22 March 2018

My Alien Encounter and its Strange and Terrible Aftermath

I had an alien encounter -- of the third kind. I’ve been reluctant to share this story because people tend not only not to believe you but to assume that you're  quite mad. As a matter of fact I am — and this is no secret — mentally unstable, but that does not alter the fact that I was taken aboard an alien spaceship.

It happened on a cool Spring evening, right around this time of year, six years ago. I was walking home from a movie and had taken a detour through a park which was, during the day, generally frequented by mothers with babies or toddlers. I was thinking about the forthcoming baseball season and wondering about the chances that my favorite local nine had of returning to the World Series when the earth started to shake. My initial assumption was that we were having an earthquake but the shaking seemed to be localized within a ten foot radius right around me. I was at once curious and scared. Within seconds, a bright beam of light from above enveloped me and the area that was shaking. Is this the outset of some sort of horrific panic attack, I thought. Something compelled me to look up at the source of the light and I saw the bottom of what was obviously a ship from outer space.

With the realization that visitors from another planet, indeed likely another galaxy, were in my midst I grew oddly calm. Then the shaking stopped and the beam of light took on a power and strength that was like a physical force surrounding me. Seconds passed with me feeling almost mystifyingly calm. Then then the surrounding light elevated me in the direction of the spaceship. By rights I should have been terrified but I felt serenity within the beam of light and was secure in the knowledge that somehow I would not fall. As I neared the spacecraft I looked up to see what awaited me. It was no surprise that the bottom of the ship opened up. Soon I was inside the ship, the beam of light was gone and I was standing in the dark awaiting my fate.

There I stood for half a minute, getting a little nervous but still not scared, when finally the lights came on. It seemed that I was in a cargo bay surrounded by metallic boxes that I assumed were luggage or some sort of storage units. Then a door opened and a beam of light emanated from it that seemed a signal that I should enter the next room. This I did.

The door closed softly behind me. I was in a small room that resembled a doctor’s waiting room, awaiting me were three aliens. One indicated I should sit down, which I promptly did.

The aliens were all around 5 feet tall, slender and human like aside from very large eyes, only three fingers and no hair on their heads. They wore one piece suits and shoes of silver. Rather drab, I thought. In perfect English the one in the middle said my name, birthdate and social security number and asked if he had them correctly. I told him that yes he did then I asked what they wanted of me.

“Just a few questions, if we may,” said the one on the left. The aliens’ English was impeccable and completely without accent. I was so impressed by this that I told them so.

“Why thank you,” the one on the right said. “We are quite adept at learning new languages and the proper pronunciation.”

“Can I ask where you are from?” I asked.

“You may,” the one in the middle replied. “But I’m afraid our home is so far away it wouldn’t mean much to you. We’ve come along way.”

“And what is the purpose of your visit?”

“We’d like to get to know your planet better,” replied the one on the left.

“And how are you going about that?”

The one in the middle stepped forward and said, “we’re conducting interviews with several of you of different species from different parts of the planet. Plus we’re watching you go about your days, taking samples, scanning your internet and television.”

“What did you mean about interviewing other species? Did you mean different races or nationalities of humans?”

The middle alien seemed to have taken over the interview. “No we refer to different type of animals. Dogs, lions, snakes, turtles, pretty much every variety.”

“You can do that?”

“Indeed we can,” said the alien on the left, a bit smugly I thought. It seemed they were quite proud of the fact that unlike us, they could have sophisticated communications with animals.

“Anyway,” said the one in the middle, “we don’t want to take up too much of your time so would like to start the questioning.

“Sure. Say, you’re not going to probe me, are you?”

The one on the left made a sound that resembled a snicker while the one in the middle answered, “no need for anything like that. Now then we’re going to need complete honesty from you and we know you humans have a propensity to lie and stretch the truth and so forth so to avoid that we’re going to spray you with a gas that will ensure that all your answers are completely truthful.”

“If that’s absolutely necessary. Are there any side effects?”

“Only that it will make you unconscious for the interview, so you wont remember a word of it.”

Damn, I thought, here I was having this incredible experience and part of it would be lost to me forever.

The next thing I knew a light pink powder was sprayed in my direction. They later told me that the questioning lasted 30 minutes though no earth time would pass during the interview, nor for that matter, for the duration of my time on their ship.

“You should be back with us now,” one of my hosts said. I felt as though I was awakening from a deep sleep. I had a twinge of a headache but it lasted but a few seconds.

