31 July 2018

Sometimes a Stroll Down Memory Lane Takes You Into a Small Room Where You're Really High and a Maniac With a Huge Knife is Keeping You Captive (A Reprised and Revised Post From the Past)

I will occasionally be re-posting old writings on this blog, such as the piece below. In all cases I will have revised and polished the post. This one is from four years ago and is one of the posts I've labeled under the "favorite posts" category. I also now include an introduction.

A few years ago I wrote down my recollections of an evening that had somehow, despite the circumstances, remained fresh in my mind many years later. Recently I decided to “jazz it up” a bit without changing or exaggerating the facts of the evening. In other words, the following is not strictly speaking fiction, but it is, if I may be so bold, a good story.

It really should have been a clue.

You’re in a small room with a friend and two bad guys. A transaction for cocaine has just been completed. You’ve got the the slick well spoken bad guy named Ray who you think you met once before but aren’t really sure in part because you’re already seriously high. Then there’s the other guy. He’s what you would call a crazy motherfucker. There’s no doubt that he’s done time. He’s huge, well over 6’4’ and made of muscles. He could squash your head with his hands. He is not a smart man just a dangerous one. The don’t-give-a-fuck type. He’s liable to do anything at anytime, you can never know. Worse, he’s got a knife in his hand. A very sharp hunting knife with which he could take off your hand with two whacks, maybe one. You’re also pretty sure he’s got a gun. So there’s that.

You’re with Jake who you don’t know that well, just gotten high with several times and you’ve come along on this deal as a favor and so that you can get some free blow. Jake is nervous. It’s his money. Jake is all bravado among friends but in a situation like this he’s your neighbor’s kitten.

The coke and money have been exchanged. It’s time to book. But this monstrous asshole doesn’t want anyone going anywhere just yet. “This ain’t like no regular guys in suits business. We sit, we talk we have a drink we get to know each other a little first. Maybe we find we wanna do business again.” Ray, the dealer, he just sits and nods to this like whatever. Why this man mountain is dictating terms you don’t know because slick-haired Ray is the man doing the selling.

So big dummy pulls out this bottle of tequila. And then four glasses. Not just small shot glasses either. Like regular drinking glasses. Now you can’t even remember where the fuck you are. Oakland maybe. Jake drove. More like weaved. And you’re in this tiny room in these wooden straight backed chairs with one big window looking out on a parking lot. The table is metal. You sit next to Jake and across from Crazy. “What the fuck is this place?” You wonder and realize how fucking high you are and that’s not a good thing right now. Or its the best. Being sober in this place in these circumstances could induce a ten megaton panic attack. Meanwhile Jake is very nervous and you wonder if this is going to make things worse or is he nervous because he knows what’s coming. Does everyone know the denouement but you? Is everyone in on something that you know nothing about? Is that behemoth going to slice your balls off? Why the fuck did you think that, of all things?

You keep trying not to think about dying or even getting hurt. But you’re feeling trapped in this room with some big maniac who has a hunting knife and probably a gun. Like what the fuck did I do to deserve this? Oh yeah I came along on a drug deal, dummy. See because is not you it’s me. Or was me.
The big palooka pours the tequila. “To life!” he says and I know as he upends his glass down his gullet that I’ve got to make a game effort to drink as much of the tequila in my glass as I possibly can in one swallow.

I do.

Glasses hit the table hard. The soft burn works its way up from my stomach. A few seconds later my head jimmy jacks around and I feel god damned good. Then I kind of shake my head and I’m still in the room and so is the leviathan and so I don’t feel so peachy keen after all.

“We really need to get going,” Jake says, his voice coming from some other galaxy.

I endorse this notion and start to get up. The big ape puts a paw on my shoulder and slams me back down. “There’s no fucking rush!” he shouts. Oh hell, now he’s angry. I shiver. But that passes quickly too. The behemoth smiles.

Ray says “calm down, Snake, take it easy. No need to shout, the boys ain’t goin’ anywhere yet. Right boys?”

We nod but all I can think is: Snake? Seriously? That’s when I notice the snake tattoo on the goliath’s arm. It just seems too fucking obvious. Snake? I’d laugh if I didn’t feel like I was in a Twilight Zone episode gone wrong. Yeah, his name may seem funny but his size and strength are no joke. Me I'm about 5'7" and as an ex athlete I'm in decent shape but don't match up so well against Snake. As for Jake, he's my size only really skinny and doesn't look like he ever so much as played checkers let alone lifted a weight. So the two of us together are over matched by Snake. By a long ways.

