09 August 2017

Euro Vacation 2017 Part Three -- In the Home of my Ancestors

The river I fished and swam in.
Jumping into an icy cold river after a hot sauna felt fantastic. It was after 10:00 in the evening and the sun was still out because this is Finland. Three times I emerged from the hot sauna for a refreshing dip. It was the same river I'd been fishing in earlier in the day with my two strapping young nephews. I caught three fish, all undersized and thus all designated for re-assignment as living -- if wounded -- fish. The three of us had fished for a bit near the cabin but later bushwhacked our way through the underbrush to likely spots and challenged the local pike and trout to snag our lures. It was damned fun. As oldest nephew told me it's called fishing not catching so our failure to reel in an eligible fish was no great disappointment. Youngest nephew had wrestled in a large trout the day before so dinner was already settled.

This whole time in Finland has been damned fun. My first trip to the homeland in decades. I met two cousins I'd not seen since we were all still young, bright-eyed bushy-tailed happy optimists. I'm glad to report that we are all still happy and optimistic, despite our years. Perhaps I am less so as even during this wonderful vacation I continue to fight off waves of depression. There have been distractions aplenty so mostly I've been in good spirits.

Seeing my Cousin Jorma in Tampere was a particularly good distraction. He's my senior by about ten years. I'd been questioning how much longer I wanted to suffer through life after this trip, so bad can the mental torment be. But seeing Jorma charge happily through the world gave me hope and a role model. He reminded me of my dear old dad, a non stop liver. He was charming, funny and wise and most of all active. Maybe, I've thought, I can try that. His wife too is a wonder of glee and enthusiasm and his daughter, who was 3 when last I saw her, is a successful doctor running a family practice, has two precocious sons of 10 and 14 and a charming Phd of a husband. The missus and I had a grand time visiting them.

My cousin Helena and I.
Further north in Yliveska we visited my cousin Helena. In my prior visits to Finland she felt like the big sister I never had. She was kind, warm, fun and funny. Today she is still all those things but is also a mother of three and a grandmother of four. Courtesy of one of her daughter's we drove to the nearby town of Nivala where my father and all his siblings were born and raised. Our visit included a stop at the old family home, which is sadly out of the family now. I'd stayed there during my previous visits when my grandmother was still alive and kicking.

In between visiting long lost kin we stayed in the small burg of Paltamo. My late brother's wife's family has a summer cabin there. The setting was too rustic for us citified folk so we spent our night's in town. My sister-in-law was there along with the aforementioned nephews who, like us, live in the Bay Area. The setting was Eden-like. Besides us there was the river, the trees (Finland has gazillions of trees) and a few pesky skeeters and dragon flies. This was the ultimate in getting away from it all and I, who work and live in a thickly packed urban area needed getting away from as much as possible. I was not in heaven (as the mosquitoes attested to) but I was but a few steps below.

For the last few days we've been Helsinki, one of the prettiest big cities in the world. In Finland it feels like cities, towns and hamlets are just dropped from the sky in and around forests, lakes and rivers. You can't go far without be reminded of nature. Even in the thriving metropolis of Finland's capital this is true. The architecture here is stunning, the people are polite and friendly, the public transportation accessible and convenient and everything is clean. Is it perfect? I guess one would have to spend a winter here to answer that.

We've been going from town to town by train and it is a wonderful way to travel. Out the window you can see trees, fields, meadows, more trees, lakes, rivers, trees again, lots of trees, an occasional town, forests, trees and did I mention trees? It's gorgeous. I also saw a bear. Just a glimpse, but damn that was cool.

With older relatives I've had to speak the native tongue and tough I'm rusty I managed to get by. Virtually everyone here under 50 speaks English and many of them speak it better than Americans do. Still I've used the lingo in a few transactions in stores and at restaurants etc. If we stayed longer I might start making my way toward fluency but as it is we're out of here today. Onto London and a football match, then to Cornwall to stare at the sea.

My God I'm having fun.

31 July 2017

Euro Vacation 2017 Part Two - No Explanations nor Excuses for the Nine Days it Took to Post Something (Maybe I was Kidnapped, You Never Know)

Beautiful Amsterdam.
There was an Asian woman in a Berlin mall sitting and reading The Diary of Anne Frank in English.
There was me eating Italian food in a Mexican restaurant in Berlin.
There was a Syrian refugee waiting on us at a seafood restaurant in Berlin who spoke excellent English.

That was all after Amsterdam which, by the way, has emerged as one of my favorite cities in the world. Top five for sure. Everyone speaks English, the signs are in English, the menus, the directions. The Dutch are friendly. The streets are cleaned and organized and the public transportation system runs like a dream. An incredible number of people in Amsterdam ride bikes and for the most part do so in designated bike lanes. Unlike bicyclists in Berkeley who run lights and stop signs and ride on sidewalks, Dutch cyclists obey rules. I could have kissed all of them. Plus they ride functional bikes at moderate speeds purposefully. There are trees, parks and canals everywhere, a model city to be sure.

One night we ate a place called the Seafood Bar. The first of its kind opened just five years before as a take away place but now there are four in Amsterdam alone and they are jam packed. It's no wonder, the food is delicious. No it's better than that. Also it comes in sufficient quantities and is reasonably priced for such fine cuisine. Me, I love seafood. 

From the Reijks Museum.
While in Amsterdam we went to the Van Gogh Museum which was both fine and dandy and we also went to the Reijks Museum which was fantastic and dandy. I loved the Rembrandts -- literally every one -- and most of the works of his proteges. There were also treasures from the past and works from earlier and later centuries. One visit couldn't cover it all. We missed the tour at the Anne Frank House as it was booked and we had left it till last. I did have the better half snap my picture in front of it and unlike some of the other yahoos there I didn't pose with a grin nor make a duck face. Honestly.

We were in Amsterdam for three days and that was not enough. I'd like to go again for a week, better yet a year. I'd love a year there, it would give time to explore other parts of the Netherlands. We got to Amsterdam by train from London where we stopped overnight. Our train trip included a pit stop in Brussels. From what I could see in that blink of an eye it's a town worth getting better acquainted with.

From Amsterdam we took a train to Berlin. This was a local that stopped at every city, town, village, hamlet, farmhouse, outhouse and chicken coop. We didn't mind. Lots of countryside to see and it was darn pretty too. As in Amsterdam we stayed at an Air B&B in Berlin (still here actually, leave in the morning). In both cases we got nice neighborhoods just on the edge of where everything is happening. Short walks to markets, tram stops and cafes.

Unfortunately they've had a bit of heat wave in Berlin and the missus and I are not fans of hot weather. Amsterdam was just right for us, maybe a little chilly with spots of rain but nothing we couldn't handle. Berlin isn't made for hot weather like, say New York. The trams are not air condoned nor is much of anything else. That aside it's been a nice stay. The wife has indulged my passion for history which is especially acute when it comes to World War II. We've been to the Holocaust Memorial and a place called the Topography of Terror which is a museum dedicated to chronicling the Nazi regime. Because of my many decade study of such things there was little they had to teach me, but there were some interesting details here and there and it was instructive to see it all in one place laid out like it is. It's particularly chilling to see all this in Berlin which was the epicenter of Nazi Germany. Walking the streets of Berlin it gives one pause to realize that on these very streets Nazi's marched and sang and brutalized. Around the corner from where we're staying there are imbedded in the sidewalk three plaques remembering three Jews who were taken from nearby homes to their deaths in Auschwitz. We also visited the Berlin Wall Memorial Park, just one of many places where remnants of the wall remain or are honored or both.

Display at the German Film Museum
It wasn't all doom and gloom. For example we saw Berlin's Film and TV Museum which is right up there with similar museums I've seen in Paris and Rome. Particular attention is given to the transcendent Marlene Dietrich along with pioneering German directors such as GW Pabst, FW Murnau, Fritz Lang and Ernest Lubitsch, all of whom escaped Nazi Germany to ply their trade in Hollywood.

Berlin is a cosmopolitan city and this is Summer so one hears voices speaking languages from across the globe. From my job I've learned to detect what many a foreign tongue is and also where a speaker is from based on her or his English accent.

We have thus far managed to avoid being involved in any International Intrigue. No secret coded messages have been placed on our person, no one has slipped us war plans, no spy has died in our midst. Yet. 

Next we go to Finland which for me will be homecoming. Hopefully I'll report here sooner rather than later. 

23 July 2017

Euro Vacation 2017 Part One - But First a Brief Visit in New York

Brooklyn Bridge, photo by author (that's me).

