Curve Again

September 17th, 2014

San Francisco Giants v Los Angeles Dodgers

(This short story appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2014)

Madison Bumgarner, the Giants’ formidable leftie known as Mad Bum or simply Bum, stands tall atop the mound on a cool Friday night in September—the famous San Francisco fog not yet manifest, a soft breeze blowing in from McCovey Cove, the yard packed with zealous fans, the Dodgers in town battling to keep the Giants from overtaking them in the division race—both teams destined for the playoffs.

Having put down the first nine Dodgers in order, five by strikeouts, Bum walks Dodger leadoff hitter Dee Gordon to start the fourth inning and thereby forfeits his chance to throw a perfect game. Prior to the walk, Bum’s control was superb, scary the word muttered by seven of the first nine Dodgers to face him.

Bum takes a deep breath and glances up at the sky. Why did I walk their leadoff man? Why do I so often walk the leadoff man when everything is going so well? Don’t think about it. Stay out of your head. Relax. Life goes on.

The next batter strides to the plate, makes a big show of settling into the batter’s box, and crowds the plate. This is Yasiel Puig, a big powerful right-handed outfielder with a weakness for sliders away and fastballs up. Puig is hitting .293 for the year and has been an absolute terror against the Giants this season. Bum struck out Puig on three pitches in the first inning and made him look bad—two fastballs and a slider in the dirt.

He’ll be waiting on my fastball.

Buster Posey, the Giants’ catcher, flashes the sign for a curve and sets up low on the outer half of the plate. Bum nods, glances at the speedy Gordon inching away from First, and pitches.

Let it be told throughout the land and the myriad dimensions known and yet to be discovered, that this particular pitch is the most exquisite curve Bum has ever thrown, the ball arcing so high and faraway from the straight line to the plate that Puig gives up on the ball the moment it leaves Bum’s hand. But at the end of its trajectory the ball hooks back over the plate just above Puig’s knees and smacks the very center of Posey’s unmoving glove. Alas, the umpire is as flummoxed as Puig and calls the exquisite strike a ball.

Bum winces as if someone slapped him in the face—the crowd groaning and booing to echo his outrage. Anger and despair rise from the depths of Bum’s being, emotions he knows he must control if he wishes to remain in the good graces of the umpire, though the effort to suppress his feelings makes him shudder.

Sensing Bum’s distress, Posey trots to the mound to have a chat with his pitcher. Posey is a youthful twenty-seven and five years into what many predict will be a Hall of Fame career. Bum is a seasoned veteran at twenty-five, his stuff so good that when he’s on his game he is virtually unhittable. His eternal challenge, however, is that he can fall off his game in a twinkling when something goes awry, something like an umpire calling a brilliant strike a ball.

Posey looks Bum in the eye and says, “That was zenith, man. Best curve ball I’ve ever been privileged to catch. You not only fooled Puig, you fooled the ump.”

“How could he call that a ball?” cries Bum, glowering over Posey’s head at the umpire. “Is he myopic? And if so, how did he get this job?”

“You surprised him,” says Posey, winking at Bum. “Don’t worry about it. Your stuff is stellar tonight. Primo. They’ll be lucky to get one out of the infield if they ever manage to hit one.”

“Okay,” says Bum, reaching his arms high above his head to release the tautness in his back. “Let’s get him.”

Posey trots back to home plate and fiddles with his mask before going into his crouch and flashing the sign for a fastball.

Bum shakes his head, a response that comes as a surprise to Bum for three reasons. First, a fastball seems like an excellent idea coming after a curve ball with the runner on First likely to steal. Second, Bum almost never shakes off Posey because Posey calls excellent games and they almost always agree on the pitch to be thrown. Third, Bum wants to throw a fastball because he is still furious with the umpire for calling his perfect strike a ball.

Yet he rejected Buster’s call for a fastball, which tells Bum that his unconscious mind has taken control of the situation. But did my unconscious mind shake off the fastball as an act of self-sabotage or as an act of intuitive genius? In either case, Bum nods his approval of Posey’s second suggestion: another curve.

Curve again thinks Bum as he checks the speedy Gordon at First Base and intuits he’ll be taking off with the pitch. Of course. Because my first curve was perfect. Who cares if the umpire missed the call? So what if Puig guesses curve and hits the ball out of the park? Buster wants to see that beauty again, and so do I. Yes, I do.

So Bum coils and releases the pitch. The runner goes. The ball arcs so high and faraway from the straight line to the plate that Puig starts to give up on the pitch but now he remembers the perfection of the previous pitch that should have been called a strike and maybe this time the pitch will be called a strike so he swings late and gets just enough of the ball to drive a soft liner to Ishikawa standing a few feet off First Base.

Catching the easy floater, Ishikawa grins like a kid in a candy shop and ambles over to the bag to complete the double play—Gordon hung out to dry between First and Second.

Bum covers the bottom half of his face with his glove to hide his grin as he watches the celebratory slinging of the ball around the infield and takes the congratulatory toss from Crawford, the Giants nonpareil shortstop. Now Bum climbs the backside of the mound, toes the pitching slab, grips the ball, gazes in at Posey and nods Yes to Posey’s signal for a high fastball so I can let off some steam.

Stealing

September 10th, 2014

Giants Mendo Hardware

(This short story appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2014)

Angel Pagan, the switch-hitting leadoff batter for the Giants, one of the swiftest outfielders in the game, takes a short lead off first base and tries to ignore his inner dialogue about base stealing while keeping his focus on the pitcher. Angel has reached first base with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning by beating out a slow roller to third. The Giants are trailing the Padres one to nothing. This would be, as everyone in the ballpark knows, the ideal time for Angel to steal a bag and get into scoring position. However, despite his blazing speed, Angel has had little success as a stealer of bases.

Quackenbush, the Padres relief pitcher, a hefty right-hander with a decent pickoff move, hates throwing to first because it messes with his mechanics. Angel knows of Quackenbush’s aversion to throwing to first because Roberto Kelly, the Giants’ first base coach, just reminded Angel of said aversion while Angel was taking off his batting gloves after safely reaching first. Thus informed, Angel widens his lead, though not enough to tempt the reluctant Quackenbush.

Quackenbush’s first pitch to Joe Panik, the Giants second baseman, is an eighty-mile-an-hour slider right down the middle, Joe taking all the way to give Angel a chance to steal. But Angel isn’t going anywhere. Strike one.

Angel returns to first base, toes the bag, and waits for Roberto to give him a sign or a bit of advice. But Roberto keeps his distance and barely makes eye contact, which Angel interprets as Roberto implying If I’d had your speed when I was playing I would have stolen a hundred bags a year, though that is not at all the sort of thing Roberto would say.

