28 May 2018

So Many Superlatives: Nine Days Back East, Seven in New York and Two in Our Nation's Capital

The author and A. Lincoln
Nine days ago the missus and I took a hellish Uber ride to the San Francisco airport then flew to New York. The flight to NY was planned, the hellish Uber ride was not. Our driver was a friendly soul but my god she could not stop talking and her voice reached ear-splitting decibels. Loud is too mild a word to describe the shrill agony-inducing quality of her vocal chords. And oh yes, she was repetitious. You can only hear someone tell you how proud they are of their grandson so many times before you want to scream. On the other hand she got lost looking for the Jet Blue terminal. That was the start of our journey.

But we made it to the plane and soared over what is known as flyover country. The reason it is so called should be self-evident. Someone explain it to Trump.

To economize we stayed in a tiny Air B&B. Perhaps tiny is not the word. It was not possible to find it with a map but could be located via a microscope. There was a bed wedged the "room" and just enough space for our luggage, provided we made no attempt to open it.

Sunday morning we met youngest daughter (she is a resident now of Brooklyn) at Penn Station where we caught a train for our nation's capital (still in Washington D.C.). Our journey took us through Baltimore, Philadelphia and best of all Wilmington, Delaware, i.e. the jewel of the Christina and Delaware rivers. I'd never been to D.C. before and was looking forward to soaking in a little history having taught the subject for a couple of dozen years and studied it since I started reading. My old cynical unpatriotic heart was actually somewhat moved by being at the Lincoln Memorial, Abraham Lincoln having been a decent sort and certainly worthy of a monument or two. Prior to that I was quite excited when, much to my surprise, we found ourselves walking by the Watergate. Yes, that Watergate. The scandal that brought down the Nixon presidency has been a subject of fascination for me, indeed it has been ever since the story unfolded over four decades ago.

Right by the Watergate is the Kennedy Center and that's the way it is in D.C. with one famous place right next to another. We could, of course, see the Washington Monument from pretty much anyplace we stood, or sat or walked or ran or drove. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial touched me as the Vietnam war formed the backdrop to my youth and is another subject that has interested me. We also went by the World War II Memorial which was beautiful but a little bit too festive to commemorate an event in which so many innocents were slaughtered. We capped off our day by going by the White House. Given who currently resides there (a racist, misogynist, homophobic, narcissist, megalomaniacal, dimwit) it was surprisingly depressing to see this beautiful, historic seat of "democracy." Living in Berkeley and working in San Francisco, I was surprised to see, for the first time live and in person, some yokel wearing one of those god awful Make American Great Again hats. It was fitting that he looked like the village idiot's poor relation.

We spent the night in a hotel which in comparison to our Air B&B was the Palace of Versailles.

MLK Jr. Memorial
The next day I went to the Smithsonian's US History Museum while daughter and wife took in the National Portrait Gallery. The scourge of the trip was ever present roving bands of students on field trips with haggard, worried, demanding teachers struggling to keep order. (This is a particularly painful sight as one who has been a haggard, worried, demanding teacher struggling to keep order on a school field trip). What a delight to be soaking in some history while studying an exhibit of say Calvin Coolidge's underwear when a group of screaming teenagers runs into the room all energy, acne and insolence. Nevertheless I enjoyed my visit seeing Lincoln's top hat, Grant's carriage, Washington's desk, Jackie Kennedy's inaugural dress and Willie Mays' baseball glove, to name but a few items of historical import.

After spending not enough time in that museum I met the family and we spent not nearly enough time at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. (Not being able to spend enough time in a museum was the theme of the trip, as it is whenever one travels.) This museum was one of the best history museums I've ever set foot in and indeed one of the best museums of any kind I've had the pleasure to visit. It brilliantly captures the scope of the African American experience from Jamestown through Obama's election. Anyone who has any time in D.C. should make a point to see it. It was also refreshing to be in a museum that was -- and this is no surprise -- so well attended by our Black brothers and sisters. I can only imagine the mixture of pain and pride that comes with a journey through this part of history. Later we went by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and despite the ubiquitous school field trip brigades, it was another moving experience.

Taken from Empire State Building
Monday night we returned to NY and the next day were met by rain. We soldiered on just the same, with daughter back at her job with the Brooklyn D.A.'s office the better half (believe, much, much better -- ask anyone who knows us both) and I took the ferry into Manhattan. We went hither and yon enjoying the hustle and bustle which is easy enough to do when one is on vacation. We went to the New York Historical Society a modest little museum compared to where we had been and would later go but enjoyable just the same. Our travels were greatly aided by New York's subway system where one sees all manner of human being. The beautiful, the wretched, the hideous, the normal, the loud, the young, old and all points between. I saw one young man (and this is not -- sadly -- uncommon) playing with himself quite vigorously. He was wearing sweatpants to facilitate the activity.

