21 May 2019

"Leave the Rooster Story Alone, That's Human Interest" - Cary Grant in His Girl Friday

Photo taken by yours truly.
Sunday we were in the Castro District of San Francisco as one of my daughter's graduations was held at the historic and beautiful Castro Theater. I hadn't been in those parts in many moons. I was impressed by how clean it is (you may, if you've a mind to, insert your own joke about fastidious gay people here and yes, I said insert so there is yet another opportunity for you to construct a clever wisecrack). There were many nice shops including a bookstore. Youngest daughter is like me in that she cannot resist a bookstore and so there was no question about entering. It should come as no surprise that I found a book to purchase. I'm like that. Currently I have about two dozen books I've yet to get around to reading with many more that I'd like to purchase. I make no apologies for this particular addiction. It compares quite favorably with my previous addictions that involved drugs and alcohol. I have yet to get a hangover from reading, nor forget the previous night due to excess reading, nor have I damaged either my mental or physical health through reading nor have I insulted people nor made a fool of myself through excessive reading. I have spent more money on books that I'd planned but not to the extent I spent more money than I'd planned on scotch or cocaine.

Later I happened to stroll by the former offices of Harvey Milk and happened to do so when the Gay Men's Chorus was singing Happy Birthday to the late great Mr. Milk, though it was actually a few day's before the anniversary of his birth. They also sang I Left My Heart in San Francisco and another song, the title of which I don't recall, that was first performed during the Candlelight Vigil after Mr. Milk's assassination. There was also what I guess what one would call a gay marching band that performed. It was all quite lovely.

So yes, I saw many gay people striding about (and standing, for that matter) as one does in the Castro. I walked by a group of about six gay men standing around chatting and I noted that the vibe was much different that it would be had I walked by six straight men in conversation. There was a different energy entirely, more relaxed and friendly.

There was also, once the sun made an appearance, a gentleman who was standing on his street without a stitch on. One part of his body seemed to indicate that he was half excited. When I taught in San Francisco my students (who were from all over the world) would, of course, take trips to the Castro and most of them really liked it although they were confused by the naked men. "Why?" I was often asked. I could only shrug.

Another observation I had was that there were a lot of couples, some young, some old and many in between and like straight couples in love they seemed quite happy. It therefore continues to confound and anger me that there are those regressive forces in the United States (and other parts of the planet) who actually hate the fact that two people of the same gender can love one another romantically and express that love physically. The repugnant TV preacher Pat Robertson recently suggested that god was going to "vomit" up the US because of laws guaranteeing equal rights to the LGBT community. One must suppose that Robertson's god looks favorably on countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Brunei, Indonesia, Myanmar, Somalia and Uzbekistan where homosexuality is not only forbidden but punished. And think of all the other countries besides the US that this god must hold in disdain for permitting gays equal rights such as the the UK, Argentina, France, Mexico, Belgium, Brazil, Taiwan, Finland, South Africa, Italy, the Netherlands, Uruguay, Spain, Sweden etc.

You would think that god would really reserve his (it has to be a male god if its so uptight about gay sex) ire for countries that made war on others but evidently two people of the same gender fucking is worse in the eyes of Pat Robertson' god then blowing apart human bodies with bombs. Evangelicals are some pretty messed up people.

As I indicated earlier the ceremony was held in Castro Theater which has been a going concern since 1922 (yes, that makes it older than me, smarty pants). If you live in these parts or visit here I'd recommend catching a flicker in the theater. It's gorgeous.

After the ceremony we went to a restaurant where I indulged in a whole lot of eating including a very rich dessert. That night my tummy stated it's objections to my over indulgence and refused to let me have a good night's sleep. This was one of the few signs of aging that I've yet to experience. The next day I still managed to work on one of my novels and enjoy a visit with two grandnieces one of whom is but a month old. Holding a tiny baby for more than a few minutes (I got nearly an hour's worth) is one of the most pleasurable experiences I can imagine. Talk about cures for anxiety and depression.

Today there was more writing, a long walk, reading and two movies to be watched the second of which was His Girl Friday which is among my ten favorite films of all time. I've watched it many times and I could watch it again tomorrow and the next day and be happy doing so. I heard a line from the film I'd not noticed before and it forms the title of this blog post.

I've very much enjoyed writing this and am sorry to anyone who cares (Betsy McGillicuddy of Trenton, NJ) that I've not written more often of late. I'll try to do better. In fact I'll try to do better in other things. We all should.

08 May 2019

The Author Again Assails Cell Phone Use But Extolls Museums, Exercise and Books

A photo the author took at the de Young yesterday that was painted by Gauguin

I wonder if before there were cell phones some people wouldn’t go to the gym because they might miss a phone call. I also wonder if these same people wouldn’t go to the gym because while there they couldn’t make a phone call. I further wonder why the actual fuck people feel compelled to answer and make phone calls at the gym. I continue to be amazed at how so much of some people’s workouts are punctuated and interrupted by talking into or looking at their goddamned cell phones. I wonder how much better my work outs are than people who bring and use their phones to the gym. You see, I actually go to the gym to workout. Old fashioned, I know, but that’s me.

I don’t only complain about people. The missus and I went to the de Young Museum yesterday. I love museums. They make me happy and relaxed and I feel smarter and more cultured just being in one. I learn and am inspired and become more creative. I appreciate the people who curate museums, the people who work at museums and the people whose contributions make museums possible. I also appreciate my fellow museum-goers.

Speaking of people who work at museums…How about those folks who have to stand around all day, mostly just making sure that nobody gets too close to the exhibits. Occasionally they get asked a question, usually about directions to other exhibits. You talk about thankless jobs. Standing for hours on end usually without a damn thing to do. They’re like well-dressed security guards. Bless them.

