30 May 2016

Oh My! The Topic Today is S-E-X But it's all Pretty PG-13

My birthday was three months ago which means this is the anniversary of my conception. I don’t remember it, of course, I mean that was a long time ago. I don’t even remember my birth so I can hardly be expected to recall the night — or day — that my parents made love and created me. I was never grossed out by the idea of my parents “doing it” as most young people are. There are a few reasons for this. One is that I actually saw them “doing it “once. I think I was about ten years old. It was a Saturday morning and I was looking for more sugar to put on my cereal (can you imagine? I mean it was certainly some sort of artificially sweetened cereal to begin with). I was sitting in front of the TV watching cartoons as was my want on Saturday mornings.  The sugar bowl was nowhere to be found so I figured that my folks had it with them in their bedroom as they enjoyed breakfast in bed with coffee. My dad always put a spoonful of sugar in his coffee. So I innocently strolled into their room only to find my father atop my mother. I had a vague sense of what was going on but, of course didn’t want to think about it too clearly. It’s no big thing as a kid to ignore what’s right before your eyes.  My parents noticed my presence. I’ll never forget their contrasting reactions. Dad greeted me with a huge smile and asked, “what can I do for you, sonny boy?” My mother kind of growled, “what!?” with a frown. I indicated the sugar, took it and got outta Dodge.

This was not long before my mother’s insanity totally overcame her and she couldn’t maintain a facade of normality in front of anyone. She moved out of the master bedroom and I’m pretty sure there was no more nookie for my father. It was the most understandable thing in the world when a few years later he had a few affairs and eventually divorced mom and took up with a much younger woman who, as he told me, “did everything” in the sack.

My father was always very frank with me about sex. He dispensed advice including that in order not to climax too soon I should think about pushing a wheelbarrow as was his practice (I’ve gone with thinking about baseball, if you must now). He also told me that he and mom had enjoyed a healthy sex life until she went round the bend. Of course it’s unfathomable that he would have spoken so candidly about sex with a daughter — if he had had one.

It’s remarkable how much time people spend talking and thinking about sex. From my understanding this is mostly a male phenomenon. It’s not just fun, it’s so central to how we feel about other people. Men and women are different about sex and I’m sure this is something you’re aware of. Sex gets wrapped up into a lot of things. Primarily, of course love and relationships. Both those that have been time tested and those just beginning. Of course sex is often used in very bad ways like for power and revenge. It can also be used for comfort. Some people are addicted and I’ve met a few. Like any addiction its not healthy. It perverts a beautiful experience by making it a compulsion.

(I was a regular attendee at a 12 step meeting which, for a short time, was frequented by a gorgeous young woman. It was impossible not to glance in her direction every now and again and I wasn’t the only man doing so. We were all discreet and respectful about it. But one time she spoke and mentioned that in addition to alcohol, she was a sex and love addict. Wow. My jaw dangled a bit — I’m human — and I noticed several other men with their mouths agape. I suppose it was kind of funny. However years later I became good friends with a gent who was in recovery for both drugs and alcohol and sex and love. I told him the story I’ve just here related. He said that what she did was a no-no in the sex and love recovery community. You’re never supposed to tell anyone outside the group and she knew exactly what she was doing. She was messing with us. He said he’d done the same at various times. Live and learn.)

One of the interesting things to me about sex is that it can simultaneously not live up to expectations and be a wonderful, fantastic, amazing experience. I don't get that, but it's true.

Some people have sex with people who are of the same gender. Good for them. Whatever makes you happy. The odd thing is how objectionable some people find this. Imagine. The activity two consenting adults engage in behind closed doors being a matter of concern to a person because of their warped interpretation of a religion. I just don’t get that. The people who get bothered by other peoples’ sexual habits are often themselves people who do not believe in premarital sex. Talk about stupid. One of the biggest problems with sex is how so many people — usually for religious reasons — try to stifle the natural desires people have for it. Some people even get uptight about masturbation. Seriously. Talk about victimless. There’s no chance anyone is being coerced during masturbation (is there? I don’t think you can force yourself or pressure yourself or get yourself drunk to do it.).

Then there’s prostitution. Boy has that gotten a bad name. Logically it makes no sense whatsoever that its not legal. In fact it would make more sense for it to be legal. Legality would make it safer from pimps and STDs and think of what the government could rake in on taxes.

Thanks to the internet you can watch sex anytime you want. This is called porn which is short for pornography. Here's the first definition of pornography as provided by my good friends at Merriam-Webster: the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement. Doesn't sound so bad when you put it that way. Most of what you can see is staged but it's still sex. A lot of is kinky and appeals to specific fetishes and unfortunately a lot of it debases women It’s a shame  that so many men enjoy seeing women depicted as sluts and bitches. I don’t really know what should be done about it or if its even worth thinking about. Perhaps the best thing society can do is create a culture in which women are not called ugly names, not hit, not demeaned and not objectified. The last one is a tough one because it's quite natural for a man to want to look at pretty women. It just is. But then looking is one thing, acting on it is another.