In the coming days the rain was gone although after a few comfortable days it was replaced by blazing heat. I do not like hot weather no matter if I'm working, running errands, sitting at home or playing tourist. We forged on. There were many highlights the highest of which were again museums,  namely the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (that's the Met to us sophisticates). There was Cezanne, Matsse, Picasso (Spanish chap, look him up), Van Gogh and Italian named Giorgio de Chirico who I'd been unfamiliar with, Wyeth, antiquities, Medieval artifacts and so much more. But again never enough time. I love museums, they make me happy and provide temporary cures for depression when I am so afflicted. It also makes me happy to be in bookstores and New York boasts one of the best, Strand's. I happily roamed around it and with great restraint managed to buy only two books.

We also went to Grant's tomb, I was determined to see it having recently read Ron Chernow's magnificent biography of the man. I was most impressed and particularly loved the location in Riverside Park, a lovely area. We stopped by Columbia University on the way. My mother got her M.A. there right around the time my two literary heroes, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were also there. A fellow named Obama also attended Columbia, many years later.  I also liked touring the home where Theodore Roosevelt was born and spent his first few years. I have decidedly mixed feelings about TR but have always been unequivocally fascinated by him. I took my first trip to the top of the Empire State Building and it shouldn't surprise one to learn that the views are magnificent. We also strolled across the Brooklyn Bridge which would have been a lot nicer had not 17 zillion other people and half a jillion bicyclists not been going across at the same time.

A Picasso currently at the Met.
We reunited with daughter Friday night to go to the theater. We saw an Edward Albee play, Three Tall Women, staring Laurie Metcalf, Allison Pill and the legendary Glenda Jackson. It was fabulous (isn't it nice how many glowing adjectives I'm using to describe our trip? it must have been really good.) Our last full day was Saturday and the heat was ridiculous and we refused to engage with it. instead we took in a movie at a really nice theater in the Lincoln Center -- right across the street from The Juilliard School which has produced a thespian or two. In the evening we had dinner with daughter at an Italian restaurant which I could apply still more glowing adjectives to. I had the sea bass. Succulent.

Sunday was departure day. We took an Uber to daughter's residence and our driver was an old gent who when he found out we were from near San Francisco berated that city for its over abundance of gays and lesbians. He further maintained that there were virtually no gays in New York.  The driver excused his homophobia on the basis of his being Jewish. Sorry, pal, there's no excuse for bigotry and trying to blame your religion is a lame one at that. I gave him one star and left a comment why and Uber refunded our ride.

After breakfast and time visiting our child it was time to return to the Bay Area. Our flight home was relatively crash free and it was nice to be home and to see oldest daughter. Today is Memorial Day and tomorrow it's back to work. I'd rather be going to a museum.

17 May 2018

If You Don't Like At Least Five of These Films, I Don't Think We Can Be Friends

I’ve been nettled by a question for over ten years now. It started when a friend emailed me after seeing a movie that I had raved about. The friend said that she didn’t like the film and wondered if, as a consequence, I’d lose respect for her as a film goer. My answer was: of course not. But I began to think about the notion of there being such a film, one that I would expect any self respecting cinephile to like. I finally came to a conclusion on this topic: no such film exists. But I still wanted some sort of litmus test. Lo these many years later I’ve come up with is the idea of selecting 20 films and from this creating a “test”: can a person find five — a mere 20% — that she or he likes. If not I doubt that such an individual and I have very much in common, at least as it relates to cinema. Of course the more of these films an individual likes, the more likely we are to get along. Now you could have a circumstance in which a person likes only three of these films but has only seen ten of them. In that case I'd say said that person needs to up their game. There's nothing obscure here and all are available on DVD and probably all can be streamed. These films represent different genres and different eras and are from as early as 1927 and as recently as 2013. I’ve mixed in silents, black and whites and foreign films, a veritable potpourri of cinema. All are movies I hold dear though they do not represent my 20 favorite movies of all time. Most are among my top 100. I’ve taken into account the fact that some people don’t like silent films or foreign films or films with a lot of violence. I knew a cinephile who only watched movies with a strong female character and I knew of a person who wouldn’t watch anything made before 1970 (I know, crazy). But there’s plenty here for all tastes (although I didn’t include any documentaries or animation) with a variety of directors and stars too. Finding five you like shouldn't be a problem and just think, we'll be pals ever after.

