26 February 2017

My Recent "Procedure" -- You Gotta Have Heart

I had an atrial flutter. An anomaly in the heartbeat. Potentially not at all serious. In fact, I didn’t feel it. But it was there and it was a personal embarrassment. I’ve taken on all manner of mental and emotional disorder and don’t even mind sharing my struggles, but physical maladies are not my thing. I instructed my immediate family to close ranks on this one. No one was to know. (I think my secret will remain safe given the number of readers this blog has, or should I say, doesn’t have.)

The flutter was discovered at my annual physical just before Christmas. This necessitated three visits to a cardiologist and the determination that I needed to have an electrical cardioversion, a simple out patient “procedure” in which a shock is sent to the heart in order to restore its natural rhythm. Meanwhile I could continue to run to my heart’s content. How big a deal could it be if I could keep running? But still needing to be tended to.

I had the procedure last Friday. I was not to eat or drink anything after midnight. I reported to the hospital at 7:00 where I was checked in. I sat in the waiting room for somewhere around 12 seconds. Hadn’t even got comfy. I was greeted by the first of nine medical professionals who would tend to me in the coming four hours. She led me to a changing room where I was to take off all clothing (mine) and put on two hospital gowns, one to “cover your butt” as the young lady put it. Emerging in my new duds she took me to bed where I was to lay under the strangest and most comfortable blanket I’d ever seen. It was inflatable and quite warm.

Another nurse came in and checked my vitals. Virtually everyone who I came in contact with asked me my date of birth and last name to make sure it corresponded with what was on the hospital issued wrist band. Also pretty much everyone checked my blood pressure, pulse and temperature. All were always fine. I’m like that. I was also given an EKG to see if my heart had corrected itself, but alas such was not the case. The show was to go on.

A third nurse came in and she was very cute and very nice. She stuck the IV into me which hurt for somewhere around one second. My wife was allowed to see me. Her presence ended my flirtation with the cute nurse. It’s for the better, I would have only broken her heart. The missus is a great person to have around in any circumstance. I wasn’t at all nervous about the procedure but it still felt good to have her calm, reassuring demeanor in the room. I love her with all my heart whether its fluttering or not.

Finally the doctor himself entered. He was an old fogey as many of the best doctors are. He was also somewhat of a chatterbox, which was okay by me although I heard a little bit more about his grandchildren than I needed to. He explained the procedure and made it sound like pretty pedestrian stuff. Then the anesthesiologist made his appearance. If I hadn’t known his profession I would have guessed anesthesiologist. Yup, looked the part to a tee. He was young and somber and reassuring. He asked a few questions about my medical history (for the millionth time, I have no allergies!) and because of my experiences with panic attacks he gave me a mild sedative, intravenously.

The anesthesiologist and yet another nurse wheeled me to…I wanna say operating theater but it was probably just a room for “procedures.” A mask was put over my face and I was instructed to breath in. The next thing I know a couple of people are saying my name and snapping fingers and looking me in the eyes. The “procedure” all two seconds of it, were over. I was very groggy but managed to assure one and all that I was fine. I was then wheeled to a recovery room by yet another nurse. We took a circuitous path that led us through Albuquerque. We bumped a few things along the way. The penultimate nurse was waiting for me and she checked my vital signs and did another EKG. I was finally able to have something to eat and drink. Crackers and juice, yummy! Then I made a big mistake. I started in on the crackers before the juice was delivered. My mouth was as wet as the Mojave Desert in August. I could no more swallow those crackers that were now caked in my mouth than I could dunk a basketball. The arrival of the juice was cause for relief and celebration.

After I was deemed fit to rejoin the human race, I was allowed to put on my clothes, which I did with some degree of difficulty being out of sorts as I was. Once clothed I was placed in a wheelchair to be wheeled out of the hospital and into my wife’s loving arms. I did not like the idea of being in a wheelchair but I understood hospital regulations. I was “driven” by a sweet young lady who seemed expert at pushing the conveyance. Much as I didn’t like it, the ride was smooth.

And that, as they say was that. Loving wife drove me home. I was as sedate and mild and weak as a newborn kitten, sans meowing. It should not surprise anyone that I parked my carcass on the sofa and watched TV until falling into a long slumber.

By the evening I was well enough to go to a basketball game. Meanwhile I now notice that those extra beats my heart would make as I plopped into bed and then hours later when I rose, were gone. For in the days before  the “procedure” I’d started to pay attention and finally noticed that there was what can only be described as a flutter. It’s gone. The miracles of modern medicine.