I love women. I married one and had two as children. I like hanging out with the women at work because they are nicer, warmer and more nurturing than men. There might still be wars if all the world’s leaders were men but I’m guessing there’d be less. A lot. I do hope that women keep us men around. We are functional creatures. We come in handy for certain tasks, can make good sex partners and we’re pretty good at sports.

Anyway, its time for me to celebrate my conception. Can't believe no one sent a card.

26 May 2016

Smiley Faces, Depression, A Commute Story and a Baseball Game

Some people write smiley faces on notes. I don’t understand why. But it really doesn’t bother me. Not at all. I don’t do it but other people do. So that’s okay. People are different from one another.  I’ll bet you noticed that.
Sometimes I feel like a darkness has descended in me. It doesn’t obstruct my vision but it does keep me from being happy. It’s a physical force that settles in and gets comfortable. If I’m busy at work I don’t notice it so much. But when I stop work or when I pause in my writing -- like I just did -- then I feel it.

The worst thing about it may be that it sometimes feel like its supposed to be there and that any reprieve is temporary. It’ll be back. Like I’m supposed to live with it. Get used to it. Accept it. I don’t want it around, though. I want to enjoy every day. Well, as much as possible. It’s hard to enjoy your day if your bus is 20 minutes late. But for the most part there are good things in my life that I enjoy. But if the blackness takes over there’s no enjoying anything. There’s just the sadness. Anything I think about, no matter how wonderful, feels awful. Isn’t that terrible? You have something exciting to look forward to but you only feel empty and sad when you think about it.

Once the pain was so awful that I got an insight into why people commit suicide. If that’s all there is in your life and its compounded by other events like ill health or the loss of a loved one or poverty, then I can see how being riddled with unhappy thoughts could make life unbearable. Right now everything is jake with me so I’m not a candidate and I understand your asking.
I was on the bus. An elderly Chinese man sat down next to me. I’ve seen him several times before and in each instance he was eating an apple. This occasion was no exception. I do not know why he likes to eat an apple on the bus. I do know that he is a very noisy apple eater. He's meticulous and take small bites but they are noisy ones. I’ve tolerated it before but this time I decided to move. I found an unoccupied seat. Well, not one occupied by a person. A teenage girl was sitting next to the seat and had her bag on it. This is okay if you are on a three quarters empty bus and more people are getting off than on. But this was a crowded bus going through a crowded area. So it was not okay, unless, of course, she immediately picked up her bag the instant someone showed an interest in the seat. She did not. I tried to get her attention but she would not look up from her iPhone and maybe could not hear me as she had her ear buds in. I made several efforts to awake the girl from this her stupor. No luck. I waved my hand in front of her face. She didn’t flinch. A gentleman sitting in front of her indicated that he was of the opinion that she was perhaps crazy. Finally someone offered me a seat and I took it. I was now sitting next to a someone who was man spreading. He was a man. His legs were spread and he looked comfy. I was forced to edge of the seat. Not comfy. I decided to just stand. I’d been standing for but a few seconds when a seat opened up. I took it. Remember I mentioned the guy in front of the teenage girl who had suggested she was maybe a bit off? Well his stop came and somehow the door closed before he could exit. He screamed “open the fucking door!” twice and to emphasize his point kicked the door repeatedly. The door opened. He left. So in terms of his suggestion about the girl being whacko, I guess it takes one to know one. The rest of the ride — what was left of it  — was blissfully uneventful.

The subway ride that followed was okay. I could have done without the driver barking into the intercom at each stop for people to “board on up.” I’ve heard other drivers say “board up.” What the hell is the “up” for? This driver was a real chatterbox who repeated information in great detail. The problem some people have when they speak in front of or to a group is that they try to sound smart and thus sound dumb. They use an excess of words and often pick the wrong ones. Here’s a tip: stick to what you know. The language you know. Don’t feel that you have to employ some fancy pants words. Sounding official often is to sound dumb. Also try not to be repetitive. I repeat, try not to be repetitive or repeat yourself or say the same thing over again maybe using different words as you cover the same ground employing alternate verbiage. See what I mean?
Monday night I went to a baseball game. This is something I used to do a lot of but now not so much. One reason is the price of tickets. While movie tickets have about doubled in the past 20 years, tickets to sports events have increased by 500% (I don’t have exact figures, I’m just spitballing here but I know I’m not far off. Maybe sometime soon I’ll research this.) In days of yore I could go to a ball game without even thinking about what it would do to my bankroll and buy one of the higher price seats. Now I’ve got to think long and hard about investing in a ducat. The game experience has also been negatively affected for me by all the extracurriculars that go on. When I was a kid we went to a game to see the game and to chow down ballpark food. Sometimes there was a bit of organ music between innings. You could actually sit and chat. Now you’re constantly bombarded by music, videos, contests, sing-a-longs and worse of all the kiss cam. Isn’t everybody sick of the kiss cam yet?

