Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Eagle Has Finally Landed


For most of my adult life, I thought I was the only one to suffer this self-inflicted wound.

It happens.

I even lied about it for years, trying to rationalize my youthful behavior as if it would make any difference at all. I carried an inner shame that couldn't be shared with anyone, for fear that I'd be judged as an idiot... a cretin... a person who failed at a basic test of courage and tenacity and fortitude.

But after decades of hiding behind a wall of deception, I was finally able to come to grips with my secret shame and understand how and why it happened, and to realize that I had become a better person for it.  And when I met someone who had gone through exactly the same torment and shame that I'd experienced, who had also suffered in silence like me, I was able to openly admit the truth:

I DID NOT REACH THE RANK OF EAGLE SCOUT.

There... I said it. WHEW!

Achieving the rank of Eagle Scout should have been a no-brainer, It was almost predestined that I would become one at 14 years old, and yet I made a conscious decision to NOT let it happen, and that decision in 1970 haunted me well into middle age for reasons both simple and complex.  But those days are past, and now I actually revel in the notion of what I did and why I did it.

Let me explain.

Awesome Dad worked hard to raise my younger brother and I by himself, with lots of help from various relatives, but sometimes he struggled being a Single Male Parent.  I think that's why he had me join the Cub Scouts, where he became involved as a Pack Leader, which morphed into Boy Scouts, where he was the Scoutmaster of our Troop. He wasn't just the Scoutmaster... he and several other Dads of my soon-to-be Boy Scout friends didn't like the look of the local Troops, so they formed a brand new one, based at Sunset Elementary School in La Puente, California.

Troop 715.

Over the next 5 years, I experienced one of the most important, formative, positive and enjoyable parts of my early years on this small Blue Planet. Looking back on it now, I'm grateful to have been involved in Scouting as opposed to sports, because I learned far more about the world as a result. Some of my experiences didn't happen to anyone else I knew who weren't involved in Scouting. Sure, hiking and camping and cooking and knotting and first aid and all the stereotypical Boy Scout stuff, it all added to my quiver of campcraft.

But there were also other special experiences that forever affected my malleable young self. For example, becoming an Indian Dancer, a 'Modern Oklahoma Fancy Dancer', to be exact, the result of being in the Order of the Arrow, a Scouting honor camping society based on Native American philosophy and lore. Dad gave scads of time to organize and support our local Indian dance troupe, and we performed all over Southern California.  I was good enough to compete in and win several local and regional events, earning a chance to compete at the Nationals in Illinois.

My first Indian Dance costume, Dad-designed and fabricated!
Imagine: a 13-year-old attending the Order of the Arrow National Conference and Indian Dance Competition in Illinois, part of a 3-week mid-Summer road trip with two adults and eleven other Scouts in two station wagons, from SoCal to NYC and back again. Many firsts occurred during that amazing journey, but those youthful secrets will remain for another essay, another set of searing memories. That kind of road trip could NEVER happen in our modern helicopter-parenting age.

Picture this: a dozen condoms, bought at a gas station bathroom in Joplin, Missouri for $.25 each, inflated and tied to the car's antennae, flapping like mad in the wind while we raced thru the state at 70mph, laughing like hyenas. Yep, that kind of trip.

By my 14th birthday, I had the requisite number of merit badges and the goal of achieving my Eagle Scout badge was in sight. Although there were a couple of others in my Troop that were also on the same path, I was far ahead of them and would soon be THE FIRST EAGLE SCOUT in Troop 715. Dad rode me hard, made me do the work, never relented on the pressure for me to follow through. But somewhere in there, I spun out.

I got mad at Dad, like all teenagers do.

It happens.

I felt he was putting too much pressure on me to make the rank ahead of my friends/rivals for his own reasons.  I didn't understand what the big deal was (dumb kid that I was) and that it was all about him, not me. I had completed my Eagle Project, and all I had to do was write and submit a project report to our local Council to cross the Eagle Finish Line, but I felt like it was an empty gesture, a thing of no value to me in any way.

I refused to write the report.

No matter how much Dad cajoled and pressured me to take that last step, I refused.  Sure enough, one of my good friends/bitterest rivals caught up and earned his Eagle, the FIRST ONE in our Troop. To make matters worse, I even performed the Eagle Dance at his award ceremony, strutting and spinning on stage with my Eagle head and wings, dancing to the drum beats, feeling Dad's anger and shame from across the room.

I won.  I was victorious by denying him what he wanted most. I had POWER, for seemingly the first time in my life. And for the next two years, I just cruised through Scouting, never taking that last step, never going the final mile. By the time I turned 16 and got my first car, I was done and gone from Scouting, separated forever from the specter of the Eagle Badge.

Or so I thought.

As an adult, the shadow of that non-achievement haunted me, making me feel like I'd given up something important, something that was totally in my grasp but let slip away. If the subject came up, I would lie about being an Eagle Scout, but it was just me rationalizing about making it THAT CLOSE, so it counted, right?  But it didn't count. I wasn't an Eagle Scout. I had failed.

