play with some toys and sitting on the carpet, shouting "HELLO!!!" at all the grownups passing by.

Him:  "You daughter is so beautiful... you are truly blessed.  I hope that someday my wife and I will be blessed with a young one like yours."

He and his wife were living with (I think) her Mom, trying to scrape together the dough for their own place, so he was here selling reggae records and tapes, Rasta hats and clothing before it was cool, personal items and the detritus of a life in flux.  I felt a sense of happiness at being with him again, my old friend, there with my daughter in tow and a sea of humanity swirling around us, buying crappy shit and shitty crap.

Him:  "Hey man... wanna toke up?"

Me:  "Here? Now? Won't we get, you know... in trouble?"

Him:  "Naw... this place is totally cool, everyone here is just enjoying the vibe, don't worry."

So he pulled out a fattie, lighted it up and we stood there, sharing some weed on a Saturday morning at the swap meet, enjoying our cosmic reconnection, feeling like we owned the world. Eventually he started telling me more about his musical spiritual guide, Bob Marley, whose music he played almost non-stop that morning, music that had grabbed my attention to begin with. With the buzz in my head and the sun in my heart (I was so high!), I felt like I had connected to the music, for the first time really taking in the reggae beat and the sun-shiney songs speaking about oppression and salvation and redemption.

I bought my first Bob Marley record from Max right then and there, titled 'Kaya', which displayed a gigantic burning roach surrounded by pot plants on the album cover.  Perfect.

After about an hour, I knew it was time to head off and leave him to his selling.  We hugged and traded phone numbers and promised that we'd get together again.  As the AD and I slowly walked away, my head turned to glass and my hand filled with my daughter's hand, I felt like it was OK to leave this place and head back to the adult prison I shared with the STBEW.

Max and I never got together again.  I called him a few weeks later but the number was disconnected, so he likely had moved on to another space and place. Soon enough, my own life came crashing down in front of the apartment, my crap strewn all around me, sitting on the curb, lucky to have a borrowed car that I could stuff with my stuff and roll on down the road to... somewhere else. Gone was my married co-habative life, my beautiful daughter, any semblance of normalcy.  I became a semi-vagabond, scratching for places to stay, a couch here, a spare bedroom there, sometimes even sleeping in my borrowed car parked in a friend's driveway, too ashamed to ask for shelter.

But it got better. I got better.

I tossed away so many things during that time of flux, but I kept my stereo, my tapes, my records... and my copy of 'Kaya'. My devotion to reggae music and Bob Marley, sown at that swap meet, began to grow into a forest of one-ness with the world, that beat pulsing with my own heart, speaking to me as a catalyst to always be upright, always be moving, always be seeking better things. To this day, I've quietly thanked Max for his musical stewardship and introduction to Bob Marley's world vision through his music, and it has always left me inspired and invigorated to live my life to the fullest.

Robert Nesta Marley died in 1981 from complications of an aggressive cancer that was secretly taking over his body until he noticed a lesion under his big toe, a symptom of a much larger problem, and he rejected traditional medicine for a holistic approach.  Sadly, it did not give him comfort, and he died right around the same time that I discovered him via my good old school friend Max. It's humbling to imagine what Bob's life would have been like had he survived his battle with The Big C, but it's also a fool's errand to speculate like that.  He's become iconic... a musical and spiritual Kahuna, speaking to us all from beyond the ether.  Maybe that's how it was always supposed to be.

But wait... there's more.

Fast-forward to this very year of 2015, to a world of instant digital gratification, social media, Twatters, Snapfucks, Instapoo, FecesBook... all of the digital media we crave with a mindless fervor that makes us think it's OK to cruise the freeway at 80mph while looking down at a text on our device (not me... never me, I swear). As so many do, I look on FecesBook for old friends, school chums, scouting mates, people I knew and liked and loved and cared about.  One day on a whim, I typed in Max's name and BOOM... there he is! I messaged him, waited a few days and sure enough he responded, shocked yet extremely pleased that I thought enough to find him.

We've traded some messages, filled each other in on our things, and it sounds like he's still neck-deep in the musical world, managing reggae bands and promoting concerts.  His dreads are still natty, his face is still freckled, and like me he has some miles on the odometer that have given us both the patina of experience. I made it a point to remind him of our chance encounter so long ago, and how important it was to me then and now. He thought that was pretty cool.

Will we hook up again any time soon?  Hard to say, but we've reconnected again, through time and space and across the vast gulf of our own individual lives. And one thing is for sure: we both still have a deep and sincere love of Bob Marley and his music, a love for reggae that connects us in ways that nothing else can.

I hope that someday, I'll be able to imbue my Grandson with the seed of the Rasta musical spirit, so that he can swim in that ocean of connectivity to the world in a different way than his peers. I feel confident he'll have the same Close Encounter that I did, all those years ago.



Lead image, gracias de journalofmusicalthings.com; Bob Marley 'Satisfy My Soul' video, muchismas gracias de youtube.com.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Point


Funny how things work out sometimes.

I'd been writing an essay for almost a month about my serious issues with The Bible, pondering why so many Amerikkans use a book from the Bronze Age as the benchmark for their lives, and why IMHO it makes no sense to do so in our modern society.

I'd done extensive research, re-acquainted myself with both The Bible and Darwin's 'Origin of Species', and developed what I felt is a strong indictment on the capacity to place any stock whatsoever in The Bible's ancient myths, fables, parables and tales. Although I knew my carefully measured words might incite anger and hostility from family and friends, I always write from my head AND heart and refuse to pull any punches.

Then just a few weeks back, our infamous Supreme Court handed down two sane and intelligent opinions: the first saving the Affordable Care Act from yet another a nonsensical partisan challenge, the second granting first-time equality status to same-sex marriage in all fifty states. After the horror of the racist murders in Charleston, South Carolina, Barry's amazing eulogy for Reverend Pinckney, and the long-overdue formal denunciation of the Confederate Battle Flag, the week ended with a flourish of jurisprudence, democratic process and civil morality.

And right on cue, the Religious Conservatives went into full-tilt spittle-flecked vein-popping nuclear meltdown mode.

Based on their universal derision of the SCOTUS decision on the ACA, you'd think they were ready to impeach and/or lynch the liberal justices, that Chief Justice John Roberts was being blackmailed by the Usurper Black Man Probably-A-Muslim Non-President, and that a pogrom of anti-religious sentiment was being fostered to lock up Believers in re-education camps underneath shuttered Wal-Mart stores that weren't already being used for the impending overthrow of the Republic of Texas.

But that was just the appetizer.

When the decision legalizing same-sex marriage was announced, I was astonished at the vehement reaction by those same patriotic Religious Conservatives. As usual when things don't go their way, they screeched about losing their religious freedumbs, and that our nation would cease to exist as a beacon of morality and be plunged into a dark cavern of forced gay marriages leading to the spectacle of dogs and cats living together, or something to that effect.