City Lights (1931) Charlie Chaplin has been universally loved for over 100 years. Even people who otherwise eschew silent films or anything made before Star Wars, enjoy the Little Tramp character. I could have picked any Chaplin film but went with City Lights because it’s my favorite of his. Modern Times and The Great Dictator are equally esteemed but both include political themes while City Lights has a more social appeal. As to other Chaplin films, well there are two versions of Gold Rush (the original far superior) which may confuse people. The Circus has arguably the funniest 20 minutes or so of any Chaplin film but it begins to fade after that. Chaplin’s other silents are too short to be considered for this exercise. City Lights is, to me, that one movie that epitomizes the Little Tramp. It has a huge heart and it is hilarious.

Duck Soup (1933) I have a had life long love for the Marx Brothers, particularly Groucho (born Julius Henry Marx). This is by far the funniest of their films and includes a not too subtle anti-war message. There are none of the maudlin songs that deadened some of their later films. Instead there are more great one liners and sight gags than in any film ever made. Some people may prefer A Night at the Opera or even another Marx Brothers film, but I’ve never known a fellow Marxist (of the Groucho sort) who didn’t like this one.

His Girl Friday (1940) I don’t know if its the best pure screwball comedy but it's surely one of the best films of any kind ever made. It has all the elements of the great screwball comedy greatly aided by masterful performances by co-stars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. It’s fast-paced, it’s funny and it also has something to say. In fact a lot. Notably about journalists, governments and the death penalty. You can ignore the messages and just enjoy the rapid fire dialogue and zany one liners and antics. In any case it's irresistible.

The Big Sleep (1944) It’s Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, for chrissakes, what’s not to like? This is the best of their films together and it is classic detective story, albeit an endlessly confusing one. The story has twists and turns aplenty, witty patter, beautiful dames and that Bogie-Bacall magic. The dialogue, the directing, the gorgeous black and white cinematography are all perfect. Unless you really have a bias against “older” films The Big Sleep is something you should like. Or love.

Some Like it Hot (1959) Marilyn Monroe’s best picture. Need I say more? How about the writing and directing of Billy Wilder who at the time was still in top form. You’ve also got Tony Curtis and one of the world’s greatest actor, Jack Lemmon. The story is funny as hell, sexy as hell and like I said, it has Marilyn Monroe. Some don't consider it Wilder's best (I prefer Sunset Blvd.) but it is surely his most popular. It is one of the older black and white films that people who don't like older black and white films watch.

Amarcord (1973) One of Fellini’s many masterpieces and the one that has the broadest appeal. It’s so rich with characters and vignettes that its hard not to love. The film centers around a small coastal city in those dark days when Mussolini ruled Italy. While Fascism features so too does romance, families, celebrations and the vagaries of having a relative in the nut house. Although it would never be billed as such, I consider Amarcord to be a “feel good” movie because it is in essence a celebration of life and all its mad riches. It makes a body feel good.

The Seventh Seal (1957) My favorite director is Ingmar Bergman and like a lot of Bergman fans this is my favorite of his films. Many of the great Swede's films are too dark and somber for main stream tastes but The Seventh Seal is hardly a downer despite it dealing so heavily in the subject of death. It has all of the classic elements of the Bergman’s oeuvre such as symbolism, religion, mortality and philandering. Cinematographer Sven Nykvist is as much a star of the film as Max von Sydow. It's thoughtful and beautiful without ever being overbearing.

Annie Hall (1977) Woody Allen’s name has been dragged through the mud recently as old previously-refuted charges of molestation have been dredged up. (Mr. Allen was accused of sexually abusing his daughter, Dylan. Separate investigations not only found no evidence with which to charge Mr. Allen, but suggested the strong possibility that Dylan's mother — Mia Farrow — coached Dylan. It is therefore likely that the real abuser is Ms. Farrow.) It has also been said that Allen’s current wife (with whom he’s enjoyed a long and happy marriage) was his daughter or his adopted daughter or that they lived together when she was a child. None of this true nor is the particularly scurrilous charge that he “groomed” her as a youth. In any event the great director has been unfairly treated by people with an aversion to full stories. His films — so many of them and so many greats — live on. Annie Hall is not my favorite (it’s second for me to Manhattan) but it’s probably still his most popular over 40 years since it won the Best Picture Oscar. It was ground breaking at the time and it is still funny, touching and chock full of memorable dialogue.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) The Coen Brothers are among the grand masters of cinema and are notable for the variety of types of films they make. This is my favorite of their work. Unlike some of their films there is virtually no violence and no broad comedic touches. It is subtle, witty and deals with the universal topic of someone who is not quite good enough to realize his dream. The title character is a struggling folk singer who is good in a world where great is required. He is dead panned, world weary, at times irascible and rude but easy to root for as life continues to deal him dirty blows. Oscar Isaac in the lead is wonderful and the supporting cast led by Carey Mulligan, Adam Driver and Justin Timberlake is as good. The movie also beautifully captures early 1960s America, particularly New York.

