Archive for November, 2010

Attention Deficit Nonsense

Friday, November 26th, 2010

“Tell the children the truth.” Bob Marley

1957. Las Lomitas Elementary School. Menlo Park, California

“I invite those people with ants in their pants,” proclaimed Mrs. Davenport, my third grade teacher, “to run to the oak tree and back before we get to work on our projects.”

Those people always included me, so I and several of my cohorts, boys and girls, walked sedately to the classroom door from where we bolted into sunlight and fresh air to run across the playground to the gigantic oak that overshadowed the playing field. Upon our return, Mrs. Davenport would say, “Todd, Jody, Wendy, I invite you to circumnavigate the oak one more time because I can see you’ve still got a little jitterbug in you.”

Mrs. Davenport was from Oklahoma and proudly one-eighth Cherokee. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in all my eight mortal years. She was astute, funny, musical, athletic, and she enjoyed using words somewhat beyond the official Third Grade vocabulary. We loved Mrs. Davenport because she loved us and had great empathy for our collective predicament: being eight-year-olds.

In 1957, may the fates be eternally blessed, there was no such thing as Attention Deficit Disorder, nor were hideous drugs routinely and epidemically administered to children with ants in their pants. Thus I was spared the pharmaceutical suppression of my true nature, which was, as our beloved Mrs. Davenport so aptly put it, “To jitterbug.”

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Nelson Mandela

1969. Oakland, California

“You’re kidding,” I said to my friend, a Third Grade teacher at an elementary school with an entirely black student body. “All the kids in your class take Ritalin?”

“Every single one of them.”

“That’s insane.”

“There’s no other way to control them. Forty wild kids in a dinky classroom. Believe me, the ones who skip their meds stand out like sore thumbs.”

Lest you think the situation in that Oakland elementary school was an anomaly, think again. A monumental takeover of America’s schools was underway in the late 1960’s and continued through the 1970’s and 80’s, and is now complete. Today millions of our children are, for all intents and purposes, forced to take prescription drugs if they wish to attend school. And what saddens me most is knowing that had such drugs existed in my antsy childhood, and had my school been run by agents of the pharmaceutical corporations as most schools are run today, my parents would have dutifully signed the requisite forms allowing my jailers to drug me.

“Children are remarkable for their intelligence and ardor, for their curiosity, their intolerance of shams, the clarity and ruthlessness of their vision.” Aldous Huxley

In 1974 I worked as a teacher’s aide and janitor at a day care center in Palo Alto. All but three of our twenty-seven kids, ages two to five, came from single parent homes with the dads missing, the moms working as secretaries or nurses or maids or salespeople. The children were dropped off at the center between seven and eight in the morning and were to be picked up by a parent between four and five in the afternoon. For all sorts of wrong reasons, I was often left alone to care for several of these little people from two in the afternoon until the last of their very tired mothers arrived long after five.

My strategies for safely overseeing seven to fifteen antsy little kids all by myself for three or four hours included story telling, snack providing, and running my charges back and forth to the oak tree, so to speak, until they were too tired to do anything other than nap or draw or play quietly until their mommies came to get them. Several of these children, according to the school’s director, exhibited propensities for Attention Deficit Disorder; but not one of these angels suffered from any such thing under my care.

“A fool’s brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence University education.” George Bernard Shaw

In 1989, as I began my third year of running the Creative Writing program for the California State Summer School for the Arts, the school’s director hired a renowned academic authority to conduct a workshop for the department heads. I was skeptical about the value of the workshop, Strategies for Working With Contemporary Teenagers, because after two years of working with contemporary teenagers I had yet to discern any differences between contemporary teens and the teenager I had been; and my skepticism proved justified the moment that overpaid fraud opened his mouth.

He began with the proclamation that due to the pernicious effects of comic books and MTV, “the teenagers of today are incapable of sustaining focus and interest in a subject for more than a few minutes at a time. Therefore, you must design your curriculum to accommodate their limitations.”

I raised my hand, for I was swiftly approaching the limits of my capability of sustaining focus and interest in what this jackass was saying.

“I will complete my initial presentation,” he snapped, “and take questions after.” He glanced at his watch. “In twenty-four minutes.”

“I will not wait twenty-four minutes,” I said, rising from my seat. “Or even one minute. Your premise is erroneous. The young people we work with are easily able to sustain their focus and interest for hours on end, so I will leave you to your nonsense and hope my colleagues will have the good sense to leave with me.”

Needless to say, the director of the school was displeased with my boycott of the renowned academic, but life went on and our young writers and artists proved themselves illimitably attentive. Of course, we weren’t training our students to jump through hoops and remember meaningless bits of data pursuant to passing tests pursuant to becoming docile members of an emotionally stifled population of neurotic consumers. We were providing them with opportunities, inspiration, and techniques for expressing their original visions, while modeling for them adult versions of what artists might be.

“I never set out to be weird. It was always other people who called me weird.” Frank Zappa

2010. There is today, the authorities tell us, an epidemic of autism sweeping America; and though no one has a definitive explanation for the dramatic upturn in the incidence of autism, massive quantities of barely tested drugs are being administered to our nation’s hapless children in the name of managing the growing problem. Autism is a highly non-specific term, almost as non-specific as the word human, and may refer to a child incapable of even minimal self-maintenance, to a teenager with abnormal speech patterns, or to an adult incapable of making eye contact with other human beings, to name just a few of the thousands of autistic behaviors found under the vast umbrella of the so-called autistic spectrum.