Eons later, talking about it with Dad, he said he hadn't even thought about it... but I KNEW DIFFERENT.  I knew he was pushing down the abject disappointment of my failure all those decades ago, I was sure of it. As time went on, that missed opportunity turned into a jagged little pill, spinning around in my rabid wolverine gut, making me feel like that singular teenage act had some kind of dark juju hanging over my psyche.

And then, a miracle happened.

About 5 years ago, our next-door neighbor's oldest son Boris (not his real name) earned his Eagle Badge, and The Artist and I were invited to attend the ceremony. We went to the church where the event was being held and were hanging around outside when I saw Boris talking to a few of his friends.  I asked to speak with him privately for a few minutes. First, I gave him my Camp Cherry Valley (Avalon, CA) 'Staff' neckerchief that I'd had since my Scouting days, which he loved since he'd be spending a week at the same camp later that summer.

Then I told him about my not having achieved the Eagle rank, how and why it happened, but also why I was a better person now because of Scouting, Eagle or not, and that I was incredibly proud of him for finishing his quest.  He was visibly moved, thanking and hugging me for taking the time to share these personal truths with him. Very powerful stuff.

Once inside the church, we witnessed a ceremony steeped in tradition and reverence.  I was time-warping in a big way from all the trappings... the scouts, the uniforms, the flags, the adult leaders... all of it.  The thing that really took my breath away was the joy, pride and happiness of Boris' parents, sitting there beaming.  When I saw the bliss on their faces, I was thunderstruck at the reality of what I'd done to my Awesome Dad all those years ago. He'd been denied that moment of parental joy because of my youthful selfishness, denied of the honor that would not and could not ever be grasped.

I sat there mute, holding The Artist's hand, thinking to myself, "How could I have done that to Dad?!?!"

I felt terrible.

But it only lasted a few moments, because I also realized that, good or bad, I'd made a decision and stuck with it all those years ago.  I became filled with pride and joy for Boris' achievement and felt like I was up there with him on stage, smiling like a loon, being THE MAN. I had been talking about this Eagle mindfuck with The Artist in the days leading up to this moment... I looked at her, she smiled and I knew she knew exactly what I was thinking. Funny how that works.

All at once, the guilt and shame and regret over my selfish act of parental denial faded away, replaced with a sense of understanding, happiness and compassion.  When the ceremony ended, we left for home, me released from a weight that I'd carried for most of my adult life.

This is what it means to be forgiving of one's own (self-perceived) faults.

How many of us carry around these self-inflicted wounds, forming scabs that constantly get ripped off to reveal the raw emotional flesh underneath?

It's almost unbelievable that I labored with this internal struggle for so many years, all because of a teenage angst-ridden decision.  But the truth is, most everyone have regrets from their youth that were never resolved and still haunts their sub-conscious mind. Sometimes it becomes so prevalent, is filled with so much anger and pain and hurt, we drown ourselves in drugs or booze or food or emotional upheaval and it poisons and destroys every other aspect of our lives.  Anyone who has ever watched an episode of 'Intervention' knows that one single childhood trauma can have disastrous repercussions for the rest of your life unless you deal with that trauma, learn to forgive yourself and then move on.

"Deal with the faults of others as gently as your own." -- Chinese proverb

However, I am here to say that as traumatic as this insane Eagle issue was for me, it is now merely another closed chapter in my life's novel.  I've removed the bookmark from that page and have started the next chapter.

HOWEVER.

The things I learned in Scouting... the 12 Scout Laws, the concepts of the motto 'Be Prepared' and the slogan 'Do a good turn (deed) daily'... those things have stayed with me and will always be a part of my deep rooty-root character.  How could I have known the idea of always doing for others first would be my life's mantra?  I couldn't and didn't, yet they're among the most important elements of who I am now. I may not be a fan of what the Boy Scouts have become these days, entrenched with religious dogma and its regressive ideology, but I'm glad to have gotten my Scouting goody when it mattered most to me.  I owe it all to the Awesome Dad.

The Twelve Scout Laws:

A Boy Scout Is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent (my troop's secret laws also included 'Hungry, Lazy and Girl-Crazy'... heh heh heh).

Could there be a better list of secular human behavior to aspire to? No, I don't think so.



Closing Notes:  I used the lead image and closing video clips from the 2012 Wes Anderson film 'Moonrise Kingdom' for a very specific reason.  Although  the 'Khaki Scouts' portrayed in the film don't really exist, the tone and context they display, along with the entire film, are crazy-similar to my Scouting and youthful reality, strange as that may seem.  I totally identify with Sam Shakusky's main character in so many ways, it's almost scary.  In addition, heroine Suzy Bishop is a dead-on ringer for The Artist in her formative years, and I like to think that her and I would be exactly like Sam and Suzy if we had met as barely-teens.



See this film.

In a strange and not-ironic twist, one of the most popular custom art projects The Artist creates is (wait for it)... AN EAGLE SCOUT MEMORY BOX. Now whenever she completes a special commission for one, I photograph it with my very own camp knife, neckerchiefs, merit badge sash and Order of the Arrow patches inside as props:



"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."  -- Robert Brault

Lead image, Gracias de arewenotentertained.com; 'Moonrise Kingdom' videos, Gracias de youtube.com; Eagle Scout Memory Box image, Muchismas Gracias de MisguidedDesigns.com. Hungry, Lazy & Girl-Crazy!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Beat Crazy!


