Thursday, May 9, 2019

South El Monte Confidential

The memories are from a distant past... a lifetime ago, circa 1961-62. 

Mom and Dad divorced when I was around 5 years old, and Mom got custody of younger brother Chuck and me for a while before we went to live with other relatives. 

The memories of those early days living with Mom in our tiny South El Monte duplex have always been apparitions... screenshots... disjointed 8mm snippets that float in the cranial ether.

But they are memories that have stayed with me to this day.

Marybeth Avenue

We lived in a one-bedroom flat, the third small unit at the end of the long driveway behind the main house. Chuck and I shared the bedroom and a bunk bed (me on the top bunk), with Mom sleeping on a fold-out sofa bed in the tiny living room. I remember the place always being kind of dark and barely lit, maybe because we were usually only there from early evening until early morning.

Marybeth Avenue dead-ended at a corrugated metal fence that bordered The Starlight Drive-In Theater. I remember being a small kid on a bike, sitting with some other kids on bikes in the early evening watching the movie screen that towered over the fence, the sound from hundreds of pole-mounted metal speakers echoing in the distance. 

There was an older kid that lived across the street who I called Boss, and we rode our bikes up and down the street together a lot. One day we found a large Black Widow in a web on the side of the duplex's garage, so Boss got some matches and (on his recommendation) I grabbed a can of Mom's Aqua Net hairspray from the bathroom. Boss lit and held the match, I pointed the can at the spider and pressed the spray head and WHOOSH a huge hairspray flame shot out and torched the spider, reducing it to a crispy bit.

It was awesome, and I don't recall any injuries. Mom came out and yelled at us and Boss ran home and I was dragged away from the carnage.

One night I rolled off the top bunk and crashed onto the floor, knocking my head on the bed frame and making a huge racket in the process. Mom raced in to see what happened and I remember her being naked, something I'd never seen before. She brought me into the kitchen to put some ice on my head and I noticed a guy in Mom's bed, watching us. "Don't worry, honey", Mom said... "It's only Uncle Dophy." I didn't think anything about it because I was still half-asleep... but I never forgot the initial shock of seeing Mom naked.

Is that weird?

The Laundry Room

I was in First Grade and Chuck was still a toddler, so Mom needed someone to babysit Chuck during the days and a place for me stay before and after school. That turned out to be a house down at the end of the street that we knew as 'Aunt Rosie's house'. I never knew if we were actually related.

Rosie had three kids, and they didn't like having other kids in their house and made sure we knew it. I was always getting in fights with the oldest kid named Glenn (maybe 9 years old) and his younger sister.  In fact, one fight ended with Glen biting my upper right arm so hard he bit off a chunk of skin and I bled all over the place, with me jumping around and yelling "HE BIT MY MEAT... HE BIT MY MEAT!!!!"

I survived.

Mom's job in downtown Los Angeles required long daily bus rides, so she had to leave pretty early each morning.  She'd get us both up, fed and dressed, and the three of us would walk up the street in the early morning dawn to Rosie's house.

We'd walk up the house's driveway to the back door that lead to the rear porch laundry room, left unlocked for us. The thing is, everyone in the house was still asleep and we weren't allowed inside the house until they woke, so Mom sat me and Chuck together on a small bench inside the laundry room, next to the locked door leading into the kitchen. 

I remember her fussing with Chuck's hat and buttoning up our jackets, telling us "Make sure you stay really quiet and sit still until Aunt Rosie wakes up, OK?". She'd kiss and hug us both before locking the back door behind her and heading to the bus stop a block away on Garvey Avenue.

And then we were alone.

We sat there inside the locked laundry room, two little kids, heads down, waiting... waiting. Chuck was still a toddler but he was amazingly calm, rarely fidgeting around. When he did, I'd just shush him and he'd stop. Thanks, Chuck.

We sat there in the locked laundry room, our short legs dangling off the bench, waiting for someone inside to wake up and notice that we were out there, waiting to come inside the warm kitchen.

Sometimes it seemed to take forever.

I'd sit there, worrying that Chuck would start crying (he never did) or that they'd forget we were out there (they never did) or that somehow we'd have to sit in that locked laundry room all day. I'd look up and around the room, at the tall shelves that held soap and bleach and other stuff, at the dark open broom closet, at the giant sink next to me that was next to the wringer washer, or through the locked door glass and into the still-dark kitchen.

I'd sit there, wondering if I'd get in another fight with Glen or if I'd get in trouble at school for peeing my pants in class like that little girl did yesterday or if Mom might forget to pick us up after work and we'd have to stay at Rosie's house forever.

We NEVER EVER left that bench until the kitchen door unlocked and we were allowed to go inside. We knew how bad it would be if we made any noise and woke up the people sleeping inside... at least I knew it. Who knows what Chuck thought.

It was a daily test of will to behave, to stay quiet, to stay put, to act 100% unlike the way two small kids are supposed to act when left by themselves.

I don't know how long we endured that daily ritual before me and Chuck were whisked away to live with Aunt Peggy and Uncle Tony (another strange story), but I will never forget feeling lonely and afraid and forgotten inside that locked laundry room.

But I know we did what Mom told us to do.

A Dead Dog

One day after school, we were playing in back yard at Rosie's house, running around and screaming and just being stupid noisy little kids. I don't think Glen was there because he and I always wound up in a fight, and I'm sure Chuck was inside with Rosie.

We were playing hide-and-seek and I was 'it' and the other kids were doing their best to disappear. After counting to 20, I started my mad search looking high and low because I didn't want to be 'it' again.

After spending a minute searching the yard, I ran through the side gate and into the detached garage because I knew it was a good place to hide. As soon as I stepped into the garage, I stopped in my tracks.