Angel takes his lead again, and Gyorko, the Padres’ first baseman, positions himself at the bag in readiness to take a throw from Quackenbush. Gyorko taps his glove and smirks at Angel as if to say Go on. Stretch out that lead. Quack’s got a better pickoff move than you think.

During batting practice, none other than the legendary Willie Mays approached Angel and said, “I got a bet with Cepeda says you steal twenty more bags this year once you get your timing down.”

Timing thinks Angel, unaware that he is slowly shaking his head as he watches Quackenbush come set. It’s not about timing. It’s about trusting my instincts.

Panik, having failed miserably as a switch-hitter in high school, only bats from the left side and rarely hits for power. He is, however, an excellent contact hitter and against a finesse pitcher like Quackenbush looks to pull the ball. Having double checked with Giants third base coach Tim Flannery that he has permission to swing away, Panik turns his full attention to the pitcher and tells himself not to swing at anything except something off-speed on the inner half of the plate. Panik has no problem with Angel staying put at first because Angel is so fast he can score from first on a deep single and trot home if Panik hits one to the wall.

Angel takes his role as leadoff man very seriously, some might say too seriously. In practice, he steals bases with ease, whether the pitcher and catcher know he’s going to steal or not. But in games, doubt makes him tentative and devours those precious tenths of seconds that make the difference between Safe and Out. For Angel there is nothing more humiliating than being tagged out while trying to steal.

In the dugout, Bruce Bochy, the Giants skipper, scratches the gray stubble on his spacious chin and ponders whether or not to signal Roberto to signal Angel to steal, knowing that commanding Angel to steal always makes Angel give away his intention by rising onto his toes and holding his hands out to the sides like a kid pretending to fly. So Bruce decides not to command anyone to do anything and just hope Panik knocks a single or better.

Meanwhile, from his seat eleven rows up behind first base, eighty-one-year-old Willie Mays, one of the greatest base stealers of all time, gazes intently at Angel and suddenly realizes why Angel has so much trouble deciding whether and when to go. He’s trying to figure things out with his head instead of letting the momentum of the game carry him.

And in the split second after Quackenbush checks Angel and begins his pitching motion, Angel takes off, the pitch way too high for Panik to swing at, Angel beating the throw with ease and springing up from his slide to stand atop the second base bag like he’s king of the mountain.

What was that? wonders Angel. How did I suddenly know? 

August Fable

August 20th, 2014

August Fable

Water Lilies by Max Greenstreet

When I was in my early thirties, I lived on a monthly disability check from the state: two hundred and sixty-eight dollars. My rent for a small room in a boarding house in a scary neighborhood in downtown Sacramento was one hundred and forty dollars. That left me one hundred and twenty-eight dollars for food and not much else. And I was sure the woman I loved—Maria Escobido—wanted a man with a good job, and I didn’t have any job so I rarely spoke to her except to say hello and thanks.

I would go into Maria’s little grocery store and buy a carton of milk or a beer or anything just to be close to her. I wanted to ask her to have coffee with me, but I never asked because I was afraid she might say Yes and I would have to tell her I had nothing.

My recurring fantasy was that I saved a wealthy man’s life and he hired me to be his chauffer and live above his fancy cars in an elegant apartment with a view of majestic trees and a curving drive. With my ample pay, I bought fine clothes and went into the little grocery store and said, “Maria. I have a good job now and live in an elegant apartment over my employer’s Rolls Royce. Would you like to go out to dinner with me?” And she would say Yes and we would become lovers and live happily ever after.

That was how I started my days, lying alone in my bed dreaming about Maria inviting me with her beautiful eyes to kiss her. Then I’d get up, grab my towel and razor and go down the hall to the bathroom. We had a system on our floor. I was in first since I got up the earliest. When I was done I’d rap on Larry’s door and when he was done he’d knock on Shirley’s door and then Shirley would knock on Sheldon’s. One day I woke up so sick I couldn’t move and Larry didn’t get up until eleven because he was waiting for me to knock and Shirley and Sheldon both slept in, too.

Sheldon was a cartoonist, Shirley worked at the Lesbian Crisis Center, and Larry collected books about astrology, tarot and the I Ching. They were as poor as I was, but they were happy, whereas I was miserable because I was a failed writer and didn’t believe Maria Escobido would ever want to be with me unless I could get a decent a job or save somebody’s life and then get a decent job. And, of course, I would have to stop smoking pot because Maria was definitely not a pot smoker. However, whenever I stopped smoking dope I wanted to die.

I told myself I had to buy something before I could speak to Maria so she wouldn’t think I was a dead beat. She was always nice to me, sometimes effusively so, and one day we talked for a long time about our favorite movies and she gave me a smile that seemed to say I like you. I like the way you think.

I came out of her store after our movie conversation feeling elated and hopeful and sure she would say Yes if I asked her to have coffee with me. But when I got back to my little room and looked in the mirror I thought No. She only spoke to me because I bought something. Why would such a marvelous full-of-life woman want to have anything to do with a loser like me?

I’ll never forget the time—a broiling hot day in August—I decided to splurge on a beer and went into her little store and she was on her tiptoes reaching up to get a case of Heineken and she was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and the case started to fall and the next thing I knew I was beside her bringing down the case and her breasts brushed my arm and she blushed and said Thank you in the sweetest way and I lived for weeks in a frenzy of love for her.

So…every day I would shower and shave, put on a clean shirt and jeans and running shoes, eat a couple bananas and hustle over to Plaza Park to see if anybody wanted me to make a dope delivery. I was a presentable person, and because I would deliver lids in exchange for joints, dealers liked using me.

One spring day Marcus asked me to deliver three lids to someone in the capitol building. I said, “Marcus, I love you, man, and I greatly admire the quality of your product, but three lids is a large felony. What say I deliver a bag at a time? Then it’s only a misdemeanor if I get caught, which I will gladly chance for my usual fee.”

“Talkin’ hazard pay,” said Marcus, a colossus with a deep rumbling voice. “Hundred bucks and you just come and get it for a month. Sound good?”

“A hundred bucks and I just come and get it for a month?” I echoed, loving the thought of Marcus keeping me in fat joints for an entire month—no need to run dope to get dope.

So I combed my hair, made sure my fly was up, and took possession of those three baggies of glistening bud hidden in a hollowed out law book. Then I merged with a crowd of drones swarming into the capitol building, and nobody thought I was anything but a casually dressed servant of the state as I hurried past the Governor’s office and caught an elevator to the third floor where legions of ambitious men and women hurried to and fro with piles of folders and steaming cups of coffee—the perfect moment to deliver dope.

I located the appointed suite, told the receptionist I had something for her boss, and a moment later he emerged from his office—a boyishly handsome man in a snazzy gray suit—one of the most powerful politicos in California.

He came close and said, “Hey. How are you?”

