Posts Tagged ‘coffee’

Sleep

Sunday, July 29th, 2018

oasis tw

Oasis painting by Nolan Winkler

Ten days ago I woke at eight in the morning feeling utterly exhausted, as if instead of sleeping I had walked fifty miles while arguing with a series of neurotic sidekicks. I was so tired I could barely get out of bed. I nearly fell asleep in the shower. In the kitchen, debating whether to have eggs or granola, I closed my eyes, drowsed, and dreamt I was in my high school cafeteria, waiting in line to buy a snack. When I failed to make sense of anything in my office, I went back to bed and slept for an hour.

When I got up from that hour of sleep, I was still so tired I thought I must be coming down with some sort of bug, except I had no symptoms other than exhaustion. I thought I’d make myself a cup of coffee, and that’s when the light bulb went on in my brain, and the voice of my brain proclaimed, “Your adrenals are exhausted. Game over. Again.”

Let me explain. I was not a coffee drinker until I was in my thirties, and from the outset my body/mind/spirit told me, “This is not a good idea. A sip of java now and then might be okay, but cups of coffee every day? Don’t do it.”

But I came to crave the emotional lift, that easy antidote to mild depression and ennui, and so began my on-again off-again love affair with coffee—a tug of war that has continued for more than thirty years. In the context of my history with coffee, I see now that my recent bout with extreme exhaustion resulted from months of overriding my body’s impulse to take a nap by having a jolt of java, then staying up too late and sleeping poorly, only to repeat the pattern the next day.

Having now gone ten days without coffee or black tea or any sort of caffeine, except what is contained in a tiny bit of chocolate, my energy has increased and my mood swings have become less dramatic. And I’ve been thinking about why I have such a hard time allowing myself to rest when I get tired.

The first time I saw an adult taking a daytime nap was on a summer weekend when I was seven. Having been up since dawn running around throwing balls and riding my bike and climbing trees and chasing other kids, it was late afternoon when I came charging into our house and found my father asleep on the living room sofa, snoring loudly. I was so shocked to see him sleeping in broad daylight, I ran to the kitchen and asked my mother if my father was ill.

“No,” she said, drinking a martini while making supper. “He had a hard week. He’s just tired.”

My father? Tired in the middle of the day? I tiptoed back to the living room and watched his chest rising and falling, his snores reverberating through the house. Imagine a grown man sleeping during the day. The mind boggled.

So yesterday I told my pal Lenny about what’s been going on with me vis-à-vis sleeping and napping, and Lenny, who is several years younger than I said, “Oh man, I nap anywhere and everywhere. I totally depend on naps to keep me sane and healthy. I love sleeping on the floor in a patch of sunlight or on the ground outside on a warm day. Let old mother earth heal me. I judge sofas by how good they are for napping. When I walk into a room, the first thing I look for is a good place to lie down. Without naps, I would be a wreck, a zombie, a beaten down loser. With naps I’m a debonair man-about-town with a twinkle in my eye and a deep abiding love for all living things. Naps are my elixir. I say sleep as much as you possibly can. Sleep is the fountain of youth.”

The National Sleep Foundation web site has this to say about napping.

“More than 85% of mammalian species are poly-phasic sleepers, meaning that they sleep for short periods throughout the day. Humans are part of the minority of monophasic sleepers, meaning that our days are divided into two distinct periods, one for sleep and one for wakefulness. It is not clear that this is the natural sleep pattern of humans. Young children and elderly persons nap, for example, and napping is a very important aspect of many cultures.

“As a nation, the United States appears to be becoming more and more sleep deprived. And it may be our busy lifestyle that keeps us from napping. While naps do not necessarily make up for inadequate or poor quality nighttime sleep, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance. Nappers are in good company: Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Napoleon, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and George W. Bush are known to have valued an afternoon nap.”

I don’t know if I’d call that good company, but I would certainly call it white male company.

In any case, I am henceforth going to think of myself as a poly-phasic sleeper who cannot healthfully drink coffee. You may be a monophasic sleeper who happily drinks five cups of coffee a day with no ill effects. If that is so, I’m a wee bit jealous of you because I know of no other buzz quite so zingy neato as the zooming liftoff into ineffable happiness, however short-lived, I used to get from a good cup of joe.