Laying there on its side on the floor, right inside the open door, was Rosie's dog (whose name escapes me so many eons later). I looked down at it, the garage dark except for the light coming in through the open door. It was a small short-haired dog, white with large tan spots, it's legs out straight and mouth open and eyes wide, unmoving.

I knew it was dead, although I'm unsure how or why I knew that. I couldn't stop staring at the open eyes... the open mouth... the stiff outstretched legs. After a few moments, I sat down and poked it with my foot to see what would happen. The stiff dog did a half-spin, as if I'd kicked a piece of wood.

I was fascinated.

I sat there wondering how long the dog had been dead, wondering why the dog had died, wondering how old the dog was. I sat there for several minutes in the middle of playing hide-and-seek, thinking (maybe for the first time) about death and dying. It didn't scare me to think about it, because here was death laying on its side at my feet, mouth and eyes wide-open, a stiff.

And soon enough, in came Aunt Rosie who grabbed me by the arm and dragged me away from death and back into the sunny back yard.

And then I wasn't 'it' any more.

The Alley

An alley ran alongside Aunt Rosie's house that ended in a driveway next to a liquor store on Garvey Avenue. It was long and narrow, bordered by rear-yard fencing on both sides that gave way to parking lots behind the stores facing Garvey.

For some reason, that alley was a center of much activity and youthful indiscretion. 

It was the route we used on Sundays to walk and have lunch at The (original) Hat on the corner of Garvey and Rosemead Boulevard. We'd sit on the counter stools that surrounded the outside of The Hat, munching away while traffic buzzed along behind us in that busy intersection. The stools were too tall for my feet to touch the ground, so I kneeled on the upholstered seat pad to reach my food on the counter.

Us kids used the alley a lot to go buy candy and sodas at the liquor store that we'd bring back to Rosie's back yard and scarf down while sitting on the sunny grass. It was also the perfect place to ride our bikes super-fast back and forth without having to worry about cars hitting us.

One day we were throwing gravel from the alley onto the street (who knows why?) and didn't see a car coming by, so it got pelted with gravel. The car screeched to a stop and we knew right away that we'd get in big trouble so we scrambled out of the alley and into Rosie's back yard, hiding along the inside of the fence,  The car's driver ran into the alley screaming bloody murder but he didn't find us there, right on the other side of the fence, hidden and shaking with fear. He walked away just in time for Rosie to come out and start smacking us because she knew EXACTLY what had happened.

Yes, we got in trouble.... lots of spankings and indoor quiet time, no playing allowed.

Leaving South El Monte

Soon enough, Mom lost custody of us, so we left Mom and South El Monte to live with Aunt Peggy and Uncle Tony in La Puente.

Based on conversations I've had with Mom (R.I.P.) and Dad, Mom was taken to court and found to be an unfit Mother, so custody was awarded to Dad. Since Dad didn't have a place of his own yet, it was decided me and Chuck would live with Peggy and Tony until Dad's situation became more stable. We lived with them for several years until we moved into our Grandma Silva's La Puente house where Dad had landed.

It wasn't until years later that I learned Grandma Silva was in fact my Grandpa's Mother-in-law, and not really my Grandma at all. Mexican families are weird.

I have very fond memories of living with Peggy and Tony, and of the many wonderful things that Peggy did and the care and love she showed us. There were also things that happened in that house which were awful and terrible and should never have taken place. I've dealt with those awful and terrible things and have cast them aside, but I'm not sure if Chuck (R.I.P.) was able to do the same because I'm certain those same awful and terrible things happened to him as well.

So it goes.

Why This Matters

Childhood stories like these aren't rare and I'm unsure how many people either can't, don't or won't recall them with the same kind of intensity that I do.

These early memories are seared into my brain and are the very first events that had an impact on my young self. I knew me and Boss would get in trouble for torching that spider. I knew I wasn't supposed to see Mom naked with some strange guy. I knew I wasn't supposed to throw rocks at cars.

I also knew what happened to me at Peggy and Tony's house wasn't right.

I don't know how I knew, but I knew. 

All of these things were original building blocks of me, and I'm glad I haven't shed them from my soft hard drive.  They are reflecting windows into my soul, my past, the beginnings of ME. The bad and good that happened helped write the earliest chapters in my life's novel, just like my fractured youth and horrific first marriage and blissful second marriage have generated a lot of content for chapters that followed.

We write our own novels every single day. Our minds may do a bit of strategic editing which allows us to avoid the hurtful or troubled paragraphs and chapters, but editing too much out can leave a stilted narrative that is without continuity or context.

On the other hand, obsessing over and/or refusing to deal with the worst paragraphs or chapters, especially the ones that happen in our youth, can send us into a tailspin of regret, anxiety and dysfunction which can have a lasting negative impact on our lives. If you've ever seen an episode of 'Intervention', you know what I mean.

Like every good novel, sometimes the story line can be exhilarating or boring, captivating or repulsive, a page-turning barn-burner or an exercise in tedium and banality. The secret is to write your own story... push the narrative you want... change the context if it doesn't work for you.

Your novel is your life. Learn from the bad parts and revel in the good parts.

I wonder how many people have these kinds of early rooty-root memories floating in their cranial ether, or can close their eyes and watch that grainy 8mm film run in their head. Until I started to write this essay, that's where the memories lived, always slightly other-worldly... out of reach. Now they exist in the here and now, and I'm finally able to make them real.

Keep reading... keep writing... keep remembering. I know I will.

Lead image, gracias de google images; Rosie and The Originals 'Angel Baby' and Santo & Johnny 'Sleepwalk' videos, muchismas gracias de youtube; P13 por vida.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

I'm Only Driving...

I love to drive.