It was just a few steps from JFK to the air-conditioned taxi cab Friday night, but it was time enough to feel the wall of heat. From the cab to the hotel there were a few more steps and more of the New York city heat wave. No thanks. To me anything over 70 degrees is just showing off, to be in the 80s AT NIGHT with a good bit of humidity mixed in is just ridiculous. But it was only for a few days. Today the temperature was in the upper 70s and thus manageable.

Weather conditions aside the weekend has been marvelous. The main point of the layover was to visit youngest daughter who lives on the Queens/Brooklyn border. We had a grand time with her, including a leisurely brunch on Saturday and chit chatting in her apartment afterwards. Last night the missus and I saw A Doll's House Part 2 starring Laurie Metcalf in her Tony Award winning performance. Chris Cooper was also in the four person cast. This was one of the top three theater productions I've ever seen. The standing ovation at the end was not at all perfunctory but quite sincere.

Before and after the play we had to manage Times Square my least favorite part of New York and indeed one of my least favorite places anywhere. Gaudy, crowded, commercial and a symbol of capitalistic excess. What a blight on a great city. Wish I'd seen Times Square when it was just a special part of Manhattan and not a nightmare television commercial on steroids.

We've been navigating New York on the subway and via Uber and of course on foot. New York is feast for the eyes. The people you see alone are an endless source of entertainment. Beautiful women aplenty but also the bizarre, misshapen, the angry, the sullen, the screaming, the pathetic, the brawny and in all sizes, shapes and colors. Yarmulkes here, hijabs there, priests, buddhists, Hare Krishnas, guys in Yankee caps, Italians, Somalis, and oh so many tourists.

We had delicious New York bagels Saturday.

We visited The Brooklyn Bridge this morning, one of those iconic sites that's far more impressive in person. Youngest daughter took me to the Gangster Museum on the Lower East Side this afternoon. We both have a fondness for gangster lore and films, as does oldest daughter. The museum itself was small and the displays looked slap together by an 8th grader but there was some impressive stuff including bullets from the St. Valentine's Day massacre, a mobster's safe and John Dillinger's death mask. There were two guides who each gave us long spiels on gangster history, especially regarding the building we were in which had been a gangster hangout in the 20s and 30s and was attached to what was then a speakeasy. It was fun.

From there we re-connected with my wife and later had a terrific pizza dinner in Brooklyn. I could hang around New York for days, weeks, months, years, as long as someone did something about the heat waves. But tomorrow morning the missus and I continue our journey with an early morning flight across the Atlantic. We'll have a one night stay in London....well, you'll be reading about all this later -- or not, your choice. I was sad to have just sad goodbye to youngest daughter knowing we'll not see her again until Christmas but I'm excited for her and her life here and for us and this journey which is just beginning.

20 July 2017

This is a Melange of Writings Concluding With News of My Impending Trip

A picture taken near Tampere, Finland, one of the stops on our forthcoming trip.


This first part was written over a week ago.

Ya never know what you can write in eight minutes until you try. I’ve got eight minutes before I have to pack up and go, so we’ll see.

After a long pause it seems the answer might be: not much, but I think it’s probably more along the lines of it depends. The word depends has become somewhat of a punchline these days because its the name of an adult diaper. Speaking of punchlines: Donald Trump. Okay that was too easy unlike being president which apparently — who knew? — is rather difficult. People find that out once its too late. How many people have been good at the job? Only 45 have tried and many have been absolute disasters, as we’ve been seeing since January 20. It seems a certainty that this current president will go down as the worst ever. And go down he will. There’s stiff competition for the worst. Consider the recent George W debacle and the greatest foreign policy blunder in US history (the invasion of Iraq is thus far the worst but Trump’ll likely take a shot on topping or bottoming it). Then there was Warren G Harding. Yikes, that was bad. Don’t forget Andrew Johnson. Abe Lincoln was sandwiched in between two awful presidents, the aforementioned Johnson and one James Buchanan. Truth be told most of our presidents have been more mediocre than bad. And a lot of the good ones have significant marks in the negative column to go along with the good that they accomplished. For example FDR and Japanese internment. Then there was LBJ who did so much good domestically but then again that little business about Vietnam. Nixon actually had some accomplishments but they were totally wiped out not just byWatergate but by the continuation of Vietnam and the bombings in the north and of Cambodia. He ended up way, way way in the debit column.

Eight minutes is up.

I actually tell you within the text when I wrote this next bit.

It’s two days later and now I’ve got a bit more time to write. I’ve been so busy tin lizzy drinks that are fizzy. Leaving next week on a big trip getta grip don’t slip I’m hip. One more cause the rule of three up a tree that’s for me tee heee.

Isn’t auto correct a pain in the arse sometimes? Let’s be clear I do not here make reference to Mr. Otto Korectt. He, by the way, is a prominent, distinguished, local businessman of ill repute whose reputation precedes him and is well known, notorious, beloved, much despised, reviled and entirely anonymous. His actions defy description and took a a lot of courage and show a keen understanding of the issues and mark him as a man to be reckoned with, his future is ahead of him and his past behind him. In fact my own future is behind me, but not my past, which I’m looking forward to, I’m living in a state of flux which is one of the contiguous 49 states. Flux produces hard-working Americans who look out for one another and know the value of a dollar. Fluxians are kind, greedy, selfless, selfish people who tirelessly work at being lazy. They believe that procrastinating should be put off to another day — no they don’t.

The next three paragraphs were written earlier this week.

A typical day in the Johnson household begins with dawn. Hours pass by at a 60 minute rate and eventually dusk signals the end of daylight and the beginning of evening which is ceremoniously marked by the Johnsons with the turning on of lights. The Johnson’s also sleep.

But who among us has not imagined necrophilia followed promptly by cannibalism? Come on, you know you have. We’re all human and we all have hidden desires to sexually ravage then devour the deceased. Don’t we? Surely I’m not alone in this. Or surly, he was angry and alone in this. Or Shirley, she was alone in this. Sure, Lee.

I kid, of course. Anyone old enough to remember telegrams? I don’t recall ever receiving nor sending one. I have received plaudits and encomiums and heaps of criticism. Let’s all be self effacing. Or self affixing. Or self adhesive. What is the shelf life of the self life?

I wrote this last bit on Thursday July 20, the same day it will be posted.

It is 7/20, thus the eve of my wife and my departure on a month long vacation. We will stop in New York for a few days — where the hot and humid weather will make me miserable — to visit youngest daughter and take in a play. Then it’s off to such locales as Amsterdan, Berlin, Finland and the UK which will include London and Cornwall.

Yes, I am excited and for so many reasons too. One of which is an escape from the daily grind. I need a break from the weekday morning routine — just not having to slap together lunch will be a relief. Mostly I need a respite from commuting. On a good day a commute is tolerable but there are not all that many good commute days. My students I do not need a break from but I could do with a month without grading, lesson planning, photocopying and wrestling rabid wolverines.

In the lead up to the trip I’ve managed not to be depressed and one can assume that travels may well keep the depression at bay — hell, maybe it’s gone for good. Me, cured.

You will be delighted to learn (actually more like mortified) that I plan on regularly blogging on my trip as I have on other occasions see links to European Vacation and Paris in the Labels section to the right on this page. Or not. Entirely up to you.

The problem with this trip will be that I wont want to come back. I prefer Europe to the States. (So why don’t you move there, ya commie bum? I wish I could have long ago, believe me and I hope to be able to soon.) I have strange relationships with the US and with my city of residence, Berkeley. With the latter I have a definite love/hate relationship. Officially I’m proud of Berkeley, but at the same time its a mess and when I reference all the scruffy looking poorly dressed people I do not just mean our sizable homeless population. Berkeley is dominated by 50ish men with ponytails who wear jeans, sandals and a clean but very old shirt. There are also women of retirement age still wearing the dresses they looked cute in in the Sixties. Others look they slapped together their wardrobes from the costumes used in a production of Hair. (How did I get on this topic? Only my psychiatrist knows for sure).

Anyway I’m outta here tomorrow. More to come.

15 July 2017

Memorial Services are Discussed, Particularly One Attended Today



It’s hard to get a memorial service right. I’ve been to a lot lately, two this year alone for good friends.  I was at one for a friend about six years ago that was nearly perfect. One feature of a good service is that there’s no “open mic” at the end in which anyone in attendance can come up and say a few words. That can drag on forever and some of the people I’ve heard in such situations barely know the deceased, ramble incoherently, merely repeat what others have said or are up there to hear the sound of their own voices. A good memorial service creates an atmosphere in which the dearly departed is celebrated and mourned (emphasis on the former) and tedium does not set in.