“Yes, well, we have administered the appropriate tests and come to the conclusion that your daughter falls somewhere on the spectrum of being human. Her particular manifestation of humanness indicates she might be more easily controlled were she to take two hundred milligrams every four hours of the drug Freedonia, an absurdly expensive drug cheaply manufactured and available exclusively from one of the unregulated and amoral pharmaceutical giants. This giant multinational corporation claims to have thoroughly tested Freedonia on several thousand unsuspecting peasant children in India. Only a small percentage of those peasant children died or went insane as a result of taking the drug, and despite a notable percentage of the subjects experiencing dizziness, loss of appetite, and an irrational fear of the color blue, a viable percentage of those taking Freedonia showed a noticeable reduction in those symptoms of humanness similar to the symptoms unfortunately exhibited by your daughter. Therefore, we strongly recommend that your daughter take the recommended dosages of Freedonia if you wish for her to continue attending Sweetness and Light Elementary School.”

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Arthur Schopenhauer

Most people find it hard to believe that it was common practice for medical doctors in twentieth century America to prescribe cigarettes for patients suffering from anxiety, but they, the medical doctors, did just that for many decades. My father, a medical doctor, smoked cigarettes until 1957 when the Surgeon General gave his first official warning about the “probable link” between cigarettes and lung cancer.

I have several friends who feel that life would not be worth living without the prescription anti-depressants they take, and I am relieved they have something to help them feel good about being alive. I am not against the use of all drugs. But I am against the use of drugs in place of discovering and working on the underlying causes of what ails us and what ails our children.

A growing body of research suggests that the accepted truth in the not too distant future will be that the exponential rise in the occurrence of autism is at least partially related to the chronic use of computers and cell phones by children who should not be using (or exposed to the rays from) those brain-altering devices until their brains have had the opportunity to fully develop as our brains are genetically intended to develop. Crucial synaptic connections are very likely not being made in the brains of millions of young people who are texting and gaming and cyber surfing before their brains and psyches and bodies are fully and healthfully formed.

Have you ever entered a café where several people are peering into cell phones and twiddling their thumbs on miniature keyboards? These people are modeling several of the fundamental symptoms of autism: disconnection from reality, self-isolation, repetitive physical mannerisms, and avoidance of direct contact with other humans. Or to put it another way, they seem to be missing out on what we old farts call life.

The Dreidel in Rudolph’s Manger

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

(I first published this story several years ago in the Sacramento News & Review and it eventually ran in dozens of free weeklies and even in a few daily newspapers. I present the story here for your enjoyment as we officially enter the so-called holiday season. My reading of the story, with appropriate accents, is on my story CD I Steal My Bicycle and other stories available from Underthetablebooks.com and downloadable from iTunes.)

The Dreidel in Rudolph’s Manger

Israel Jacobs, born a Jew, and Margaret O’Hara, born and baptized a Catholic, were married in the spring of 1999. And despite their mothers, they lived quite happily until their only child, Felix, turned five. Then Christmas and Hanukkah loomed simultaneously as they always do, and the whole kettle of fish, gefilte and snapper, was set to boiling once more.

Israel’s mother, Rachel, a small, fiery woman with little tolerance for what she called those “gentile pagan idiocies” insisted that Israel give his son a real Jewish Hanukkah, not some watered down compromise. Margaret’s mother, Colleen, a tall, cheerful soul, didn’t mind a menorah on the mantel so long as it was appropriately dwarfed by a well-flocked Christmas tree, candy canes, and a “high quality manger scene,” preferably on the front lawn.

But the truth was, Israel and Margaret didn’t believe in celebrating either Hanukkah or Christmas. They belonged to a group called Beyond Dysfunctional Religions, and they wanted nothing to do with the rituals of their progenitors, whom they believed to be responsible for much of the world’s woes. However, they had never actually told their mothers of their conversion to this new spiritual course, and now, in the face of their child’s coming of age, as it were, the you-know-what was about to hit the fan.

Felix, an intelligent child caught in the cross-fire of adult madness, had invented his own holiday season mythology. Hanukkah and Christmas were obviously words for the same thing. Grandma Rachel said Hanukkah, Grandma Colleen said Christmas. This was not so unusual. After all, Grandma Rachel said “Oy vey” in situations where Grandma Colleen would say “Goodness me.”  And they had slightly different accents. So what?

In any case, when the calendar said December, Felix knew that he would be getting presents, that there would be a sudden super-abundance of chocolate in the house, and that people would speak incessantly about spinning the dreidel, a fat man named Santa, a reindeer with a red nose, a temple in Jerusalem, and a baby in a manger, whatever a manger was. Grandma Rachel said things lasted eight days, Grandma Colleen sang twelve. Mom and Dad became tense and irritable, and life went on.

But this year was different. This year Felix was no longer even remotely a baby. He was a child, a boy racing toward adulthood. And since Rachel and Colleen had long ago lost whatever power they had once possessed over Margaret and Israel, they were determined to exert their influence on Felix, their one and only grandchild.

On December 7, Pearl Harbor Day, Israel arrived home from his job at the Institute for Drip Agriculture, and found Margaret home early from her job at the Department of Water Resources, her sweet Irish eyes brimming with tears.

“What is it?”  asked Israel, rushing to his wife’s side. “What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong is your mother,”  said Margaret, looking at her dark and slender husband as if she’d never seen him before. “She’s kidnapped Felix and taken him Hanukkah shopping.”