“Fine,” I said, wondering how he could be so calm with his career in the hands of some stranger off the street who might be a narc. “Here’s that volume you requested. Hope this does the trick.”

“Saved,” he said, taking the book from me and hugging it like a long lost friend. “Just in the nick of time.”

Riding down in the elevator I thought What a joke. The ultimate loser bringing weed to the guy who rules the world—both of us wanting to get high, him in his mansion and me in my hole.

For delivering that weed to a head of state, Marcus gave me sixty bucks and a bag of rag and I did not complain. Life went on. I bought my food at Maria’s little grocery store and went to movie matinees a couple times a month and saw three or four movies for the price of one, sneaking around when the ushers were looking the other way. I bought a six-pack of Heineken every month when my benefit check arrived and shared my beer with Larry and Sheldon and Shirley. I lived that way for five years and saw no way out but suicide.

For my thirty-fifth birthday Sheldon and Larry and Shirley bought me a tarot reading from Larry’s friend Diedre, and when I looked at the gift certificate I decided that after the reading I would put an end to things.

Larry had assured me that Diedre was a gifted seer, but he hadn’t mentioned she was as beautiful as Maria Escobido. Diedre’s skin was white alabaster, her eyes emerald green, her long brown hair in a pony tail tied with a green scarf, her blue silk blouse embroidered with shimmering silver fish, turquoise rings on her fingers, her voice songful and free of doubt.

We sat facing each other across a small round table, the room lit with candles. She asked me to shuffle the deck and hold the cards and think about my life. So I shuffled the cards and closed my eyes and there was Maria Escobido smiling at me. And I realized it wasn’t true I had to buy something if I wanted to talk to her. Maria liked me whether I bought anything or not. I had invented that lie to defeat myself.

I handed the cards to Diedre and said, “Thank you. The revelations are coming fast and furious.”

She nodded graciously, turned over the top card and said, “This is you.”

“I always wondered who I was,” I said, reading the words on the card—The Magician. “Nice robe. Is he a chemist?”

“Alchemist,” said Diedre, searching my face with her brilliant green eyes. “You possess great power, but your power is unavailable to you because you don’t realize who you are.”

She turned over the next card—The Lovers—started to say something, shook her head and turned over the next card—The Tower. She frowned at the image of a burning castle, touched The Magician, touched The Lovers, touched The Tower and said, “You need to take immediate action or you will lose everything. This is definite. You can’t wait another day. You must act.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” I said, wondering if she knew I was planning to kill myself. “Take action. How?”

“Live your dreams,” she said, tapping The Magician. “Take a chance.”

I got back to my scary part of town at dusk—fog cloaking the streets. Benefit checks were late that month, people angry and desperate. I passed a shiny new Cadillac parked in front of a vacant lot, nothing unusual about such a car being parked in my neighborhood, a drug dealer’s car, no doubt.

And though I knew never to look into parked cars because men with guns did bad things in parked cars in my neighborhood, something made me look and I saw a man sticking a needle into the arm of a girl with her mouth taped shut, her arms tied behind her back—and my rage erupted in a scream and I yanked the door open and the man fumbled for his gun and I kicked him in the face before he could shoot and kicked him again as the driver’s door swung open and somebody huge got out to kill me and I ran away screaming bloody murder and people came rushing out of their houses and swarmed over the car and caught the two men and got the girl out and she was Maria Escobido’s sister.

****

That was thirty years ago. I live far away from Sacramento now in a blue house on the outskirts of a coastal town. I own the village bookstore and my wife Sierra is a chef in the finest restaurant for many miles around.

I would love to tell you that Maria Escobido and I became lovers after I saved her sister, but that didn’t happen. I ran back to my room, stuffed a few precious things into my knapsack, and left a note for Sheldon and Larry and Shirley thanking them for being my friends and explaining if I stayed I would surely be killed. Then I caught a bus to the edge of the city and from there hitchhiked eight hundred miles to the north and got a job as a dishwasher in a café. The owners liked me and eventually gave me a job as a waiter.

One day I charmed a customer who owned a gourmet restaurant and he asked me to come work for him, which I did. A year later he promoted me to maître d’ and I kept that job for many years until I saved enough money to open my bookstore and buy our house.

Sometimes when I’m standing at the bookstore counter reading or writing and the bell over the door jingles, I look up expecting to see Maria Escobido.

In my fantasy, she does a double take, smiles her radiant smile and says, “Oh my God, it’s you.”

And I say to her what she always said to me when I would enter her store after a long absence. “Where have you been hiding, mi amigo? I missed you.” Only I will use the word amiga.

Failure

July 30th, 2014

redemption song nolan winkler

Redemption Song painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2014)

“Genius is the ability to renew one’s emotions in daily experience.” Paul Cezanne

Last night I attended the Mendocino Music Festival’s third orchestral concert of this year’s festival, my wife a cellist in the most excellent orchestra. The second half of the program was Symphony No. 2 in E minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff, a massive work that lasted more than an hour. The third movement of the four-movement symphony was especially moving to me—the glorious music swamping my psyche and catalyzing several epiphanies about the novel I’m currently writing.

In the program notes written by Marcia Lotter, a fine local violinist, she wrote that the failure of Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony was so depressing to Rachmaninoff that he was unable to compose anything for ten years, and it was only after successful hypnosis, during which the hypnotherapist implanted positive thoughts about composing in Rachmaninoff’s subconscious, that the great genius was able to resume composing.

“The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.” Aldous Huxley

When I lived in Berkeley a decade ago, I was, among other things, a babysitter specializing in taking care of children from two in the afternoon until their parents got home from work after five. Favorite babysitting activities included gardening, drawing, taking walks, making fruit smoothies, reading, story telling and playing the piano.

I frequently oversaw two five-year-old boys who were close friends, and one of our favorite things to do was take turns playing my piano for each other and responding with our playing to what we had just heard the other person play. Our music was entirely improvised; atonality and redundancy perfectly okay, with banging the only thing we agreed to keep at a minimum.

These two boys and I enacted our round robin piano concerts fifty times over the course of a year, and one of the boys prefaced every single one of his turns at the piano by saying, “I’m not very good.”

No matter how many times I and the other boy responded to this child’s music with genuine appreciation and applause, he would begin his every turn at the piano with, “I’m not very good.”

One evening I was having supper with this boy and his parents, two smart, funny upbeat people, and after the meal the boy’s mother requested I play a few tunes for them on their piano. I did so, and then the boy’s father said to the boy’s mother, “Play something, honey. How about that Bach you’ve been working on.”

She went to the piano, sat down on the bench, and before playing said, “I’m not very good.”