I am a music whore.

There... I've said it, and I meant it.

I will devour any and all music that piques my interest, regardless of genre or style or context or content. Lady Gaga crushes 'The Sound of Music' on the Oscars and I am in heaven. Kathi McDonald belts out 'To Love Somebody' from beyond the grave and I get teary-eyed at her amazing talent, gone too damned soon. Carlos Santana's guitar soars in 'Samba Pa Ti' and I am transported to my brother's memorial service, seeing him smiling down from the slideshow screen while we all mourned and missed him. Bing and David duet on 'The Little Drummer Boy' and I am left sitting there, dumbstruck at the beauty and pure emotion of a stupid holiday song.

Music has been, and always will be, one of the primary defining measures of my life's inspiration, and every so often, an artist comes along and pops out a musical joint that is simply too bold and expansive to be pigeon-holed, too prescient to be dismissed, too cutting to be ignored.

Joe Jackson's 1980 release 'Beat Crazy' is one of those rare and scary recordings that gets better with every listen. Oh sure, most prolly know him only via his 1978 hit 'Is She Really Going Out With Him?', but to overlook 'Beat Crazy' as a benchmark of modern music is to deny a peek into the future past, a future we are living now and will see more of as time passes and we age and wrinkle and gray and grow wiser and more jaded.

'Beat Crazy' was his third album, credited to The Joe Jackson Band... JJ (vocals, keyboards), Graham Maby (bass, vocals), Gary Sanford (guitars), and David Houghton (drums, vocals)... but it never cracked the Top 40 here or in the U.K due to a lack of touring support.  I remember hearing several of the cuts on local 'new wave' radio when it was released and immediately went to The Wherehouse (I'm old) to buy the vinyl, playing it over and over and over.  Little did I know this LP would stay with me, keeping up as I navigated life's cocktail of happiness and bullshit and love and confusion.

Now... this is NOT a happy happy touchy-feelie warm and fuzzy grip of tunes.  Joe was only 26 years old when this LP was released, and the songs are all dripping with his internal stew of anger and contempt and disillusionment and sardonic humor and a jaundiced eye for the absurdities of life and love. You know, the typical emotional make-up of a befuddled twenty-something young man.

When this album came out in 1980, I was in the middle of a failed 4-year marriage to my first wife, feeling the crushing weight of a relationship quickly going sour. I was bouncing between Northern and Southern California, trying to figure out how to deal with my own personal upheaval and IMHO doing a pretty crappy job of it. Perhaps the timing of this record played right into my own life drama, helping me to question everything about myself and my place in the world.  When I listen to these tracks, I am transported to a place of dangerous change, of worlds colliding, of unknown unknowns.

I wanna share this singular release with you to try and explain how it became a touchstone for me. While I won't go berserker and review every track, I want to highlight some of the songs that floor me with each listen.  I hope you'll get an inkling of the genius and gravitas that Mr. Jackson's creative muse brought to my life oh-so-many years ago.

'BEAT CRAZY'



"Kids today, they're all the same... all call themselves some crazy name... YEAH, mods and rockers and Beatle freaks, punks and skunks and kooks and geeks... You're looking in the mirror but you can't see your face? Look in the mirror but you can't see your face!"

While this cut may be what some refer to as punk or new wave, that's an overly-simplified description. The lyrics echo a sentiment that every modern generation has opined about the one coming up fast behind them, all weird and noisy and impossible to understand or comprehend. The driving ska beat pushes a manic, almost insane narrative through your head, swimming with images of youth gone wild, uninhibited by the usual norms, ready to tear up everything around you. It's exactly the same fears held by those who were sure that Elvis Presley's gyrating hips would corrupt American youth, or that Led Zeppelin music was merely an excuse for kids to smoke weed and fuck in the converted garage with green shag carpeting and incense burning, always burning.

"Sniffing pot... smoking glue... whatever terrible things they do... smoking LSD and such, it must be the reason why they can't talk much... and it's such a crime how they waste their time, they can't get nowhere, they've all gone BEAT CRA-ZY!"

'ONE TO ONE'



"Tried to call you yesterday, but you were at the Monday Club, or a Communist demonstration, who cares? You're going somewhere everyday, Vegetarians Against the Klan, Every Woman Against Every Man, never one to one, what's wrong with one to one, just once, just me and you..."

Oh man, this one slays me with the heartache of a relationship that has moved away from its loving core. It can happen so easily, almost imperceptibly, when two people who share a caring and supportive bond slide away from one another, not even realizing it before TOO LATE LOVE GONE! It happens to everyone at some point in their lives, and the challenge is to fight hard to get back to that deep red center, that place that makes you feel whole. It only gets more difficult and complicated as we get older and more difficult and complicated. Think of dealing with your parents, then place that mantle on your better half.  Scary, huh?  The secret:  keep talking, keep grasping for each other, don't let go, don't give up.