“Without asking our permission?”  said Israel, truly shocked. “She usually screams and rages first.”

“Not this time,”  said Margaret, daubing her eyes with a red tartan handkerchief. “I went to pick him up at school and they said Rachel had already gotten him.”

“But how do you know she took him shopping?” asked Israel, pronouncing the ‘g’ at the end of ‘shopping’ as only the child of Yiddish speaking parents can.

“Just listen to the answering machine.”

Rachel’s message ran thusly. “Hello Israel. I could stand by no longer and watch you deprive Felix of his birthright. I am taking him shopping. And as we buy our Hanukkah gifts I will explain to him the truth, that Hanukkah is a celebration of the purification of the temple after the Romans…”  Here her voice grew louder and more passionate,  “…after those horrible Romans, who have all become Catholics as you know, forced us to profane our temple, just as you are profaning the temple of this poor child’s mind by allowing him to celebrate the birth of a fraud!”

“Unfortunately,”  said Israel, shrugging, “she didn’t say where she was going shopping, or I’d go get him.”

“You know she only shops at places that sound Jewish,”  said Margaret, glowering at Israel. “We never should have stayed so close to our mothers. We should have moved to St. Paul.”

“A good Catholic town,” quipped Israel.

“Very funny,” said Margaret, grabbing her purse. “You go to Weinstock’s, I’ll go to Loehman’s Plaza.”

Even as they dashed to their vehicles, Margaret to her electric car, Israel to his bicycle, Grandma Rachel was plying Felix with french fries and a milkshake at Max’s Opera Cafe. Felix paused thoughtfully between fries and said, “So then if Jesus was Jewish, why don’t you like him?”

“Like schmike,” said Rachel, shrugging. “It’s nothing personal. He may have been a very nice boy for all I know. Then again he may not even have existed. The point is, he wasn’t the messiah. Look at the mess he left behind. Would a messiah do that?”

Felix found it interesting that mess and messiah sounded quite similar, but he was more interested in his milkshake. Rachel went on about the miraculous cruse of oil that burned for eight days, and Felix was about to request another shake, when who should appear in her green and red Christmas finery, laden with red and green bags full of Christmas presents, but Grandma Colleen.

“Well what a coincidence,” said Colleen, bowing politely to Rachel before kissing Felix hello.

Rachel fixed Colleen with an icy stare. “Don’t tell me you eat here.”

“I’m a fool for their mini-reuben,” said Colleen, growing excited just thinking about the hot pastrami, the sauerkraut, the horseradish mustard burning the back of her tongue, bringing tears of joy to…

“We were just going,” said Rachel, standing up suddenly. “Come on, Felix.”

“We’re Hanukkah shopping,” said Felix, beaming at Grandma Colleen. “Because Jesus left a mess.”

“I beg your pardon?” said Colleen, her smile disappearing, her eyes narrowing. “He what?”

“But he wasn’t a messy guy,” explained Felix. “He was just…” Felix frowned. “…something.”

“Jesus is the son of God,” said Colleen, taking Felix’s hand.

“And I’m the Pope,” said Rachel, grabbing Felix’s other hand and yanking him away from Colleen.

Outside Max’s, Colleen pulled Felix away from Rachel and ran with him through the parking lot toward her Mercedes. “You see, Felix,” she explained breathlessly, “your grandmother Rachel is confused. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

“But why are we running?” asked Felix. “Grandma Rachel can’t keep up.”

“Because she…she could hurt you,” said Colleen, feeling herself about to cry. “She could…”

Felix put on the brakes. He was strong for a five year old. “Grandma Rachel would never in a million years hurt me,” he proclaimed with great certainty.

“Not intentionally,” said Colleen, “but…”

“But nothing,” said Rachel, catching up to them. “How dare you steal my grandson from me.”

“Because you’re ruining Christmas for him,” shouted Colleen, who was not usually a shouter.

“Christmas is a lie!” shrieked Rachel.

“Don’t fight. Please don’t fight,” said Felix, his little jaw trembling, his eyes filling with tears.

“Sweetie,” said Colleen, her heart breaking with compassion for the little lad.

“Bubalah,” said Rachel, her anger washed away by the plaintive voice of her grandson.

Israel arrived a moment later, pedalling hard. As he drew near, his son appeared to be granting absolution to each of his kneeling grandmothers.

In the living room that night, after they’d finished watching The Simpsons, Margaret and Israel asked Felix to recount the day’s adventure. Felix began, “Grandma Rachel came and got me and said I was a good Jewish boy, and then at Max’s Grandma Colleen said Grandma Rachel was confused and might hurt me because…because I was the son of God.” And then Felix began to weep.

Israel and Margaret called their Beyond Dysfunctional Religions support group leaders, Phil and Susan, and told them what was going on. Phil suggested that they come clean with their mothers, suffer the immediate turmoil, and proceed from there. Susan suggested they might want to think about moving far-away.

Israel stayed awake all that night, listening to old Bob Dylan albums and reading Buckminster Fuller. He checked on Felix every hour or so to make sure he wasn’t being troubled by nightmares. Margaret slept fitfully, dreaming that she was wearing a slinky black negligee and was about to make love on a huge bed in a cathedral with her husband dressed as a nun.