“We have another round!” Snake proclaims. At this rate I’m going to pass out before we get to the car and Jake is going to have none chance of driving.

Thankfully Snake doesn’t fill the glasses all the way this time. Maybe half way. At Snake’s insistence we drink to life again. I wonder how much is left in mine. There’s conversation now and I’m part of it. But my consciousness is deep in my brain and all the words are echoing and I don’t know exactly what I’m saying and sure as shit don’t know what anyone else is saying. But I see myself there. Talking nervously about some shit. I wonder for a second if Snake maybe will kill us and take the money back. If so is he just fucking with us now? But Snake is telling us what fine men we are. How cool and stand up we are how he likes us and feels we're trustworthy. We're like real men. "You're not a couple of pussies like I thought you'd be." Gee thanks, I think and can't imagine how we've earned such praise. Meanwhile he keeps fiddling with that knife. He loves the sucker. And Ray over there sitting as cool as you please seemingly bored by it all. Will he save us if Snake turns on us or let him slice us to bits? Ray just doesn't seem to care what happens. He's on a whole other high where earthly matters are of no concern.

Jake has to pee. Ray leads him to a toilet and I’m left in the tiny room with Snake. I wonder what Snake does for fun. I wonder if he has a girl. I wonder about his parents. I wonder what Snake was like as a little kid and if he’s killed anyone and if he finished high school and if he plays the violin. I don’t know why I wonder about the violin. Maybe because I’m an idiot. I have to be an idiot to be here.

Snake talks the whole time. No idea what he said. The single light in the room glistens on his perfectly bald head. I decide that Snake is a complete moron and that it sucks worse than anything that I’m totally in his power. I think back to earlier in the day when I had my first sweet little innocent beer and how that’s escalated to me being here and then for a second I remember that the coke we sampled was prime stuff and how maybe it would have been better for my sake if it wasn’t. Shit.

Ray and Jake come back. Jake looks really scared. Or is that my imagination or the tequila or what I was drinking earlier in the evening when I was safe in sound in Kip’s waiting for Jake and thinking that going to a coke buy was no big deal?  Of course the coke we sampled when we got here is playing a part in my paranoia. Not as much as Snake’s knife, but still.

“I don’t feel so good.” Jake says.

“You mean like your stomach?” I ask. Now I’m worried on another level. There are levels of worry I’m dealing with. Along with outright paranoia and mild concern and pure terror and stark raving fear. It is raving, boys.

“Maybe we should go,” I say.

“Stay!” Snake hollers.

Ray says: “You ain’t gonna be sick in here are you?”

Jake looks in his lap and shakes his head no.

I have no fucking idea what’s going to happen next.

“This’ll help,” says Snake and pulls out — from where I don’t see — the biggest blunt I’d ever seen.

“This shit’s for real, man. Panama Red.” He proclaims.

Ray closes his eyes and nods like there's mellow jazz playing in his brain.

Panama Red is some nasty weed. It has much more of a kick than regular grass. We’re fucking in for it now, I think. Snake lights the fucker up and we’re all toking away following Snake’s lead by taking deep long drags.

Now my head is all over the place bee bopping around the room. He stabs me with that knife I won’t feel a thing. But I’m scared shitless just the same. I detest Snake with every fiber of my being and like him like an old friend. I’m hopelessly devoted to Snake because the only way out of this room is to make nice with him. Fucking Stockholm Syndrome. God, or whatever is out there, let me out of this and I’ll finish my goddamned masters degree. Be a boy scout all the way.

Now Ray is babbling like a maniac. On and on about women. I want to go home. I want out. My sphincter is inhaling and exhaling and has a life of its own and I’m not 100% sure its still part of my body. Jake looks so far out of it that I doubt he can ever be brought back to Earth from whatever part of the solar system his brain is occupying.

I fantasize about snatching Snake’s knife and cutting his throat. I fantasize about a field of daisies. I fantasize that I can fly out of this room and wish to god I could. My mind is watching me as if from a far. I can’t tell if my right hand is still part of my body. I look at it in wonder. At least Snake hasn’t cut it off.