I wonder if I could develop the discipline to have but one cup of coffee a year, on Christmas or my birthday or the Summer Solstice or March 17. Just one little cup? I doubt it. I have tried to limit myself to a once-a-week latte, but that inevitably leads to craving more of the same the next day. No, in the long run it is a far far better thing I do to stick to nettle tea and tulsi tea and rooibos tea and apple juice and water with a twist of lemon, and only the very occasional teensy weensy taste of Marcia’s morning java.

Morning Coffee

Monday, May 28th, 2018

Blessed Brew Nolan Winkler

Blessed Brew painting by Nolan Winkler

“Get out those coffee beans and grind’em just so, make us both a cuppa real good joe.” from Todd’s song Real Good Joe

I was grinding coffee beans this morning, and as I listened to the beans turning into brewable dust, I realized Oh. I’m drinking coffee again, which made me think about my ever-changing relationship to coffee, starting sixty-two years ago when I was a wee tyke.

My mother and father were both hooked on coffee by the time I was born, and my father drank multiple quarts of coffee every day of his life until he died at eighty-four. My mother ceased to drink coffee in her sixties after undergoing successful treatment for bladder cancer.

One of the first difficult tasks I learned to perform as a little boy was the making of my mother’s morning coffee. My father drank that coffee, too, but my motive for making the first pot of the day was to soothe my mother’s jangled nerves sufficiently so my siblings and I might get through breakfast and leaving for school without suffering our mother’s wrath—so easily ignited in those crucial minutes before she had her coffee.

So six-year-old Todd would get up before anyone else, and with the help of a little kitchen stepladder, I would place a medium-sized pot on the electric range and use a two-cup measuring cup to fill that pot with water from the tap. Then while the water was coming to a boil, I would carefully fold a large round paper coffee filter in half, then in half again, and insert this now-triangular filter into the top of a Chemex coffee maker—a large hour-glass-shaped thing made of glass. I would then scoop seven scoops of Folgers drip grind into that folded filter, and used a ladle to pour the just-boiled water over the grind again and again until the bottom half of the hour glass was full of coffee.

As I grew older and stronger, I was able to lift a full kettle and pour hot water onto the coffee, but when I was six and seven the kettle was too heavy for me to lift and safely pour.

My mother, awakened by an angrily buzzing alarm clock, would stagger into the kitchen, pour herself a cup of the freshly brewed coffee, and metamorphose into a functionally civil human being. I don’t recall her ever thanking me for making her morning coffee, something I did every morning until I started going to high school, though I never drank any coffee, nor did I develop a taste for coffee until I was in my thirties—and then, oh boy, did I develop a taste.

When I was in Third Grade, a mob of us from Las Lomitas Elementary School went on a tour of the Hills Brothers coffee plant in San Francisco courtesy of their marketing director who was the father of one of my classmates.

Three things stand out in my memory from that long ago field trip: the heavenly smell of roasting coffee, the fantastic Rube Goldberg-like structure of metal tracks on which cans and lids zipped around the cavernous factory, and the white bag full of coffee candy and miniature cans of Hills Brothers coffee for my mother.

When I was twenty-nine and having success with my writing, I hired my friend Prairie to be my part-time secretary. This was before the advent of personal computers, so having a fast typist to type up my pages of longhand and then retype those pages after I bloodied them with my editor’s pen was a dream come true. Prairie was a religious coffee drinker, and now and then I would have a cup with her, which cup would turn me into a fast-talking jitterbugging crazy person until the caffeine wore off and I descended into gloom. So I stopped drinking coffee.

Five years later, I married a dedicated coffee drinker, and after a few months of marriage I was a daily coffee drinker, too. But coffee made me hella jittery and then horribly cranky once the high went away, so I quit. And then I started again. And then I quit. And so on without end. My marriage fell apart, but my relationship with coffee endured.

Fast forward to about four years ago. Having gone sans coffee for a couple years, I started drinking coffee in the morning, black coffee, in lieu of breakfast, and I was soon drinking two and three cups a day. At the same time, I was suffering from severe shoulder pain for which I was popping lots of aspirin and ibuprofen, often on a stomach containing only coffee.

Then one day I woke in the morning feeling as bad as I have ever felt and assumed I had powerful flu. But after two days of growing weaker and weaker, I realized I was on the verge of dying. Marcia called an ambulance, the volunteer fire department folks and paramedics arrived, and I was rushed to the hospital where it was determined I had lost nearly all the blood in my body as a result of punching a hole in my stomach by taking way too much ibuprofen and aspirin on a stomach containing only coffee.