In the morning, after a brief strategy session, Israel called his mother, and Margaret called hers. An hour later, the four adults convened in Israel and Margaret’s living room. Colleen sat in a chair by the fireplace, her hands folded in her lap. Rachel stalked the room, refusing to sit. Margaret revealed, with great passion, that she felt her mother had never approved of Israel because he was born a Jew. Israel then made a similar revelation concerning his mother and her feelings about Margaret.

Colleen said this was nonsense and that she had great respect for the Jewish people, particularly Rogers and Hammerstein. Rachel admitted that Margaret was not her ideal daughter-in-law, but that if she would convert to Judaism, all would be forgiven. And then Israel and Margaret revealed their association with Beyond Dysfunctional Religions.

“You are lost to me,” said Rachel, looking at her son and slowly shaking her head. “To think that your father was a cantor, and his father a rabbi.”

“May the lord have mercy on your soul,” said Colleen, looking at her daughter and crossing herself.

“And what will you do with poor Felix?” asked Rachel. “Raise him with no God?”

“He is not poor, mother,” said Israel. “He is rich with our love.”

“Illusion,” said Rachel, bowing her head. “A child without tradition is a boat without a rudder.”

“Amen,” said Colleen, crossing herself again. “A child without God is a soul walking against a hurricane.”

“Well put,” said Rachel, smiling sadly at Colleen and sighing. “Those without faith shall wander unfulfilled forever.”

“Yes,” said Colleen, her eyes wet with tears. “And the unrepentant shall be a source of shame to the Almighty.”

“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” said Rachel, putting a sympathetic hand on Colleen’s shoulder.

And so, at last, the days of Hanukkah and Christmas came, and Israel and Margaret and Felix spent a week with several other families planting trees in a ravaged forest. And on New Year’s Day, Felix got a new bicycle with training wheels. And Grandma Colleen brought him a stocking full of chocolate angels and a red tartan sweater she’d found in the bargain bin at Eddie Bauer’s. And Grandma Rachel brought him a basket of chocolate pretzels and a jacket she’d found on sale at Levinsons. And then they all went to Max’s for some good eats.

Who knows what the future will bring for Felix? Who knows what spiritual course he will choose for himself when that time comes? We only know that Grandma Rachel and Grandma Colleen are friends now, good friends, united in their belief that their children are wrong.

fin

Critical Delusion

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

“The fraudulent practices that got people into homes they couldn’t afford are at the heart of our problem.” Robert Scheer

There is no doubt I am happier and more productive and healthier and much more hopeful when I lose touch with the world outside the local watershed; and I am especially happier when I don’t read articles by Robert Scheer and Chris Hedges and Jim Kunstler and other brave and intelligent left-of-the-now-non-existent-center pundits. When I do read articles by these folks, or essays by relatively moderate commentators like Paul Krugman, I feel depressed and hopeless and mentally bludgeoned because these well-meaning folks keep saying the same things over and over again, week after week, month after month.

So to climb out of my slough of despond, I abstain for days on end from news of the outside world, and the bloom returns to my cheeks, and my writing picks up steam, and new melodies present themselves, and I improve as a husband and friend and neighbor, and I start to think life is pretty okay; and then someone sends me an incisively gruesome article or someone emails me a link to a frightening treatise, and I am once more sucked into reading commentaries elucidating how and why things in the great big world are, indeed, going from bad to worse, and I feel bludgeoned again, and while I’m being bludgeoned I try to make sense of the avalanche of facts about the legions of crooks who own and run the world, though the ultimate sense to be made is the same sense I’ve been making since they ran Jimmy Carter out of office in 1980 with a fake oil shortage, to wit: we’re headed for even bigger economic and environmental catastrophes than the ones we’re in the midst of.

And it occurred to me as I was reading Robert Scheer’s recent tirade from which I culled the opening quote—The fraudulent practices that got people into homes they couldn’t afford are at the heart of our problem—that I have the same difficulty with Scheer and Hedges and Krugman and Kunstler that I had with most of the speakers at the anti-war rallies during the George Bush years, which is that these angry intelligent people are so stuck on exposing the already entirely exposed current crop of crooks that they don’t delve deeply enough into human nature.

For instance, yes, millions of people were duped into buying homes they couldn’t afford, but that is not the heart of the story. To get to the heart, I will pose and answer three questions. 1. Why were those tens of millions of fraudulently sold houses so incredibly expensive? 2. Why were tens of millions of people so easily duped into buying absurdly expensive houses? 3. Why, in the recent California election, did a majority of voters defeat a proposition that would have, for eighteen dollars a year, made our several hundred fabulous state parks wholly viable and free to everyone?

The answers to these questions are:

1. In 1996, in the working class neighborhood where I lived in Berkeley, California, a little (and I mean tiny) house went on the market for 139,000 dollars. After six months on the market, this eensy teensy house sold for 119,000. However, four years later in 2000, this same iddy biddy house sold for 540,000 dollars, and my neighborhood was working class no more. Two years later, in 2002, this same miniscule home sold for 790,000 dollars. Now, honestly, these price increases did not occur because of fraudulent practices. These increases occurred because of collective insanity springing from greed, fear, and delusion. Thus I conclude that collective insanity is the answer to why all those eventually fraudulently sold houses were so expensive and unaffordable even had they been sold without a hint of fraud.

2. Many millions of people were so easily duped into buying insanely expensive houses they could not afford because they, the duped people, were greedy, fearful, and delusional. Why they and most Americans were and are greedy and fearful and delusional is another question, one might even call it The Big Question, and I’m coming to that.

