22 May 2016

Laughing At Someone, Being a Good Citizen, Cowboy Hats and a Shopping for Clothes -- In Other Words You Get a Lot of Bang For Your Buck With this Post

This first bit was written on Thursday.

I laughed at a stranger. Didn’t mean it. Middle aged average looking man in front of me at Starbucks got his coffee. Instead of saying, “thank you,” he went with, “right on, man.” A chortle just shot out of me. It seemed so incongruous. A doofus hipster or an aging hippie can successful go with, “right on, man,” but not a normal looking bloke. I tried to play it off like I was coughing but the gentlemen in question shot me two separate looks over his shoulder. They were both of the “what’s your problem?” variety. Hey, whattaya gonna do in a situation like that. Am I right? That guffaw is out there and if you can’t cover it with a cough you’re stuck with it. I don’t know what I’d have said if he’d asked me what the deal was.

Mind you, I don’t make a habit of committing social faux pas in public — who does? I’m a fairly respectable citizen (provided I continue my policy of not verbalizing some of the bizarre things I think — trust me, you don’t wanna know). I keep to myself. Maybe when frustrated I’ll let a sigh escape that’s a little too loud and people may catch me in an occasional eye roll but I’ve yet to bark at a stranger who didn’t snap at me first or nearly plow into me with his (I use the masculine pronoun because it’s always a male) bike. (What is it, by the way, with the entitled behavior of so damn many bicyclists? I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush here because the vast majority of people on bikes are minding their Ps and Qs, but there are way too many who feel traffic lights and stop signs are for cars only and people in crosswalks are there at their own peril and that a crowded sidewalk is a perfectly acceptable place for their wheeled conveyance and that slowly pedaling in front of cars is good and proper. Thanks for lessening your carbon footprints bicyclists but you are neither above the law nor granted carte blanche to do as you please. End of tirade.) As I was saying I’m probably as civil and polite and respectful of rules and regulations and anyone (a far cry from when I was hitting the sauce, lemme tell ya). In other words I’m good at being one of the faceless masses even though I feel special. Who don’t?

Speaking of laughing at people - cowboy hats. One thing I appreciate about living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area is that you don’t see people walking around (or for that matter sitting around) wearing cowboy hats. Some of you (I flatter myself that there are any people actually reading this drivel) may be wondering: what the heck is wrong with wearing a cowboy hat? To that I would answer: nothing. However I don’t think the cowboy hat suggests that the person underneath possesses a great intellect, or indeed any intellect at all. I do admit that there exists a photograph of yours truly -- at about age 8 -- in a cowboy hat. My father, brother and uncle are all in the pic and all of our domes are similarly covered. I remember this phase that we collectively went through and it lasted somewhere in the area of one month. Tops. We all have our skeletons in the closet.

This second bit was written today, Sunday.

There was a sign outside the gym that announced a Psychic Fair. My question is this: why do they need to advertise? Doesn’t everyone just know? I once went to a Psychic Fair but it was an accident, I thought it was a Psychotic Fair. (We need more of those.)

I went clothes shopping with the missus yesterday. I dare not go on my own lest I suffer ridicule from wife and daughters at the hideous clothes that I would end up with. Going with my better half ensures that I continue to be sartorially resplendent. I like getting new clothes but I hate the shopping aspect of it. The main problem I have is with the whole trying things on deal that the wife forces me to do. Evidently it is important that clothes fit and that they look good on me. I would always rather take it on faith that if I  buy them everything will be fine. In many ways I’m something of an idiot.

We went to this huge shopping center in downtown San Francisco. There are several levels, rotunda style. We went to Nordstrom’s first and when the first shirt that I looked at was a whopping $145 I fell into a dead faint. Revived at last I found that the kind of pants I’d bought a few years ago for $70 now were in triple figures. They’re just shirts and pants for crying out loud. How good can they be? And ties! My god ties are not composed of a lot of material so how the hell can they charge over a hundred bucks for em? We got out of Nordstrom’s and visited stores for the 99%.

Many of the people who work in San Francisco clothing stores are gay men. This is an actual fact and I have no compunction in mentioning it. Most of them are both serious about their work and are thus good people to have waiting on you and are perfectly charming. I have had gay co-workers, gay bosses, gay neighbors and very good friends of said orientation. It’s come to the point that I don’t think twice about anyone’s sexual preferences. I don’t know why other people do. In my experience straight men are more likely to be jerks than gay men. All that said (to cover my ass — so to speak) there are the occasional gay clothing store employees who are snooty, officious and even rude. They make me feel like I’m imposing on their times and that I am hopelessly out of touch with fashion. They don’t treat my wife any better. I got one of these clowns at one store. He made me feel variously like I didn’t exist and that I had just belched during a wedding ceremony. What can you do?

I tried on shirts and I tried on pants and I showed my wife this and she showed me that and the eight miles I’d run the day before seemed like a stroll in the park compared to the pitched battle of clothes shopping. We had lunch. It was good. The missus proposed we go up to Macy’s as we’d exhausted all reasonable possibilities at the shopping center. On the way we stopped at the Gap to look at their clothes which — it turns out — are largely made for 16 year olds. It was there that I surrendered and in my best impersonation of sleepy six year old boy, insisted we go home.

I had two new shirts and one pair of pants that are being altered. I guess it was worth it?

Today I ran another eight miles and we went to a movie and grocery shopping and now I’m home with Monday morning looming ominously. Who am I to complain?