I was transfused with a couple units of fresh blood, spent a night in ICU, and took a year to regain a modicum of my former strength. Since that frightening experience four years ago, I have taken a total of two aspirin and two ibuprofens, and for the two years following my near death I drank no coffee.

Yet here I am today having a cup of coffee diluted with almond milk. For some months now I have been having one such cup a day, and I have no intention of increasing my coffee intake any time soon. The truth is, a little bit of coffee goes a long way for the likes of me. I love the smell of just-made coffee, I enjoy the ritual of making a cup, and I prefer the taste of coffee to tea.

In the afternoon and evenings I drink nettle or chamomile tea, both of which I find soothing and warming.

Some years ago, a friend wrote to say that her morning ritual was to listen to my piano music while she made and drank her first cup of coffee, so for my album of solo piano tunes Incongroovity, I improvised a piece called Morning Coffee with her in mind. Now every time I listen to this tune, I think of her sipping her coffee and listening to my music.

idas2-cover-sm

Walton Predicts

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

WALTON PREDICTS

Walton Predicts graphic by David Jouris

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

“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” Niels Bohr

My friend David Jouris, an eccentric mapmaker, photographer and quotation collector, has for several years suggested I create a web site called Walton Predicts. This suggestion stems from David’s amazement at my uncanny ability to make predictions that always come true. I have resisted creating such a site because making predictions is a sacred art, such prescience granted by the gods, which gifts I dare not taint with commercialization or anything smacking of self-aggrandizement. I am but a conduit for these coming attractions, an English channel.

Then, too, I frequently suffer from Prediction Block and would feel tawdry were I to create demand for something I was subsequently unable to deliver. No. Walton Predicts will have to be a sometime thing, that poetic summation of the transient nature of existence courtesy of DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin.

“A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.” Jean de la Fontaine

Walton Predicts: Coffee prices will go way up very soon. Brazil, the world’s leading producer of coffee, is in the midst of the worst drought in three hundred years and this year’s coffee crop is paltry. Brazil also produces vast quantities of sugar, wheat, soy, and infectious dance music, much of which they export and all of which have been adversely impacted by the drought, so prices for those goodies will be going way up, too.

Our neighbor works for Peet’s Coffee and has the job I would have wanted when I was twenty-five had I known there was such a job to want. Now, as I enter my dotage, his job sounds like living hell to me, but if you love to travel, love coffee and love the places where coffee grows, this is the job for you, except my neighbor already has the job. He flies all over the world visiting plantations that grow coffee for Peet’s sake. He makes sure the farmers are growing their coffee sustainably, checks the quality of the beans, sets dates for harvesting and so forth.

He recently stopped by while I was weeding my vegetables and I asked where he was off to next.

“New Guinea,” he said, half-smiling and half-frowning. “Fantastic place. Lousy hotels.”

I mentioned the drought in Brazil and predicted soaring coffee prices.

“You’re right about that,” he said with a knowing nod. “I’ll bring you a bag of New Guinea beans.”

Which he did, and now I’m hooked on those beans that tell of bittersweet naked people with a different word for each of a thousand shades of jungle green.

“The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.” Paul Valery

Walton Predicts: Fresh fruit will soon be a luxury item for most of us in America, not a dietary staple. I was in Corners of the Mouth, my favorite church turned grocery store, and was thrilled to find bowls of fruit samples amidst the plums and apricots. I tasted the flesh of a crimson plum. Ambrosia! The price? $5.99 a pound. I weighed one of those delectable fruits. A third of a pound. Two dollars per plum. Four bites. Fifty cents per bite. No can do. Prices at Harvest Market similarly exorbitant.

“The future will be better tomorrow.” Dan Quayle

A reader recently pointed out that my novels are rife with predictions, and that reminded me of a scene from my novel Under the Table Books wherein Derek, a homeless boy, asks Mr. Laskin, once the wealthiest man on earth and now a homeless savant, what can be done about the vanishing ozone layer. Written in 1992, but not published until 2009, Under the Table Books predicted many things that have since come to pass.

“Always the same basic story structure,” says Mr. Laskin, smiling up at the morning sun. “Somebody gets killed. Always several suspects, each with a powerful motive. The detectives, a man and a woman, always figure out who did it by studying the history of the place. The solution is always there. In history.”

“So what are you saying?”

“I’m saying,” says Mr. Laskin, excited by a sudden upsurge in lucidity, “that you must scale the whirlwind to the peaceful sky country and study the history of the world to find out what you need to know.”

“About the ozone layer? How?”