3. The majority of voters in the last election voted against paying eighteen dollars a year—the same eighteen dollars they spend on useless crap every day—for eternal free admission to hundreds of groovy state parks because they, the No voters, are greedy, fearful, and delusional. Yep, the same answer as numbers 1 and 2.

Therefore, I conclude that greed, fear, and delusion are at the heart of the economic meltdown, the perpetual state of war, and the takeover of our country by crazy amoral jerks, not fraudulent practices that got people into homes they couldn’t afford. The end. Not quite.

“It is the author’s working assumption that the words good and bad are meaningless.” Buckminster Fuller

Let us investigate greed, fear, and delusion, shall we? Okay. I will endeavor to make this interesting rather than depressing. Greed, I think we can agree, is born of fear. People who constantly overeat and over-consume (expressions of greed) are afraid they won’t get enough to eat and will die of starvation. This fear-induced greed, whether partially or entirely unconscious, was probably ignited in the greedy gobblers in early childhood and doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with a real lack of food or safety, but springs from primal fears that every human is genetically prone to. Once the fears of starvation and/or homelessness are ignited in a person, quelling those fears is no easy task.

Over the course of my life, I have known a good number of people with millions of dollars, and none of these millionaires considered themselves wealthy or felt they had enough money. When I asked them why they didn’t think they had enough money, the universal answer was that they lived in fear of some sort of catastrophe rendering them poor and homeless and soon to die of starvation or worse.

Some of these millionaires were children of the Great Depression, some were grandchildren of the Great Depression, and a few were great grandchildren of the Great Depression. None of these millionaires felt they had enough money to be safe, which is why they needed more money than the millions they already had. How much more? As much as they could get until they died so they could leave as much money and property as they could to their children who would also never have enough no matter how much they got. In other words, they were all insane. And more importantly, you and I are no less insane; we simply lack those millions of dollars.

Indeed, I think that the acknowledgment and understanding of our inherited collective insanity is the key ingredient missing in the diatribes of Hedges and Scheer and Krugman and myriad other alarmist writers. These well-meaning pundits preach that corporate crooks and their political proxies and the crooks’ fathers and grandfathers did such horrible fraudulent things because they, the crooks, are inherently evil, i.e. insane. But the deeper truth is that these crooks are merely standout psychopaths in our vast population of crazy people.

“Humanity is moving ever deeper into crisis—a crisis without precedent.” Buckminster Fuller

So what is the solution? Few pundits offer pragmatic suugestions about how we might solve the problems caused by the insane elite manipulating our collective insanity. They, the pundits, speak in grandiose terms about throwing the crooks in jail or shifting our national economic policies in ways the insane crooks will never permit unless we overthrow them in a violent revolution, and I’m too old for that. However, I am confident we have the power to cure our society of the insanity that grips us.

First, we need to admit that we, you and I, are part of the problem. To that end, please repeat after me. I am greedy and fearful and part of our collective insanity. You didn’t repeat that after me, did you? Come on. Give it a try. I am greedy and fearful and part of our collective insanity. Good. Speaking the truth can weaken the grip of madness.

Secondly, we need to understand the basis of our greed and fear and resultant insanity. And that basis is, drum roll, please…our belief that there is not enough for everyone—not enough food or money or houses or fun. Why do we believe this? Because it used to be true, but it isn’t true anymore. Through the grace of collective genius and accumulated knowledge and the collaboration of the universe, we now possess the wherewithal and know-how to provide every person and every living thing on earth with enough of what they need to live healthy, happy, and meaningful lives.

You flinched, didn’t you, when you read that last line? Or you stiffened or frowned or thought This guy is nuts. Why? Because you don’t believe there is enough for everyone. But there is. Prove it, you say. There are now seven billion people on earth, you say. The fisheries are depleted. The biosphere is threatened with massive pollution and degradation beyond the point of no return. War! Famine! There can’t be enough for everyone. It’s natural to be fearful and greedy. We’re not delusional; you’re the delusional one, Todd. You with your Buckminster Fuller bullshit. There isn’t enough for everyone. There’s not. There’s not!

Yes, there is. And I’m glad you brought up Buckminster Fuller because Bucky, besides inventing the geodesic dome, wrote a book entitled Critical Path, the last book he published before he died; and in Critical Path he expresses the hope that whomsoever groks (deeply absorbs and understands) his message will try to translate Bucky’s stream of consciousness prophecies and revelations into language and art and technology and design and behavior that will open the minds of others to the paradigm-shifting truth that, among other things, there is enough for everyone, and we need to focus our individual and collective genius on transforming human culture to reflect that truth.

By the way, the expression critical path refers to the steps to be taken in order to accumulate and apply sufficient knowledge pursuant to accomplishing a particular goal. Bucky’s introductory example of a critical path process is the challenge posed by President Kennedy to design and implement the safe transport of humans to and from the moon, a task that required many quantum leaps in knowledge and technology in a very short span of time to accomplish the stated goal and simultaneously illustrate the astonishing things our well-funded collective genius might accomplish.

In conclusion, we need an all-nation critical path program to reverse global environmental collapse and to give everyone enough to live healthy and fulfilling lives. And while we’re helping to implement this marvelous global program, each of us can work on programming our individual psyches to accept the truth that we, collectively, have enough for everybody. And because there is enough for everybody, we no longer need to be fearful or greedy or delusional. There is enough for you, enough for me, enough for everyone. There really truly is.

