17 May 2018

If You Don't Like At Least Five of These Films, I Don't Think We Can Be Friends

I’ve been nettled by a question for over ten years now. It started when a friend emailed me after seeing a movie that I had raved about. The friend said that she didn’t like the film and wondered if, as a consequence, I’d lose respect for her as a film goer. My answer was: of course not. But I began to think about the notion of there being such a film, one that I would expect any self respecting cinephile to like. I finally came to a conclusion on this topic: no such film exists. But I still wanted some sort of litmus test. Lo these many years later I’ve come up with is the idea of selecting 20 films and from this creating a “test”: can a person find five — a mere 20% — that she or he likes. If not I doubt that such an individual and I have very much in common, at least as it relates to cinema. Of course the more of these films an individual likes, the more likely we are to get along. Now you could have a circumstance in which a person likes only three of these films but has only seen ten of them. In that case I'd say said that person needs to up their game. There's nothing obscure here and all are available on DVD and probably all can be streamed. These films represent different genres and different eras and are from as early as 1927 and as recently as 2013. I’ve mixed in silents, black and whites and foreign films, a veritable potpourri of cinema. All are movies I hold dear though they do not represent my 20 favorite movies of all time. Most are among my top 100. I’ve taken into account the fact that some people don’t like silent films or foreign films or films with a lot of violence. I knew a cinephile who only watched movies with a strong female character and I knew of a person who wouldn’t watch anything made before 1970 (I know, crazy). But there’s plenty here for all tastes (although I didn’t include any documentaries or animation) with a variety of directors and stars too. Finding five you like shouldn't be a problem and just think, we'll be pals ever after.

City Lights (1931) Charlie Chaplin has been universally loved for over 100 years. Even people who otherwise eschew silent films or anything made before Star Wars enjoy the Little Tramp character. I could have picked any Chaplin film but went with City Lights because it’s my favorite of his. Modern Times and The Great Dictator are equally esteemed but both include political themes while City Lights has a more social appeal. As to other Chaplin films, well there are two versions of Gold Rush (the original far superior) which may confuse people. The Circus has arguably the funniest 20 minutes or so of any Chaplin film but it begins to fade after that. Chaplin’s other silents are too short to be considered for this exercise. City Lights is, to me, that one movie that epitomizes the Little Tramp. It has a huge heart and it is hilarious.

Duck Soup (1933) I have a had life long love for the Marx Brothers, particularly Groucho (born Julius Henry Marx). This is by far the funniest of their films and includes a not too subtle anti-war message. There are none of the maudlin songs that deadened some of their later films. Instead there are more great one liners and sight gags than in any film ever made. Some people may prefer A Night at the Opera or even another Marx Brothers film, but I’ve never known a fellow Marxist (of the Groucho sort) who didn’t like this one.

His Girl Friday (1940) I don’t know if its the best pure screwball comedy but it's surely one of the best films of any kind ever made. It has all the elements of the great screwball comedy greatly aided by masterful performances by co-stars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. It’s fast-paced, it’s funny and it also has something to say. In fact a lot. Notably about journalists, governments and the death penalty. You can ignore the messages and just enjoy the rapid fire dialogue and zany one liners and antics. In any case it's irresistible.

The Big Sleep (1944) It’s Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, for chrissakes, what’s not to like? This is the best of their films together and it is classic detective story, albeit an endlessly confusing one. The story has twists and turns aplenty, witty patter, beautiful dames and that Bogie-Bacall magic. The dialogue, the directing, the gorgeous black and white cinematography are all perfect. Unless you really have a bias against “older” films The Big Sleep is something you should like. Or love.

Some Like it Hot (1959) Marilyn Monroe’s best picture. Need I say more? How about the writing and directing of Billy Wilder who at the time was still in top form? You’ve also got Tony Curtis and one of the world’s greatest actor, Jack Lemmon. The story is funny as hell, sexy as hell and like I said, it has Marilyn Monroe. Some don't consider it Wilder's best (I prefer Sunset Blvd.) but it is surely his most popular. It is one of the older black and white films that people who don't like older black and white films watch.

Amarcord (1973) One of Fellini’s many masterpieces and the one that has the broadest appeal. It’s so rich with characters and vignettes that its hard not to like. The film centers around a small coastal city in those dark days when Mussolini ruled Italy. While Fascism features so too does romance, families, celebrations and the vagaries of having a relative in the nut house. Although it would never be billed as such, I consider Amarcord to be a “feel good” movie because it is in essence a celebration of life and all its mad riches. It makes a body feel good.

The Seventh Seal (1957) My favorite director is Ingmar Bergman and like a lot of Bergman fans this is my favorite of his films. Many of the great Swede's films are too dark and somber for main stream tastes but The Seventh Seal is hardly a downer despite it dealing so heavily in the subject of death. It has all of the classic elements of the Bergman’s oeuvre such as symbolism, religion, mortality and philandering. Cinematographer Sven Nykvist is as much a star of the film as Max von Sydow. It's thoughtful and beautiful without ever being overbearing.

Annie Hall (1977) Woody Allen’s name has been dragged through the mud recently as old previously-refuted charges of molestation have been dredged up. (Mr. Allen was accused of sexually abusing his daughter, Dylan. Separate investigations not only found no evidence with which to charge Mr. Allen, but suggested the strong possibility that Dylan's mother — Mia Farrow — coached Dylan. It is therefore likely that the real abuser is Ms. Farrow.) It has also been said that Allen’s current wife (with whom he’s enjoyed a long and happy marriage) was his daughter or his adopted daughter or that they lived together when she was a child. None of this true nor is the particularly scurrilous charge that he “groomed” her as a youth. In any event the great director has been unfairly treated by people with an aversion to full stories. His films — so many of them and so many greats — live on. Annie Hall is not my favorite (it’s second for me to Manhattan) but it’s probably still his most popular over 40 years since it won the Best Picture Oscar. It was ground breaking at the time and it is still funny, touching and chock full of memorable dialogue.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) The Coen Brothers are among the grand masters of cinema and are notable for the variety of types of films they make. This is my favorite of their work. Unlike some of their films there is virtually no violence and no broad comedic touches. It is subtle, witty and deals with the universal topic of someone who is not quite good enough to realize his dream. The title character is a struggling folk singer who is good in a world where great is required. He is dead panned, world weary, at times irascible and rude but easy to root for as life continues to deal him dirty blows. Oscar Isaac in the lead is wonderful and the supporting cast led by Carey Mulligan, Adam Driver and Justin Timberlake is as good. The movie also beautifully captures early 1960’s America, particularly New York.

The Godfather (1972) It’s a perfect movie in every respect. From set design to the performances to the memorable lines. It is part of American culture. Everyone should at least see it and after having done so I can’t imagine not loving or at the very least admiring it. There may be a tad too much violence for the squeamish but other than that I have trouble imaging a film fan not enjoying this masterpiece.  On the surface it is a gangster film but there is so much more to it. It's as much about family as anything else and it is also a look at how a man changes as a consequence of circumstances over which he has no control. The Godfather is never grim, never cynical and always a revelation.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) Many people are turned off today by a lot of older Westerns because of their depictions of Native Americans. Fair point. But Liberty Valance has no stereotypical Injun characters or indeed any at all. It does have John Wayne who is also a turn off to a lot of people but perhaps that can be over looked given how damn good the movie is with another in a long line of stellar performances by one Jimmy Stewart. It also features Lee Marvin as one of the nastiest, meanest, cussedest villains you ever did see. Liberty Valance is a classic Western that tells many truths about the USA, notably the business about printing legends rather than truths.