Snake. He is the worst human being in the world. And when he reaches over and hugs me and holds my head in the crook of his arm I am willing to do anything he asks. Because I’d have to. I’m totally enraged and servile and a baby rabbit in a tiger’s maw. Help me, god or whatever.

He releases me and it feels like a reprieve but I also he realize he can grab me again and this time twist. But then…

“Man I gotta go. I need to find me some bitches.” The speaker is Snake he has just stood up and this feels like the happiest moment of my life. The volatile behemoth has suddenly remembered the farer sex and wants to defile some poor woman.  My relief is indescribable but is tempered by the feeling that he may insist we join him or he may change his mind or he may kill us before he leaves or maybe Ray is going to shoot us. Who knows?

Snake has been standing all of about 30 seconds when he collapses into a heap on the floor. Just like that. Out cold.

“That motherfucker could never hold his shit,” Ray says. “You put any amount of booze and weed in him and the big asshole folds up like a cheap tent. Shee-it.” Ray stares at him with disgust.

“I better get Jake home, he’s about to go himself,” I say. Ray barely looks at us as we go out the door.  I keep expecting a bullet in the back as we walk out into the cool night. We’re in the industrial part of Oakland. It takes us 20 minutes to find where we parked even though it’s just half a block away from the tiny room that I spent an hour of hell in. We are in a panic the whole time. Jake constantly seems about to cry and I want to squat and shit right there. Out of bald faced fear.

I don’t know how the hell Jake drove us back to Berkeley. But he did. So what did we do? We went up to Kip’s and drank until closing time. Because of course, insanity.  And man I still had another four years of drinking and using ahead of me. Imagine that.

26 July 2018

An Allegorical Tale of Teaching Middle School: The Bizarre Story of a Teacher Gone Awry

Bob Winkleman had been a middle school teacher for 21 years at Gatsby Middle School in Great Neck on Long Island. For the last four of those years he had also maintained a blog. Mostly he wrote about movies and TV shows, but occasionally wrote a short story. Very few people were aware of his blog. Winkleman did nothing to promote it and only ever mentioned to a few friends and family. However one day he wrote a blog post in which he joked about having shot and killed a student. A parent of one of his students happened to see it. (In the same post he also made great sport of a fellow teacher who he'd had sharp disagreements with and didn't even bother to change her name.) The parent was outraged and notified the school principal. Not satisfied with the principal's initial response the parent contacted a member of the school board. The school board member in turn alerted the school district's superintendent who notified the principal who this time took notice. The blog post was eventually read by everyone on the school board as well as many of the top administrators in the district office, not to mention Gatsby's principal. The parent also contacted the local newspaper which published parts of the blog post and wrote a scathing editorial as to how wholly inappropriate the blog post was.

Winkleman tried to defend himself on first amendment grounds while also pointing out the post was satire and not to be taken literally. The teacher also enlisted the help of his union when it started to become evident that he was in for trouble. The union refused to help Winkleman saying that' "he'd gone too far." Winkleman was offered the opportunity to apologize for the blog post and delete it from his blog. He refused. Upon hearing of his refusal the superintendent set the wheels in motion for dismissal of the errant instructor. The problem the district had, and it was a small one, was that Winkleman had never previously been disciplined for any infractions during his over two decade career and had received mostly glowing performance evaluations. But school district administrators are a resourceful lot and when they want to remove a teacher they have, as the saying goes, their ways. The Great Neck Long Island School District was no exception. The superintendent for Human Resources cherry picked through Winkelman's past evaluations and took any negative comment and added them to a report was compiling. They also included any areas marked "needs improvement" and whether the concern had later been addressed or not, also added those to their report depicting said area as a glaring deficiency. The Superintendent for Human Resources had the principal do several spot evaluations of Winkleman with the strict instructions that he only record things that reflected negatively on Winkleman. In digging deeper into Winkleman's records he was utterly delighted to find that Winkleman had made a clerical error in administering a standardized tests two years ago that resulted in two tests having to be discounted; he cited this as an example of the teacher's gross incompetence. As a final flourish they made a meal out of Winkleman's refusal to take down the offending post, citing him for gross insubordination. Without the help of the union, Winkleman would have to hire an attorney if he wanted to fight to keep his job. On a teacher's salary with two kids to support, that was out of the question, so he resigned and looked for a teaching job elsewhere. No one would touch Winkleman after his by now highly-publicized case. Winkleman's wife threatened divorce. Despondent, on the verge of being fired, he issued an apology and took down the post. The district agreed to take him back but only as substitute teacher. The humiliated Bob Winkleman started the following school year as a sub, but after 21 years of having his own classroom he couldn't bear it. On Thanksgiving morning Winkleman walked into the Atlantic Ocean and was never seen again. His body was never found.