I love to drive for mundane errands, to craft stores with The Artist, to see the In-Laws, to the grocery store, to the DMV (honest!!) or sometimes for no reason whatsoever.

I was hooked on wanting to drive waaaaay before I was old enough to get my license at 16 years old. 

The walls of my boyhood SoCal bedroom were plastered with centerfolds from HOT ROD, CAR CRAFT and POPULAR HOT RODDING magazines... nothing but full-color car porn for this kid growing up at Irwindale Raceway and Riverside Raceway and Ontario International Raceway and the 605 Speedway.

Before I got my license, I took every chance to grab a steering wheel.

At first, I'd sneak out and jump into my Uncle's White '62 Impala whenever he came over, start and rev it so the glass packs rapped, then move it back and forth on the driveway until he pulled me out of it.

Next came the furtive slow drives up and down our street in Mom's cool Dark Green '67 Firebird (manual 3-on-the-floor!) when she'd come over on Sunday mornings to take my younger brother and me out on her visitation days. She didn't seem to mind or be alarmed, prolly because she was already half-gassed heh heh heh.

For several of my teenage Summers, our entire extended family would camp out at the Salton Sea for days on end. While the adults got drunk and played poker, my Uncle Mike would toss me the keys to his most-excellent Silver '67 Buick Skylark GS so I could drive it to the campground General Store and get more ice. I'd pile in as many kids as possible and we'd slowly cruise the 1-mile round trip, windows down and radio blasting. It was AWSUM.

When Dad got his Baby Blue '62 Chevy Carry-All for our Boy Scouting adventures, I'd regularly drive that beast (3-on-the-tree!) around the 'hood, pretending to power-shift for all I was worth. Sometimes the column shifter would get stuck in 2nd gear and there I'd be, stopped by the curb, hood up, frantically trying to untangle the shift rods mounted to the firewall. 

Good times.

I simply COULD NOT WAIT to get my driver's license and my first car and jump into Teenage Nirvana, as related in my essay titled 'Four On The Floor'. For me, driving became an escape, a trip into burgeoning adulthood and all the fantasies and expectations that came with the freedom to disappear into the dust, on the prowl and on my own.

So it was for us yoot in the days before spacephones and Fecesbook and Twatter and the intratubes. You know, The Good Old Days. 

I was lucky and didn't suffer any major crashes or injurious catastrophes caused by youthful indiscretion and/or high-speed antics. That's not to say that I didn't indulge in youthful indiscretion and/or high-speed antics, but I was unusually cautious and didn't want to rack up myself or my bitchin' '57 Chevy... knowwhatImean?

I mostly drove the speed limit and ALWAYS checked my mirrors, used turn signals without fail, looked three-ways (left/right/left) at Stop signs and traffic lights before proceeding, constantly moving my eyes in every direction while in motion so as not to miss a thing, all of it. Passing a high-school based Driver Training class was mandatory to get a license back then and it was drilled into my frontal lobes that paying attention while driving paid dividends.

Would you believe that I still drive that way as a totally crusty curmudgeon?

Don't get me wrong... I'm not one of those Gray Panthers driving 15mph under the limit and holding up entire lanes of traffic. I just use extreme defensive driving to make sure I don't wind up in a needless accident like so many others that I see on the side of the road next to their wadded-up cars, trading info and waiting for John Law to arrive.

In fact, just over a year ago I had an accident in my dirty hippie van that could have been MUCH WORSE if I hadn't been paying attention and reacted almost instantly to an idiot changing lanes without checking to see that traffic was stopping in front of me. He slammed on his brakes right after cutting me off, forcing me to veer onto the center median to avoid smashing into him and causing a 50-mph multi-car banger. I was toast but the line of cars I narrowly missed just disappeared into the night, unscathed and unknowing.

When the local PD arrived and assessed the sitch, they agreed that I was indeed lucky to avoid a nasty incident and had done the right thing.

Thanks, guys.

My quick reaction allowed me to miss the line of cars and skid to a stop without hitting anyone else, resulting in a flattened tire, a damaged alloy wheel and some relatively minor undercarriage damage. Not a bad result, and I actually felt extremely fortunate. I know... I'm weird.

I mention all of this only because paying attention while driving seems to have become a lost art for a variety of reasons:

1. A Driver Training class is no longer required before taking the tests to get a license. The ignorance of basic driving 'rules of the road' now on daily display is a direct result of non-mandatory high school driver training. I've always been grateful that way back in 1972, I spent the better part of Summer vacation in Driver Training studying the driving manual, thrashing the goofy simulators and tossing around the gigantic Buick LeSabre 4-doors that were in the school fleet for our on-the-road class sessions.

A quick story about high-school Driver's Ed: one of our favorite things to do when driving a car packed with students was to feign ignorance and 'accidentally' speed over the local railroad track crossings at Valley Blvd, which were raised on a hump in the road. The Teach was always caught off-guard, and the sight in the rear-view mirror of the back seat occupants suspended in mid-air as the car lurched over the railroad track hump was simply hilarious.

2.  The aforementioned spacephones and dashboard monitors in most new cars are pulling people's eyes off the road and onto the screens, creating distractions that often results in smashed bumpers and wrinkled sheet metal and the occasional curbside polka. In fact, it was less than twenty years ago that you bought a nasty ticket if the PD stopped you and found any kind of screen or monitor within eyesight of the driver. 

3.  Most new cars have several so-called 'driver-assist' electronic systems that IMHO do not provide assistance but promote even more attention-deficit to the roadways we all share by allowing drivers to assume they don't need to pay attention to the task of driving.

The invasion of driver-assist electronics into modern cars was the reason I decided to write this essay.