Cabaret (1972) I’m not a fan of musicals but of course Cabaret is different in that the many songs are part and parcel to the story and do not interrupt it, after all, much of the film takes place in a Cabaret. Liza Minelli and Joel Grey in  Oscar winning performances are transcendent and Michael York is no slouch either. Cabaret has a little bit of everything: music, sex, Nazis, romance, humor, pathos and history. Loosely based on Christopher Isherwood’s memoirs of his time in Berlin between the World Wars, Cabaret is a rollicking lot of fun -- but then again there are Nazis and not like in the cartoons. Wonderful on so many levels and it hasn't aged a day since its initial release.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) A modern film in its sensibilities featuring boffo performances from a great cast led by Jennifer Lawrence (who richly deserved the Oscar she won). There are elements of the typical hokey rom com in this film that has mass appeal but its also effecting for its honest look at mental illness as it effects the two main characters played by Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. It also subtly reveals how the seemingly “normal” have afflictions of their own (see sports fans). Silver Linings goes into dark places without itself ever being dark. It’s not the type of movie I generally like but I love it. Maybe in part because of a scene in which the two main characters are recounting the various meds they’ve taken and their effects; I feel like I’m in the conversation because I’ve taken most of them myself.

Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987) A great French film from Louis Malle. It is in a sense another World War II in that its set in occupied French but it is not an easy film to pigeon hole. It is about preadolescents and teens and their normal struggles growing up and how this is complicated when one of them is a Jew being hidden from the Nazis. It is a beautiful film that I have trouble writing about because I love it so much and its so powerful. While the notion of Nazis and the Holocaust is central to the film, it never feels to heavy. Based on Malle's own experiences.

Pulp Fiction (1994) I know of people who hate Pulp Fiction but a helluva lot more who — like me — love it. Although I think director Quentin Tarantino outdid this with the brilliant Inglorious Basterds, Pulp Fiction remains his most enduring film and has been accumulating new fans consistently throughout the 24 years since its release. Like many of the films on this list it has seeped into our culture and its characters and dialogue haven’t aged a bit. There is violence but its pretty tame compared to a lot of what one sees today. The more I watch it the more I appreciate Samuel L. Jackson’s masterful performance as Jules, he is one of the best of Tarantino’s many memorable creations.

The Man Without a Past (2002) I here include a film by my fellow countryman the great Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki and I’ve selected perhaps his most accessible work. As in most of his films we have a main character who is done a dirty deed put perseveres getting by with a little help from new found friends. Everyone is dead pan, no one is glamorous or beautiful. There is subtle humor there is sadness, pathos but it is far from a tragedy. A man comes to the big city and is badly beaten and in the process loses his memory. He's taken in by poor but honest folks and through a Salvation Army sister finds solace and love. And that is just the beginning.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) The last great silent film. Anyone who doesn’t like silent movies (shame on you) should at least try this one from the great German director FW Murnau.  My god it’s a beautiful film. A young couple living happily in the country is threatened by a vixen from the big city who tries to lure away the husband, and convince him to drown his wife. I’ll not give away the ending but will add there are a series of scenes in which the married couple go into the city and have a grand time. These scenes are master classes in film making. Certainly any true cinephile will appreciate them and the film as a whole. For that matter so too should the more casual film goer.

Little Big Man (1970) Here’s a film of the Old West in which the Indians are heroes and the white men — for the most part — vicious scoundrels. Dustin Hoffman stars. As the movie opens he is a centenarian recounting his adventures from boyhood through adulthood and what adventures they are. As a boy his wagon train is attacked by hostile natives and he is taken to live with the Cheyenne. He grows up as an Indian but this is just one of many twists and turns his life takes in an epic story. Later he lives with a preacher and his seductive wife (Faye Dunaway) hooks up with snake oil salesman (Martin Balsam) at various times rejoins the tribe, rides along with George Armstrong Custer (he survives the Battle of Little Big Horn), he becomes a gunfighter, a drunk a married man, a vagabond. Man it's a fun movie and it’s hard to imagine anyone being offended by it and not loving it.

Stalker (1979) I had to include a film by the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky and to me this is his finest work. This will not appeal to those low brows who do not like foreign films or intellectual mysteries or especially when the twain meet. It is a deliciously ambiguous film that is utterly captivating to some people such as yours truly and requires repeat viewings. The film depicts an expedition led by a man known as the "Stalker" to take his two clients to a mysterious restricted site known simply as the "Zone," where there is a room which supposedly has the ability to fulfill a person's innermost desires. It has too many themes to recount here but suffice to say that the viewer will get out of the experience what she or he brings to watching and thinking about it.

Mean Girls (2004) This is a film with a surprisingly broad appeal Anyone who has ever attended an American high school should appreciate it. It has captured the American zeitgeist of Generation Y but is relatable to us baby boomers and other generations as well. It is damn funny, has memorable characters and speaks to certain truths about high school, social groups and growing up. It is still very much in our culture as evidenced by the musical of the same name that recently opened on Broadway. I show it to my students (people from all over the world) and they love it. You'd have to be an awful stick in the mud not to.

11 May 2018

Ten Years of Blogging

Photo from the 10th anniversary celebration held last night.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of this blog. This is the 1,164th post. Originally the blog was titled Riku Writes, which in retrospect was a dumb name. I don't recall exactly when I changed the name although at some point I could dig through the archives and come up with a date.

For the first several years I wrote mostly about movies and sometimes my posts were linked on the IMDb. I wrote about old films and new films. I made lists of particular kinds of films. Gangster films, Westerns, Pre-Code films etc. I wrote about particular directors, actors, years. I wrote about movie villains, movies with train scenes, I wrote about great lines in films. Then I stopped. There were three reasons: I had a tendency to liberally garnish my film writings with adjectives. Many of the same over and over again. Classic, masterpiece, compelling, brilliant etc. I tired of this and it betrayed a weakness in my writing. The second reason was that I ran out of things to say about films that interested me. Still today I'll come up with an idea for a film related piece and soon realize that I already wrote about it. The final reason is that I found other topics more interesting to write about.

Several years back I started writing short stories and they have started to make up a sizable portion of what I post. I've also increasingly used this blog as a confessional. I write about past misdeeds, particularly those related to those days when I abused alcohol and drugs. I also write a lot about my struggles with mental illness, particularly depression. These kind of writings have been most therapeutic in a way that a diary could never be. Something about "putting it out there" for the world to see is refreshing and liberating and I flatter myself that a few people who also deal with depression or addiction have found some measure of comfort in reading about another person's inner battles. I've also utilized this blog to write about my youth and my family. I hope that my progeny can learn a little about my life and previous generations through this blog. Also I've written a great deal about teaching, an occupation I've been in for over 30 years. In fact, my three part series on advice for aspiring teachers has been used by my current employers.

This blog has been great for venting whether about the horrors of commuting or politics in the age of Trumpie or the types of social missteps one is daily exposed to, be it idiots riding bicycles on sidewalks or louts hanging their dirty socks in the gym sauna. I've shared highs and lows here. It's been a travelogue and it has also been where I've shared my sorrow over  the passing of friends and relatives. My brother, two good friends, a former colleague and a former student have all died since I started this blog and I've been privileged to honor them as best I could on this blog.

I'm proud of much of what I've wrote but I strongly suspect that after I retire and I review all my posts I'll do a lot of wincing too. I feel safe in assuming that many of my old writings will enter the cyber trash bin. I may be at 1,164 posts now but at some point that number might actually shrink. This blog also inspired a spin off, Sandwiches of Despair, my poetry blog.

For the best of this blog see the label Favorite Posts over on the right hand side.

I conclude here by re-printing my first ever post. It seems quaint given that all that has followed but in my life it is a historic piece having launched this blog that means so very much to me.