"I agree with what you say, but I don't wanna wear a badge, I don't wanna wave a banner like you... though I don't mind it if you do... you're beautiful when you get mad, or is that a sexist observation?"

'BATTLEGROUND' (Warning: lyrics)



"Black nigger, white nigger, standing in the dark, listen to the rhythm of the bass... BOOM. Black nigger takes a hit, sending up a spark, in the dark heat, swaying a little to the bass beat. White nigger takes a hit, takes money out... says 'This is what it's all about, rots your brain, who cares?' Black nigger stares, white nigger sighs, 'I like your music, I like your style, I crack a joke so why don't you smile?"

Before I'd heard this cut, I'd never heard of a white nigger, but it makes perfect sense in the context of the lyrics. Although 'nigger' is typically a verboten word, Joe uses it to totally nail the situation, the two people involved and their tenuous relationship as blokes of different color but similar status.  The combination of  the staccato guitar chords, punching bass and ska-heavy beat make the biting lyrics about race relations and the struggle for equality percolate in a steamy, sweaty cocktail of modern, timeless angst. As relevant today as it was 35 years ago.

"Now you don't have to be black to be a nigger no more..."

'BIOLOGY'


"She said, 'So... this is what you think of me? Going with some whore somewhere out in Germany?' I said 'Baby, baby can't you see, it's nothing to do with you and me? Nothing to do with my heart, nothing to do with my head, nothing to do with our home, nothing to do with our bed... It's just B-I-O-L-O-G-Y... Can't you see? It's just Biology... Biology, coming in between you and me."

Another brilliant, scathingly honest song about a relationship that suffers because of physical and emotional infidelity. What I especially appreciate about this cut is the realness of it... the insolent 'Hey, it's not my fault' attitude he displays, and the 'Alrighty, then' response she gives him right back, much to his dismay. This is the stuff of the world we all live in, not some made-up bullshit.  Anyone who's ever been on the receiving end of infidelity will identify with every word of these lyrics, perhaps painfully so.  That's not a bad thing, touching the raw nerve... it's a great way to remember or hopefully to avoid a painful chapter in the novel we all write about our lives.

"She said, 'Thanks, I'm so relieved... what you're saying I can well believe. Now I know, I feel no shame about Dave and Tony and Phil and James.' I said 'Baby, baby... this can't be true!' She said 'Well, what's right for you has to be right for me, in any case I'm sure you'll see... It's nothing to do with our hearts, nothing to do with our heads, nothing to do with our home, nothing to do with our bed... it's just B-I-O-L-O-G-Y..."

'FIT'


"Don't laugh, but there are people in this world... born as boys, and fighting to be girls... people standing in their way, some are straight and some are gay... calling them the drag queens, say 'You can't be one of us, you only have yourself to blame... you don't fit."

Honestly, this is just getting to be so OLD, the whole idea that gays and non-christians and non-whites are somehow less than, somehow a cut below, somehow not as good as white heteros.  This tune is the main reason I wrote this entire record review, because these lyrics are searingly painful and real and so completely relevant, 35 years gone from 1980.  When are people finally going to get over themselves and just admit that it don't matter what color your skin is, what country you're from, what orifice gives you sexual pleasure, what religious icon you wear around your neck, what piece of cloth you wear on your head.  IT DOESN'T FUCKING MATTER. Hatred is a learned emotion, and a person filled with hate for another human being absolutely learned it from someone else. For me, 'Fit' is the klaxon call for universal equality, and we need it now, perhaps more than ever.

"But don't cry if the people in your street, lead a life that's more or less complete... little problems every day, little problems go away... kid yourself you're fighting for life, kid yourself you fight for love, but maybe in some other lifetime, you won't fit... and if you don't fit, you're fit for nothing at all."

*************************************************************************

Soooo... perhaps these tunes affected you in some way, either positively or negatively.  Maybe you replayed one to get the gist of Joe's controlled anger and emotional upheaval because it resonated.  Maybe you didn't have a reaction at all... whatever, that's the way music can be.

Sometimes, the only way to peek at our real selves is through music, because make no mistake about it: that's what the artist (ANY artist) is trying to scrape at, clawing deeper into their own psyche to free the seething emotional animal that forces them to constantly seek their own ultimate personal truth and creative perfection. It's why so many creative people lose all hope and decide to leave this mortal coil, because they didn't achieve that perfection, which really doesn't exist and never has.  Ask any artist you know about it... they'll tell you if it isn't already too painful for them to do so.

I have and I know, because I'm married to one.

Let these tunes wrap around your head a bit and you'll find the bright nuggets swirling around in the muck and crap. Pluck them out of the slime, rinse them off and marvel at how they gleam with honesty and sharp truth. I love it.

'IN EVERY DREAM HOME (A NIGHTMARE)'



'BEAT CRAZY' Complete Track List

Beat Crazy
One To One
In Every Deam Home (A Nightmare)
The Evil Eye
Mad At You
Crime Don't Pay
Someone Up There
Battleground
Biology
Pretty Boys
Fit

Lead image, gracias de google.com; musical details, gracias de wikipedia.com; all videos, muchismas gracias de youtube.com.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cool, Clear Water



I drink lots of water, prolly up to a gallon or two per day depending on how hard I'm working and sweating. It's one of the reasons I'm a fairly healthy (although quite rabid) wolverine, and slugging down that primal fluid quenches me thirsty and gives my sweat glands even more raw materials to work with.