Now don't get me wrong... I understand and appreciate how and why the current wave of electronic assistants can make driving a less-intense, more relaxed experience for an ADD-addled driving populace. I just believe that driving is an extremely important task, and anything that so purposefully takes the driver's attention away from this task is a BAD THING.

The list is long and getting longer... lane-assist, brake-assist, back-up-assist, range-assist, steering-assist... it's like the OEMs are already trying to take  responsibility from the driver in preparation for the imminent shift to autonomous vehicles. Also included in this Rogue's Gallery of electronica is anything that makes a car 'connected' to the internet.


Did I mention my firm belief that mobile phones used in cars should only be able to make or receive emergency calls? I didn't? Like I said before... I'm weird.

All of these electronic driver-assist features test really well in OEM focus groups, and dealers love to show them off to prospective buyers as value-added accessories. However, they also multiply a driver's attention deficit which allows them to forget about the seriousness of taking the wheel of a 3000-pound projectile and speeding down the highway alongside other 3000-pound speeding projectiles.

During my twelve years working closely with a certain car maker, I watched year after year as their cars became infested with multiple driver-assist features, each with a unique bell or tone or beep or chime to announce its unique warning. Whenever I'd be moving cars around, my first act would be to turn off every assist so the car would stop the incessant ringing or beeping or chiming as I rolled around so I could, you know... drive.

Here's an example of a conversation I'd have with an employee of this car company:

Me: "Jeez... I'm not crazy about the new (steering/braking/lane/distance) assist feature in the new (redacted)."

Them: "Well, owners really like the idea of not having to concentrate so much on (steering/braking/lane/distance) while they're driving."

Me: "OK, but isn't concentrating while driving extremely important? These aren't autonomous cars, so shouldn't the drivers be paying more attention to steering and braking and lane centering rather than less attention?"

Them: "That's true, but these features are extremely popular and we need to offer them in order to sell more cars. Our competitors do, and it's what the customer wants."

Me: "They may want these features, but it makes me nervous to know that more people are paying less attention to driving than they should while relying on their cars to do it for them. I mean, we share the road with them...doesn't that make you nervous?"

Them: "... er... umm... actually, I never thought about it that way."


As an Official Old, I know there will soon be a time when autonomous cars are gonna be everywhere, and when I lose the physical capabilities to drive I will likely avail myself of that technology. Hopefully, by that time the software and remote digital signals that now connect and control cars will be better than the easily-hacked and error-prone systems now being used.

For the same reason that I refuse to own a smart phone, I'll avoid ownership of any vehicle loaded with ADD-assist features that allows the car to think and act for itself.

I don't and won't think any less of those who choose cars that have these electronic minders because... well, FREEDOM!!!!

I'm an outlier in this regard and I know it, but I have no shame in admitting my disdain for electronic driver-assist features in new cars. As long as I'm able to drive, I'll stay vigilant behind the wheel... moving my eyes from the road ahead to the inside rear-view mirror to the road to the speedo to the road to the outside rear-view mirror and back to the road again, never holding my sight in one place for more than 5 seconds, just like they taught us in high-school Driver Training.

The closest I get to those halcyon teenage driving days is when we're streaking along in our tC at 85mph on Interstate-5, heading North through the San Joaquin Valley, The Artist beautifully reclined in the passenger seat and the tunes wafting through the car's interior.

At times like that, I can touch the heady freedom of driving, yet still keep all my senses 100% engaged and focused to make sure we don't go flipping off into the weeds because I wasn't paying attention.

Our 2011 Scion tC is totally devoid of driver-assist electronics, and it's a bitchin' little sled.

Driving is serious business.

That's why I love to drive.

"Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel!" 
                                          -- Jim Morrison, 'Roadhouse Blues'

Car images, Gracias de Google Images except '57 Chevy image, Gracias de mi Padre; Pearl Harbor & The Explosions 'Drivin' video, Muchismas Gracias de Youtube.

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Color of Money

Because reasons, recent life changes have found me between jobs for the first time in twelve years. While I embarked on a search for a suitable new full-time gig, I decided to sign up with a local temporary employment agency to make sure I was bringing in some shekels so The Artist wouldn't kick me out on my skinny ass. She's funny about things like that.

After some time rolling through the Intratubes, I lucked into an agency that was looking for a weirdo like me with a wide-ranging resume'. Within a day or so, they had me booked for a month-long gig running a CNC machine in a small shop only 3 miles from my home. Although I hadn't worked in a machine shop since the 1970's, it sounded like a great way to resolve the immediate need, so I was all in.

Now, it's important to note that while I'm no newcomer to what is traditionally considered a 'blue-collar' job, the majority of my employment during the last 30 years has been in the 'white-collar' division of the automotive industry. I've been extremely fortunate to have worked in the performance-oriented areas of tires, spark plugs, suspension, event operations and client services, so it would be correct to say that I've been wearing a white shirt with a blue collar, or perhaps a blue-and white striped collar. Thousands of hours flying a desk, with lots of outside work at race tracks, shops, event sites, warehouses and client locations.

My first day at the machine shop was pretty much as I expected -- place parts into a CNC machine tool, run them through a couple of automated cycles, then remove them... typical production machining. The owner's son gave me a brief rundown of the process, showed me how to set up the parts correctly in the tooling jig, and then let me start machining. I was a bit shaky for the first hour or so but soon enough found a rhythm with the process and eventually was able to obliterate the previous operator's hourly completed piece count.

Between myself and another temp on the project, we burned through the raw parts inventory and finished the job in only seven working days, even though they had planned for us to be there almost a month. The owners gave big props and thanked us for the great work. Nailed it!

The surprising thing about this type of work is that while you might think it's an easy task that requires no real focus or concentration, that's most definitely NOT the case. More than a few times in the first two days I scrapped some parts because I lost focus, got distracted or tried to push the completed parts count too high too fast. I found myself having to concentrate far more than I'd expected for a repetitive-motion task like this, and at the end of each shift I was mentally exhausted.