Whenever we go to a museum I always make a beeline for the gift shop. Museum gift shops are ridiculously over-priced and rarely have anything I’ve the slightest interest in. One exception is bookmarks. Most museums sell or give away bookmarks and some are very nice. Those I’ll buy. I bought a tee shirt at MOMA in New York but that was an exception. They had a really cool tee shirt at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC but none in my size. Yesterday at the de Young there was nothing of interest in the gift shop. They had free bookmarks which were a value at the price. The thing is there were two more gift shops in the museum and excitedly went into both of them. Why? Beats me.

I’ve written a lot about running on this blog but I haven’t written anything about not running. I should explain. I’d been having pain in my knee whilst running for a few months. I went to the doctor and was sent for an X-ray then I saw an orthopedist. This was in March. I was told that the ligaments in my left knee were wearing away and if I continued to run I’d eventually need knee replacement surgery. So I’m not running anymore. Ever again. I always thought that I would be devastated if told I couldn’t run but when I actually got the news I shrugged and got on with my life. I’m like that. The good news is I can do everything else. I started lifting weights and still get in 40 minutes of cardio on the elliptical. I can also use the stair master and the stationary bike. (A stationery bike is one that you can write and send letters on.) I feel fantastic since I started using weights. And I don’t miss running. I also don’t miss teaching anymore. I just move on, whatever happen. (Full disclosure: I may return to teaching on a part-time basis to pick up a little extra cash.)

In casual conversation recently someone said to me that nobody reads books anymore. “I do.” I responded. It seems so do a helluva lot of other people (albeit not to the extent that they used to). Two Saturdays ago was Independent Bookstore Day. I noted that two local bookshops had big doings going on and both were packed with book buyers, enticed by special deals and their on-going support of indy book stores. Last Saturday the Bay Area Book Festival was held in Berkeley and their were hordes of people in town to see the various speakers — all with books to promote — discussing their books and related topics. There were also people buying books from the many sellers who set up shop. It’s a big annual event that shows that reading books has not quite yet faded into history. This coming Saturday the public library is going to have its annual book sale and judging by the past few years, the joint will be picked. Nobody reads books indeed.

01 May 2019

Oh My God, The Author Takes on Christianity


I recently saw a tweet by a former Cal women's basketball player: "I'm 32 years old today, God is good." So because she reached 32 years of age this young woman deems god to be "good." Interesting. One of former students died at 16 from leukemia and another at 22 from colon cancer. God not so good? When something positive happens in a Christian's life, they will often claim that their "prayers were answered." Many people who never pray have good fortune bestowed upon them. Many people who pray for something don't get it. They say it was not "god's will." If everything is god's will anyway, why bother praying? If two christians are in a car accident and both end up in the hospital with life-threatening injuries, you can rest assured that their families will pray for them. One dies the other recovers. So did one family not pray enough? Or without enough faith? God's will. When my best friend died at age 42, his mother, a devout Christian, said, "god has other plans for him." Really? More important than raising his young children? A few months later his widow was struck by a drunk driver. She was hospitalized for months and suffered brain damage sufficient that she was no longer able to take care of her children. Was this another case of god having other plans for someone? If so incapacitating a single mother of three is a strange plan. When my former student died of colon cancer a former colleague (a Christian) who knew the young man said that he would pray that god comforted his family. If god had given a rat's ass about the kid's family he wouldn't have given their child cancer in the first place.

I saw a tweet from a high school senior who signed a letter of intent to accept a scholarship and play football at Cal. In his tweet the young man said that "all glory goes to god." I've heard this one from athletes before. What kind of insecure self absorbed god needs us mere mortals to "give him all the glory" for all of our piddling little accomplishments? How about just being happy for what you have and thanking those PEOPLE who helped you achieve it? But of course god expects people to show up at church every Sunday and worship him. Again, what an ego. You're also not supposed to take his name in vain. That might hurt the almighty's feelings and we know how sensitive he is.

Of course there is no greater example of hypocrisy in the world today than the evangelical's embrace of our current president. They are -- along with white nationalists -- the biggest part of the idiot-in-chief's base. Never mind his immorality, his infidelities, his lies, his insults, his crudeness, these supposed Christians believe that god has chosen this scoundrel to be our president. On top of everything else we see that right wing evangelicals have no regard for the poor and that they care nothing about the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. They care more for money, guns and the persecution of gays than they do about social justice. Their twisted image of Jesus is as a white, Republican, businessman who loves the Second Amendment. They would never recognize the man who said this:

Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.

There is disagreement among historians about the historical figure of Jesus, including whether he even existed. Be that is it may there is no question but that a lot of the New Testament stories about Jesus tell of a person of great compassion who cared most for the poor and otherwise disadvantaged and showed disdain for the rich and privileged. Yet evangelicals ignore this Jesus and dwell on the vengeful god of the Old Testament. They parse the book of Leviticus constantly pointing to the admonitions against homosexuality while ignoring the bits about being able to own a slave from a neighboring country (Lev. 25:44), the obligation to kill those who work on the Sabbath (Ex. 35:2), never cutting your hair (Lev. 19:27) and that eating shell fish is an abomination (Lev. 11:10). There are other examples of ridiculous laws god imposed in the Bible but it is the one about homosexuality that evangelicals obsess about. Assholes.

I am not against the practice of any religion. I am against people trying to codify their religious beliefs into the laws of the land. In this country Christians, with their tax exempt status, feel free to mix politics and religious dogma in the worst possible ways. They have even, as noted above perverted the man they purport to worship.

I was raised in the Lutheran church which is the blandest version of Christianity I'm aware of. It was totally uninspiring. The only aspect I enjoyed was hearing from the Bible stories during Sunday school. There are some ripping good yarns in the Bible, though they shouldn't necessarily be taken as gospel (pun intended). However the church services had no relevance to my life and within a month of my confirmation I stopped attending church. I've since kept an open mind to all religions and philosophies and generally have found organized religions to be a crock. They are perfectly entitled to carry on preaching their delusions provided they don't bilk followers (as so many do) or try to restrict the others (again a common offense) or advocate discrimination or violence against others. I also wish people would be more rational about things like prayer and that they wouldn't feel compelled to credit God for everything while similarly excusing him for everything. Maybe someone can pray for me. That ought to do it.