                                                  NOT PRETENTIOUS

At the Safeway check out counter there was a book called," An Idiot's Guide to Nascar." Here's my question: Who else would want a guide to Nascar?  

I am about to go read some F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories. Telling you this along with my jab at Nascar perhaps seems pretentious. I can't help that. It's actually far worse to edit your life in order not to seem some way than it is to be that way in the first place.  

Hey, before going to the store I watched the latest episode of "The Simpsons" and a chunk of my day was taken up with baseball so I do indeed have the common touch.  

First blog post completed.

09 May 2018

The Fabulous First 50: The First Two Score and Ten #TriviaFun Tweets I've Tweeted

Abe Lincoln's brother Gordon, of  Dim Sum fame.
Two and half months ago I brought joy and surcease to a troubled world by starting my daily tweets of #TriviaFun. The response has been overwhelming. Literally a few people have been avidly checking my twitter feed everyday to see the latest bit of TriviaFun. I've already been approached about a book deal and there are suggestions of a cinematic adaptation. The awards have poured in too. I'm humbled to have received the Pulitzer Prize for trivia tweeting as well as a People's Choice Award. Apparently the Nobel committee is going to be recognizing #TriviaFun as well. Plaudits have come from all over the world. I've heard from presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens, potentates, dictators, Mafia bosses and common folk. As I said, I'm humbled. There are, of course, some benighted souls who are not on twitter. To you I present my first 50 #TriviaFun tweets so that you too can enjoy these fascinating bits of knowledge. And to my legion of regular followers, here in one complete package is all the trivia you've so much enjoyed these past 50 days. There will be another compilation presented when I reach the 100 mark. Please, enjoy.

Abraham Lincoln’s brother Gordon opened the first Dim Sum restaurant west of the Alleghenys.

According to a NASA study, 98% of the time a person types LOL, they have not literally laughed out loud.

For his historic trans-Atlantic flight, Charles Lindbergh wanted a flight attendant.

The Renaissance was delayed due to a teamster’s strike.

There is no recorded instance of anyone fighting like cats and dogs while it was raining like cats and dogs.

The first batter in major league baseball history set the record for most plate appearances.

In its original charter, the official language of the United Nations was to be pig latin.

The asp that killed Cleopatra was named Larry.

Had it not been for the car accident that took his life, James Dean would have had the role of Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver.

Charles Manson once did a cameo on The Brady Bunch.

Due to a clerical error, in the 1920s there was a US Senator representing Romania.

Biblical scholars believe that John the Baptist was actually an Episcopalian.

According to the National Air and Space museum, after this inaugural flight, Orville Wright was so excited he forget to return his tray table to an upright and locked position.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Andrew Lloyd Webber have the same middle name, Lloyd.

Many people who claim to gave encountered aliens say that they call each other, “dude.”

In Canada Cinco De Mayo is celebrated in October.

A 1960s remake of It’s a Wonderful Life was in production before funding fell through. It was titled, It’s a Groovy Life.

For a few months in 1978 Bob Marley and Henry Kissinger carpooled to work together.

In November 2017 Robert Redford and Seth Rogen started developing a TV show called, “Pardon my, Emoji.”

A confused Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart once tried to get a job doing musical accompaniments for an a cappella choir.

Researchers at NASA have concluded that a stitch in time actually only saves eight.

In addition to making the first American flag, Betsy Ross designed the halter top.

When his disciples first encountered Jesus after he had risen, they assumed they were seeing Jesus’ brother, Nigel.

In the original script for 2001: A Space Odyssey, instead of a monolith there was a barber’s pole.

Lewis and Clark often complained that they got a bum steer from Trip Advisor.

According to the Wall Street journal, after winning the Pulitzer Prize for literature, Robert Penn Warren spent all his prize money on hookers and blow.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence received commemorative tote bags.

Between fasts Gandhi loved nothing more than peach parfait.

Before she began doing humanitarian work, Mother Teresa was a homicide detective in Detroit.

Economist Milton Friedman had a background in musical theater.

Just to be contrary the rock group the Rolling Stones, will, while on tour, gather moss.

According the Bureau of Labor Statistics the least utilized excuse for missing work is: “I had to go down to the morgue to identify a body.”

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was 1263 Elm Street.

While president of the United States, George Washington preferred to be called, Prez.

The first NFL half time show was just a guy doing card tricks.

Samuel Beckett wrote a never performed sequel to “Waiting for Godot” entitled, “Godot Finally Arrives, Was Stuck in Traffic.”

In the off season, baseball superstar Babe Ruth would supplement his income by serving as a circuit judge.

World War I was originally slated to start a month earlier then it actually did but was delayed because Kaiser Wilhelm had a scheduling conflict.

Albert Einstein often stated that if he hadn’t succeeded in psychics he would liked to have been a village smithy.

President Calvin Coolidge had an imaginary friend named Max who he sometimes consulted on foreign affairs.

Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644) was an atheist.

Lyle Nottingham of Poughkeepsie, NY is credited with being the first on twitter to use, “I can’t even.” He claims to greatly regret doing so.

According to a story in US Weekly, the fastest growing recreational activity in the United States is whaling.

Neil Armstrong always regretted that he never cashed in the frequent flyer miles he earned from his trip to the moon.

In the first draft of Moby Dick instead of a whale Captain Ahab was pursuing an annoying seagull.

Astrophysicists are convinced that if there is intelligent life on other planets they don’t have rodeos.

Historians believe that John Tyler was the first president to play strip poker during cabinet meetings.

Scientists and theologians agree that the Hokey Pokey has little or nothing to do with “what it’s all about.”

At the time of his death Steve Jobs was working on a rotary dial smart phone.

Native American survivors of the Battle of Little Big Horn claim that Custer’s last words were, “and I just got this jacket back from the cleaners.”

04 May 2018

The Ways of Angels

I was lying in a burned out basement
With the full moon in my eyes.
I was hoping for replacement
When the sun burst thru the sky.
There was a band playing in my head
And I felt like getting high.
I was thinking about what a
Friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.
- From After the Gold Rush by Neil Young

Sure it’s different now. There’s the PTA meetings, soccer practices, bake sales, neighborhood clean-up and quiet Saturday nights at home watching movies with Sheila. My work is steady and I pay into a pension, we’ve got a mortgage and there’s enough in the bank that in a couple of Summers we can take the kids to Disneyland.

Not so many years ago it was a very different world. For example there was DickWeed. His name was Richard Wiedemann but we just naturally called him DickWeed especially since he was our main marijuana supplier and perpetually stoned. DickWeed was a philosopher although probably 90% of what he said was pure bullshit. He read all the great thinkers like Hegel, Kierkagaard and Plato but he got whatever they said jumbled up. Still, if you were high it could seem like he was making sense. Women were drawn to DickWeed which mystified the rest of us. He would change lovers every few weeks and never said a bad word about an ex — of which there were legion.

There was also Peein’ Lester, so named because he liked to pee in unusual places -- although the time he peed in the elevator in my apartment building did not go over well with anyone. Lester was more into drinking than drugs, hence the constant need to piss. Despite his proclivity to urinate in odd places he was a pretty bright guy who’d excelled in school and was on his way to Phd in Literature before he got fully sidetracked by his desire to be high. He was also a trust fund baby so he always had money and spent it freely.

Then there was Scraggly. (Real name Leonard Sharp.) Everything about him was scraggly. Especially his beard which seemed to grow in every direction at once. The hair on top of his head — and there was a lot of it despite the emergence of a bald spot — likewise shot off hither and yon and to parts unknown. Combs and brushes were an anathema to him. His clothes were unkempt (which is, by the way, a synonym for scraggly). They were — thankfully — never smelly but certainly never clean and were too baggy for his tall, slender frame. The weird thing was he would always had about half his shirt tucked in. Never completely out and never completely tucked. The man was consistent. His socks never matched, his shoes were scuffed and his fly was usually at half staff.