I want to a memorial service today and they had an open share at the end but limited it to just a few people. Two were welcome additions and the other was not. The overall service was fine. It was well attended and reasonably well organized. It served to remind me what a great person Paul was and how lucky I was to have been his friend for four decades. It also — and this is inevitable — made me miss him and wish I’d been a better friend. (I wrote about Paul shortly after learning his pancreatic cancer had reach the the-end-is-near stage.)

The first speaker during the service was a disaster. Here’s a sign someone is going to be a poor speaker: they start by telling you that they’re “not very good at this sort of thing.” Then they prove it. The poor guy went on way to long telling pointless stories and sharing uninteresting facts (we could have got by without knowing what bands Paul liked listening to in the 80s). He also had a terrible speaking voice. Not his fault but it only served to acerbate this meandering talk.

A few subsequent speakers were darn good. They included humor in their remarks and kept their comments brief. A few others could have been done without but at least spared us being overly long as the first chap was.

I generally think about the deceased during a memorial service and the times we had together and the impact we had on one another’s lives. But I also can’t help but think about my own memorial service. I’m determined to earn a good one, one in which people can say nice things and genuinely mean them. If not, what the hell, I’ll be dead anyway.

There was a reception afterwards as is usually the case. Post memorial receptions are a lot like retirement or birthday parties, people mingle around chatting and make reference to the honoree but inevitably go on to other topics. It’s only natural. This was a potluck reception. I shy away from potluck food finding it can cause havoc with the digestive system.

I caught up with a few people I’d hadn’t seen in ages, most of whom I probably will never see again. One kept talking about how great his life was these days to the extent that I wasn’t sure if I should believe him or that I should at least question his motives on insisting he was living the good life. There was another person who I hadn’t seen in close to ten years who I was looking forward to exchanging pleasantries with. He’s an author who’s first book I read before meeting him. It was called “If I Never Get Back” and it was fantastic. Years later he wrote a sequel which was one of the worst books I’ve ever read. Paul had shared my opinion on both novels. Nevertheless he’s a good chap — or so I remembered. We shook hands and exchanged, “good to see ya"s. Then he made comment on my purple tie which I was wearing with a black shirt — suitable to the occasion — as the backdrop. He cracked wise about me being Catholic. Fair enough. We were interrupted and when resuming conversation I asked about his daughter. After a brief update he poked fun at the Buddhist prayer beads I wear. That was in lieu of asking about my children or my doings or my opinion on reforming the Julian calendar. So that answered my question about what he’s been doing the past few years  — turning into an asshole.

I checked in with a few more people, all of whom greeted me warmly and I them. Then the missus and I gave hugs and chatted briefly with Paul’s widow, as sweet and wonderful a woman as ever worked the earth. That was enough for me, time to head home.

During the service someone shared a quote from Maya Angelou. I here paraphrase it: people will not remember you for what you said or what you did, but how you made them feel.

While one person today made me feel irritated and disappointed, the focus of the day’s memorial was a man who, for most of our time together — dating back to freshman year in college — made me  happy. Now I'm trying hold on to how happy he often made me and let go of how sad his death is. RIP Paul Tjogas.

10 July 2017

The Blogger Finally Blogs Again Mentions A Coming Trip, Al Franken, Two New Films and Names his Favorite Planet

Al Franken

I am not deceased, nor have I died, passed away, been lost nor have I met my maker nor a baker or candlestick maker. It is, however, quite true that I haven’t written in ages (see Bronze, Iron, Middle) so one may have begun to wonder whatever became of me. I say “one may have wondered” because that is approximately the size of my readership. Give or take one or two. ( I have, at times, speculated that my total number of readers is less than zero. I’m not sure how it can be a negative number but I’m equally sure that it is possible.)

So what have I been up to recently? Funny you should ask…

I am still gainfully employed and still must commute to and from said employment. The total number of hours I spend in these worthy pursuits occupies a large portion of most weekdays (excepting those that I do not go to work such as when I have a medical appointment, today for example).

Working and commuting continue although both will soon be blissfully interrupted when the missus and I go to Europe via New York. Stops will include Amsterdam, Berlin, Finland and the UK. Departure is set for 11 days hence. Planning the trip has also occupied a lot of my time and it has been time well spent and enjoyed. Half the fun is getting there.

Too much of my time has been sitting and staring at a spot on the floor while in the throes of depression. This is time wasted and it is time spent being sad which makes it doubly useless. Through therapy I am doing my best to limit this time with slow but steady success. The depression has been compounded by the deaths of two of my best friends in the first six months of this year. I miss them greatly. My life was richer for their presence so their premature departures leave a void that memories can only partially fill.

I have continued to watch movies religiously. I’ve seen two in theaters these past two Saturdays and enjoyed both. They couldn’t be more different. The first was Baby Driver. I do not like this kind of film but I loved this film. It had an energy and intelligence and a  brilliantly melding of music and action. The second was the Ornithologist, a Portugese film in which an ornithologist looks at birds, gets tied up by Chinese female hikers, has gay beach sex with a deaf goat herder, is shot by three topless women on horseback, is visited by a dove in his zipped up tent, turns into someone else, views bizarre pagan rituals and loses and find things hither and yon. Typical stuff.

The wife and I saw Senator Al Franken speak here in Berkeley and it was 90 minutes well spent with a great deal of laughter some of which of the uproarious variety and a lot of insight into Franken’s life and into the US Senate (spoiler alert: everyone hates Ted Cruz). I am a long time admirer of Mr. Franken’s, from his time at SNL, through his comedic/political books, through his time on the Senate.

I’ve also spent a lot of time not writing and more specifically, wondering why I’m not writing. It is a mystery why the spigot goes off completely at times and cannot be turned on. Sometimes I would sit down to write and manage a sentence or two and other times I would just stare at a blank screen. More often I couldn’t even get that far. The idea of writing something was akin to the idea of inventing a time machine, I had no idea how to even start. “The feeling” came back today and so far I’ve managed over 600 words with no trouble at all. Am I back or is this a fluke? Hopefully the “block” was the fluke. I certainly intend to chronicle my travels and those brave souls who venture to this blog will see a steady diet of posts from Europe.

Meanwhile the news continues to be dominated by that blowhard in the White House who is making the US look like a badly told joke. He is also threatening to ravish the economy, the environment, health care and the country’s status as a champion of liberty, compassion and equal rights (at least a supposed champion of those, if not always one in actuality).  Moreover he is disgraced the office of presidency and set the bar so low for his successors that they’ll be able to step over it.

I can recall the assassination of a president, the Vietnam War, Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Clinton impeachment, the invasion of Iraq and yet this is the lowest point the country’s seen in my lifetime.

Hey, it can only get better.

Right?

I’ve also enjoyed visits from grandnephews and a grand niece with another scheduled for today. I am a huge fan of messing about with the three to seven year old crowd. They seem to like me a lot and its no wonder when I turn like them so much. I guess the word love could have been substituted for like. Prior to that youngest daughter was in town for a few days and we’ll see her again when we stop in New York on our way to the old country. Given her and oldest daughter’s successes in life and the fact that my marriage just reached the 30 year mark, I think it safe to say I haven’t made a total shambles of my time on Earth.

Earth, by the way is my favorite planet. It has an overwhelming advantage over other planets in that I’ve never visited them. Maybe I’d prefer Neptune or Saturn but who’s to know absent a visit? Come to think of it Earth is also my least favorite for the very same reason. My favorite star is the sun. It provides us with solar heating. Can’t beat that. I like our moon although as I’ve said before it needs a name. Moon is what it is. We don’t call where we live “planet” so why do we call our one and only moon, “moon.”? Moons of other planets have names so why not ours? I will now step down from my soap box.

Hey look! I finally wrote a blog post again! (I think this was an instance in which exclamation points were called for. Don’t you?)

25 June 2017

Words Speak Louder than Actions -- The Sad Fate of Watkins, Middle School Math Teacher



Watkins was turned out on his ear. They did everything short of executing the poor bastard. Nearly 20 years a teacher in good standing then one remark, one slip of the tongue and his career goes down the drain. How do you measure one short comment against all the young lives he’s positively impacted and his incalculable contributions to the school in general?

Poor Watkins had maintained a spotless record, making no enemies among colleagues, staff or administrators. Then that damn little bastard Tyree Robinson pissed him off. It was particularly strange because Watkins had a reputation for a really long fuse. Tyree had tested the patience of many a teacher including yours truly. I’d visualized choking the little shit myself. But no one would have predicted that if anyone snapped it’d be Watkins.