17 May 2016

Baseball and Me: A Childhood Love Story that Never Ends

I loved the feel of my baseball glove over my left hand. I liked slamming a ball repeatedly into my glove. Even better was tossing the ball back and forth with someone. I liked the way it would thwack! into the webbing of the glove. I liked the motion of the throw. I’d feel naked tossing the ball without a cap on. The snug feel of a cap on my head was a must for playing ball. I would occasionally tug at the bill of the cap.

Fielding ground balls was fun. A ball bouncing rapidly toward me could look nearly impossible to glove cleanly but I never had any trouble. I could even back hand balls and handle bad hops. Of course I fumbled some, everybody does. I also liked catching pop ups and fly balls. I’d camp under the ball and watch it into my glove. Sometimes there’d be a point in the ball’s descent in which I’d be sure I was going to drop it. But at the last second my confidence would restore itself and the ball would nestle into my mitt. That was always a good feeling.

Hitting balls was fun too. Sometimes I’d catch one on the sweet spot and be amazed at how hard and far I hit the ball. This would be accompanied by a rush of excitement and a sense of physical power as the ball took flight. Of course not all swings were successful. Sometimes the ball would pop meekly into the air, other times it would glance off the end of the bat and go foul, it could also bounce directly to a fielder and worst of all I might not make any contact at all. These results would cause momentary disappointment but I always knew there’d be another chance, another swing, another turn at bat. Baseball seemed to forever be providing second chances.

Running the bases was a lot of fun. There was the feeling of security at being on the base. In baseball lexicon you are safe and that word is apropos because you feel safe and secure there, untouchable, a tag means nothing when you're on base. You have survived and may continue your journey.  Then there is also the risk of running from one base to the next. Often you have no choice but to go and get the sinking feeling when you can see you wont make it before the throw. Sometimes you get a reprieve in such instances. Perhaps the ball has been dropped or thrown wildly and you are safe after all. Beating a throw on a close play is exhilarating. Of course the best feeling was crossing home plate. A run scored! Mission accomplished.

I never felt I’d played if I hadn't gotten dusty or hadn’t accumulated a grass stain. Bruises and scrapes were de riguer. I never sought them but played with an abandon that made them inevitable. I was forever diving for balls that seemed just out of reach. To snare one was to be a hero to miss was to have made a valiant effort. Of course slides on the bases were fun and I often slid when I didn't need to.

If I wasn’t playing in an actual game I might be playing one in my head and going through as many motions as possible in my backyard. Of course in those games I wasn’t a kid at the playground. No indeed I was a major leaguer performing great heroics in leading my team to victory. Other times I wasn’t involved at all I was taking the place of my favorite team — the San Francisco Giants — as they won again. Victories were either by resounding scores or eked out by a late inning home run. I was forever robbing opponents of home runs with incredible catches or turning acrobatic double plays.

Baseball cards were a must. They gave faces to names. My favorite players were the ones who looked good on their cards. A head shot on a card meant that player was persona non grata but a good pose with a bat or a throwing motion might qualify a player to be a member of my imaginary team. I was absolute ruler of my team, setting the batting order, the pitching rotation and selecting the reserves. I would study my cards carefully, imagining the exploits described on the back ("Bob led the Texas League in doubles for the Tulsa Oilers in 1964." Wow!). The cards brought the statistics to life (Imagine: Lou hit 3.24 with 22 homers in 1967!).  I coupled my beloved cards with the daily box scores. It was no feat at all to memorize each club’s starting line up and batting order and I was even familiar with their starting pitchers. Box scores may look like just a bunch of names with numbers next to them but to me they were (and still are) easily decipherable codes that tell the story of games. Who failed who succeeded who was average are all there. Still there was much to the imagination. If a player was two for four I could picture what those two hits looked like. One was line drive into the gap between center and left field that produced a double and the other was a ground ball deep into the hole that the runner legged out for a single. Home runs were re-created in my mind. The majestic flight of the ball deep into the bleachers or high line drive that nicked the fence and fell into the seats.

Nothing substituted for actually going to a major league game. Best of all was going with my father, of course. Somehow the hot dogs tasted better at the ballpark and the sodas were more refreshing. Peanuts were so much associated with baseball games that I wouldn’t think of eating them anyplace else. (In the same vein pop corn was reserved for trips to the movies.) It was easy to be enamored of baseball when your favorite team featured the legendary Willie Mays in center field — surely he was the best in the game — along with sluggers like Willie McCovey. There was also the high kicking Dominican Dandy, Juan Marichal as the ace of the pitching staff. Of course my favorite players tended to be the likes of back up catcher Ed Bailey, third basemen Jimmy Davenport and my favorite of all time, reserve outfielder Cap Peterson. It was easy enough to opt for a superstar like Mays as your favorite player but I needed to be different and adopt one of the baseball foundlings like Cappy. I was crushed when he was traded one sad off season. My next favorite player was Ray Sadecki who came over in a controversial trade for All Star Orlando Cepeda, another feared Giant power hitter. Sadecki proceeded to stink up the joint as a Giant, regularly earning choruses of boos. But I was nothing if not loyal and stuck with Sadecki. Even when I saw him pitch in person and lose a game to the then lowly Mets, 13-2. After all, the Giants two runs came on a Sadecki homer!