Below is the offending blog post.

An Allegorical Tale of Teaching Middle School
I am a middle school teacher. One day I shot a student in the face with a pistol. He was interrupting my lesson for about the fourth time that day and I’d had enough. So I reached into my holster, pulled out my .45 and fired a bullet right into his yakking fat face. The class was perfectly quiet for a few seconds then I went on with the lesson. As I recall I was talking about the Dred Scott case. It was part of a general unit on the various causes of the Civil War. Students were generally attendant when it came to topics related to slavery and the Civil War,  but this one kid couldn’t keep his mouth shut.

Okay I know what you’re thinking, something like how inappropriate this topic is given — among other things — the recent spate of school shootings in this country. But I’m just being honest here and after all the shooter was not some crazed kid but me, an adult, and a teacher at that. And it was no accidental discharge, I meant to shoot the little punk.

Needless to say I caught hell from the administration, a few parents complained and some of my teaching colleagues questioned my methods — though not to my face. However most of the faculty understood and applauded my willingness to take direct action. Students were fine with it. It was kind of cool to have a murder right there in the classroom (spoiler alert: the youngster expired, almost instantly, as a matter of fact).

Like I said a few parents expressed alarm, none more so than the parents of the deceased. They complained all the way to the school board. They even threatened to go to the police. Good luck with that, I remember thinking at the time. Anyway it all blew over soon enough and there was only occasionally any mention of it again. It did check off a negative box on my yearly evaluation, but I was otherwise such an exemplary teacher that my position with the school was just fine.

I haven’t shot a kid since. To tell you the truth I had a little bit of guilt about plugging a student and always figured that another notch on my belt would compound that guilt. Hell, if I’d continued offing students I might have eventually sunk into depression. As it is I’m fine. A few other teachers subsequently tried to duplicate my feat but none had the panache. A couple of them froze with the gun in their hand and students made fun of them after that. One only wounded a kid, another shot the wrong kid (that teacher was disciplined, three day suspension) and one turned the gun on himself. Suicide in front of a whole class is a bad look. It reflects poorly on the profession. But some managed it. Teacher by the name of Costigan went overboard and started shooting kids every few weeks. He quit teaching at the end of the school year although some say he was nudged out of the profession.

If you’ve read this far you’re probably thinking I’m just kidding and this is just some sick joke, one that you likely don’t find particularly funny. Hey, to each his or her own. I don’t think it’s funny at all and no I’m not kidding. Don’t you read the papers, or the internet? This is the world we live in. Let me here hasten to add that I get along swimmingly with the vast majority of my students as evidenced by just the one fatality. Sure there've been corporal punishments and I use the cat o’ nine tails on numerous occasions, bludgeoned (not to death, mind) some others, and cane quite a few more, but that's all part of the job. Middle school kids are a rough breed and need discipline. Some methods may seem extreme but only to those who’ve never faced a classroom full of young teens.

I’ll tell ya what I've never done: cuss in class. Nor would you ever hear me insult a student. No ethnic jokes of any sort parted my lips. I am quick to praise students and often offer rewards. I throw pizza parties for good classes. Of course those parties are comprised of students watching me eat pizza, but at least they don't have to do any work at the time.

I work with this one teacher named Zimmerman. She is a certified witch. We all look good compared to her. Zimmerman performs incarnations over a bubbling cauldron during class and always carries eye of newt with her. She in fact, bears a resemblance to the newt. Students hate her for a variety of reasons, one of which is she never bathes. Zimm (as she likes to be called) has an unseemly amount of facial hair for a woman and never shaves her legs which is an issue as she wears short skirts. Zimm slaps students for no reason at all and breathes on them which is probably a violation of the Geneva Convention because her breath smells like the inside of septic tank. I hear she's working on an administrative credential. She'll make a helluva principal.