“The interview is over?”

“Yes, and it was quite revealing. You’ve led a most interesting life and have some well-formed, and I must say, strongly held opinions.” It was the middle alien speaking.

“Why, what did I say? What did you ask?”

“I’m afraid there’s no time for that. We should return you to the park so you can be on your way home.”

“But I have so many questions.”

“We understand and we're sorry there's no time."

“But you got something out of me and I’ve learned very little from you.”

The middle alien responded, “so it is. Nothing to be done about that, we’ve simply no time for your queries, we wish we could help you, honestly. Perhaps another time.”

I was disappointed, there were so many questions. “Okay, okay, I can't hide my frustration, but you're clearly in charge.”

“Quite so,” spoke up the alien on the left. “Perhaps you’ll excuse us but much of what we would tell you you'd not understand.”

“Maybe you should just let me go,” I said firmly. All three thanked me, then I was directed back toward the door, I’d come in through, I walked back among the boxes and soon the light shone above me and the floor beneath me opened and I was lowered back to terra firma. As soon as my feet touched the ground the beam of light vanished. I immediately looked up and caught a glimpse of the spacecraft before it sped upwards and was out of sight within seconds. It was over.

I’ve never told anyone about my alien encounter. I’m known as a kidder so right off people would think it an elaborate joke or worse think I was serious and had gone completely nuts. I thought about telling my doctor or psychiatrist but ultimately decided there was no point. Of course by putting the story out there now maybe other people who have had the same experience will see it and we can share notes. Who knows, if there are enough of us with the same experience who are deemed sane perhaps we can meet with government investigators. A lot of people with the same story would be taken seriously.

It’s been six years and who knows if the aliens are still around or if there coming back. It’s all still such a mystery. One of the problems I’ve had with the whole incident is how little I really know about what happened and what it was all about. Oh I remember what happened to me quite clearly but there are myriad questions surrounding what happened that remain unanswered, in large part because of the recalcitrance of the aliens. So I’ve decided to write this in hopes that others will reach out and we can share our experiences and perhaps involve some authorities and experts on UFOs and the study of alien life.
It’s been three months since I published the above. The responses were immediate and came from all over. First I heard from Lon Costigan of Dayton, Ohio who was abducted just a few days before me. Mr. Costigan’s experience was identical to mine but he also told of having spoken with another abductee, a farmer named Karl Lundegaard from upstate New York. Mr. Lundegaard’s encounter preceded ours by a year. Sadly the farmer was currently suffering from a strange illness. What started as a tingling sensation in his feet and hands had become paralysis and the paralysis was spreading up his arms and legs. Doctors were baffled.

Next I heard from a woman in the Netherlands whose husband had had an encounter about 18 months before my own. She said her husband was unable to write because his arms and legs were paralyzed for reasons unfathomable to physicians. This caused me no small amount of concern.

After hearing from a few others who’d been abducted and interviewed around the time or shortly after me, I was contacted by a Canadian named Guy Vadnais whose father had been abducted two years prior to my experience. Mr. Vadnais said that his father was completely paralyzed and that it had all started with his hands and legs and that no, doctors could not find the cause. Alarm bells went off for me.

Two nights ago I started feeling a tingling sensation in my toes and fingers and later this afternoon I have a doctor’s appointment. I am not optimistic. A few of us have contacted NASA and UFO researchers and we are all scheduled for interviews. Mine is next week with a Dr. Menninger from NASA and an as yet unidentified gentleman from the CIA.

I’m glad our stories may soon be getting out and that we may learn something but I am also terrified at the prospect of paralysis. I’m pessimistic that our meetings with experts and authorities will help ward off or cure the paralysis. I am making arrangement for my care in a few months time which will include the administration of drugs to facilitate assisted suicide. Such is my fate.

I wonder if it was the pink gas the aliens used that led to this sad fate. Perhaps it is a delayed reaction to the beam of light. For all I know the aliens did it on purpose. Whatever the case, I curse the day that I encountered the aliens.

One final note: As I was writing this I received an email from the husband of a woman named Clara whose abduction in Scotland was over two years prior to mine, the earliest I know of. Like others he said that his wife had suffered paralysis. She had just died a week ago. In the minutes before her passing, Clara had been taking quite lucidly of seeing her alien abductors hovering above her. She said that they were preparing her for a new and better life with them. The husband reported that his wife went from serene to quite giddy in her last minutes and that when Clara closed her eyes for the last time and breathed her final breath a beam of light enveloped her. His wife’s body remained where it was when the light receded but it seemed somehow very much lighter. The man was convinced that Clara, while dead on Earth, had joined the aliens and was in a state of bliss.