What really got my attention was the unhinged hysteria, threats of political retribution and physical violence against any and all who choose to side against them on this issue, all in the name of their pissed-off omnipotent Sky Wizard:

"God is still very much at work! He's still very much at work, and He will not tolerate this. While the president is decorating the White House with the rainbow colors, lighting it up... which, by the way, an unbelievable affront to God. Do you understand really, that the rainbow, has it been so perverted, and so co-opted, in this country, that people listening and they don't understand that that was God's sign to mankind that he would never destroy the earth again by flood?  And he destroyed it because of the things that men were doing to each other! And so you take his symbol and you use it for a sign of sexual behavior that is ungodly, unallowed, the boundaries, God says 'No, no, no,' and you take his sign, and you think that you're rewriting the laws of nature? That the creature is telling the creator how it's going to be? And you think that's not going to have some consequence? No, my grief is for you because you don't understand what you just did! You don't understand. Now to get more practical about this, the terror threat against this nation has gone up exponentially." 
Sandy Rios, American Family Association

"Same-sex 'marriage' is not the ultimate issue, it is a stepping stone. The real issue is the Obama administration's dogged determination to eliminate anything and everything that stands in the way of the President's radical agenda. Silence dissent. And to do that, you punish speech - and belief. Orthodox Christianity's truth doesn't change, and as long as we remain tethered to this transcendent, unchangeable truth, we are a problem for them. If you can't change it, you must eliminate it. Which is what they are seeking to do. With the Supreme Court ruling to redefine marriage, things are going to get rough for Christians in America." 
Tony Perkins, Family Research Center

"This ruling is not about marriage equality, it's about marriage redefinition.  This irrational, unconstitutional rejection of the expressed will of the people in over 30 states will prove to be one of the court's most disastrous decisions, and they have had many. The only outcome worse than this flawed, failed decision would be for the President and Congress, two co-equal branches of government, to surrender in the face of this out-of-control act of unconstitutional, judicial tyranny. The Supreme Court can no more repeal the laws of nature and nature's God on marriage that it can the laws of gravity.  Under our Constitution, the court cannot write a law, even though some cowardly politicians will wave the white flag and accept it without realizing that they are failing their sworn duty to reject abuses from the court.  If accepted by Congress and the President, this decision will be a serious blow to religious liberty, which is at the heart of the First Amendment."
Mike Huckabee, Former Governor of Arkansas, current Presidential candidate

I've had just about enough of this ignorant, fanatical bullshit.

I've had it with Christian zealots trying to claim that they alone are the arbiters of what is and isn't 'Constitutional', when they freely admit that their belief in God and The Bible is more important to them than The Constitution and Man's Laws.

I'm done with these religious fanatics who obviously have little if any actual understanding of how our three separate branches of government are supposed to work, separately and together.

I'm sickened at the notion that supposedly-educated adults will try and frame serious and important social issues within the context of their faith-based mysticism.

Here's what disturbs me the most: these religious fanatics... the Rios', Perkins', Huckabees... are the same ones who are always issuing threats against anyone they don't agree with. Fire, brimstone and damnation. Second Amendment Remedies. They love guns (you know I'm right), and are the first to use insults and eliminationist rhetoric, veiled or overt, to push their agenda forward. They claim they have their God's blessing and approval, so anything and everything they do is for His glory, and therefore acceptable.

See that image at the top of this essay?  It asks you to explain the difference between a Christian Warrior and a Muslim Jihadi.  The explanation is:  THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE. They are both totally fucked in the head.

When religious fanaticism and zealotry take over a person's brain, heart and soul, they become society's worst enemy, doesn't matter which society or country.  When they no longer place Man's Law above their chosen God's Law, they're already dead and in their respective heaven, they just haven't left this mortal coil yet. I've said more than once that I fear a violent Christian uprising in this country far more than I do anything that can be mustered from the Middle East, because the Christian fanatics are already here, and they are armed, baby!

On (almost) every continent around the globe, the fires of sectarian wars and death are raging, all in the name and honor and glory of one deity or another.  It's a sickness, this ability to give up your humanity for some faith-based cause that promises immortality if only you suspend your free will and sanity. It's Hutus against Tutsis, Sunnis against Shias, Muslims against Christians. It's totally insane, yet they keep killing each other over their faith.

"My God's bigger and better than your God, and I will kill you to prove it."

Ignorant. Infantile. Immoral. Insane.

"The true civilization is where every man gives to every other, every right that he claims for himself."
Robert Ingersoll, political leader, orator (1833-1899)

I love how those who are dead-set against same-sex marriage refuse to equate it as a civil right, as if the struggles for Black Americans to survive and thrive was somehow different. Here's a few choice comments being used frequently by those who hate the idea of same-sex marriage:

"It's unnatural."

"It's contrary to God's will."

"It's about illicit sex, not committed relationships."

"The majority of Americans oppose such marriages."

HA!!!  Fooled you... these are the exact quotes that good, decent, God-fearing people said about interracial marriages back in the day, back during the most recent national struggle for civil rights of people to live their lives the way they chose. In fact, you can take ANY derogatory statement about same-sex marriage being spouted today, replace the words 'same-sex' with 'interracial' and you have a verbatim message as used by those God-fearing regressives who felt our country would fall into the Godless abyss if the coloreds were allowed to marry their lily-white virgins.

But that's not really The Point of this essay.  Here's The Point:

We have a growing Christian fanaticism problem in this country, a far greater threat to our democracy than from any nascent offshore extremists. 

We have a segment of our population that believes their version of Christianity is more important and vital than The Constitution, which they really don't even understand or comprehend.  We have a portion of our society who, although they've never actually studied and/or understood the framework of our democracy, have decided their religious indoctrination trumps their civil responsibilities. To them, God's Will overcomes Man's Law, and that's a dangerous mindset to have. It is literally the same exact philosophy that allows ISIL jihadists to destroy ancient artifacts, murder innocent people and threaten the stability of the entire Middle East. Their God rules, an they will PROVE IT WITH GUNS.

The two women pictured above are one in the same... they are both brainwashed religious warriors, unashamed to glorify violence as their pathway to immortality.  Their skewed views on faith allows them to justify violent religious insurrection. There's no other way to interpret the visual messages.

They are both terrorists.

"Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!"

"Allahu Akbar!"

Ignorant. Infantile. Immoral. Insane.