The point being…well, to tell you the truth I forget the point, I’m just sharing a little bit of my experience as a middle school teacher which might be especially useful if you’re considering a career in education, particularly at that level. If you’re not sure whether you’d make a good teacher don’t worry, just teach for a few years and then go into administration. Those who can teach and those who can't, become school administrators. I think Stalin missed a bet by not becoming a principal. Charles Manson, he’d have been a heckuva vice principal.

So I’ve gotten off on tangents. But I really did shoot a kid in the fact while teaching about the Dred Scott decision. And I know the ether and the floating and the dynamic intersection of the beloved and the bedeviled in this my maiden voyage down the ultra path of human denouement. Blessings to all. 

Winkleman never explained how his story was an allegory, nor why he decided to eviscerate his colleague, Zimmerman (other than their mutual animus) and the last paragraph of the story has never made sense to anyone. But he insisted on his right to post the story on the blog, until, of course he faced the reality of being fired. Winkleman left no suicide note and while he was clearly despondent about his reduced status, there was never any indication that he was severely depressed, let alone suicidal. After his walk into the sea there were a spate of articles in local papers speculating about the demoted teacher which included musings by psychiatrists, both in relation to his strange blog post and his apparent suicide. But the fact was that no one could make heads nor tails of the man, especially given his sterling reputation prior to the notorious blog post.

A final note. A made for TV movie is in the works called, The Winkleman Story, and is preliminarily scheduled to debut in the Fall of 2019. 

21 July 2018

Bertolt Finds a Box, A Parable For Our Times

Bertolt found a box. It was sitting on the corner of Elm and Spruce Streets in the tree-named-streets section of town. Bertolt was in the middle of his daily morning walk when he made the discovery. Looking to his left, then to right, then behind him and seeing no one, Bertolt picked up the box. He thought it neither light nor heavy. Bertolt brought the box directly home. In so doing he had cut short his daily morning walk. This was quite unusual.

Once home Bertolt placed the box in the middle of his small living room between an easy chair and the fireplace. It was an ordinary box to be sure. It’s contents were a mystery because Bertolt had not been inclined to open the box to view whatever might be inside. At no time would our protagonist ever be tempted to view the interior of the box. Instead he stared at.

In fact, Bertolt stared at the box from the perch of his easy chair for several hours before realizing he was hungry. Bertolt made lunch, occasionally interrupting his preparations to walk back into the living room and take another look at the box. When lunch was ready Bertolt varied from his usual practice of dining at the kitchen table and enjoying the view outside the kitchen window. A view that consisted of a large tree, a bird feeder and a small garden. Usually Bertolt would note various birds, squirrels and bees while staring out the window during meals. But on this day Bertolt returned to his easy chair with his plate of food and his glass of milk and resumed looking at the box.

There was still nothing special at all about the box. Nothing that our hero could see. But he was compelled to watch it. Why, he did not know. But he barely took his eyes off the box. It was two hours before Bertolt brought the dishes back to the kitchen. He spent a half hour cleaning and doing a few other chores around the house. Our friend was heading for the door to go on his afternoon walk when he stopped at the door and noted the box. Had it moved? He wondered. Had it slightly changed color? Had it grown or shrunk? Bertolt was sure he detected something different about the box. This would warrant some investigation. So he returned his hat and coat to the rack and sat back down in his easy chair in an effort to discern if there was anything different about the box. Bertolt looked at the box for so long that it grew dark and he had to cancel his afternoon walk altogether, a rarity for Bertolt. There’d be no more walking that day for Bertolt never took evening walks.

The box held him in thrall well into the evening, keeping him up past his usual bedtime. From time to time Bertolt thought he detected some sort of change in the box, some slight alteration that deserved careful study. It was amazing to him how much satisfaction could be derived from merely looking at the box. As his grandfather clock chimed 11 o'clock, Bertolt found that he was nodding off while looking at the box. It was time for bed.

The next morning Bertolt got up at his usual time, took his usual shower and made his usual breakfast. But he did not go for his usual morning walk, nor do his usual reading nor perform any other of his usual chores. No, instead our hero sat in his easy chair and looked at the box. Perhaps more accurately, he was watching the box, for in point of fact Bertolt was veritably studying the book in an effort to detect any changes in it. Bertolt was entertained and enthralled and fascinated and mystified by the box. It seemed to just sit there but it also seemed to be doing things, though what it was doing Bertolt could not say.