Of course there were mitigating factors at play. It was a day in which nothing was going right for Watkins. He spilled coffee in the morning, splattering a few papers he’d been grading. Then there was a testy phone call with an irrational parent at lunchtime. I heard that Watkins handled it as well as one could. Plus there was the general shitty attitude of kids that day as they practically fell over one another to be obnoxious. It was a cool, slate gray and very windy day. Lunchtime sports had been cancelled and a fight had been stopped before it could get started depriving students of a highly anticipated spectacle.

Watkins had started that post lunch class with what he knew would be a real boffo lesson plan. But as often happens among middle schoolers, the damn kids got in the way. They were so boisterous and uncooperative that Watkins had no choice but to shut it down and make them work silently out of their textbooks. So by the time Tyree went into his act, Watkins’ nerves were frayed.

Maybe it was the accumulated frustrations from 19 years of dealing with adolescents. Here’s a man who was famed for his patience, understanding and tolerance. He would make himself available to students at lunchtime and after school, happy to go over the minutest detail over and over again until the student understood. And he didn’t care how much a student acted out in his classroom, Watkins gave the same measure of his devotion to the troublemaker as he did the apple polisher. Maybe the damn was bound to break. Maybe there was a limit to what one man can do. He’d endured the slings and arrows of the vilest student and carried on. Watkins never asked the administration to mete out harsh punishment to students in his charge. Indeed he often begged for leniency. He hated for students to get suspended. And he never uttered a bad word about a student, let alone to a student. Maybe no one can go on like that forever. Maybe everyone has a breaking point. Perhaps on that fateful day Watkins simply reached his.

I heard the ruckus that led to Watkins’ outburst. It was a bit rowdy in his classroom but nothing to be alarmed about. I was on my prep period grading papers and didn’t give it a second thought. Then I heard what turned out to have been the reaction to Watkins’ infamous comment. First a sudden dead silence, then there were howls. There was outrage. There was indignation. This was not an ordinary noise to emanate from a classroom. Middle school teachers learn to respond to the unusual. I got up and peaked in Watkins’ room. He stood there looking at the students with total defeat playing across his pallid face. As Watkins later said he knew instantly that his comment had crossed the line and there was no taking it back and no apology that would redeem him. He stood there stock still being bombarded by angry reposts. It was as if he had just stepped into an elevator shaft and was resigned to his fate.

Meanwhile stupid Tyree Robinson was a martyr. A true hero to classmates because he was the one to whom Watkins’ words had been directed. Tyree was eating up the attention just as he did any attention that came his way. Tyree was an attention whore and a loud mouth who did not have a selfless bone his body. To think that these young people were putting him on a pedestal while getting ready to tear down a great teacher like Watkins was unbearable.

“Could you get, Mr. Durango?” Watkins asked me feebly. Durango was a vice principal. He’d need to come in to calm the situation, sort things out and take statements.

While we waited I stood physically and emotionally at Watkins’ side as if he were a prisoner facing execution. Students, of both genders, all colors, and all abilities, stared at Watkins. Some in anger, some in shock, some seemed bewildered, curious, almost as if they were mystified by how a grown man could transform before their eyes. I made it a point to keep them quiet and was particularly keen on keeping Tyree from uttering a word. I knew he was reveling in the triumph of getting a teacher to crack.

When Mr. Durango came in half the students tried at once to tell the story of Watkin’s utterance. But no one could silence a room faster than our vice principal. Once he’d done so and subsequently gotten the gist of the story, he asked Watkins to go to his office and wait there. I returned to my own room as Durango heard the students out noting the consistency of their stories. He then had them write statements and remained in the room until the dismissal bell..

Due to the nature of Watkins’ remark he was suspended — with pay — pending further investigation. Really there was nothing more to investigate. Watkins did not deny what he said and the remark he admitted to jibed with the student’s claims. A cursory look into Watkins’ background would be fruitless because he had maintained a spotless record. The parent outrage however was another matter and it quickly spread to become community outrage which of course got the attention of the school board which of course made the matter infinitely more serious. Watkins wouldn’t be able to get by on the technicality that, other than for one moment, he’d been an exemplary teacher. The odds also were, at least in my opinion, that he would continue to be an outstanding teacher for the next ten or 15 or however many years he plied his trade.

The matter was taken out of the hands of our principal and would be decided the school board under the advisement of the district superintendent for human resources. Watkins’ suspension was extended indefinitely. Meanwhile his class was taken over by a sub who had no control over the students and whose lessons were straight out of the textbook and thus dull and uninspired.

Watkins was divorced and lived alone, seeing his children on weekends. I visited a week after the infamous “incident.” He’d aged ten years. He sat slumped in an easy chair in front of the TV which was blaring some stupid game show.

“I never got the chance to apologize, to say I was wrong and that those words don’t in any way shape or form represent who I am or what I believe.  I just don’t know what happened, it came out….it all happened so fast and I’ve felt nothing but terrible ever since.”

It was hard listening to Watkins, just as it was difficult to look at him and see him crushed. All I could do was give him assurances about how we were all behind him and that it would blow over and everything would be all right.

But it didn’t blow over and everything wasn’t all right. The school board found cause to dismiss Watkins post haste, his salary and benefits honored until the end of the school year. The union mounted a defense of Watkins but it was too little too late and it was uninspired. The union could have acted sooner and with more vigor but were timid in face of the exact words Watkins said.

So that was that.

Faculty was mostly supportive of Watkins although a few of the African American teachers were not in great sympathy with him. Still no one reckoned that he deserved to be ousted. We invited him to the big party teachers have on the evening of the last day of the school year. It’s traditionally a big bash with a barbecue and lots of booze. Watkins didn’t show.

Two weeks later some joggers watched as a man drove his car into the bay. It was deep enough at that spot that the car was completely submerged. Watkins body was found in the driver’s seat of the car. Pinned to his shirt was an envelope in a ziplock baggy. Inside the envelope was a note that simply said: “all I did was call him fucking ni--er. NOT FAIR!”

The darn guy couldn’t even spell the word out.

18 June 2017

HEY REMEMBER ME?! I'm Finally Back With a Blog Post After Overcoming a Horrible Case of Writer's Block


That's Rihanna, she's mentioned below.

Some people say that writer’s block doesn’t exist. Some people also say that global warming doesn’t exist. In conclusion: some people are idiots.

I’ve had a case of writer’s block -- okay forget block it’s more like that monolith from 2001 -- and it has been sucking all of my writing ability into a black hole. I thus been rendered  incapable of stringing together more words than it takes to write an email. Mind you, I’ve written some nice emails, a few have displayed the wit and grace that have personified my writing lo these many years, while others have been most informative and still others have included a lone pithy remark and a link to a hilarious video.

What causes writer’s block? Fuck if I know. I don’t get it often and it usually just drops by for a few days, maybe a week. This has been a particularly virulent case aggravated by various factors. The most notable of which is some pretty bad ass depression. I’ve written enough about said depression lately so suffice to say that this has been the darker, deeper, more numbing variety. (As of this writing I am enjoying a depression free day as I did for four consecutive days recently.) I’ve also been wrestling with various nettlesome, though not serious, physical ailments, most notably a rash. Add to this coming to terms with the pending death of another good friend (that will make two this year) and it's little wonder that my fingers have not been dancing about the keyboard at their usual pace.

So it seems that I’m over the dreaded block (monolith) and boy don’t it feel good. Not being able to write is like not being able to speak coherently or to be sexually impotent or to have lost memory. Writing is my past, present, and future and it keeps them all alive just as a well rounded human needs. I do not suggest that I am particularly well rounded though if someone else does I’ll not issue a denial.

One of the problems with writer’s block is that there is no topic that seems worth scribbling about. Of course when you’re in the zone you hardly need a topic, a kernel of an idea, an image, a quote, an event will suffice. When free of the dreaded block I can write about your dog's fleas. Anyway I've got other topics of more importance and interest than fleas to write about...If I can just think of one....

Let's see there was another white cop who got away with killing another African American in cold blood. It's not just about cops, its really about the system and the institutionalized racism. We can't continue to accept this.

The jury in the Bill Cosby rape case couldn't reach a verdict because in this country an African American can get "justice" if he is rich and famous (see Simpson, OJ).

There were a couple of more mass shootings this week and the NRA still has a sizable number of congressmen by the balls so no gun laws will change and there won't even be much, if any meaningful dialogue on the subject.