I may rethink the suicide.

18 March 2018

Little Sister Visits, The Haunting of a Vietnam Vet

“Tommy, I need to talk to you. Don’t ignore me, don’t be afraid of me just listen. I’m serious… Thomas Steckel….” It was my sister’s voice. I was laying in bed at 3:30 in the morning in the midst of another struggle with insomnia and I was hearing my sister who had been dead for nearly 50 years. I was scared shitless. That was the first night.

I once overheard someone say that my sister’s death was ironic. She died in 1969. At the time I was fighting in Vietnam. I survived the war, but Linda, "safe at home," died. She was driving home with Benny Esteves, her boyfriend, from the Senior Prom when Benny’s car skidded off the road into a power line. Benny had had a few and the roads were slick from a thunderstorm half an hour before. So those were causes. There was no reason.

So to some people I suppose it was weird that instead of her getting word that I died in Nam, I got word in Nam, that she’d died. They sent me straight home. I never found it weird or ironic, it was tragedy. But yeah, I see the irony part too, I mean how the hell do I go into a war, see combat and live while my sister dies on the night of her goddamned senior prom?  I had PTSD just from what I went through in the war. I saw the top of Billy McAfee’s head blown off and a guy named Hertzenberger trying to hold his guts in after a fire fight and I’d watched Fergie Scanlon step on a land mine and get blown in the air, some body parts separated. I’d also seen a VC fall to the ground after I shot him. He was dead. I'd killed him. It felt good and awful at the same time. I was in combat for the better part of seven months and saw a lifetime’s worth of awful shit. Not just saw, heard and smelled too. Those screams, those explosions, they never clear out of your head. The smells linger too. Especially the smell of death. Then add to that my sister's death. I could have used a psychiatrist. Bad.

“Tommy, acknowledge me, I know you’re scared but I need you to say something to me so I can begin a conversation.” I tried to speak but could only manage a frightened grunting noise. “I need to actually hear words, Tommy, words.” The best I could do was, “hi, Linda” which came out like a question from a shy little boy. “That’s better.” That was the second night.

Yeah, I had plenty to work out from the war even before Linda died. Linda and I were born three years apart and always pretty close. We saw life the same way and were both determined to make good. We wanted to get as far away as we could from our parents and the kind of life they lived. Oh we loved mom and dad, we just couldn’t abide all the pettiness that comprised their life. They were forever sharing office politics from their respective jobs, or neighborhood gossip and talking ill about friends and relatives. Status was everything to my parents. They were pretentious, vane and insipid. They only had cursory understandings of politics, none of philosophy or literature and though they attended church weekly, (another font of gossip) they didn’t really seem to care about or understand religion. They were there to keep up appearances. Still they were loving parents who were firm but fair and gave us whatever we needed without spoiling us. That us also includes my younger brother, Mark who was eight years younger than Linda and was eleven years my junior. Once Linda died my folks started spoiling Mark who was a total misfit in the family and at school. He went from one fad or belief or philosophy to another. By high school Mark was a self proclaimed communist and halfway through college he took off for Cuba and we never heard from him again. I can’t tell you much more about Mark, I don’t feel like I ever knew him at all. Strange kid. Strange adult. As for my parents they were devastated by Linda's death but carried on as usual, only with an overwhelming sense of sadness. When Mark left it was like another death and their socializing became infrequent. They both died in their late fifties from lung cancer, they were chain smokers.

“Tommy. Big brother. I need you to really listen and to really talk to me. Can you do that?” I managed some garbled sounds and a fairly clear, “okay,” but my heart wasn’t in it. I was scared. And so it went each night for a week, with me too scared to communicate with the ghost of my dead sister.

Linda wasn’t sure what she was going to do with her life but had decided that college was going to be the place where she’d figure things out. Linda had been accepted to Barnard College and was excited to go there and be exposed to new ideas. She’d have been a raving success at anything she tried. Linda always got straight As and was active in all manner of school extra curricular activities and led an active social life. For my part, once I got home from Nam I was going to take advantage of the GI Bill, study engineering and have a long happy career. That’s actually what happened, minus the happy part. I studied at the University of Michigan. It was a successful if somber four years. I did well in school but the shadow of my sister's death was like a cloud that kept the sunshine out of my life.