The Godfather (1972) It’s a perfect movie in every respect. From set design to the performances to the memorable lines. It is part of American culture. Everyone should at least see it and after having done so I can’t imagine not loving or at the very least admiring it. There may be a tad too much violence for the squeamish but other than that I have trouble imaging a film fan not enjoying this masterpiece.  On the surface it is a gangster film but there is so much more to it. It's as much about family as anything else and it is also a look at how a man changes as a consequence of circumstances over which he has no control. The Godfather is never grim, never cynical and always a revelation.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) Many people are turned off today by a lot of older Westerns because of their depictions of Native Americans. Fair point. But Liberty Valance has no stereotypical Injun characters or indeed any at all. It does have John Wayne who is also a turn off to a lot of people but perhaps that can be over looked given how damn good the movie is with another in a long line of stellar performances by one Jimmy Stewart. It also features Lee Marvin as one of the nastiest, meanest, cussedest villains you ever did see. Liberty Valance is a classic Western that tells many truths about the USA, notably the business about printing legends rather than truths.

Cabaret (1972) I’m not a fan of musicals but of course Cabaret is different in that the many songs are part and parcel to the story and do not interrupt it, after all, much of the film takes place in a Cabaret. Liza Minelli and Joel Grey in  Oscar winning performances are transcendent and Michael York is no slouch either. Cabaret has a little bit of everything: music, sex, Nazis, romance, humor, pathos and history. Loosely based on Christopher Isherwood’s memoirs of his time in Berlin between the World Wars, Cabaret is a rollicking lot of fun -- but then again there are Nazis and not like in the cartoons. Wonderful on so many levels and it hasn't aged a day since its initial release.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) A modern film in its sensibilities featuring boffo performances from a great cast led by Jennifer Lawrence (who richly deserved the Oscar she won). There are elements of the typical hokey rom com in this film that has mass appeal but its also effecting for its honest look at mental illness as it effects the two main characters played by Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. It also subtly reveals how the seemingly “normal” have afflictions of their own (see sports fans). Silver Linings goes into dark places without itself ever being dark. It’s not the type of movie I generally like but I love it. Maybe in part because of a scene in which the two main characters are recounting the various meds they’ve taken and their effects; I feel like I’m in the conversation because I’ve taken most of them myself.

Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987) A great French film from Louis Malle. It is in a sense another World War II movie in that its set in occupied French but it is not an easy film to pigeon hole. It is about preadolescents and teens and their normal struggles growing up and how this is complicated when one of them is a Jew being hidden from the Nazis. It is a beautiful film that I have trouble writing about because I love it so much and it's so powerful. While the notion of Nazis and the Holocaust is central to the film, it never feels too heavy. Based on Malle's own experiences.

Pulp Fiction (1994) I know of people who hate Pulp Fiction but a helluva lot more who — like me — love it. Although I think director Quentin Tarantino outdid this with the brilliant Inglorious Basterds, Pulp Fiction remains his most enduring film and has been accumulating new fans consistently throughout the 24 years since its release. Like many of the films on this list it has seeped into our culture and its characters and dialogue haven’t aged a bit. There is violence but its pretty tame compared to a lot of what one sees today. The more I watch it the more I appreciate Samuel L. Jackson’s masterful performance as Jules, he is one of the best of Tarantino’s many memorable creations.

The Man Without a Past (2002) I here include a film by my fellow countryman the great Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki and I’ve selected perhaps his most accessible work. As in most of his films we have a main character who is done a dirty deed put perseveres getting by with a little help from new found friends. Everyone is dead pan, no one is glamorous or beautiful. There is subtle humor there is sadness, pathos but it is far from a tragedy. A man comes to the big city and is badly beaten and in the process loses his memory. He's taken in by poor but honest folks and through a Salvation Army sister finds solace and love. And that is just the beginning.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) The last great silent film. Anyone who doesn’t like silent movies (shame on you) should at least try this one from the great German director FW Murnau.  My god it’s a beautiful film. A young couple living happily in the country is threatened by a vixen from the big city who tries to lure away the husband, and convince him to drown his wife. I’ll not give away the ending but will add there are a series of scenes in which the married couple go into the city and have a grand time. These scenes are master classes in film making. Certainly any true cinephile will appreciate them and the film as a whole. For that matter so too should the more casual film goer.