Throughout my four hours at the hospital (Alta Bates in Berkeley where I, my brother and my daughters were born) I was impressed by the efficiency and kindness of everyone with whom I came in contact. I thought the business of confirming my identity and constantly checking my blood pressure was overdone, but I trust in the professionals who made me feel relaxed and in good hands. True professionals working to the best of their ability. I like it.

20 February 2017

Recalling the Dark Days Before Smart Phones Saved Us From Ourselves

I recall people going to gyms and working out 20 years ago and indeed much further back than that. As a matter of fact the gym I go to has been in operation for close to 100 years. I find this utterly baffling. How could people risk going to the gym? How could people be away from their phones for so long? What if there was an important message? How could anyone reach them immediately except by going to the gym and giving them the message verbally and then only if they knew said person was at the gym?

Today while on the treadmill I saw two different people text while on nearby machines. One stopped to answer a text and the other slowed down and texted while walking. This is not at all unusual. I see this all the time. I’m sure if someone had asked them why on earth they were texting during their workout they would have said it was important. Thank god you can bring your cellphone with you. I stupidly left my in my locker for the entirety of my hour long workout. There was no way for anyone to reach me. Even if it was important.

People who receive messages during their exercise period couldn’t have torn themselves away from their phone in the dark ages before mobile phones. One wonders if they would have gone to movies or plays or sports events or to the park or out for a walk or camping or boating or to the circus or to visit friends or to weddings or funerals or whorehouses or cock fights or public executions. It’s like contemplating eternity to imagine a time when we blithely strolled the streets with no way for anyone to reach us. Think of all the important messages we missed?

But — as they say in commercials — that’s not all. People used to leave their homes with no access to what was happening at the very moment all over the world. That’s right. No Twitter, no news apps, no Facebook. Plus, sans Twitter. there was no way of finding out if someone famous or a friend or some stranger you thought was funny or someone connected to a news organization had shared a thought. Similarly there was no way to see the latest photo posted on Instagram. People were terribly isolated. Sometimes people on an outing would have to resort to talking to one another as there were no cellphones to stare at. People at sports events would actually watch the game and talk to their companions because they not only didn’t have a cellphone, there were no contests, sing-a-longs, kiss cams or other diversions provided by big screens during time outs.

When I was a teenager mucking about with friends, we had to rely on our wits to occupy the times. We would share ideas, relate stories, tell jokes, argue, commiserate, explain, and even tell outlandish lies.

On buses people read newspapers or books or looked out the window or, if with someone, chatted. Sometimes people on buses would just sit and think. Strange, I know.

One of the horrors of those bygone years was the inability of taking and sharing pictures of your meals. You would have to see someone or talk on the phone and describe the plate of food you were served at a restaurant. Quite often you wouldn’t bother as you realized it wasn’t worth talking about. You also couldn’t take selfies alone or with friends. Duck faces were non existent. On those rare occasions when your photo was taken you would instead smile, or not. It was pure hell to walk around not taking photos of every little thing of interest and sending them immediately to people or posting them. Think of what we missed. If you saw something worth remembering you just had to remember it. You were stuck having to experience life rather than recording it.

Yes the smart phone is an indispensable part of modern life. I’ve been given to understand that you can even use it to make phone calls. Imagine that.

18 February 2017

The Mysterious Visit of Leonard Bertrand

So then I started in on him about existentialism because he’d mentioned Jean-Paul Sartre. I let him have it about how bogus its precepts were. Being drunk like I was, I probably wasn’t very articulate and certainly slurred some words but I got my message across. I thought sure I had him, that I’d made a cogent and compelling argument. But no, he gave me a sly smile, took a drag from his cigarette and in his cultured, superior voice drilled me right between the eyes about how sophomoric my argument was and how it betrayed my obvious ignorance on the topic, adding that I “should perhaps consider reading  at least a little bit of Kierkegaard before spouting such nonsense.”

I tried to respond but the combination of not knowing half as much as he did on the topic and my advanced state of intoxication rendered me incapable of forming a coherent sentence. Damn it.