“I would suspect that the hardest thing for you to accept is your own beauty. Your own worth. Your own dignity. Your own calling to learn to love and allow yourself to be loved to the utmost.” Alan Jones

Most American artists and writers, even famous successful ones, struggle with feelings of failure and inadequacy. The universality of this struggle speaks volumes about our punitive and hierarchical society and the endemic antipathy to original self-expression, not to mention the lack of understanding of art as a practice that is not inherently about the creation of commercial artifacts.

“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.” Albert Schweitzer

Long ago, before the advent of personal computers and PDFs and Word documents attached to emails, I spent three of my fifteen years in Sacramento writing an epic poem in the form of a novel entitled Two Rivers. When I finished typing the final version, I made a dozen photocopies of the giant thing, gave them to friends and began work on my next novel. Over the course of the next few years, two valiant literary agents tried and nearly succeeded in selling the book, but ultimately Two Rivers was never published.

A decade after completing Two Rivers, having moved to Berkeley, I went to visit old friends in Sacramento and ran into a photographer I admired but did not know very well, and he asked with some urgency if I would accompany him to his studio. We went to a part of town that in former times had been an industrial area but had long been abandoned by the time I moved to Sacramento in 1980 and remained so until I moved away in 1995. Now the area was a thriving enclave of artists and entrepreneurs, with once derelict warehouses refurbished into studios and galleries and cafés and performances spaces. On a huge lot at the heart of the new mecca was the photographer’s spectacular two-story studio and gallery.

“I bought this place nine years ago right at the start of the renaissance around here,” he explained, walking me through the gallery space and out onto a brick terrazzo surrounding a large fountain burbling away in the bright sunlight. “I couldn’t afford to buy this place now in a million years, but it cost me next to nothing nine years ago.”

“Fantastic,” I said, dazzled by the sight of two red and green parrots perched on a towering cactus.

“I decided to buy this place after I read Two Rivers.” He turned to me and smiled. “I got the manuscript nine years ago from a friend of a friend of your friend Bob. I read it twice without stopping and I’ve read it two more times since. I keep waiting for it to get published but…”

“Never will,” I said, remembering little about the book. “Too dark, too crazy.”

“Yeah, but that’s what helped me get down to my shit, down to what I’d been afraid of my whole fucking life. There I was. You wrote me, man. When Carlo jumped into the river and was drowning and Madman saved him, I swear to God it felt like he was saving me. And when Carlo crawled out of the river, I was changed. Bought this place the next day, stopped taking pictures of dog food and office products and never looked back.”

Heaven and Hell

July 23rd, 2014

Little Sparrow Nolan Winkler

Little Sparrow Nolan Winkler

(This short story from Buddha In A Teacup appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2014)

On their way to a matinee of the San Francisco Ballet, Roger and Susan must stand for the entire journey in a crowded subway car. They are wearing heavy coats on this chilly November day, though inside the slow moving train it is a veritable sauna—the air conditioning having failed.

Susan is twenty-six, a fetching brunette, and Roger is forty-nine, a strikingly beautiful former ballet dancer turned fashion designer. They have known each other for exactly one year, Susan and her two young children having moved from homelessness into the collective household where Roger and his lover Paul have been mainstays for more than a decade.

Paul and Roger were friendly and cordial with Susan for the first few months after she moved in, but they did not become close friends with her until they undertook their annual production of the community musical and Susan became their indefatigable assistant—Paul directing, Roger the choreographer and costume designer.

Rehearsals for the play—Guys and Dolls—proceeded splendidly until a week before opening night when the lead actress—with three big songs and two extravagant dance numbers—fell seriously ill. Paul was about to cancel the show when Susan shyly suggested she could play the part.

“I was a pom-pom girl in high school,” she told them, blushing at her confession. “Back in Tennessee? And I’ve been singing since I was a little kid. Mostly in the shower. But I can sing on key, and I know all the lines, so…”

To their great relief and astonishment, Susan was not only good in the part, she was fantastic. The play, which traditionally ran for two weekends, played to sold out houses for five weekends, and Susan became both a local star and the apple of Roger’s show business eye.

Susan was not as awed by her success as Roger and Paul were, and she returned without complaint to being a breakfast waitress in a nearby café and a mom afternoons and evenings.

Roger, however, was eager for Susan to pursue a show business career, for he saw her as a modern hero triumphing against all odds—with talent worthy of the professional stage.

Paul cautioned Roger about transferring his own frustrated ambition onto Susan, but Roger waved the warning aside, saying, “Oh, I’m just having fun. I just want her to see things so she can get a feel for the magic of it all.”

A voice crackles over the train’s public address system. “We apologize for the delay. We will be traveling at half-speed due to construction work. The air conditioning outage is due to an electrical problem. We apologize for the crowding. Two trains ahead of us went out of service unexpectedly. Thank you for your patience. Have a nice day.”

Roger, sweating profusely, shakes his head in dismay. “And they want to encourage the use of public transportation? Ha! This is a farce.”

Susan takes off her coat revealing her newly created dress, a svelte blue sheath designed and sewn by Roger. The train screeches to a halt and Susan is thrown against a burly man in a gray business suit. “Sorry about that,” she says, righting herself. “Did I hurt you? I’m so sorry.”

“Not at all.” The man smiles wearily and wipes his brow with a white handkerchief. “This is insane.”

“I’ve never been on the subway before.” She grins at him. “I think it’s wonderful.”

“This is not wonderful,” says Roger, running a hand through his perfectly coifed silver hair. “This is hell.”

“At least we’re moving again,” says Susan, nodding hopefully as the train lurches forward. “I’m not at work. And I don’t have the kids, much as I love them. And it’s my birthday. I’m going to the ballet. What could be better than that?”

“We could be sitting in an air conditioned train going fast.” Roger closes his eyes. “This is a nightmare.”

 *

They detrain an hour later in downtown San Francisco, Susan following Roger through the bustling throng to an escalator blockaded with a big Out Of Order sign.

“This is too much,” says Roger, starting up the stairs. “A four-story climb after sweating like pigs for an hour? This is criminal.”

“Yeah, but we’re here!” Susan tugs at his coattails. “I’m so excited, Roger. This is just so great.”

The automatic turnstile won’t let Susan exit the underground. So while Roger waits impatiently on the other side of the barrier, Susan approaches the station attendant in the big glass cubicle to find out why her ticket has been rejected. The attendant—a woman with sad brown eyes and silver fingernails—is talking on her mobile phone, oblivious to Susan.

Roger shouts, “Hurry up! We’ll miss the opening piece!”

The attendant doodles on a notepad and says into her phone, “No, baby, we went there yesterday. I’m tired of Chinese. Let‘s do Mexican today. Chile rellenos sound real good to me right about now.”

“Excuse me.” Susan nods politely to the attendant. “I’m late for a ballet show and my ticket…”

The attendant snatches the card from Susan and sticks it into a slot on her computer console. “Not Maria’s,” she says, continuing her phone conversation. “Let’s go to Cha Cha’s. Better margaritas. Hold on.” She hands the card back to Susan. “There’s no credit on this. You need to add three dollars and seventy cents at the Add Credit machine.”