He called everyone “dude” whether male or female, a contemporary or older or younger. I can’t say for sure whether he ever knew anyone’s name. Scraggly talked at one speed and one speed only — fast. The speed with which he spoke coupled with how we would veer from one subject to the next without a pause and how he pretty much spoke in a stream of consciousness style made him difficult to follow. But ya know what? Everyone liked Scraggly. Scraggly dropped acid a couple of times a week. At least.

These were the three guys I primarily hung out with but there were more. The thing we all had in common was getting high. Wherever we were, whenever it was, there was always a ready supply of booze of all varieties not to mention grass and occasionally hashish and sometimes psychedelics including shrooms. Cocaine was usually available too for those, like myself, who preferred it. Of course money was needed to keep us high. Peein’ Lester had his trust fund, Scraggly actually worked backstage at rock concerts and DickWeed sold as much as he smoked always turning a profit on his bulk purchases (as he called them) of pot. Me, I was a thief. I had a strict rule about only robbing from stores and the rich. I stole cash, things to sell and booze.

Most any occasion was a time to get high. Weekends were a no-brainer but so were evenings, afternoons, mornings any time you could name. Holidays were a call to get loaded so too were hot days, inclement weather, vacations, work days, times of celebration, times of mourning and times of boredom. If we took a trip drugs and liquor were a must. So too if we stayed home. There were parties virtually every night and the only special parties were the ones hosted by someone outside of our group.

While high we would talk, watch movies, dance, fuck, play games, go for walks, drive around, go to the beach, go to the forest and listen to music. In fact, except when there was a movie on, we always had a soundtrack to our revelry. Mostly we listened to rock although sometimes soul, country or jazz would get mixed in. Sometimes we would dissect lyrics looking for meaning. We were deep thinkers, at least so far as we could be given the altered states of our sodden minds. It’s hard to remember anything we said that really meant anything despite how profound we seemed at the time. We always thought we were talking about great issues and making insights when in reality we were just so full of shit.

The one thing we had going for us was camaraderie. We loved each other like brothers. I was especially close to Peein’ Lester with whom I had a lot in common, particularly loves of both literature (not that either one of us were doing a lot of reading while we were perpetually high) and baseball. We talked of both incessantly.

There were many others who flitted in and out of group. A lot of our part timers had full time jobs or were students and were thus mostly just around on weekends and during holidays and vacations. The core of us had no time for such nonsense believing as we did that we were leading sacred lives devoted to a more fuller understanding of the world through getting high. I felt sorry for those suckers who put in 40 hour weeks or labored in classrooms. I was free and I was part of a community and who needed responsibilities?

This was while I was in my mid and late 20s. I’d already gotten a degree (dramatic arts) but while in college had developed a proclivity for parties and booze and coke. About the time I was graduating I drifted away from a career path and into friendships with the likes of Scraggly, Pissin’ Lester and DickWeed. Once I did, all thoughts about what the future might hold vanished. I was living in the here and now. The disappointment expressed by family and old friends meant nothing to me. What did they know? They bored me silly and couldn’t understand that I was having fun and aimed to continue doing so.

This was the life I lived for half a dozen years. Nothing deterred my desire to “party” and hang out. Not even when I Od’d on coke and was taken to the hospital, not even when I was pinched  shoplifting in a convenience store, not even when a friend named Karl (called Crazy Karl) fell to this death from high atop a redwood tree while tripping on acid. I was locked in.

Until I met Sheila.

I’d been with a lot of different women over the years. They came and went and I didn’t much care. One was pretty much the same as the next to me. Not Sheila though. She was Rachael Bradley’s sister. Rachael being and on again off again girlfriend of DickWeed. Sheila came to one of our parties shortly after moving to town where she had gotten a new job. She was not a big drinker and was sipping on a wine cooler when I sat next to her. We struck up a conversation and I was soon smitten. Just the fact that this new girl wasn’t a lush or a stoner was kind of appealing, especially given how cute she was and, as I soon discovered, how smart.

I’d met a lot of women but Sheila was different in ways I couldn’t completely define or understand. When I look back on it now I realize that we were simply meant for each other. She was the first girl I’d dated since college who wasn’t into getting high and on several of our dates I stayed stone cold sober the whole night. I was falling in love. She saw something in me too. As Sheila later said it was obvious to her that I wasn’t really happy being high all the time, despite my protestations to the contrary. She believed in time that I would get clean and sober and was looking forward to the man I would then become.

When I wasn’t seeing Sheila, everything was as before and I got as high as I could as often as I could. But it wasn’t the same. I enjoyed life with Sheila sober more than I did being high without her. Then one day my life changed forever when the two worlds collided. Sheila invited me to her place for a small dinner party with two of her old friends and one of the women’s husbands. I was getting ready to leave when Shiela called and said not to rush, one of her friends would be delayed. I had half an hour to kill. I killed nearly two hours and did so with Scraggly and Pissin’ Larry snorting Coke and guzzling Scotch. So I lost track of time.

I showed up at Sheila’s apartment barely able to stand up and talking a mile a minute. Her friends were shocked. She was humiliated. Sheila literally pushed me out of her apartment, screaming at me. “I never want to see you again!” She exclaimed repeatedly.

Hangovers were standard operating procedure for me and I always knew to have a hair of the dog. But that next morning all I felt was misery and shame. I never wanted to come within a mile of liquor or drugs again. Lightning had struck. I was going to choose a woman over drugs. If she’d have me. That afternoon I went to my first AA meeting. Afterwards I wrote a long letter to Sheila detailing my sins and vowing to stay sober and begging forgiveness. Forgiveness was granted and Sheila and I were soon dating again. A year after my sobriety date — yes, it was planned — we married.

Today I’m a high school drama teacher. I have two school age kids and am in a healthy marriage. Besides all the parenting duties I happily fulfill, I also regularly attend NA and AA meetings. The life I lived a dozen years ago seems like its from some strange movie I once saw.

Scraggly is dead. He drowned swimming while quite high. DickWeed is still getting high. I saw him a few years ago. He’s 34 but looks 60. His mind is mostly gone and so is his physical health. But Pissin’ Lester is now just Lester and I see him at least once a week at NA meetings. He’s married too and has one child. He got sober two years after me. I’m still his sponsor.

I'm happy now but it's more than that, I'm content. I think a lot about a quote from Kierkegaard that DickWeed mentioned once while we were sharing some primo weed: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” At the time I thought it was deep. Now I know what it means.

25 April 2018

Willie's Up!: Baseball, The Backdrop to My Youth

Cepeda and Stretch were back to back
Rookies but I'll tell you Jack
Sanford led the way in '62
Marichal kicking high
Willie's cap would fly
Nothing could match his basket catch the legend grew
-- From Talkin' Giants Baseball by Terry Cashman

“Mays is up.” It might have been me saying it to my dad or my dad saying it to me. In either case the message was received. We'd stop what we were doing and sidle over to the radio.

When I was growing up baseball season was the time when the radio, either the big one in the house or one of the transistors, was always turned to the San Francisco Giants’ game. Unless we were in the car in which case the car radio was tuned to KSFO 560, then the Giants' flagship station. This was in the '60s and the only time the Giants were on TV was when they traveled to LA. There was also no internet to stream games on. But the radio was fine.