“I’ll make a wild guess,” says Mr. Laskin, feeling moved to oratory. “Pure conjecture, but then what isn’t?”

“Wait. I want to write this down,” says the boy, bringing forth a notebook from his back pocket. “Okay, go.”

“But first,” says Mr. Laskin, holding out his hand, “allow me to introduce myself. I am Alexander Laskin.”

“Derek,” says the boy, the warmth of the old man’s hand bringing tears to his eyes.

“So here’s what I would guess,” says Mr. Laskin, giving Derek a reassuring smile. “People lived under a brutal sun for thousands of years. We’ve all seen pictures of cities made of mud in the desert, and you’ll notice several things in those pictures. First, most everybody stays inside most of the time because there are no trees for shade. And when people do go outside, they cover their bodies from head to toe, except at night when they dance by their tiny fires. Tiny because wood is so scarce. Mostly naked, I’d imagine, night being the only safe time to do so. And they’re all skinny because they’ve learned to survive on very little. So maybe that’s what we’ll have to do when the ozone layer is mostly gone.”

Derek keeps writing. “So do you think the ozone layer will ever come back?”

That you’ll have to ask the universal mind, if you make it up the inside of the whirlwind. No easy feat, I imagine. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I must finish my mystery. The cause of the crime is apparently inextricably enmeshed with the manufacture of automobiles.”

 

Receiving

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser December 2012)

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Jesus, Acts 20:35

John Steinbeck’s preface to his wonderful The Log From the Sea of Cortez is a celebration of Ed Ricketts, Steinbeck’s friend and mentor and co-author of that fascinating record of their marine biological expedition to the Sea of Cortez—the text rich with philosophical asides. Steinbeck felt that Ed’s great talent and finest gift to his friends was his ability to receive, and in receiving with grace and delight and heartfelt gratitude, he gave the givers priceless gifts. The idea that receiving can be a gift contradicts hundreds of famous directives, Biblical and otherwise, but it seems deeply true to me.

Einstein said, “The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving.” But I don’t think Einstein really meant receiving, I think he meant getting or taking. Receiving involves surrendering, and that is the gift—opening our hearts to the giver.

One of my favorite books is a little tome entitled Love Is The Wine: Talks of A Sufi Master In America, the master in this case being Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak. Here is the beginning of his talk on Generosity.

Many years ago, a traveler came to a small town. The custom at those times was to open your door to whoever came as “God’s guests” as they were called. When someone knocked on your door and said, “I am God’s guest,” you were to invite him in, feed him, and give him a place to sleep.

The traveler came upon a group of townspeople and asked, “Is there a kind person in town who has space to put me up for the night? The next morning I will continue my journey.”

The townspeople said, “Well, yes, there is one person who does welcome guests. If you stay there, he will feed you, put you up, and be very kind to you. However, we have to warn you that he has a strange habit—in the morning, when you are leaving, he will beat you up.”

It was winter and very cold. The traveler said, “I’m not going to spend the night on the street, hungry. I will go and take what comes to me. I will eat, sleep in a warm room, and if he’ll beat me up, he’ll beat me up.”

The traveler knocked on the door and a very pleasant man opened the door. The traveler said, “I am God’s guest.” The man replied, “Oh, come in, please come in.”

He offered the traveler the best place and his best cushions. The traveler replied “Eyvallah.” (Eyvallah means “As you wish”. It literally signifies our willingness to accept whatever we are given—good or bad, delightful or unappetizing—remembering that it comes from God.)

“May I put a pillow behind you to make you more comfortable?”

“Eyvallah.”

“Are you hungry?”

“Eyvallah.”

The host brought out a delicious dinner, and then asked his guest if he would like some more.

“Eyvallah.”

The host said, “Coffee?”

“Eyvallah.”

“Would you like a cigarette?”

“Eyvallah.”

“May I make up your bed?”

“Eyvallah.”

The host made up a wonderfully soft bed and put a feather comforter on it.

“Would you like some water before you go to sleep?”

“Eyvallah.”

In the morning the host was up early. He asked the traveler, “Would you like some breakfast?”

“Eyvallah.”

The host served a wonderful breakfast.

Once breakfast was finished the traveler realized it was time to take leave of his host. After the stories he had heard, he was afraid of what might happen, though this man had just devoted almost a day to take care of him. “I would like to take my leave now,” he said, fearfully.

The host replied kindly. “Eyvallah,” and added, “You seem to be a man without much money. Would you permit me to give you some money?”