Although I choose not to cede my free-thinking mind over to religious voodoo, I revel in the notion that people in this country are free to believe whatever they choose, or not to believe at all, just like the First Amendment states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

So when the fanatics like Huckabee, Santorum, Gohmert, Graham, Perkins, Hamm, Rios, Cruz, et al ad nauseum, make statements that our nation should be ruled by Biblical Law instead of Constitutional Law, they're fomenting insurrection... sedition... treason. They're stating their intention to establish a theocracy, and are not shy about threatening civil disobedience and inciting their followers towards violence to reach that goal.

Ignorant. Infantile. Immoral. Insane.



But it doesn't have to be that way... honest! We must simply choose to be the opposite of what they are, which is:  Intelligent. Mature. Moral. Sane.

Several years ago, The Artist and I visited the 'Body World' exhibit at the California Science Center, a somewhat controversial display of self-donated human bodies that had been subjected to a process known as 'plastination'. Essentially, this process replaces the tissue and blood with polymers that maintain the integrity of soft structures, allowing the body to be dissected without decomposition and that lovely aroma. The exhibit included dozens of adult and child cadavers, showcased in a radically beautiful format that allowed us to see the skinless inner workings of the human body almost exactly as they are in live beings.

We learned that the originator of the exhibit, Gunther von Hagens, first presented the complete bodies with no external facial features, but that people had a hard time relating because they were displayed without the facial features the skin provides.  To counter that off-putting visage, he began to leave the lips, eyebrows and nose on the faces, which immediately made the bodies much more pleasant to view, and therefore accessible to the viewer.

"I've got you under my... oh, wait a minute."
As we walked through the amazing exhibition, I had an epiphany about the bodies: even though we knew people from all over the world had donated their bodies to be plastinated, it was impossible to discern their race, because they all looked the same without the skin! I got excited about the notion that it was a perfect metaphor to counter the divisions we humans seem to have between each other based on our religious beliefs and skin color. You know, the very divisions that typically lead to ethnic and sectarian strife, hatred, violence and bloodshed.

We are all the same under our skin.

It's the same with our minds.  No one is born a racist... a homophobe... a religious fanatic... it's all learned from someone else. If we're going to survive as a species, we must learn that it's OK to have a deeply-held faith and live your life according to the precepts of that faith. However, that faith must be counter-balanced with the knowledge that every single person alive is unique and operates under a different set of principles, some that are agreeable and some that aren't.  It doesn't make them bad or evil or wrong, just... different.

As a species, we must learn to accept those differences and revel in the idea that as different as we all might be in our philosophies, our minds and bodies are all exactly the same under the skin... there is no difference. In this country, we must adhere to our co-owned heritage of The Constitution as OUR laws... all of us, believers and non-believers, and never allow religious doctrine or dogma to take precedent over our most valued values, the ones we co-own. Together.

"It is well to remember that the entire population of the universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others."
John Andrew Holmes, american politician, poet (1773-1843)

Of course, sure as my head is shiny and bald, there are going to be certain people who will read this essay and automatically assume that I advocate for the destruction of their religion, to suppress their faith and quash their religious freedom. Their reasoning is faulty and misguided, but they will hold fast to those concepts because they are blinded by their faith, a requirement to maintain such a naive view of our varied and complex world.

The secret to casting off the shackles of intolerance and ignorance, of religious fanaticism and sectarian hatred, is to be a human being who loves every other human being equally and without reservation.

To be Intelligent. Mature. Moral. Sane.

That is the difference.

That is The Point.



Lead image, 'Inherit The Wind' and Neil Young 'Imagine ' videos, gracias de youtube.com; Body World image, gracias de darkroom.baltimoresun.com.

Friday, May 29, 2015

My Beautiful Launderette


I think it's a universal truth that most people simply LOATHE doing the laundry.  Doesn't matter if it's in their own home or at the laundromat, it's one of those chores that seems to be a complete waste of valuable time, unless you're out of clean g-strings and don't have the dough to just buy some more and toss the dirty ones out the window for the neighbors to fight over.

I enjoy doing the laundry (ironing, too!), but The Artist has banned me from washing anything at home other than my car wash towels because something something hot water something something IT SHRUNK, DAMMIT! But home-based laundry is not what I'm gonna discuss right now, as this essay revolves around coin-op laundromats and the warm place they hold in all our hearts... not.

Actually, I have some strong observations about laundromats.

DOING THE LAUNDRY WITH AUNT PEGGY

My younger brother and I were living with Aunt Peggy and Uncle Tony in La Puente (CA) for several years when I was still in grade school back in the 1960's, and she taught me many things about homemaking that have stuck with me to this day.  One of her regular chores was to lug a huge pile of laundry to the local coin-op about a mile away, and I would always go with her if I was already home from school. Most of the dirty duds belonged to other people who would pay her to wash and (in many cases) iron them for a fee.

Peggy didn't drive so we always walked, her wire grocery cart straining and squeaking under the massive load of clothes. There were a couple of laundromats in the vicinity, but the one on Valley Blvd. was her favorite. We'd go inside and she would scan the banks of old-school top-loading machines, looking for a set of at least five in a row.  When the machines were chosen, she would open the lids on all of them to signify 'THESE MACHINES ARE TAKEN, BITCHES' to anyone else who might muscle in on her row. Same for the wheeled wire carts... she would tie small towels to the hanger racks, daring someone else to grab one.  She was pretty tough, Peggy was.

Then she always did something I never saw anyone else do: she would wipe down the tops, inside lids and baskets of each machine before putting the clothes in.  She also wiped down each machine after she was done with it, explaining that you never know who had used the machines before, but it was just a courtesy to the next user to clean the machines and leave them ready to go. It was a very powerful example of blanket consideration for this small kid to witness, a selfless act of kindness.

I'm not kidding when I say that on those rare occasions when I have to use a laundromat (more on that in a bit), I WIPE DOWN THE MACHINES, even the ones we have at home. Every time I do, I think of Peggy, and I'm time-warped to that laundromat on Valley Blvd. The same goes for ironing clothes. Once the washing and drying chore was done, she would spend hours each day ironing other people's clothes, and she took great pains to teach me the finer points of spray starch, pressing pants cuffs and the correct sequence when ironing the parts of a white dress shirt. I take great pride in my ability to iron like a mofo, and I owe it all to Aunt Peggy.

LAUNDROMAT ETIQUETTE

Although I rarely use the local laundromat, I know deep-down there is a strong code of behavior one must adhere to when you walk through those glass doors.

1.  Don't be stupid.  Use your noodle when you're sharing a commons work space with other citizens you don't know.  Keep your shit in one place, not just dumped all over every flat surface.  Use machines next to each other, so as to allow more efficient use of open machines and provide others a sense of territory. Take enough change, plus some extra, so you don't have to beg others for their valuable coinage, because the change machine is usually broken.  DO NOT ask to borrow someone else's detergent or dryer sheets, just buy the overpriced crap in tiny boxes from the vending machine and learn your lesson for next time.  In other words, act like an adult.