We’re raising a generation that expects all kinds of bells and whistles. Plus the younger set spends large portions at the ball yard staring at their damn phones (which makes the ballpark no different than anyplace else on the planet). I like to watch the game and talk about the game and talk about games of old and players of old and even non baseball topics. That’s entertainment enough for me. I guess this is a sign of my advancing years. It’s like the way that when I run I just run and don’t listen to music. There’s too much multi-tasking these days. People aren’t satisfied with doing just one thing.

I guess I'm something of a curmudgeon. 

22 May 2016

Laughing At Someone, Being a Good Citizen, Cowboy Hats and a Shopping for Clothes -- In Other Words You Get a Lot of Bang For Your Buck With this Post

This first bit was written on Thursday.

I laughed at a stranger. Didn’t mean it. Middle aged average looking man in front of me at Starbucks got his coffee. Instead of saying, “thank you,” he went with, “right on, man.” A chortle just shot out of me. It seemed so incongruous. A doofus hipster or an aging hippie can successfully go with, “right on, man,” but not a normal looking bloke. I tried to play it off like I was coughing but the gentlemen in question shot me two separate looks over his shoulder. They were both of the “what’s your problem?” variety. Hey, whattaya gonna do in a situation like that. Am I right? That guffaw is out there and if you can’t cover it with a cough you’re stuck with it. I don’t know what I’d have said if he’d asked me what the deal was.

Mind you, I don’t make a habit of committing social faux pas in public — who does? I’m a fairly respectable citizen (provided I continue my policy of not verbalizing some of the bizarre things I think — trust me, you don’t wanna know). I keep to myself. Maybe when frustrated I’ll let a sigh escape that’s a little too loud and people may catch me in an occasional eye roll but I’ve yet to bark at a stranger who didn’t snap at me first or nearly plow into me with his (I use the masculine pronoun because it’s always a male) bike. (What is it, by the way, with the entitled behavior of so damn many bicyclists? I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush here because the vast majority of people on bikes are minding their Ps and Qs, but there are way too many who feel traffic lights and stop signs are for cars only and people in crosswalks are there at their own peril and that a crowded sidewalk is a perfectly acceptable place for their wheeled conveyance and that slowly pedaling in front of cars is good and proper. Thanks for lessening your carbon footprints bicyclists but you are neither above the law nor granted carte blanche to do as you please. End of tirade.) As I was saying I’m probably as civil and polite and respectful of rules and regulations and anyone (a far cry from when I was hitting the sauce, lemme tell ya). In other words I’m good at being one of the faceless masses even though I feel special. Who don’t?

Speaking of laughing at people - cowboy hats. One thing I appreciate about living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area is that you don’t see people walking around (or for that matter sitting around) wearing cowboy hats. Some of you (I flatter myself that there are any people actually reading this drivel) may be wondering: what the heck is wrong with wearing a cowboy hat? To that I would answer: nothing. However I don’t think the cowboy hat suggests that the person underneath possesses a great intellect, or indeed any intellect at all. I do admit that there exists a photograph of yours truly -- at about age 8 -- in a cowboy hat. My father, brother and uncle are all in the pic and all of our domes are similarly covered. I remember this phase that we collectively went through and it lasted somewhere in the area of one week. Tops. We all have our skeletons in the closet.

This second bit was written today, Sunday.

There was a sign outside the gym that announced a Psychic Fair. My question is this: why do they need to advertise? Doesn’t everyone just know? I once went to a Psychic Fair but it was an accident, I thought it was a Psychotic Fair. (We need more of those.)

I went clothes shopping with the missus yesterday. I dare not go on my own lest I suffer ridicule from wife and daughters at the hideous clothes that I would end up with. Going with my better half ensures that I continue to be sartorially resplendent. I like getting new clothes but I hate the shopping aspect of it. The main problem I have is with the whole trying things on deal that the wife forces me to do. Evidently it is important that clothes fit and that they look good on me. I would always rather take it on faith that if I  buy at item everything will be fine. In many ways I’m something of an idiot.

We went to this huge shopping center in downtown San Francisco. There are several levels, rotunda style. We went to Nordstrom’s first and when the first shirt that I looked at was a whopping $145 I fell into a dead faint. Revived at last I found that the kind of pants I’d bought a few years ago for $70 now were in triple figures. They’re just shirts and pants for crying out loud. How good can they be? And ties! My god ties are not composed of a lot of material so how the hell can they charge over a hundred bucks for em? We got out of Nordstrom’s and visited stores for the 99%.

Many of the people who work in San Francisco clothing stores are gay men. This is an actual fact and I have no compunction in mentioning it. Most of them are both serious about their work and are thus good people to have waiting on you and are perfectly charming. I have had gay co-workers, gay bosses, gay neighbors and very good friends of said orientation. It’s come to the point that I don’t think twice about anyone’s sexual preferences. I don’t know why other people do. In my experience straight men are more likely to be jerks than gay men. All that said (to cover my ass — so to speak) there are the occasional gay clothing store employees who are snooty, officious and even rude. They make me feel like I’m imposing on their times and that I am hopelessly out of touch with fashion. They don’t treat my wife any better. I got one of these clowns at one store. He made me feel variously like I didn’t exist and that I had just belched during a wedding ceremony. What can you do?

