27 September 2016

Chester Angleworm's Inspiring Stories Series Coming to an End

Chester Angleworm today
Chester Angleworm’s popular series of children’s books is finally coming to an end. The beloved author announced his retirement last week at the ripe old age of 98. Angleworm was born in 1918 in Billings, Montana. After a successful career as a door-to-door salesmen he landed a job on the Flathead Lake News & Review as a reporter. Eventually Mr. Angleworm got his own column which delighted readers with stories both real and imagined about Northern Montana. However World War II intervened as Chester enlisted the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Much to his dismay Chester served the entire war issuing supplies in Fort Dix. Mr. Angleworm has explained that his total ineptitude with a gun is probably what led to this assignment.

After the war Angleworm emptied his savings and traveled throughout Europe and later South America. It was these experiences that Chester credits for expanding his world view and becoming a champion of the underdog. In 1950 he married his childhood sweetheart, Eunice Biloxi with whom he ultimately had six children and later 20 grandchildren. Throughout the 1950s The Angleworms lived in Long Island. Chester worked dutifully as a shipping clerk but with his spare time he looked for inspiring stories of people who defied the odds, persevered and succeeded. He also submitted short fiction and a fishing column to local newspapers and magazines and was hired in 1961 to be a full time columnist for the Buffalo News in Buffalo, New York. This job, which he held until retirement in 1998, afforded Chester with the time to further research and write his series of "Inspiring Stories of People Who Overcame Great Hardships." The first, "Tina the Morbidly Obese Acrobat" was published in December 1964 in the Buffalo News to wide acclaim. The story was picked up by the Saturday Evening Post which ran all subsequent stories in the Inspiring Stories series.

Twice Random House has published a set of the stories in book form and a third publication is due out next Spring. They are timeless classics beloved by children and adults alike of all tastes, backgrounds and religions. Now that he is retiring from the series, Chester hopes to devote more time to fishing, playing with his grandchildren and working on his bottle cap collection. Asked about his decision to retire from the series he said, "it's time for new blood, I'm hoping one of my children or grandchildren will take over the series. If not I'm sure someone else will." Mr. Angleworm's stories have won praise around the world for the heart-warming and inspirational messages. They have been translated in 52 languages. The greatest pleasure for Chester has been, in his own words, "the opportunity to meet these extraordinary people and share their stories with the world. I'm so gratified that so many people were willing to talk to me and that so many others found inspiration from their successful struggles." Below are the titles of some of the most popular of Chester's stories.

Tina the morbidly obese acrobat
Clara the syphilitic nun
Donald the narcoleptic security guard
Clyde the illiterate English teacher
Wesley the lactose intolerant dairy farmer
Gordon the schizophrenic psychiatrist
Wayne the blind air traffic controller
Candace the claustrophobic elevator operator
Troy the incontinent tour guide
Edwina the catatonic kindergarten teacher
Logan the hemophiliac blood donor
Lonnie the misanthropic career counselor
Stuart the clinically depressed motivational speaker
Sandra the deaf mute singing instructor
Osgood the triple amputee juggler
Lisa the passive aggressive marriage counselor
Greg the sociopathic youth minister
Tanya the obsessive compulsive yoga instructor
Glenda the hypochondriac pathologist
Ollie the paraplegic tap dancer
Rachel the humpbacked fashion model
Kota the anorexic sumo wrestler
Percival the xenophobic immigration lawyer
Donald the morally bankrupt presidential candidate

22 September 2016

A Person Can Get Used to Most Anything, A Ghost Story


I saw Vern Applebee last night. My wife seen him two days ago at the store. Our neighbor, Phil, had seen him sometime last week at the park and the Jokelson’s at the end of the block spotted him on their camping trip. There were others too.

This is perplexing because Vern’s been dead for a month. I haven’t believed in ghosts since I was a kid, and even then I was skeptical. I don’t even believe in no after life. But I sure as shit saw Vern last night walking down Chestnut Street as happy as you please. I started to wave and say hello before I remembered I was looking at the dearly departed. Didn’t spook me as it has some people. Mrs. Jokelson confessed that she damn near had a heart attack when she saw him walking a trail opposite them out in there gall darn forest.

Actually the first person to see Vern was his wife, Lydia. It was a few weeks after his funeral. Lydia said she saw Vern walking past the library. Lydia didn’t say anything because she figured people would think she was off her nut. Her account of seeing Vern only came out when someone — I think it was Mabel Perkins but I can’t be sure — told her that other people had been seeing Vern.

None of us know what to make of it. We all know for a fact that it was Vern who was buried. The coffin had been open at the funeral service and there was no mistaking Vern’s pudgy face and the mole on his right cheek. Doctor Larsen was at the funeral and he was the one who pronounced Vern dead of pneumonia. Yup Vern was as dead as dead can be. End of story. Only it seems the story is just beginning what with all of us seeing him.

A few of got together this evening to talk about the Vern sightings and what we could do. All of us who saw Vern reported that he looked happy as a lark. He was wearing kind of a Hawaiian shirt like he’d sometimes have on at neighborhood barbecues. He also had on dark slacks and slightly scuffed Rockport shoes. When I saw Vern last night it had just turned cold for the first time this Autumn and there was a bit of a wind but Vern didn’t seem to mind. Anyway we also all saw Vern walking, not stopping for a second, and all of us saw him until he’d walked out of sight. I think it was Lake Bennett who said that when she saw Vern over by the lumberyard he was whistling. Lake often gets things wrong though. Apparently in her younger days Lake used a lot of drugs and it’s permanently effected her. That’s what I hear anyway.

Most everyone is confused by the Vern sightings and can’t make heads nor tails about what it means. Oh a few theories were tossed out like that he was trying to find the spirit world or that he was trying to tell us something, but theories is all they are and no one is certain of nothing. Everyone who’s seen Vern was well acquainted with him but then again for all we know folks who never knew Vern might be seeing ambling along and don’t realize he is no longer a living being.