2.  Don't overuse detergent.  This is especially true of the industrial-size washing machines for larger items.  I know you think you'll need more Tide than they recommend to wash your filthy crusty Star Wars comforter, but you'll be so very sorry for thinking you know better. Pay attention to the machine's instructions so you won't have to re-wash your soap-soaked dreamcatcher.

3.  Pay attention to the cycle timers. If you're one of those cretins who starts a washer or dryer and then splits, leaving the machine to finish and sit there cooling off with your clothes inside while others need to use the machines, you deserve the poisonous stares and haughty sniffs of derision from others when you finally come back from Starbuck's with your fucking latte'.

4.  Don't touch anyone else's clothes.  This should be self-evident, but no one wants you pawing through their colorful g-strings, manga onesies and polyester bondage gear, whether in a washer or a dryer.  If you need to use a machine and the clothing's owner is fucking around at Starbuck's, just bite down and wait until another machine opens up, because it most definitely will.  When the errant customer sashays back in, issue the appropriate poisonous stare and/or haughty sniff.  They'll get the message.

5.  Don't be a slob.  I mean it... clean up after yourself.  Don't spill your soap all over everything and walk away as if there's a laundry concierge just waiting to tidy up after your piggish self is done. Wipe down the machine in honor of Peggy Marquez. Leave the lids or doors of machines you've finished using open as a signal to the next Happy Launderer. Park the carts off to the side and outta the way. Laundromats are a true bastion of democratic socialism, so you have to do your part to keep things clean and neat.

6.  Have something to do while you're waiting.  Use your stupid i-phone like you always do.  Read the newspaper or a book. Do a crossword puzzle.  Take a drawing pad and pencil and sketch your laundry compatriots. Or do what I like to do most: talk to someone else in there with you.  You may be surprised at whom you'll meet, because EVERYONE has to eventually wash their poo-poo undies unless they have machines at home or are one-percenters and take everything to the cleaners.

7.  Enjoy yourself.  This may sound counter-intuitive, but the act of cleaning your clothes is an affirmation of your self-esteem and sense of pride. Yes, it takes time that could otherwise be spent binge-watching GOT (meh), but you made the effort and were rewarded with spring-fresh g-strings and bondage gear.  What could be more fulfilling, laundry-wise?

DRYER BRONCO BUSTING

In my last essay titled 'The Eagle Has Finally Landed', I alluded to a 1970 Summertime cross-country road trip I took while in the Boy Scouts, which included a 5-day stay in the then-vacant dorms of the University of Ilinois at Champaign for a national Scouting conference. I can tell you of many things that happened during that fateful stay in those college dorms, but only one (maybe two) will come to the light of day for now:  Dryer Bronco Busting.

Us visiting Scouts were housed in the campus dorms, with almost all the buildings connected via a series of underground hallways, walkways and passages that allowed students to traverse the grounds without having to endure the typically shitty Illinois weather.  There were also game rooms, lunch rooms, study rooms and yes... laundromats along those long underground tubes.

By the end of our first day on campus, someone in our group got word of a crazy activity going on in the laundry rooms that was a regular occurrence during the school year.  Once we'd had dinner with the adults and were released to our dorms, we bolted 'down under' to see what the hell was going on. I wasn't prepared for what I witnessed because 13 years old!

Each underground laundry room was equipped with a half-dozen top-loading washers and gigantic front-loading dryers.  Apparently the college students, after much alcohol consumption, came up with the idea of riding inside the dryers (set to 'air-dry', of course) while they were in motion by bracing themselves inside the dryer barrel and spinning around until they puked their guts out. Presto: Dryer Bronco Busting! Naturally, this idea went over big-time with us unchaperoned Scouts.

Each night of the conference after dinnertime, we'd gather in one of the many laundry rooms, then one by one, a Buster would crawl inside the open dryer, it's door sensor taped down so it would spin with the door open. The Buster would use his arms and legs to brace against the inside of the barrel, then someone would hit the START button. Watching a Buster spinning around and around in that thing was completely hilarious, even when he got sick and started shooting dinner out of his pie hole. Much hooting and shouting and laughing ensued.  And, of course, vomit-mopping.

Yes, I tried it once, but I was only good for about a dozen rotations before I started to get nauseous and begged to get out because I'm a pussy.  Some of my Cali friends did better, although most of them booted their dinner before exiting.  One older Scout from another dorm building had a stomach of steel, because he rode for almost two-hundred rotations, even breaking one machine and jumping into another to keep the streak going.  HE DID NOT PUKE.  We were in awe of the guy. We shouted out the number of rotations, helped him stagger from the broken machine into the next one, and cheered wildly when he'd finally had enough.

Dryer Bronco Busting was stupid and dangerous and destructive and inane and ignorant and just about the coolest thing I'd ever seen with my 13-year-old eyes.  As an adult, every time I use the laundromat and see those large dryers, I am whisked back to the underground torture chambers of spinning awesomeness. Not to mention sordid memories of meeting a really cute 16-year-old girl named Patti who worked in the lunch room underneath my dorm and thought my Indian Dancing was pretty cool and kissed really good.  Heh heh heh.

LAUNDERLAND

During our 22 years of residence in Mission Viejo (CA), I've had only a few occasions where I've needed to use a local laundromat, and the closest one to my home is Launderland.  Most times the reason is to wash a large item that would blow up our machine at home, because they have the most excellent industrial-grade front-loading mega-washers that do a fantastic job.

Last year, in preparation for the arrival of my Awesome Daughter and Awesome Grandson for a visit where the AG and I would spend the week camping-out in our backyard, I needed to wash the two sleeping bags that had been stashed in the garage rafters for a decade or so.  First thing one Saturday morning, I cruised over to Launderland with sleeping bags and Tide and dryer sheets and a coffee mug and some magazines, ready to spend a couple of hours there.

It had been a while since I'd last visited, so when I pulled up and parked I was pleased to see it was still almost empty.  I walked inside and was struck at how sparkling clean the place was... floors shined, machines gleamed, signage was fresh and colorful, lights were blazingly bright, plenty of carts and tabletop space and chairs. Channeling Aunt Peggy, I picked a suitable mega-washer, wiped it down good, loaded in the sleeping bags and soap and coins, pushed START and took a seat.

Before I got a chance to start reading my mags, a younger Mexican lady came in with three small kids and a huge pile of laundry.  We exchanged 'Holas!' and she smiled broadly, prolly appreciating my friendly attitude.  Her kids were boisterous but well-behaved, playing around the machines and laughing and making faces at me which I returned right back at them, sticking my tongue out which made them giggle like crazy.  Nice.