Eventually I stopped playing baseball when I discovered a talent for another sport — soccer. But my love for the game never abated. A baseball game can have long periods of listlessness that are interrupted by anything from mild action to dramatic thrills. No two games are alike. Plus baseball has and always will be a part of the American ethos. It is rich with colorful players, teams and nicknames and with historic and bizarre and shocking and exciting moments. Baseball is an integral part of American culture and history. And for many of us, baseball evokes memories of youth's innocence. My wonder at the exploits of great players and my imaginings of further deeds are rich parts of my youth.

It was just great to be a kid with a mitt and a ball and cap.

15 May 2016

I Start Off With Complaints But Segue Into Saying Nice Things and Finish in the Usual Fashion

This is my favorite planet. Can you guess which one it is?

I don’t want partner to be a verb anymore. It was never meant to be in the first place.

I want to see the elimination of the redundant use of “up” in certain phrasal verbs as in heat up, coach up and fold up.

I can do without people telling me what day it is especially at the end of the work week. “Hey it’s Friday!” is unnecessary an I will henceforth reply to those three words with: “yeah, only three days until Monday!”

Speaking of days of the week…A few of them ago I said to a co-worker: “can you believe it’s already Tuesday?” I’m confident in asserting that I must be the first person in history to have said that.

You ever get walking tail gated? Sometimes the person walking behind you will be too close. I hate that. I often pull over (so to speak) and let them pass.

Every morning I stop in the Starbucks next to where I work and get a coffee. Every morning whichever one of the charming people who serves me asks some variation of “will there be anything else.” There never, ever is. Here is my guarantee to whomsoever may wait on me anywhere, anytime: if I ever want “anything else” I will tell you. I swear to whatever deity you want. Asking me if I want “anything else” never serves either to entice me or remind me.

At the risk of being obvious, I complain a lot, mostly about the annoying habits of my fellow travelers here on planet Earth (by the way, Earth is my favorite of the planets, maybe if I get an opportunity to visit any of the others I’ll change my mind). Complaining about people is fun and easy and for me it is a curative. Better to get it out than leave it bottled up inside. But the truth of the matter is that I like most people that I actually get to know and a good many of them I’m quite fond of. I teach some of the most wonderful people on the planet (just to be clear I’m referring to Earth) and work with absolute peaches. So as much as I complain about humans there are many I find perfectly charming and very, very few I've ever known at all well who I dislike.

As I write these words I can hear a child outside loudly counting in German. A few minutes ago I took out the recycling and heard a woman having a cell phone conversation in German. I’m going out on a limb here and saying that the woman and child are related. My neighborhood boasts a diversity akin to much of Berkeley and the Bay Area as a whole but one does not encounter a lot of Germans. Teaching as I do students from foreign lands I always get a fair amount of German students. I had three this last term. One tries to avoid generalizing in my line of work (at least I do some of colleagues can’t avoid attaching certain negative characteristics to certain nationalities) but I never mind using positive generalizations whether anyone wants to hear them or not. In that spirit I will assert that Germans make the best students. They not only tend to do well academically but are not generally shy and are eager participants in classroom activities. They are almost always friendly, open people with positive attitudes. It’s also worth noting that they have what I would consider healthy attitudes about the first half of the 20th century and Germany’s role in it, particularly in regards to Herr Hitler. It seems that Germans have been inculcated with the idea of owning up to their country’s horrific mistakes and seeing that they are not repeated. But they have a sense of humor too even about Der Fuhrer. It’s interesting to note that in addition to Germans, Japanese are excellent students (though often a bit too shy). Japanese are masters of grammar and hard work and boast wonderful attitudes. It seems taking a licking from the US in a war is just the tonic for a country. Militarism is de-emphasized and education, free speech and culture flourish. No, neither country is perfect just as no individual is but they are doing handsomely in my estimation.

Over the years some of my colleagues have decried students from France. It is true that the French show teachers considerably less respect than other nationalities (at home and abroad). They cluster and speak French — even in class — and are often frequent violators of our cell phone use policy. That said I like our French students (full disclosure I like people from all countries). Yes some provide challenges from time to time but they are interesting, opinionated people who aren’t bashful and have a sense of humor. I’ve been shocked when other teachers have spoken ill of them. I wonder how they would do in a public school like the one I taught in for two decades. Would they openly espouse antipathy of African Americans? Prejudice is prejudice whether you are targeting a race, creed or nationality.

I close now — hold your applause — with an observation/question about commuting. I understand taking one of the seats on a bus or subway reserved for the elderly, pregnant or infirm. After all there may be no one of that description needing a seat. What I don’t understand is not then relinquishing said seat when an 89 year old woman hobbling on a cane is standing right in front of you. I see it all the time. I’ve been on subway cars where someone in a regular seat had to give up theirs for a pregnant woman because none of the able bodied young men in the special seats can be bothered to yield. I notice on San Francisco busses tourists immediately sit in front and seem oblivious to the cripples and octogenarians and crippled octogenarians who get on. Is is because so many tourists have so little experience on public transportation? Is is because they are so dazzled by the sights that they are unaware? Or are they stupid jerks? I think a lot of people are unaware of their surroundings when it suits them. They just didn’t happen to see that old woman struggling with a package yet oddly they noticed that five dollar bill blowing in the wind. Well as I said, I like most people, but some….

08 May 2016

From Newborn to Little Boy, A Great Ride

Mom, big brother and I. I'm the baby.

The world marches forward! Why doesn't it turn around? -
Arthur Rimbaud.

What have I done?