I tried on shirts and I tried on pants and I showed my wife this and she showed me that and the eight miles I’d run the day before seemed like a stroll in the park compared to the pitched battle of clothes shopping. We had lunch. It was good. The missus proposed we go up to Macy’s as we’d exhausted all reasonable possibilities at the shopping center. On the way we stopped at the Gap to look at their clothes which — it turns out — are largely made for 16 year olds. It was there that I surrendered and in my best impersonation of sleepy six year old boy, insisted we go home.

I had two new shirts and one pair of pants that are being altered. I guess it was worth it?

Today I ran another eight miles and we went to a movie and grocery shopping and now I’m home with Monday morning looming ominously. Who am I to complain?

17 May 2016

Baseball and Me: A Childhood Love Story that Never Ends

I loved the feel of my baseball glove over my left hand. I liked slamming a ball repeatedly into my glove. Even better was tossing the ball back and forth with someone. I liked the way it would thwack! into the webbing of the glove. I liked the motion of the throw. I’d feel naked tossing the ball without a cap on. The snug feel of a cap on my head was a must for playing ball. I would occasionally tug at the bill of the cap.

Fielding ground balls was fun. A ball bouncing rapidly toward me could look nearly impossible to glove cleanly but I never had any trouble. I could even back hand balls and handle bad hops. Of course I fumbled some, everybody does. I also liked catching pop ups and fly balls. I’d camp under the ball and watch it into my glove. Sometimes there’d be a point in the ball’s descent in which I’d be sure I was going to drop it. But at the last second my confidence would restore itself and the ball would nestle into my mitt. That was always a good feeling.

Hitting balls was fun too. Sometimes I’d catch one on the sweet spot and be amazed at how hard and far I hit the ball. This would be accompanied by a rush of excitement and a sense of physical power as the ball took flight. Of course not all swings were successful. Sometimes the ball would pop meekly into the air, other times it would glance off the end of the bat and go foul, it could also bounce directly to a fielder and worst of all I might not make any contact at all. These results would cause momentary disappointment but I always knew there’d be another chance, another swing, another turn at bat. Baseball seemed to forever be providing second chances.

Running the bases was a lot of fun. There was the feeling of security at being on the base. In baseball lexicon you are safe and that word is apropos because you feel safe and secure there, untouchable, a tag means nothing when you're on base. You have survived and may continue your journey.  Then there is also the risk of running from one base to the next. Often you have no choice but to go and get the sinking feeling when you can see you won't make it before the throw. Sometimes you get a reprieve in such instances. Perhaps the ball has been dropped or thrown wildly and you are safe after all. Beating a throw on a close play is exhilarating. Of course the best feeling was crossing home plate. A run scored! Mission accomplished.

I never felt I’d played if I hadn't gotten dusty or hadn’t accumulated a grass stain. Bruises and scrapes were de riguer. I never sought them but played with an abandon that made them inevitable. I was forever diving for balls that seemed just out of reach. To snare one was to be a hero to miss was to have made a valiant effort. Of course slides on the bases were fun and I often slid when I didn't need to.

If I wasn’t playing in an actual game I might be playing one in my head and going through as many motions as possible in my backyard. Of course in those games I wasn’t a kid at the playground. No indeed I was a major leaguer performing great heroics in leading my team to victory. Other times I wasn’t involved at all I was taking the place of my favorite team — the San Francisco Giants — as they won again. Victories were either by resounding scores or eked out by a late inning home run. I was forever robbing opponents of home runs with incredible catches or turning acrobatic double plays.

Baseball cards were a must. They gave faces to names. My favorite players were the ones who looked good on their cards. A head shot on a card meant that player was persona non grata but a good pose with a bat or a throwing motion might qualify a player to be a member of my imaginary team. I was absolute ruler of my team, setting the batting order, the pitching rotation and selecting the reserves. I would study my cards carefully, imagining the exploits described on the back ("Bob led the Texas League in doubles for the Tulsa Oilers in 1964." Wow!). The cards brought the statistics to life (Imagine: Lou hit .324 with 22 homers in 1967!).  I coupled my beloved cards with the daily box scores. It was no feat at all to memorize each club’s starting line up and batting order and I was even familiar with their starting pitchers. Box scores may look like just a bunch of names with numbers next to them but to me they were (and still are) easily decipherable codes that tell the story of games. Who failed, who succeeded and who was average. Still there was much to the imagination. If a player was two for four I could picture what those two hits looked like. One was line drive into the gap between center and left field that produced a double and the other was a ground ball deep into the hole that the runner legged out for a single. Home runs were re-created in my mind. The majestic flight of the ball deep into the bleachers or high line drive that nicked the fence and fell into the seats.