Me I got to know Vern at the lake where we’d both go fishing sometimes on the weekend. We had a few common interests and he lived in the neighborhood so we were always seeing one another, especially when someone was having a barbecue or there was a block party. I liked Vern well enough, seems everyone did, but I never felt what you’d call close to him. Come to think of it no one else did, even his wife Lydia had said she never felt like she got to know Vern.

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

Okay so its two months since I wrote that part you just read and well things have gotten a bit stranger. Example: one night about five weeks ago, Martha (that’s my wife) and I were watching the TV. The kids were in their rooms asleep or studying or what have you when all of sudden we see Vern sitting in a chair in our living room. We was both on the sofa and there’s an easy chair next to the sofa and that’s where we saw Vern. He had on the same clothes everyone has seen him in and had this contented expression on his face and was just looking straight ahead. Seemed he was both staring at something and not looking at anything, if you get my meaning. This spooked as considerable because all we’d seen of Vern was him walking. Martha gasped and starting shaking and grabbed ahold of my arm. Me I didn’t know what to do. Finally I said, “Vern?” like I was getting his attention and trying to figure what he wanted. Well darned if ole Vern didn’t turn his head and look at me for a second, same expression on his face. Then he turned his head back and looked straight ahead for a second before standing up and walking down our hallway. I was worried Vern was gonna scare the bejesus out one of the kids. I got up and looked down the hall but he was nowhere to be seen. He'd vanished is what.

Right about then the phone rang, Martha answered it and said to me it was Mrs. Jokelson. The next thing I hear Martha say is: “we did too! Yes it was exactly the same. I’ll call Phil and you call Lydia.” Martha hung up and started to dial Phil and as she was doing that she looked up and told me that Vern had been over to the Jokelsons the same time he was with us and had done the same thing, just appeared in a chair. My wife then talked to Phil and sure enough Vern had been there too and it had caused his wife Betty to scream and scream and he was having a deuce of a time settling her so he hung up. Long story short ole Vern had been in at least seven houses at the same time doing the same dang thing.

The next night a few of us got together at Bob Custer’s house — he’d been seeing Vern too — to talk it over. We’d all had just about enough. It was one thing to see a dead man walking down the street and an all together different thing to see him right smack dab in your house. We couldn’t help but think where he might show up next. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night and seeing a ghost (if ghost he was) sitting on the edge of you bed. Or maybe you’d step out of the shower and there he’d be on your toilet. The possibilities were endless and most were unsettling as hell.

We swapped stories for a bit, which wasn’t all that useful because we were all having the same experience. Then Bob Custer says: “we don’t we contact the science department over to the university and see if they’ll look into it?” Well my neighbor Phil replied, “there ain’t just a ‘science department’ there’s all kinna different sciences.” Phil said it kind of smart ass, he can be that way sometime. “Okay Mr. Smart Guy,” says Bob, “let’s you tell us which one would handle ghosts and that’s who we’ll call.”

It was Ida Rolfe who said, “I honestly don’t think there’s any department that studies ghosts.” Well we went back and forth on the whole thing getting nowhere. Finally Lydia (remember now that’s Vern’s widow) said that she’d find out herself since it was her late husband who was causing all the ruckus. Lydia said she’d drive on over there, the university is a good 60 miles away, and find somebody in person rather than fool with a bunch of phone calls.

We never have heard back from Lydia and we ain’t seen her neither. That was three weeks ago. Lydia hasn’t answered her phone or her doorbell and her old Chevy is nowhere to be seen.

As for Vern, well his wife may be missing but he’s still around. Thankfully he’s not been in anyone’s house again. Nope. Instead we see him in the darndest places. First it was on rooftops, then in trees, then sitting on top of moving cars and most recent leaning against buildings. Ted Jokelson said he once went up to Vern and started asking him questions and that Vern just looked at him then went off.

Ida Rolfe, who’s Lydia’s best friend called the police about Lydia being missing and they poked around and sent out a description of her and the car and checked hospitals and morgues and what not. No sign of her. We all don’t know what to think, but a few folks, yours truly included, feel like we’re used to seein’ Vern and don’t much care anymore and our concern is Lydia and did she come to some harm and is it related to her late husband's ghost.

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

Okay this is the last of it, I swear. It’s three months since that last part I wrote. Lydia’s car was found at the bottom of a gully. It was way out in nowhere so no one could figure out how it got there. There were no tire tracks leading to it neither. Strangest damn thing Sherif Boykins says he's ever seen and he's been at sheriffing for 35 years. How does a car get out to where there are no roads and not leave no tire tracks? Anyway Lydia’s remains were found in the car. The coroner couldn’t find no cause of death that he was certain of. His best guess was a heart attack, although Doctor Larsen said Lydia had never had no problem with her ticker.

A few days after Lydia’s funeral wouldn’t you know it she’s starts turning up. First she was alone, just walking along like we first seen Vern, then she and Vern started appearing together. The thing is they look so darn happy, holding hands strolling down the street together. Most everyday someone reports seeing them. Or used to. We’re all kinna used to now. They're not bothering nobody so we don’t care. No one knows how to explain or cares to even try anymore. It’s just the way things are. A person can get used to most anything, I guess.

19 September 2016

Sports, A Drug To Be Used in Moderation

Fans and players celebrate Saturday's Cal victory.

Sports can be like a drug. Addictive with euphoric highs and depressing lows. Sports, like drugs, should be used in moderation, many people become obsessed. I am a recovering sports addict, although unlike with other addictions, I still get an occasional fix and be okay.

Sports are central to most cultures, certainly modern day ones. They feed into a natural desire for competition and to our tribal instincts. They are a healthy substitute for war and we would all be blessed if athletic competition replaced combat for good and all. Humans are pack animals and loyal to their packs which accounts for nationalism and devotion to a sports team.

Athletes are revered and lavished with money far beyond their worth to society. Multi million dollar contracts for people playing a sport, regardless of their skill level, are absurd (similarly the gigantic paychecks received by those in other forms of entertainment such as acting and singing are ridiculous and too the titanic bonuses and golden parachutes bestowed upon CEOs).