Little Big Man (1970) Here’s a film of the Old West in which the Indians are heroes and the white men — for the most part — vicious scoundrels. Dustin Hoffman stars. As the movie opens he is a centenarian recounting his adventures from boyhood through adulthood and what adventures they are. As a boy his wagon train is attacked by hostile natives and he is taken to live with the Cheyenne. He grows up as an Indian but this is just one of many twists and turns his life takes in an epic story. Later he lives with a preacher and his seductive wife (Faye Dunaway) hooks up with snake oil salesman (Martin Balsam) at various times rejoins the tribe, rides along with George Armstrong Custer (he survives the Battle of Little Big Horn), he becomes a gunfighter, a drunk a married man, a vagabond. Man it's a fun movie and it’s hard to imagine anyone being offended by it or not loving it.

Stalker (1979) I had to include a film by the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky and to me this is his finest work. This will not appeal to those low brows who do not like foreign films or intellectual mysteries or especially when the twain meet. It is a deliciously ambiguous film that is utterly captivating to some people such as yours truly and requires repeat viewings. The film depicts an expedition led by a man known as the "Stalker" to take his two clients to a mysterious restricted site known simply as the "Zone," where there is a room which supposedly has the ability to fulfill a person's innermost desires. It has too many themes to recount here but suffice to say that the viewer will get out of the experience what she or he brings to watching and thinking about it.

Mean Girls (2004) This is a film with a surprisingly broad appeal Anyone who has ever attended an American high school should appreciate it. It has captured the American zeitgeist of Generation Y but is relatable to us baby boomers and other generations as well. It is damn funny, has memorable characters and speaks to certain truths about high school, social groups and growing up. It is still very much in our culture as evidenced by the musical of the same name that recently opened on Broadway. I show it to my students (people from all over the world) and they love it. You'd have to be an awful stick in the mud not to.

11 May 2018

Ten Years of Blogging

Photo from the 10th anniversary celebration held last night.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of this blog. This is the 1,164th post. Originally the blog was titled Riku Writes, which in retrospect was a dumb name. I don't recall exactly when I changed the name although at some point I could dig through the archives and come up with a date.

For the first several years I wrote mostly about movies and sometimes my posts were linked on the IMDb. I wrote about old films and new films. I made lists of particular kinds of films. Gangster films, Westerns, Pre-Code films etc. I wrote about particular directors, actors, years. I wrote about movie villains, movies with train scenes, I wrote about great lines in films. Then I stopped. There were three reasons: I had a tendency to liberally garnish my film writings with adjectives. Many of the same ones over and over again. Classic, masterpiece, compelling, brilliant etc. I tired of this and it betrayed a weakness in my writing. The second reason was that I ran out of interesting things to say about films. Still today I'll come up with an idea for a film related piece and soon realize that I already wrote about it. The final reason is that I found other topics more interesting to write about.

Several years back I started writing short stories and they have started to make up a sizable portion of what I post. I've also increasingly used this blog as a confessional. I write about past misdeeds, particularly those related to those days when I abused alcohol and drugs. I also write a lot about my struggles with mental illness, particularly depression. These kind of writings have been most therapeutic in a way that a diary could never be. Something about "putting it out there" for the world to see is refreshing and liberating and I flatter myself that a few people who also deal with depression or addiction have found some measure of comfort in reading about another person's inner battles. I've also utilized this blog to write about my youth and my family. I hope that my progeny can learn a little about my life and previous generations through this blog. Also I've written a great deal about teaching, an occupation I've been in for over 30 years. In fact, my three part series on advice for aspiring teachers has been used by my current employers.

This blog has been great for venting, whether about the horrors of commuting or politics in the age of Trumpie ,or the types of social missteps one is daily exposed to, be it idiots riding bicycles on sidewalks or louts hanging their dirty socks in the gym sauna. I've shared highs and lows here. It's been a travelogue and it has also been where I've shared my sorrow over  the passing of friends and relatives. My brother, two good friends, a former colleague and a former student have all died since I started this blog and I've been privileged to honor them as best I could on this blog.

I'm proud of much of what I've written but I strongly suspect that after I retire and I review all my posts I'll do a lot of wincing too. I feel safe in assuming that many of my old writings will enter the cyber trash bin. I may be at 1,164 posts now but at some point that number might actually shrink.

This blog also inspired a spin off, Sandwiches of Despair, my poetry blog.

For the best of this blog see the label Favorite Posts over on the right hand side.

I conclude here by re-printing my first ever post. It seems quaint given that all that has followed, but in my life it is a historic piece having launched this blog that means so very much to me.

                                                  NOT PRETENTIOUS

At the Safeway check out counter there was a book called," An Idiot's Guide to Nascar." Here's my question: Who else would want a guide to Nascar?  

I am about to go read some F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories. Telling you this along with my jab at Nascar perhaps seems pretentious. I can't help that. It's actually far worse to edit your life in order not to seem some way than it is to be that way in the first place.  