Nothing substituted for actually going to a major league game. Best of all was going with my father, of course. Somehow the hot dogs tasted better at the ballpark and the sodas were more refreshing. Peanuts were so much associated with baseball games that I wouldn’t think of eating them anyplace else. (In the same vein pop corn was reserved for trips to the movies.) It was easy to be enamored of baseball when your favorite team featured the legendary Willie Mays in center field — surely he was the best in the game — along with sluggers like Willie McCovey. There was also the high kicking Dominican Dandy, Juan Marichal, the ace of the pitching staff. Of course my favorite players tended to be the likes of back up catcher Ed Bailey, third basemen Jimmy Davenport and my favorite of all time, reserve outfielder Cap Peterson. It was easy enough to opt for a superstar like Mays as your favorite player but I needed to be different and adopt one of the baseball foundlings like Cappy. I was crushed when he was traded one sad off season. My next favorite player was Ray Sadecki who came over in a controversial trade for All Star Orlando Cepeda, another feared Giant power hitter. Sadecki proceeded to stink up the joint as a Giant, regularly earning choruses of boos. But I was nothing if not loyal and stuck with Sadecki. Even when I saw him pitch in person and lose a game to the then lowly Mets, 13-2. After all, the Giants two runs came on a Sadecki homer!

Eventually I stopped playing baseball when I discovered a talent for another sport — soccer. But my love for the game never abated. A baseball game can have long periods of listlessness that are interrupted by anything from mild action to dramatic thrills. No two games are alike. Plus baseball has and always will be a part of the American ethos. It is rich with colorful players, teams and nicknames and with historic and bizarre and shocking and exciting moments. Baseball is an integral part of American culture and history. And for many of us, baseball evokes memories of youth's innocence. My wonder at the exploits of great players and my imaginings of further deeds are rich parts of my youth.

It was just great to be a kid with a mitt and a ball and cap.

15 May 2016

I Start Off With Complaints But Segue Into Saying Nice Things and Finish in the Usual Fashion

This is my favorite planet. Can you guess which one it is?
I don’t want partner to be a verb anymore. It was never meant to be in the first place.

I want to see the elimination of the redundant use of “up” in certain phrasal verbs as in heat up, coach up and fold up.

I can do without people telling me what day it is especially at the end of the work week. “Hey it’s Friday!” is unnecessary an I will henceforth reply to those three words with: “yeah, only three days until Monday!”

Speaking of days of the week…A few of them ago I said to a co-worker: “can you believe it’s already Tuesday?” I’m confident in asserting that I must be the first person in history to have uttered that sentence.

You ever get walking tail gated? Sometimes the person walking behind you will be too close. I hate that. I often pull over (so to speak) and let them pass.

Every morning I stop in the Starbucks next to where I work and get a coffee. Every morning whichever one of the charming people who serves me asks some variation of “will there be anything else.” There never, ever is. Here is my guarantee to whomsoever may wait on me anywhere, anytime: if I ever want “anything else” I will tell you. I swear to whatever deity you want. Asking me if I want “anything else” never serves either to entice me or remind me.

At the risk of being obvious, I complain a lot, mostly about the annoying habits of my fellow travelers here on planet Earth (by the way, Earth is my favorite of the planets, maybe if I get an opportunity to visit any of the others I’ll change my mind). Complaining about people is fun and easy and for me it is a curative. Better to get it out than leave it bottled up inside. But the truth of the matter is that I like most people that I actually get to know and a good many of them I’m quite fond of. I teach some of the most wonderful people on the planet (just to be clear I’m referring to Earth) and work with absolute peaches. So as much as I complain about humans, there are many I find perfectly charming and very, very few I've ever known at all well who I dislike.

As I write these words I can hear a child outside loudly counting in German. A few minutes ago I took out the recycling and heard a woman having a cell phone conversation in German. I’m going out on a limb here and saying that the woman and child are related. My neighborhood boasts a diversity -- as does much of Berkeley and the Bay Area as a whole -- but one does not encounter a lot of Germans. Teaching as I do students from foreign lands I always get a fair amount of German students. I had three this last term. One tries to avoid generalizing in my line of work (at least I do, some of colleagues can’t avoid attaching certain negative characteristics to certain nationalities) but I never mind using positive generalizations whether anyone wants to hear them or not. In that spirit I will assert that Germans make the best students. They not only tend to do well academically but are not generally shy and are eager participants in classroom activities. They are almost always friendly, open people with positive attitudes. It’s also worth noting that they have what I would consider healthy attitudes about the first half of the 20th century and Germany’s role in it, particularly in regards to Herr Hitler. It seems that Germans have been inculcated with the idea of owning up to their country’s horrific mistakes and seeing that they are not repeated. But they have a sense of humor too even about Der Fuhrer. It’s interesting to note that in addition to Germans, Japanese are excellent students (though often a bit too shy). Japanese are masters of grammar and hard work and boast wonderful attitudes. It seems taking a licking from the US in a war is just the tonic for a country. Militarism is de-emphasized and education, free speech and culture flourish. No, neither country is perfect just as no individual is but they are doing handsomely in my estimation.