For me everything has gone perfectly according to plan and yet I’ve been miserable pretty much the entire time. I met and fell in love with a wonderful woman, named Cherry and had two children.  I had bought my dream house and have had nothing but nightmares since the kids and then Cherry left.  I rattle around the place alone, lonely and feeling worthless. Cherry had been barely able to stand my moodiness but when I added over indulging in booze to the mix she took off. The kids are grown and live in other parts of the country. I have only a few friends. I was always too busy with work to socialize or meet new people. I was a successful engineer with my own consulting firm. I hid in my job. I hid from my family and from my depression. When I sold the firm and retired I used alcohol to hide. I don’t blame my misery on Linda’s death, or my time in Nam, or my parents or anything else. It just is and the worst thing is that I’ve never dealt with. No counseling, no psychiatry, no 12 step program, no meditation, no yoga, no hobbies. I’ve wallowed in it.

So then Linda had started visiting me. Each night for a week. We weren’t exactly making progress. It was just this disembodied voice variously coaxing and hectoring me to talk and me being resistant, mostly because I was scared. But what was I scared of? Was it the idea of a ghost? Fear of being haunted? Or was it that my sister was going to get me to explore my problems. It’s undeniable that I’ve feared facing reality at least since the twin experiences of Vietnam and Linda’s death.

I finally vowed that on the eighth night I’d engage with Linda. I thought it better not to drink that day which believe me, was no mean feat for someone such as myself. Oddly, despite my struggles with insomnia, I fell quickly asleep that night and slept soundly for several hours before the call of nature awakened me and I had to pee. Back in bed I couldn’t get back to sleep. It was 4:00 am.

“Tom, are you going to talk to me this time? You really need to.”

Without hesitation I replied in the firmest voice I’d yet mustered in responding to Linda, “yes, I’m ready to talk.”

“Well it’s about time. I’ve been trying to talk to you for a week but it’s impossible if I don’t get anything back. No more sitting there and grunting and there’s nothing to be afraid of, Tom, I’m your goddamned sister.”

“I know that Linda, but you’ve also been deceased for decades, so this is kind of -- not kind of -- very strange.”

“I remember when we were kids you said you didn’t believe in ghosts. It was that night mom and dad were at the Jenkinson’s and Larry Kyle’s father got stinking drunk and fell all over the hors d’oeuvres. It’s all people talked about for awhile. Anyway we were watching the Munsters and during a commercial we started talking about ghosts and you said they didn’t exist.”

“Jesus, Linda how can you remember all that?”

“Tom, I remember everything. Every damn detail.”

“That must be weird.”

“You’ve no idea.”

“Where are you? Is it possible to see you?”

“I’m just here and no, there’s nothing to see.”

“So I guess I know why you’re here.”


“Yeah you’re hear to lecture me about how miserable I am and about my drinking and how I need to stop wasting whatever I have left of my life and to tell me that life is precious.”

“You were always a quick study, Tom.”

“So that really is it.”

“Yup. I guess I don’t need to say anything. My mere presence has done the trick. Fancy that.”

“But tell me, Linda, how is it possible, I mean you talking to me and what’s it’s like and what — ”

“Sorry big brother, no can do. Even if I tried to explain things you wouldn’t understand it. Anyway this is about you. What kind of steps are you going to take?

“AA, for sure. First thing. Then I’ll renew my gym membership. I don’t know, beyond that I’m not sure. Maybe get a shrink, maybe try to re-activate my social life. Hey, who knows, maybe I’ll write my memoirs.”

“Sounds like you knew the answers all along and my work here is done.”

“Do you have to leave, Sis?”

“You’ve certainly gotten over your fear of me. I can’t stay. But I’ll tell you this: if you don’t follow through with what you’ve just committed to or you backslide, it won’t be me who comes calling.”

“Whattaya mean?”

“Bye, Tommy. I love you.”

I cried myself to sleep. When I woke up I looked on line for the nearest and soonest AA meeting. Then I researched psychiatrists. After a hearty breakfast, sans Bloody Marys, for once, I went to the gym. I was doing all the right things, taking all the right steps, motivated and determined. I was still depressed as hell but maybe that would pass eventually. It's never too late to try.