On the other hand, it doesn't take very much of that cool, clear primal fluid to wreak havoc indoors where we don't usually like it to be flowing unchecked. The image above is a perfect example of what happens when even just a few gallons of water seeps out from well-defined copper tubing and into the surrounding area. This particular jailbreak occurred in the vicinity of the water line that feeds our fridge's ice maker, and the nicely-squared hole in the living room wall was my attempt to see if the leak was fixable by yours truly (it wasn't) or would require the expertise of a hired gun (read: plumber, and it did).

So I called the plumber.

He came very-highly recommended and was able to figger out a way to eliminate the leak and re-route the water line from the kitchen so as to avoid running an entirely new line in the attic or jack-hammering the concrete foundation that held the 40-year-old copper line in its cement-y heart.

The leak was discovered by The Artist on a recent Friday morning, so we had to make do with very limited water service over a single weekend until the following Monday when the plumber and his swarthy minion arrived and had their way with our pipes... oooh, baby! Since I had discovered the liquid jailbreak took about 30 minutes to seep from the dark concrete heart and into the harsh light of day, we spent that weekend turning the water main valve on, taking really fast showers while doing the laundry and other stuff requiring water, then shutting it off before the moisture could coalesce into a destructive puddle.

The Artist noted that it felt like we were camping, the having-no-water-at-your-whim reality we shared during those three long, semi-dry days. Honestly, the hardest part was not reflexively flushing le toilette after every use, as we tried to adhere to the concept of "If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down".  Long-time California residents will remember that little ditty from drought days of the past.

Overall, with the exception of the carpet/interior/exterior wall repairs and cubic dollars expended for a professional pipe jockey, we both agreed it could have been much MUCH worse.  I've completed most of the restorations and repairs, even re-installing the carpet with some success. I am getting awesome at repairing drywall!

But the liquid jailbreak and subsequent damage and cost isn't the real subject of this essay.

During that semi-dry weekend, I began to realize (duh!) not only how inconvenient it was not to have running water at my beckoned call, but that we 'first-world 'citizens really truly do take this incredible luxury for granted. Just take a dump and flush the poo away. Just turn the handle and brush your canines. Just press the button and your skid-marked undies and vinyl bondage gear are swiftly laundered. Just step in the shower, turn the knob and wash away the buildup of dead skin cells, unidentified crust and leftover ziti from your matted fur.

According to a study completed in the distant past of 2014, nearly 1.6 million of us 'Murricans live in over 630,000 homes that do not have indoor plumbing.  Almost 2.6 BILLION earthlings... that's 39% of the Earth's population... do not have running water in the places they call home.

And I'M the one complaining about one semi-dry weekend.  Sheesh!

The more I began to think about it, I realized what a tenuous web of services we all rely on... water, electricity, natural gas, landline and mobile phones, wi-fi... to get through our normal lives, the stuff of so-called 'civilization'. I reckon it should be no surprise how little regard we offer these luxuries because, well... seems like we've always had them at or fingertips, always known we could wash our paws or grab a cold Bubble Up from the fridge without having to leave the warmth of the pad and trudge out into the wild outdoors. We just take these really important aspects of modern existence for granted, until all of a sudden we don't have them any more.

Try this mental exercise: close your eyes and imagine living in your lovely All-American home for just one week with no running water.  Sure, you still have electricity and natural gas, but you can't flush the crapper or wash your bondage gear or dishes or hands, can't fill a glass to have drink of water or shampoo the spooge from your fur.  No ice ready-made to chill your absinthe, no water to moisten the soil around your hydrangeas.  Can't wash your car or mop the kitchen floor or flush them pesky bloodstains off the back porch.

Nada agua de beber.

This isn't such a radical notion, having a water-less home. The town of Porterville (CA) is suffering terribly from the current West Coast drought because their wells have run dry, and the townspeople are scrambling to find fresh water for their daily use. Here in beautiful SoCal, we don't have mandatory water rationing yet, but my neighborhood has been notified that we are only allowed to water our lawns for 10-minutes a day on three alternating days per week.  I wish my neighbor across the street would pay attention, because she SOAKS her lawn every single night, with excess water streaming off the grass and flooding into the gutters.  What a dumbass.  I would say something to her about it, but she's something of an Amazon and could prolly kick my skinny ass up and down the block and her boyfriend is a biker.

In my own small way, I'm making changes to mitigate water usage in our home, and while it may be a very small amount of savings, I know it makes a difference.  I don't wash down the hardscaping after doing the yards... I only water the yards once a week... I dump excess ice into the bird bath or the garden... we only do full loads of laundry... I turn off the faucet while brushing my teeth or shaving... it all adds up.

But that dependence on the tenuous web of running water still spooks me, still makes me think of all those people without it.  Then I start tripping on how easy it is to take so many OTHER things for granted, things that are even harder to imagine losing but can be devastating when lost.