I also had some clarifying moments during the countless machining cycles that got me thinking about blue-collar work in a larger context.

1. Hourly workers are typically allowed two 15-minute breaks per shift, one each in the morning and afternoon. These breaks are actually so short that it's impossible to rest. When the break would start, I'd head to the bathroom and then out to my dirty hippie van for a quick nosh, check my text messages and before long it was time to head back in. The actual break time was closer to 10 minutes.

2. Also typical for hourly workers is a 30-minute lunch, which turns out to be something like only 24 minutes of actual lunching. This time goes by like lightning when you're trying to scarf down snackie cakes and cheesie poofs. I found myself rushing to eat -- not optimum for anyone's digestion, especially if you have to wait for a microwave while someone else heats up their entrail stew (NOM!).

3. It's very easy to feel like a mindless drone while doing repetitive production work, but I couldn't be a mindless drone or else I'd screw up and scrap out parts, which I HATED to do. It felt like a personal failure to show the owner a part that I had mistakenly put in wrong or out of sequence, even though he just laughed it off and said "No biggie, just keep going". Thankfully, it rarely happened.

4. I was earning $15 an hour for this work, and while there's a push in this country to make that a national minimum 'living wage', there's no guarantee it'll ever happen. My Dad mentioned that where he lives in Northern California, most folks would love to have a job paying that much, but here in The OC it would be nearly impossible to survive making $28,800 a year as a primary income amount... BEFORE taxes. 

5. This type of hourly-wage blue-collar work is derided and disparaged by many here behind The Orange Curtain. They consider it work for 'those people', as if honest work and efforts to help businesses stay afloat is unseemly, lowbrow and non-important. I'd reckon those who've never worked in blue-collar jobs feel this way too, regardless of where they live. It's almost as if there's a de facto caste system in our country when it comes to employment. 

Think being a restaurant server, auto detailer or machine shop worker is a lowly, unskilled, easy job? 


For a large number of American workers, the color of money is BLUE.

Regarding the need for a national minimum living wage of $15 an hour...

When I started my first job in the Fall of 1972, the minimum wage was $1.65 an hour and if I worked a bunch of after-school and weekend hours, I might see a stratospheric paycheck of $60 for the week! This was a huge sum for a high-school Junior and allowed me to spend money on my '57 Chevy and take girls out on dates and even buy my own clothes, mostly second-hand jeans and flannel shirts (from Funky & Damned-Near New), white Penny's Towncraft t-shirts and sneakers. Dad required my self-purchased clothes since I was earning my own money, although he popped for socks and underwear like a good parental unit.

Adults were NEVER expected to live on that kind of hourly wage... at the time the adult average salary was just over $7,000 a year. Gasoline was $.25 a gallon, a new vinyl record was $1.99, and you could buy a burger,fries and small Coke from McDonald's for 99 cents. In general, although being poor back then was no less devastating, life was far more affordable and would allow a working adult a chance to earn a living with (GASP!) a pension and do pretty much OK.

In 1972, the US minimum wage of $1.65 an hour was paid for entry-level part-time work. Anyone working a full-time job for that wage would earn $3,168 a year before taxes. The average adult yearly salary was $7,000, which equates to $3.65 an hour and was considered a decent living wage at the time. That's a 55 per cent difference between the minimum and living hourly wages.

In 2018, when half of all workers earning the current minimum wage of $7.25 were adults, they earned $13,920 a year. The average adult salary was $56,516, which equates to $29 an hour. That's a 75 per cent difference between the two.

Think about those numbers.

Half of all workers earning the US minimum wage of $7.25 an hour are adults. The minimum wage has not been increased since 2009.

Imagine yourself earning $14,000 a year while trying to survive at the same time. If you're married and your spouse is also earning minimum wage, your household brings in $28,000 a year before taxes, and then you have to figure out housing and food and utilities and all the other costs associated with modern life. Then toss in some kids and the notion of healthcare for your family... it becomes a daunting proposition.

It cracks me up to hear the business world complain when the subject of raising the current minimum wage to a minimum living wage of $15 an hour is brought up. 

"We'll have to raise our prices if we pay our employees a higher minimum wage!!!" they bleat, grasping their stock portfolios to their thumping chests. There's even a large segment of a certain political ideology that thinks the minimum wage should be totally eliminated... which would increase their profits, of course.

That same ideology resents the notion of helping minimum wage workers towards gaining access to affordable healthcare or housing or food stamps, things they consider undeserved socialist 'entitlements' which costs the business world more of their precious, precious money. 

Many American business interests want to continue to pay slave wages wherever possible, refuse to offer or support affordable healthcare benefits, reject the notion of paying higher taxes, and think nothing about their low-paid employees needing federal and state support to survive while also fighting against those social benefits so their own profits can keep growing while they pay lower and lower taxes.

That's what some of us lefty pinko commie bastards refer to as corporate welfare. 


For an increasingly greedy number of moneyed US interests, the color of money is GREEN.

Our current POTUS has been preening his feathers over a recent report that says 300,000 new jobs were created as a result of his most-excellent Big Brain. What he doesn't say is that most of those jobs were in the lower-wage service sector, where many people are forced to work multiple jobs in order to survive. He too rejects the idea that working-class Americans need... DESERVE... higher wages and affordable healthcare and housing and food and child care and... well, you know.

The struggle for American survival continues... round and round it goes, and where it stops -- nobody knows.