“But I paid ten dollars in Berkeley,” says Susan, her eyes filling with tears. “And I don’t have any more money with me.”

“Sorry,” says the attendant, yawning. “Machine says that card is dead.”

“Jesus!” cries Roger, waving his arms at Susan. “What the hell’s going on?”

Susan shrugs helplessly. “She says my ticket doesn’t have any credit. And I didn’t bring any more money.”

Roger storms up to the cubicle and shouts through the glass. “Now wait just a god damn minute. We put ten dollars on that card in Berkeley. Our train was a half hour late, the air conditioning didn’t work, the escalators are broken, and now…”

“You want to talk to my supervisor?” The attendant glares out at Roger. “You want to file a complaint?”

“No, ma’am,” says Susan, speaking softly. “None of this is your fault. We know that. But the thing is, it’s my birthday and Roger is taking me to my first ballet. I just love to dance. And he was a ballet dancer. And we’re awful late, so…”

“Okay, go on,” says the attendant, buzzing open the gate. “And teach your friend some manners.”

 *

They race along the crowded sidewalks, arriving at the theater just as the performance is about to begin, and despite Roger’s anguished protests, they are compelled to wait in the lobby until the first piece is completed.

Roger falls onto a sofa and buries his face in his hands. “But this was the piece we wanted you to see. This is the main reason we came. This dance is about you, about your life.”

Susan sits beside him and puts her arms around him. “Roger. It’s okay, honey. There’s four more dances after this one. And this is the most beautiful theater I’ve ever seen. Look at those stairways and those chandeliers. Isn’t this amazing?”

He looks up at her, his cheeks streaked with tears. “But we wanted so much for you to see this piece. Paul will be crushed. We wanted this day to be perfect for you.”

“It is,” she says, smiling at the usher, a grim little man in a gray uniform barring their way to seats in the seventh row. “It is perfect. I love everything about it.”

The door behind the usher opens a crack and a wizened face appears, its twinkling eyes meeting Susan’s, its lips communicating something that causes the usher to beckon to Susan and Roger.

“Come in,” says the usher. “There’s been a slight delay. You have just enough time to get to your seats.”

Food Prices

July 16th, 2014

apples for happiness

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2014)

“U.S. food prices are on the rise, raising a sensitive question: When the cost of a hamburger patty soars, does it count as inflation?” Ben Leubsdorf and Jon Kilsenrath

The sentence above opens a recent article in The Wall Street Journal and illuminates one of the most despicable practices of our government: not counting food prices when calculating the rate of inflation. Imagine not counting rainfall when supposedly measuring rainfall.

I have avoided listening to audio of Janet Yellen, the new chair of the Federal Reserve, because the articles wherein she is quoted make her sound like a dupe of epic proportions, and listening to dupes is one of my least favorite activities. In the Wall Street Journal article of which I speak, she is quoted as saying she is not certain that food prices are relevant to discussions of inflation.

How can anyone, let alone the person in charge of national fiscal policy, not be certain if food prices are relevant to inflation? What do Americans spend most of their money on? Food and shelter last time I checked, and driving to and from shelter to work to get money for food, and driving to and from shelter to grocery store to buy that food. Claude Levi Strauss, the famous anthropologist, said that 98% of all human activity is related to growing, gathering, preparing and eating food. Without sufficient food, we perish. And food prices have been skyrocketing for the last several years, which is the only inflation of any relevance to most people on earth.

You will recall the famous Arab Spring of the recent past. The same nincompoops who neglect to include the rising cost of food in discussions of inflation also rhapsodized about the Arab Spring being caused by the people of Tunisia and Libya and Egypt yearning for democracy, when the actual cause of those uprisings was desperation over the meteoric rise in food prices and the inability of many people in those countries to afford bread.

Our government also just released figures showing that national unemployment has dropped to 6.1 per cent. Who do they think they’re kidding? Or put another way: what is the purpose of such blatant falsity? We know that a pack of power hungry sociopaths fabricated a story about weapons of mass destruction to justify going to war, but what purpose is served by cooking the books about inflation and unemployment? Answer #1: Increases in Social Security payments are determined by the rate of inflation. If the government lies and declares the rate of inflation 1%, that is how much they will increase Social Security payments, which is what the government has been doing for the last several years. Answer #2: Jiggle unemployment rates downward and the stock market goes up. Steal from the poor and give to the rich.

“Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.” Woody Allen

I was not particularly conscious of food prices when I was a child because my mother did the food buying, though I do remember that for most of my childhood Mom would not buy watermelon until the price dropped below ten cents a pound. At the height of summer, watermelon sold for three cents a pound. Yes, a big juicy delicious twenty-pound watermelon in Menlo Park California circa 1955-1960 cost sixty cents, those fabulous melons grown just down the road in Gilroy.

When I began supporting myself in my late teens, I became keenly aware of food prices and remain so to this day. I also have a quasi-photographic memory and know immediately when food prices go up or down. Fruit and vegetable prices fluctuate seasonally, of course, but overall fruit and vegetable prices are more than twice what they were eight years ago. A good price for organically grown apples during apple season eight years ago was sixty-nine cents a pound. A great price during apple season this past year for organically grown apples was a dollar and eighty-nine cents per pound. Right now apples are going for four dollars a pound. Maybe Janet Yellen doesn’t eat apples.

Remember when broccoli was nineteen cents a pound? That means you are over fifty. Remember when you could get two See’s Candy suckers for a nickel? That means you are over sixty.

“There are only two families in the world, my old grandmother used to say, the Haves and the Have-nots.” Miguel de Cervantes

In the summer of 1969 I was driving through the hills of West Virginia in an old GMC panel truck, heading I knew not where and needing a place to camp and something to eat, my cash reserves low. As I slowed on a hairpin turn I saw a crude sign at the bottom of a dirt drive that said Chikens 4 Sale. I shifted into first gear and climbed the deeply rutted track to a decrepit cottage, the roof caving in, every last living and dead thing in sight coated with dust.

A little barefoot boy wearing hand-me-down rags stood in front of the hovel glaring at my truck. As I shut off the engine and the trailing cloud of dust engulfed the house, two younger children stepped out onto the collapsing porch and glared at me, too. Then their mother appeared, a pregnant young gal with long brown hair, a shotgun cradled in her arms.

She squinted at my truck and shouted, “He’s not here. Don’t know when he’s coming back.”

I climbed out and said, “Saw the sign for chickens for sale. I’d like to buy one for supper.”

The woman nodded. “Theys a quarter each if you take’em live. Thirty cents if I got to kill and gut and pluck.”

“Great. I’ll take one killed and gutted and plucked.”