It started innocently enough. I was a baby. First I was a new born. Of this I have no memory so I can only imagine what it was like. Going from the comfort — if rather cramped conditions — of the fetus into the bright lights and sharp sounds of the outside world must have been traumatic. I assume I calmed down considerably once I was held and got to suckle at my mother’s breast. I further assume that sleep was highly desirable and early on I took advantage of the boundless opportunities to snooze.

There are pictures of me at a very young age. I seem happy enough. I was certainly small fitting comfortably into the arms of grown or nearly grown people. Often I was being held by my mother or father or a grandparent or an aunt or uncle or even my big brother. What a luxury to have a big brother to guide me through those early years. Though six and half years older than I, he was no adult so could better relate to my circumstances. In any event I was forever being held by one person or another and imagine that this was not entirely unpleasant. When you’re a baby people tend to be forgiving of your faults. You can cry or defecate or spit up and no one minds. More than simply being held I was being loved and cooed at and pampered. This included being fed. Meals were not only provided but I didn't have to so much as lift a finger. I was also bathed and I could perform bodily functions anywhere anytime and no one blinked. They even cleaned me up afterward. Who doesn’t love being a baby? What a great way to start life!

Eventually I began to walk and have thus far in my life continued the practice. Indeed I am confident in saying that I probably walk a lot more than most people, especially in today’s highly mechanized society. Soon after getting comfortable with walking I commenced to running. Doubtless at first this running was neither particularly fast nor long in duration but it was — as they say — a start. In later years I would run at a fairly fast clip and added distance to my runs as well. Today, for a man of three score and two years, I run quite fast and quite far. But enough braggadocio, back to my formative years.

Along with walking came the power of speech. I’m sure this was a mixed blessing for those in my company because as a young person I tended to overuse the gift of gab. On long car rides my brother would offer me a quarter for a set period of silence. In those days a quarter had a fair amount of buying power, especially for a youngster. You could purchase two comic books and a candy bar with two bits. Nonetheless this enticement was not enough to keep my big trap shut. I babbled ever onward.

I also early on developed the ability to entertain people particularly through humor. I was a natural comic and I took to having an audience as a fish does to water (if my meaning here is unclear the reader should note that fish very much like water and are hard pressed to live without it). I was a source of amusement to my family although I think my poor beleaguered brother grew weary of my act rather quickly. Along with a propensity for comedy I could be downright obnoxious. My brother was a gentle and kind soul but I remember him picking me up by the arm pits, digging his hands into my skin and perfunctorily dropping me. Based on my hazy memories of those days I can safely assert that he should be assigned no blame.

Being a toddler was rather a fun time. I had no obligations, school was still a ways off and I was too young to be assigned chores but I was ambulatory and enjoyed the attention of elders and was befriending others of my age group including some cousins. Life seemed like a pretty good deal. My father was my absolute hero. In my eyes he was the picture of manhood, impossibly tall and handsome and rugged but loving, kind and playful. He was, as the sports cliche goes, the complete package. Big brother was also a boon to have around. When I wasn’t annoying him he was playing with me and providing early instruction in the ways of the world.

Mother was a different story altogether. She had natural maternal instincts and attended my daily needs as well as any other mother could. But she was also losing her mind and when alone with her I’d be subjected to her angry arguments with people who were either not there or didn’t exist in the first place. There were rantings and ravings that clearly did not fit anywhere in the spectrum of normal human behavior. But until I was about 11 she could turn it off as soon as anyone else appeared. I managed to put her aberrant behavior behind as soon as dad or brother came home. I became adept at forgetting.

You might be getting an idea now that my childhood was a rather mixed bag. Indeed it was. When alone with mother life was a living hell. At other times it was an absolute joy. I had a knack for having fun. Being a creative, clever and imaginative young man, blessed with a nimble body and good health to boot made me an ideal candidate for a happy childhood. Playing games of all variety — whether re-enacting a Civil War battle or scoring a touchdown or in a rousing game of hide and seek —  was within my skill sit. Meanwhile I had no trouble in school. I abhorred math but did passingly in it and shined in other subjects. If anything I didn’t find school challenging enough. It all seemed rather slow and pedestrian, the teachers were uninspiring and many of my classmates were dullards. I longed for more. (I digress to share this memory: As a wee lad I understood that eight plus seven equaled 15 but thought it rather odd. Eight and seven put together just didn't seem like they should end in the numeral five. Meanwhile nine four equaling 13 made perfect sense and of course who couldn't appreciate the sanity of ten and four totaling 14? I the same vein I still maintain that the city of Cologne should be in France not Germany and that the city of Stasbourg belongs not in Germany not France. I strongly urge the cities be swapped or the names exchanged.)

Escapes were always coveted — especially given mom’s highly erratic behavior — so trips out of town were appreciated as were visits to various members of our extended family. Lacking those opportunities I found escape in movies, TV shows, books and my own imaginative play. My imagination was so rich that I could have a jolly good time while all by myself. No friends about? No problem. I could always invent them. An early childhood friend of my own invention was named Macaroni. Later I made up sports heroes, the greatest was a basketball star named Horatio Kumquat. He was 6’5” and had curly golden hair and was a veritable one man team.

Friends were welcome too. Finding someone who saw parts of the world the same way I did, who liked the same games and stories and shows seemed a miracle. To share ideas and laughs and insights -- even at a terribly young age -- was to me a gift. One that kept giving. Play had another dimension when it was a cooperative effort, there was so much more that two or three or more could do than one could manage alone.

