25 February 2013

I Hope You Find This Offensive

Ya know how people say: don't get me wrong. I'm the opposite. Please get me wrong. Totally wrong. Misinterpret what I say. Take it out of context. Develop a mistaken impression of me. And those words you took out of context? Twist them. See me as what I am not. Pervert your limited understanding of me. Assume the worst. Misconstrue to your hearts content. Fail to grasp my meaning. Mistake my sarcasm for heartfelt convictions.

Now that we've got that out of the way....


For crying out loud stop offending people. Don't use the n word (nigger) the f word (fag). Don't use the q word (queer). Don't use the r word (retarded). Please do not make fun of people's weight -- no fat shaming. Sticks and stones may break bones but words will bloody well kill a person. This is what we need to be focused on as a society. Forget hunger poverty drug abuse domestic abuse crime gang activity incarceration rates. Never mind economic disparities. That's hard stuff. Here's what we should be worrying about: Lena Dunham got a tweet from comedian Lisa Lampanelli that had a picture of the two of them and the caption was: "Me with my nigga ... I love this beyotch!!" I know pretty awful isn't it? Well the worst part is that Dunham didn't immediately distance herself from the tweet and lambaste Lampanelli. It took FOUR DAYS for Dunham to say: "That's not a word I would EVER use. Its implications are beyond my comprehension. I was made supremely uncomfortable by it, perhaps I should have addressed it, but the fact is I've learned that Twitter debates breed more Twitter debates." And that -- of course -- simply was not good enough. An abject public apology in the middle of Times Square by Dunham and a subsequent public quartering of Lampanelli was called for. There were entire columns dedicated to taking Dunham to task for not beating Lamapanelli to death with a shovel. These are the defining issues of our generation. Making sure that we are very careful with what we say. African Americans don't need better schools or job programs they need offensive terms about them not being used by white women.

This freedom of speech business has gone on long enough.

We saw it at the Oscars last night too. People making jokes. A few on twitter called out host Seth MacFarlane for "fat shaming" humor and conflating gays with musicals. Homophobe! Fat people should not be subject to the ridicule of comics. Do you realize how difficult it is to say no to a donut? Or three? Obesity is no joke (it's actually a way of life in America). And let's not stereotype gay people for comic purposes. Or anyone else. Feelings might be hurt. Might. You never know. What if you make a joke or comment and someone is -- heaven forbid -- offended? What then?

From a blog post by the great Dick Cavett: I’ve never quite understood why this word — “offended” — is so horrifying. What doesn’t offend somebody? And who wants to see, read or write anything that is simon-pure in its inability to offend those dreaded “someones”? Anyone working in the media can tell you that there seems to be an always-ready-to-explode segment of the populace for whom offense is a fate worse than anything imaginable. You’d think offense is one of the most calamitous things that could happen to a human being; right up there with the loss of a limb, or just missing a parking space.

What is our obligation to the offendees? To help them limit their suffering by avoiding all offense? With what advice?

You could stay in the house, watch no TV, read nothing of any kind including potentially upsetting snail mail or e-mail, and you just might manage to glide through an offense-free day. No surly neighbor, no near-misses by unpunished, demented, sidewalk-riding cyclists, no cab driver letting other cabs in ahead of yours while distractedly nattering on his phone in no known language. Stay cocooned and you will risk no insults from rude waiters, no pain from gruff clerks, no snarls from any employees of United Airlines.

As you can tell I'm bloody sick and tired of people being defended from words. How about a defense from actions and deeds? That's where real damage can be done.

We want to live in a zoloft world where it's always sunny and everyone is careful about what they say and no offensive is taken or given and originality is sanitized before being presented for public consumption. Chew all the life out of it. Pablum for everyone!

I'm glad we no longer live in a USA where black people are routinely called or referred to as nigger or any of the other countless derogatory terms that were hurled about. I'm glad we're sensitive to the plight of all minorities and strive for equality in the workplace and in our culture. I embrace multi culturalism and ethnic diversity. I'm glad gay people can come out of the closet and people with disabilities are accommodated. I just wish




talk and joke and tweet and text and speechify and orate and chat and email without this constant nagging fear that we MAY be "offending" someone. Maybe. Cause ya know....

I hope you found this offensive and don't get me wrong. Unless you really want to.