20 April 2019

HELP WANTED


I am currently seeking people to fill the following positions:

Manager
Agent
Publicist
Spokesperson
Secretary
Personal Assistant
Valet
Girl Friday
Mentee
Intern
Sidekick
Governess
Flunky
Aide-de-camp
Muse

Wingman
Lackey
Disciple
Underling
Gofer
Protege
Accomplice
Scullery Maid
Subordinate
Co-Conspirator

Please send your resume and a $200 processing fee to Purple Haze Ltd. c/o General Delivery MooseScrotum, Yukon 24 Canada. If your check clears and your resume is deemed suitable you will be asked to write a 2,000 page essay specifying your personal philosophy, qualifications and reason you are especially suited for the position along with another $200 processing fee. Checks should be made payable to Hugo Z. Hackenbush of Hackenbush, Hackenbush, Firefly, Loophole, Spaulding and Wong. Interviews will be held in early May at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, France.

Applicants must be willing to re-locate at their own expense.

13 April 2019

The Author is in Much Better Spirits Than When He Last Wrote and Discusses This Fact


Good god that post about contemplating suicide has been sitting here at the top of my blog for over a week now. Some people must have thought I'd taken a swan dive off the Golden Gate Bridge. And if you were among those who thought the worst, where was the concern? You could have checked in on me. Especially you Bethany Q. Cattlepuss of Lincolnshire, Vermont. You, my most faithful reader (that is to say my only reader), surely you were worried sick. Anyway, at the risk of being obvious, I did not do myself in. As I write these words I'm alive and well. I struggled through a few more days of depression and then felt fine AND dandy for a few days, then took a dip in spirits again and now I'm enjoying excellent mental health. For how much longer I do not know. I take it one day at a time.

You may be wondering what I've been up to these past few days. Then again you may not but I'm going to work under the assumption that you're positively obsessed with knowing the latest about little ole me. Funny you should ask. I've spent nearly a third of every day recently sound asleep. I make a point of indulging in an eight hour nap from about 11:00 PM to 7:00 AM everyday. I wake up refreshed and ready for come what may. I recommend a similar course of action to everyone else. While slumbering I get to enjoy dreams. I love dreaming and feel sorry for people who never remember their dreams.

I generally have a great deal of fun in my dreams. Sometimes I'm a young man again. Often I am successfully pursuing a romantic relationship and occasionally "get lucky" in my dreams. I've even dreamt of "being with" my own wife. This is convenient because I can tell her about those dreams. Many others dreams I refrain from mentioning to the better half so as to keep on her good side. Having taught for one 30 years it should come as no surprise that I often have teaching dreams. They come in all variety but typically involve something going terribly awry. In many I have an impossibly large number of students or have to detail with errant behavior (these, of course, are more reflective of my middle school teaching days). Some are comical and some bizarre (what ho! bizarre antics in a dream?) and many emphasize particular kinds of students or indeed a particular student I once had or colleagues I had the pleasure or rotten luck to work with.

Some of my dreams barely involve me or I do not feature in at all. These are like stories that I have created and can be full of action, adventure, mystery, romance or high drama. War is sometimes a feature of my dreams and so too are crimes. I always wish that I had clearer memories of these dreams as many would lend them self to the type of short fiction I like to write -- when time permits.

Time has not permitted much "other" writing at all recently. While I'm stacking up rejections for one novel I'm plugging away at another. I'm not one to quit easily, or for that matter, at all. I see a hand up there in the back. Have you got a question, sir? I see, good one. The gentlemen in the last row with the gamey leg just asked "what is it like to write a novel?" Well, sir, I can, of course, only speak to my own experiences. It is like a lot of things that one works hard at. There are days when everything just flows and other days when everything just sits there staring right back at you. Most days are somewhere in between. But for different days one might have different goals. Some days are more about structuring and deciding where you're going, others are just about putting words down on paper -- or rather on computer screen. Still other days are for revising and some are for editing and cleaning up. When all goes well it is damn exhilarating and well doesn't it can be mighty frustrating. The key is to keep at it which is easy enough in principal but can be bloody difficult if you're in the throes of depression and the idea of answering a simple text message seems daunting. Were I a successful novelist it would be damn good work, especially as I would then no doubt be provided with deadlines by publishers. As it is there's nobody (except you Mrs. McGillicutty of Osborne, Idaho) waiting for what I've written. I have to be self-disciplined and my record in this department is somewhat spotty.

So I'm writing and sleeping, what else? There's eating. Again this is something I do on a daily basis. I find that in retirement it is much easier to eat healthy than while working. The missus and I are eating well, limiting sugars and highlighting greens, nuts and the like. I also try to meditate daily and if not beset by the miseries, manage to. Every other day I go to the gym and am consequently looking Herculean these days. The odd thing is I'm doing slightly less reading in retirement than when I was working. I would read on average 30-40 pages a day on my commute in addition to whatever I read in the evening before beddy bye time. I'm not quite maintaining that pace these days in large part because of all the time I spend watching movies. My film addiction has gotten even worse since last Monday when the Criterion Channel launched. Oldest daughter bought me a subscription to said channel for Christmas. It is a cinephile's dream and with it, Netflix, movies I DVR on TCM and my own extensive DVD collection (which numbers over 240 titles) it's hard to make it through a day without watching a bushel of movies. I'm not one known for restraint.

So I'm a happy lad these days except -- of course -- when depression grips and then I'm a miserable old man. Ya just can't have everything. But you can certainly have some things, some of which I have -- so to speak.

03 April 2019

Suicide on My Mind: What I Experienced Last Night

I was looking at my belt trying to figure out how I could use it to hang myself. I decided it wouldn’t be too difficult. Then I thought about whether I really wanted to do it. If successful I’d be dead. This seemed like a good idea. Being alive was absolutely miserable. The pain was so powerful that it drowned out all the reasons one could possibly have for being alive. The pain rendered any joy I’d ever experienced in my life seem so remote and distant as to surely have been something I read about it a book and not actually experienced. The future had nothing in it that seemed worthwhile. It was all a black void — just like the present. There was no point in going on. I was in the grip of a terrible demon, one that told me to end it.