At its best sports promotes good health, provides family entertainment and  one can participate at virtually all ages and level of abilities. Sports can be good for K-12 schools and universities and professional sports allow fans to see the very best at their respective competitions. Televised sports are a comfort to many whether aged, infirm, depressed, sick, bored or lonely. There's no harm in plunking yourself in front of a televised sports event, provided you pursue other diversions.

At its worst sports can foster nationalism, violence, addictive behavior, divert funds from education and other social services. The construction of stadiums on the taxpayers’ dime is a veritable crime, and pubic funds by universities for stadiums and sundry perks for athletics is also shameful. Many people besides athletes get rich off sports and ticket prices have been soaring in the past 20 years. Sports have been corporatized and monopolized and enriched the already rich.

The exploitation of college athletics to enrich coaches, athletic officials, TV networks and others is one of the great crimes perpetrated in this country. The place that sports play in the life of major universities has been out of hand since at least the 1920s but it keeps getting worse and worse. At many schools the emphasis on athletics perverts the mission of institutes of higher education.

Meanwhile sports fans can, and all too often do, exhibit utterly ridiculous behavior. I do not refer to cheering and celebrations but to tantrums and angry insults directed at players — particularly unpaid collegians. The level of vitriol spat upon players, through jeering, booing, online comments and general kevetching is sad indeed. Imagine a student at a top university carrying a full course load while practicing their sport and playing games, many after long trips, imagine this 20 year old being yelled at for missing a free throw. It happens. I sat near someone who complained of a Cal women’s basketball player, one who was an All American, a record setter and is now a pro, all this clown could do was speculate about how much better she’d be with a good outside shot. In other words he could not appreciate her for who she was instead lamenting what she wasn’t. (He was a professor emirates, if you can believe it.)  Sports fans hurl abuse not only at players but at opposing fans. Light hearted needling is fine but coarse and profane shouts can ruin the spectacle.

I was inspired to write all this after the events of last Saturday evening. Mind you, I used to follow lots of sports and quite closely at that. Over the years, starting about when I reached middle age, I “dropped” a lot of sports like the NBA and the NFL and all college games that did not involve the University of California. Today I only pay close attention to: English soccer, particularly my favorite team, Arsenal as well as other international soccer competitions; Cal football and men’s and women’s basketball and occasionally the San Francisco Giants of baseball and the San Jose Sharks of ice hockey. Less is more.

I still check other sports online but only give them a cursory glance. I have freed up a lot of time for other activities such a reading, writing, films, running and bothering my wife. Also I’ve cleared a lot of clutter from my brain. There still exists, for example, the starting lineup of the ’62 Giants, the uniform numbers of many former 49ers, the colleges attended by many Warriors, championship winners, scores, record holders and enough trivia to fill a library. But I’m adding considerably less these days.

People sometimes point out what I’m missing by not watching such and so. I in turn do not point out  -- though I could -- what they are missing by not reading Thomas Wolfe, seeing the films of Antonioni or going to the theater to enjoy a play. We none of us can see and do everything.

Yes, yes, back to last Saturday night. I was at beautiful Memorial Stadium in Berkley home to Cal’s Golden Bears. I have missed a mere handful of games in the past 35 years. With Cal football I have experienced a lot of misery and heartache. The Bears' record of futility is unparalleled in sports. Thankfully I long ago learned not to let the outcome of a sports event ruin my day. My late great father set a terrible example for me (about the only negative one I saw out of him) by fussing and fuming over his team’s losses. I didn’t call him for days after a 49er loss to spare myself an angry recounting of the team's sins. For the last 25 or so years I’ve never dwelled on a team’s loss for more than 15 minutes, if that. It’s simply not worth time in this life to be upset over the outcome of an athletic competition. (Then there is the schadenfreude engaged in by many, almost exclusively men. I’ve never understood this. Simply, it is taking satisfaction in the suffering of another sports fan. Oh, its quite understandable if that suffering was inflicted by your own team, but when its not….well I find it bizarre. I had (note the past tense) a friend who reveled in Arsenal’s losses, never failing to bring them up to me while never mentioning them if they had just won. This is someone who otherwise had no interest in English soccer. Odd but all too common.)

Okay, again back to Saturday. My beloved Golden Bears were big underdogs against the 11th ranked University of Texas. Cal had the previous week lost a heartbreaker at San Diego State. The prospects weren’t good and were especially bad when my heroes fell behind 24-14 and the Texans had the ball. One of the delights of sports is the surprises it provides. The Bears came storming back and secured the upset victory in exciting fashion. What a feeling to dance and jump and hug strangers and romp on the field after the game. Joy unbound. I make no apology for my giddy behavior or for feeling especially good in the two days since (I needed it).

Here is sports at its best. If the Bears had gone on to lose I would have glumly headed home but by the time I was reunited with my wife would have all but forgotten the game. It would have been a nice outing and, despite the defeat, time well spent. But with victory game came elation. So sports has become for me a case of low risk and high reward.

It took me too long in my life to really put sports into prospective and treat it like the occasional and welcome diversion that is, one that sometimes brings joy and on the other hand should never bring anything worse than a short pout.

One other thing about sports which relates specifically to me and Cal football is that can be a link to the past and to family. Cal football brings to mind my mother who took me to games, she sat in the rooting section while a student at Cal and never lost her love for the university. My father likewise took me to games (he also took me pro baseball, pro football, pro basketball, college basketball, ice hockey, boxing and track and field). My big brother went to games too. When the Cal band takes the field I always look up to the sky and see my parents and sibling smiling down on me. Indeed it is the traditions and pageantry of Cal football that keeps me coming back no matter the team's prospects. Loyalty is love practiced.

Some sports and teams are special because they are inherited and are part of family lore. For me that is especially true of Cal sports but also to a lesser degree of the Giants and 49ers. But also special for me is Arsenal because they are the one team I picked for myself.