He was an African American poet, musician, art critic,  he was a real dandy and a queer too. I mean he was a twig of a guy. I’m not so big but I could have snapped him in two, which I sometimes felt like doing. Yet he was surrounded by smart, beautiful women who doted on him and clung to his every word. For my part I hated his smug sophistication and his intellectual superiority. He’d read every novel and all the great poets and philosophers and knew art like I knew baseball and was an expert on wines and gourmet foods and had traveled the world. What this aesthete was doing in our little college town was a mystery, but for the two weeks he was in town it was all I could do to stay away from him

His name was Leonard Bertrand and he must have been about 40 years old. He wore nice clothes but nothing fancy and in neutral colors, except for this flimsy scarf he wore around his neck in what I thought was a pretentious manner. He smoked long thin cigarettes one after the other holding them effeminately. Leonard’s drink was a Dubonnet and he swallowed them with the same frequency as he lit a smoke. Yet he never showed any sign of intoxication.

I only got to know Leonard (he didn’t let anyone call him Len) because he hung out in the bar I frequented, Le Monde. At no point did I actually hate or even dislike him, but I was forever annoyed and frustrated by the ease with which he provoked me, often by making fun of sports or beer or TV. I think Leonard directed barbs my way because I could and would come right back and I was no dummy like some of the crowd that made the bar their home away from home. Sure when I got drunk I was no match for him, but at least I knew something about it when he mentioned Hesse or Proust or Matisse or Goya or goddamned Lord Byron, all among his favorites. Meanwhile he’d trash Whitman, Melville, Hemingway and especially Norman Rockwell, all among my favorites. Leonard mocked pretty much every American artist of any sort and I think it was just to put the needle in me. What ticked me off the most was when he trashed the Beat writers. Kerouac was my hero and of course Leonard would tear him up one side and down the other finishing by looking me square in the eyes and flashing that “I know best” grin.

Screw the bastard, I thought any number of times. It sometimes seemed to make more sense to stay the hell away from him and avoid the aggravation. But that was easier said than done. For one thing all the interesting women congregated around him. I could only talk sports for so long with the usual crowd before I got tired of hearing half-baked opinions and misquoted stats and endless renditions of previous games. The truth was I got something out of sparring with Leonard Bertrand, even if he did “best” me 99.9% of the time.

Leonard had this irritating way of getting my attention. “Well hello Robert,” he’d say, even though I exclusively went by Bob. Sometimes he even said Robert in French. (He would often sprinkle French words and phrases into his conversation — and with a perfect French accent.) So right away he’d get under my skin and I’d want to head in the other direction. But I was drawn to him like a fly who couldn’t resist a web. Truth be told Leonard was a charming guy and he’d always buy me a drink. “I suppose you’re having a beer,” he’d say, only he’d say the word beer in this low, slow voice to make it sound like something truly disgusting.

“What have you got against beer?” I asked him once.

“Oh nothing, nothing at all,” he replied matter of factly. But then he’d add, “its just not what I would choose to drink, it being so…” 


Are you gonna say something like ‘vulgar’?”

“Why heavens no,” Leonard answered acting the picture of innocence. “It’s just not to my taste.”

“Oh and you’re taste is superior to mine.”

“If you say so,” he said and take another long drag off his skinny cigarette.

Usually Leonard would be sitting at one of the big tables to accommodate all the women sitting with him. I couldn’t figure out what they saw in him, maybe they thought they could convert him to heterosexuality, but I couldn’t see the point in that what with him not exactly being Sidney Poitier. He had these big bug eyes and a high forehead. His face showed the effects of all the damn smoking he did. I don’t remember seeing him eat, though he knew all about food. Being repelled by exercise, as he said he was, it didn’t seem that Leonard had prospects for a long and healthy life. Leonard usually held forth on literature, art and music but was not above discussing films and made occasional reference to politics but only to lament the sad state of American democracy.

It never got truly heated between Leonard and I though it almost did once. I forget exactly what we were talking about — I think it was related to political science — when I said: “being black you should understand —”  He cut me off right there, which he’d never done before in such an abrupt manner. For the first time his voice was raised. “Dear Robert I do hope that you are not going to assume that you know anything about being black in American or anywhere else for that matter.”

“No ya see I just meant — ”

Holding up his right hand as if to say stop, Leonard continued, “please let me finish. You white people are forever trying to encapsulate the black experience in a few words, usually ill-chosen ones at that. Its especially troubling with you enlightened liberals who revere our Civli Rights Movement and the slain martyr Dr. King. You’ve co-opted Dr. King for your own purposes, primarily to assuage your guilt. You think yourselves superior because you extoll the principles of equality and abhor racism. All this is fine in its way but you continue to patronize and think that because you read Ellison or Baldwin or Soul on Ice and admire Dr. King’s speeches that you are an expert on the black experience and are our brothers. But you’ve no real clue what living in black skin means. The looks, the fear, the harassment and the legacy that we live with. So don’t ever say ‘being black you should understand’ or anything to that effect. Our experience as African Americans is something you cannot begin to understand.”