Like taking a dump.

Forget the water aspect of excretion, I'm referring to the ability to pinch a loaf... launch the Titanic... drop the kids off at the pool.  The very basic and vital ability to evacuate your colon is one of those physical processes that is completely and totally unremarkable and ignored until one loses the ability to do so.

I have a near and dear relative who suffers from a paralytic ileus, where the intestinal muscles become so inactive they prevent food from passing which leads to intestinal blockage... ewwww, sounds like no fun at all. This amazing person has lost over 60 pounds during this awful period because it forces him to cut down on his food intake so as to lessen the blockage, which takes an incredible amount of force to be moved... if it moves at all.

I know I know I know... sounds gross and awful, but remember:  most of us don't even think about taking a dump, we just do.  But when you can't, it becomes a terrible central issue that affects and complicates every other aspect of life. It makes you miserable and hungry and sore and angry and depressed and very very unhappy. If you've ever been in serious pain and taken loads of painkillers, you know what they do to your ability to take the Browns to the Super Bowl.

I use the running water and non-poo-ing only as examples of things we should always appreciate in our daily lives, lives that are chock-full of work and love and angst and busybusybusy.  It's sooo easy to be an unthinking wolverine, never paying attention to the grand luxuries we enjoy while placing unimportant things at the top of our consciousness, letting stupid stuff make us angry or unhappy or upset.  We have so much to be grateful for, the simple pleasures that come with paying taxes and eating right and being healthy and living the lives we do.

When your daily life becomes so intense, so frantic, so filled with impossible tasks that take your breath away, stop and think about the many little luxuries you have at your fingertips.  Revel in the fact that your car tires prolly won't explode on the way home from work because a government agency insures their safe manufacture. Be thankful that you likely don't have to depend on candles to read the next chapter of Howard Zinn's 'People's History of the United States'.  Don't like the meatloaf you were forced to choke down for dinner?  Dump that sucker in the trash and watch with pride as the big truck whisks it away to a far-away landfill that is closer than you think.

People often ask me why I am always in such a good mood, always smiling, always jovial and helpful and upbeat. Am I high or just stupid?  Answer:  I TAKE NOTHING FOR GRANTED.  I appreciate every large and small and infinitesimal bennie of living in an organized, civilized, tax-paying society. It could be so so so much worse, and for many it is, and I KNOW IT.

Will we have another water leak gurgling up from the slab of our home?  The Magic 8 Ball says 'Chances are good', but I ain'ta gonna worry about it, because I have running water for now and life is sweet and with any luck at all, I will wake up again tomorrow morning with a shit-eating grin on my face, ready to enjoy and appreciate my amazing conscious existence, the only one I'll ever have.

"A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort."  -- Herm Albright

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

War of the Worlds


OK, so here's the thing:  Although I didn't vote for George W. Bush (twice!), and I felt he was an extremely poor choice to lead our nation, I never... not even once... actively hoped he would fail or supported efforts to stymie or derail his presidency.  He was who he was, and I accepted the election results, regardless of how certain I was that he would be a disastrous POTUS. It's how we voters pick our leaders, and sometimes we don't get what we want, but at least we don't go around shooting each other over the results.  Not yet, anyway.

As John Stewart once said, "Losing an election is SUPPOSED to taste like a shit sandwich."

I eventually came to despise W for a lot of reasons, all of which turned out to be 100% justified... that's the facts, Jack. He left a steaming pile of fail inside the White House, and no amount of historical whitewash will ever negate the terrible mess that greeted Barack and Michelle when they dropped their bags in the foyer and surveyed the excrement-covered landscape. Some had accused me of suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome... so be it. At least it was easy enough to support my reasoning, because everything about W was simply awful, a snickering dolt born with every advantage life could offer, yet he still fucked over the whole nation and then skipped off to paint bad outsider art.

Fast-forward to  MY2014 and there's no doubt about it... halfway through his historic second term in office, Barack HUSSEIN Obama has been the most successful, most articulate, most intelligent, most progressive POTUS in my lifetime.  He's nowhere near perfect, but who actually expected him to be?  Certainly not me.  Funny thing is, there is a certain segment of our citizenry who have slightly differing opinions, such as:

"Barack Hussein Obama is the anti-Christ!"

"Barack Hussein Obama is not an American citizen!"

"Barack Hussein Obama is a Socialist!"

"Barack Hussein Obama is a tyrant!"

"Barack Hussein Obama is a Christian-hating Muslim!"

"Barack Hussein Obama is coming to take away my guns!"

"Barack Hussein Obama is a Communist!"

"Barack Hussein Obama is a weak-kneed pansy!"

"Barack Hussein Obama is a Fascist!"

"Barack Hussein Obama wants to destroy America!"

"Barack Hussein Obama is a Marxist!"

"Barack Hussein Obama wants to shove homosexuality down my throat!"

"Barack Hussein Obama is a racist and hates white people!"

"Barack Hussein Obama has destroyed the American economy!"

"Barack Hussein Obama supports murdering the unborn!"