“Eyvallah.”

The host gave him ten pieces of gold. The traveler thought to himself, what a beating I’m going to get after this!

The host saw him to the door, saying, “May God go with you. Goodbye.” The astonished traveler said, “I beg your pardon? There is terrible gossip going around about you. You are the most generous person I have ever seen. They say that you act hospitably with guests but that in the morning you beat them up. May I go and spread the word that you do no such thing, that you are a wonderful man and wonderful host?”

The host said, “No, no. What they say is true.”

The astonished guest said, “But you did not treat me that way.”

“No, you are different. My other guests are much more trouble. When I offer them the best place in my house they say, ‘Oh no, no thank you, you sit there.’ When I offer them coffee they reply, ‘Well, I don’t know. I don’t want to bother you.’ I ask them to have dinner and they say, ‘No, it will make too much fuss.’ Those people I certainly beat in the morning.”

“We are not cisterns made for hoarding, we are channels made for sharing.” Billy Graham

When I was forty-eight, I blew out my knee and was on crutches for six months. I was living alone in a second-floor dwelling and did not have a washing machine and dryer, nor did I have a car or any feasible way to get to a coin-op laundry, let alone to a grocery store. This was the first time in my adult life I was so incapacitated I had to ask friends for help, something I had never done before and something I found almost impossible to do.

I will never forget the day my friend Mindy came to get my laundry to take to her house to wash. “Your sheets are scary,” she opined, glancing at my unmade bed. “I’ll wash those, too.”

“No,” I said, trembling with shame. “You can’t.”

She smiled quizzically. “Why not?”

“Well,” I said, panicking, “I just…they…”

I sat on my living room sofa listening to her strip my bed and I became so upset and so terrified, I shouted, “Stop! You don’t have to do that. I’ll…I can do it. I’ll wash them in the bathtub and…”

“Cool it,” she said, coming out of my bedroom. “I enjoy helping you. I’ll see you in a couple hours.”

In those couple of hours, I came face-to-face with a big fat fundamental rule governing my life: no one was allowed to do anything for me; and that rule, otherwise known as a crippling neurosis, explained the nature and quality of my relationships with women up to that point in my life, as well as the nature and quality of all but a few of my friendships. I could never have asked the host in that Sufi tale to put me up for the night, but would have spent the night on the freezing streets if I lacked money to pay for a room.

I’m a little better—fifteen years later—about allowing people to do things for me, but only because of practice gained while I was ill or injured and needed help from others in order to survive. And what I find most fascinating about my particular neurosis is the large number of people I have met who suffer from the same malady.

Where did this crippling neurosis come from? One therapist I spoke with suggested that as the child of alcoholic parents I became a classic enabler at a very early age. In order to avoid my parents’ wrath, I learned to fend for myself, to do my parents’ bidding in hopes of pleasing them, and to ask as little as possible from them. As the therapist was suggesting this to me, I remembered that one of the very first things I learned to do for my parents—I was six-years-old—was to make coffee for them in the morning.

Knowing how miserable and angry my mother was until she’d had two cups of coffee, I would get up long before anyone else in the family, tiptoe into the kitchen, climb onto a high stool, fill the kettle with water, and start it heating on the electric range. Then I would open a drawer adjacent to the electric range and take out a big round piece of brown filter paper, which I would fold in half and then in half again so the folded filter would fit into the top of the hour-glass-shaped Pyrex coffee maker. Then I would spoon seven scoops of Hills Brothers’ dark roast coffee from a two-pound can into the filter and pour boiling water over the ground coffee again and again until the bottom of the hourglass was full of black brew.

I remember that for the first year or so of making coffee for my mother, I lacked the strength to lift the kettle high enough to pour water onto the coffee in the filter atop the hourglass, so I would pour the boiling water into a metal bowl and use a ladle to scoop the water over the coffee. After the coffee was brewed, I would make my lunch for school: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a banana. Then, if my mother hadn’t gotten up and come into the kitchen, I would tiptoe down the hall to my parents’ bedroom and say quietly, “Mommy, your coffee is ready.”

Eyvallah.