One thing that kept me from utilizing the belt was that it seemed an enormous undertaking, far beyond anything I could attempt. Thankfully I don’t have a gun, because that would have been easier proposition. I might not have made it through the night if I had one. Thankfully too I was not in agitated state as I’ve been before when contemplating suicide. Agitated depression makes me feel like taking action and the only viable one -- seemingly -- is suicide. Thankfully also my wife and older daughter were in the other room and that gave me a very tiny degree of comfort which is infinitely better than no comfort at all. I don’t know of any statistics but I would assume people are far more likely to kill themselves if they are alone.

Mostly I stared at the floor, consumed by the inky blackness that pervaded my brain. I didn’t question it. I couldn’t question. It was simply the way it was. I’ve been dealing with depression for years now and actually have not been troubled by it very much these past few months. This was of no consolation last night. I know that the depression will eventually pass, but I did not know that last night. I assumed it was a permanent condition. This notion helped make suicide seem a viable option. The depression seemed intractable, like a giant monolith looming over me.

I tried to read. As far as I got in this endeavor was to pick up a book and put it in my lap. I thought about watching something on my laptop but having made the effort to get a book from several feet away the idea of now reaching down to the floor and picking up my computer seemed impossible. I was spent. Finally I managed to take a hold of my cellphone which was within arm’s reach. I spent a long time trying to decide what exactly I could do with it. But there was something comforting about holding it. My phone became like a security blanket. I soon came to the point at which letting go of it would have tipped me over the edge. Into what? I already felt as though I was plummeting through the abyss in slow motion. Never mind, I wasn’t go to let go of my phone.

Time. What was it? How long had I been sitting there? How much of that time had I been holding the phone? It was something I couldn’t conceive. I looked at the belt again and gave more thought to ending it all. Then I remembered I had a fitness assessment at the gym in the morning and I didn’t want to let the instructor down by not showing up. This gave me a tiny surge of belief or hope or desire or something that was enough for me to at last take some positive action. I emailed my psychiatrist and let him now what I was thinking. He called me. We talked. He told me to go be with my family and that if things did not improve to go to the emergency room.

I joined my wife and daughter. Their presence was comforting. We had a delicious dinner. My daughter went out. My wife and I watched an old movie. I brushed my teeth. I was tired from the workout earlier in the day. I went to bed and slept through the night.

Today I am depressed but with no thoughts of suicide. It feels like I might make it. Right now I’ve got to get ready to go meet my fitness assessment.

One step. At a time.

From help guide.org:

No matter how much pain you’re experiencing right now, you’re not alone. Some of the finest, most admired, needed, and talented people have been where you are now. Many of us have thought about taking our own lives when we’ve felt overwhelmed by depression and devoid of all hope. But the pain of depression can be treated and hope can be renewed. No matter what your situation, there are people who need you, places where you can make a difference, and experiences that can remind you that life is worth living. It takes real courage to face death and step back from the brink. You can use that courage to face life, to learn coping skills for overcoming depression, and for finding the strength to keep going. Remember:

Your emotions are not fixed – they are constantly changing. How you feel today may not be the same as how you felt yesterday or how you’ll feel tomorrow or next week.
Your absence would create grief and anguish in the lives of friends and loved ones.
There are many things you can still accomplish in your life.
There are sights, sounds, and experiences in life that have the ability to delight and lift you – and that you would miss.
Your ability to experience pleasurable emotions is equal to your ability to experience distressing emotions.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

29 March 2019

A Post in Which Various Topics are Discussed Such as Traffic Lights, Weather and the Senate Majority Turtle

There's nothing about Rihanna in this blog post I just like putting up pictures of her.

What happens if you take Tylenol but don't have a headache or any other pain? Does the Tylenol just sit there thinking, "what the hell am I here for? What's going on? There's no pain anywhere for me to numb. For chrissakes I could still be back in the bottle hanging out with my homies. This is a waste of time."

There's this street I cross to go to downtown that has a traffic light. If you get to the corner while the light is red you push the button so when the light turns green for cars you'll also get the green hand signaling that it's okay to cross. But if the light turns green before you push the button there'll be a red hand indicating that pedestrians cannot cross. Here's my question: Why? Who the hell is that red hand telling not to cross the street. Presumably there's no one there as no one has pushed the button. So why the red hand? Also, why can't I cross? Cars are going my way, the cars headed in the opposite direction are stopped. There are no cars turning. So why the hell can't I cross (full disclosure, I cross anyway). There's absolutely no reason for that red hand. I'd like to know what genius thought it necessary to put that red hand there.

I belong to a very tiny minority groups that leaves me out of numerous conversations, conversations that make me feel isolated and like an outcast. I prefer rain over sun, clouds and fog over clear days and cold and cool over warm and hot. People will say: "it sure is a beautiful day!" When it's sunny and warm. Or on rainy days will moan about "the awful weather." If I offer my opinion on the weather people will often conclude that I'm kidding. People also get irritated verging on angry with me for not going along with the program. I'm sure they wonder why I have to be a spoilsport, "everybody" likes warm, sunny days, it's the safest thing to agree on. Regardless of political beliefs, sports affiliations, tastes in music, films, art, TV or food, everybody gets together on the weather. Except for independent thinkers like me. I will get concessions on the rain when in a drought (as is often the case in California, particularly recently) but even there are people who complain about rain. When we get our first rain in nearly five months last October a co-worker ranted, "why does it have to rain today?" Seriously. After more than a third of the year went by without a drop you're complaining about half a day of the wet stuff? A few years ago during the worst drought in California's history rain was finally in the forecast, I happily announced the fact and one person moaned. In the midst of a drought! This season we've had well over normal rainfall and the drought is over -- for now -- but I haven't had enough. At least now that I'm retired I'm spared co-workers blithely going on about "awesome weather" that I find abhorrent. I should conclude by adding that I have no objection to an occasional sunny day. Indeed I like variety in my weather. But endless days of sunshine are depressing in their sameness. Not a popular opinion, I know, but one I hold dear.