For days Bertolt eschewed his usual routine and spent most waking hours in front of the box. He stopped answering the telephone. When there was a knock on the door Bertolt pretended not to be home. He ate less frequently, rarely showered and didn’t shave at all. The kitchen became a mess, he was out of clean clothes. Our hero was thoroughly entranced and beguiled by the box and was simultaneously depressed and despondent. Increasingly Bertolt did not want to look at the box, increasingly he couldn’t look away.

A month after bringing the box home there was a big change. Very big. Bertolt was staring at the box with particular intensity when he became convinced it was talking to him. This was most frustrating because Bertolt could not understand what it was saying. The words were in English but made no sense as if garbled and out of order. Our friend yelled at the box demanding it speak more clearly. But still it made no sense. Bertolt rose from the easy chair and for the first time since he brought the box home he picked it up. He shook it violently demanding it make it self understood. Words kept coming from the box but none made any sense. Bertolt could take it no more. He hurled the box into the fireplace. It went silent. Enraged, Bertolt lit the box on fire and watched with a curious mixture of horror and glee as it burned. Backing away from the conflagration, Bertolt collapsed into his easy chair and fell immediately into a deep sleep that last several hours.

Awakening from his slumber our protagonist quickly got up and showered. He then cleaned the kitchen and made himself a large meal. After eating he washed clothes and tidied his house. Chores completed Bertolt went on a late afternoon walk. He had never felt so alive. At the corner of Grant and Lincoln in the president-named- streets section of town, he came upon a box. Bertolt stopped, sneered at it and continued his walk. His best walk ever.

15 July 2018

Wherein the Author Reveals That His New Found Friend is a Talking Crow

I haven’t been posting a lot on my blog recently because I’ve been busy having long conversations with Sedgwick, one of the crows in our neighborhood. This would no doubt seem rather peculiar and call into question my sanity were it not for the fact that Sedgwick can talk. Well, not just talk, he can listen as well. I, in fact, often find myself saying to my new friend, “Sedgwick, you’re a good listener.” He invariably replies, “why, thank you, I enjoy listening to you.”

My first awareness of Sedgwick was a few weeks ago when he alighted on my bedroom window sill. I was re-reading The Great Gatsby at the time. Initially I thought nothing of a crow being on my bedroom window sill until the crow said, “Tell me, do you enjoy that book?” “Who’s that?” I replied startled. I couldn’t believe that the question just posed had originated from a bird. “Why, I did, of course,” Sedgwick answered. “But you’re a crow,” I responded. “Yes, I happen to be a talking crow."

The evidence was undeniable. I was sitting only a few feet from the bird and it was talking. To me. “But this is impossible,” I said after a long pause, adding, “crows can’t talk.” Sedgwick hopped a little closer to me — he had originally been in the middle of the sill — and said, “isn’t the fact that I’m talking to you now proof enough that at least one crow in the world has the power of speech?”

“I guess you’re right,” I admitted. We soon fell into a lengthy conversation on a variety of topics including food, the weather, and literature (Sedgwick bemoans the fact that he is unable to read and constantly asks me all manner of questions about books, with a particular interest in classic novels). On that first day I also asked Sedgwick whether he was aware of any other talking crows to which he replied, “lamentably no, I seem to be the only one, a freak of nature, I suppose.”

Sedgwick regularly appears on my bedroom window sill and when he does we immediately fall into conversation. I’ve learned a lot about birds in general and crows in particular from my new friend. He speaks lovingly about flying, wishing only that I could join him in the air. “But,” he has said more than once, “I might just trade having the power of flight for the ability to read and for having opposable thumbs.” I’ve often been struck by how erudite Sedgwick is, after all one would assume that if a bird, or any other animal for that matter, could talk, it would be rudimentary English at best. My feathered friend attributes his linguistic cultivation to “good genes.” Thus far I’ve not pressed him any further on the matter.

Sometimes I read to Sedgwick. So far he has enjoyed whole passages of Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Melville, Kerouac, Baldwin and Wolfe. I’ve also shared the poetry, of Dickinson, Whitman, Plath and Frost. He is pressing me to read an entire novel and though reluctant I am considering doing so. I'll probably start with a short story. Perhaps he’ll enjoy Raymond Carver.