19 February 2013

"Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I never wanted another."

Writing sometimes comes out of anger or depression. Rarely from ennui. But sometimes....I made Apocalypse Now (1979) my President's Day celebration film. How about that.

People spend a lot of time numbing their lives. Television. You tube. Chores. Mundane everyday tasks.  It's not escapism but avoidance. At the beginning of Apocalypse Now Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) talks about the impossibility of being at home in the states after his first tour in Nam. "When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle." Many war veterans have said the same thing. Because for all its horror war reminds a person that he is alive. They are wide awake to life and that awareness is like a drug. Imagine having that horrible acid trip that is war the whole time wanting to come down from it then once down wanting to drop another tab. Oh man.

It's no surprise that the film has the feel of an acid trip. From the opening shots of the helicopter The Doors singing "The End" and the jungle going up in flames through the journey up the river culminating with the insanity of Col. Kurtz it is a long very strange trip.

Yeah the helicopters. I've had a thing for helicopters every since high school when one poured tear gas down on me and thousands of others gathered on the Cal campus to protest the Viet Nam War. Seminal moment. These were not enemy choppers and I was not an armed combatant. From curious bystander to instant radical. The sound of those blades chopping through the air....Still. Today. 

There's a lot of helicopter action in Apocalypse Now. There are copters raining death from above on a Vietnamese village. The airborne cavalry. There's Robert Duvall extolling the smell of napalm in the morning. It's one of the many oft repeated lines from the film.  Like another Coppola masterpiece -- The Godfather (1972) -- Apocalypse Now is much remembered for its quotes and for its iconic characters. But these are just the ornaments of a kaleidoscopic and weighty epic. It is a heavy heavy movie sometimes feeling like an enthralling nightmare that won't end. It is humorless but beautiful. Despairing of humanity. At once an embrace of the warrior mentality and repudiation of it. Kurtz is hero villain victim. So are all soldiers. Instantly tragic figures caught up in a game played by politicians.

Ultimately Apocalypse Now is about madness and how it lives such a rich full life just beneath the human surface and is able to reign freely and easily where man make war. Kurtz was the model soldier who eventually fell into his own special abyss of insanity in which murder cloaked in battle made so much sense. Surely Duvall's Kilgore is a nut. Surfing through the war and playing Wagner.

Apocalypse Now is remarkably free of tension and there is little real contemplation of death. There is shock and mourning as Willard's crew meet their fates but these and other deaths are props in a story more heavy with the weight of group psychosis and savagery. It is no accident that Kurtz uses the word horror for this is a horror story. The beasts are men driven to acts that would be incomprehensible in other circumstances. But war...They are alternately manic and like zombies. Bouncing from one extreme emotional state in the next. Adrenalin coursing through their beings then suddenly abating replaced by overwhelming lethargy.

How does one go back to normal after living in among and as such madness? No wonder returning vets so often succumbed to drug addiction. It was the only way to replace the intense feeling of living not on but over the edge. The higher wire act. The craziness. The roller coaster without wheels.

13 February 2013

Lunchtime Reverie and Thoughts on Sunset Blvd.

Lunchtime trip to Ferry Building to buy Valentine's Day gift.

Had  a seared sea bass sandwich as a reward for good deed.


Cane forlorn on the ground at trolley stop. How does one leave a cane behind?

Smattering of tourists. Not long before they'll be here in droves. Traveling in a drove not always recommended.

On the trolley back reading Joyce's Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and listening to The Who. Nice.

Heading back to school/work pass a badly diabetic obese woman in a wheelchair. Then a a bearded old mendicant carrying two shopping bags. He reeks to high heaven and to low hell and parts in between.

Sun is out after a foggy morning. No rain to speak of here since New Year's. Depressingly dry.

San Francisco is prettier in the fog.

Class went well this morning. Had students present on an area of expertise. Heard about Japanese poetry, motorbikes, dogs, nursing, journalism, soup and how awful Hugo Chavez is. All but one of the Venezuelan students I've ever had -- who has ventured an opinion -- detests Chavez. Woman today was the second recently to say that she wished he was dead. Passionate.