Hey, before going to the store I watched the latest episode of "The Simpsons" and a chunk of my day was taken up with baseball so I do indeed have the common touch.  

First blog post completed.

09 May 2018

The Fabulous First 50: The First Two Score and Ten #TriviaFun Tweets I've Tweeted

Abe Lincoln's brother Gordon, of  Dim Sum fame.
Two and half months ago I brought joy and surcease to a troubled world by starting my daily tweets of #TriviaFun. The response has been overwhelming. Literally a few people have been avidly checking my twitter feed everyday to see the latest bit of TriviaFun. I've already been approached about a book deal and there are suggestions of a cinematic adaptation. The awards have poured in too. I'm humbled to have received the Pulitzer Prize for trivia tweeting as well as a People's Choice Award. Apparently the Nobel committee is going to be recognizing #TriviaFun as well. Plaudits have come from all over the world. I've heard from presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens, potentates, dictators, Mafia bosses and common folk. As I said, I'm humbled. There are, of course, some benighted souls who are not on twitter. To you I present my first 50 #TriviaFun tweets so that you too can enjoy these fascinating bits of knowledge. And to my legion of regular followers, here in one complete package is all the trivia you've so much enjoyed these past 50 days. There will be another compilation presented when I reach the 100 mark. Please, enjoy.

Abraham Lincoln’s brother Gordon opened the first Dim Sum restaurant west of the Alleghenys.

According to a NASA study, 98% of the time a person types LOL, they have not literally laughed out loud.

For his historic trans-Atlantic flight, Charles Lindbergh wanted a flight attendant.

The Renaissance was delayed due to a teamster’s strike.

There is no recorded instance of anyone fighting like cats and dogs while it was raining like cats and dogs.

The first batter in major league baseball history immediately set the record for most plate appearances.

In its original charter, the official language of the United Nations was to be pig latin.

The asp that killed Cleopatra was named Larry.

Had it not been for the car accident that took his life, James Dean would have had the role of Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver.

Charles Manson once did a cameo on The Brady Bunch.

Due to a clerical error, in the 1920s there was a US Senator representing Romania.

Biblical scholars believe that John the Baptist was actually an Episcopalian.

According to the National Air and Space museum, after this inaugural flight, Orville Wright was so excited he forget to return his tray table to an upright and locked position.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Andrew Lloyd Webber have the same middle name, Lloyd.

Many people who claim to gave encountered aliens say that they call each other, “dude.”

In Canada Cinco De Mayo is celebrated in October.

A 1960s remake of It’s a Wonderful Life was in production before funding fell through. It was titled, It’s a Groovy Life.

For a few months in 1978 Bob Marley and Henry Kissinger carpooled to work together.

In November 2017 Robert Redford and Seth Rogen started developing a TV show called, “Pardon my, Emoji.”

A confused Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart once tried to get a job doing musical accompaniments for an a cappella choir.

Researchers at NASA have concluded that a stitch in time actually only saves eight.

In addition to making the first American flag, Betsy Ross designed the halter top.

When his disciples first encountered Jesus after he had risen, they assumed they were seeing Jesus’ brother, Nigel.

In the original script for 2001: A Space Odyssey, instead of a monolith there was a barber’s pole.

Lewis and Clark often complained that they got a bum steer from Trip Advisor.

According to the Wall Street journal, after winning the Pulitzer Prize for literature, Robert Penn Warren spent all his prize money on hookers and blow.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence received commemorative tote bags.

Between fasts Gandhi loved nothing more than peach parfait.

Before she began doing humanitarian work, Mother Teresa was a homicide detective in Detroit.

Economist Milton Friedman had a background in musical theater.

Just to be contrary, the rock group the Rolling Stones, will, while on tour, gather moss.

According the Bureau of Labor Statistics the least utilized excuse for missing work is: “I had to go down to the morgue to identify a body.”

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was 1263 Elm Street.

While president of the United States, George Washington preferred to be called, Prez.

The first NFL half time show was just a guy doing card tricks.

Samuel Beckett wrote a never performed sequel to “Waiting for Godot” entitled, “Godot Finally Arrives, Was Stuck in Traffic.”

In the off season, baseball superstar Babe Ruth would supplement his income by serving as a circuit judge.

World War I was originally slated to start a month earlier then it actually did but was delayed because Kaiser Wilhelm had a scheduling conflict.

Albert Einstein often stated that if he hadn’t succeeded in psychics he would liked to have been a village smithy.

President Calvin Coolidge had an imaginary friend named Max who he sometimes consulted on foreign affairs.

Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644) was an atheist.

Lyle Nottingham of Poughkeepsie, NY is credited with being the first on twitter to use, “I can’t even.” He claims to greatly regret doing so.