We listened to Giant broadcasters Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons and boy were we lucky, they were  future Hall of Famers. Having also attended many a Giants home game (the first game I specifically recall going to was Game One of the 1962 World Series though I’d been to several before that) it was easy enough to picture the ball park, the stands, the field, the individual players (baseball cards were a big help) and to visualize the action as it took place. Russ and Lon's mellifluous voices, baseball wisdom and easy wit made the joy of following the Giants doubly pleasurable.

Of course the crack of the bat and the sound of the crowd often told the story as much as the excited voice of Russ or Lon. In the long moments between action you could hear the steady buzz of the crowd and even pick out the occasional sound of a vendor hawking his wares. It was a comfort. It was home and hearth to listen to a ball game. The Giants were our team. We knew all the players (actually, knew of them, but it sure seems like you get to know the individuals on your favorite club, they become like family) and the manager and coaches and most of the opposing players and many of the umpires. Listening to a game had the comfort of the familiar. The steadiness of three strikes and your out, three outs in an inning and nine innings a game unless there were extras. But there was always the unexpected, the pinch hit home run, the spectacular catch, the clutch double play, the slugger legging out a triple. Everything old was new again, but some of the new never got old.

Baseball was part of the fabric of my dad and my relationship. It was odd his being such a fan considering he grew up in Northern Finland and didn't settle in the US until he was in his early 30s. But love the game he did. And we loved it together.

Being a Giant fan felt special. No, there weren’t a lot of championships when I was growing up. In fact there were none. The Giants didn’t even make it back to the World Series until 1989 and didn’t win it until 2010 (it was one helluva a long wait, but well worth it). But it was still special to follow the team because we had such great players. Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry and Orlando Cepeda are all in the Hall of Fame. The Giants also had great supporting casts with the likes of Mike McCormick, Jim Ray Hart, Jose Pagan, Jim Davenport, the Alou brothers and my favorite player, Cap Peterson. Okay, Cappy Peterson was not a star in any way shape or form — in fact, he rarely played — but he was my favorite player. His baseball card was one of the great treasures of my life, as was my memory of being at the ballpark in one of the rare games in which he played. He did cause two great heartaches of my youth. The first was in a game at which I saw him get a couple of at bats. His last time up he cracked a high fly ball to left field that was on its way to the bleacher seats. But St. Louis Cardinal superstar Lou Brock ruined what would have been unspeakable joy for me by leaping above the fence and catching the ball, robbing Cappy of a homer. The other heartache was on the off season day when my hero was traded. (For the record Cap Peterson played 244 games for the Giants over the course of six seasons, cracking seven home runs — shoulda been eight — and batting a modest .235. He played three seasons in the American League and was out of baseball at the ripe old age of 26. He died at 37 from kidney disease. I’ll never forget him.)
Players came and went, the superstars like Mays stayed longer. The uniform remained unchanged with the black and orange caps with SF emblazoned on them. Russ and Lon were in the booth together until Russ retired in my senior year of high school. From my earliest memories through departure to college, the Giants were a constant and welcome backdrop, as much a part of my youth as birthdays, classmates and Sunday school.

Baseball is a cruel game. A team has had a terrific season and likely made the post season by winning 100 games. But that’s out of 162 so the fan — in a really good year — will have to endure 62 or more — often many more — defeats. Many of the defeats are heart wrenching. The yielding of late inning home run to give up a lead, someone striking out in the 9th inning with the bases full, a costly error that opens up the flood gates for the opposition. Baseball has all manner of ways to break a heart — if only for an hour or two. But there is a flip side to tragedy. Late inning heroics, come-from-behind victories, masterful pitching performances, prodigious home runs. The game taketh away but it giveth too and can lift the spirts — if only for an hour or two.

As a boy and now as a wizened older gent I can brush off defeat while still savoring victory (in my middle years it was a tougher task). But I withstood the disappointments as a child. Hope sprung enternal and abounded and every time the Giants played I anticipated victory. (Cynicism came later.) The radio was rarely the focus of our attention. It was there while I played in the yard and while dad puttered in the shed and while we had dinner and while we played cards. We’d even check in during commercials while watching TV. We listened idly to the tedium of another foul ball or a pitching change or lazy fly ball to center field or a pitch in the dirt or an intentional walk. But the instant there was action our focus was on the game. “There are two men with no one out,” one of us might say. Or, "Fuentes just tripled," or "one out to go and Marichal has a shut out." And of course we always paid attention when Mays came to bat. He was special. One of the greatest if not the greatest player of all time and a home run hitter par excellence. There was too great a chance of missing something if you didn’t pay attention when Mays batted. When he came up there was hope, there was anticipation. Also Mays was immediately followed by McCovey so that if the first Willie failed there was a second chance with the power hitting Stretch up.

All of this came to mind when I watched a 1964 documentary about Mays on You Tube. It recalled all the magic of Mays, the Giants and the game of baseball. It is a wonderful time capsule, showing Russ and Lon in the broadcast booth, the press box (comprised of white males wearing hats and suits) and Candlestick Park ( I remember it now as a dump, but as a kid it was a golden palace of baseball). It recalled the smell of hot dogs with Gulden's mustard, the cold Candlestick winds, the SF-LA rivalry and eternal summers of playing, watching, listening to and talking about baseball.

Baseball was the same back then. Played the same with the same rules. But boy is it different. All the bells and whistles of modern ballparks, for one. When I was a kid I went to the ballpark to watch a game, now there are all manner of distractions for children and older fans alike. Scoreboard and sound systems bombard the senses, never giving one time to think, let alone talk. It wasn’t until 1962 that Mays, for one, wore a batting helmet, now players go to bat looking halfway between ball players and knights in armor. Ticket prices have skyrocketed. It was a simple enough matter in high school to go with friends to a game with the price of a ticket quite reasonable. Now you have to take out a second mortgage to afford a decent seat. In my youth ballpark’s offered hot dogs, beer, soda, peanuts and a few other concessions. Now there are all manner of offering from pizza to sushi to crab sandwiches, to salads to barbecued meat to well, the list goes on and on. The variety is nice but the prices would challenge a sultan’s budget and yet some fans make endless trips from their seats to fill up on over priced and mostly unhealthy fare. Another distraction.

Like so much else baseball has been corporatized over the years. It’s a gold mine for fat cats and the players reap rewards, many making millions (yes, plural) of dollars a year. In 1963 Mays made just over 100 grand for the season which, even with inflation is less than a million today. The games take longer, there are many more pitching changes for one thing. Many of the fans are there for the spectacle and know or care only a little about the game. We didn't have to endure the Kiss Cam or between innings quizzes or the incessant blaring of music when I was a kid. But we got to says Mays in centerfield making his patented basket catch.

I don't listen on the radio anymore. For one thing every single game is on TV. Also I have less time for baseball what with books and movies, English soccer, my own family and the like. Plus I can always get up to the second updates on line whether at home or commuting or out running errands. I go to less games what with exorbitant ticket prices and games lasting three hours. The Giants added to their World Series with two more so the desperation to see them win is significantly less (but I wouldn't turn up my nose to another title or three if the baseball gods see fit).

I still love baseball but it is no longer the backdrop of my Spring and Summer. One of the pleasures of the sport is its connection to my youth, to my dad and to old friends who I've gone to games with or just talked baseball with. I passed my love of the game in general and to the Giants in particular to my oldest daughter and my nephews are fellow travelers too, so the family connection is strong. The game is forever in my heart. Baseball abides.

I'll tell you one thing I do miss though -- when Mays came up. That was special.

Affectionately dedicated to my good friend Phil who sent me the above mentioned video and with whom I share similar memories of the Giants in the '60s and Russ and Lon and of course, Willie.