In addition to literature, Sedgwick is also interested in watching a film and tomorrow I’m going to start him off with John Ford’s classic western, Stagecoach. From there I’ll expose him to On the Waterfront, The Godfather, Annie Hall, City Lights, Vertigo, Goodfellas, The Big Lebowski and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I should think it better to completely avoid Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Sedgwick has also expressed a desire to watch sports, but one thing at a time.

As you may have surmised I have, in a very short time, become quite fond of Sedgwick and he of me. (It doesn’t hurt our relationship that I supply him with all the nuts and bread he can eat.) When I read to my crow friend, he perches on my shoulder, always careful not to dig his crow feet into my skin. We are comfortable in one another's company and mutual respect and affection has grown between us.

One might think that our relationship is rather one-sided what with me reading to him and feeding him, but he gives me enormous comfort and is relief from my depression whenever he visits. Also I’ve always wanted a mentee, though I never suspected that it would be avian.

I’ve suggested to Sedgwick that he stay in my house and that a window would always be open for when he has to answer nature’s call or feels like flying for a bit — stretching his wings, as it were. But my new friend claims “family obligations” that require a bit of his time, though never further elaborates. I suspect that there is a female crow in his life and perhaps some offspring. I’m sure it will come up in conversation eventually. I have asked him about his relations with other crows and he has insisted that he gets along fine with others, despite his superior intelligence and power of speech.

You may be wondering if Sedgwick has spoken to anyone else but me and the answer is no. “How did you select me?” I asked. “I saw you walking home one day and I noticed that you had a bag from a bookstore with some newly purchased books. I also observed that you had a kind and honest face (at this I blushed) and further noted that despite your recent purchases and your nice home with a lovely wife waiting inside, you seemed a little depressed. I reckoned from that that you’d be the perfect person for me to, shall we say, 'come out’ to.” And so began our friendship.

I’ve yet to introduce Sedgwick to my wife but the time will come and I’m sure they’ll get along well. First, however, I need to get fully used to the idea myself. It took me until after several of Sedgwick’s visit to convince myself that I had not gone completely mad. As I’ve been writing, Sedgwick has appeared and has just now assumed his perch on my shoulder, intently watching me type. As soon as I finished I’ll read back to him what I’ve written and if you’re reading this you’ll know he approved its posting.

Perhaps I’ll have more on my friendship with a talking crow in the future. Right now I’ve got to get him some cashews.

04 July 2018

Three Different Writings, One is About Killing Seven Minutes, Another is About Bicyclists and the Third is About the Outrage Over Scarlett Johansson

(There were seven minutes left in the class I was teaching and students were busy on their computers so I took quill to paper and wrote for the remaining time. Okay I'm lying, no quill, no paper, I was tapping away at my MacBook).

I have seven minutes to write something so I better make it good. I could write about my job which is teaching English to people from different countries or I could write about my teeth which I brush regularly using both a toothbrush and toothpaste, also water comes in handy. I could also write about giraffes although I know little about them aside from their long necks and that they are vegetarians and rarely stampede through major metropolitan areas — okay I’m now being told that they never, in fact, stampede through major metropolitan areas. Lessee, I could also write about the World Cup which has reached the quarter final stage but there are people far more expert than I am who have more interesting things to say. I could mention that I went a very average four wins and four losses in the knockout stage. Nothing much in that. I could also write about how our democracy is falling apart but that seems too depressing for this particular exercise. I could write about my commute which I’ve done ad nauseam but I’ve little else to add to this topic. I could write about ghosts which I do not believe exist although I’m willing to listen if someone has some empirically verifiable proof. I’m more open to the notion that UFOs have visited this planet and when I say this planet I refer, of course, to Earth which, by the way, is the only planet I’ve ever been to. Although I hear nice things about Neptune. Space travel is an interesting topic and I’m only frustrated that after the great flurry of activity in that regard when I was a child and teen the world has slacked off. That’s seven minutes….

So this happened….