I've been of the opinion for a long time now that Mitch McConnell should be taken out and horse whipped. However I've come to conclude that this would be a terrible mistreatment of a perfectly innocent horse. It's hard to think of anyone who has done more to subvert the will of the people than the current senate majority leader. He is the living personification of the Republican who puts party before country every damn day of the week and twice on Sundays. He actually had the temerity to call the Democrats' idea of making Election Day a national holiday, "a power grab." I'm sure he'd love a return to the days when only property owners could vote and there was not direct election of senators and primaries were held in few if any states. During Obama's presidency, rather than serve the will of the people his entire political existence was based on opposing the president. Politicians should be about what they can do for all the people all the time not what they can do to stop, subvert and suppress their rivals. His blocking of Merrick Garland's nomination to the Supreme Court was proof enough of his disdain for democracy. It's been argued by more learned men than me that McConnell has done more damage to our political system than even Trump. According to the noted historian Christopher R. Browning as quoted in a NY Review of books article: "No politician has done more to weaken American democracy and undermine the nation’s most basic norms than McConnell. Nor is any politician more responsible for Trump’s rise to power. All of it has been in pursuit of the narrowest, most parochial goals. What separates McConnell from other destructive political actors, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his fellow congressional Republican revolutionaries, or President George W. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, is that McConnell’s political actions are unmoored from ideology and policy. For McConnell, politics is fundamentally about accruing political power for the sole purpose of accruing more political power."
 Indeed articles detailing his political degeneracy abound. If anyone has a horse guilty of terrible misdeeds let's put it to use on giving turtle head the whipping he so richly deserves.

I spent the last seven days with a cold/flu in which my glands were swollen, my throat was scratchy and I was lethargic. There was little I could do beyond watch movies and documentaries and take naps. I missed three trips to the gym. No one likes being sick (one assumes) but few hate illness with as much passion as I do. This is in large part due to the fact that I've suffered so little from physical ailments. I was at my last job for seven years, seven months and 17 days and didn't call in sick once. As a teacher for over three decades I suffered more than my fair share of colds but most were mere annoyances and did not keep me from working. Colds are an occupational hazard for teachers. But this recent business about being weak and tired all the time was frustrating. Actually a day or two is not bad, but when it stretches beyond that one gets stir crazy and I've got enough crazy in me without adding stir to it. I'm fine now and in fact just returned from a full workout. It's good to be alive and well.

I have a message for people who talk on their cell phones at the gym: shut the fuck up! You are annoying, rude and obnoxious. Are you telling me that in the days before cell phones, people didn't go to the gym because they were afraid of missing a phone call? I appreciate the convenience that a mobile phone provides -- I'm at the store can you check to see if we need eggs, my train will arrive in 20 minutes, can you pick me up? -- but we don't need to talk everywhere at all times, especially when other people are around. Today at the gym this woman was gabbing on the phone while on the treadmill. She finally ended her call and moved to the stair master where she placed her iPad and iPhone and was looking at and using both. Jesus wept.

I end on a happy note: I'm loving the hell out of retirement.


16 March 2019

I Make it An Even 100 Favorite Films

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
As regular readers of this blog (both of us) may recall, on my recent birthday I posted my favorite 65 films in honor it being my 65th birthday and thank you to all of you who noted that I don't look a day over 30. I have since gotten literally a handful of requests that I go ahead and make it an even 100 favorite films of all time. And so here it is the previous 65 and an additional 35 which, according to my calculator comes out to 100.

1. Manhattan (1979) Allen
2. Stalker (1979) Tarkovsky
3. Goodfellas (1990)  Scorsese
4. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) Capra
5. The Godfather (1972) Coppola
6. Winter Light (1963) Begman
7. His Girl Friday (1940) Hawks
8. The Seventh Seal (1957) Bergman
9. La Dolce Vita (1960) Fellini
10. Duck Soup (1933) McCarey
11. Europa (1991) von Trier
12. Taxi Driver (1976) Scorsese
13. Chinatown (1974) Polanski
14. Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987) Malle
15. Amarcord (1973) Fellini
16. Heaven’s Gate (1980) Cimino
17. Tess (1979) Polanski
18. A Clockwork Orange (1971) Kubrick
19. Fanny And Alexander (1982) Bergman
20. Sunset Blvd. (1950) Wilder
Rome: Open City

21. Rome, Open City (1945) Rossellini
22. Cabaret (1972) Fosse
23. Casablanca (1942) Curtiz
24. Raging Bull (1980) Scorsese
25. L’Eclisse (1962) Antonioni
26. Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948 Huston
27. Foreign Correspondent (1940) Hitchcock
28. Sullivan’s Travels (1941) Sturges
29. Dead Man (1995) Jarmusch
30. The 39 Steps (1935) Hitchcock
31. Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) Petri
32. The Godfather: Part II (1974) Coppola
33. The Emigrants/The New Land (1971/72) Troell
34. Umberto D (1952) DeSica
35. Inglourious Basterds (2009) Tarantino
36. The Ice Storm (1997) Lee
37. Andrei Rublev (1966) Tarkovsky
38. Sunrise (1927) Murnau
39. It’s a Wonderful Life 1946) Capra
40. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) Coens
41. Vivre Sa Vie (1962) Godard
42. Apocalypse Now (1979) Coppola
43. The Big Parade (1925) Vidor
44. The Third Man (1949) Reed
45. Annie Hall (1977) Allen
46. Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972) Herzog
47. Midnight in Paris (2011) Allen
48. Through A Glass Darkly (1961) Bergman
49. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Kubrick
50. The Talk of the Town (1942) Stevens
51. Match Point (2005) Allen
52. Red Desert (1964) Antonioni
53. Holiday (1938) Cukor
54. La passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928) Dreyer
55. Nights of Cabiria (1957) Fellini
56. The Grapes of Wrath (1940) Ford
57. The Big Lebowski (1998) Coens
58. Rushmore (1998) Anderson
59. The Big Sleep (1946) Hawks
60. No Country For Old Men (2007) Coens
61. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) Milestone
62. Ariel (1998) Kaurismaki
63. City Lights (1931) Chaplin
64. A Woman Under the Influence (1974) Cassavetes
65. The Flowers of St. Francis (1950) Rossellini
66. The Searchers (1956) Ford
67. Network (1976) Lumet
68. Shame (1968) Bergman
69. Barry Lyndon (1975) Kubrick
My Man Godfrey