Recent Studies Show

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2011)

“As far as income tax payments go, sources vary in their accounts, but a range of studies find that immigrants pay between $90 billion and $140 billion in Federal, State, and local taxes. And let us not forget the Social Security system. Recent studies show that undocumented workers sustain the Social Security system with as much as $7 billion a year. Let me repeat that: $7 billion a year.” Luis Gutierrez

Which seems to contradict…

“The Center for Immigration Studies found that illegal immigrants cost the United States taxpayer about $10 billion a year. A large part of that expense stems from the babies born each year to illegal immigrants.” Nathan Deal

Marcia and I both have web sites and use the interweb for research, marketing, entertainment, and communication with the world outside of Mendocino. Her office and mine are separated by a wall through which we occasionally shout at each other, though we can never be certain what the other person is shouting about until one or the other of us rises from his or her chair and walks around the corner to find out; or we send each other emails. It occurs to me that we could call each other on the phone, since we have separate lines, but we never do. That would feel silly.

We both have taken to scanning news synopses and articles on the interweb and exclaiming about various horrors and wonders and nonsense we discover. These exclamations can be heard through the wall and often elicit shouts of “What?” or may cause the hearer to rise and walk around the corner to find out what the exclaimer is exclaiming about. We are particularly fond of reports of recent studies by so-called scientists that may prove or disprove something that absolutely, trust me, does not need proving or disproving, though this lack of necessity never stops the studiers from carrying out their needless studies because, hey, in these difficult economic times what else have they got to do with their time and your money?

For instance, recent studies reported in Epidemiologic Reviews show that people who have been smoking marijuana are more than twice as likely as other drivers to crash their vehicles; and if a person has been smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol, the risk of crashing climbs higher. Imagine how much higher the risk would climb if that person was also talking on a cell phone and having sex.

“Genetic studies in Iceland have found that many of the women who were the founding stock of Iceland came from England and what is now France. Some were probably captured and carried off in Viking raids only forty generations ago.” Keith Henson

Is that a great study, or what? Those English and not-then-yet French women of only a thousand years ago were probably captured and carried off by Vikings and transported to Iceland, probably on boats, don’t you think? I would guess probably it was male Vikings who did the capturing and carrying because even only a thousand years ago I can’t imagine Viking women carrying off English women and women from what is now France but was then…what? France? And the words probably and some suggest that the English women and the women who, in time, would have been French, may not have been captured and carried off, but rather volunteered to go to Iceland or possibly arrived there accidentally to contribute their female traits to the Icelandic gene pool. And, I suppose, English and soon-to-be French men may have been captured and carried off, too. But that’s pure conjecture on my part.

“Harvard Medical School, the University of South Florida, and the American Psychiatric Association have all conducted studies showing that the earlier one begins gambling, the more likely one is to become an addicted, problem gambler.” Spencer Bachus

The implication of this quotation is that one could be addicted to gambling without the addiction being a problem, or one could be a problem gambler but not necessarily be addicted to gambling. I can see that. Sure.

Actually, and tragically, my uncle was problematically addicted to gambling to such an extreme that he committed suicide at age fifty rather than be murdered by the unscrupulous organization to which he owed over a million dollars. His death was a terrible blow to our family and inspired me to read several studies of compulsive gamblers, from which I learned things that may be true and were probably not talked about in those more recent studies conducted at Harvard and South Florida and by the psychiatrists. I was looking for something to explain my uncle’s death to me, something more meaningful than “the earlier one starts gambling” etc. And I found a description of a particular personality that fit my uncle exactly, and this description helped me to better understand my uncle’s fatal compulsion.

It seems that most seriously addicted gamblers are not so much hoping for the Big Win, though they may think they are, but rather they are constantly striving to put themselves in position for the Big Loss—irrefutable proof of their being big losers and unworthy of love. My uncle, an extremely successful attorney, could win with ease when he gambled with lower level gamblers, but it was in Las Vegas, in back rooms playing against high rolling mobsters, where he put his fortune on the line again and again until he lost everything.

“Studies have indicated there is a strong correlation between the shortages of nurses and morbidity and mortality rates in our hospitals.” Lois Capps

Here’s a recent favorite of mine. “A study of 33,000 Swedish women indicates that those who ate the most chocolate had the lowest chance of stroke. Women (not men) who ate 66 grams of chocolate per week, about a bar and a half, were 20 percent less likely to suffer a stroke than those who consumed eight grams or less a week, reports the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.”

Well, duh! My own studies show that more studies are done about chocolate than any other substance because chocolate is fun and easy to work with, participants in these studies love eating chocolate, and because the participants are so relieved to be eating chocolate without guilt and in the name of science, that they experience vastly increased sex drives and are much less prone to depression, heart attacks, cancer, and worrying about the future.