20 April 2018

Yesterday and Today Eight Americans in History, A Slavery Parable

Glad and sorry
Happy or sad
When all is done and spoken
You're up or I'm down
Can you show me a dream
Can you show me one that's better than mine
Can you stand it in the cold light of day
Neither can I
- From Glad and Sorry by Faces

Royce Hawkins sat in the back of his freshman English class wearing sun glasses. He’d take them off in a minute. But right now he felt cool wearing them. It was late in the Spring semester and Royce totally had the hang of college. He was headed for an MBA and lucrative career in business. But best of all, for Royce was right now. He’d gotten laid the night before and the chick was totally hot. It had been their third date. She dug Royce because — let’s face it — he was handsome. Slightly above average height, good build, muscular, chiseled good looks, brown hair that always warranted an expensive haircut. Royce had been a pretty good athlete in high school but wasn’t cut out for college sports. Being on a college team would take way too much time away from socializing. And Royce didn’t need any more pressure on his schoolwork. He was skating by with a good GPA without busting his ass. As for other stuff, well Royce couldn’t give a shit about politics. He thought people who obsessed about it, especially the protestor types, were a bunch of losers. He’d vote and stuff for sure but just to make sure that candidates who were good for business got in, ones who’d keep taxes down. Royce took off his sunglasses and scoped the room. Couldn't wait for class to end so he could head to party.

Two hundred years earlier James Dial Hawkins, a direct ancestor of Royce, spoke to his wife Leila. “You should know that I aim to sell your girl in the kitchen, Dolly.”

“But why?” Dolly asked him.

“The bitch was caught stealing again. The only time she doesn’t steal is when she’s too lazy to.”

“But she’s fixin’ to marry Jupiter.”

“Well that’s too bad. I warned her three times already that if she didn’t mend her ways I’d sell her."

“Oh James, she’ll be heartbroken and so will Jupiter.”

“That’s too bad for her and as for Jupiter, he can find himself another wench.”

“Such a shame.”

“I know, but what can you do with a thief?” 

What was left unsaid by James Dial Hawkins was that Dolly was pregnant by the only man who’d had relations with her, her owner James Dial Hawkins. This was the real reason he was selling her. A mulatto child born of a house slave would point directly to James and incur the wrath of Leila and perhaps worst of all Leila’s mother. No, she had to go.

Tracy Pendar was coming home from the downtown San Francisco shopping center with her friend Kylie who was currently texting. They were riding the subway out of the city back to their clean, pleasant suburban community. Tracy, a tall pretty 17 year old, was, in her words, grossed out by some of the people she’d encountered at the subway station. Tracy didn’t have anything against black people. There were a few African Americans at her school, she’d been in a couple of classes with this boy Anthony who seemed nice and had gotten to know a girl named Crystal on the volleyball team. But at the same time she noticed that several of the scarier and skankier looking people she’d seen that day were black. Tracy wondered why that was. She’d heard stuff about economic conditions in class and something called institutional racism but wasn’t sure what they were all about. The 17 year old also had heard some people say that blacks were lazy and mostly not as smart. Tracy realized that such talk was definitely bad and maybe wrong but she also wondered if there wasn’t some truth in it. Tracy turned her attention to the two large shopping bags she was holding. She’d got a couple of really nice tops  and a skirt and a new bikini. Her dad was bound to think the bikini was too revealing but she know how to handle him. Kylie finally stopped texting and the two girls started talking. Mostly about boys at school and summer plans.

One hundred and eighty years earlier, Martha Pendar, a direct ancestor of Tracy, excitedly received the news that among her birthday gifts was her very own slave, Pandora. From when she could first walk until around her ninth birthday, Martha and Pandora had been best friends. Martha was devastated the day her father told her that Pandora was old enough to work now so she wouldn’t be around much anymore and anyway it was time for Martha to stop playing with slaves. Martha cried and cried that day and rarely thereafter so much as saw Pandora. But now on her 13th birthday Martha was to be re-united with her old friend, albeit in a different role.

“We’ve cleaned Pandora up and got her some new clothes,” Martha’s daddy told her. With that he he signaled to Thomas, one of the house slaves, to fetch his daughter’s slave.

Shortly Pandora appeared dressed in the classic blue livery of the Pendar plantation. She was a pretty girl, very dark, her parents both having come from Africa. Pandora stood in the vestibule, head bowed, quiet, clasping her hands together.

“Why Pandie, look it you!” Exclaimed Martha. “You’re just a lovely sight all nicely dressed. Come here. Slowly Pandora approached her mistress and forced a wan smile. “Come now, let’s go upstairs and talk, we’ve ever so much to plan and to do and…land’s sakes, Pandie, come on, don’t be shy.”

In the coming days it gradually dawned on Martha that things weren’t the same between her and Pandora anymore. For one thing the girls were older and while she had spent the past three years with tutors studying literature and French and classical history, Pandora had been picking cotton. They’d both changed and the nature of their relationship was not one of playmates but as master and slave. Gradually Martha became accustomed to the idea (Pandora had more easily slid into her role) and there was a cool distance between the two. Martha no longer respected her old childhood friend and brusquely ordered her about. She sometimes lost her temper and even lashed out Pandora, who she never ever called Pandie again.

Thomas Dixon had just finished his biology lab class and was headed to the bus stop. Once he got to his apartment he'd have a quick dinner and then start a few hours of studying before going to bed. Thomas was close to finishing his second year in community college and had been accepted at a nearby state college for the next school year. It was sometimes difficult for Thomas himself to believe that he was about halfway to a college degree. He'd been an indifferent student through elementary school and had struggled mightily in middle school and his first two years at high school. Thomas had dyslexia which always made reading a struggle, but the special help he received starting in the 7th grade had eventually paid off. Of course Thomas had had disciplinary issues as well. It was never anything serious and was mostly a matter of his bristling at authority figures, namely teachers, especially most of the white ones. Looking back he was pretty sure none of them were racist but he was equally sure that they were piss poor at relating to and understanding African American students.
Of course Thomas's home life had made things difficult too, what with his father constantly being out of work and his mother struggling with drug addiction. But Thomas had stayed out of any serious trouble, managed to barely graduate from high school and know was working part time and making his way through school, He felt justified in thinking that with continued hard work he might just make a good life for himself.

One hundred and seventy years earlier Henry Dixon, a direct ancestor of Thomas, stood in the sweltering Alabama cotton field enduring the angry foul-mouthed taunts of the overseer, Mac, who was threatening a whipping if Henry didn't start working harder. With all his might Henry had to restrain himself from charging Mac, knocking him to the ground and beating the living hell out of him. When he was just a child Henry'd seen a slave attack an overseer. He could still remember the awful beating the slave administered and could equally well remember the torturous death that slave later suffered, hanging from a tree being skinned alive, castrated and eventually disembowled. The horror would stick with Henry forever, which was, of course, the purpose of the horrible exercise and why all the slaves were required to watch  Henry was born a slave. There had been occasional times of joy in his life and Sundays were generally happy days but for the most part his life was one of privation and misery. The worst of it being his unshakeable belief that this was all so very wrong, the worst injustice imaginable. 

There was hope in Henry's life. Word was that some slaves had successfully escaped to the North. In his younger days Henry knew only of slaves running off and within hours or days or weeks or months brought back in chains, often to suffer terrible punishments. But now there was a system in place and more and more slaves were running off and never being caught. At least that's what Henry heard. The first whispers of some sort of escape route that included people helping and places to stop had just reached the plantation. Henry was going to keep his ears open and when a chance, a good chance, came, he would run for freedom. Of that he was sure.