"Barack Hussein Obama... (place your favorite anti-Obama epithet here)!"

I get it... I really do. There are many people in this country who hate, and I mean H-A-T-E our country's first Black President. They are convinced he is not an American citizen, was not legally elected (twice), and that he is hell-bent on reducing our country to a sniveling shadow of our former glorious selves, a populace of sheeples who are addicted to gummint healthcare and free everything.

IMHO, anyone who agrees with any of the incredibly misinformed-yet-popular anti-BHO comments listed above can be described by one word: MORON (Noun).  Also see:


syn. = fool, idiot, dummy (slang), berk (Brit. slang), charlie (Brit. informal), tosser (Brit. slang), dope (informal), jerk (slang, chiefly U.S. & Canada.), ass, plank (Brit. slang), prick (derogatory slang), wally (slang), prat (slang), plonker (slang), coot, geek (slang), twit (informal, chiefly Brit.), bonehead (slang), chump, dunce, imbecile, cretin, oaf, simpleton, airhead (slang), dimwit (informal), dipstick (Brit. slang), dickhead (slang), gonzo (slang), schmuck (U.S. slang), dork (slang), nitwit (informal), dolt, blockhead, divvy (Brit. slang), pillock (Brit. slang), halfwit, dweeb (U.S. slang), putz (U.S. slang), fathead (informal), weenie (U.S. informal), eejit (Scot. & Irish), thicko (Brit. slang), dumb-ass (slang), gobshite (Irish taboo slang), dunderhead, numpty (Scot. informal), doofus (slang, chiefly U.S.), lamebrain (informal), mental defective, fuckwit (taboo slang), thickhead, muttonhead (slang), nerd or nurd (slang), numbskull or numskull. (Thanks, freedictionary.com!).

Heh heh heh... some of those are priceless.

Of course, most (if not all) of these synonyms could apply to anyone who honestly and sincerely believes that BHO is a Fascist or hates white people, but for me, MORON will do just fine, thankyouverymuch. If that offends you,well...  too bad, so sad, my blog, go read Infowars.

The reason I believe these tags are appropriate is because the vast majority of BHO-haters live in a world of their own creation, one which has no relation to the world the rest of us inhabit. Haters gotta hate, no matter that their memes are proven to be bunk, their accusations baseless and/or meaningless. They disregard facts and reason, holding like rabid pit bulls onto their hatred of 'That One' with the same blind zeal with which they stubbornly look to the Second Coming of Jeebus.

Let's take stock of the real world shall we?

Barack HUSSEIN Obama is a man, a human being, a mammal, a terrestrial inhabitant. He is mortal and will eventually die as all mortals do, including you and me. He is not inherently evil, unless you count moderate centrist DemocRats as the mewling spawn of Satan.  He was borne of two people from different racial groups who fucked and produced a bi-racial offspring, again not an unusual occurrence. He is made of blood and bone and sinew and skin and all the other hallmarks that make humanoids the (apparent) top predator on this spinning Blue Marble.

In other words, he is EXACTLY like each and every single damned one of us air-breathing skin bags, skittering along the surface of Terra, mating and crapping and breathing and trying to find a really good hamburger. The level of melanin in his skin and the specific content of his brain are perhaps the only differences that he (like the rest of us) has from every other mammalian bipedal homo sapiens that inhabits our microscopic speck of astral dust in a vast universe that doesn't give two shits about us, way out here on the edge of a tiny and unspectacular galaxy.

Given his unremarkable humanoid stats, BHO decided at some point to devote his life to the public realm and found himself on a path leading to the helm of arguably the most prosperous, most racist, most diverse, most purposely ignorant country on the planet. This decidedly normal human took the reigns of his post and set sail on a journey that would show him to be a moderate populist, a thoughtful advocate and a strategic thinker. The curtain has yet to drop on his second term, but so far it seems the un-skewed reviews are mostly good, the results positive, the legacy TBA. However...

"HE'S A COMMIE!"

The economy has been stabilized and turned around, generating positive job growth, mostly decent and dropping unemployment numbers, and a solid chart of overall health. The stock markets are seeing record highs, the wealthy are getting even wealthier, and corporations are raking in huge profits.  The federal deficit has been cut in half... IN HALF (you DO know the difference between the deficit and the debt, right? RIGHT?!), federal spending has been dramatically reduced, and the Affordable Care Act is on track to reduce the deficit even more as healthcare costs start to drop. But no, he's a commie.

"HE WANTS TO DESTROY AMERICA!!"

The two illegal Bush wars of aggression have seen US armed forces deployment (mostly) ended, the Libyan conflict resolved via political gamesmanship, and Bush's totally ignored Public Enemy #1 has been dispatched to party with Allah.  Barry's calm and strategic responses to worldwide conflicts has resulted in NO NEW WARS, and so far there have been no acts of foreign terrorism on our shores (homegrown domestic terrorism is another matter entirely). With only a few exceptions, our allies around the world have established closer ties with us than we've seen in decades, and our international leadership role has once again been established as the benchmark for most first-world nations. Although the dueling crisis' in Ukraine and the Middle East are running on their own searing levels of ethnic and religious hostility (I'm looking at YOU, Jews and Palestinians!), BHO is demonstrating the steady gaze of a leader who knows that solutions take time and intelligence to resolve. But no, he hates America and wants to destroy us.