14 March 2018

Wherein the Author Recounts the Horrors of his Childhood

Yup, that's me.
There's a starman waiting in the sky
He'd like to come and meet us
But he thinks he'd blow our minds
There's a starman waiting in the sky
He's told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it's all worthwhile
He told me:
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie
- From Starman by David Bowie

When I was a child I could often hear my mother yelling in the other room. There was no one else in the house but me. But she’d been screaming at someone using an ugly, angry voice. Sometimes she’d yell directly at me, although she was really just yelling in my direction. I was only rarely the target of her ragings and never for anything I’d actually done. I’m pretty sure  that I didn’t exist to my mother during her psychotic  moments. I would plug my years or turn on my record player or the TV full volume. Today I’m hyper vigilant and noises of all kinds bother me. Mom would sniff a lot and never seemed to blow her nose. Now when I hear people sniff it drives me up the wall.

The insanity stopped the second my dad or my big brother would come home. It wasn’t until my early teens that she could hold it in no longer and would rave regardless of who was home. I’ve told people this and many have been highly skeptical about my claim that from my earliest memories until adolescence my mother could turn her insanity off as simply as a spigot. Facing that skepticism has been one of the worst things I’ve gone through in my life.

My mother was schizophrenic, although never formally diagnosed. To the best of my knowledge she never underwent a psychological exam nor talked to a counselor. Ever.

I’ve successfully blocked out a lot of the particulars of my mother’s insanity. But I’ve never been able to shake how it felt, the overall terror. It was a constant drumbeat. Growing up I was used to it and at the same time every second of hearing her ravings was like being slapped across the face. I was formed into an adult living in that dichotomy. I was a happy child, I was a miserable child. Everything was great. Everything was terrible. My mother put me through hell, but my dad was an angel. Emotionally I clung to my father. He was kind and loving and fun. Nothing was enough to make up for what my mother did to me, but dad did his best. Yet in my teen years I rebelled against him and most of what he stood for. After all it was the Sixties and change was everywhere and living in Berkeley I was ensconced in the middle of so much of it.

Lullabies, look in your eyes,
Run around the same old town.
Doesn't mean that much to me
To mean that much to you.

I've been first and last
Look at how the time goes past.
But I'm all alone at last.
Rolling home to you.
- From Old Man by Neil Young

When my father realized the truth about my mother he was, not surprisingly, devastated. His perfect world was flipped upside down. But one of his responses was to take extra care of me. This was no mean feat for two reasons: he was already a superstar father and I was doing things like trying to grow my hair long, opposing the war in Vietnam and listening to rock music. In all three cases quite the opposite of what he would have wanted. Still our bonds were firm, especially because of sports. He not only came to all my soccer games, but he came to all my practices. Meanwhile he took me to sports events of all variety: football, basketball, baseball, track and field, boxing, soccer and ice hockey. He was my best friend. My mother was my worst enemy.

I went off to college at 17 and in no time at all I was using and abusing drugs and alcohol. The booze, in particular, kept me sane. I had a lot of hurt stored up and it was bound to manifest in strange ways. The booze was a social lubricant that allowed me to be fairly normal in social situations and downright charming when I wanted to be. Sobriety I could handle provided I knew when my next drink was. Of course there were times when I took far too much of my medicine. In my sodden mind getting too wasted or suffering a hellacious hangover was always a small price to pay for the benefits of being high.

Even before I got sober there was trouble brewing in the form of panic attacks. Lucky me suffered (make that suffers) from a particularly virulent strain that is to the regular panic attack what the atomic bomb is to dynamite. I wouldn’t wish these ten megaton panic attacks on anyone no matter how awful a person they be. I am fortunate that none have ever occurred when I had a ready means of suicide at my disposal or I’d be long dead.

While I was drinking, the panic attacks, and the much more frequent problem of the fear of them, could easily be treated by alcohol. Once I ended my relationship with liquor the panic attacks became a much greater and more frequent threat. Enter pharmaceuticals. Since my condition was (is) so rare it took awhile to get me on the right medications. And when I say awhile I mean over 25 years. In the mean time I went through a cornucopia of meds. Some were not effective. Some were highly effective but with unpleasant side effects such as feeling like a zombie. One of the worst side effect was from a med that gave me horrible rages. This is not good look for a middle school teacher nor for a father. Fortunately I was off the stuff quickly before I did too much damage. (I did make one daughter cry during a rage and went way overboard scolding a student and got written up for it.) In addition to disbelieving accounts of my mother’s ability to turn on and off her rages, people have questioned my panic attacks. Many dismiss them as normal experiences, even enlightening ones, that I certainly need not take meds for. Others suggest I exaggerate and still others say that they’ve had many such attacks themselves. In 12 step groups I’ve been accused of trying to make myself different, a sure path to slipping back into using. These comments have frustrated, depressed and angered me. It is difficult not to be believed or having your pain dismissed. Rarely is one’s physical torments similarly dismissed, but when it comes to emotional anguish, everyone fancies themselves an expert.