I was walking ON THE SIDEWALK, toward the corner to cross the street when a bicyclist heading right towards me was kind enough to come to a stop. A “gentleman” who was evidently riding with him and who was at that very moment riding ON THE SIDEWALK, said to me, “that’s your fault, you have to be looking out for bikes.” I responded to this utterly absurd statement by directing a four letter word at the speaker. This epithet was followed by the word, “you.” It is not in my nature to speak in such a manner to strangers but I found his remark so devoid of reason that a calm, measured retort seemed useless. Plus I was — and am — depressed. Usually depression makes me sullen and quiet loath to say anything to anybody about anything but my anger was piqued. So there you have it. I cussed at a stranger, albeit an idiot, but still. Of course the sense of entitlement displayed by people on bicycles in this part of the world is maddening. They ride on sidewalks irrespective of whether there are pedestrians about or not and even heedless of crowds of walkers. (You do realize that they are supposed to walk their bikes on sidewalks.) They also are reluctant if not downright resistant to obeying traffic rules. Stop signs, red lights and their cousins the crosswalk mean nothing to Bay Area bicyclists. They also do not hesitate to ride at a leisurely pace in front of a cars buses and one would imagine, ambulances. Even if they aren’t in their designated bike lanes. Bicyclists have been given carte blanche on local public transportation in these parts.A decision no doubt rendered by a committee comprised completely of morons, half-wits and catatonics. There’s nothing quite so stimulating as being on a crowded subway car when some jerk gets on swinging his bike to and fro as he edges people out of the way so he find someplace to stand his vehicle. There is also great sport in going up stairs or escalators at subway stations here when bikers are about, as one is always at risk of being thwacked by a two wheeler. Never mind the fact that bike riders are supposed to use the elevators and are forbidden from carrying their beloveds up stairs or escalators. Bicyclists don’t do rules. One can also joy in bike riders boarding commuter busses. Oh one is no problem. He (90% of the time these jerks are men) puts his bike in a stand on the front of the bus. But should a second or third board, the bus driver has to get out and open a compartment on the side of the bus. Hey, who’s in a hurry on their way to work? How long will it be before bicyclists ride to airports and expect their beloved machines to ride along with them. Maybe they’ll park their bikes in the aisles! I’m happy indeed that so many people are riding bikes these days. It’s good exercise and good for the environment. However there is an abundance of bad apples and stupid rules that ruin it for everyone else.

Yesterday on Twitter there was something new for people to go bat shit crazy over: Scarlett Johansson has accepted a role in a film in which she would play a transgender man. I understand that this controversial because perhaps the part should have gone to an actual leaving, breathing trans man. It’s arguable. But people didn’t take it that way. They were breathing fire. One person just said “fuck you Scarlett” over and over. Another said they would unfollow anyone who disagreed with her opinion that this was wrong. Another said anyone who thought it was okay for Scarlett to take the role were themselves transphobic. Several vowed never to watch a movie with Ms. Johansson ever never again no matter what. The actress was called every name in the book — or in twitterverse — and expressions of lamentations and fire-breathing venom were numerous. This is all part of a couple of phenomena I’ve noticed on social media. When a celebrity errs in one way or another, or is accused of having done so — as opined by a few — the pitchforks come out and everyone takes said implants and piles on the offender with self-righteous and boiling anger. (Also it is suddenly and retroactively realized that the offending person has no talent. No one every really liked their movies, music, TV show, juggling act.) Further, when people disagree on twitter they really disagree. There is no middle ground, no discussion, no give and take there is only rage, there is only you’re either for us or against us and if you’re against us you’re going to bloody hell. It’s like when I pointed out to someone that Woody Allen was cleared of molestation charges, not once but twice. One person said that I was a defender and supporter of child rape (supposedly this means any attorney who defends a client is themselves a supporter of whatever crime that person stands accused of. Defending someone charged with murder? Clearly you’re okay with killing people). Twitter is, in an overwhelming percentage of cases, terrible for discussions. It is good to for having whatever views you hold re-enforced, buttressed and expanded upon. I sometimes question why I spend time there but in my defense there are an awful lot of adorable videos of puppies there. One last point about what roles an actor can take, was it okay for Meryl Streep to play a Polish woman (Sophie’s Choice) or should that role have gone to someone from Poland? Is there outrage at Kate Winslet having played an American on numerous occasions (see Wonder Wheel, Revolutionary Road, Eternal Sunshine…) and how about Sean Penn playing Harvey Milk? Wouldn’t a gay actor have done better? Russell Crowe played John Nash, a paranoid. Shouldn’t someone with that same mental illness gotten the role? Daniel Day-Lewis played someone with cerebral palsy in My Left Foot. Is that fair? What about Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, he keeps playing humans in movies. How about giving the roles to actual people? I’m just asking.