Sasha Washington sat nervously waiting to give the student speech at her high school graduation. She had already been the featured student speaker at the African American student graduation but this speech would be before the high school's entire graduating class of 700. Sasha wished it was all over -- the speech, the ceremony, the handing out of diplomas, everything -- and that she could be at the party at her best friend Jamaica's house. Sasha was ready to relax for a little bit. Behind her was all the work she'd put in to earn her sterling GPA and acceptance, with an academic scholarship, to Columbia University. Also behind her was all the work put in with the African American Student Council as well as her participation in various clubs and volunteer organizations, not to mention the activist work she'd done on behalf of various local, state and national causes and candidates. Ahead of her was college and more hard work and more extra curriculars and more political and social justice activism. But that's what she was all about. Sasha had been raised by a single mother. A mother who never graduated high school, let alone college, but worked two and half jobs to make sure that Sasha and her little brother Lester got everything they needed. Now the time was coming for her speech. Sasha would expound on three themes: appreciation for all who made their graduation possible; clarity of vision as they moved on to the next phase of their lives; and perseverance in the face of the oppressive forces or racism, classism and social inequality that conspired to keep them down. "Everyone keep your head up, your eyes on the prize and look out for your sisters and brothers as in solidarity we make the world a better place than the one we grew up in." She'd do fine.

One hundred and ninety years earlier, Lizzie, a director ancestor of Sasha, nervously tried to listen to the cook, Annie and the butler, Nathaniel, as they told her in great detail of the many duties she'd be performing now that she was part of Amos Morton household. Lizzie was still wobbly from her experience earlier in the day when she had been forced to stand naked on an auction block as fully a dozen men leered at her, made comments about her and even touched her. She had bought by Amos Morton who smiled lasciviously when someone remarked that his new purchase, comely as she was, would make a fine bedroom companion. Lizzie was 16 years old and a virgin and was terrified at the idea of fornication with a man like Mr. Morton, who was well over 40 and as she later discovered, a widower.

"You understand all you been told?" Nathaniel asked her gravely. Lizzie shook her head dutifully, though everything they said was a complete blur. "Course she didn't," spat Annie. "She'll just have to learn as she go along. And child, one thing we didn't tell you about is Master Amos. He likes pretty young things like you so you might as well get used to the idea."

Lizzie sobbed uncontrollably. Why was life so horrible? How could she have been sold away from her mama and her brother? What kind of cruelty is this? It can't be right. Now I'm at a new place and I don't understand what I'm supposed to do, I'm afraid, alone and I'm going to be taken to bed by an ugly old man. I'm no better than an animal.

Annie comforted the girl as best she could. "Now it ain't all that bad child. Least you in the house. You don't got to work in no fields in the broiling sun. You young yet. Maybe you escape someday. Maybe they end slavery someday. Why I hear tell in the North there's a lot of white folks trying to end slavery. You got to have hope. Always.

Annie's comforting words helped. They reminded Lizzie of what her mama said about never giving up, never letting the white man beat you, never losing faith. Lizzie now knew what Mama meant and she was determined to keep her head up. There would be better days, there sure couldn't be any worse.

14 April 2018

A Trio of Topics: Music and Me, Crowded Busses, Depression Again

I read this article on the BBC about how music from our teenage years stays with us longer and has more of an influence on us than music from other times. The writer went on to say: "The brain’s memory systems are at their most efficient during late adolescence and early adulthood. We also experience many things then for the first time, which makes them particularly memorable. But the key reason that we return to songs and anecdotes from this period of our lives is that they remind us who we are. It is during these formative years that we make many crucial life-changing decisions, initiate significant long-term relationships and establish the cultural and political beliefs which form our identity." I found this all particularly interesting because in recent years I've been listening to music that was popular and meaningful in my youth. Specifically music from just before my teen years and just after. This came about after a long period in my life when I was almost exclusively listening to jazz. I don't know what brought about the change but I rarely listen to jazz anymore. Probably 80% of the music I listen to is from when I was between nine and 25 years old. Some of it evokes particular memories. Some recall past loves or friends or events. It bathes me in the warmth of nostalgia. It can inspire me, make me feel sentimental or can just comfort me. When I was young I looked for wisdom in rock songs. I was convinced at various times that people such as The Who or David Bowie or Neil Young held the key answers to life itself. Certainly their music was an integral part of a path toward enlightenment. Other music was square, passé, meaningless drivel. In my mind rock and roll singers were sages at least and messiahs at best. I searched through their lyrics for meaning. But I also got off on the rhythm. It was so easy to dance and bounce and sway and celebrate to rock music. Alcohol and drugs helped fuel the excitement. I wanted noting to do with the hokey melodies of country and western or the boredom of classical or the banality of pop music. I liked Soul music too because it was cool and beautiful and urban. But rock provided the soundtrack to my life as it does again today. Maybe it allows me to feel young again (then again, I haven't started feeling old)or maybe it allows me to live in times of promise rather than in the Autumn of my years. Hell, I don't know, maybe I always liked it better and the jazz thing was just what I should be wondering about. Dunno. Just like what I like.


I take a commuter bus to San Francisco everyday, then walk a few blocks to where I catch a local bus to work. It is almost always crowded, often packed to the gills. Fortunately there are always seats available when I get on (as is the case on my return trip). Earlier this week the bus was particularly sardine can like. Perhaps the preceding bus hadn't come. I got just about the last seat on the bus. A few stops later passengers were wedged in tight. Then we got to the stop at Market Street where a lot of people always get on. I happened to glance toward the front of the bus and the scene was similar to the fall of Saigon. It was so packed that the driver couldn't close the doors, even the front one. Passengers literally had one leg on the bus and one leg out. For the life of me I can't imagine what they were thinking. The driver -- quite firmly -- let people know two things: it was impossible to start the bus unless some people got off and there was another bus less than a minute behind. His announcement -- repeated several times -- was to no avail. Experienced as I am at bus riding I was not really surprised. Some folks will pile onto a bus like it is the last one they'll ever see. Many are so desperate to get on that they'll bull past people who are trying to get off and indeed push such people further back in. I notice such situations are more prevalent on the #30 that I was on on the morning in question and that I ride twice daily on weekdays. I have to be careful here but....This is a bus that goes through Chinatown and most of the people who are so desperate to pile on busses are clearly Chinese and many of them are late middle age or older. In fact a lot of them are elderly. I am not trying to disparage my Chinese brothers and sisters, I am merely stating a fact. Not a few San Franciscans, and residents in other metropolitan areas, hold quite dim views of Chinese people because of their behavior commuting or in other crowded situations. I do not hold the worst actions of a few members of a group against the group as a whole. In the case these older Chinese citizens I realize that there are cultural factors at play. Another example being that when I taught middle school, roughly half of my students were African American. Many Black students were likely to speak up spontaneously without first being recognized as the rules of a classroom dictate. As a teacher I had to walk the fine line between maintaining school policy and being culturally sensitive. It isn't necessarily easy to live in a multi-cultural society but it is ultimately rewarding. Anyhoo, getting back to the bus ride, the driver finally had to become adamant (read: angry) about people getting off and was able to "persuade" those who were half off to get the hell off. The thing is that those people who had to get off were able -- within a minute -- to board a bus that was likely half empty and comfortably take a seat. Maybe they should have thought about that before trying to ride on the hood.