Watched Sunset Blvd. (1950) last Saturday. It's in my top ten. Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) reminds me more of my dear old mom in her latter days. The days when dementia was mixing in with schizophrenia and alcoholism for a spicy mix of eccentric insanity. She was a caution what with her cigarette holder and her 1940s lingo and odd phrasing and paranoid rants and cackling laugh. Was she perhaps channeling her own interpretation of Swanson's Desmond? Was that her? The Cal and Colombia educated housewife who was such a lovely woman and caring mother in moments of clarity. (But who's to say? Perhaps the clarity was when she was raging against hangover bugs planted by the mob or the government).  Watching the film I could taste the sickly sweet champagne that Desmond and mom would have served.

Sunset Blvd. is an amazing film for its infinity of layers. The possessed young man who is the unwitting lover confessor companion of a living relic. Unable to escape his own submission to her twisted will. And there lurks the man (Erich von Stroheim) who discovered bedded married and now caters to the faded and fading and utterly mad star. Oedipus meets Frankenstein meets Hemingway meets Lothario meeting Miss Havisham. Ready for your close up indeed as Bill Holden's Joe Gillis floats. Wasn't he always floating? Never really secure on the ground on his own two feet. Course cause no money. The repossession of the car withheld as his soul was taken. His pride.

Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett co write one of the greatest scripts ever and Wilder directed. It is an amazingly timeless film given its plot and setting. And say... who could have had the audacity to come up with that New Year's Eve scene? A band and no guests. The creepiness. The out and out sadness of what is less a seduction and more a rape. The audacity to create such an emotionally chilling scene and the brilliance to pull it off....Well that's cinema at its best.

So lucky.

04 February 2013

Today's Commute Clocks in at Under an Hour Despite More Out of Service Escaltors

I'm on BART coming home and thinking about how amazing it is that I'm actually a functioning contributing member of society. I have so far avoided institutionalization. I maintain a job. Look presentable and bath daily. I can string together enough coherent sentences to pass as a teacher of English to students from throughout the world. There are no warrants out for my arrest and I have an impressive string of consecutive 24 hours without partaking of drugs or spirits. I am baffled by this and look around at my fellow commuters reckoning they surely must see me as a fraud. I can't possibly belong among these bankers and lawyers and secretaries and accountants and others who own large suburban homes and sprawling lawns and smiling spouses and children at some stage of development that will eventually end in Princeton class reunions. I am a relative pauper a bohemian a socialist troublemaker espousing free love. Surely they've sussed me out and are letting me ride at out of a sense of noblesse oblige. Maybe some day they'll turn me out and send me on my way to a rock pile a mad house or a cardboard box under an overpass. For now they pretend I'm one of them -- a regular guy. After all I sport a tweed jacket and a tie and recently dry cleaned slacks and three figure dress shoes. It is perhaps odd that I read an actual book rather than a kindle or the popular option of staring at my iPhone checking stock quotes (truth be told I don't know stock quotes from Marcel Proust quotes).

I got to BART via a trolley car wonderfully free of tourists. I'm so absorbed in my reading that I pay no mind to all but a few of my fellow travelers. There is one attractive lass who I soon notice is holding an edition of our school's text book. I've never seen her before so she is likely one of the newbies who had orientation today. I may well see her in a class of mine tomorrow and thus have a pang of regret that I spent so much as a second ogling her. The student teacher relationship can't be sullied by lascivious thoughts let alone actions. I hasten to make clear at this point that I do not look upon any member of the farer sex with impure thoughts as I am enjoying a blissfully happy marriage. But still men do have hormones and wandering eyes.....

Descending into the bowels of BART's Embarcadero Station I have to actually walk down to the main level as the escalator is out of service. BART escalators are as reliable a drunk's memory. On my journey home two of the three escalators I encounter will be on the fritz. I am an unabashed fan of escalators. Much as I like exercise I enjoy having my walking being done for me. I often marvel at people who are in such a hurry to get from here to there that they actually walk or even run up or down escalators. It bespeaks a kind of hurried lifestyle I find unnerving. Escalators whisper leisure luxury and ease. They spare knees ankles and thighs needless wear and tear. They are moving stairs for crying out loud. Beat that.