Ahhh, great runs and jumps and skips and leaps and twists and turns and loud laughs and joyous shouts. "Going out to play" was a great delight in the world and one could do it most every day. Even school days were punctuated by recess and were over by mid afternoon. Saturdays were a positive blessing especially as they began with a few hours of TV cartoons with the likes of Bugs Bunny cavorting about. Sundays were marred by the obligatory trip to Sunday school but even there my imagination was tickled by some of the stories we were read and told. After church a full afternoon of unbound glee lay ahead. Playing was the best.

Babyhood seemed a distant an embarrassing memory when I was a child. To paraphrase the bible:  When I was a baby, I spoke as a baby, I understood as a baby, I thought as a baby; but when I became a little boy, I put away babyish things. 

03 May 2016

If I Have Two Sets of Questions, The First is Made Up of Serious Questions About Our Society and the Second Set is Comprised of Light Hearted Questions About Home Schooling

I have some questions:

If sex between consenting adults is legal and giving someone money for services rendered is legal, why isn’t paying someone for sex legal?

Why is whiskey legal everywhere in the US but marijuana is still illegal in most of the country? Doesn’t whiskey consumption lead to more domestic violence and car accidents than smoking marijuana does?

Why is it easier to buy a gun in the US than it is to adopt a puppy?

Why do most corporation care more about profits for their shareholders than they do the welfare of the United States?

Why do some people think that its a good idea to elect someone with no experience in government to the highest position of government?

Why do the television networks still consider it obscene to show a naked human body? And why do they consider nudity worse for children than depicting extreme acts of violence?

Why do so many Americans reject the findings of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists and believe that climate change is not real?

Why is that you can drive a car at 16, vote and join the military at 18 but can’t drink alcohol until you are 21?

Why do some people care that other people enjoy having sexual relations with members of their own gender?

Why are there so many fast food restaurants and liquor stores near low income neighborhoods?

Why is healthy, natural, organic food more expensive than unhealthy junk food?

Why do some people not see that helping low income families in the short run can help the economy in the long run?

Why does the United States spend more on the military then the next eight biggest spending countries combined?

Why do we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday when we ignore his central message of non violence?

Why do so many people still smoke cigarettes?

Why is the gap between the richest people and the poorest people growing? Don't we want it to shrink?

Why is racism still a thing in this country and why do some people claim we live in a post racial society?

Why don't we have universal health care?

Why do we allow money to control politics and politicians?

I also have questions about home schooling: 

If you get suspended from school, where do you go?

Do you bother having elections for class president?

Isn’t the yearbook awfully thin?

What’s your prom like?

Are you captain of all the teams?

Aren’t you automatically class clown, valedictorian and most improved?

Isn’t working in pairs only possible if you are schizophrenic?

How long does your graduation ceremony last?

Are parent teacher conferences just your mom talking to herself?

Since your school is at home do you still call it homework?

Who do you cheat off of?

Who do you pass notes to?

If you’re giving detention do you really notice?

Is a hall monitor necessary?

What does it say about you if you’re not the teacher’s pet?

Are there any fights at your school?

Is it easier or more difficult to cut class?

Who do you hang out with at lunch?

Do you just your dog as lab partner in science?

01 May 2016

Ever Wonder What it's Like to Visit a Shrink? Wonder No More!

I'm going to give my psychoanalyst one more year, then I'm going to Lourdes. - Woody Allen

You sit there trying to look casual and relaxed. If you happen to make eye contact with someone there is a very quick exchange of half smiles and then a quick look away. It is quiet. No one would ever dream of saying anything. People look at their cell phones or a magazine or straight ahead. A door opens and one of the therapists, still holding the door knob, looks at a patient, smiles and nods. Maybe the therapist says a first name. The patient gets up quickly as if embarrassed then follows the therapist.

I make a point not to seem the slightest embarrassed, instead acting as if I’m in the green room of a talk show and have just been told I’m about to be announced. I stride eagerly behind the therapist anxious to unburden myself to this relative stranger, offering all manner of intimate detail about my youth or current state of affairs or anything in between. I sit very casually as if relaxing in front of the television set after a long day of work. I wait for my cue, which usually comes in the form of the question, “so how have you been?” Then I launch into whatever is foremost in my mind. I spew forth until I run out of momentum or until I’m interrupted with a question or a request for clarification.

If I’m seeing a therapist they will offer feedback, questions, or observations. If it is a psychiatrist there are liable to be silences. Long frustrating ones in which I can’t think of what to say or simply need a prompting. I’ve seen all kinds. Some seem to make a practice out of keeping their mouths closed. They regard you as if from afar appearing to be passing judgment but not sharing it. This can be maddening. On more than one occasion I’ve barked at them, “well, say something!” I got up and walked out on one when I was a teenager. I passed him on the way to the door and he cowered evidently fearful that I was about to strike. However some will talk. These are therapists who actually act concerned.

In most rooms there is the choice between a couch and a chair. I have never opted for the couch. There is a small table or a desk nearby with a handy box of kleenexes. Also accessible is a small trashcan and it often has used tissues in it. I suppose some have been utilized by people with colds or allergies but I further suspect that some patients cry. I’ve never cried. I may have gotten choked up once or twice and had to pause, but no one sees me cry other than my wife. I’m not proud of this, it just is.

There is always a clock clearly visible to the patient and another behind you that the therapist can see. It wouldn’t do for the doctor to be checking a watch or turning a head to find the time. I had one psychiatrist who yawned from time to time — always trying to stifle it and always apologizing for it — and he even left to pee a few times. None of the others have left their post.