Interestingly, a recent parallel study indicates that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, most of the participants in this parallel study were also eating lots of chocolate, so no one can say with statistical certainty which of the tasty comestibles was most responsible for improving cardiovascular health.

“Studies have consistently shown that financial hardship is the biggest obstacle to heterosexual marriage, yet the Republican leadership has done precious little to help address the financial hardship faced by American families.” Kendrick Meek

A recent Brigham Young University study concludes “less materialistic spouses are more likely to find themselves in happier marriages than those who dwell too much on money and possessions.” The team of researchers explored “the impact that value differences about materialism could have on a marriage. (Value differences about materialism? Somebody get me Wittgenstein on the phone and have him explain what value differences about abstract concepts have to do with anything.) Previous studies were limited to materialism in itself, and not the importance that husbands and wives placed on material things. (Materialism in itself? I smell the English language rotting in the noonday sun.) Data collected from 1,734 couples may indicate that even among spouses who shared the same materialistic values, materialism had a negative association with marital quality. (Can college degrees be taken away from people for good cause? Please say they can.) And marriages in which both spouses reported low materialism were better off on several features of marital quality when compared to couples where one or both spouses reported high materialism.”

Man: What’s wrong, honey?

Woman: I think I’m suffering from low materialism.

Man: Are you sure it’s not high materialism? In itself?

Woman: I’m not sure. In myself.

Man: Here. Have some chocolate.

Not to worry. In conclusion, the Brigham Young researchers admit they “recognize that personality traits do influence the degree of materialism. Thus it may be the personality traits that are most damaging to the relationship and not materialism alone.” Materialism alone is one thing; but materialism in itself is a whole other can of worms.

“It is still not clear from this study how laughter can directly help the heart, but other studies have shown that laughter is beneficial for every system in the body.” Allen Klein

Okay. So. A new study involving 6,000 Swedish women carried out by the Karolinska Institute suggests that coffee may reduce the risk of breast cancer. Women who drank five or more cups of coffee every day (they didn’t say for how many years or what these women used for downers) lowered their risk of breast cancer by 57%. However, these women were also taking part in several ongoing and cross referencing chocolate studies and were, in themselves, much less materialistic than American women, which may or may not make any difference in how the coffee (unless it was the chocolate) impacted the cancer cells.

“If you look at the studies coming out of the Congressional Budget Office, the number one thing that’s going to blow a hole in the deficit as we go forward twenty, thirty years is government spending on healthcare.” Christina Romer

“Vitamin E supplements may be linked to an increase in the risk of prostate cancer among men (as opposed to prostate cancer among women?), U.S. researchers say.”

Reading beyond the headlines, we find that the motivation for studying the impact of Vitamin E on the prostate was to confirm that taking Vitamin E reduced the risk of prostate cancer, since American medical doctors have for several years now been aggressively prescribing Vitamin E as an important and proven health supplement for men. Oops. Don’t you just hate it when those hard cold facts turn out to be soft hot nonsense? However, the researchers did use that word may in their summary of the results, so, you know, whatever.

This just in: “A small new study (as opposed to a big old study) suggests that human intelligence may fluctuate throughout adolescence. (But not in middle and old age?) IQ has long been thought to remain stable over a person’s lifetime. (Not by me.) ‘Approximately one-fifth of our sample had very substantial changes such that they moved from above average to below average or vice versa,’ said Cathy Price, senior study author and professor at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, U.K. Prior studies have shown changes in IQ in individuals over time. (But I thought you just said IQ was thought to remain stable…) However, those earlier studies were not able to rule out the possibility of chance.”

Aha! Chance. So what these researchers seem to be saying is that people used to think there was something called chance. But the researchers have now ruled out the possibility of chance, so we can say with great confidence (backed up by all this rigorous scientific research): ‘There is no chance. No way. No how.”

From these and many other studies conducted by semi-literate scientists and shameless academics, we conclude that as our intelligence fluctuates, we (which includes you) should eat lots of chocolate, guzzle coffee, stop being such greedy materialists in ourselves, and not drive when we’re stoned and drunk and talking on cell phones and having sex. And remember, in the words of Robert Sternberg, “So long as you restrict your populations, your testing materials, and the kinds of situations you look at, you can keep finding the same wrong thing again and again.”