According to a story in US Weekly, the fastest growing recreational activity in the United States is whaling.

Neil Armstrong always regretted that he never cashed in the frequent flyer miles he earned from his trip to the moon.

In the first draft of Moby Dick, instead of a whale, Captain Ahab was pursuing an annoying seagull.

Astrophysicists are convinced that if there is intelligent life on other planets they don’t have rodeos.

Historians believe that John Tyler was the first president to play strip poker during cabinet meetings.

Scientists and theologians agree that the Hokey Pokey has little or nothing to do with “what it’s all about.”

At the time of his death Steve Jobs was working on a rotary dial smart phone.

Native American survivors of the Battle of Little Big Horn claim that Custer’s last words were, “and I just got this jacket back from the cleaners.”

04 May 2018

The Ways of Angels

I was lying in a burned out basement
With the full moon in my eyes.
I was hoping for replacement
When the sun burst thru the sky.
There was a band playing in my head
And I felt like getting high.
I was thinking about what a
Friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.
- From After the Gold Rush by Neil Young

Sure it’s different now. There’s the PTA meetings, soccer practices, bake sales, neighborhood clean-ups and quiet Saturday nights at home watching movies with Sheila. My work is steady and I pay into a pension, we’ve got a mortgage and there’s enough in the bank that in a couple of Summers we can take the kids to Disneyland.

Not so many years ago it was a very different world. For example there was DickWeed. His name was Richard Wiedemann but we just naturally called him DickWeed especially since he was our main marijuana supplier and was perpetually stoned. DickWeed was a philosopher although probably 90% of what he said was pure bullshit. He read all the great thinkers like Hegel, Kierkagaard and Plato but he got whatever they said jumbled up. Still, if you were high it could seem like he was making sense. Women were drawn to DickWeed which mystified the rest of us. He would change lovers every few weeks and never said a bad word about an ex — of which there were legion.

There was also Peein’ Lester, so named because he liked to pee in unusual places -- although the time he peed in the elevator in my apartment building did not go over well with anyone. Lester was more into drinking than drugs, hence the constant need to piss. Despite his proclivity to urinate in odd places he was a pretty bright guy who’d excelled in school and was on his way to Phd in Literature before he got fully sidetracked by his desire to be high. He was also a trust fund baby so he always had money and spent it freely.

Then there was Scraggly. (Real name Leonard Sharp.) Everything about him was scraggly. Especially his beard which seemed to grow in every direction at once. The hair on top of his head — and there was a lot of it despite the emergence of a bald spot — likewise shot off hither and yon and to parts unknown. Combs and brushes were an anathema to him. His clothes were unkempt (which is, by the way, a synonym for scraggly). They were — thankfully — never smelly but certainly never clean and were too baggy for his tall, slender frame. The weird thing was he would always had about half his shirt tucked in. Never completely out and never completely tucked. The man was consistent. His socks never matched, his shoes were scuffed and his fly was usually at half staff.

He called everyone “dude” whether male or female, a contemporary or older or younger. I can’t say for sure whether he ever knew anyone’s name. Scraggly talked at one speed and one speed only — fast. The speed with which he spoke coupled with how we would veer from one subject to the next without a pause and how he pretty much spoke in a stream of consciousness style made him difficult to follow. But ya know what? Everyone liked Scraggly. Scraggly dropped acid a couple of times a week. At least.

These were the three guys I primarily hung out with but there were more. The thing we all had in common was getting high. Wherever we were, whenever it was, there was always a ready supply of booze of all varieties not to mention grass and occasionally hashish and sometimes psychedelics including shrooms. Cocaine was usually available too for those, like myself, who preferred it. Of course money was needed to keep us high. Peein’ Lester had his trust fund, Scraggly actually worked backstage at rock concerts and DickWeed sold as much as he smoked always turning a profit on his bulk purchases (as he called them) of pot. Me, I was a thief. I had a strict rule about only robbing from stores and the rich. I stole cash, things to sell and booze.

Most any occasion was a time to get high. Weekends were a no-brainer but so were evenings, afternoons, mornings any time you could name. Holidays were a call to get loaded so too were hot days, inclement weather, vacations, work days, times of celebration, times of mourning and times of boredom. If we took a trip drugs and liquor were a must. So too if we stayed home. There were parties virtually every night and the only special parties were the ones hosted by someone outside of our group.

While high we would talk, watch movies, dance, fuck, play games, go for walks, drive around, go to the beach, go to the forest and listen to music. In fact, except when there was a movie on, we always had a soundtrack to our revelry. Mostly we listened to rock although sometimes soul, country or jazz would get mixed in. Sometimes we would dissect lyrics looking for meaning. We were deep thinkers, at least so far as we could be given the altered states of our sodden minds. It’s hard to remember anything we said that really meant anything despite how profound we seemed at the time. We always thought we were talking about great issues and making insights when in reality we were just so full of shit.