So what happens a lot now is that I'll start to write and maybe manage a sentence or a paragraph or nothing at all and I'll stare at the screen for a bit and mind you I'm already depressed and so the inability to write will make me more depressed and the gloom will envelop me and writing will become impossible. So I'll just quit. I haven't found that there's anything I can do in such situations that will work. Depression is like that. You can have the best of intentions and be determined not to succumb but telling the depression to go away is like trying to tell a broken bone to stop bothering you. In a sense a broken bone is easier to deal with because the doctor can fix you right up and in within a predictable time the bone will heal. Maybe someday my depression will "heal" but it's been a pretty constant companion for three years now and I only occasionally get a respite. I've not given up fighting it by any means and the process of trying to eliminate the depression is a worthwhile endeavor that yields benefits. For example my weekly sessions with my psychiatrist -- while failing to eradicate the depression -- have borne much fruit. For many people -- myself included -- therapy is a life long process that is a constant source of insight into one's life and into the human experience. Of course it helps to have a good doctor and I currently do. Meds have their place though as I've learned they come fraught with peril, specifically in the form on side effects. I'm currently on meds that don't have any side effects but then again they haven't totally freed me from melancholia. I've taken things that have numbed the pain but they've also numbed me in general leaving me closer to the zombie that a sentient human being. I'll here conclude as I always do when writing about depression, I've got much to happy about and am grateful for life's bountiful gifts. 

09 April 2018

My Sunday Diary Entry Reveals a Most (Extra)Ordinary Day

Girlfriend Hortense playing the bagpipe.
Dear Diary: Today I continued my inexorable descent into madness. I’m progressing quite nicely in this regard and should be completely insane in no time at all. I also washed the dishes, brushed my teeth and ate breakfast, though not in that order. Before leaving the house to run some errands I got dressed, at least I think I did. It may well have been that I got dressed shortly after leaving the house or indeed I could theoretically have gotten dressed just before returning home. In any event I was fully dressed upon returning home. The errands I ran are too mundane to here recount although they did involve visits to the village smithy, the apothecary and Bruno my aroma therapist.
Back at home I was visited by recently deceased Aunt Martha. We enjoyed a lovely cup of tea and some scones she herself made. Nothing was said of her funeral nor my failure to attend (it was on my lodge meeting night). Aunt Martha took an Uber back to the cemetery. Forgetful as always, she left her reading glasses.
I spent two hours in my continuing study of the Iroquois language. I’m getting to the point at which I can order meals, make hotel reservations and ask directions. I still plan to visit Iroquois next Fall, assuming I can find it on a map.
Got a phone call from my herbalist, Herb who told me that the new batch of herbs I ordered had come in. I thanked Herb profusely for the herb update. Herb is an herbalist par excellence.
Had roast goldfish for lunch. Went nicely with the plum wine Cousin Rashford made.
Did my daily calisthenics which today consisted of pirouettes, deep knee bends, deep ankle bends, backflips and flipbacks.
Sat down to prepare a legal brief but it was too long. A brief brief is not always so easy.
Mined for gold in the backyard. Still no luck though I did uncover more of the ancient Indian burial ground. This may account for the poltergeist visitations I have suffered from frequently of late.
My good friend Peabody McGander dropped by — literally, he fell from a low flying helicopter. P-Mac (as he is affectionally known) regaled me with stories of his recent gall bladder operation. We then chatted about this and that. P-Mac and I differ on this but agree wholeheartedly on that. Just as he was leaving my girlfriend Hortense arrived. She had been touring with all her all girl all nude bagpipe band. As a special treat she played Stairway to Heaven for me (on her bagpipes, of course). This inevitably led to a romantic coupling that I am too modest to recount here, especially as Hortense’s parents may read this (if you do, Mr. and Mrs. Gullypepper, please know that by coupling I mean, uh, let’s say, chaste hugging).
Hortense and I went to our favorite restaurant for dinner, Seagull Sam’s Seafood Safari. I had the breaded blue whale steak and my girlfriend had the dolphin supreme salad. We washed it all down with Seagull Sam’s pure grain alcohol. Delish.
On the walk home I burped.
At home my beloved and I watched C-SPAN’s continuing coverage of the Bulgarian parliamentary debates. Wish they were subtitled.
Now to bed but of course had to catch you up, dear diary, on my latest doings. Sorry it was such an ordinary day. Maybe tomorrow I’ll have some exciting adventures to reveal. Perhaps there’ll me madcap hijinks or stunning achievements or death-defying acts of bravery.
Oh, oh, here come the poltergeists, never should have started that dig.

04 April 2018

My Response to a Spam Scam

Since I moved from yahoo to gmail a few years ago I hardly ever get anything in my spam folder. Yesterday, however was a rare exception and I received the query below. Here is the email in its entirety and the response I would have sent had I been so inclined.

Dear Sir,
I am Alejandro Mario, i work with a commercial bank and i have a Proposition involving a business opportunity to discuss with you,It will be of mutual benefit to both of us if we can handle it together, once we have a common understanding and mutual co-operation in the execution of the modalities. I Would like you to stand as the surviving beneficiary to my deceased client Late Jason Thomas Price Who made some deposit of fund before he died without leaving any Will and any registered next of kin, i come and across his file and discovered that the account is dormant for sum years. If you should be interested, please email back to me through this email address: (alejandromario067@yahoo.com) for more details, If you receive this message in your spam or junk its due to your network provider
I await your earliest response.
Yours Sincerely,

Mr.Alejandro Mario
E-mail: alejandromario067@yahoo.comm

Dear Sir,
WC Fields once said that a sucker is born every minute. Sadly for you within the 60 seconds of my birth another bloke came into the world who turned out to be the sucker that minute. Nonetheless I read your email with great interest as it suggests a business opportunity that will benefit  me, assuming, as you say, we "can handle it together."

First I have a few questions that stem from my love and understanding of the English language and the rules pertaining to its usage.  Why did you capitalize "would" "proposition" and "will" but not "I"? You say you "come across his file" don't you mean you "came" across it? It is after all in the past. You say the account "is" dormant, shouldn't that be, "had been"? You know, past perfect. You further say that it has been dormant for "sum" years. Surely you mean "some" years. Really, sir, you should work on your spelling, punctuation and capitalization.

Now then you said that if I received this message in my spam folder it is due to my network provider. You are correct! They are very good at weeding out spam which is exactly what your email is. Also, thank you for providing your email address in the body of your message and at the end of it, because merely being able to hit "reply" were I of a mind to respond to you, is not nearly enough.

As to your proposition....why me? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that you don't know me from Adam (we're nothing alike). If you did know me I reckon that you would have dispensed with the Dear Sir and gone with a Dear Richard. You might also have asked what was up, how's the family and the like. But you don't know me, do you, Alejandro? You don't know a blessed thing about me. If you did you'd realize that I'm a poor target for your scam (spam scam?) as I am hardly a man of means (I have great riches that you'd have no access to such as a loving family). It seems to me Mr. Mario, that I was picked at random, where indeed a lot of picking goes on. It's sad that you have no close friends or associates with whom you can conduct this transaction and are forced to send blind emails (spam). You must be a lonely man.

Also how will I benefit from this "execution of modalities"? You neglected to mention that. Alejandro you need to be better at baiting the hook. Give the respondent (victim) some (or as you would put it, sum) indication of just how much dough they might rake in. There is nothing tempting about your missive. You've got a lot to learn about scamming.

You are quite vague about how our business deal would go down and why don't you name the "commercial" bank you work for?  Is because you do not really work for a bank? And why no Nigerian prince? Perhaps they've turned into a bit of a cliche. Still some sort of exotic story always helps a good scam.

Mr. Mario you've got a lot to learn about internet scams, not to mention about the English language. Better yet, maybe since your so poor at the whole spam business you should give it up entirely. Find an honest line of work -- or is this just a side hustle? How satisfying is to bilk poor unfortunates out their hard-earned dollars? Maybe you have no conscience and are fine with what is essentially stealing. If that's the case you are beyond any help I can suggest.

But I want to conclude, Mr. Mario (if that is indeed your real name) by thanking you for your email. It gave me something to blog about.
Sincerely Yours,
Not a Sucker