For your first visit the therapist takes copious notes. Thereafter their hands are free. Sometimes folded in a lap, other times held in front of them as if in prayer. A psychiatrist will even stroke his chin. They may get a bit glassy-eyed but I’ve never noticed. Their eyes don’t stray. They look at you. I sometimes look straight back but my eyes tend to wander. To recall memories it sometimes necessary for me to tilt my head upwards to the left. When recounting a horror from my childhood I often look down. When talking about anxiety and especially when discussing a panic attack, I’ll fidget, change positions and occasionally work my way into an agitated state.

I love to make people laugh and have been doing since I was a small child and it is quite natural to me. So too during therapy sessions I’ll make quips even in discussing quite painful. Therapists almost never laugh though sometimes you’ll get a chuckle and often a broad smile.

When your time is just about up (visits are always 50 minutes though you pay for an hour) your therapist will say, “our time is just about up,” and you’ll confirm or decide upon the time of your next appointment. Invariably they will get confused when looking at available times and it will turn out that Tuesday at 7:00 won’t work but there’s an opening Wednesday, how’s 7:30? Sometimes there's payment to discuss. This can be terribly awkward. With medical doctor's any talk about bills is done with someone in reception. To have to sort dollars and cents with the person with whom you have this completely opposite relationship with is weird and wrong. But that, as they say, is the way it is. I've never seen a shrink yet who had anyone else handle payment.

I always get up and say thanks and goodbye. I don’t know if this is par for the course. Once you’re standing the therapist seems anxious for you to leave as if you’re a guest who has long over stayed a visit. If you stupidly make idle chit chat about the weather or something else it is addressed perfunctorily, it is expected that you will be on your way. Once out the door you feel a bit refreshed maybe even rejuvenated. At the very least there is the sense that you’ve done yourself a good deed, that you are a healthier person for having shared the details of your being with another person. Sometimes you will ruminate over what was said and other times you will think of everything but what just transpired. You may or may not mentally re-visit the past 50 minutes later that day or the next.  In any event your subconscious has a lot to mull over and as they say in AA, more will be revealed.

If anyone save a very trusted friend or immediate family member happens to ask where you’ve been you simply say, “an appointment" or "the doctor’s.” There is no longer a stigma about seeing someone for mental or emotional issues  but you still don’t tell anyone that you of all people need any kind of  such “help.” You’re fine, thanks. Actually you are fine because you are getting help. You’re taking care of yourself and that’s a good feeling.

28 April 2016

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

When the dream came
I held my breath
with my eyes closed
I went insane,
Like a smoke ring day
When the wind blows
Now I won't be back
till later on
If I do come back at all
- From On the Way Home by Neil Young

My mind ravaged by wild dogs. Mauling my soul, setting my psychosis free. The unbound gory glory of a life in casual ruins with butter topped mountains of light cascading toward me. A reckless beauty all its own.

I stare into the face of rapture but it turns back to assess my joy. There is none. And into this squalid scene of yesteryears I find the dumpling shaded morals of a society seeking somber solace. None.

The words come out and try to form meaning but I’m unable to grasp any at this time. I am ravaged by angst and depression and existential wonder. So here I sit awaiting my next mood, expecting just more sorrow but hoping for a reprieve. I know all the right things to do in these cases and have even written about it but doing them seems utterly impossible. How am I even writing these words? Where do they come from and where will they go? What is left here for me in this life? News, changes, the latest. Discovering more art. New films, old painters, classic literature, history exposing new truths and the gears of political machinery grinding through the lives of the disadvantaged creating nothing but capital gain for the wealthy. But it makes for interesting reading. Oh yes and there is poetry to be read, meals to be eaten, places to see, people to meet, sports thrills and disappointments to enjoy or endure. There is hope too. Always that. But it all looks so empty right now. I see vast seas of nothingness instead and I sigh deeply dreading the next thought, the next feeling, the anguish of living.

The terror of 1,000 sleepless Sunday nights wrapped into one momentary feeling occasionally ravages my brain. Ouch. It is tiring to be so weighted down with unhappiness. Maybe especially when there is nothing to be unhappy about. It all comes from nothing and it makes nothing feel like the only thing. Occasionally I start to weep but I suppose it is too much effort and instead I lower my head. The self indulgence of depression. The self pity of melancholia. The sweetness of possible relief — which, however, is impossibly distant. I get up and go anyway because I must. To stop and quit is still unthinkable. There must be a way forward somehow, someway. I have learned in this life that you always have to take the next step. Do the next task in front of you. Keep moving. These days it requires effort. I will myself to proceeded maybe because I’m OCD. It would just compound my misery to give up. The last thing I need is more pain.

Distractions abound but by definition their impact is but temporary. I can laugh out loud at some things on television or in movies. I can even be engaged by something I’m watching. Work provides a respite. Running not only distracts but the consequent endorphins keep my mood elevated for an hour or two after. Then I slump back down into the pit where swirling waters of inky blackness envelop me. And more sighs and more staring down or up or straight ahead but never seeing. Mind a blank an open slate upon which all is written in invisible ink. Despair doubles down and wins big.

Wings of angels. That’s what I’d like to see. An angel rescuing me. Magic wand in hand sprinkling the cure and me dancing again. Don’t I wish. But to accept such a gracious gift I must be able to see it and feel it first. Would that such were possible.