My current temp job in senior community transportation is thankfully paying more than the machine shop gig, and there are indications they may want to hire me full-time. It would be a substantial salary decrease from my last job, but given my age and lack of a college degree, coupled with the amazing level of satisfaction and warm fuzzy I get from helping the Gray Panthers to attend church, see their doctors and shop at Big Lots, it may just be the right gig for this rapidly-aging, semi-sane Orange County weirdo.

I'll keep you posted.

I always like to end my essays with a thematically-related tune.  This one was playing on a loop in my head for most of the time I was standing in front of that CNC machine tool, feeding it parts, wondering how strange life's twists and turns can be and trying hard not to fuck up another part. Plus, yodeling!

The color of money is Red, White and Blue.

Lead image, gracias de Google images; The Vogues 'Five O'Clock World' video, muchismas gracias de Youtube; Welcome to the working week!

Monday, January 7, 2019

I Know... But I Don't Know

"Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think."  -- Martin Luther King Jr.

Timing can be a funny thing. When I started this essay in late November 2018, the Trump Shutdown was just a talking point for the media, an event that everyone was cautiously optimistic would never happen.  

In fact, it almost didn't until the POTUS lied again for the ten millionth time (actually, over 7,600 lies in two years) and flipped on Congress, whom he had assured that he'd accept their budget deal to keep the government funded. They were already jetting home for the holidays when the Lying Liar lied again and rejected the GOP-approved budget deal.

Lying is what Trump does, has always done and most assuredly will continue to do. So here we are, experiencing the third government shutdown of his Presidency.

Reality has a way of exposing itself to us in advance, even when we choose not to acknowledge it, or to think things through, or to consider the consequences of our poor judgement. As an example, here's a list of some extremely negative human personality flaws:

Hatred. Bigotry. Ignorance. Stupidity. Misogyny. Criminality. Greed. Venality. Disloyalty. Infidelity. Insincerity. Treachery. Duplicity. Hypocrisy. Mendacity. Fraudulence. Conceit.

These are only some of the character traits of our illustrious 45th President, Donald J. 'Stable Genius' Trump, the man who proudly claims to know more about everything than anyone else on the planet.

During his adult life, he exhibited all of these traits and never tried to pretend otherwise because... well, because he didn't have to. As a so-called 'Master of the Universe', his behavior could be as awful and low as possible and yet he was never held accountable for it. Wealth, privilege and power does that, the very definition of 'Affluenza'.

Nevertheless, he was awarded the keys to The White House by people who knew who and what he was beforehand and voted for him anyway.

He's loved by the KKK... by neo-Nazis... by virulent racists... by aggrieved white people who fear they will soon become the minority race in our country (and that fear is based on their current M.O. of hatred and bigotry towards minorities... get it?). He's loved by the uninformed and/or willfully ignorant who don't know or care about facts or truth or reality or anything they haven't seen on Fox News or read on Infowars or heard directly from the puckered POTUS lips.

I keep hearing the same questions asked over and over and over again: "Why do so many people still support Donald Trump? He's incompetent, he's a pathological liar, he's accomplished nothing positive, his actions are criminal and borderline why do over 85% of Republicans stick by him?"

I know why, and it really has nothing to do with his disastrous stint at the helm of our listing Ship of State.

It has nothing to do with his moronic foreign and domestic policies... his ignorance of history... his pandering to regressive evangelicals... his grifting of the office for personal gain.

I absorb countless amounts of news and commentary each week to see if someone...ANYONE... will connect the dots and explain why, oh why do so many Amerikkans seem oblivious to the man's horrific ineptness. Rarely does any of the punditocracy connect the dots... except perhaps for My Dear Rachel Maddow (I  LOVE her Big Brain).

In fact, the reason is simple and it precedes Trump's short tenure.

The reason so many Conservatives and Republicans still support Donald Trump is because they cannot and will not allow themselves to admit they made a huge error in judgement by picking him to run the country. They refuse to acknowledge their disastrous choice, so they double-down with their support... damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead with the Trump Shitstorm, as long as there are Liberal tears to be shed.

Willful ignorance of reality, slavish dedication to horrible behavior, complete lack of self-awareness.

Think I'm wrong? 

It really started with the Bush 43 Presidency... you know, the election that also resulted in a President who lost the popular vote but won the Electoral vote, not with help from Russia but with the help of an activist Supreme Court. You remember W, right? He WAS considered the worst POTUS in modern times until the current resident of The White House defiled those stately halls, calling it 'a dump'.

Now, I've sorta grown fond of W in his post-Presidency, but only because I've come to understand that although he was inept and made one bad decision after another, at least he seemed to do the best that he could. However, by the end of his tenure he'd bankrupted our economy, entangled us in two needless wars of aggression, blown up the deficit, caused the loss of 800,000 jobs a month, and enacted regressive laws that restricted individual freedoms.

The W presidency was a disaster, and by the time the 2008 General Election rolled around, our country was gripped in the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. Thankfully, we kept our cool and elected 'That One' over McCain (R.I.P.) and watched BHO take the helm and steer our ship away from the icebergs and into open, breezy waters for eight years of semi-smooth sailing.  44 saved our nation from a complete meltdown and deserves no small amount of credit for it.

The Congressional GOP were having NONE OF THAT, nosiree.

On the evening of Barry's inauguration, the GOP Big Dogs met in a D.C. steakhouse to plan their 100% obstruction of anything... ANYTHING... that The Black Guy would try to do. They didn't care that their policies and governance had already decimated every aspect of our country. They didn't care that millions of Americans had suffered at their hands during the W years. They didn't care that tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans had died as a direct result of their horrific attempt at nation building.

The GOP refused to accept that they had failed miserably.  They refused to accept their responsibility for having governed so poorly.  They rejected any blame for anything and refused to acknowledge their poor choices. Instead, they doubled-down on their awful brand of governing and placed loyalty to their party ahead of the country's best interests. 