Over the years some of my colleagues have decried students from France. It is true that the French show teachers considerably less respect than other nationalities (at home and abroad). They cluster and speak French — even in class — and are often frequent violators of our cell phone use policy. That said I like our French students (full disclosure I like people from all countries). Yes some provide challenges from time to time but they are interesting, opinionated people who aren’t bashful and have a sense of humor. I’ve been shocked when other teachers have spoken ill of them. I wonder how they would do in a public school like the one I taught in for two decades. Would they openly espouse antipathy of African Americans? Prejudice is prejudice whether you are targeting a race, creed or nationality.

I close now — hold your applause — with an observation/question about commuting. I understand  a person taking one of the seats on a bus or subway reserved for the elderly, pregnant or infirm. After all there may be no one of that description needing a seat. What I don’t understand is not then relinquishing said seat when an 89 year old woman hobbling on a cane is standing right in front of you. I see it all the time. I’ve been on subway cars where someone in a regular seat had to give up theirs for a pregnant woman because none of the able bodied young men in the special seats can be bothered to yield. I notice on San Francisco busses tourists immediately sit in front and seem oblivious to the cripples and octogenarians and crippled octogenarians who get on. Is is because so many tourists have so little experience on public transportation? Is is because they are so dazzled by the sights that they are unaware? Or are they stupid jerks? I think a lot of people are unaware of their surroundings when it suits them. They just didn’t happen to see that old woman struggling with a package yet oddly they noticed that five dollar bill blowing in the wind. Well as I said, I like most people, but some….

08 May 2016

From Newborn to Little Boy, A Great Ride

Mom, big brother and I. I'm the baby.
The world marches forward! Why doesn't it turn around? -- Arthur Rimbaud.

What have I done?

It started innocently enough. I was a baby. First I was a new born. Of this I have no memory so I can only imagine what it was like. Going from the comfort — if rather cramped conditions — of the fetus into the bright lights and sharp sounds of the outside world must have been traumatic. I assume I calmed down considerably once I was held and got to suckle at my mother’s breast. I further assume that sleep was highly desirable and early on I took advantage of the boundless opportunities to snooze.

There are pictures of me at a very young age. I seem happy enough. I was certainly small, I fit comfortably into the arms of fully grown people. Often I was being held by my mother or father or a grandparent or an aunt or uncle or even my big brother. What a luxury to have a big brother to guide me through those early years. Though six and half years older than I, he was no adult so could better relate to my circumstances. In any event I was forever being held by one person or another and imagine that this was not entirely unpleasant. When you’re a baby people tend to be forgiving of your faults. You can cry or defecate or spit up and no one minds. More than simply being held I was being loved and cooed at and pampered. This included being fed. Meals were not only provided but I didn't have to so much as lift a finger. I was also bathed and I could perform bodily functions anywhere anytime and no one blinked. They even cleaned me up afterward. Who doesn’t love being a baby? What a great way to start life!

Eventually I began to walk and have thus far in my life have continued the practice. Indeed I am confident in saying that I probably walk a lot more than most people, especially in today’s highly mechanized society. Soon after getting comfortable with walking I commenced to running. Doubtless at first this running was neither particularly fast nor long in duration but it was — as they say — a start. In later years I would run at a fairly fast clip and added distance to my runs as well. Today, for a man of three score and two years, I run quite fast and quite far. But enough braggadocio, back to my formative years.

Along with walking came the power of speech. I’m sure this was a mixed blessing for those in my company because as a young person I tended to overuse the gift of gab. On long car rides my brother would offer me a quarter for a set period of silence. In those days a quarter had a fair amount of buying power, especially for a youngster. You could purchase two comic books and a candy bar with two bits. Nonetheless this enticement was not enough to keep my big trap shut. I babbled ever onward.

I also early on developed the ability to entertain people, particularly through humor. I was a natural comic and I took to having an audience as a fish does to water (if my meaning here is unclear the reader should note that fish very much like water and are hard pressed to live without it). I was a source of amusement to my family although I think my poor beleaguered brother grew weary of my act rather quickly. Along with a propensity for comedy, I could be downright obnoxious. My brother was a gentle and kind soul but I remember him picking me up by the arm pits, digging his hands into my skin and perfunctorily dropping me. Based on my hazy memories of those days I can safely assert that he should be assigned no blame for such actions.

Being a toddler was rather a fun time. I had no obligations, school was still a ways off and I was too young to be assigned chores but I was ambulatory and enjoyed the attention of elders and was befriending others of my age group including some cousins. Life seemed like a pretty good deal. My father was my absolute hero. In my eyes he was the picture of manhood, impossibly tall and handsome and rugged but loving, kind and playful. He was, as the sports cliche goes, the complete package. Big brother was also a boon to have around. When I wasn’t annoying him he was playing with me and providing early instruction in the ways of the world.

Mother was a different story altogether. She had natural maternal instincts and attended my daily needs as well as any other mother could. But she was also losing her mind and when alone with her I’d be subjected to her angry arguments with people who were either not there or didn’t exist in the first place. There were rantings and ravings that clearly did not fit anywhere in the spectrum of normal human behavior. But until I was about 12 she could turn it off as soon as anyone else appeared. I managed to put her aberrant behavior behind as soon as dad or brother came home. I became adept at forgetting.