She stepped back into the house and I foolishly expected her to return with a pre-prepared chicken from her refrigerator. She did not, however, have a refrigerator or electricity. She emerged a moment later without her gun and led me to a squalid pen surrounded by rusting chicken wire.

Pointing at the dozen or so raggedy chickens pecking at the barren ground she said, “Which one you want?”

I pointed at one that looked fairly healthy. “How about that big brown one?”

“Okay,” she said, opening the rickety gate—and in a flash she snatched up that bird and broke its neck as easily as snapping a dry twig.

Perceptions of Wealth

July 9th, 2014

Perceptions of Wealth

Roses Pancakes Coffee photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2014)

“I got plenty of nothing, and nothing’s plenty for me.” DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin

Say what we will about the silliness of Hillary Clinton claiming to be dead broke when she and Bill exited the White House in 2001 to make way for George “Picasso” Bush, at least her ridiculous boast brought to light the collective insanity of the obscenely wealthy. Wait a minute. We already knew the obscenely wealthy were insane. Or did we?

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, I was part-time secretary to a wealthy woman who lived and worked near the top of the socio-economic pyramid of the city-state of San Francisco. At the beginning of my tenure as her secretary—in the archaic sense of being her editor, chauffer, escort, confidante, tea maker and typist—I interpreted her frequent claims of being poor and broke and penniless as a kind of self-mockery, and so simply ignored that particular line of blabber. But over time I came to realize she truly believed she was poor, her belief arising from consorting with people who had a great deal more money than she.

Over the course of five years of working for this wealthy woman, I met dozens of extremely wealthy people perched near the tippy top of that socio-economic pyramid, and I was astonished to find that many of them spoke often and bitterly about how little money they had and how terribly constrained their lives were for lack of funds.

“We were going to stay on our farm in Provence for the usual two months, but Jack said we could only go for six weeks this year and only spend a month at the Montana ranch because he had to be here for some stock thing. And we haven’t had a spare minute to get to the beach house this summer because we’re completely redoing the kitchen and it’s a matter of life and death. I am so done with black and red marble. Give me green serpentine! Did I tell you we’re busting out the south-facing wall to turn the dining nook into a dining room? I felt like I was in prison. I wanted the room to vault out over the canyon, but Jack said sinking steel girders into the cliff would add way too much expense and we’re just strapped right now.”

“In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” H.G. Wells

One day I arrived on my bicycle at the splendid Berkeley home of my employer to assist a renowned chef who was catering a seven-course luncheon for which I would prepare seven outrageously expensive teas—four greens and three blacks. I stowed my bike and knapsack in the garage, changed into suit and tie, climbed the twelve stairs to the front terrazzo and gazed westward over the descending hills to San Francisco Bay—the distant towers of the Golden Gate Bridge rising out of white fog.

The front door swung open and here was my employer, a tall youthful woman in her late sixties, dressed as if for her coronation and beckoning urgently. I followed her into the dining room where the enormous oval table was set for twelve with heirloom Dutch china and gleaming Swiss silver, the royal scene crowned with a spectacular floral centerpiece of rare Brazilian jungle blooms—to be removed moments before the guests were seated.

The chef’s assistant peeked out from the kitchen and said, “Madame? Would you care to taste the soup?”

“Be right there,” said Madame, frowning gravely at me. “I have a terrible feeling there’s something not quite right about the mix. See what you think.”

I circled the table, noting the names on the parchment place cards, each card an original work of art by a well-known calligrapher—the guest’s name rendered in gold leaf and embraced by a fanciful watercolor rose.

I had forgotten nearly everything Madame told me about the people coming to her luncheon, except that they were all culturally influential, vastly wealthy, and food snobs. Knowing Madame would not be satisfied with a simple “Looks good” about her placement of the Very Important People, I was relieved to find one end of the table overburdened with males and correctly deduced that pointing this out would give Madame something to sink her teeth into before the guests arrived.

At which moment, there came a timid knock on the front door, and in my capacity as butler I went to answer. And here was Phil, a portly middle-aged fellow wearing dilapidated shoes, raggedy pants, a filthy gray sweatshirt and a red tartan tam o’ shanter. Accompanied by his ancient dachshund Boris, Phil was an alcoholic Scotsman who came to Madame’s house every week to beg for food and money.

Phil was about to say something when his stomach growled so loudly it sounded as if someone was trapped in there and crying for help. Phil waited for the impressive growl to subside, smiled sheepishly and said with his charming Scottish brogue, “Now that tells the tale better than I can, wouldn’t it?”

Before I could reply, Madame appeared behind me shouting, “Go away! Immediately! I can’t have you here. Come back tomorrow.”

Phil frowned and muttered, “Piece of bread?”

I turned to Madame and said, “I’ll take care of this. And my only comment about your table is that the west end is decidedly masculine, but otherwise…perfect.”

“Of course,” said Madame, smacking her forehead with the palm of her hand. “Hurry up with him and then come help me make things right.”

I stepped out onto the Welcome mat, closed the door behind me, and said to Phil, “Meet me at the end of the driveway and you shall have bread and cheese.”

His smile returned. “Didn’t see any cars but hers so I thought it would be all right to come up. Throwing one of her fancies, is she? Just a little bread and I’ll make myself scarce, though I was hoping to have a snooze under the pine back there. Think she’d mind?”

“No snooze here today, Phil,” I said, shaking my head. “Can we make this quick?”

“Say no more,” he said, beginning his descent with little Boris at his heels. “Just a bit of bread. Maybe some cheese.” Then he paused halfway down the stairs and murmured hopefully, “Perhaps a spot of tea.”

Watching and Listening

July 2nd, 2014

1215beatsthinking350col

beats thinking ©John Grimes fizzdom.com grimescartoons.com

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2014)

“If it weren’t for electricity, we’d all be watching television by candlelight.” George Gobel

Prior to television taking over virtually every home in America by the end of the 1950’s, there were several hundred weekly and monthly magazines in America publishing multiple short stories per issue and paying thousands of writers good money for those short stories. And there were also hundreds of daily newspapers publishing short stories and serialized novels and paying well for the privilege. Before 1960, the vast majority of American novelists, playwrights, and humorists developed their talent by writing short stories and submitting those stories for publication.

By the time I sold my first short story in 1975, there remained but a few dozen monthly magazines in America that published a story or two per issue, and only a handful of those magazines paid more than a pittance, though by today’s standards those pittances were small fortunes. Television is famously known for ending The Golden Age of Radio, circa 1930-1955, but less well known for terminating The Golden Age of Short Stories that was the foundation of our literary culture.