They could not and would not allow themselves to admit they were terrible at governing. They refused to acknowledge that their disastrous policies had wrought such havoc, so they enacted total obstruction of The Black Guy... damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead with the Disloyal Opposition Shitstorm, as long as there were Liberal tears to be shed.

Willful ignorance of reality, slavish dedication to horrible behavior, complete lack of self-awareness. 

Guess who else practices this same kind of fealty to a regressive ideology?

Followers of The Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church, a worldwide organization full of sexual predators, molesters, pedophiles and miscreants, protected and sheltered and hidden away and moved around the world in order to keep them away from law enforcement.

The Catholic Church, a tax-free entity that has paid out billions of dollars in settlements to maintain their ability to stay ahead of the law, to keep degenerate priests out of jail and on the prowl.

The Catholic Church. No matter how many times they're shown to have accepted and accommodated the worst kind of human behavior among their leaders, their members seem unfazed and unconcerned enough to actually do anything about it.

Sound familiar? 

How is it that people of faith who profess to follow the teachings of their current version of the Bible... how is it that so many of their leaders can be as degenerate as imaginable, yet they still support the Catholic church and it's leaders?

They cannot and will not allow themselves to admit their own religious leaders are the worst representatives of their ideology. They refuse to acknowledge that their church leader's inhuman behavior has wrought such havoc, so they enact total willful ignorance of the horrific behavior and pretend it doesn't exist... damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead with the Sectarian Shitstorm, as long as there are Non-believer tears to be shed and law enforcement to be avoided.

Willful ignorance of reality, slavish dedication to horrible behavior, complete lack of self-awareness.

See?  See what I did there?

There's an almost religious fervor among Trump supporters and the Congressional GOP that, to my jaundiced eye, is exactly the same as followers of The Catholic Church. In each case, what appears to us on the outside as incredibly misguided loyalty is somehow not an issue for them. We ask ourselves, "How in the world can these people not see or understand that their loyalty, their trust, their dedication is totally misplaced?"

Don't worry... they see it all JUST FINE. They just choose to ignore it.

And that's the rub.  Trump supporters, the Congressional GOP, followers of the Catholic Church... they all make a conscious decision to ignore what they see with their own eyes and pretend they're on a righteous path to their greater reward. They'll accept the worst kind of behavior as long as they get what they want.  Life as a series of moral, ethical and philosophical transactions.

I know this is our reality, but I don't know how or why people can make these reprehensible choices. 

I know there are perceived short-term gains to be had with these awful choices, but I don't know how they can be justified in the long view. 

I know that spite and hatred and bigotry and vengeance can be powerful motivators, but I don't know how personally/ethically/morally corrosive choices can be rationalized over and over and over again.

It boggles my mind. 

Human beings are frail and flawed creatures. Only our self-awareness and intellect and compassion and empathy for others separates us as at the supposed top of the ladder from all other creatures.

Self-awareness and intellect and compassion and empathy for others seems to be totally devoid from the make-up of Donald J. 'Stable Genius' Trump. While over 800,000 federal employees are out of work because of the insane government shutdown... while thousands of migrant children are separated from their parents and being held prisoner for the misdemeanor crime of crossing the border without documents... while laws that prevent pollution of our air and land and water are being gutted... while all of this is going on, our eminent POTUS will not suffer or care for even a millisecond. 

I know Donald Trump doesn't care or concern himself with the suffering of others, but how he can live with the disastrous results of his decisions? 

Willful ignorance of reality, slavish dedication to horrible behavior, complete lack of self-awareness?  Perhaps. History will certainly judge him harshly, but for now I think the answer is obvious: He doesn't know either. Never has, and probably never will.

"Not to know is bad. Not to wish to know is worse." -- Nigerian Proverb

Lead image, Gracias de Google images; Blondie video Muchismas Gracias de; Impeach Donald Trump.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Life Line

I'm conflicted about a very serious issue and grappling with my own feelings about it.

That image right up there, a melancholy work of art by John Lurie titled 'The Sky Is Falling, I Am Learning To Live With It' was purchased by chef/author/Ramones-lover/TV guy Anthony Bourdain just a few days before he decided to hang himself in a French hotel room using the belt from his bath robe.

Now the artist is twisted into knots (pun... sorry not sorry) with the feeling that somehow his artistic vision had something to do with Bourdain's decision to off himself.

Suicide is like that.  It forces the survivors to question everything about their relationship with the self-departed, grasping for some kind of rational explanation for a seemingly irrational act.

On the one hand, I totally understand how a human being, suffering under a debilitating depression, can find solace in the idea of suicide and then follow through with it. Unless one has experienced the deep dark blackness of an emotional depression, it's hard to see how to pull out of that downward spiral.

On the other hand, I view the very act of suicide as a cowardly reaction to a psychological reality, a reality that is wholly created in the mind.

No, I'm not calling those who consider, attempt or achieve suicide cowards per se. It just seems to me that the act of taking one's life is a pretty convenient way to deal with the horrific emotional and psychological burdens that result in suicidal thoughts.

We humans prefer things easy. 

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the word suicide as 'The act or an instance of taking one's own life voluntarily and intentionally". I've also seen it defined as 'The sincerest form of self-criticism'.

We also know that in most cases, suicidal thoughts are often the result of a lingering mental illness that can last a lifetime before someone finds the opportunity and/or motivation to follow-through with the emotional and physical self-destruction.

In the case of Mr. Bourdain, no matter how much you think you know about his life and his struggles and his reality, it still seems hard to fathom why someone so successful and loved and admired could find himself isolated and alone and with no hope for the future except for the one that doesn't include his conscious existence. 


Mental illness apparently claims another victim.