I close by saying that my oldest daughter caught the sports bug from me. One of the greatest things in my life has been taking her to Giants’ games as I’ve done ever since she was 8 years old. (It has also been a treat to take my nephews out to the ballpark. They are my brother's sons and the fruit did not fall far from the tree, these are fine young men.) Fortunately, my daughter has learned earlier than I did not to go into a funk if her team loses (I'm happy to report that she and her sister are infinitely more intelligent than their dad. I am a proud father) I’m grateful for that. And I’m grateful that I can appreciate sports for what it gives and not for what it takes.

16 September 2016

The Author Rants and Raves on the Current State of Cinema


I’ve only myself to blame. I just wasted 2 hours and 45 minutes watching a movie that I’d skipped when it was in theaters because I was sure I wouldn’t like it. A couple of people encouraged me to rent the DVD and I’ll never listen to their opinions on films again.

The movie was Interstellar. It was not horrible or even bad but watching it was not a fulfilling experience. It was directed by Christopher Nolan who does high end schlock replete with dazzling special effects. He made a mess out of a film called Inception by littering it with unnecessary action sequences. Nolan and films like Inception and Interstellar are worshipped by males in the 15-24 year old demographic. Their idea of “deep” films, with so much “meaning.” Pleeeeze.

When I was a teenager we had 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Can you imagine what a hash Nolan would have made out of that? There would have been intergalactic monkeys fighting the astronauts. Thankfully 2001 was made well before Nolan’s time. It was directed by a true master, Stanley Kubrick. Interstellar throws a basketful of pseudo scientific mumbo jumbo at you and tells you in no uncertain terms what’s what. 2001 had the courage to ask the audience questions. It was an intellectual masterpiece because it provided so much for audiences to contemplate and discuss. They wouldn’t make it today.

Here’s a central difference between 2001 and films like Interstellar: “it’s the only chance we’ve got” claims one character. The other easy, “but it’s impossible,” and the first asserts, “it may be impossible but its necessary." Lo and behold the crazy idea works! It happens several times in Interstellar. Don’t trust a movie in which an unconventional idea is all that will save the day and the daring protagonist pulls off the miracle. It’s gotten very old. But hey, the kids love it!

Interstellar also imagines an Earth that is on its last legs. Astronauts are sent into the further reaches of space to find a new planet that we can all move to. (Real setae prices in space must be out of this world.) Will they find a suitable home? Or just a fixer upper?

What is with all these apocalyptic scenarios in films these days? The Earth is forever about to be overrun by alien marauders or zombies or super powered apes or is reeling from nuclear annihilation or an uncontrollable virus. (Idea to pitch: aliens bring virus to earth that makes apes super powerful and turns most people into zombies.) The obsession with cataclysms is bizarre and says something rather chilling about the way people are viewing the world these days (actually, given the possibility of a Trump presidency they may not be far wrong). Or maybe the end times just lends itself to the type of seismic special effects extravaganzas that so many movie goers seen to love.

You’d think there’d be enough stories to mine from life as it is and has been with regular old human beings dealing with a crisis or stress or emotions or life’s ups and downs. Yeah I know, where are the explosions and tidal waves and last second heroics in that? Last second heroics are a staple of films these days. Hurry! Hurry! The clock is ticking you’ve only got a few seconds! Will they make it? Of course they do with but one second to spare!(While our hero makes it, a supporting character may not.)

Of course Hollywood is also bombarding audiences with every imaginable super hero and combinations of super heroes and all in sequel after sequel after sequel with occasional prequels and spin offs and remakes and adaptations of TV shows. Has there been a hit TV show that hasn’t been made into a movie? Star Trek was, Starsky and Hutch, Beverly Hillbillies, Lost in Space, Get Smart, Miami Vice and on and on and on. I can’t wait to see a cinematic version of The Price is Right or The Jack Benny Program or the Evening News with Huntley and Brinkley.

There are a few noble thespians who take acting seriously enough to avoid the superhero genre (hats off to Leonardo DiCaprio, Joaquin Phoenix,  Sean Penn and a whole host of European actors).  On the flip side you have Robert Downey Jr. who is the world’s highest paid prostitute. He is currently working on his 12th high budget mindless action movie. It’s a particular shame because he is — or was — a terrific actor. As it is the whore has ripped into independent films which is definitely a case of punching down and also sniping at the very place some of our best films are made, some of our most original and where many directors and actors get their start. But he’s right that “sometimes they suck” which is different from the kind of film he makes which always suck.

Okay so I’ve gone off another tangent. I wont apologize for it and if this post finds its way to some fanboys I’ll be called every name in the book. That’s the level of intellect we’re dealing with.

Movies, can live with em, can’t live without em. Am I right, people?

14 September 2016

It Was Like a Day at the Beach -- Only With Crows

Photo by yours truly.


The crows approached as soon as I took the sandwich out of my backpack. Two of them. About 20 feet apart. Walking steadily. They stopped a safe distance away and waited and watched and acted nonchalant. If I didn’t give them any food it was cool cause they were just hanging out. Finally I threw a piece of crust toward one, then the other. This went on for a bit. They edged closer. Now I threw a piece to one but it landed just a few feet away. Very close to wear I sat. The crow edged toward me. Then stopped. I made a point to sit very still. Now it approached the bread sideways, I guess so that if there was trouble it could fly straight off and not have to come towards me. The other black bird did the same when I left a piece for it quite close to me.

I finished the sandwich and produced a small bag of almonds. I shared them with my new friends. A third one flew in and joined in the feast. Two of the crows got into a dispute over one almond that I had accidentally thrown in between them. One of them puffed up and appeared menacing. The other backed off. When I finished eating the crows stuck around for a bit. They knew I was safe and they might as well graze the area for anything they’d missed or might have been left by someone else.

I was at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Usually when I have a week off I’ll make the long trek from Berkeley to the Pacific Ocean. I take BART into the city then hop on MUNI metro. I always look at it as a good opportunity to catch up on my reading, the long travel time, I mean.