My wait for the trolley car departure had been less than a minute and my wait for the BART train is just at a minute. There will be a bus waiting when I get off BART and I'll have to make a dash to catch it. This combined good fortune means that I walk into my abode just 56 minutes after leaving work. Nice. The bus driver was just pulling away as I got to the vehicle. Many a driver will carry on and leave a frustrated soul behind in such circumstances. This driver is soft hearted and I express my gratitude. The bus ride is only a few minutes long -- not enough time to bother opening a book. At the stop near the Safeway there is the usual cadre of college students with groceries. They invariably manage to bump someone -- in this case me. College students have become increasingly awkward over the years as if some aspects of adolescence have become delayed. They swing backpacks bags and elbows with abandon. Sharing busses with them makes one practice patience and self defense.

The wife is late coming home so I get some work out of the way catch up on twitter and study a bit of Italian.  When she finally gets in we do not leap into one anothers arms but both beam broadly and get down to the serious and pleasurable business of hugs and kisses and how was your days.

Once greetings are complete I will enjoy a humble meal. Questions?

02 February 2013

People Watching on Public Transportation and a Digression About Pretty Women

People who never ride public transportation are missing out.

What a trip -- pun intended.

Yesterday on BART. A nice quiet crack whore. Her skin looked like dried molasses. She had on flip flops with little plastic sunflowers on them. Her toes were like elongated raisins. She was meditative and oddly calm. Bony scraggly haired with a dirty dress/housecoat  that given her body mass looked like it was draped over a chair. She was a cleaner crack whore than one normally sees. She was probably somebody's mother and maybe a grandma to boot. Age is hard to determine with such people but I wanna say 40s. When I taught middle school I had a few students over the years whose mommas were crack whores. Other students had mommies and daddys who were lawyers and authors and such. Mixed bag.

There was a chubby 30ish white woman wearing a shirt that said "I Hecka Love Oakland." Except instead of the word love there was heart. A heart means love in case you didn't know. I wondered about anyone who would wear a shirt that said they "hecka" liked or loved or hearted anything. But especially Oakland. One would think that anyone afflicted with a fondness for Oakland would want to keep it a secret. Anyway she seemed happy in a dubious sort of unsentimental way. For some people happiness is a fall back feeling without any real feeling to it. Maybe she's a constitutional scholar or a bio chemist but she looked for all the world like someone not saddled with intellect.

There was a man sitting on a sideways seat talking to a friend who was sitting in the adjacent front ways seat. He wore clean work jeans with cuffs and boots giving himself the appearance of a working poet or a communist longshoreman. Especially given his dark bushy beard and dark bushy hair and dark bushy eyebrows. He was a serious and intent talker. He looked his nondescript friend in the eye as they spoke and his eyes were no more than a couple of feet from his companion. I don't know what they were talking about but it seemed damned important. An anarchist plot or publication of a new book or Israel. There was a real Israel/Palestine vibe. That must of been it.

I also couldn't help but notice the pretty woman on my car. She was totally obsessed with her iPhone. I know it's unusual in this day and age to find a young person who'll spare a minute for their poor neglected smart phone. She had beautiful long brown hair and was dressed smart/casual. But her efforts to wear make up without seeming to wear make up hadn't worked because she looked like someone wearing make up who was trying not to look like she was wearing make up.

When you're happily married and of a certain age all the pressure of noticing a pretty woman is gone. In single younger days you had to wonder if you should try to say something. If you don't it could be a missed opportunity that you'd regret onto your dying day and perhaps well beyond -- the kicking of yourself that you'd do. So you'd have to assess if this was someone you'd really like to get to know and by get to know. So okay maybe she seems shallow and uninteresting and you can safely say "thanks but no thanks" unless you're under the influence which is a whole different matter entirely. So you think this might "work." Is there an opening to say something? If so, what. That's always a killer. Okay I want to say something but what? It's got to be clever -- preferentially relevant to the moment. Once  in my 20s I was sitting at a table in the public library across from a gorgeous young thing who I'd exchanged a smile with. She seemed smart -- hello, in a library -- and natural and interesting and accessible. My brilliant idea was to write a clever note -- a speciality of mine. I composed a doozy. It demonstrated that I was funny and smart and had a way with words and no I don't remember a single letter of it. I was quite proud of it and was about to slide it across the table when Hercules sat down next to her and she greeted him with a kiss. I threw the fucking note away.

I observed these people and more although I swear to Vishnu that I was reading and listening to music the whole time. Veteran public transportation riders can do this. You're welcome.