The Artist With Whom I Share My Life is quick to point out that I, as someone who's never suffered from either a clinical or emotional depression, could never ever understand how dark and empty the world can seem to a human being who is prone to bouts of debilitating depression, self-loathing and anxiety.

Of course, she's 100% right. I can only speculate in my feeble aged brain about how it can be that ANYONE would find life so miserable, so black, so devoid of joy that the only solution is to leave this mortal coil behind for the rest of us to deal with. Try as I might, I just cannot see any situation where that ultimate act would be an option, an answer, a way out... for me, anyways.

But then I started thinking about how we define suicide outside of the dictionary.

Are alcoholics suicidal? If the definition is 'the act or an instance of taking one's own life voluntarily and intentionally' then a practicing alcoholic who knows damned well they're slowly killing themselves with booze is committing an act of slow suicide, amirite? The same can be said for anyone abusing heroin, oxycontin, meth, tobacco or any substance that the user knows will eventually result in them taking The Dirt Nap.

Do we view those substance abusers' slow-motion suicide in the same way we do Mr. Bourdain's sudden act of self-departing? If not, then why not?

Do we consider substance abusers as suffering from a mental illness? If not, then why not?

Just like many of us have difficulty understanding the motivation for hanging ourselves in a French hotel room because life sucks, how can we possibly understand the thought process that says "Yep... think I'll drink myself into oblivion because life sucks." 

I know this much: watching my Mother and younger Brother pickle themselves with booze for years was EXACTLY like watching their slow-motion suicides.  Both of them knew what they were doing, acknowledged and accepted they were killing themselves with booze and yet... and yet, they were unable to stop that Death Train from running them over.

So... does it make any difference if the suicide is slow-mo or not?

Human beings are fragile vessels. We're far too self-possessed for our own good.  We aggrandize our dominant position in this world at our own peril, so when things go out of control, we tend to either a) try and overcome the troubles, b) ignore the issues completely and just roll along to deal with the consequences later or c) retreat into a morass of self-loathing and mind-numbing/life-threatening actions. It would be nice if more of us used our gray matter to logic our way out of things, but that's apparently too hard for many humanoids to attempt.

We all know people like that, don't we?

I have the luxury of being able to evaluate this issue from a place of relative security and happiness.  I have an amazing mate, a good job, a beautiful home, some shekels in the bank, good health, a positive attitude... all the things people strive for their entire lives. Being a celebrity or fabulously wealthy or incredibly powerful does not guarantee a goddamned thing to help with emotional health or to battle mental illness nope nope nope.

Like all humans, I'm occasionally subject to bouts of sadness or anger or open seething hostility, but they never last very long and for that I am truly grateful. For many people though, these emotions can linger and fester and rot in their hearts and minds until the decay and blackness becomes overwhelming, and it can last for days or weeks or months... or years.  Eventually they seek a way out, some respite from the terribleness they perceive as their life.  

That's when thoughts turn to suicide as a way out.

That's when we need them to know that it's OK to reach out and ask for help.

That's when we ALL need to understand that suffering from depression or mental illness is not a sign of weakness or lack of character, nor is it an easily-solved emotional problem.

Anthony Bourdain's final scene was not filmed or recorded. It seems no one in his circle was aware that he was suffering in silence, all while shouldering the burden of maintaining a hit TV show, the livelihoods of many dozens of people, extended separation from his daughter and his girlfriend... even the inevitable questioning of his very existence, which is something EVERY creative person struggles with.

And yet... did he maintain silence about his struggle?  Did he function in a sea of self-imposed emotional isolation?  Did he sense his looming catastrophe but deny himself the leeway to call 'TIME OUT!!!' and try to set his troubled mind straight? 

I recently watched the final 'Parts Unknown' episode about his visit to Bhutan, and I kept looking for some sign of his emotional struggle, some indication that he just wasn't right. Nothing doing... he was just as Bourdain-ish as always, albeit far less snarky than when I first became a fan of his. No answers were found in that final joint, at least not that I could see.

We know some of the answers now, but it's just too fucking late and so my favorite Bad-Boy raconteur/chef/Ramones-lover/Snark Generator is gone, turned into ashes and departed from this conscious existence. I find myself being both terribly sad and seriously pissed at him for his act of genuine self-criticism.

I'm dealing with it as best I can.

In a past life, when my first marriage was heading for a cliff and the world was black, I'd sit at night and stare at my fish tank for hours on end and feel like my life was over, that there'd never be another day of happiness in my future. Thankfully, a wonderful marriage counselor came into my life and convinced me that there was indeed a happy future, but I had to take a risk to make it happen

And guess what?  She was right!

Don't let your friends or loved ones suffer in silence.  Talk to them... hug them... let them know their fears and anxieties are shared emotions among all of us. Look directly into their eyes and tell them "You matter to me." Keep doing that, over and over and over, even if they pull away, even if the tell you to fuck off, even if they try to shut you out. Stay engaged and don't let up. 

They Are Worth It.

My heart hurts for Anthony Bourdain's abbreviated life, for his daughter's loss, for all his loving fans who will miss his Supreme Snark and wisdom. But mostly, for yet another human who felt so much loss that suicide was their only way out.

Don't let it happen to anyone if you can help it.

"Down... to the bottom.  Hello? Is there anybody else here?

It's cold, and I'm so lonely...

Hello?  Is there anybody else here?

Hello?  Won't you throw me down a Life Line?

I'm so afraid of darkness, and down here it's just like night time.

Ooooohs... are all around me.

Hello?  Will you please send down a Life Line?

Down... and there isn't any hope for me...

Unless this dream that seems so real... is just a fantasy."

Lead image, Gracias de Google Images; Harry Nilsson's 'Life Line', Muchismas Gracias de

National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800) 273-8255