Now in 2014, as a former voracious reader of short stories, I very rarely encounter contemporary fiction that interests me—my taste formed in a bygone era—and I will sometimes watch an episode of the George Burns and Gracie Allen television show from the 1950’s on my computer in hope of satisfying my hunger for a good short story. Alas, George and Gracie do not satisfy this craving, but their goofy shows do embody that seminal moment in our cultural history when television supplanted reading, radio, movies, live theatre, and hanging out at bowling alleys as the thing most Americans did with their spare time.

As contemporary writing continues to evolve, fewer and fewer people can discern the difference between what I used to call good writing and now call classical writing, from what I used to call bad writing and now call modern writing. In thinking about the vanishing of this particular kind of discernment, I am reminded that reading and writing of any kind are barely discernible blips on the timeline of human evolution, whereas watching and listening span the entirety of mammalian and human evolution and are as significant in our specie’s development as procreation and digestion. And that is why television is both irresistible and addictive to humans: watching and listening are what we were born to do.

“Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.” Satchel Paige

Our ever evolving watching and listening powers supplied our simultaneously evolving brains vital information for taking action to secure food and mates and safe places to rest and sleep. Our survival depended on skillful watching and listening and the application of information we gained thereby. Advanced applications of information accumulated from watching and listening made possible the development of all sophisticated human activities, including drawing and writing and composing music and baking bread and sailing and bowling.

Watching television, however, has nothing to do with survival or giving our brains vital information or enhancing our lives. This is in small part because of what our overlords put on television for us to watch, but is largely a function of the hypnotic, numbing and deleterious effects of the medium itself. Indeed, for the likes of me, the best hour of television I have ever seen was a depressing soporific compared to taking a walk or reading a good short story or picking blackberries or playing the piano or going bowling.

“You can observe a lot by watching.” Yogi Berra

Born into a literate household in 1949, I grew up gobbling books. My parents bought our first television in 1954 to watch the McCarthy hearings, my father a publicly vocal opponent of the Korean War and therefore fearful of being added to The Big Black List of Subversives! However, my siblings and I were not allowed to watch television on weekdays and were only allowed to watch for an hour a night on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Being a kid obsessed with playing ball and riding my bike all over creation and reading books and listening to Ray Charles, I was never much of a television watcher. In 1969, when I quit college to pursue a career as a writer and musician, I decided to give up television entirely. Save for watching a few playoff games over the next forty-five years, and nowadays watching sports highlights and the occasional George and Gracie episode on my computer, I have adhered to my decision.

Why did I make that choice? To echo the opening line of Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl, with one minor change: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by television.

A few days ago someone was showing me a few things on her smartphone and after a few minutes of gazing into the little screen while she tapped various buttons to bring up various apps, I felt my psyche disintegrating. I think it must be the way I’m wired that makes me hypersensitive to stuff projected on a screen. Indeed, the way I’m wired makes it imperative I avoid violent movies, and for that matter violent prose, because I experience the violence as real.

Did you ever see the movie Taxi Driver? 1976. I was living in Medford, Oregon, working as a landscaper and writing short stories. I was an avid moviegoer and fledgling screenwriter who avoided violent movies. One day I got a letter from my friend Rico, a psychotherapist who knew all about my aversion to violent films. He wrote, “Saw an interesting little flick you might enjoy. Taxi Driver. Check it out.”

That being the sum total of what I knew about the movie, and never thinking Rico would steer me wrong, I went to see Taxi Driver at Medford’s one and only multi-screen movie house. Why I didn’t walk out after the first few minutes when my skin was crawling and my heart was pounding to a bossa nova beat, I can only attribute to my faith in Rico. To this day, thirty-eight years gone by, just thinking about that horror movie gives me the creeps.

Iraq

June 25th, 2014

dreaming in the grey light nolank winkler

dreaming in the grey light painting by nolan winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2014)

“One of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror.” George W. Bush

Shortly before George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to topple our former ally Saddam Hussein, a Sunni strong man, George invited a few learned English-speaking Iraqis to Washington to talk to him about the country he was soon to invade. One of the Iraqis explained that it was essential George understand the ancient enmity between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims that underpinned every aspect of political and social reality in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. To which our commander-in-chief famously replied, “There’s more than one kind of Muslim? I didn’t know that.”

Today, eleven years after George made his remarkable confession (remarkable for a President of the United States) and a rapidly escalating civil war engulfs Iraq, understanding the ancient enmity between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims is, indeed, essential to making even a little bit of sense of what’s going on in Iraq. The supranational corporations have manipulated this Sunni-Shi’ite enmity for a hundred years whenever such manipulation would enhance their sucking trillions of dollars worth of oil from Iraq and other oil-rich kingdoms of the Middle East.

A few years before George H. Bush, launched the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein in 1990, National Geographic magazine ran a lush spread of photos of the beautiful thriving country of Iraq, including flattering portraits of the handsome Saddam and his beautiful wife. The text of the article hailed Saddam as a forward-thinking benevolent leader who had masterfully used billions of petro dollars to vault the formerly impoverished cradle of civilization to the forefront of modernity. In Saddam’s Iraq, women were college professors and doctors and business owners, and though Saddam was a devout Sunni, more and more Iraqis were casting off the shackles of Muslim orthodoxy, both Shi’ite and Sunni, to embrace the exciting possibilities of secularism and equality.

“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” George W. Bush

For the eight years Bill Clinton was President of the United States, from 1992 to 2000, Bill knowingly approved thousands of aerial bombings of Iraq by our unchallenged air force targeting power plants, water pipelines, water purification plants, schools, hospitals, bridges, roads and all basic infrastructure. Yes, Bill knowingly bombed the once thriving country of Iraq back into the stone age before George W. Bush’s puppeteers began promoting the lie that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and the toppling of the World Trade Center, and further cooked up the myth that Saddam possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction, both fictions used to justify the second invasion of Iraq.

I am reminded of these sad and terrible facts as I read about Iraq today and recall marching against the first Gulf War in 1990, our signs reading No Blood For Oil, and marching again in 2003, our signs still reading No Blood For Oil. Both wars were spearheaded by the Bush family, and because the Bush family fortune was deeply enmeshed with the Saudi royal family via Chevron Oil, I thought Chevron would be the ideal corporate target for a boycott to give some teeth to the anti-war movement—a boycott I could never convince any anti-war leader or group to promote.

Now there are cries from reactionary politicians and pundits who want the United States to act militarily to prop up the incredibly corrupt and inept Shi’ite government the United States installed in Iraq. These not-very-bright politicians and pundits are urging Obama to strike from the air to…what? How will more death and destruction resolve the enmity between the Sunnis and Shi’ites that was, according to that 1980’s National Geographic article, fading away as Iraq emerged into modernity and peace?

How corrupt is the current Iraqi regime? Here is one example reported by Alexander Reed Kelly. “By 2014, the going price for command of an Iraqi army division was reported to be around one million dollars, payable over two years as the purchaser recouped his investment via fees levied at roadblocks and other revenue streams. Little wonder that when called on to fight the disciplined and ruthless ISIS, the Iraqi army has melted away.”