You might be getting an idea now that my childhood was a rather mixed bag. Indeed it was. When alone with mother life was a living hell. At other times it was an absolute joy. I had a knack for having fun. Being a creative, clever and imaginative young man, blessed with a nimble body and good health to boot made me an ideal candidate for a happy childhood. I played  games of all variety: re-enacting a Civil War battle, scoring a touchdown, a rousing game of hide and seek. Meanwhile I had no trouble in school. I abhorred math but did passingly in it and shined in other subjects. If anything I didn’t find school challenging enough. It all seemed rather slow and pedestrian, the teachers were uninspiring and many of my classmates were dullards. I longed for more. (I digress to share this memory: As a wee lad I understood that eight plus seven equaled 15 but thought it rather odd. Eight and seven put together just didn't seem like they should end in the numeral five. Meanwhile nine and four equaling 13 made perfect sense and of course who couldn't appreciate the sanity of ten and four totaling 14? I the same vein I still maintain that the city of Cologne should be in France not Germany and that the city of Stasbourg belongs not in Germany not France. I strongly urge the cities be swapped or the names exchanged.)

Escapes were always coveted — especially given mom’s highly erratic behavior — so trips out of town were appreciated as were visits to various members of our extended family. Lacking those opportunities I found escape in movies, TV shows, books and my own imaginative play. My imagination was so rich that I could have a jolly good time while all by myself. No friends about? No problem. I could always invent them. An early childhood friend of my own invention was named Macaroni. Later I made up sports heroes, the greatest was a basketball star named Horatio Kumquat. He was 6’5” and had curly golden hair and was a veritable one man team.

Friends were welcome too. Finding someone who saw parts of the world the same way I did, who liked the same games and stories and shows seemed a miracle. To share ideas and laughs and insights -- even at a terribly young age -- was to me a gift. One that kept giving. Play had another dimension when it was a cooperative effort, there was so much more that two or three or more could do than one could manage alone.

Ahhh, great runs and jumps and skips and leaps and twists and turns and loud laughs and joyous shouts. "Going out to play" was a great delight in the world and one could do it most every day. Even school days were punctuated by recess and were over by mid afternoon. Saturdays were a positive blessing especially as they began with a few hours of TV cartoons with the likes of Bugs Bunny cavorting about. Sundays were marred by the obligatory trip to Sunday school but even there my imagination was tickled by some of the stories we were read and told. After that a full afternoon of unbound glee lay ahead. Playing was the best.

Babyhood seemed a distant an embarrassing memory when I was a child. To paraphrase the bible:  When I was a baby, I spoke as a baby, I understood as a baby, I thought as a baby; but when I became a little boy, I put away babyish things. 

03 May 2016

If I Have Two Sets of Questions, The First is Made Up of Serious Questions About Our Society and the Second Set is Comprised of Light Hearted Questions About Home Schooling

I have some questions:

If sex between consenting adults is legal and giving someone money for services rendered is legal, why isn’t paying someone for sex legal?

Why is whiskey legal everywhere in the US but marijuana is still illegal in most of the country? Doesn’t whiskey consumption lead to more domestic violence and car accidents than smoking marijuana does?

Why is it easier to buy a gun in the US than it is to adopt a puppy?

Why do most corporations care more about profits for their shareholders than they do the welfare of the United States?

Why do some people think that its a good idea to elect someone with no experience in government to the highest position of government?

Why do the television networks still consider it obscene to show a naked human body? And why do they consider nudity worse for children than depicting extreme acts of violence?

Why do so many Americans reject the findings of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists and believe that climate change is not real?

Why is that you can drive a car at 16, vote and join the military at 18 but can’t drink alcohol until you are 21?

Why do some people care that other people enjoy having sexual relations with members of their own gender?

Why are there so many fast food restaurants and liquor stores near low income neighborhoods?

Why is healthy, natural, organic food more expensive than unhealthy junk food?

Why do some people not see that helping low income families in the short run can help the economy in the long run?

Why does the United States spend more on the military then the next eight biggest spending countries combined?

Why do we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday when we ignore his central message of non violence?

Why do so many people still smoke cigarettes?

Why is the gap between the richest people and the poorest people growing? Don't we want it to shrink?

Why is racism still a thing in this country and why do some people claim we live in a post racial society?

Why don't we have universal health care?

Why do we allow money to control politics and politicians?

I also have questions about home schooling: 

If you get suspended from school, where do you go?

Do you bother having elections for class president?

Isn’t the yearbook awfully thin?

What’s your prom like?

Are you captain of all the teams?

Aren’t you automatically class clown, valedictorian and most improved?

Isn’t working in pairs only possible if you are schizophrenic?

How long does your graduation ceremony last?

Are parent-teacher conferences just your mom talking to herself?

Since your school is at home do you still call it homework?

Who do you cheat off of?

Who do you pass notes to?

If you’re giving detention do you really notice?

Is a hall monitor necessary?