Leonard had never spoken with such passion before. There was anger but it was controlled, not causing him to lose any of his rhetorical powers. I was stunned, hurt, angry but deep down knew that he was 100% correct.

“I’m sorry Leonard, I — ”

“No, no” he said quickly and dismissively, “you don’t get off with a mere apology. Just never mind, all right?” Then he turned to two of the women sitting to his right and began an animated and laugh-filled conversation. I sat there like an idiot not knowing what I should or could do next. Finally I got up and joined the jocks by the TV where a baseball game was on. I then proceeded to get royally smashed.

When I came in the next evening, there was Leonard holding court as usual, I glanced in his direction not expecting him to so much as exchange a glance with me. But proving that Leonard was nothing if not unpredictable he cheerily greeted me and beckoned me to his table. “Waiter,” he called to a passing server,” please get my friend Robert a beeeeer,” once again demonstrating his contempt for my beverage of choice.

I’d wondered if Leonard would want to talk to me again but of course he did. He’d made his point and perhaps the better question was whether I’d want to talk to him. In fact when I walked into LeMonde I had no intention of approaching him or looking his way.

The truth being that I was flattered by his attention and in a curious way even turned on. Not sexually, of course, but excited that such an erudite man would show an interest in me. There was something exotic about Leonard what with him being an intellectual, African American and gay all wrapped into one. I had met many who fit into one or even two of those categories, but all three? Never.

We enjoyed a particularly pleasant evening. It seemed my adversary was taking pity on me as he indulged my opinions and perspectives. The truth was that I felt it quite a feather in my cap to be entertained and to entertain such a worldly man. I was a reporter on the local independent weekly having only a year before graduated from college. I served as both a sportswriter and a news reporter and my dream was to be a columnist and author. The experience of butting heads with Leonard seemed invaluable.

Our little town was collectively more interested in sports and parties then anything else. African Americans made up less than 10% of the population and most of those were college students and most of those students were here to play football, basketball or run track. There was a small Gay Student Union but it was likely that the vast majority of the town’s gay population was securely in the closet. The intellectual discourse in town mainly took place in classrooms or among faculty or the school’s few graduate students. Thus Leonard Bertrand was an anomaly in our town.

One evening Leonard practically ordered me to his table. I had no sooner sat down then he said, “Robert, I’ve taken it upon myself to do a little bit of reading, specifically of what you generously call your a newspaper and more specifically of your writing.” I did not like the fact that he said “writing” in much the same way he said “beer.”

“I’m all ears,” I said wondering whether I should vigorously defend myself or finally tell him to fuck off.

“Robert my friend, I find myself in an awkward situation.” Here he paused and took a long drag from his cigarette as I waited for the sword of Damocles to dispatch my beer-sotted head.

“It seems I’ve underestimated you, you’re a writer of some merit, clever at times, to the point and even provocative.”

I was stunned and delighted to hear praise from this man with whom I had a love/hate relationship, “Thanks, Leonard I — ”

As he so often did Leonard raised his right hand to silence me. “However,” he intoned dramatically, “there is much room for improvement. You litter your writing with cliches, you can be repetitive and show restraint when you should trust yourself to fully explore your own feelings. It is my opinion that you’d be best served by reading more of the classics and taking on more challenging assignments, these fluff pieces you so often write about don’t stimulate your voice.” And “voice” he said with great passion, drawing out the sibilance at the end.

Then Leonard turned his attention away from me in a casual manner and went back to entertaining his entourage. I knew my time was up and I repaired to the other end of the bar and the TV. But I only had one more beer before I suddenly had the urge to dash home and review my recent writing, I was inspired. On the way out the door I caught a glance from Leonard. I smiled and he nodded. I never saw him again.

A few nights later I returned to Le Monde but Leonard Bertrand was conspicuous by his absence. No one had seen him for two days. I asked around and was told he’d been staying in a room at the Gloucester Hotel the town’s nicest such establishment. The next day I inquired at the Gloucester’s front desk and learned that Leonard had checked out and left no forwarding information.

I investigated the mysterious Leonard Bertrand as if I were doing an article about him and indeed it crossed my mind that, depending on what I learned, there may be an interesting story in Leonard. But I found nothing. There wasn’t much to go on because Leonard had only spoken in generalities. All I knew with any degree of certainty was that he grew up on the East Coast and had lived in Paris for a time, the rest was guesswork. Surely he had had an extensive university education but I’d no idea where, nor did I know for certain what professional positions he had held.