Senate republicans are crafting a new health care bill behind close doors, it's all very hush hush although other republicans support the bill despite not having seen it. It will doubtless favor the huge pharmaceutical companies and insurance conglomerates with nice fat tax breaks for the already wealthy. Meanwhile screwing millions out of their health care. These are a people without compassion, without a soul who are available to the highest bidder.

We still have an idiot for a president who's favorite subject seems to be himself. He is a liar and a cheat and a sloppy businessman and this is all empirically verifiable. As is his obstruction of justice and his fuck buddy relationship to any Russian who can help get or maintain power or cash. Especially Boss Putin.

A "man" (alex jones) who claims that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in which 28 people died many of them small children, did not take place, is being given air time on NBC tonight. How is this different than putting on a guest who claims an alien abduction or that Elvis lives or that the moon landing was faked? I'll tell you how it's different, it's worse. Any of those three would have more credibility and do far far less to unnecessarily hurt any feeling sthan this rabid dog in human skin.

See? There's ever so much to write about and for the sake of balance I'll close with some pleasant topics.

Rihanna.

Season five of Orange is the New Black, seasons three of Better Call Saul and Fargo. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Simpsons.

The resistance is strong and the pushback to Trump's reign of error is effective and predictive of great change in the days to come.

It's Gay Pride month and celebrations are taking place all over the world.

Strawberries are delicious. So are bagels and smoked salmon. So are the smoothies I concoct after I run. So too my wife's cooking.

The wife is retiring in two weeks and can devote more time to separating Rihanna and I. We're going to Europe in July (the missus and I, no Rihanna).

It's Father's Day and I had a great dad and I have two beautiful daughters who I am enormously proud of.

And the writer's block has been chiseled down to nothing.



03 June 2017

Fragments -- Fighting Depression and Winning Despite the Defeats



"Hey, Ray, I never went down, man! You never got me down, Ray! You hear me, you never got me down." -- Jake LaMotta to Ray Robinson in Raging Bull.

Fragments.

It’s been over a week since I was able to write more than a few paragraphs. In the same time period I’ve been unable to so much as start to practice my Finnish. I’ve meanwhile managed to read only a little. Meditation has proven impossible. Such is the power of the depression that currently occupies my mind, my body, my soul. I am a listless, lethargic lump only able to carry out everyday chores and work. Even sleep is difficult, unless it is day time in which I’m prone to lengthy naps. My body is full of chemicals, those that are supposed to combat depression, those that are supposed to aid sleep and those that successfully stave of panic attack. I’m too numb to feel panic.

Depression has been a constant in my life for 14 months now taking occasional breaks, the longest of which was for two weeks. Depression is the type of thing that makes you feel bad and makes you feel bad for feeling bad. Depression about depression. I write about my depression a lot. It helps to do so. It is also easy to write about because it is so clear and obvious. There is no ambiguity to it. A clear and present danger.

The depression has been given added fuel by the death of one of my closest friends and the fact that a second close friend is in hospice. That’s two major presences in my life that will be forever silent. I feel a little bit more alone. Also I had a horrible reaction to one anti depressant that gave me vicious rash all over my body. It was replaced by a second anti depressant to which my body reacted with the exact same kind of rash.

Yet I can say in all honestly that I’m happy. My life is a treasure trove of gifts and joys. Wife. Children. Nieces and nephews. Grand nieces and nephews. Friends. Co workers. Job. Physical health. The ongoing presence of books, music and films in my life. Travel plans. Exercise. All range from excellent to sublime. Much to celebrate and appreciate. Without these things perhaps I’d be on the verge of suicide. Perhaps not. I don’t know.

I don’t know is a constant theme of mine these days. This lack of surety in all things. This inability to affirm all but the most basic and obvious truths and realities. It is an overwhelming feeling of weakness. At least I know for sure that I suffer from depression.

But I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m just depressed. I happen to be dealing with an emotional malady rather than a physical one and it does not prevent me for performing necessary tasks like going to work. I also am confident that it will pass. To feel any other way — as admittedly I sometimes do while in the midst of a particularly bad bout of depression — would destroy me. Without hope there is nothing. And I want something.

As I’ve been struggling to write this the depression has had a firm grip on me, a veritable strange hold. But I feel victorious because for the first time in days I’ve managed to write over 500 words. I’ve further managed to address IT. The pain cannot win if I can point to it, identify it, name it, call it out and spit in its face. Obviously I’m down, but not out. Depression deals some pretty powerful blows that can fell me for a time. But I always get up. I've got that and nothing can take it away from me.

24 May 2017

Jumble Tumble Crumble -- A Hodge Podge of Recent Scribblings (Worth a look, actually)



Friday 5/19
In many jobs you have to attend meetings. Some jobs require a lot of meetings. This is generally not a good thing. Actually probably never. I’ve been a teacher for decades, anyone outside the education racket would likely be shocked at how damn many meetings teachers have to attend. It’s a lot. This was much more so when I taught in public school. Staff meetings, faculty meetings, department meetings, team meetings, parent conferences and any committees you may be a part of, either by volunteering (sucker!) or by fiat. If you’re a union rep you’ve got yourself a whole other batch of meetings — in this case for a decidedly good cause.

Meetings can be necessary and productive, especially if they are specific and relate directly to the attendees. Did you know that a lot of meetings are held because they are scheduled and not because they are needed? Did you further know that meetings will sometimes fill a specified amount —an hour, for example — despite the fact that there is only half an hour’s worth of business to attend to?

As I write this I’m sitting in an hour long meeting that has yet to feature so much as one iota of information that is relevant to me. The sum of the presentations — by four different people, so far — could have been condensed into a two paragraph email or a five minute announcement. Yet here I am half listening on the off chance that something will be said that I need to know. I think leading a meeting is like teaching a class, you've got to know your audience and your presentation has to be given with as few words as possible. Also you need to read the room and adjust on the fly. The fact is that teachers are more likely to be presenting relevant material than the useless garbage you're subjected to in meetings.

Saturday 5/20
I watched The Long Voyage Home (1940) directed by John Ford. In my estimation its his most underrated film and it features my favorite John Wayne performance (not that I am generally enamored of Wayne's acting.) The film is beautifully shot with amazing shot composition and brilliant use of shadows and lighting. I'm hoping that the good folks at Criterion will release it someday soon. It deserves the full treatment.

Sunday 5/21
Someone said this about a friend: “he never has a bad word to say about anybody.”  

Fuck that guy. 

First of all he’s making the rest of us look bad. Secondly he’s making the rest of us look bad and third he’s making the rest of us look bad.

Get with the program, buddy, trashing people is a perfectly natural, sometimes healthy practice. Like most anything, overdoing it is bad for you but in moderation talking shit about other people is nothing to be ashamed of. Whattaya gonna do when there’s some jerk at work that everyone is having a go about during lunch? You’re gonna sit there while everyone else is running Sid down one side and up the other? What are you, one of those jerks who says, “aww, he’s a nice guy.” Ole Sid has been getting on people’s nerves for weeks, maybe months, maybe years with his haughty attitude, inappropriate remarks and selfishness, now you’re going to give with the old “he’s a nice guy, bit?” Gimme a break. By your use of the term anyone this said of a serial killer is a “nice guy.” Don’t let people off so easy.

Okay my tongue was spending considerable time in cheek with that last bit but I do doubt those goody two shoes who claim to never say anything bad, they're just not trying hard enough or they're brain dead.

Monday 5/22 


So what’s it like here fully encased in depressed? For one thing it’s slow. Thoughts take their time formulating, speech comes as if I were sedated. Also it’s sad. Very, very sad. Yesterday and all the days before it seem wasted, tomorrow and all the days to follow look bleak. Today is dark and hopeless. 

There’s no reason, no method, just….The dull ache of depression. If you've never had it, depression seems a simple thing to rid yourself. Shake it off. Occupy yourself. Make love. Drink. The words easier said then done come to mind. Distracting depression can be done. An episode of The Simpsons can do it. But that episode ends and you're right back encased in the pain.

Tuesday 5/23
Hospice. My friend’s wife was updating all concerned about Paul’s condition. I told the missus I was dreading the one that had the word hospice in it. Sunday there it was. Fifth word in. Jumped off the page like a blaring siren. Unmistakable. A deceptively pleasant sounding word. Hospice. After all it’s good people performing an important task with great compassion. But it meant that Paul, with whom I go back to freshman year of college, was going to die soon. Heavy heart is an apt way of describing that feeling. Mine felt like a brick.

He will be dead. You can say he passed or that we lost him but that will not alter the grim reality that his life will be no more. My good friend Kevin already died this year. There’s only so much a person can take.