The saddest thing is how natural this can feel how right it seems how appropriate how deserved. Joy seems like it is the sole reserve of all the “other” people out there. I am not to be allowed such indulgences. No it is for me to be here in the forever doldrums. Eternally slumped in sadness. I know that can’t be true but it sure feels right. Oh my god. 

25 April 2016

Don't Let it Bring You Down It's Only Castles Burning

Who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations which in the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish - from Howl by Allen Ginsberg

It’s odd to not know what to do next. That moment when you are stuck. Limbo. Just there and you reach for something to do. Nothing seems quite right. Nothing feels good. Nothing makes much sense and most certainly and above all nothing matters. Nothing you do can make the slightest difference. You are beyond lost. You are nowhere and good and stuck at that.

There’s no use trying to rationalize it either. And why bother trying to turn it into some moment of clarity. Deeper meaning, significance don’t exist. The air is tired and the mind is soft with dull death-like limpness. There are no destinations nor journeys. Everything is abstract and unknowable and you can’t even understand your own thoughts which don’t amount to anything anyway.

Well. At least. It’s better than full on depression (though it’s a byproduct of it). That all encompassing sadness is at bay. It is now a flaccid suffering with no meaning. Maybe its not better than depression which is, after all, a state from which you can create something if you push hard enough.

Nothing is worse than the pure panic. Not panic attacks really. More like terror seizures. Those minutes in which life is absolute hell. Totally unbearable and indescribable. Pure torture. The emotional and mental equivalents of excruciating physical pain.

How to get out of the trap? Where to find direction, a purpose, forget meaning — that’s long past. Dive, dive, dive into the pit of despair and submerge yourself in the rapidly flowing waters of self pity. Look out for the rapids because with them the existential crisis turns into utter madness. So many dances with demons. So much discomfort. So little pleasure so few inspirations. The living death. The virtual lobotomy. The endless anxiety and assuredness of futility.

I had a plan plan can you do the can can but I sat there swaying and found myself saying it was all so painful and nothing seemed gainful. Telegrams to the soul. An outmoded previous centuries way of telling yourself that the message was in code. An ode. To joy? How I wish, oh boy. Lyrical but no miracle and I dance at the very thought of your onion sprayed lilacs and pretty little semi colon ridden sentences telling all about that cute addition you built for your kitchen although you had SOOOOOO much trouble with that darn contractor and felt maybe a little ripped off and now you’re thinking of solar panels and Skyler has started piano lessons and seems to have a knack for it just as Josh once seemed to be the best soccer player on his team but now, well you know how kids grow and change and I should definitely see your garden and isn’t a shame about something awful that happened and could you be any more banal. Please oh god please please please say something else really inane so that I can defecate on your front porch you self centered prick and look at the humming bird.

Let’s talk again later. Much later well after my death or yours which ever comes first. Then there was that tall brunette with the impossibly long legs striding down the street she passed me and smiled as if I was Prince Charming himself and not some short much older man wearing a baseball cap and twitching and leering and damn near salivating. You young lady who totally disarmed me by not acting superior and put out but looking at me and treating me like a sweet old guy. Who expects that. I wonder how you smell (with your nose — not what I meant). Perfect, I imagine. But really I don’t imagine. That would be a bit too much. Wrong of me. Carrying it all a bit too far and we must never ever carry anything too far at all. Keep it all within limits. Restraint. Decorum. The observation of social conventions.  — Love. — Please check your ego at the door and smile politely to your host.

Say do you believe in ghosts? An afterlife? The spirt world? Heaven? Hell?

Did you write the book of love
And do you have faith in God above
If the Bible tells you so?
Now do you believe in rock and roll?
Can music save your mortal soul?
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?
from American Pie by Don McClean

I have complete faith in the arbitrariness of nature and the unfairness of life and the unpredictably of the human spirit. I’m a great believer in un. Isn’t that unbelievable? Unknowable? Uninteresting? Unkind? Nihilist bastards. The mind is a terrible thing to mind. Don’t waste time minding it. Don't trouble yourself with too much but never trouble yourself with nothing. If everything is always great all the time you're doing it all wrong. Boooo to you too for messing up the gig. There's got to be conflict and strife at least within yourself. But don't let it get you down because as Neil Young said its only castles burning. And as I said its gonna be cool. All right. But you've got to push and pull and tug and wrestle and form things. Things. All things are things. That's the thing about it. Things and stuff. So much stuff. So many things to do. So much stuff to do. All these things and all that stuff. Gets to you after awhile. So smile. Just try, try, try, try to believe in something. Something good. Something that will grow and make you and others happy and smiles all around let's give grins a big round of applause. Super! Super big! Super wonderful. Like your garden, man. Why don't you grow some pot, dude? You could toke up practically for free. Now there's a belief system.

Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos. - Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski

But I remember well the drama of earlier days and years and decades the tear gas and the helicopters and the radicals and the psychedelics and the war and the draft and peace symbols and the love and the spirit and the dreams. Oh the dreams of possibility. The progress. Incremental. The assassinations and the government scandals and the cover ups and the exposes. The due diligence and the determination and the belief in better and the struggle. Always the struggle. We were (are?) always trying to make a better place and better world for future generations those dashing you sensations. And we created and felt important and maybe we really were.