Today was one of the rare occasions that the sun was out at Ocean Beach. It seldom appears there. Usually the area is blanketed in fog and is chilly. Today it was merely cool. I was there once when it was warm. That was during a heat wave and the rest of the area was baking while at Ocean Beach it was comfortable.

My lunch companions.
I like looking out at the ocean. There’s nothing, really. Aside from more ocean and endless horizon. When your looking out on the bay you can always see a bridge, an island, cities, hills, you name it. But when you stare at the ocean, ocean is pretty much all your seeing. True, in the immediate foreground there are surfers, waders, people fishing, people strolling and dogs romping. Also today I saw a ship. But when you look as far as the eye can see there is, in some respects, nothing to see. It’s akin to looking straight up into a cloudless sky. But the ocean is beautiful. It’s an amazing force of nature, vast and powerful and rich with secrets. You can always wonder what’s out there, hidden below the surface. Crabs, sharks, whales, salmon, sunken ships, submarines, the remains of a drowned sailor, Poseidon himself, maybe a mermaid.

The Pacific is especially beguiling because of its vastness. My father and older brother sailed the oceans. They loved it. I wish I had. When I was a boy we would often go fishing in the bay and sometimes out into the ocean. I miss that. I’ve only done it once as an adult and that was many years ago.

I take great comfort from the ocean, whether riding on it, looking down on it from an airplane, or staring at it. I know that it can swallow a person up, I know that is deadly, but it is, so far as we know, unique to our planet and one of the greatest powers and masses on it.

Waves are nice too. The steady pounding of wave after wave on the shore is soothing. I always — and today was no exception — feel so much better mentally after visiting the ocean. I think I could secure mental health for the rest of my days by living walking distance from an ocean. Wouldn’t even have to be the Pacific.

I suppose it happens but I don’t recall seeing any fights by the ocean. In the middle of a crowded city, yes. A park, sure. At sports or concert venue, on public transportation, but at the ocean, no. When you walk along the beach people smile at each other at a far greater frequency than they do in other places. I like that.



Sand. I didn’t even get to sand, or sea shells or driftwood or other detritus. There’s a lot going on and nothing going on at the same time. There’s stillness and activity all at once. There’s calm and excitement and there sure is beauty. Even crows. 

13 September 2016

Confessions of Rebel With and Without Causes


I don't know what they have to say,
It makes no difference anyway,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
No matter what it is or who commenced it,
I'm against it.

Your proposition may be good,
But let's have one thing understood,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
And even when you've changed it or condensed it,
I'm against it. 
- Groucho Marx in Horsefeathers

I was swimming in public pool one Summer afternoon. I must have been about eight or nine. I was at the deep end. A lifeguard whistled me over to the edge and said that owing to my size and age I needed to swim the width of the pool and back to prove I could handle being in the deep end. I was happy to oblige — show off — and did just as he requested — underwater. I was a good swimmer. Upon completing the appointed task I looked up at the lifeguard anticipating his thumbs up. But no, he said I had to do it “the regular way” which meant the freestyle stroke. Needless to say (I’m saying it anyway) this was ridiculous. If I could swim underwater with ease surely that was sufficient proof that I could handle myself in the deep end. But rules are rules. Again I obliged and made a point of swimming as fast as I could just to show up the stupid bastard.

I was a born rebel and scoffed at society’s conventions as far back as I could remember. Many of my stances have been principled ones that I’d been proud to take. Others were a case of a rebel sans cause, often me just being oppositional. This has sometimes led to trouble (for me). Part of my rebelliousness is that I don’t just go along with the program (as I’ve so often been cautioned to do) but ask questions and see better alternatives. Most kids would have swam conventionally the first time asked and those who didn’t would think nothing of having to comply with the stated rules.

When I was in grammar school we did the pledge of allegiance every morning, hand over heart facing the flag. I never thought this to be a good use of time. I would stand all right, but with my hand at my side without uttering a word. The teacher never noticed. Classmates didn’t care. Even as a wee tyke I saw it as a meaningless rote practice, just as I do the stupid Star Spangled Banner before every sports event. It is the same way that I see group prayers. When a family I’m dining with says grace before dinner I hum the Cal fight song in my head.

Some rules are especially stupid and deserve to be called out. In my twenties I was seeing a psychiatrist at a place that charged on a sliding scale. I qualified for the rock bottom price of a buck a throw with the government picking up the rest of the tab. I’d show up, ramble on about my life and when the 50 minutes was up fork over a one dollar bill. It was peachy. Until I missed an appointment. For a missed appointment I had to pay the full $20. You see, logic. I presented my case to the doc. For showing up and being “treated” I paid a dollar and for not showing up it would cost me $20. We were through the looking glass. I don’t remember how it all worked out but I do know that I never paid that goddamned 20 bucks.

Speaking of shrinks, one of them described me as being provocative. (It’s about the only thing he ever got right about me.) Yeah, I’ve pushed things. I take things as far as they can go and then go one step more before easing up. I’ve done this regularly with employers. It got me in a far amount of trouble when I was a public school teacher. Any rule, policy or directive came along I looked for — and usually found — a flaw. Anything that made bureaucratic sense but was useless or harmful to students or teachers I called bullshit on. I was a pain in the ass.

Once I went into the vice principal’s office and complained about a one-day change of the bell schedule with a proposal that made far more sense (mine was actually logical). The veep shuffled through some papers and muttered under her breath “I knew you were going to be trouble.” The thing was I heard her. But I let it go. So I was trouble. Good. I had a better idea.

As a public school teacher I always had ideas. Its in the nature of teachers to have ideas. At a staff meeting the principal throws out an idea and you will hear a dozen variations. Once something is picked there’ll be another half dozen amendments suggested. Teachers are like that. It’s a pain in the neck for administrators but then again if you’re a teacher without ideas you should go into custodial work. But I had ideas even when they weren’t solicited. Probably some of them were hare-brained but a lot were pretty good. It got so people didn’t want to hear them. I was always stirring the pot.