(FUCKING PANCREATIC CANCER!)

Lot of messages on Paul’s Caring Bridge site. Apparently Paul is in a lot of thoughts and prayers as is his family. I don’t have prayers for him to be in but he’s prominent in my thoughts.

There are lessons to be learned like make each day special, live life to the fullest, appreciate every day, they are gifts. That’s the type of thing that sounds great but practically speaking is impossible. Some days just suck. Some days you’re busy. Many of my days I’m battling depression. But I can keep Paul in my heart and remember how he lived with such relish for life. I can learn I can draw inspiration. I’d rather he was cancer free.

Wednesday 5/24
Today on Paul's Caring Bridge site someone named Cindy wrote the following:
"Paul, I have been planning to call you to see how things are going. We miss you tremendously at work. It has been extremely busy- CWF is coming together, and I have been spending more time than I would like in Sacramento. I have been half expecting you to have this cancer thing licked by now, knowing your strength of mind and self discipline. Keep hanging in there. If anyone can conquer cancer, you can."

Poor Cindy is spending more time in Sacramento than she'd like to. The American tragedy that Dreiser didn't write about. But Paul learns that CWF is coming together. That'll be just the tonic for the man in hospice. She also suggests that if anyone "can conquer cancer" Paul can. She is evidently unclear on the concept of hospice. Ya know, some people are better off just sending their thoughts and prayers.



18 May 2017

Tribute to a Friend

Paul on the left with the author circa 1986.
“You have noticed that the truth comes into this world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs; but it is the same face, laughing or weeping. When people are already in despair, maybe the laughing face is better for them; and when they feel too good and are too sure of being safe, maybe the weeping face is better for them to see.” 
-- Black Elk from Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux

Freshmen year in the dorms 1971 at Chico State there was this gangly geeky looking guy. He was tall, slender, face pocked from acne. He wore plain glasses and clothing so ordinary it was darn near weird. He had short dark hair and walked with a stoop. His name was Paul Tjogas and I’d never seen a nerdier looking guy in my life. He was especially nerdy given the time period as this was when most everyone in their late teens and early 20’s felt free to wear whatever — usually colorful — clothes caught their fancy and let their hair down, figuratively and literally.  Not Paul, though. His roommates once gave me a peek into his chest of drawers and closet. Everything was lined up neatly in order and this included white undershirts, no one was wearing white undershirts then. Well, except for Paul.

One of my first “encounters” with Paul was while walking down the halls of the dorm. Someone said my name. I looked around and Paul was the only person I saw, walking a good 15 yards behind me with his head down. There was no indication that he’d said my name but if not him, who? This was a weird trick of Paul’s. Saying a person’s name and pretending he hadn’t. I never quite saw the point of it but then again if you weren’t the target it could be amusing.

I became friends with one of Paul’s roommates and with Paul himself shortly thereafter. No, I wouldn’t have predicted that I, coming from Berkeley in the Sixties, already a veteran of anti-war demonstrations and LSD trips, would befriend someone who seemed to be the straightest, squarest, white male on the planet. But Paul defied all expectations. He was never what he seemed.

Yes, we were both athletes (Paul was a runner and I was a soccer player) and sports fans and we liked the same teams (SF Giants and 49ers) but our friendship was and has always remained about much more than sports.

Paul won me over when he expressed admiration for 17 year old Jonathan Jackson who brazenly took a judge and others hostage in an effort to negotiate the freedom of the Soledad Brothers. It was a doomed mission and arguably a bad idea but Paul was impressed by young man’s display of courage. Indeed Paul may have looked the young republican but his political views were nearer to my New Left philosophy than to conservatism.

By the end of our freshman year Paul and were buddies. Like all my close friends I was attracted to Paul for two main reasons: he loved life and he marched to the beat of a different and very hip drummer. Here was a man who, far from succumbing to cynicism as many of us then did, maintained an infectious enthusiasm for life. Paul also was gifted with a strong work ethic which accounts for academic achievements and long and successful career in engineering. Paul didn’t just hit the books, he beat them to a pulp; yet he managed to fill his free time with the kind of silly nonsense college males have long been notorious for. Paul and the Durham Boys were a highlight of Chico’s annual Pioneer Week parade.

We were roommates twice in college so I was witness to the long hours he spent sequestered with textbooks, t squares, pencils, paper (graph and lined) and notebooks. But I also enjoyed shenanigans with him a few of which I would blush to make public. Suffice to say we were were rowdy, randy lads with senses of humors that veered between sarcastic, slapstick, bawdy, surreal and outrageous. We also embraced irony. Paul and I hosted what we called the Donald DeFreeze (Cinque) Memorial kegger in “honor” of the slain SLA leader. We didn’t really admire Cinque at all, it was just funnier than naming a party for a real hero or — god forbid — just calling it a party or kegger.

Approaching his mid twenties Paul metamorphosed, his acne was clearing up, his hair was growing to a more natural length. Still around the fairer sex he remained painfully shy. A girlfriend of mine at the time and I took it upon ourselves to set him up with a likely lass. This worked out so well that the Paul and the woman eventually married. Then again they subsequently divorced. In any event I take partial credit for getting Paul active in the game of love. His continued participation bore fruit with his second marriage which remains a raving success to this day. A person like Paul deserves a happy marriage and his second eventually led to two beautiful children who today excel as athletes, students and people. How could Paul produce anything less?

My two turns as a roommate of Paul’s were a delight. He was as responsible as I was irresponsible, as clean and neat as I was sloppy and as reliable as I was flaky. Of course while he was setting a course for career success I was perfecting my drinking and womanizing skills neither, of which do I put to use anymore.

Paul graduated and immediately got a job in Southern California and eventually earned his MA. I stayed in Chico and drank but also started a career in journalism. Over a seven year period we did not see each other and our only contact was one phone call around the time the 49ers won their first Super Bowl. But a few years after that Paul re-located to the Bay Area as I had a year before. We immediately got together and it was like we’d never parted. We knew and understood one another so well that we were more like family than just ole college buddies. I loved the guy.

A few years after returning Paul and first wife realized that happily ever after did not apply to their relationship. This is always a difficult time for a man and I was more than happy to help Paul through it. He actually rebounded quite quickly and went straightaway into the dating scene. This is always problematical once you enter your 30s and I listened to Paul’s war stories offering whatever hope I could. Meanwhile I had stumbled into marriage with the woman of my dream’s and we had two daughters. I gave Paul the honorary title of Godfather to both of them. This was more an homage to the film and less to religion. He earned the title. I actually bragged to people about how nice my friend Paul was to my daughter’s. Once after a Giant game I lamented that I couldn’t quite afford the Giant’s teddy bear I wanted to give my oldest. So Paul bought it for.

Paul was a frequent visitor to our abode in his bachelor days. I once told oldest daughter that this regular guest was the governor of California and being a toddler she believed her dear old dad. Thus Paul was, for a time, referred to around our place as the governor.

We regularly attended sports events together particularly Giants’ games. The team is Paul’s great love and the two make a great couple because they are both classy as hell. Paul has always possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of sports, particularly in regard to his favorite teams. Going to games with Paul is like being with a walking talking reference book. But it’s also like going with Jerry Seinfeld. I’m a bit of wit myself so even during the most dreary defeats Paul and I could chuckle, guffaw and snicker our way through. You couldn’t go to a game with Paul and not have fun. Of course it wasn’t just giggles, Paul and I have explored all manner of topics such as politics, films, family and history. Paul can talk, but he can also listen.

When Paul met Deb it was a great source of happiness for me. It was clear from the beginning that here was a couple destined for one another. Paul did not gush sentimentally about her, he just matter-of-factly explained why they worked together. Not as romantic maybe but a better sign for the future. I was honored to be part of the wedding party and just being at the wedding was an early highlight in my daughters’ lives.

Paul’s children, Darryl and Chloe have proved what I long suspected and that is that Paul had all the makings of an all star father. His patience and love have guaranteed that his off spring would do Paul proud.

Bu Paul shares a common characteristic with all people I’ve ever met: he’s not perfect. I could omit reference to his shortcomings but that would render this writing meaningless hagiography and deprive of it of a crucial point.