70. My Man Godfrey (1936) La Cava
71. The Burmese Harp (1956) Ichikawa
72. On the Waterfront (1954) Kazan
73. Vertigo (1958) Hitchcock
74. Stagecoach (1939) Ford
75. La Haine (1995) Kassovitz
76. Dog Day Afternoon (1975) Lumet
77. The Gold Rush (1925) Chaplin
78. Citizen Kane (1941) Welles
79. Requiem for a Dream (2000) Aronofsky
80. If…. (1968) Anderson
81. Hamlet (1948) Olivier
82. Pulp Fiction (1994) Tarantino
83. Silence (1963) Bergman
84. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) Allen
85. Le Silence de la mer (1949) Melville
86. The Last Picture Show (1971) Bogdanovich
87. Bonnie and Clyde  (1967) Penn
88. La Strada (1954) Fellini
89. Down By Law (1986) Jarmusch
90. The Lady Eve (1941) Sturges
91. Rashomon (1950) Kurosawa
92. Birdman (2014) Inarittu
93. Odd Man Out (1947) Reed
94. The Last Detail (1971) Ashby
95. Modern Times (1936) Chaplin
96. Y Tu Mama También (2001) Cuaron
97. La vie de Boheme (1992) Kaurismäki
98. The Match Factory Girl (1990)  Kaurismäki
99. Bicycle Thieves (1949) De Sica
100. Radio Days (1987) Allen

And I still left off this terrific films (not presented in any particular order): Nashville (1975) Altman, Blade Runner (1982) Scott, Do the Right Thing (1989) Lee, Le Havre (2011) Kaurismäki, Platoon, (1986) Stone, Psycho (1960) Hitchcock, La Grande Illusion (1937) Renoir), L’Avventura (1960) Antonioni, Reds (1981) Beatty, The Virgin Spring (1960 Bergman, Zodiac (2007) Finchner, 8 1/2, (1963) Fellini, Ivan’s Childhood (1962) Tarkosky, The Wild Bunch (1969) Peckinpah, The Exorcist, (1973) Friedkin Viridiana (1961) Bunuel, Groundhog Day (1993) Ramis, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Whale, Ride The High Country, (1962) Peckinpah The Great Escape, (1963) J. Sturges Bitter Rice (1949) DeSantin, Shadow of a Doubt (1943) Hitchcock, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Gondry, The Man Who Would Be King (1975) Huston, Army of Shadows (1969) Melville, I Knew Her Well (1965)  Pietrangeli, Wild Boys of the Road (1933) Wellman, Heroes For Sale (!933) Wellman, Mean Girls (2004) Waters, Moonrise Kingdom, (2012) Anderson, Broadway Danny Rose (19840 Allen, Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) Allen, Zelig (1983) Allen, The Purple Rose of Cairo, (1985) Allen, Stardust Memories (1980) Allen, The Great Dictator (1940) Chaplin, A Woman of Paris (1923) Chaplin, The Deer Hunter (1978) Cimino,  Band of Outsiders (1964) Godard, Downfall (2004) Hirschbiegel, The Lodger (1927) Hitchcock,  A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) Kazan, Rebel Without a Cause (1955) Ray, Spartacus, (1960) Kubrick, MacBeth (1971) Polanski, Three Days of the Condor (1975) Pollack, The Aviator (2004) Scorsese, The King of Comedy (1982) Scorsese, Animal House (1978) Landis, Blonde Venus (1932) von Strenberg, Shoot the Piano Player (1960) Truffaut, Jules et Jim (1962) Truffaut Paisan (1946) Rossellini, Bullit (1968) Yates, Horse Feathers (1932) McLeod, Cries & Whispers(1972) Bergman, Gods and Monsters (1998) Condon, McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) Altman, Seven Samurai (1954) Kurosawa, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) Hill, Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) Pabst, All the President’s Men (1976) Pakula, The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) Yates, Stromboli, (1950) Rossellini The Parallax View (1974) Pakula, The Roaring Twenties (1939) Curtiz, A Serious Man (2009) Coens, O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) Coens, Hable Con Ella (2002) Almodóvar, Jaws (1975) Speilberg, Bull Durham (1988) Sheldon, The Crowd (1928) Vidor, Some Like it Hot (1959) Wilder, Double Indemnity (1944) Wilder, Personal Shopper (2016) Assayas, First Reformed (2017) Schrader, Letter Never Sent, (1960) Kalatozov, The Conversation (1974) CoppolaSchindler's List (1993) Spielberg, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) Fassbinder, The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978) Fassbinder, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) Ceylan, Port of Shadows (1938) Carne, Notorious (1946) Hitchcock, The Man Without a Past (2002) Kaurismäki, Jackie Brown (1997) Tarantino, Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) Sturges, Boyz N the Hood (1991) Singleton, Closely Watched Trains (1966) Menzel, M, (1931) Lang, Paths of Glory (1957) Kubrick, Sweet Smell of Success (1957) Mackendrick, Greed (1924) von Stroheim, The Maltese Falcon, (1941) Huston, Bringing Up Baby (1938) Hawks, Light in the Dusk (2006) Kaurismäki, Shadows in Paradise (1986) Kaurismäki, Meet John Doe (1941) Capra, The Exterminating Angel (1962) Bunuel, Melancholia (2011) Von Trier, Shampoo (1975) Ashby, Being There, (1979) Ashby, La Notte (1961) Antonioni, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, (1977) Spielberg, The Mirror (1975) Tarkovsky, Red River (1948) Hawks, My Darling Clementine (1946) Ford, The Conformist (1970) Bertolucci, A Separation (2011) Farhadi, Ida (2013) Pawlikoski, Wings of Desire (1987) Wenders Chimes at Midnight (1965) Welles, Philadelphia Story (1940) Cukor, We Need  to Talk About Kevin (2011) Ramsay Of Gods and Men (2010) Beavuois  Wanda (1970) Loden, Richard III (1955) Olivier Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) Lean, A Hard Day's Night (1964) Lester, Medium Cool (1969) Wexler, The Verdict (1982) Lumet, Gosford Park (2001) Altman, Viaggio in Italia (1954) Rossellini  The Virgin Suicides (1999) S. Coppola , Cold Water (1994) Assayas Fight Club (1998) Finchner, Long Day's Journey Into Night (2018) Bi, and The Strawberry Statement (1970) Haggman.