 “The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measure it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.” Daniel Moynihan

According to Noam Chomsky, the invasion of Iraq in 1990 by the United States and Britain to dislodge Iraqi troops from Kuwait, an invasion resulting in the slaughter of tens of thousands of Iraqi troops, was entirely unnecessary. Crippling sanctions against Iraq were working and the United Nations was preparing to oversee negotiations to peacefully resolve the border dispute between Kuwait and Iraq that had inspired Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in the first place.

But George H. Bush urgently wanted a war and so rushed to attack before non-military tactics might have defused the situation. While refreshing my memory about this moment in history, I found an online video made in 1991 of Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal discussing the invasion of Iraq that had just occurred. In the course of their conversation, they reminded each other that shortly before the invasion, the national media was buzzing with stories about Neil Bush being sued (and nearly being indicted on criminal charges) for his part in the Savings & Loan debacle that cost American taxpayers, according to Vidal, as much as the entire cost of World War Two!

By using war to divert public attention from his Ponzi scheming son and the massive crime perpetrated by bankers who were then bailed out by Congress (foreshadowing the economic meltdown of 2008 and the government’s bailout of the perpetrators) President George H. Bush was using a strategy employed by despots for thousands of years. Domestic improprieties got you down? Create a foreign threat, preferably from a country that isn’t really a threat, and make a patriotic fuss about going to war to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of pleasure.

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Winston Churchill

In 2003, when the anti-war movement in America vanished within days of the United States invading Iraq for the second time, I came to the conclusion that the disappearance of even symbolic resistance to the illegal war and occupation was directly connected to the unwillingness of any anti-war leader or anti-war organization in America to undertake a boycott of Chevron Oil.

I think such a boycott was never undertaken because the war in Iraq was the first major military operation launched by the United States that was obviously about securing and maintaining a constant supply of cheap gasoline for our cars, and we, the people of the United States, even so-called peaceniks, wanted and still want cheap gas more than we want anything else, even peace and freedom, even a habitable planet.

Takeover Complete

June 18th, 2014

triangle-orn

Triangle Eye drawing by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2014)

“In individuals, insanity is rare: but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” Friedrich Nietzsche

The takeover is complete, and by takeover I mean the takeover of our collective ability to distinguish reality from illusion. We have been thoroughly conquered and now voluntarily carry devices on our persons day and night to keep us connected to the great corporate propaganda machine. Known as smart phones, these devices are not yet implanted in our foreheads, though I’m sure millions of people will voluntarily undergo such implanting when the propaganda machine tells them forehead implants are hip and super fast and greatly enhance video gaming and keeping up with the lives of celebrities.

Takeover? What am I talking about? Let me count the ways.

Among the tiny fraction of Americans who still read books, there is talk of boycotting Amazon for delaying sales and deliveries of books published by the media arm of the massive multinational corporation Hachette that owns television stations, newspapers, publishers, and aero-space companies and is doing all it can to hasten the annihilation of what little remains of our once thriving literary culture. Yet corporate television talking heads are celebrating this corporate behemoth as “the little guy” and urging book buyers to boycott evil Amazon and buy corporate junk elsewhere.

When will people realize that nearly all the books for sale in their so-called independent bookstores are published by corporations who would be every bit as bad or worse than Amazon if only they had gotten into Amazon’s position first? When will people realize that book reviews and their placement in various media are paid for by corporate behemoths in order to advertise books those corporations want people to buy? And when will readers realize that bestseller lists are lists of books that multinational corporations want to sell lots of, and virtually any new book you’ve heard of in the last thirty years was published by a corporation with politics that would make a fascist feel warm and fuzzy? Apparently never, now that the takeover of our collective intelligence is complete.

Boycott Amazon? How about boycotting Chevron or Chase or General Electric or Monsanto or any of the truly evil corporations?

“Democracy don’t rule the world, you’d better get that in your head; this world is ruled by violence, but I guess that’s better left unsaid.” Bob Dylan

Reading Will Parrish’s excellent and terrifying summary of the dams and reservoirs and pipelines to be built with many billions of our tax dollars in order to transport nearly all the state’s water—should it ever rain again—to southern California for the benefit of corporate farms and to provide water for twenty-five million people who shouldn’t be living there, is to read a declaration of insanity and is further proof of the completeness of the takeover. Our collective willingness to allow this environmental suicide is a testament to how thoroughly brainwashed we are.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

The number of registered voters in Mendocino County voting in the June 3 primary was a historically low eighteen per cent, which is far less than the percentage of Iraqis and Afghanis who vote in their war torn countries where voting might easily get them killed. But here where anyone can vote at home and mail in his or her ballot, only eighteen per cent of the registered voters—a fraction of those eligible to vote—cast their ballots. Takeover complete.

“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.” George Bernard Shaw

The news is full of stories about corporate shill Hillary Clinton claiming that she and her philandering hubby Bill exited the White House in 2001, dead broke. Those are her words. Dead broke. And she says that is why she and Bill felt it necessary for Bill to charge 500,000 dollars per speaking engagement and Hillary 200,000 per engagement so they could struggle, as Hillary put it, to make payments on their two new behemoth houses and their various new cars and jets and things, and put Chelsea through Stanford. God, the suffering.

This poppycock is being reported as important news. Takeover complete.

“I am patient with stupidity but not with those who are proud of it.” Edith Sitwell

Just about every day now, somewhere in America, someone goes on a shooting rampage and kills and wounds several people. For a while, these rampages were followed by cries from parents of the victims and from legislators calling for something to be done to keep guns from falling into the hands of certifiably crazy people, but now that these rampages have become so frequent we hear nothing in the news about the need for gun control. Takeover complete.

“We can end the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war once and for all. We really can do it.” Angelina Jolie

Reading about the four-day conference in London where representatives from 140 countries gathered with movie star and United Nations envoy Angelina Jolie to discuss the idea of possibly sort of maybe kind of trying to see about declaring sexual violence a no-no for armies and soldiers waging war, I thought Wait, is this a joke? Killing, bombing, and maiming is okay, war is okay, and it’s fine to use drones to blow up wedding parties and women and children, but while we are killing and bombing and maiming and blowing up women and children we must try real hard not to commit sexual violence. Okay. Takeover complete.

“Lust and greed are more gullible than innocence.” Mason Cooley

At noon the boys and girls from the high school spill into the village to buy their lunches at Harvest or Frankie’s or the Goodlife Café or the marvelous Mendocino Grocery across the street from the post office. All the girls clutch their phones, fearing to be untethered for even a moment. Can this be true? Surely there must be one girl not clutching her phone. If I stand here long enough I might see one, and maybe a unicorn, too.