I’ve mellowed. At my current position I only occasionally ante up my ideas. It’s different working for a corporation. Decisions come from up above (way up) and generally no one has time to indulge one lousy teacher’s ideas. Some of my colleagues tried to be provocative, tried to implement change, tried to fix a broken system and air out their grievances. Amateurs. One of them was leading a staff development session on holding students accountable and he appended it with a searing rebuke of the admin staff, calling them sharks and lauding the previous academic director as a means of discrediting the current one. It was an ambush. It was also purposeless. I couldn’t believe they didn’t fire his ass. But what he’d done was set back any “cause” he had. You want to light into higher ups? Go ahead but bring to the fight something constructive an alternative. Something that will improve things. You don’t just show up half the room. Hell you can get into fistfight with a boss if you do in private. But publicly you mind your p’s and q’s. You can’t just name call and criticize.

I go along to get along a lot more although I still draw lines. Thick lines. Like we’re all supposed to wear name tags. Not me. It’s a stupid rule and I refuse to recognize it. We’re also supposed to wear the company gear on Mondays. I flat out said that unless it comes with tie I’m out. I wear a goddamned tie to work every day but casual Friday and I’ll be pickled in brine before I wear a company shirt. Not big causes but you’ve got to be clear on what you will or wont do. I get away with it  because they like me, they need me. I’m not there to cause trouble but I do have certain standards. So sometimes my stubbornness is a case of adhering to a principle. Sometimes it’s objecting to bureaucratic nonsense and sometimes it’s just me being a jerk. Well, not so much the last one anymore. After all, I’m a grown man.

05 September 2016

Departures


I was walking twenty yards behind Kick Lackerby when he stepped on the land mine and was blown to kingdom come. I was standing in left field, bent over, hands on my knees waiting for the next pitch. I was walking with Donna Lyles to the picture show. I was sprawled on the floor trying to make heads or tails out of my math homework. I was here, now, at home with my wife watching some dumb goddamned TV show about a baking competition. My mind was jimmy jacking me around and I didn’t seem to have no control over it. That stupid doctor of ours, who must be near 100 years old, had given me some pills to help calm my nerves, but they seemed to have turned me into a goddamned loony. Ruth, my simple minded wife, didn’t seem to notice or care, only concerned like she was with the goddamned TV or where the kids were and what they were doing and keeping the house clean and hearing gossip about our neighbors. Me, I was an after thought. All she cared was did I keep my job at the plant so that a check came ever two weeks and that I kept the house in repair and the lawns, front and back, cut. She needed nothin’ else out of me least of all help with the kids who were like her own goddamned property or something and I was only useful to administer an occasional whippin’ which I didn’t like doin’ in the first place. Goddamn it.

There was a commercial on now so Ruth got up and got herself a soda not asking if I wanted anything because why should she think of me unless it was absolutely necessary. Yeah we still had sex, whenever SHE felt horny. I was just there for my you-know-what. It was not love making like it ustah be when he first got hitched. There was no love to make it was just her gettin' off. Well, I did too but it was just a physical release. What exactly happened to Ruth I can’t tell ya, but to her I’d become functional and not no person with feelings at all. I looked over at her when she sat down with her pop and she noticed and gave me the kind of smile you do when you pass a stranger on the street. Then she focused back on the goddamned TV set, and me, I just kept staring at her, not that she’d notice.

I finally got sick of looking at her jowly old face and looked at the TV too. Not that I gave two shits about what was one — damn baking show — and then my mind did it again and there I was in my 11th grade history class with Old Man Harris rambling on about the Panic of 1893 whatever the hell that was, and I was looking over at Marjorie Buford who was wearing a mini skirt and I was wishing I could get a closer look. Off again. I was back in Nam on patrol scared shitless, it was my first day in the jungle and every sound I heard I reckoned to be a Viet Cong who was about to slit my fucking throat and so I was walking as close behind this black fella, DaJohn Harris, as I could and the sweat was pouring like a river down my face. Then I was at the carnival when I was six the time Paulie Rawlings’ kid brother fell from the ferris wheel and died and there was all that screaming and crying and people talking a mile a minute and somehow at the same time being silent like a church prayer. But then I was at the plant on my first day being showed around by Jerod Lampley who was my supervisor my first few months before he had a heart attack and died at only 41. Now goddamned it I was back in the living room and Ruth was staring at me like I was on fire or somethin'. 

“What?” I said to her.

“By god Roy you had the strangest expression I ever did see for the longest time. I was afraid. What’s going on with you, hon?”

“I was just thinkin’ is all.”

“Thinkin’? You look like that just to think? What were you thinkin’ of? Seein' a flying saucer?”

“No, just stuff.”

“Maybe you should have a beer.”

“Now Ruth you know that the doctor said no booze of any kind while I’m taking these pills.”

“Why Roy you had one jus’ the other day.”

“Yeah and I fell dead asleep right after and it was the middle of the day.”

“I guess,” Ruth said as her voice faded away. Then she turned her attention back to the TV but said, “well there’s something not right if you sit there looking so damn strange it frightens people. You ought to tell Dr. Harris, is what.”

“I wouldn’t know what to say to him, you’re the one who saw it.”

But Ruth’s attention was back to the baking program and she was silent for several minutes before saying, “will you look at the cake? That’s a beauty. I told you the queer boy was gonna win. They make good pastry chefs.”

I got up and went to bed, not that Ruth would notice or care. I took one of the nerve pills just before getting under the covers. One thing sure, they helped me sleep through the night and my nerves were calmer. I’d been a wreck for months after I gotten the promotion to line supervisor and Pop had died and I had had to untangle his affairs and we’d made an investment in some new condos. It was a lot at once and I’d gotten nervy as hell. Sure I was able to work, but in my off hours I would do nothing but fret, my hands would shake and my stomach would churn as if I’d just had a burrito at Jose’s the one Mexican restaurant in town. Ruth had made me go see the doc and he’d put me on these pills until things slowed down for me. Course now I was having the visions. Well hell they were a lot more than that. I wouldn’t just see moments from my past I’d feel like I was there. I could no more tell the difference between being in that moment from five, ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, thirty five years ago than I could what I was doing right here and now. Odd thing was that it didn’t scare me none. Not a bit. It was something that just was and I actually kind of enjoyed it. Was a going off my nut? Maybe. But hell, life as a sane man wasn’t working out all that well.