No one even had any clue why he had visited our fair city. None of the professors I spoke to knew of him nor did anyone at the local daily paper. He was a mystery.

In the years that followed, Leonard Bertrand’s visit was almost completely forgotten. But to a few of us he became something of a legend. There was endless conjecture, speculation and wonder. There were occasional rumors about his whereabouts, but none were credible.

Over the decades since his visit I've continued to think about Leonard. He had a lasting influence on me as a writer but more importantly as a person. I still replay some of our discussions — although this time I offer clever ripostes and more profound insights. Yes, he was pretentious, arrogant and dismissive but he had a towering intellect and personal magnetism. I kept wondering if  Leonard Bertrand was really his name and if perhaps was a person of some notoriety, perhaps even famous. With the coming of the internet age I did some online research into Leonard Bertrand. There was nothing. I found almost a dozen people by that name but none of them could have been the same person who I knew decades before. Was he using a pseudonym? The frustration and enduring mystery remain. Just who the hell was he? What happened to him? I'm afraid I may never know.

11 February 2017

This is About Right Now, Today, How I've Been, How I Always Have Been

Photo by author
“I planned to suffer and I cannot.” 
-- Anne Sexton

I ran nine miles this morning. Now I’m just sitting in my room unable to do anything. Oh except write this.

I lost my cellphone on Thursday. Got it back on Friday. Now I’m just sitting in my room unable to do anything. Oh except write this.

I had a satisfying work week during which I very much enjoyed my interactions with students. Now I’m just sitting in my room unable to do anything. Oh except write this.

I started to watch a movie then took a nap then got a glass of water then checked twitter. Now I'm here writing this.

I went to a basketball game last night. Watched a movie after.

I’m almost finished reading a book. When I’m done I’ll start another one. I’m probably going to bring some CDs to Amoeba tomorrow to trade in for store credit so I can get some new CDs. Monday I’ll go to work. On workdays I get up at 5:45 then shower then eat breakfast then dress. My wife checks my tie for me to make sure its on straight and the collar on my shirt is okay. After that I kiss her goodbye and walk to the commuter bus. It’s usually a couple of minutes before the bus comes. I get on and sit in my usual spot. Then I read. I’ll sometimes take in the view while going over the bridge into San Francisco.

Once in SF, I walk to the bus that I take to work. I’m usually one of the first there so I end up turning on lights. Typically I have about 30 minutes before my first class. I like to ease into my teaching day. Once that starts I’m all energy, excitement and enthusiasm.

Before returning home I sometimes go to the gym and work out. Other times I swing by the store to buy a few groceries, as needed. On Wednesday I go see my psychiatrist. I sit in the waiting room either reading or looking at twitter on my cell phone. The doctor comes down the stairs, peaks at me giving me a nod and half smile and I follow him to his office. He holds the door open for me and I bound in. I sit down and usually start by telling him if I’ve suffered any depression in the last week. Usually I have. Last week I hadn’t. Next time I’ll have some to report as I’ve been in throes of it since my cellphone went missing. Even its safe return didn’t bring me out of it. Nor did the endorphins from today’s run.

We don’t just talk about depression. There’s usually a number of different topics that come up. Sometimes they’re related to my childhood, specifically my schizophrenic mother. I also talk about my sorted past when I was a practicing addict and alcoholic. I’ve got a lot of good stories. Of course whatever we discuss is meant to get at some deeper truths, to explore my brain and gain access to those things that have tormented me, like panic attacks. Depression, of course, too. I didn’t mention that I’m bipolar. It’s true. I’m fine with it. I’m being treated. Therapy and meds. Therapy and meds. Therapy and meds.

My mind has not always been an easy thing to live with. Anxiety and fear and terror bounce around in my consciousness. I’ve spent most of my life worrying about turning into a lunatic like my mother. Hasn’t happened so far and likely never will.

The good thing is that I’m generally pretty happy. Why shouldn’t I be? Despite my struggles it's a treat to be alive. I’ve enjoyed so much. Like my wife and my daughters and many of my work experiences and sex and food and travels and music and films and books and sports and friends.

I just wish friends didn’t die. One died last month and its hurt quite a bit. I miss him. My best ever friend died in 2002 and I’ll never get over that. He was so young too. My parents and my brother and a couple of other friends and grandparents and uncles and aunts have all died. I miss them terribly. They helped make me a better and happier person than I would have been without them. There was a lot of love between them and I. I guess there still is but when a person is dead it takes on a different form. You can’t touch them. You can’t talk to them. Well, you can, but they can’t talk back.