I read my mags and watched people stroll in with their loads and, weird as may seem, most everyone appeared to be in a good mood. The place was noisy but not obnoxious, and folks had the right attitude about their task at hand.  I was drenched in a very positive and supportive vibe, because we were all there for the same reason, sharing a clean and bright space that was made-to-order for each one of us.

I pulled the sleeping bags out of the mega-washer and started them in a dryer, then went over to the really nice deep sink area with hand soap and a huge paper towel dispenser, washed my hands and pulled some towels to wipe down the washer. I was drying my hands when I noticed a door near the back to the place with an 'EMPLOYEES ONLY' sign was open and the light was on, with a young woman inside rustling around, obviously looking for something.  I couldn't help it.  I walked over.

Me:  "Hellooo...?"

Her (turning around):  "Oh... Hi there, good morning!  Can I help you with something?"

Me:  "Good Morning! No I'm fine, I was just wondering if you work here?"

Her:  "Yes, this morning I'm checking on some of the machines to make sure the repairs we've had done are still good."

Me:  "Well, that's cool.  I just want you to know that I really enjoy using this facility... you keep it really clean and bright, everything works well, and I know that everyone here also appreciates your efforts on our behalf."

Her (with a beaming smile):  "THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!  It really makes me happy to hear you say that!  My parents own this laundromat, have owned it for almost 25 years, and I'm helping them to keep it going.  They'll love hearing that you took the time to let me know how much you like their shop, as it's one of only two coin-ops in Mission Viejo. The other ones have all closed."

Me:  'Well, I have a history with laundromats, and even though I only use this one occasionally, I know the regulars notice your hard work.  It makes a huge difference for so many folks who need a great place like this."

Her (with an even bigger smile):  "You are very, very welcome. It makes me proud to be in this business, and I know my parents feel the same way.  I hope you'll keep coming back for a long time!"

With that, we parted ways, her to the back of the back of the shop, me to the bench outside to wait for the dryer to finish.  I sipped my coffee and thought about all the people who need a really good laundromat for so many reasons, and are lucky to have Launderland in their neighborhood.  Once they were done, I snagged the sleeping bags, collected my stuff and headed home.

Camping out with the Awesome Grandson during his visit was spectacular, complete with a tent in the yard and fire pit and S'mores and some real guy talk each night.  And the sleeping bags were fresh and clean, thanks to Launderland.

ROAD LAUNDRY

Although I've been off the road since 2006, I traveled extensively for my various employers from 1992 to 2004, with several stretches in there when I traveled three weeks out of four from February to November.  It eventually began to take a serious toll on my home life and relationship, but thankfully a period of forced unemployment and a career change took me off the road and into a non-traveling job.

However, I really enjoyed the travel experience, which allowed me to visit many places around the country and offshore that I'd have never otherwise had the chance to see and appreciate.  Natch, one gets used to the 'hotel room shuffle' after a while and learns how to pack light and make the best of each stop along the way.  This includes doing the laundry, especially when a job involved more than a few days in one place or another.

Yes, I always traveled with a mini-iron and a can of spray starch. Deal with it.

I hated having my laundry done at the larger hotels, even though my employers would usually cough up the reimbursement for the insane prices the hotels normally charge.  I mean, COME ON... $8 to wash a pair of socks?!  That just ain't right, no matter how you look at it. Therefore, me being me, if I had the time in-between flights, I would always search off the hotel grounds for a local coin-op laundromat to wash my manga onesie and bondage gear.

The best part of using a local laundromat while traveling is getting the chance to see the neighborhood and meet the people who live there.  Unless the coin-op is at or near a tourist attraction, it's a sure bet the only folks you'll run into while doing laundry will be locals without an in-home machine, at least base on my experiences.

Along with a walking tour of an area that I'd landed in, there's nothing like using a neighborhood laundromat to get a real feel for your location.  Doesn't matter what part of the country I'd be in, some of the best people I've met were also washing their duds, just like me.  College students... retired couples... other business travelers... young singles... harried Moms with kids in tow... older single men... the laundromat population is pretty consistent.

Owing to the fact that I am DEFINITELY from Southern California, it was surprising to hear so many people I'd met in coin-ops say "We don't usually see out-of-towners in here, how come you don't just have the hotel wash yer clothes?"  After a while, I just decided to tell people that I liked doing my own laundry without mentioning my 'meeting the natives' spin, which can rub some folks the wrong way.

I recall one week spent in Greenville, South Carolina during a BMWCCA event that I was working, long days at the race track or inside a convention center, so the after-hours were a great time to bug out and see the sights.  Walking in Downtown Greenville was amazing, where they had begun the process of uncovering the original colony's cobblestone streets, removing centuries of progress to reveal the town's beginnings.  I had to ask the hotel concierge directions to a coin-op I'd found in the phone book (this was back in 2000, eons before wi-fi and smart phones), which landed me in what appeared to be a pretty hardscrabble neighborhood only a mile or so from the hotel.

I parked out back of the low brick building and walked in to see a very bare-bones laundromat with concrete floors, bare fluorescent lights, folding chairs and tables... you get the picture.  The machines were old but everything was working, so I started my loads and just sat outside to enjoy the strange 'hood fresh air. Sure enough, several locals drove up to use the place, walked by and said hello, started their washers and then came back outside to see who this obvious stranger was, hanging around their laundromat.

Not only did I have a splendid time chatting with some of the locals, I convinced a few to check out the track day activities at Road Atlanta to watch the drivers thrashing their hot BMW's.  I also learned the coin-op was in the same building as a historic diner that was almost 100 years old, which explained the rough appearance of the laundromat!  I stopped into the diner, which was PACKED, sat at the counter and had an egg salad sandwich, talking and joking around with others at the counter and the staff, and generally had a truly fun afternoon.  All because I wanted to do my laundry.

On the flip-side, spending twelve days working at the World Finals of PWC racing in Lake Havasu City (AZ), would leave me a frazzled mess, so driving off-site to the local coin-op/convenience store/gas station was the only way to decompress from the 18-hour event days and the pressurized environment of  operations, racer baby-sitting and endless event logistical headaches.

CODA

I had some misgivings about sharing these weirdo laundromat stories, because I'm not sure any normal or sane person thinks about these things.  However, I decided to go ahead and post because they were all in my skull and have been rotating and spinning around in there for a damned long time, just like a giant clothes dryer with many quarters inserted.  To paraphrase a not-famous quote by singer/songwriter Joe Jackson, "This essay represents a desperate attempt to make some sense of going to the laundromat. Deep in my heart, I knew it was doomed to failure. The questions remains:  why did I try?"



Lead image, gracias de benofsky.com; Frank Zappa 'Road Ladies' video, muchismas gracias de youtube.com. Don't over-soap!!!!!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Eagle Has Finally Landed


For most of my adult life, I thought I was the only one to suffer this self-inflicted wound.