No one knows what it's like
To feel these feelings
Like I do
And I blame you
No one bites back as hard
On their anger
None of my pain and woe
Can show through
- From Behind Blue Eyes by The Who

I still deal with the aforementioned hyper vigilance. My most effective means of dealing with it is by having headphones with me during my commute. In addition to sniffing, gum chewing, people yakking on cell phones and many other sounds drive me up a wall. While the hyper vigilance is almost certainly a direct result of my upbringing there is less certainty about depression. I’m bi polar, although in the past three years I’ve spent far more time depressed than normal or manic. The depression has been a constant companion, which is odd because it was never invited and won't take my broad hints to please leave.

Yes I see a psychiatrist. I’ve seen various shrinks since I was 16 with decidedly mixed results. Fortunately the doctor I’m seeing now is probably the best of the lot. And yes, I have benefitted from a 12 step program too.

My life has not been easy to live. But I here hasten to add that I am enormously lucky, grateful and satisfied with it. I’m proud that despite my ongoing psychological torment I’ve had a successful marriage that is now 30 years old. I helped raise two daughters who are excelling as human beings and who I couldn’t be more proud of. I am — if barely — a functioning member of society and have been a teacher for 33 years. And while my emotional state has been a constant source of trouble, my physical health has been excellent, as evidenced by my recent ten mile run, and the regular clean bills of health I get from my physician. On balance I’ve done okay.

I still think about my mother. Several years ago, after decades of loathing the woman, I forgave her. She was not at fault. I’m sure at no point did she ask to be schizophrenic for purposes of tormenting her youngest son. Nonetheless I still re-visit those horrors of childhood (generally not on purpose) and mostly I think of that poor little kid I used to be. Whether at five, eight or eleven. I want to hug him and tell him everything will be all right. I want to tell him that it’s okay to cry, even if it’s just once. I want to reassure him that mom’s insanity is no reflection on him. I want to tell him to remember in the future to take it easy with the medicines of his choice. I want to tell him that someday he’ll meet and marry the woman of his dreams and it will be wonderful. More so than he can possibly imagine. I want the poor kid not to suffer. I want to protect him. Rescue him. Love him. He didn’t deserve to be exposed to a schizophrenic mother. He got a tough break to start life. What I really want to do is tell him I’m proud of him. He’s tough.

10 March 2018

One Part is About Email Spam Another Concerns Biographies and the Third is a Discussion on the Greatest Talk Show Guest

Whenever someone wants to comment on my blog the web host sends me the comment before it is published. I can choose to publish it, delete it or mark it as spam. It’s a good system that I heartily approve of. Lately I’ve been bombarded with “comments” many of which are for posts that are more than five years old. These comments have several things in common. One is that they either only vaguely relate to the post in question or have nothing to do with it all. Many of the comments are poorly written and some make little sense. The other commonality is that within them are links to websites. I’ve only checked a couple and they were for sites that provide writing help. (Clearly many of the commenters could use the services these sites provide.) In a couple of cases the comments have referenced how one can improve their writing through the site.

None of this is a terrible imposition. All I do is take a cursory glance at the comment, see there’s a link, hit “mark as spam”and delete the email. Still it annoys. The annoyance doesn’t stem from having to go through the steps of getting rid of the comment but from the very idea of this spam. It’s an incredibly cynical thing to do. The, let us say perpetrators, are merely pretending to provide a comment on a post and what they’re really do is trying to get free advertising. It’s deceitful.

I wonder how the people who do this feel about their actions, about themselves. Are they proud of what they’re doing? Do they have a conscience? Do they hope that some of their comments will slip through and help traffic on their website and do they feel that that in turn is a legitimate way to drum up business? Honestly, I don’t understand how people think this is okay. I also wonder if there are other bloggers out there who fall for these charades.
I recently finished reading a spate of biographies. Four to be exact. Maybe that doesn’t qualify as a spate. Perhaps I read several. Surely four is more than enough for several. In any case….