So where are we here. A brain that is the dead zone. A dead zone that is a brain. A life teetering on the edges of writing 1,000 words a day and ignoring the catechisms. Oh heavenly mother — or — oh earthly one, give us this day our daily dread and forewarn us of our trespassing and traipsing and lead us not into temptation unless it happens to be the tall brunette with…no that’s not right. Nothing like that ever is. And me a married man. Happily I might add. How did I get to this point? Was it the bus or the train or the rickshaw or my own two feet. Some feat. But somehow I lurk here among you and we all might as well get used to it. Especially me. The rest of you lot seem to be doing all right. But is that just an illusion?  Confusion in profusion. Messing with my own mind like playing with fire. The unlit kind. Benign. My tumorous humorous life. All taps and jigs and swirls and say I wonder what’s on TV?

23 April 2016

Look Everybody! More Stories From Commuting!!!! A Whole Week's Worth!

I experienced a perfect storm riding MUNI to the subway on Monday. The bus I take is incredibly reliable and usually comes within three minutes. On this day I spent nine minutes in the sun before it pulled up. The bus was packed. I was lucky to get a seat but that was all the luck involved in this trip. MUNI buses do not benefit from such modern comforts as air conditioning, so on such a hot day it would naturally feel as if one was sitting in the middle of an oven. Of course the bus was packed with humans so it was more like being inside a blast furnace. But, as they say on infomercials, THAT’s NOT ALL! Traffic was unusually heavy so I got to enjoy more time on this moving broiler. It should not surprise you to learn that as we slowly wended through Chinatown someone boarded the bus carrying a shopping bag from a local market that — from the smell of it — evidently contained a halibut with amoebic dysentery. This aroma on a hot crowded bus was enough to make a the strongest of stomachs do a samba. The overly long ride had the added benefit of making me miss my train and thus delaying my return home. Sometimes you can have it all.

On Tuesday I was sitting on a crowded subway car. I noticed a tall beautiful Asian woman enter, she stood next to my seat. Before I could turn my attention back to my book I observed that a drop of liquid was making its way down the back of her leg. Odd. Could it have been urine? Was it sweat? Neither seemed plausible. But what else? If it was urine shouldn’t it have been stopped by underwear? Maybe she wasn’t wearing any. Then why the back of the leg? Sweat seemed unlikely too. One does not normally sweat there unless perspiration has already started in other places as well. Plus just one drop? And it was neither a hot day nor a hot train and there were no signs that she’d been running. This perplexed me. More than it should have. Maybe because she had such lovely legs. Finally I returned to my book. But I had difficulty focusing what with the question of the drip that had meandered down this woman’s leg nagging. I looked again but there not only were no more drips, but that the one I saw had evaporated. Forever a mystery.

Wednesday I got off the train and took the escalator to the next level. As usual there was a busker with a receptacle for donations. This gent was playing the guitar and singing. At least that seemed his intention. It was more like caterwauling.  Normally I don’t hear subway musicians when exiting because I have my ear buds playing music of my own selection. But I happened to near him when a song ended on my iPod and there was the silent pause before the next tune. Thus I got a good dose of this “musician.” His singing was akin to a cat being choked and his guitar playing called to mind someone sawing metal cans. When I got a full blast I looked his direction and winced. As I did we happened to make eye contact. I’m reasonably certain that he realized my pained expression was a consequence of his “music” and not an old war wound of mine acting up. Whattaya gonna do? It was an awkward moment but I couldn't very well take back the wince and I'll bet dollars to donuts it wasn't the only one he elicited.

I take a bus into SF then the trolley to work. The trolleys are an attraction in themselves plus they go to Fisherman's Wharf and pass such places as the stop for the Alcatraz ferry. In other words the line gets a lot of tourists even during the morning commute. On Thursday a tourist from a foreign land got on and showed the driver a map on his iPhone asking if he went "there." The driver said he couldn't read the map and didn't have the time anyway and would he please just tell him where he wanted to go. The tourist's English was not so good and he again pointed to the map on his phone. The driver was adamant that he couldn't and wouldn't look at the map and he should say where he wanted to go. I was in sympathy with the driver in part because I was in a hurry -- as is usually the case in the morning. I also felt for the tourist. After all my job is to work with people from all over the world to improve their English. I could have helped. But the tourist grew frustrated with the driver and got off the bus. Maybe he'd get help from the next driver or someone waiting for the next bus. Well that seems the end of the story but not quite. The driver started going on and on about the incident to an acquaintance who was sitting in the front near him. "I can't read those things and I don't have time, just tell me, where you wanna go, that's all. I can't try to read maps. Just say where you wanna go." He made the same point over and over again, then some more for emphasis. Time for me to put the ear buds in. About eight minutes later I stopped the music as I neared my stop. Just as I did the driver started up again singing the exact same song about the tourist. Just as adamantly too. I submit this is a  textbook case of someone needing to "get over it" and "move on." Sheesh.

Yesterday as I was making my way off the train I noted an adult woman who had a blank expression on her face. Nothing in that, of course. But then tears started flowing. There were no sobbing sounds nor any of the noises one associates with even a wee cry, but her countenance had become noticeably sadder. Just as I was passing her she began to talk, evidently to herself. Well, why not? I didn't hear exactly what she was saying -- nor was it any of my business - but she sounded perfectly normal and she spoke in a soft voice sans any histrionics. No one seemed to pay her any mind. There are enough frighteningly crazy (I'm sorry, should I have said, 'disturbed' or perhaps 'emotionally overwrought' or maybe 'troubled'?) people in urban areas without taking pause at a perfectly harmless kook soundlessly crying and having a chat with no one.

Someday I'll look back at commuting and laugh. Can't wait.