It happens.

I even lied about it for years, trying to rationalize my youthful behavior as if it would make any difference at all. I carried an inner shame that couldn't be shared with anyone, for fear that I'd be judged as an idiot... a cretin... a person who failed at a basic test of courage and tenacity and fortitude.

But after decades of hiding behind a wall of deception, I was finally able to come to grips with my secret shame and understand how and why it happened, and to realize that I had become a better person for it.  And when I met someone who had gone through exactly the same torment and shame that I'd experienced, who had also suffered in silence like me, I was able to openly admit the truth:

I DID NOT REACH THE RANK OF EAGLE SCOUT.

There... I said it. WHEW!

Achieving the rank of Eagle Scout should have been a no-brainer, It was almost predestined that I would become one at 14 years old, and yet I made a conscious decision to NOT let it happen, and that decision in 1970 haunted me well into middle age for reasons both simple and complex.  But those days are past, and now I actually revel in the notion of what I did and why I did it.

Let me explain.

Awesome Dad worked hard to raise my younger brother and I by himself, with lots of help from various relatives, but sometimes he struggled being a Single Male Parent.  I think that's why he had me join the Cub Scouts, where he became involved as a Pack Leader, which morphed into Boy Scouts, where he was the Scoutmaster of our Troop. He wasn't just the Scoutmaster... he and several other Dads of my soon-to-be Boy Scout friends didn't like the look of the local Troops, so they formed a brand new one, based at Sunset Elementary School in La Puente, California.

Troop 715.

Over the next 5 years, I experienced one of the most important, formative, positive and enjoyable parts of my early years on this small Blue Planet. Looking back on it now, I'm grateful to have been involved in Scouting as opposed to sports, because I learned far more about the world as a result. Some of my experiences didn't happen to anyone else I knew who weren't involved in Scouting. Sure, hiking and camping and cooking and knotting and first aid and all the stereotypical Boy Scout stuff, it all added to my quiver of campcraft.

But there were also other special experiences that forever affected my malleable young self. For example, becoming an Indian Dancer, a 'Modern Oklahoma Fancy Dancer', to be exact, the result of being in the Order of the Arrow, a Scouting honor camping society based on Native American philosophy and lore. Dad gave scads of time to organize and support our local Indian dance troupe, and we performed all over Southern California.  I was good enough to compete in and win several local and regional events, earning a chance to compete at the Nationals in Illinois.

My first Indian Dance costume, Dad-designed and fabricated!
Imagine: a 13-year-old attending the Order of the Arrow National Conference and Indian Dance Competition in Illinois, part of a 3-week mid-Summer road trip with two adults and eleven other Scouts in two station wagons, from SoCal to NYC and back again. Many firsts occurred during that amazing journey, but those youthful secrets will remain for another essay, another set of searing memories. That kind of road trip could NEVER happen in our modern helicopter-parenting age.

Picture this: a dozen condoms, bought at a gas station bathroom in Joplin, Missouri for $.25 each, inflated and tied to the car's antennae, flapping like mad in the wind while we raced thru the state at 70mph, laughing like hyenas. Yep, that kind of trip.

By my 14th birthday, I had the requisite number of merit badges and the goal of achieving my Eagle Scout badge was in sight. Although there were a couple of others in my Troop that were also on the same path, I was far ahead of them and would soon be THE FIRST EAGLE SCOUT in Troop 715. Dad rode me hard, made me do the work, never relented on the pressure for me to follow through. But somewhere in there, I spun out.

I got mad at Dad, like all teenagers do.

It happens.

I felt he was putting too much pressure on me to make the rank ahead of my friends/rivals for his own reasons.  I didn't understand what the big deal was (dumb kid that I was) and that it was all about him, not me. I had completed my Eagle Project, and all I had to do was write and submit a project report to our local Council to cross the Eagle Finish Line, but I felt like it was an empty gesture, a thing of no value to me in any way.

I refused to write the report.

No matter how much Dad cajoled and pressured me to take that last step, I refused.  Sure enough, one of my good friends/bitterest rivals caught up and earned his Eagle, the FIRST ONE in our Troop. To make matters worse, I even performed the Eagle Dance at his award ceremony, strutting and spinning on stage with my Eagle head and wings, dancing to the drum beats, feeling Dad's anger and shame from across the room.

I won.  I was victorious by denying him what he wanted most. I had POWER, for seemingly the first time in my life. And for the next two years, I just cruised through Scouting, never taking that last step, never going the final mile. By the time I turned 16 and got my first car, I was done and gone from Scouting, separated forever from the specter of the Eagle Badge.

Or so I thought.

As an adult, the shadow of that non-achievement haunted me, making me feel like I'd given up something important, something that was totally in my grasp but let slip away. If the subject came up, I would lie about being an Eagle Scout, but it was just me rationalizing about making it THAT CLOSE, so it counted, right?  But it didn't count. I wasn't an Eagle Scout. I had failed.

Eons later, talking about it with Dad, he said he hadn't even thought about it... but I KNEW DIFFERENT.  I knew he was pushing down the abject disappointment of my failure all those decades ago, I was sure of it. As time went on, that missed opportunity turned into a jagged little pill, spinning around in my rabid wolverine gut, making me feel like that singular teenage act had some kind of dark juju hanging over my psyche.

And then, a miracle happened.

About 5 years ago, our next-door neighbor's oldest son Boris (not his real name) earned his Eagle Badge, and The Artist and I were invited to attend the ceremony. We went to the church where the event was being held and were hanging around outside when I saw Boris talking to a few of his friends.  I asked to speak with him privately for a few minutes. First, I gave him my Camp Cherry Valley (Avalon, CA) 'Staff' neckerchief that I'd had since my Scouting days, which he loved since he'd be spending a week at the same camp later that summer.

Then I told him about my not having achieved the Eagle rank, how and why it happened, but also why I was a better person now because of Scouting, Eagle or not, and that I was incredibly proud of him for finishing his quest.  He was visibly moved, thanking and hugging me for taking the time to share these personal truths with him. Very powerful stuff.

Once inside the church, we witnessed a ceremony steeped in tradition and reverence.  I was time-warping in a big way from all the trappings... the scouts, the uniforms, the flags, the adult leaders... all of it.  The thing that really took my breath away was the joy, pride and happiness of Boris' parents, sitting there beaming.  When I saw the bliss on their faces, I was thunderstruck at the reality of what I'd done to my Awesome Dad all those years ago. He'd been denied that moment of parental joy because of my youthful selfishness, denied of the honor that would not and could not ever be grasped.

I sat there mute, holding The Artist's hand, thinking to myself, "How could I have done that to Dad?!?!"

I felt terrible.