Biographies are comfort reading. They’re generally easy, fast reads but at the same time long enough to sink one’s teeth into — although not a recommended dental practice. I suppose circumstances in my life dictated these “easier” reads, what with occasional bouts of raging depression. Still good bios are hardly pablum. Learning about a person and what shaped his life is instructive and illuminating and one can’t help but draw parallels to one’s own life. Also a biography is a history lesson. History being something we learn far to little about let alone from. Sadly history is to often used — by both the right and left — to propagandize, being presented with glaring omissions or rife with distortions, exaggerations and downright mistruths. But I digress....

Biographies — assuming accuracy, balance and perspective — are fun and easy ways to find insight into the forces that shape people and their actions. For the record the bios I read were about George Armstrong Custer (I found him to be a most unsavory, albeit interesting character, who probably deserved far worse than the death he suffered at Little Big Horn); Ulysses S Grant (known primarily for having been a great general largely responsible for the Union victory in the Civil War, he was also surprisingly progressive man, particularly as president, who aimed to do much for African-Americans, sadly his efforts were largely negated by the long string of racist presidents who followed); Alexander Hamilton (a complex man who, despite the excellence of the book, I could never quite get a handle on, a crucial figure in the forming of the US Government as we know it today and worthy of an eponymous musical); Richard Nixon (an endless source of fascination to me, someone who I grew up despising — and not without reason — a tortured soul who’s political demise looks inevitable in retrospect, he deserves vilification more for his dastardly actions regarding Vietnam than any of his misdeeds in Watergate).

I followed my bio binging by reading a book of essays by David Foster Wallace, a few of which did not much interest but most I found to be both utterly compelling and thoroughly entertaining. Wallace, like Thomas Wolfe, Jack Kerouac and a handful of others, leave me inspired and in awe. I fancy that I write a bit like Wallace only he did it about a hundred times better. Better make that a thousand. To read Wallace is to really be with him to a greater extent than with other writers and it is also to be almost overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of his intellect and intelligence.

I have followed the Wallace essays with a novel and after a couple months off of fiction it’s a different world. What year is it? How old is that person? Who’s he again? Now the author has changed location and time and I was just getting familiar with the story. Wonder what this guy looks like? What’s his backstory? Wait, are they at the office or the cafe? Which person is taking? I wish there were a damn index.

Of course, I’m not an idiot — not so that you’d know it, anyway — and I do get things sorted in my mind and follow the story and enjoy it and my little brain is stimulated and I am happy.
I read an article in the New Yorker (aren’t I Mr. Fancy Pants?) about how Martin Short is the greatest talk show guest of all time. You’ll get no argument from me. He was especially good on Letterman (and by the way Dave’s monthly Netflix show is terrif) appearing on Dave’s two shows a combined 50 or so times. The only one to rival Martin Short as a guest is his good buddy, Steve Martin. The two not only have performed together but appeared together as talk show guests.

After reading the article I went to my old friend You Tube and watched Mr. Short's last appearance in Letterman, it might have been his best and isn’t nice of me to have linked it for you?* One thing I particularly enjoy about the appearance is watching two old show biz hands enjoying one another’s company and swapping stories. Dave always appreciated guests like Mr. Short with whom he could chew the fat, share war stories from the old days or reflections on fellow artists or just reminisce. I’ve always like chummy conversations with people who’ve been through the wars together. I used to have a lot of those with fellow veteran teachers in my middle school teaching days. We’d often recount the same stories we’d hashed over before but it was still worth a laugh. I have fond memories of my father and other Finns talking about the old days whether it was about the homeland or construction jobs or fishing trips. Sports fans can enjoy the same sort of repartee.

I fear the likes of Martin Short and Dave Letterman are going to be fading away soon enough and wonder if the next generation of show business vets will have the same gravitas and respect for the past. Hope so.

*You may further be interested in Martin Short's first Letterman appearance -- which he references during his last -- 33 years prior.

02 March 2018

Gun Nuts, Nuts About their Guns and Maybe Just Nuts

Gun enthusiasts live in a strange world. It is a dystopian nightmare in which laws are useless, their families are threatened by imminent attack and a soon-to-be fascist government is going to try to seize their weapons. Their concern for human life is passing, their love of guns is eternal. Some seem in many ways to be reasonable people who will weigh both sides of an argument. But when in comes to guns their position is intractable. Their paranoid delusions have been created by none other than the NRA. This is perhaps the worst of the NRA's foul contributions to the US, they have poisoned minds, convincing their members that any gun law, no matter how reasonable or bengin, is the first step to gunless totalitarian rule.