(This essay first appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2010)

Astrologers have told Todd that his natal chart indicates preternatural optimism. His cheerful web site is Underthetablebooks.com

Le Village

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

“I always felt that the great high privilege, relief, and comfort of friendship was that one had to explain nothing.” Katherine Mansfield

A soggy afternoon, the last Friday in October of 2010, Halloween two days away. I moved to Mendocino from Berkeley on Halloween five years ago and I have yet to tire of going to the beach. I mention the beach because almost everyone I met during my first two years here assured me that I would soon tire of going to the beach. These same people also told me that after I lived here for a year or two, I would grow stir crazy and hunger for the cultural excitement of the outer world. They were adamant I would want to travel to Mexico or Hawaii or Europe or Manhattan, or at least to San Francisco, but after five years here I have yet to experience the slightest urge to go anywhere but the village, the forest, and the beach.

Today was the last farmers’ market of the year in Mendocino. I love our little mercado. I hope one day to be one of the people selling things in our market. I will vend vegetables and fruit and books and CDs and greeting cards and Giants T-shirts and Giants baseball hats and Cliff Glover and Marion Miller ceramics, and each week zany and eccentric friends will make guest appearances at my booth. I will also have a weekly poetry contest (one entry per person), and a guess-how-many-beans-are-in-the-jar contest, with valuable prizes.

Today I would have bought a farmers’ market pie from the wonderful Garden Bakery people, but I am gluten free now and the Garden Bakery people only sell pies full of gluten. I’m predicting big things for gluten-free foodstuffs in the near future. Whomsoever comes up with decent gluten-free sour dough French bread and a credible gluten-free pizza crust will make out like big dogs.

Standing at the uphill end the farmers’ market, a light rain falling, the vendors few and stoic, shoppers scarce, the atmosphere bracingly local and groovy in the absence of tourists, I watch a local woman carrying a big basket turn away from a vegetable stand and bump into another local woman carrying an even bigger basket.

Big Basket: Hey, how are you?

Bigger Basket: I think I’m okay. I’m just so…overwhelmed.

Big: I know. I know. It’s just crazy.

Bigger: I know. I just…one thing after another.

Big: I know. I keep thinking, ‘Are things ever gonna slow down?’

Bigger: I know. It’s…overwhelming.

Big: Are you okay?

Bigger: Yeah. Yeah. I think so.

Big: Good. You look good. You’ve lost weight.

Bigger: Have I? Wow. I don’t know. Maybe.

Big: But you’re okay.

Bigger: Yeah. I think so.

Big: Good. Great to see you.

Bigger: Great to see you, too.

“Our modern society is engaged in polishing and decorating the cage in which man is kept imprisoned.” Swami Nirmalananda

When I come to the village I like to park my truck at the Presbyterian Church and walk what I’ve come to think of as a holy circuit, a labyrinth of invigorating twists and turns around town. I begin by transecting the eternally For Sale eucalyptus-dominated vacant lot, assess the state of the economy by the size of the crowd of caffeine addicts in front of Moody’s java bar, jaywalk diagonally across Lansing, and hang a left onto Ukiah, my first stop invariably the post office (home to a marvelous crew of die hard Giants fans) followed by protein confiscation at the always warm and friendly Mendocino Market (a fabulous deli with a fine wine selection and a growing number of gluten-free items on their menu). Next I visit Corners (zaftig organic groceries in a cozy former church), the bank (our one and only), Zo (fabuloso copy shop), Garth Hagerman’s (gorgeous nature photography and web meistering), Harvest at Mendosa’s (beer and olive oil and notebooks), the bookstores (used and new), the new hardware store (they should sell transistor radios), and I used to frequent our deliciously aromatic bakeries and Frankie’s pizza, but now that I am gluten-free I spare myself the glorious sights and divine scents of their verboten goodies.

So you see, though Mendocino lacks a good Mexican restaurant, decent public bathrooms, a good Chinese restaurant, a town square with comfortable benches and a virile fountain, a good Thai restaurant, a spacious pool hall, a good Indian restaurant, a movie theatre showing foreign films, public tennis courts, and a commodious tea house, we have almost everything else a reasonable human could desire.

There is the excellent Mendocino Café featuring pricey and not-so-pricey entrees, and just across Big River Bridge we have a fine bike shop where one can also rent a canoe. We have three bars (counting the hotel), a liquor store, dentists, a veterinarian, massage therapists, a hamburger joint, and several restaurants, inns, galleries, and shops for rich people and tourists. And perhaps best of all, there are no overhead wires in the village, which makes everyone who comes here feel inseparable from the sky, which uplifts us even if we are unconscious of why we feel uplifted.

I wish everyone (save for the handicapped) would park his or her vehicle in just one place when he or she comes to town, and walk from this one place to all the places he or she needs to go, instead of driving from one place to another to another and another in our very small village; but what are you going to do? Yes, the village depends on tourism and the illegal sale of quasi-legally grown marijuana for the larger part of its economic existence; and, yes, many of the houses in the area are the second and third and fourth homes of people who can truthfully be called filthy rich and only use these tertiary properties as tax write offs and weekend getaways; and I cannot deny there are days when the village reeks of decadence and disregard for the earth and a hatred of whales and trees and poor people, but how is that any different from anywhere else? I don’t know.

On weekdays around noon, dozens and dozens of teenagers come down from the high school and invade the retail sector of the village to buy crap for lunch. Many of these cuties and louts talk at the top of their lungs (don’t ask me why) and are easy to overhear. To wit: three not-quite-old-enough-to-legally-drive (thank goodness) boys stand on a corner across from Harvest Market, gorging on slices of Frankie’s gluten-rich pizza as they watch the girls go by.