I got a good eight hours of snooze time and got ready for work. At breakfast I was joined by our three darlings: Judy, the youngest was six, Connor the boy in the middle was 11 and Kendall was 13. Course Ruth was busy fixing the eggs and what not so I had some time to jaw with my kids. We always had a few laughs — they loved their daddy — and I got little nuggets of information about school, teachers, playmates and the like. Ruth finally finished the cooking and sat down to join us and, as she always did, she took over the conversation. It was like she was jealous of me talking to my own children. She was gabbing up a storm, I was just finishing my toast when wham! I was getting picked off first base junior year high school and had to walk back to the dugout where coach Duggard was gonna give me an earful. Then I was fishing with Pa day before I was to leave for the army and we was both a little blue about it. Next I was seven and chasing Amy Clough who was my first crush. (I liked that one, and during it had no thought of the fact that 20 years later her husband killed her.) Then it was Nam again and I was laying in mud shit scared as shots were coming from seemed like everywhere. It was so confusing I didn’t know which direction was up let alone where to shoot.

“Roy!”

Ruth was hollerin’ at me. "What on earth? You were making that face again and scaring us half to death.”

“Yeah, what’s goin’ on Pop? You looked like a zombie,” Connor said.

“I reckon it’s the medicine got me on. Does somethin’ to my brain every now and again. But don’t worry, it won’t last. I’ll only be taking 'em another week.” It was all lies but seemed to satisfy everyone, even Ruth. Then I got the hell up, kissed everyone and was out the door into my truck and off to work.

A couple a months later my father’s estate had been pretty much settled, it was only left to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. The condo deal had gone through just fine and it looked sure to add to our nest egg. I’d settled in as a line supervisor and the boss told me I’d have a couple extra weeks of vacation coming. I was off the pills. But my departures, as I called 'em, went on. They were always in fours and always with one being in Vietnam. Some were bad times, some were good and some were just ordinary. Somehow, though, I'd stopped havin' them when anyone else was around, so as far as Ruth was concerned I was back to my normal self and she wouldn’t have to worry about me and could devote all her attention to what she wanted to. I was not something she wanted to pay attention to no way unless it was to get me to do something whether it was mowing the lawn or giving her a good screw. I wasn’t the happiest man on earth, but life was okay, especially with my darling children. Then one day….

It was a Saturday afternoon and the kids were all somewhere else. Kendall at the mall, Connor fishing with a friend’s family and Judy on an overnight visit with her cousin Maggie. It was a warm day and I’d not only mowed the lawns but did a lot of weeding so when I came in the house I had a powerful thirst. A cold beer was gonna be just the ticket. I had one and it felt so good that for the first time in I don’t know how long, I had a second. Ruth came into the kitchen and joined me. We each had three and bein’ as how I hadn’t eaten since breakfast they went straight to my head. Ruth was not much of a drinker so she was not exactly feelin’ any pain neither. In such a condition Ruth can get awful randy. So we were soon in the bedroom both naked as jaybirds and going at it like a couple of teenagers. I was on top of her humpin’ away and Ruth was groanin’ and moanin’ with delight. The world felt goddamned good. Then I was in Nam again. I had dead aim on a gook, discharged my weapon and saw the top of his head fly off. I looked down at Ray Ray Lipton whose guts were hanging out while he was screaming. Then I was at Thompson’s hardware store with Pop when I was 13 helping him buy what he needed to fix the shed. Then I was making out with Ruth the day before we got engaged. Then I was in the backyard, a five year old playing with a toy truck. That was four, including the one from Nam. But it didn’t end. I was back in Nam on guard duty trying desperately to stay awake and I zipped from their to bein’ on a chopper, zipped away even quicker to watching a VC being interrogated, slapped in the face, kicked, then I was watchin’ Kick Lackerby get blowed up. This was a re-un, first time I’d ever had one. Now all my Nam visions were repeating. I was dad blasted stuck. An endless loop of Nam.

I fell asleep. Even though I was in Nam I could hear Ruth snoring and I somehow knew we’d finished screwing and that it was dusk and that Kendall would be home soon and I was still naked. Seconds later I slept with no thoughts, no visions, no realizations, no dreams, no nothin'. But when I woke up I was in the jungle, in Nam and by god I didn’t think I’d ever get out. This felt even more damn real, like it was my life and I’d better get on with it the way it was because there were beaucoup VC in the area. What the hell, this was no departure this was my life. I was in Nam all right and stayin'.

03 September 2016

A Life on the Verge



I was standing in my bathroom having just peed. I splashed my face with cold water because I was feeling hot. I let the water drip off. I looked into the living room. Strange. The house was so still and quiet, even considering the fact that I was the only one at home. It was still outside, not a sound. The house felt like a movie set, unnatural. Fear tingled up my spine.

I blinked hoping that all would seem right now. No, the air was like death. No movement anywhere. No ants in the kitchen. No fly buzzing around. I looked out the window and didn’t see a soul. Nor did I see a cat, a dog, or even any of the crows that often congregate on the telephone wires. I closed my eyes for a good 30 seconds. No thoughts or feelings entered. It was blank.

Still no sound anywhere. Judging by the light it was mid afternoon. But why didn’t I know what time it was? And that light seemed odd. Not natural. Kind of dull and soft. I picked up the remote and turned the power on for the TV.  Nothing happened. Cable out? I had an urge to sit but the ability to do so seemed to have vanished. I couldn’t even imagine how it was done. I looked at a picture of myself in a frame on the mantle. In it I was seven years old, grinning, without a care. I had liked being seven. But why were there no other pictures on the mantle? Photos of my wife and children and dad and mom and siblings and nieces and nephews? What had happened to them? Where had they gone?