I had a reasonably sane conversation with a gun lover on Twitter in which we exchanged opposing views but I was ultimately frustrated by his unwillingness to concede that their might not actually be forces in this country looking to disarm the entire populace. He was sure that the next restriction on gun ownership or sale passed would begin the slippery slide into jack booted thugs confiscating his guns. These are guns, mind you, that he is convinced are needed to protect his family (how many home invasions are thwarted by good guys with guns?). The fact is that a gun in a home is far more likely to be used on a member of the household than on a stranger is evidently of no import to the gun aficionado.

Other gun owners have asserted that citizens must be armed to protect themselves from the government which again, they think is a hop, skip and a jump away from turning into an authoritarian regime bent on appropriating privately owned guns. Apparently an armed citizenry will be able to rebuff a government that has at its disposal a military fully armed with tanks, missiles and bombs. Good luck with that. Evidently some gun lovers imagine a future in which they may gallantly die in a hail of bullets while standing on their porch shooting soldiers. Or perhaps they envision succumbing to a tank that steamrolls them as they wave the flag in one hand and fire a pistol with the other.

One of the more disturbing things about gun owners is their conviction that laws simply won't work to deter gun violence. So why bother? It begs the question of why we have any laws at all. People gonna rape, gonna embezzle, gonna steal and gonna jaywalk so people gonna shoot regardless of laws. Seemingly gun lovers don't care about laws protecting them because they can protect themselves perfectly well enough with their personal arsenals.

Then there's their total misreading of the second amendment (not that gun toters are terribly good at the niceties of reading and comprehending). Amendment numero dos begins: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. That's right a "well-regulated militia being necessary." Here's the deal, when the constitution was written the United States had no standing army and relied on the aforementioned militias for protection. There was no intent to ensure that everyone had a gun as a right of citizenship. Former Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger called the NRA contention that everyone is entitled to a gun"a fraud on the American republic." From an article in Politico magazine by Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and author of The Second Amendment: A Biography: "There is not a single word about an individual’s right to a gun for self-defense or recreation in (James) Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention. Nor was it mentioned, with a few scattered exceptions, in the records of the ratification debates in the states. Nor did the U.S. House of Representatives discuss the topic as it marked up the Bill of Rights. In fact, the original version passed by the House included a conscientious objector provision. “A well regulated militia,” it explained, “composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but no one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.”

It's odd that the NRA and their minions so extoll the second amendment when they clearly don't understand it. Then again the NRA is a twisted group of people whose sole raison d'être seems to be to boost gun sales -- by any means necessary. I hold them responsible for making paranoid delusionals out of so many gun owners. I further hold them responsible for much of the wholesale gun slaughter that is forever going on in the land of the free (not free, mind you, from the fear of being shot).

I find this love of guns bizarre. Sure some people like to go hunting (in other words they like to kill animals for sport) and target practice can be fun and it's not impossible to rationalize having a gun in the house or glove box for protection and owning an antique gun or a gun that great grandpa used to use might be cool. But gun lovers have a weird obsession with the gun itself and one can imagine how they are possible phallus substitutes. When I was about ten I had a bee bee gun that I liked to use, to "play army" with and to shoot twigs off trees. One day I got a little bird in my sights and felled it with one shot. As it twirled to the ground I felt sick. I never shot at an animal again. I can't even begin to imagine shooting a duck or a deer or even a damn squirrel (maybe a rat, I hate rats). But some people love to hunt, love their guns and are as scared as hell of said guns being taken. Weird.

The impossibility of talking to gun lovers, of moving them one iota from their firmly entrenched positions (concrete provided by the NRA) is truly depressing. The NRA has become part of the right wing's crusade to eliminate compromise from US discourse and politics. Everything is binary. My way or the highway. And in the case of the NRA, their way leads to more senseless violence.

(My position on guns was summed up well in a tweet by a gent by the name of Lawrence Tribe: No guns till age 21, no bump stocks, ban AR-15s & equivalent guns, ban multi-shot clips, ban body-shredding ammo, make background checks & registration universal, use red flags & restraining orders, no guns for those on no fly list, boycott NRA, vote out its puppets.)