Outer World

Friday, June 5th, 2009

 

Marcia and I just returned from three weeks in the outer world. We gave nine house concerts, two bookstore performances, and visited a couple dozen bookstores from Mendocino all the way to Lummi Island, Washington and back, with layovers in Arcata, Coos Bay, Astoria, Seattle, Bellingham, Port Townsend, Portland, Medford, Ashland, and Sacramento. Our concerts were a mix of guitar/cello duets, cello solos, songs, and short stories. We had audiences as large as fifty, as small as five. Since I rarely go anywhere outside of the Big River watershed, this was a monumental and highly stressful journey for me. For Marcia it was pure fun.

Here are some of the things I discovered en route.

1. Nearly all the independent bookstores that don’t have some sort of café component are going out of business. Astoria’s most popular bookstore is a commodious joint called Godfather’s, a kind of coffee saloon with books surrounding an enormous bar, and Village Books in Bellingham has a great café above the store that keeps the cash flowing when book sales falter.

2. Bookstore owners tend to be highly suspicious of authors hawking their own books, especially books not published by multi-national corporations i.e. the New York houses. This preference for mainstream guck strikes me as ironic, but then again bookstores have to carry what they think people want to buy, and people usually want to buy what the multi-national corporations promote through their strictly controlled mass media.

3. The New York Times Bestseller List is owned by Barnes & Noble, and Barnes & Noble decides which books go on the list.

4. The economic meltdown is happening in a big way in Oregon and Washington. We drove through many neighborhoods in small towns and large towns where half the houses had For Sale signs out front, often with the asking price affixed to the sign.

5. As you drive through Oregon and Washington, whether on the coast highway or the interstate freeway, clear cuts are everywhere to be seen. Whole mountains are scraped clean of their forests, then sprayed with horrible poisons to kill all life save for the kind of tree the lumber companies want to grow back on the scraped land. These poisons are then washed by the copious rains into the soil and rivers, rendering most of Oregon and Washington highly toxic, however green and bucolic the countryside appears.

6. One wonders what all the talk of the Greening of America means in the real world. Seattle and Portland are both obscenely oversized and dysfunctional urban areas with no thoughtful planning evident, and the outlying areas of these overpopulated cities are wastelands of auto-centric sameness. We looked for but found little evidence of green or solar anything except in extremely affluent neighborhoods.

7. Many towns throughout Oregon, Washington, and California only have chain stores. Talk about ugly and depressing. In some towns there are official Historic Districts, and therein one might find a few non-chain stores, an actual bookstore (as opposed to a mirage), and possibly a non-Starbucks coffee house. Historic means Before the Chains destroyed America.

8. In small towns everywhere, often in the absence of any other sort of food-getting place, stand little buildings offering drive-thru coffee and stale cookies and/or biscotti. These diminutive buildings are called variously: Drive-Thru Espresso, Espresso Depot, Espresso Express, Espresso Stop, Espresso Unlimited, Espresso Extreme, etc. Time and again we would see these boxcar-like structures and realize they were very possibly the cultural apexes of the towns we were driving through.

9. Cell phones make of the world a surreal place. We do not have a cell phone, and so in order to make phone calls to friends we had to find pay phones. The surest bet to find a pay phone is at an official rest area on the interstate. Otherwise, pay phones are a vanishing breed. On a number of occasions I asked people where we might find a pay phone, and it was as if I had asked them to succinctly elucidate the meaning of life.

10. At these official rest areas along the interstate in Washington, free coffee is provided to weary travelers. The coffee we sampled at two of these rest areas had to be the worst coffee I have ever tasted. I would not have known it was coffee if they hadn’t said it was coffee. Perhaps this is intentional so people will be inclined to patronize Espresso boxcars.

11. You cannot pump your own gas in Oregon. This provides thousands of jobs for surly men and women who would otherwise be fired for surliness from some other job.

12. No one seemed to notice that we were gone for three weeks. It seemed to me we were gone for several months, but not a single person said, “Where have you been?” or “Haven’t seen you in a while.” This, perhaps, is the most important thing I learned from our odyssey. That no matter how profound my personal experiences, no matter how enormous the changes wrought on my psyche and spirit by all the incredible things that happened to us, no one really cares.

13. And why should they? The world is large. Humans are everywhere, and it is the rare human who doesn’t make a mess of things upon this fragile earth. Cars and television and cell phones and computers have separated us from the earth, and the evidence of that separation was everywhere as we traveled from here to Canada and back.

14. Is there hope for the future? Sure. Why not?

Todd’s book Buddha In A Teacup just won the 2009 National Indie Award for Excellence in Short Story Fiction.