My wife is making burritos tonight. They’re delicious. She makes them without meat. I’m a pescatarian. That means I eat fish but no other animals. I find meat repulsive. Just like some other things I used to indulge in like cigarettes.

People who stand outside smoking look sad. They’re just practicing an addiction. What can be the joy of it? Sure you can stand outside with your fellow addicts puffing away, but that’s still sad. Why not stand outside and eat an orange instead? They’re cheaper and infinitely better for you. Plus if someone walks by, instead of having to hold their breath to avoid cigarette smoke, they can breath in the odor of an orange.

Until last June I drank coffee in the morning. But after a worst ever panic attack that made me wish for death, I was ordered off coffee by my psychiatrist. I’ve never bothered to ask if it's okay to start again. I really don’t miss it. Plus I have a cup (actually a mug) of black tea every morning. There have been a few times when I’ve been tired and needed a pick-me-up and in those instances I’ve bought a hot chocolate.

I’ve had to quit lots of things in my life. Its okay. I don’t mind depriving myself of something that I’m better off without, like steaks or cocaine or lattes.

So I’m still in my room and having written this I have a sense of accomplishment and feel that I can build on this and do something else. Like maybe finish that book. But first I’ve got to get something to tide me over until dinner. I’m hungry.

06 February 2017

The Power (Or Lack Thereof) of Prayer and the Folly of Nazi Punching, a Blog Post in Two Parts

“The whole image is that eternal suffering awaits anyone who questions God's infinite love. That's the message we're brought up with, isn't it? Believe or die! Thank you, forgiving Lord, for all those options.” -- Bill Hicks

There was a prayer at the end of my friend’s memorial service on Wednesday. I dutifully listened without either bowing my head, closing my eyes or attaching any importance to the words being said. This is my custom when I'm in hearing distance of a prayer. Towards the end of this particular prayer the — I think he was a minister — asked god to please see to it that all of us in attendance got home safely. What a relief.

I had been agonizing over the ride home, wondering if the missus could safely navigate the roads during our 20 minute ride. Now I knew that the almighty had been awoken from his slumber and alerted to the fact that the three dozen or so of his creation who were at this particular service required safe passage. Alerted to this, I’m sure that the creator would see to it that the streets, lanes, sidewalks, highways and roads would be free of dangerous obstruction and reckless drivers who might imperil us. Also, jehovah would make sure that we drove at a reasonable speed in the proper lanes and applied our brakes in a timely manner as needed. Hallelujah.

But what of the aftermath of our return trip? What of when we returned to our abodes? Were we to be on our own? Would there be no protection from falling chandeliers, bathtub pratfalls or electrical fires? Sure enough when I returned home the vulnerability was palpable. I hesitated at every step, with every move I knew that the lord and master of the universe was no longer keeping an eye out for me.

I guess the short version of the preceding three paragraphs is that — at the very least — some portions of prayer are utterly ridiculous. I realize that prayer is comforting for some people and gives them a sense of empowerment in situations in which they might feel helpless. When a loved one is sick, you’re desperate for a job, or there’s been a national tragedy, people can feel powerless. Prayer at least gives them a sense that they’re “doing something.” That’s nice. But the fact is that prayers do not cure cancer, land you a job or make a devastating earthquake or horrific shooting palatable. Stuff happens. I would never try to dissuade anyone from praying but I would also not encourage it and I will also mock it when it seems so ridiculous and arbitrary as the for the attendees at the service. (Seriously, if you’re going to ask god to get us home safely and you think that’ll work, then why stop there? Why not ask her (or him, whatever) to protect us for the rest of the day, or week, or month, or year? Why stop at the ride home?

I have other — let’s be polite and say — qualms, with the christian religion and pretty much all others for that matter. Jesus loves me but if I don’t accept him as my lord and savior I will spend eternity in hell where there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth (if you gnash your teeth for even one century won't they eventually grind down to nothing?). So Jesus’ love is not unconditional. Not a bit. I’m saying that if the son of god really loves us he’ll cut us a break on that going to hell business.