12 March 2019

A Walk, A Former Student, A Seduction, An Extra Terrestrial

The Street
Thus begins my second week of retirement. I could spend my retirement just writing about my retirement. But right now I want to write about what happened this past weekend.

Saturday morning I was out for a walk. It was a grey day with clouds promising a downpour within a few hours. Just the kind of day I like. I was walking through our neighborhood which is residential, tree-lined, filled with happy homes. Houses that practically smile back at you. It was somewhere between 8:30 and 9:00 so there was virtually no traffic and hardly a soul to be seen. A jogger or two passed by and there were a few people getting early starts on household chairs. I saw a young woman pushing a stroller and a tall man walking purposefully down an opposite street, I imagined him to have urgent business.

The temperature was in the upper 40s which is damn cold for Berkeley, especially in March. It felt good to me, as I was ensconced in warm clothes. My mind was be-bopping around dancing briefly with one topic then twirling around with the next before moving along to another. I remember contemplating my recent difficulties with writing, mulling over the current form of my favorite sports teams and imagining the many ways I would spend tens of millions of dollars if I ever came across such a sum. No topic was delved into too deeply, mentally this was a light and breezy walk that was more intended as light exercise.

Before the walk I had stretched, so I was feeling loose and limber and certainly up to a stroll of an hour or more should I desire it. And I well might have walked for that long had it not been for what happened. I had just turned up a block that I had never walked on, when a young woman wearing only a robe veritably crashed out of her front door and came running toward me. She shouted my last name, with Mr. before it, suggesting she must have been a former student. I was quite startled indeed and even more so when she threw her arms around me and gave me a long embrace. While wrapped within her arms I still did not know who this fair creature was. Finally upon ending the embrace, her hands, now resting on my shoulder, the young woman stood back and looked me squarely — and I must add, lovingly — in the eyes. “It’s me,” she said, “Nora, Nora Bowditch.”

Of course. Nora Bowditch had been a favorite student of mine some dozen or so years ago. Precocious, energetic, curious and fun and destined to be a beautiful woman, hard to forget. I’d not seen her since her 8th grade graduation when she was a mere lass of 14. But why, I wondered, the over indulgent embrace? I’m well used to former students giving me quick hug, but Nora had favored me with something warm and damn close to sexual.

“Of course, Nora! You were one of the best students I ever had. What are you up to these days?”

Nora continued to look at me with something approaching passion. I feared she was going to try to eat me alive.

“I’m kind of cold out here, I just have on this robe and no shoes. Can you come in for a second?”

I saw no harm in it and followed the young lady into her tiny house nestled on the corner of the block. It was a warm and cozy abode. A small living room was crammed with a large over stuffed chair, a sofa and long coffee table. I could see a kitchenette and one door to my left was half open, and clearly led to the bedroom. Another door to my right must have been to the bathroom.

The former student
Nora indicated that I should sit on the sofa and asked if I’d like tea or coffee. “Black tea, if you’ve got it.”

“I do,” Nora replied cheerily. “I’ll have some too. Ya know it was amazing that I saw you. I’d just gotten up and gone to the bathroom and was thinking of laying down a bit more when I glanced out the window and saw you. A one in a million shot!”

“Do you live here alone?”

“I do now. My boyfriend and I broke up a couple of months ago. He moved out and moved to Detroit of all places.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. He turned out the a real asshole and I’ve been happier since he left than I was while we lived together, which was for almost two years.”

I looked carefully at Nora while she prepared tea. She was, as I had predicted years ago she would become, a strikingly beautiful woman. Her bathrobe barely reached her knees and thus revealed a perfect set of legs. Her hair was a bit tousled from having just gotten out bed but was long and blonde and her face was as perfectly structured as any magazine cover model you’ve ever seen. All this is not to say that I was aroused. After all she was nearly 40 years my junior and a former student to boot. But I had to admit the memory of the initial hug was something to savor.

“So what are you doing these days, Nora? Where did you end up going to school?

“I went to Dartmouth. I know, kind of weird, right? In fact after graduating I lived on the East Coast for a couple of years before moving back here with Rory — that’s the ex — two years ago.”

“And are you working? What did you get your degree in?”

“You inspired a love of history in me but I ended up majoring in astronomy. Now I’m a UFO researcher.”

I’ve come across scores of former students and some have gone on to be lawyers, doctors, engineers, architects, actors, businessmen, teachers and some are in prison for capital crimes. Nora was my first UFO researcher and thus this was the first time I was surprised to learn of a former student’s occupation. “That must be fascinating.”

Nora handed me my cup of tea and sat down inches away from me on the sofa. I couldn’t believe she was sitting so close to me particularly as her robe wasn’t cinched very tight and I could see, with little effort, most of her left breast. Surely Nora must have known it was on full display. Did she not care? Good god, was she trying to seduce me? I felt like I was watching a movie in which you couldn’t be sure what was going to happen next, except I was the star. It was at once exhilarating and frightening.