But it only lasted a few moments, because I also realized that, good or bad, I'd made a decision and stuck with it all those years ago.  I became filled with pride and joy for Boris' achievement and felt like I was up there with him on stage, smiling like a loon, being THE MAN. I had been talking about this Eagle mindfuck with The Artist in the days leading up to this moment... I looked at her, she smiled and I knew she knew exactly what I was thinking. Funny how that works.

All at once, the guilt and shame and regret over my selfish act of parental denial faded away, replaced with a sense of understanding, happiness and compassion.  When the ceremony ended, we left for home, me released from a weight that I'd carried for most of my adult life.

This is what it means to be forgiving of one's own (self-perceived) faults.

How many of us carry around these self-inflicted wounds, forming scabs that constantly get ripped off to reveal the raw emotional flesh underneath?

It's almost unbelievable that I labored with this internal struggle for so many years, all because of a teenage angst-ridden decision.  But the truth is, most everyone have regrets from their youth that were never resolved and still haunts their sub-conscious mind. Sometimes it becomes so prevalent, is filled with so much anger and pain and hurt, we drown ourselves in drugs or booze or food or emotional upheaval and it poisons and destroys every other aspect of our lives.  Anyone who has ever watched an episode of 'Intervention' knows that one single childhood trauma can have disastrous repercussions for the rest of your life unless you deal with that trauma, learn to forgive yourself and then move on.

"Deal with the faults of others as gently as your own." -- Chinese proverb

However, I am here to say that as traumatic as this insane Eagle issue was for me, it is now merely another closed chapter in my life's novel.  I've removed the bookmark from that page and have started the next chapter.

HOWEVER.

The things I learned in Scouting... the 12 Scout Laws, the concepts of the motto 'Be Prepared' and the slogan 'Do a good turn (deed) daily'... those things have stayed with me and will always be a part of my deep rooty-root character.  How could I have known the idea of always doing for others first would be my life's mantra?  I couldn't and didn't, yet they're among the most important elements of who I am now. I may not be a fan of what the Boy Scouts have become these days, entrenched with religious dogma and its regressive ideology, but I'm glad to have gotten my Scouting goody when it mattered most to me.  I owe it all to the Awesome Dad.

The Twelve Scout Laws:

A Boy Scout Is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent (my troop's secret laws also included 'Hungry, Lazy and Girl-Crazy'... heh heh heh).

Could there be a better list of secular human behavior to aspire to? No, I don't think so.



Closing Notes:  I used the lead image and closing video clips from the 2012 Wes Anderson film 'Moonrise Kingdom' for a very specific reason.  Although  the 'Khaki Scouts' portrayed in the film don't really exist, the tone and context they display, along with the entire film, are crazy-similar to my Scouting and youthful reality, strange as that may seem.  I totally identify with Sam Shakusky's main character in so many ways, it's almost scary.  In addition, heroine Suzy Bishop is a dead-on ringer for The Artist in her formative years, and I like to think that her and I would be exactly like Sam and Suzy if we had met as barely-teens.



See this film.

In a strange and not-ironic twist, one of the most popular custom art projects The Artist creates is (wait for it)... AN EAGLE SCOUT MEMORY BOX. Now whenever she completes a special commission for one, I photograph it with my very own camp knife, neckerchiefs, merit badge sash and Order of the Arrow patches inside as props:



"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."  -- Robert Brault

Lead image, Gracias de arewenotentertained.com; 'Moonrise Kingdom' videos, Gracias de youtube.com; Eagle Scout Memory Box image, Muchismas Gracias de MisguidedDesigns.com. Hungry, Lazy & Girl-Crazy!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Beat Crazy!


I am a music whore.

There... I've said it, and I meant it.

I will devour any and all music that piques my interest, regardless of genre or style or context or content. Lady Gaga crushes 'The Sound of Music' on the Oscars and I am in heaven. Kathi McDonald belts out 'To Love Somebody' from beyond the grave and I get teary-eyed at her amazing talent, gone too damned soon. Carlos Santana's guitar soars in 'Samba Pa Ti' and I am transported to my brother's memorial service, seeing him smiling down from the slideshow screen while we all mourned and missed him. Bing and David duet on 'The Little Drummer Boy' and I am left sitting there, dumbstruck at the beauty and pure emotion of a stupid holiday song.

Music has been, and always will be, one of the primary defining measures of my life's inspiration, and every so often, an artist comes along and pops out a musical joint that is simply too bold and expansive to be pigeon-holed, too prescient to be dismissed, too cutting to be ignored.

Joe Jackson's 1980 release 'Beat Crazy' is one of those rare and scary recordings that gets better with every listen. Oh sure, most prolly know him only via his 1978 hit 'Is She Really Going Out With Him?', but to overlook 'Beat Crazy' as a benchmark of modern music is to deny a peek into the future past, a future we are living now and will see more of as time passes and we age and wrinkle and gray and grow wiser and more jaded.

'Beat Crazy' was his third album, credited to The Joe Jackson Band... JJ (vocals, keyboards), Graham Maby (bass, vocals), Gary Sanford (guitars), and David Houghton (drums, vocals)... but it never cracked the Top 40 here or in the U.K due to a lack of touring support.  I remember hearing several of the cuts on local 'new wave' radio when it was released and immediately went to The Wherehouse (I'm old) to buy the vinyl, playing it over and over and over.  Little did I know this LP would stay with me, keeping up as I navigated life's cocktail of happiness and bullshit and love and confusion.

Now... this is NOT a happy happy touchy-feelie warm and fuzzy grip of tunes.  Joe was only 26 years old when this LP was released, and the songs are all dripping with his internal stew of anger and contempt and disillusionment and sardonic humor and a jaundiced eye for the absurdities of life and love. You know, the typical emotional make-up of a befuddled twenty-something young man.

When this album came out in 1980, I was in the middle of a failed 4-year marriage to my first wife, feeling the crushing weight of a relationship quickly going sour. I was bouncing between Northern and Southern California, trying to figure out how to deal with my own personal upheaval and IMHO doing a pretty crappy job of it. Perhaps the timing of this record played right into my own life drama, helping me to question everything about myself and my place in the world.  When I listen to these tracks, I am transported to a place of dangerous change, of worlds colliding, of unknown unknowns.

I wanna share this singular release with you to try and explain how it became a touchstone for me. While I won't go berserker and review every track, I want to highlight some of the songs that floor me with each listen.  I hope you'll get an inkling of the genius and gravitas that Mr. Jackson's creative muse brought to my life oh-so-many years ago.

'BEAT CRAZY'



"Kids today, they're all the same... all call themselves some crazy name... YEAH, mods and rockers and Beatle freaks, punks and skunks and kooks and geeks... You're looking in the mirror but you can't see your face? Look in the mirror but you can't see your face!"