As for god, what an ego maniac. Some people buy into this. You ever heard someone — usually an athlete — say “all the glory goes to god”? What does god need more glory for? He (it must be a male to be so frickin’ arrogant) supposedly created the universe and has all power. More than Superman and all the leaders of the world combined. Yet this deity wants to be “worshipped” at least once a week. Give it up already buddy. I mean, “worshipped”? Worshipped for what? Cancer? Birth defects? Mental illness? Megalomaniacal leaders? War? Genocide? Torture? Murder? Rape? Kidney failure? Fox News? If god wants credit for creating us he’s got to own all of it. You’re telling me he couldn’t have kept us from all the horrors that visit humankind? Many of which are suffered by small children and babies and others who were completely innocent. Here’s another thing: look at how much is  done— war for example — in god’s name. Shouldn’t the almighty have shut that shit down? How about a little smiting of some of these fundamentalists and Catholics who are more interested in lining their pockets and protecting their “good names” than serving the poor and disadvantaged or furthering social justice? The vast majority of evangelicals in this country voted for Trump, a man who is so far away from christian values that he couldn’t see them with a telescope. Come on, god, why the hell do you let this happen? And don’t you dare put this on Eve because she disobeyed you and took a bite out of an apple. You’re telling me for that we got Hitler?

When a person dies you’ll often here a religious person say: he’s in a better place now. If its really better why don’t we all drink the arsenic kool aid and go there ourselves? Why are we wasting our time dealing with stomach flu, traffic jams, poison ivy, back pain, heat waves, flash floods and forest fires? Horsehit.

Conservative evangelics are some of the worst scum on Earth.  They are the ultimate in hypocrisy Their world view is in complete conflict with the Jesus depicted in the bible. You think Jesus would support the rights of gun owners? I actually heard some knucklehead christian NRA member on TV say that jesus would be packing heat if he were with us today. The one good thing to come out of christianity has been the teachings of Jesus. (Some historians say he may not have been god’s offspring but he did indeed exist and others doubt that there were ever such a dude and of course some say, exist? Hell he walked on water, was born of a virgin and raised the dead.) The Jesus of the bible was closer to being a hippie than a Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. He preached love, non violence and he chased the money changers out of the bible.

Speaking of non violence….
“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” - -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

There’s been a lot of buzz on the internet, especially on twitter, where I log a lot of time, about punching Nazis. You may recall that Richard Spencer, a white nationalist, was socked in the puss while being interviewed on camera last month. A lot of my brothers and sisters on the left took great satisfaction from it. There were many a chortle at Spencer’s expense and quite a few leftists would like to see more Nazi punching. I for one do not.

First of all, if you saw Spencer getting clocked you know it was a sucker punch and only a real bottom feeder hits someone when they’re not looking or expecting it. Secondly, just no. No. This will get us nowhere. Does anyone think that once a few Nazis start getting punched they’ll just say “the hell with it,” and fade away? Is the moral high ground won by stooping to their level? Are we in a position that requires fist fights? No. This is wrong on a million levels.

I have made note on this in response to some tweets and heard back from some morons who strongly advocate an escalation of Nazi punching. The first person to retort gave me some sage advice: “Educate yourself!” How the hell do you respond to that? One could ask the person be more specific but why waste the time.

In my exchanges with Nazi punch supporters I always invoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was somewhat of a stickler for non violence having studied the teaching of that Jesus fella I earlier discussed. One person told me that King only opposed violence in certain situations. Wrong. The late great minister was unequivocal in his belief in non violence. Still another idiot said in reference to Dr. King, “hey do you want to hear what he said about you personally, ‘worse than the Klu Klux Klan.’” Ouch. I wasn’t even aware that Dr. King had known me well enough (I was 14 when he died) to develop a strong opinion about me. This mental deficient was alluding to King’s distaste for “white moderates” who thought they knew best when it was time to protest. Well I admit to being white but I’m way, way, way, way far to the left of moderate. Also I was not recommending against marching (I’m all about marches) I’m against hitting some dumb sap when he’s not looking. I kind of doubt Dr. King would have despised me for that. I’m pretty sure that Malcolm X would have sided with me. He believed in self defense, not cowardly attacks.

You want to punch a Nazi? Fine. Look the motherfucker in the eye and do it. Or do it because he’s putting you or someone else at risk. In both the short and long runs this kind of idiotic act is not going to do one whit to advance the causes of justice and equality. It’s like those idiot anarchists who totally hijacked the demonstration against Milo Racist in Berkeley last week. They caused terrible harm to the left by breaking windows and setting fires and making it look like Cal students were responsible.

There may come a point when people are pushed against the wall and need to physically fight back. We’re not there yet and one way to avoid things getting that bad is by using every legal, peaceful, honorable method at our disposal to resist trump’s move toward fascism and further the causes of equality. Power to the people.