Teenaged Boy #1: She is so easy.

Teenaged Boy #2: How do you know?

Teenaged Boy #3: He doesn’t.

#1: Do.

#3: Don’t.

#1: Do.

#3: Lie.

#2: She on the pill?

#1: Oh, yeah.

#3: You don’t know.

#1: Do.

#3: Don’t.

#1: Do.

#3: Lie.

#2: I think she is. Kevin dumped her purse.

#3: So?

#1: I did more than dump her purse.

#3: Lie.

#1: What the fuck, man? You in love with her?

#3: Fuck you, man.

#2: Why would she be on the pill if she wasn’t doing it?

#1: Oh, she’s doing it.

#3: You don’t know.

#1: Do.

#3: Lie

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Krishnamurti

In the post office, I witness two local men greet each other.

Man One: Hey, long time no see. Where you been?

Man Two: Here. You?

One: Mostly here. We went away a couple times. See the boys.

Two: How they?

One: Good. Yours?

Two: Fine. I guess. Who knows? You know?

One: Right. Right. Who knows?

Silence.

One: So…things okay?

Two: Same. You?

One: Good. Same. You still…?

Two: Yeah, yeah. Same old. You?

One: Just, you know…working away.

Two: Right. Business good?

One: Can’t complain.

Two: No. No. Can’t complain.

“To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.” Samuel Beckett

As I’m loading my groceries and mail into my truck at the Presbyterian, a little boy rushes up to me.

“Sir! Sir!” he cries. “May I ask you a question?”

“Certainly.”

“Where is the ocean?” He asks with such unmitigated passion he might have asked What is the meaning of life?

“There,” I say, gesturing toward the quite obvious sea.

The boy frowns at the distant breakers. “I mean, how do we get there?”

“Take the trail to the left and you’ll come to a stairway leading down to the beach.” Now a man who might be the boy’s father arrives, a tall fellow, forty-something. “Take the trail to the right and you’ll wend your way along the headlands.”

“Will there be gulls on the beach?” asks the boy, nodding eagerly. “And a tall dark tree on the edge of a cliff?”

“Yes,” I say, knowing the tree of which he speaks. “And there will be ravens and ospreys circling in the air above the confluence of the river and the sea.”

“Yes!” shouts the boy, turning to the man who might be his father. “Let’s go!”

“He’s got some kind of imagination,” says the man, winking at me. “Thanks for the directions.”

“An actor is totally vulnerable. His total personality is exposed to critical judgment—his intellect, his bearing, his diction, his whole appearance. In short, his ego.” Alec Guinness

I take a seat on my preferred bench on the ocean-viewing terrace of the Presbyterian and jot down my conversation with the boy. A young woman commandeers the bench next to mine and carries on her phone conversation without the slightest regard for privacy, hers or mine.

She glares up at the sky and shouts into her little red phone, “I’m like, ‘No way,’ and he’s all, ‘Yes, you will,’ like I owe him? Can you believe it? I know. And I’m like, ‘If you think dinner and wine and a little coca-doodle-doo is the total ticket, you can forget it, buster,’ and he’s like totally furious, and I’m thinking, ‘Who told this dude I was cheap? You know? I mean, like, Jesus.”

She listens for a moment, nodding enthusiastically.

“I know. I know. I couldn’t believe it. Totally.”

She laughs unconvincingly.

“I know, I know. Totally. So I go, ‘No way,’ and he like totally clamps his teeth and gives me this look like he’s gonna kill me. Insane. I know. I so totally know. And I’m like, ‘Excuse me? I don’t think so?’ and he’s like fried out of his mind, and I’m like, ‘How the fuck do I get home because no way I get in a car with this psycho.’”

She laughs dryly, and my throat aches in sympathy.

“I know. I know. He did seem nice. Totally. I know. I know. I mean…I was like having fantasies about him. Totally.”

(This article originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2010.)

Sport

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

(This article originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2010)

“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.” Thich Nhat Hanh

My maternal grandfather, Myron “Casey” Weinstein, went to the University of Michigan in 1918 on an athletic scholarship to wrestle and play baseball. Casey was the backup catcher behind the great Ernie Vick, and proudly recited this historic tidbit even after Alzheimer’s had robbed him of virtually every other memory. My paternal great grandfather, Charles Walton, was a world champion roller skater in the days when skates had steel wheels. His world’s records for sprints and long distances stood for decades after steel skates were things of the distant past.

Even so, my parents were horrified to discover they had given birth to a son, yours truly, who shortly after learning to walk wanted to do little else but play ball. My father was a non-athlete and openly contemptuous of men who played or followed sports. My mother was fond of saying that only boys who weren’t smart enough to do anything else became athletes. I knew this was nonsense because I was one of the smartest guys in my class (judging by the number of silver stars after my name on the class chart) and I adored sports. In fact, the smartest guys I knew, the best guys, were crazy about sports. Kickball, dodge ball, four-square, tetherball, baseball, football, basketball. If a ball was involved, sign me up. I liked bows and arrows and spears, too, but I was most enamored of balls. In an earlier epoch, I would have been a warrior and a hunter. In these modern times I was a ball player. I liked to read and sing and dance, too, but given a choice, put me in centerfield, throw me a long pass, and let me shoot my fall-away.