What does it say about you if you’re not the teacher’s pet?

Are there any fights at your school?

Is it easier or more difficult to cut class?

Who do you hang out with at lunch?

Do you just have your dog as lab partner in science?

01 May 2016

Ever Wonder What it's Like to Visit a Shrink? Wonder No More!

I'm going to give my psychoanalyst one more year, then I'm going to Lourdes. -- Woody Allen

You sit there trying to look casual and relaxed. If you happen to make eye contact with someone there is a very quick exchange of half smiles and then a quick look away. It is quiet. No one would ever dream of saying anything. People look at their cell phones or a magazine or straight ahead. A door opens and one of the therapists, still holding the door knob, looks at a patient, smiles and nods. Maybe the therapist says a first name. The patient gets up quickly as if embarrassed, then follows the therapist.

I make a point not to seem the slightest embarrassed, instead acting as if I’m in the green room of a talk show and have just been told I’m about to be announced. I stride eagerly behind the therapist anxious to unburden myself to this relative stranger, offering all manner of intimate detail about my youth or current state of affairs or anything in between. I sit very casually as if relaxing in front of the television set after a long day of work. I wait for my cue, which usually comes in the form of the question, “so how have you been?” Then I launch into whatever is foremost in my mind. I spew forth until I run out of momentum or until I’m interrupted with a question or a request for clarification.

If I’m seeing a therapist they will offer feedback, questions, or observations. If it is a psychiatrist there are liable to be silences. Long frustrating ones in which I can’t think of what to say or simply need a prompting. I’ve seen all kinds. Some seem to make a practice out of keeping their mouths closed. They regard you as if from afar, appearing to be passing judgment but not sharing it. This can be maddening. On more than one occasion I’ve barked at them, “well, say something!” I got up and walked out on one when I was a teenager. I passed him on the way to the door and he cowered -- evidently fearing that I was about to strike. However, some will talk. These are therapists who actually act concerned.

In most rooms there is the choice between a couch and a chair. I have never opted for the couch. There is a small table or a desk nearby with a handy box of kleenexes. Also accessible is a small trashcan and it often has used tissues in it. I suppose some have been utilized by people with colds or allergies but I further suspect that some patients cry. I’ve never cried. I may have gotten choked up once or twice and had to pause, but no one sees me cry other than my wife. I’m not proud of this, it just is.

There is always a clock clearly visible to the patient and another behind you that the therapist can see. It wouldn’t do for the doctor to be checking a watch or turning a head to find the time. I had one psychiatrist who yawned from time to time — always trying to stifle it and always apologizing for it — and he even left to pee a few times. None of the others have left their post.

For your first visit the therapist takes copious notes. Thereafter their hands are free. Sometimes folded in a lap, other times held in front of them as if in prayer. A psychiatrist will even stroke his chin. They may get a bit glassy-eyed but I’ve never noticed. Their eyes don’t stray. They look at you. I sometimes look straight back but my eyes tend to wander. To recall memories it sometimes necessary for me to tilt my head upwards to the left. When recounting a horror from my childhood I often look down. When talking about anxiety and especially when discussing a panic attack, I’ll fidget, change positions and occasionally work my way into an agitated state.

I love to make people laugh and have been doing since I was a small child and it is quite natural to me. So too during therapy sessions I’ll make quips even in discussing quite painful. Therapists almost never laugh, though sometimes you’ll get a chuckle and often a broad smile.

When your time is just about up (visits are always 50 minutes though you pay for an hour) your therapist will say, “our time is just about up,” and you’ll confirm or decide upon the time of your next appointment. Invariably they will get confused when looking at available times and it will turn out that Tuesday at 7:00 won’t work but there’s an opening Wednesday, how’s 7:30? Sometimes there's payment to discuss. This can be terribly awkward. With medical doctor's any talk about bills is done with someone in reception. To have to sort dollars and cents with the person with whom you have this completely opposite relationship with is weird and wrong. But that, as they say, is the way it is. I've never seen a shrink yet who had anyone else handle payment.

I always get up and say thanks and goodbye. I don’t know if this is par for the course. Once you’re standing the therapist seems anxious for you to leave as if you’re a guest who has long over stayed a visit. If you stupidly make idle chit chat about the weather or something else it is addressed perfunctorily, it is expected that you will be on your way. Once out the door you feel a bit refreshed maybe even rejuvenated. At the very least there is the sense that you’ve done yourself a good deed, that you are a healthier person for having shared the details of your being with another person. Sometimes you will ruminate over what was said and other times you will think of everything but what just transpired. You may or may not mentally re-visit the past 50 minutes later that day or the next.  In any event your subconscious has a lot to mull over and ,as they say in AA, more will be revealed.

If anyone save a very trusted friend or immediate family member happens to ask where you’ve been you simply say, “an appointment" or "the doctor’s.” There is no longer a stigma about seeing someone for mental or emotional issues  but you still don’t tell anyone that you of all people need any kind of such “help.” You’re fine, thanks. Actually you are fine because you are getting help. You’re taking care of yourself and that’s a good feeling.