So sure, Paul has his imperfections (I hasten to add they are few in number and none are serious). Over the years with me he became self absorbed and omitted me from our conversations. I often felt that I was sitting through a monologue rather than participating in a dialogue. As my career changed Paul showed little curiosity in my new doings. Often when I made observations or offered opinions Paul would gratuitously contradict me. People have been guilty of far worse. I finally tired of feeling like a second class citizen and let Paul know it in no uncertain terms. Did I look Paul square in the eye and articulate my grievances? No I wrote an email and my tone did not leave open the possibility of reconciliation. I can be and have been a grade A idiot. To Paul’s great credit he responded most graciously and acknowledged his behavior. I then spent several years having second thoughts about what I’d done. And not trying to rectify it.

It is true that I am bipolar. Generally speaking this causes periods of bottom feeding depression. It can also cause me to be impulsive and stubborn and to get stuck in situations. No excuses though, I own what I did. I have learned an important life lesson that I want to here pass along: if you have enjoyed a long term friendship, you have participated in a great gift of life, don’t squander it. If issues arise between you and your friend, resolve them openly and honestly and try to maintain contact. Friends are far too valuable to toss aside.

I finally reached out to Paul after years in an effort to make amends. It was shortly thereafter that I discovered  that he finds himself in a physical struggle. It’s the kind of thing he doesn’t deserve to be saddled with but that he is just tough enough a customer to handle.

I wish I’d been there for him from the beginning of that struggle and I hope he knows I’m with him in spirit now and that I regret those years of playing the aggrieved. When you spend years building a strong friendship there's no sense in abandoning it.

Paul deserves all the love and respect I can provide. He’s a damn good friend because he’s a goddamned good person.

16 May 2017

Happiness, Depression, Wanting More Visions, No High is Good Enough -- The Ordinary Thoughts of a Bi Polar Man

Myrna Loy, I'd welcome a chat with her ghost.


“But I remember seeing a mess of leaves suddenly go skittering in the wind and into the creek, then floating rapidly down the creek towards the sea, making me feel a nameless horror even then of 'Oh my God, we're all being swept away to sea no matter what we know or say or do.” 
-- From Big Sur by Jack Kerouac

I was really happy for a little while. I’d had a good run after seeing my psychiatrist and been productive all day. It can go like that. Pure joy. Body feels supernatural, energy coursing through veins. Anything possible, the future an open lane two carriages wide, lined with flowers and I can stroll, strut, saunter, amble, sprint, dash down it any way I want. Then — clink — something happens. It’s small. No permanent damages, no hurt feelings. Just an annoyance really. And I’m falling through the trapdoor with the nice, tight noose around my neck. Back in the doldrums. And is there any point even trying to crawl back out. Surrounded by the dire black of inescapable sorrow.

These things happen. Endings come. There is death. There is pain. There is suffering. There is injustice. There is the unyielding burden of living with a brain that sometimes sees only the enveloping storm clouds. Bitter. Hungry for hope. Starved.

Anxiety visits from time to time. Reeling and rollicking and kicking up a storm, making the mind a twisting reckless guidance system. It can overwhelm too. Take over the central nervous system. Oh god please not that lack of control that terror, silently hysterical. But I…I who am nothing…I who for some moments of some days is everything…I hold on and carry on.

I don’t miss work. I show up and I never alter a lesson that I’m about to teach because of “how I’m feeling.” Professionalism. For me its power supersedes “feelings” or pain or discomfort of fear or even that horrible rash — rashes — I’ve suffered and I do mean suffered.

Sidebar: My psychiatrist put me on lamictal which is a mostly effective drug for people with bipolar disorder. We gradually started to increase in hopes of positive results. Instead the increase brought a rash — on the arms, legs, back and feet — that was pervasive and angry and itched like hell. I mean it, like hell because surely if there was such a place it would be home to such mad desire to scratch, a desire so all encompassing that one bled from the scratching. Off the lamictal I went and on to abillify which is known to be equally effective. It proved equally effective at causing the rash from hell. Wonder what’s next.

It’s critical to take care of what’s in front of you. Work has to be done, appointments kept, chores finished, exercising and eating and sleeping must be maintained. Sure the depression will fight you on some of these but you’ve got to push through enemy lines whenever and wherever possible. One thing I have had to do is maintain my work ethic. I have students who expect me not only to show up but to put on my usual show. I need to educate and entertain and be responsive and sensitive and clever and flexible and aware of classroom dynamics. This I do. It is what I am proud of. Depression, you do not stop me from teaching. Period.

I see things now. Oh I know they aren’t real, they’re just visions and they only last a few seconds and I generally don’t interact with them but they’re there as projected by my battered tattered brain. Sometimes I see a deceased relative or friend. It’s actually quite comforting. It gives me the feeling that they’re not completely dead that their live force and influence are still present in the world. I’d actually like to have more visions. Allen Ginsberg saw William Blake. How cool would that be? I’ve felt the presence of Ginsberg himself and of Kerouac and other notables but it’s always been rather vague and short-lived. I’d like an extended visit of an apparition that looked for all the world like a regular living human being and whose voice I could hear loud and clear and whose message was unassailable and clear. 

Thomas Wolfe would be nice. Maybe Malcolm X or Bobby Kennedy. I’d welcome Groucho Marx, Thomas Hardy, Christy Mathewson or any of a number of women like Marilyn Monroe, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mryna Loy, Joan of Arc or how about Josephine Baker? Whoever visited could sit right next to me here on the sofa and we could chat. I wouldn’t be freaked out at all. I’d ask some questions, get some advice, share some perspectives. It’d be fun and for me enlightening. If need be I wouldn’t share the visit with anyone. Or if it was acceptable I’d write about on this here blog or publish a piece in Hallucinator’s Monthly.

When I was a teenager I dropped acid a few times. I really like the hallucinations. I loved the way trees would seem to flow and have trails and be different colors and everything was a little off kilter. It was a different way of not just seeing but experiencing the world. I got a lot out of it and have spent much of my life believing that the only way one could achieve true and honest understanding of the world is through having experimented with hallucinogens. Then I had a bad trip. My god that was awful. It was too close to the feeling I got growing up with a schizophrenic mother. Everything was different and everything was bad, very bad, magnified bad. It was like being depressed only the depression was a living force that spoke to you in a maniacal cackle. It was around then that I had my first panic attack and whether my susceptibility to panic influenced my bad trip or the other way around, I cannot say.

A few times subsequent when I smoked some particularly strong marijuana I would get panicky. It was a calm panic. Kind of like receiving sobering news while getting blotto. My brain found booze to be the safest drug although I loved cocaine. Coke was especially good because it kept me awake for more liquor. How I did love to drink. There was never enough. Too much did not exist.

Getting high was like searching for the ultimate. But the ultimate what? The ultimate high? Sure, there was that but that was just part of the picture. I wanted women, the perfect one and the perfect night of sex and I wanted to have great deep conversations with brilliant people and reach profound insights. I wanted to hear the best music and dance and feel the glory of a thousand victories and soar among the clouds and travel the world all in that one night. Usually I just managed to get stinking drunk and wake up the next day with a vicious hangover that I would eventually require a hair of the dog to assuage.

I've been clean for decades. Better to wage the wars against mental illness. Somehow I never despair. Not even when in the worst of depression. There is still a voice somewhere telling me that there is an end to this tunnel and I will reach it. Just hang in there. And so I do. I'm sticking around for when the good days start piling up, dozens upon dozens in a row and I can smile everyday and not just pursue happiness, but be pursued by it. Right on.

10 May 2017

What's Happening With the Usually Benighted Author of this Here Blog

My good friend Rihanna who I recently accompanied to a dental appointment.
Some people have told me that they keep up with my doings by checking my blog every now and again. I imagine this is not an ideal way to follow yours truly as quite often I write reminiscences or about films or my views on pterodactyl hunting. Then again if depression, panic or paranoid delusions have me in there grip readers will be kept up to date. Be that as it may, as a service to those of you who want to know “waz up?” with me, I provide this laundry list of my recent doings. I do this primarily because there’s been a lot going on with me lately that I’ve not taken time to write about and I believe much of would be of interest to the general reader, not to mention my acquaintances, friends, associates, colleagues, confidants, paramours, chums, pals, homeboys, bitter rivals, enemies, neighbors and stalkers and stalkees.

So here’s the latest.

Two weeks ago I continued my top secret work as an agent for a foreign country (you seriously don’t think I can tell you which one, do you?). I snuck into the pentagon and took photos of highly sensitive documents. Later I did the same over at the CIA. Was caught in the act at one point so had to liquidate a security guard — my condolences to the Clank family of Virginia Beach.

I recently dined with the Baron and Baroness Von Hapsburg at their lovely chalet in the Strudel Mountains. The Baron had recently defended his wife’s honor (which is more than she's ever done) in a duel with a Romanian Count and was none the worse for wear.