03 February 2017

"History, Despite its Wrenching Pain, Cannot be Unlived, but if Faced with Courage, Need not be Lived Again." -- Maya Angelou: A Memory of the Bowling Green Massacre

"I bet, there was very little coverage — I bet it's brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized — and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. I mean, most people don't know that because it didn't get covered.” -- Kellyanne Conway, Special Counselor to President Trump, on February 2, 2017

We all remember where we were that day. I had just gotten home from work and was looking forward to relaxing in front of the TV when the first reports flashed across our television of yet another mass shooting. This one was in the sleepy town of Bowling Green, Kentucky. The preliminary reports were sketchy but I do recall that Fox News was adamant from the beginning that the perpetrators were white nationalists. Indeed they went with that narrative long after confirmation that the attack was carried about by Islamic/Muslim/Jihadi/America-Hating/Extremist/Puppy-Killing terrorists who hate our freedoms.

As we watched scenes of the carnage, television coverage was briefly interrupted by a statement from NRA President Wayne LaPierre who boldly pledged that the NRA would not only support, but themselves offer, legislation for “meaningful gun control, including background checks, waiting periods and strict limitations on the sale of assault weapons.” LaPierre continued tearfully, “we haven’t done enough and for that I am deeply sorry. My heart goes out to all victims of gun violence. We've got to do better as an organization and as a nation.”

Meanwhile our TV screens showed the eerie quiet, the placid scenes of a town trying already ready to move forward as if nothing had happened. The empty streets, the busy streets, the sorta busy streets, belied the horrors that had visited Bowling Green that day. The carnage, though unseen was being seared across our national consciousness.

President Obama spoke to a shattered nation ordering all citizens to keep the victims and their families in their thoughts and prayers asserting that that is the most effective method for dealing with tragedy. In a surprising digression from the tragic events in the Bluegrass state, the president speculated about how the ratings would go up if he were a judge on American Idol. He also boasted about “whipping McCain’s ass three years prior.” (It was subsequently reported that he then got on the phone with the ambassador to Liechtenstein and berated him about a perceived slight. Obama’s petulance and pettiness stands in stark contrast to the humility and graciousness of our current Chief Executive.)

At one point we switched to CNN which had a dazzling array of life sized charts and graphs relating to violence and terrorism. None of said charts and graphs made the slightest sense but they made for captivating viewing. The network then showed tweets from ordinary citizens, most of which condemned the attacks or offered sympathy but some railed about the media using social media comments as part of news coverage. The irony was lost on CNN.

Donald Trump, not yet a political figure, called into MSNBC and offered a lengthy and nuanced history of terrorism and its roots saying that an immediate response should always be measured and that tactful diplomacy should always be the first option. Trump further cautioned against stereotyping people of different religions or nationalities. “For instance we should always remember that Islam is a religion of peace and we should embrace our Muslim brothers and sisters and remember that terrorists merely appropriate a religion for their own twisted agenda. Let us build a wall," he boldly continued in what was to be a theme in his 2016 landslide victory, "to keep out hatred and bigotry.”

For many of us the saving grace to the Bowling Green Massacre were the live reports from the scene by the respected journalist, Kellyanne Conway. Her eyewitness account was noted for its graphic detail tempered by an eloquence rarely matched in the annals of TV journalism. With words alone Conway pained a picture none of us could see of the horror that visited Bowling Green that day. It was then that the nation learned of Ms. Conway’s courage and commitment to the truth. The Pulitzer Prize she went on to win was well-earned indeed.

Sadly, in the aftermath of the horror at Bowling Green, most of us in the United States went back to our daily routines and our prurient interest in scandals, celebrity gossip and the latest fads. There were those, such as Ms. Conway, who refused to “just let it go.” The Massacre was briefly back in the spotlight on its anniversary with the release of Conway’s book about that tragic day, “I’ll Never Forget.” Unfortunately the Ron Howard directed film based on the book was a box office dud, many felt the casting of Gabourey Sidibe as Ms. Conway was a critical mistake.

Fortunately, through her high level position within the current presidential administration, Ms. Conway shines a light on truth, be it actual or alternative. And she will never let us forget that awful day.

On February 3, Conway admitted she had inaccurately referred to the 2011 arrest of two Iraqi nationals for terrorism in Bowling Green, Kentucky. However, no one was actually injured or killed in any event.The men charged with federal terrorism had attempted to send both money and weapons to Al Qaeda forces in Iraq. The men both pled guilty; one is serving a life sentence while the other is serving 40 years in federal prison. Neither of the two were ever charged with attempting to plot attacks inside the United States.