The one thing we had going for us was camaraderie. We loved each other like brothers. I was especially close to Peein’ Lester with whom I had a lot in common, particularly loves of both literature (not that either one of us were doing a lot of reading while we were perpetually high) and baseball. We talked of both incessantly.

There were many others who flitted in and out of group. A lot of our part timers had full time jobs or were students and were thus mostly just around on weekends and during holidays and vacations. The core of us had no time for such nonsense believing as we did that we were leading sacred lives devoted to a more fuller understanding of the world through getting high. I felt sorry for those suckers who put in 40 hour weeks or labored in classrooms. I was free and I was part of a community and who needed responsibilities?

This was while I was in my mid and late 20s. I’d already gotten a degree (dramatic arts) but while in college had developed a proclivity for parties and booze and coke. About the time I was graduating I drifted away from a career path and into friendships with Scraggly, Pissin’ Lester and DickWeed. Once I did, all thoughts about what the future might hold vanished. I was living in the here and now. The disappointment expressed by family and old friends meant nothing to me. What did they know? They bored me silly and couldn’t understand that I was having fun and aimed to continue doing so.

This was the life I lived for half a dozen years. Nothing deterred my desire to “party” and hang out. Not even when I Od’d on coke and was taken to the hospital, not even when I was pinched  shoplifting in a convenience store, not even when a friend named Karl (called Crazy Karl) fell to this death from high atop a redwood tree while tripping on acid. I was locked in.

Until I met Sheila.

I’d been with a lot of different women over the years. They came and went and I didn’t much care. One was pretty much the same as the next to me. Not Sheila though. She was Rachael Bradley’s sister. Rachael being and on again off again girlfriend of DickWeed. Sheila came to one of our parties shortly after moving to town where she had gotten a new job. She was not a big drinker and was sipping on a wine cooler when I sat next to her. We struck up a conversation and I was soon smitten. Just the fact that this new girl wasn’t a lush or a stoner was kind of appealing, especially given how cute she was and, as I soon discovered, how smart.

I’d met a lot of women but Sheila was different in ways I couldn’t completely define or understand. When I look back on it now I realize that we were simply meant for each other. She was the first girl I’d dated since college who wasn’t into getting high and on several of our dates I stayed stone cold sober the whole night. I was falling in love. She saw something in me too. As Sheila later said it was obvious to her that I wasn’t really happy being high all the time, despite my protestations to the contrary. She believed in time that I would get clean and sober and was looking forward to the man I would then become.

When I wasn’t seeing Sheila, everything was as before and I got as high as I could as often as I could. But it wasn’t the same. I enjoyed life with Sheila sober more than I did being high without her. Then one day my life changed forever when the two worlds collided. Sheila invited me to her place for a small dinner party with two of her old friends and one of the woman’s husbands. I was getting ready to leave when Shiela called and said not to rush, one of her friends would be delayed. I had half an hour to kill. I killed nearly two hours and did so with Scraggly and Pissin’ Larry snorting Coke and guzzling Scotch. So I lost track of time.

I showed up at Sheila’s apartment barely able to stand up and talking a mile a minute. Her friends were shocked. She was humiliated. Sheila literally pushed me out of her apartment, screaming at me. “I never want to see you again!” She exclaimed repeatedly.

Hangovers were standard operating procedure for me and I always knew to have a hair of the dog. But that next morning all I felt was misery and shame. I never wanted to come within a mile of liquor or drugs again. Lightning had struck. I was going to choose a woman over drugs. If she’d have me. That afternoon I went to my first AA meeting. Afterwards I wrote a long letter to Sheila detailing my sins and vowing to stay sober and begging forgiveness. Forgiveness was granted and Sheila and I were soon dating again. A year after my sobriety date — yes, it was planned — we married.

Today I’m a high school drama teacher. I have two school age kids and am in a healthy marriage. Besides all the parenting duties I happily fulfill, I also regularly attend NA and AA meetings. The life I lived a dozen years ago seems like it's from some strange movie I once saw.

Scraggly is dead. He drowned swimming while quite high. DickWeed is still getting high. I saw him a few years ago. He’s 34 but looks 60. His mind is mostly gone and so is his physical health. But Pissin’ Lester is now just Lester and I see him at least once a week at NA meetings. He’s married too and has one child. He got sober two years after me. I’m still his sponsor.

I'm happy now but it's more than that, I'm content. I think a lot about a quote from Kierkegaard that DickWeed mentioned once while we were sharing some primo weed: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” At the time I thought it was deep. Now I know what it means.