“You were the best teacher I had in either middle school or high school and better than most of my professors.” Nora was practically cooing.

“Thank you that’s — ”

“I mean you made history so fascinating and I loved the assignments you gave. Plus you were so funny and cute and took so much time to explain things.”

“You’re very kind to say that Nora. You were a great student.”

“You really remember me?” This she said — I swear it — flirtatiously.

“Of course. Most of my students I forgot the day after the school year ended. But there are some I’ll never forget. A few because they were such god awful trouble and many like you who were such a joy to teach.”

“Awwww,” she replied blushing.

“The tea is good,” I added nervously.

“Are you still teaching?”

“Just retired.”

“Cool, you deserved it. How many years did you teach?

“34.”

“Wow!” And she gazed at me with her big beautiful blue eyes like I was her favorite rock star. I was having trouble not being aroused.

“Tell me about your UFO research.”

“I follow up on claimed sightings, 90% of which are just fantasy bullshit but those 10% that are credible make it all worthwhile. So I interview people, investigate their claims, file reports, I end consulting a lot with Air Force people, pilots, astronomers and sometimes with the FBI and police departments. We’re pretty thorough. We have a data base of credible claims.”

As she talking Nora shifted her sitting position completely exposing her breast and revealing more of her legs. Was this intentional? Was a gorgeous 26 year old woman really seducing me? It seemed so obvious yet so implausible.

“So do you think we’ve been visited?”



“Oh I know we have. Some claims point to no other possible conclusion.”

“I believe you. What got you interested in all this?”

“I had a close encounter of the third kind,” she said matter of factly.

“You did?”

The extra terrestrial
“Yup. Sophomore year of college. I was out for a walk alone in the forest and came upon a clearing and there was a space ship. I stood there frozen for a few minutes before a door opened and this creature emerged. It walked right toward me. It stopped a few feet away and then I got the sense it was scanning me with its big bulging eyes. The thing was like four feet tall and silvery. Anyway, it turned back around got back in the ship and like a second later the ship just headed straight up and was gone like in a blink of the eye. Ever since then I’ve wanted to learn more.”

“Wow that's amazing.” I believed Nora completely and her story was so compelling that I was at last distracted from her body and seeming flirtatious behavior. But then she said this: “Ya know I had a big crush on you when I was in the 8th grade, several other girls did too.”

“Well that’s flattering but that was also a long time ago.”

“Not so very long, besides, you’re still handsome, only now in a more distinguished way.”

That was it. I had to go. There was no longer any doubt about it, Nora was seducing me.

“I really need to get going. My wife is expecting me and we have plans to go shopping.” I made a special point to emphasize the word “wife.” I stood up.

“Oh don’t go just yet. We’ve barely caught up,” Nora said pleadingly.

“Yeah I know, but I was towards the end of my walk when you spotted me and I’m expected. It was really nice — ”

Nora rose and untied her bathrobe. It fell to the floor. She stood before naked.

Of course my jaw did not literally drop but it did dangle. Nora was stunning and I was stunned. at her brazen act. I couldn’t form any words and I couldn’t move. 

Nora smiled broadly then stepped toward me, as she got close I stepped back but tripped and fell, landing on my back. Nora immediately took advantage of my fall and straddled me. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. But Nora, why are you doing this?”

“Doing what?” She asked coquettishly.

“For the love of god you’re seducing me. Why?”

“Why does one ever seduce another person. So that they can fuck.”

“But I’m old. I’m married, I’m — ”

I couldn’t continue my protestations as Nora started to kiss me, driving her tongue in my mouth. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t very well push her off and I couldn’t let her continue kissing me, there would likely be a point at which I would succumb to her and that was unthinkable.

After two minutes of kissing me, Nora stood. “Come on,” she said, “let’s go to bed.”

I felt defeated. I felt elated. And I felt terrible. I was about to cheat on my wife with a woman nearly four decades my junior who had once been a student. At the same time I was filled with lust and couldn’t wait to make love to this gorgeous woman.

We entered her bedroom and she started pulling my clothes off. Soon we stood facing each other naked. Nora smiled victoriously. Then my former student got into bed and beckoned me to follow. Dutifully, gladly, regretfully, excitedly, I did. We began by kissing passionately, then I slid down the bed to begin performing oral sex. I had just put my tongue against her delicious nether regions when there was a loud noise that seemed to come from another part of the house. Nora and I both sat up.

“Oh no,” she said, sounding genuinely upset.

“What is it?”

Then there at the bedroom door stood a four foot tall creature of silver with huge bulging eyes.

“That little son of bitch has been following me for six years. I never know when or how he’s going to show up.”

“Does that mean there’s a space ship that’s landed here?”

“No. He usually just appears. I don’t know how but he’ll pop up from time to time. This is the first time he’s done it when someone else has been around.”

“Get the fuck out of here, you goddamned midget!” Nora yelled at the creature. But it stood stock still staring at us.

“How long does he stay?”

“Varies, anywhere from a few seconds to two or three minutes.”

Of course I was fascinating to be looking at an extra terrestrial. I’d long assumed there was life on other planets but here was living proof. I didn’t know how I could tell anyone about it, especially given the circumstances of this close encounter. I also noted that I’d gone flaccid and thoughts of sex where as many miles away as this creature’s home planet. I took the opportunity to get dressed.

“Oh no, you can’t leave.”

“I really have to and this would have been — ”

“I know a ‘mistake’ but I disagree. It would have been fun for both of us.”

“It was great seeing you again Nora. Are you sure you’re all right with that, ah, creature here?”

“Yeah, he just looks and does that scanning thing I’ve mentioned then disappears.”

“Well, goodbye.”

“Now that you know where I live, come visit me sometime. Soon. Tomorrow, maybe.”

“Maybe so, Nora.” And with that I was out the door.

I continued my walk but now I had a helluva lot more things to think about. Later I went grocery shopping with the wife.