“I know without our fans and the devotion of our fans we wouldn’t be here.” Roger Daltrey of The Who

Perhaps even more galling to my folks than my constant playing of ball games was my profound love for the San Francisco Seals, particularly the diminutive slugger Albie Pearson, which love was transferred to the Giants and Willie Mays upon their arrival in the city by the bay in 1957 when I was eight. I think I must have been inoculated with some sort of fan virus when I was born at St. Luke’s Hospital in San Francisco in 1949, because shortly after learning to read (circa 1954) I was sounding out articles in the Sports section of the Chronicle and begging for my first baseball glove and bat.

And I listened to the Seals’ and Giants’ games on the radio, which made my parents furious because if I was listening to Lon Simmons and Russ Hodges announcing games then I must not be studying, which meant I wasn’t preparing to become a doctor, which was the very least they expected of me. But what they didn’t understand, and what no one who isn’t a die-hard fan can possibly understand, was that I was not listening to the game; I was living the game. I was a Giant. The team could not exist without me. Adios Pelota! Viva los Gigantes! Long live Willie Mays!

“The boy was beginning to understand that intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it’s all written there.” Paulo Coelho

From my late teens until I was thirty-five, a strange and wonderful mixture of basketball, delusion, passion, arrogance, ambition, and ignorance took me to places I otherwise would never have gone, and arriving in these places, I interacted physically, emotionally, and intellectually with people I otherwise would never have known.

By sixteen, I had settled on basketball as my main game, though I was a much better baseball player, and my real forte was tennis. Love, however, is irrational, and I loved basketball with a crazy passion. I traveled to parks in dangerous neighborhoods and boldly entered unfriendly gymnasiums in my quest to play with, and against, great players. Looking back on my career as a competitive basketball player, I am amazed by my boldness, for though I was a decent outside shot, I was at best a pesky defender, a mediocre passer, and a wimp of a rebounder.

Still, when I think of the marvelous and strange and intimidating and hilarious and ferocious and brilliant and daring people I met along my basketball way, and of the many fabulous games I played, the friends I made, the stories I heard, the dramas I beheld, the language I absorbed, the elation, the humbling, the millions of calories burned and thousands of gallons of sweat expelled that might otherwise have gone stale inside me and done me harm, I am eternally grateful to my fierce and irrational desire to play with the best players I could find.

Quite recently, after a two-decade hiatus, I took up shooting hoops again, a genteel once or twice a week alone at the grammar school, my sinews and synapses (after the initial shock of soreness) rejoicing to be reunited with the long-missed love of my body’s life—a sweet dance with a big ball on a court with backboard and hoop, a mystic improvisation of trying again and again to shoot the ball through the sacred ring into the fountain of youth.

“It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Yogi Berra

So. At last, for only the fourth time since the Giants moved to San Francisco from New York fifty-three seasons ago, we made it into the World Series. When we beat San Diego the last game of the regular season to clinch the National League Western Division, I cried for five minutes. When we beat the Atlanta Braves in the first round of the playoffs, I cried for three. When we overcame the mighty Philadelphia Phillies to win the National League pennant, I wandered around in a daze sobbing, “We did it, Willie. We did it.” And on October 26, my mother’s birthday (she would have been eighty-eight) I watched a thirty-second highlight on my computer of the Giants’ team bus arriving at Willie Mays’ Park where a crowd of fans chanted “U-Ribe, U-Ribe!” and I burst into tears.

Then last night, November 1, 2010, for the first time in the history of the San Francisco Giants, which means for the first time in my life, and in defiance of virtually every Sports pundit in America, the Giants won the World Series, otherwise known as the whole enchilada, taking the final game of the 2010 World Series in stunning fashion to finish off the Texas Rangers four games to one. And I cried and laughed and danced and cheered and cried some more, and Marcia cried and danced and sang and cheered with me.

I thought of my mother and father and how they never got to experience this kind of ecstatic tearful joy because they never had a clue that sports could connect us to each other in such glorious ways, connect us to an ancient collective desire to transcend the eternal struggle to survive, if only for a moment, so we might bask in the glory of having conquered the beast—our tribe triumphant.

“It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.” Yogi Berra

And when I finally calmed down enough to fall asleep, I dreamt I stood atop the pitcher’s mound at Willie Mays’ Park and sang for the multitudes before the final game of the World Series. I was flanked by Jonathan Sanchez and Juan Uribe. Dozens of huge ravens strutted around the infield. My guitar was black and shiny with orange strings. I was wearing a neon orange T-shirt and black slacks and orange socks and black tennis shoes. My hair was Lincecum long and streaked with orange paint. The enormous crowd was hushed. An eloquent breeze blew in from McCovey Cove, humming in the key of G, of course. I strummed my guitar and began to sing, and Jonathan and Juan sang with me, and we sounded a little like The Grateful Dead and a little like Los Lobos, but mostly we sounded like the Giants.

Last night I had a precious dream,

I dreamt I woke into the dawn,

walked out of my little cottage and

found a newspaper on the lawn.

When I picked up that morning tribune,

it opened to the very front page,

and the headlines oh they told me

it was the dawning of a brand new age

Yeah, the rich folks had all decided

to share their money with the poor,

and the leaders had disbanded all the armies,

not another dollar spent on war.

And they’d stopped building prisons,

put that money in our schools and neighborhoods

and instead of making bombs and guns and things we do not need

we were all of us working for the greater good.

Todd’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks. com