Last week I looked up the word "sonorous" in the dictionary and spent a few days inserting it into conversations. My friends found this to be somewhat sonorous on my part while co-workers found me sonorous for doing it. Family members responded sonorously.

My bagpipe lessons have continued with great success. My teacher, Mr. McGillicuddy, says that within a few decades I'll be able to graduate from rank beginner. Neighborhood dogs continue to howl in protest whenever I play but I carry on undaunted.

Discovered that the capacity to forgive and the willingness to do so is the greatest power we hold as humans.

Whirled and whirring and finding folly in loving lashes of pure perfection made me more happily heroic. Sorta.

Ran afoul of the law. Nothing serious, mind you. Suffice to say that that's the last time I carry explosives with me. The officers were pretty good about the whole thing although my bazooka has been confiscated. Thank goodness I'd left my howitzer at home.

Created a bridge of understanding between people of divergent backgrounds with dissimilar life experiences and world views. Ate a muffin.

Vacationed in the Congo staying at my cousin Mugabe Hourula's house. Wrestled a gorilla. Then stopped off in Haifa to see my cousin Chaim Hourula. Sat seder.

Watched some re-runs of The Newlywed Game and thereby gained insight into the origins of the solar system. Witnessed the big bang during a hallucination which was precipitated by viewing too many car commercials.

Learned to speak fluent Iroquois. Carried on a long but one sided conversation with a deaf mute who turned out to be Apache. Sometimes I've got no luck.

Translated the Merriam-Webster dictionary into pig latin with the help of my friend Vaughn Castlemack who, it turns out, is deceased. He fooled me.

Babysat some Victoria Secrets models. We had a pillow fight and ate fennel.

Continued to dig for buried treasure, have thus far been only to find some priceless relics which I'm selling on eBay.

Danced by the light of the silvery moon. This was my first such experience having mistakenly danced by the light of the slivery moon in the past.

Tried to write a list of people who are bigger idiots than Donald Trump. After managing only the names of a few Fox News commentators, republican congressmen and tin pot dictators I gave up.

Bought low and sold high. Made a nickel in the process.

Performed my one man show at Carnegie Hall. My revue included a full orchestra and a group of actors and some can can dancers as I am unclear on the concept. Also played the trumpet for an a cappella choir, further establishing my bona fides as Mr. Unclear on the Concept. Thank you. Next I will be writing scripts for my improv group and dialogue for a mime troupe.

Dug in my heels. Made a stand. Refused to yield. Stuck to my guns. Held firm. Double downed. Battened down the hatches. Held the fort.

Personally escorted Rihanna to her dentist appointment, sat in the waiting room reading Redbook which was not a book at all.

Having developed the capacity to read minds I wondered the city streets and was shocked to find out how many people were thinking about micro waved macaroni and cheese. Was mildly surprised that so many women found me irresistibly attractive.

Join the US navy and promptly went AWOL. Am working on a full length novel regarding this experience.

Led a polar expedition only to find out once there that the North Pole has long since been discovered. Still wanting to make history recorded the first polka danced on the polar surface. New dance craze started called the Polar Polka performed by Pete and Pat Patterson the Polar Polka Princes. High Times magazine gave us four stars.

And just the other day I diverted attention, stole the spotlight, hammed it up, ran the gamut, played the fool, kept it on the down low, reached for the stars, chased my dreams, stooped to conquer, picked my spots, went all out, left nothing to chance, played the odds, waxed poetic, said my piece, played a hunch, ran amuck, took it to the limit, threw caution to the wind and wrapped it up.

As for today, well, I wrote a rather silly blog post about my recent doings. Am thus far undecided about whether I should post it. Will consult with my imaginary friend, Olaf. “What say you friend, Olaf?”

So it appears to be a go.

09 May 2017

The Code Word is Aardvark - or - How Antonioni's L'Eclisse Could be a Spy Movie


I was watching Antonioni’s masterful film, L’Eclisse on DVD. Early on two characters are speaking. I know a little Italian but not enough to render subtitles extraneous. So I’m reading them during the conversation. The male character asks the female (played by Monica Vitti) if she’d like him to call her later. This is ably translated and shown in the subtitles. Vitti’s character responds by saying what sounds like the word, “no.” However this is not translated and viewers not conversant in Italian are left to wonder if the Italian sound “no” means the same in their language as it does in English. For all anyone knows the “no” sound in Italian could mean something else entirely like, “aardvark.” (It doesn’t but I’m making a point here.)

So you’re watching L’Eclisse let’s say for the first time, you’re still in the first scene and a character utters a word that you can’t be sure means “no” and may in fact mean “aardvark.” So if the latter you’re going to speculate as to why a person would answer a question regarding making a phone call by naming an animal, one that is, according to my good friends at Wikipedia: “….a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal native to Africa. It is the only living species of the order Tubulidentata, although other prehistoric species and genera of Tubulidentata are known. The aardvark is sometimes colloquially called ‘African ant bear’ ‘anteater’ (not to be confused with the South American anteater), or the ‘Cape anteater’ after the Cape of Good Hope.”

You’d likely consider that perhaps the use of the word “aardvark” was code and that the two characters were spies. This would lead to speculation regarding the sudden use of a code word. Did they suspect that there were listening devices in the house? Was the question about calling later a coded message? Could there have been other coded messages within their dialogue? Will all this be revealed to us later in the film or is this one of those deals where we’ll have to ‘read the book.’ And if we do have to read the book what if it’s out of print and hard to get? Or what if the book is really long or what if it sucks or what if it is both long and sucks. That could put one in a deuce of a pickle.

All of this confusion is just based on a supposition that aardvark was the untranslated word. Maybe the untranslated word was “sure.” Thus the woman was inviting a phone call later in the evening. Changes everything though not as much as if the word was aardvark. Of course if the answer was “sure” maybe it was sarcastic. It’s not worth thinking about. It’s also perhaps not worth thinking about the thousands of other words that he woman might have said. A lot of them would be similar to aardvark in that they would not seem to make sense in answering the question. Examples include: sycamore, lioness, pulverize, curricular, bassoon, ensign or umbrella. Again if it was one of these words or a similarly obscure one, it could only mean that the word was code.

This actually might serve to pique the viewer’s interest. Someone without foreknowledge of the movie could find themselves excited at the prospect of a spy thriller with Miss Monica Vitti as the lovely heroine. Maybe this would also feature the Italian James Bond. After all Alain Delon, then a young dashing figure, was the listed co star and he could more than fill the bill as a suave secret agent. Could this mean that Monica Vitti would be a fellow agent? Surely not an enemy one? It would not seem that she would be a vulnerable femme fatale who needed rescuing or an evil seductress. Too big a star for that.
Further complications would arise as the viewer was forced to look for other spoken words that contained hidden meanings. The mind boggles. A couple of scenes early in the film would compound the viewer’s confusion. One takes place in the apartment of a friend of our main character. The friend is recently returned from a long stay in Kenya and has an apartment decorated with African art. Ms. Vitti’s character dons some African attire, darkens her face and dances to tribal music. It’s an odd scene but if one is convinced that they are watching a spy film it takes on additional and more mysterious meanings. Especially when the hosts tires of playing African. Another scene (and indeed there are others there) unfolds in Rome’s stock market and of course international financial intrigue is just the stuff of the spy genre. At one point Ms. Vitti follows a man who she has been told has that day lost millions. We were to believe that she is curious about how someone reacts to taking such a beating but our heroine pilfers a napkin he doodled on. She shows the doodles to Alain Delon. Surely they contain a message central to the entire plot. The failure to translate the word sounding like “no” has now born serious consequences in the mind of the viewer.

Later Mr. Delon’s car is stolen. This would further suggest to confused viewers that spy games are afoot. Surely the car contained vital secrets or was specially equipped. The next morning the car is dredged from a river. There is a body in the car but does it belong to the thief or more importantly to an enemy spy? Was something extracted from the car? One is left to wonder.

The mysteries pile up for our befuddled viewer. The languid pace, the long silent stretches, the shots of buildings, trees rustling in the wind, street lights, people walking seemingly without direction. What does it all mean? And how does one explain the ever-changing nature of the Vitti-Delon interactions. Of course there are no references to aardvark anymore, at least nothing that one can detect.

L’Eclisse finally ends, more like stops and the word “Fine” appears on the screen. Is this the Italian variation of “The End”? Or is this another message? Does it mean everything is fine? One can go mad trying to decipher the hidden meanings. All this because of the failure to translate the “no” sound. But this may be a wasted exercise, though, because sometimes no means no.