I remembered very clearly my life as a child. The joys of playing with friends. The difficulty fighting boredom in school. I recalled when my grandfather died and when my uncle was injured in a car accident and when we went to Disneyland and the time my older brother came home to announce he’d made all conference in football. But I could barely visualize my own high school years and had no memories from after that. I knew I’d gone to college but couldn't think of where and what I’d studied. I knew I was married and had children but I couldn’t recall meeting my wife or our wedding or the birth of the children or even their names. I couldn’t remember my children’s names.

What had happened? Did I have some weird form of amnesia? I tried to remember what I’d done earlier today. It was like staring at a blank white wall. The farthest I could could think back was to when I just finished peeing and splashed my face. What the hell had happened? What was going on? I wasn’t dead, was I? Maybe I’d gone insane. Perhaps this was a dream. Surely that must be it, I must be in some sort of weird dream that I’d be waking up from soon. In fact I’ll will myself to wake up right now.

Nothing happened. I was still there and felt certain that this was no dream. Something was telling me that whatever was going on wasn’t part of a dream. I thought I might cry. But no. I thought I might scream. But no. I thought I might collapse to the floor. But no.

Maybe I could call someone. My wife. My cell phone wasn’t in my front pocket. I must have put it on the coffee table like I always did when I got home. But no, it wasn't there. Maybe it was charging  on my nightstand. But no, it wasn’t there. Was it in the bathroom? Now I forgot where the bathroom was. I’d only just been there.

There were still no sounds. The light hadn’t changed. I wondered if I had the power of speech. But I couldn’t remember how to use it. Then an image. Finally something in my brain. It was the water, the water of the bay. I was looking at it from a great height. Why? What did I do? Where was I. Probably on a bridge. The waters were choppy as if on a windy day. They were beautiful. So beautiful. I’d felt like a swim but of course it was much too cold for that. No. There was no desire to swim, at least when I was looking at the water in this image which I was beginning to think was a memory, one that was becoming clearer. Yes, I was definitely on a bridge. Looking at the water far below. It was the Golden Gate Bridge.

The image was becoming so powerful now that I entered it. I left my house and I was in the image. I was on the bridge. It was cold. I was scared. The wind was blowing. It was dusk. Depression enveloped me. The mental anguish was excruciating and it was accompanied by a deep, deep desire to end everything. Psychosis. That’s what I had. That’s why the vision of being in the house, which really had lasted a second in real time.

Now I knew exactly who I was and remembered all my personal history and clarity joined the depression. My life was good. My brain was bad. Earlier in the day I’d found myself talking aloud in a crowded elevator. It was so embarrassing, people looking away, pretending not to notice. But I’d been talking in normal volume. I remember a woman looked back at me as she got off the elevator. There was pity in her expression. That’s when I decided that these struggles for sanity were too much, that I was losing and I was tired of all the pills and the doctor visits and the fears. I still had my job, my marriage, my family and money in the bank. Why not quit while I’m ahead, I’d thought. This’ll probably just keep getting worse. Why not end it all before I cause my family pain, suffering and humiliation. So here I was on the bridge. Ready to jump.

What was taking me so long? Had I lost my nerve? Was there some doubt that this was the right course? Maybe if there was the slightest doubt I shouldn’t go through with it. If things didn’t improve it was always an option for later when I was 100% sure. No. I was sure now. I had to do it.

My cell phone rang. Reflexively I pulled it out of my pocket. It was my wife. I answered.

“Honey, when will you be home? I’m trying to plan dinner.”

“Half an hour,” I said. Then I got off the damn bridge.

02 September 2016

I Have More Questions



I had a bunch of questions a few months ago. Now I've got some more.

Things ebb and flow. Do they ever just ebb?

People toss and turn at night but do they ever just toss or just turn?

Why is there always flotsam and jetsam? Do they always come together? Is there never just flotsam?

Isn’t “my bad” just an impolite way of saying, “I’m sorry”?

According to the Cole Porter song: “Birds do it, bees do it Even educated fleas do it” Where do fleas get an education? What do they study?

Why do people care if a pro football player didn’t stand for the national anthem? Is it really so sacred?

If the national anthem is sacred, why is it played before every sports event? Shouldn't it be saved for special occasions.

Why isn’t the anthem played before movies, plays, ballet, the opera, rock concerts? Are only sports fans patriotic?

Doesn’t the anthem lose a lot of its meaning if you hear it all the damned time?

Do people who say “no worries” really believe I have multiple worries?

Why are there still people who take Donald Trump seriously? Are they all people with double digit IQs?

Are all World War II films required to call the medic Doc?

Are all wagon train films required to call the cook, Cookie?

Has anyone outside of a movie ever really said, “you’ll learn to love me”?

Also aren’t “I don’t want any trouble” and “you lookin’ for trouble?” usually just said in movies?

And have you ever heard anyone outside of a movie say: “this is bigger than the both of us”? Or, “it’s quiet, too quiet.”

Isn’t the phrase “try to understand” said in moves more often than in “real life.”

Why do people who say “when you get out in the real world” think some parts of the world are unreal? Isn’t it all real?

Why don’t people say “make it snappy” anymore? Also why don’t people still say “aww, skip it”?

Whatever became of the word “bashful”? You never hear it anymore.

Are double amputees people who paid an arm and a leg for something?

Why can’t we have a pop singer today who is even half as good as Michael Jackson was?

Why do American politicians insist on saying that the United States is the greatest country in the world and our military has the bravest fighting men and women? Doesn't that make the US look like arrogant, insecure braggarts to the rest of the world?

Why don't drinks come in small sizes anymore? The small at Starbucks is called a tall.

Why is that the small sizes of candies like M&Ms are called "fun size"? What's fun about it?

What would happen if when a clerk asked you, "did you find everything okay?" you said "no, I had a devil of a time finding this stuff"?