While this cut may be what some refer to as punk or new wave, that's an overly-simplified description. The lyrics echo a sentiment that every modern generation has opined about the one coming up fast behind them, all weird and noisy and impossible to understand or comprehend. The driving ska beat pushes a manic, almost insane narrative through your head, swimming with images of youth gone wild, uninhibited by the usual norms, ready to tear up everything around you. It's exactly the same fears held by those who were sure that Elvis Presley's gyrating hips would corrupt American youth, or that Led Zeppelin music was merely an excuse for kids to smoke weed and fuck in the converted garage with green shag carpeting and incense burning, always burning.

"Sniffing pot... smoking glue... whatever terrible things they do... smoking LSD and such, it must be the reason why they can't talk much... and it's such a crime how they waste their time, they can't get nowhere, they've all gone BEAT CRA-ZY!"

'ONE TO ONE'



"Tried to call you yesterday, but you were at the Monday Club, or a Communist demonstration, who cares? You're going somewhere everyday, Vegetarians Against the Klan, Every Woman Against Every Man, never one to one, what's wrong with one to one, just once, just me and you..."

Oh man, this one slays me with the heartache of a relationship that has moved away from its loving core. It can happen so easily, almost imperceptibly, when two people who share a caring and supportive bond slide away from one another, not even realizing it before TOO LATE LOVE GONE! It happens to everyone at some point in their lives, and the challenge is to fight hard to get back to that deep red center, that place that makes you feel whole. It only gets more difficult and complicated as we get older and more difficult and complicated. Think of dealing with your parents, then place that mantle on your better half.  Scary, huh?  The secret:  keep talking, keep grasping for each other, don't let go, don't give up.

"I agree with what you say, but I don't wanna wear a badge, I don't wanna wave a banner like you... though I don't mind it if you do... you're beautiful when you get mad, or is that a sexist observation?"

'BATTLEGROUND' (Warning: lyrics)



"Black nigger, white nigger, standing in the dark, listen to the rhythm of the bass... BOOM. Black nigger takes a hit, sending up a spark, in the dark heat, swaying a little to the bass beat. White nigger takes a hit, takes money out... says 'This is what it's all about, rots your brain, who cares?' Black nigger stares, white nigger sighs, 'I like your music, I like your style, I crack a joke so why don't you smile?"

Before I'd heard this cut, I'd never heard of a white nigger, but it makes perfect sense in the context of the lyrics. Although 'nigger' is typically a verboten word, Joe uses it to totally nail the situation, the two people involved and their tenuous relationship as blokes of different color but similar status.  The combination of  the staccato guitar chords, punching bass and ska-heavy beat make the biting lyrics about race relations and the struggle for equality percolate in a steamy, sweaty cocktail of modern, timeless angst. As relevant today as it was 35 years ago.

"Now you don't have to be black to be a nigger no more..."

'BIOLOGY'


"She said, 'So... this is what you think of me? Going with some whore somewhere out in Germany?' I said 'Baby, baby can't you see, it's nothing to do with you and me? Nothing to do with my heart, nothing to do with my head, nothing to do with our home, nothing to do with our bed... It's just B-I-O-L-O-G-Y... Can't you see? It's just Biology... Biology, coming in between you and me."

Another brilliant, scathingly honest song about a relationship that suffers because of physical and emotional infidelity. What I especially appreciate about this cut is the realness of it... the insolent 'Hey, it's not my fault' attitude he displays, and the 'Alrighty, then' response she gives him right back, much to his dismay. This is the stuff of the world we all live in, not some made-up bullshit.  Anyone who's ever been on the receiving end of infidelity will identify with every word of these lyrics, perhaps painfully so.  That's not a bad thing, touching the raw nerve... it's a great way to remember or hopefully to avoid a painful chapter in the novel we all write about our lives.

"She said, 'Thanks, I'm so relieved... what you're saying I can well believe. Now I know, I feel no shame about Dave and Tony and Phil and James.' I said 'Baby, baby... this can't be true!' She said 'Well, what's right for you has to be right for me, in any case I'm sure you'll see... It's nothing to do with our hearts, nothing to do with our heads, nothing to do with our home, nothing to do with our bed... it's just B-I-O-L-O-G-Y..."

'FIT'


"Don't laugh, but there are people in this world... born as boys, and fighting to be girls... people standing in their way, some are straight and some are gay... calling them the drag queens, say 'You can't be one of us, you only have yourself to blame... you don't fit."

Honestly, this is just getting to be so OLD, the whole idea that gays and non-christians and non-whites are somehow less than, somehow a cut below, somehow not as good as white heteros.  This tune is the main reason I wrote this entire record review, because these lyrics are searingly painful and real and so completely relevant, 35 years gone from 1980.  When are people finally going to get over themselves and just admit that it don't matter what color your skin is, what country you're from, what orifice gives you sexual pleasure, what religious icon you wear around your neck, what piece of cloth you wear on your head.  IT DOESN'T FUCKING MATTER. Hatred is a learned emotion, and a person filled with hate for another human being absolutely learned it from someone else. For me, 'Fit' is the klaxon call for universal equality, and we need it now, perhaps more than ever.

"But don't cry if the people in your street, lead a life that's more or less complete... little problems every day, little problems go away... kid yourself you're fighting for life, kid yourself you fight for love, but maybe in some other lifetime, you won't fit... and if you don't fit, you're fit for nothing at all."

*************************************************************************

Soooo... perhaps these tunes affected you in some way, either positively or negatively.  Maybe you replayed one to get the gist of Joe's controlled anger and emotional upheaval because it resonated.  Maybe you didn't have a reaction at all... whatever, that's the way music can be.

Sometimes, the only way to peek at our real selves is through music, because make no mistake about it: that's what the artist (ANY artist) is trying to scrape at, clawing deeper into their own psyche to free the seething emotional animal that forces them to constantly seek their own ultimate personal truth and creative perfection. It's why so many creative people lose all hope and decide to leave this mortal coil, because they didn't achieve that perfection, which really doesn't exist and never has.  Ask any artist you know about it... they'll tell you if it isn't already too painful for them to do so.

I have and I know, because I'm married to one.

Let these tunes wrap around your head a bit and you'll find the bright nuggets swirling around in the muck and crap. Pluck them out of the slime, rinse them off and marvel at how they gleam with honesty and sharp truth. I love it.

'IN EVERY DREAM HOME (A NIGHTMARE)'



'BEAT CRAZY' Complete Track List

Beat Crazy
One To One
In Every Deam Home (A Nightmare)
The Evil Eye
Mad At You
Crime Don't Pay
Someone Up There
Battleground
Biology
Pretty Boys
Fit

Lead image, gracias de google.com; musical details, gracias de wikipedia.com; all videos, muchismas gracias de youtube.com.