"HE WANTS TO TAKE AWAY MY GUNS!!!"

In spite of repeated and all-too-familiar shooting tragedies, not to mention the fact that over 80% of the American public wants far stronger controls on gun ownership, this so-called tyrant/Marxist/Socialist/Fascist has not used his unilateral power to limit ammo or gun purchases, establish draconian registration guidelines, seek out and confiscate caches of weapons, or even try to mitigate the truly insane 'open-carry' phenomenon that has dimwits (informal) and idiots (slang) packing heat while shopping at Target.  Much as I wish he would, BHO has decided that without the support of the GObstrucionistP members of Congress, he simply cannot compel the gun fondlers and ammosexuals to put down their penis substitutes and think about the rest of us unarmed targets.  But no, he's a tyrant who is coming for you guns.

"HE'S DESTROYED THE AMERICAN ECONOMY!!!!"

Unemployment numbers are now below 7% nationwide.  Job growth has been increasing for almost fifty straight months.  The Dow is consistently over 16,000 and rising.  Corporate profits are at record highs. Consumer spending, which accounts for a major portion of domestic GDP, is growing and growing.  Small businesses are making strong gains in every market sector. Personal credit card debt is down. Durable goods purchases are up... WAY UP. The automotive industry and housing markets are booming, with sellers making big profits on homes that were underwater only 5 years ago.  But no, he's destroyed our economy.

(sigh)

I often wonder how it is that we have such a large number of people in this here US of A that are so willfully misinformed, so narrow-minded, so recalcitrant that they would negate or overlook or simply ignore the facts in this post-W America.  Has their venal mindset totally fried their collective cortex?

Hatred is what it is, pure and simple.  Unvarnished, acidic, mind-numbing hatred.

Hatred of people they can't or won't be troubled to understand or accept.  Hatred for those with a grander vision than themselves.  Hatred of those whose life decisions are made on the basis of intelligence and consideration and love, rather than religious voodoo or spite or bigotry or stupidity or rage.  Hatred of those who don't get all gooey and moon-eyed over holding a loaded weapon in one hand, a bible in the other, all while wrapped in an American flag bought at Wal-Mart.

"For every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is a true story:  In my neck of the woods, here behind The Orange Curtain of Southern California, we have a special breed of ignorance and hatred codified by six-figure incomes, gated communities and politely subtle racism. Our daily newspaper, The Orange County Register, is rife with condemnations of BHO and his policies, from the front page to the editorials.  Naturally, the Op-Ed Letters section is chock-full of spittle-flecked hostility towards Barry, but over the past six years I've been able to get counterpoint letters published that gently remind folks of an alternate world, a different viewpoint, one without hatred.

Last year, after the OCR ran another letter that was filled with hyperbolic misinformation against BHO, I responded and was graced with being published yet again.  This time, however, was different.  A few days after my letter was run, I was at work and got a call from The Artist:

Her: "Ummm... you got a weird letter in the mail today."

Me: "What do you mean by weird?"

Her: "There's no return sender info, our address is hand-written, the envelope is really thick, and something is sliding around inside."

Me: "Don't open it, put it down, wash your hands really good and I'll have a look at it tonite when I get home."

That evening, holding the weird envelope with gloved hands, I was disturbed by the appearance, the thickness, the sliding contents, the general creepiness of this unsolicited mystery envelope.  I called the local PD, explained my concern and was told to bring the envelope down to the station for further scrutiny because one never knows what one may find in one's weird mail.  John Law arrived, agreed about the suspicious appearance and, wearing gloves and using his HUGE knife, gently sliced open the envelope on the hood of his cruiser.

Inside was a sheaf of papers, folded several times to fit inside the standard-size envelope, with a long and rambling type-written single-spaced message about the evil anti-Christ Commie Obama, his roster of impeachable offenses, how he had bamboozled America so that he could destroy our way of life, and that my published op/ed letter proved that I was nothing more than a liberal scum dumbass (slang) patsy to his machinations.  Mr. Law and I read the thing together, amused at the mental images we had of the writer. However, it was the last sentence of the miscreant's letter that caught us both out:

"By the way, based on the Google image of your house, it looks like you should water the lawn a bit more often.  You never know who might be looking at your yard."

John Law looked at me, I looked at him, and we both knew what the other was thinking: this person is a wingnut wacko and had issued a veiled threat against me.

Me: "That's pretty disturbing, the idea that someone unknown to me has my address and knows where I live and sends me an anonymous threatening letter.  What kind if nutjob does that?"

John Law: "Yeah... well... it happens to me all the time, especially from people I've arrested. Your name and city were on the op-ed piece, so it was easy for him to find you online.  I wouldn't worry too much about it, people like this are harmless."

That was it.  He advised me to always call the Po-Po when weird mail arrives, and maybe not to write any more Letters to the Editor of our local right-wing rag.  I was dumbstruck at the notion that someone I didn't know would take the effort to threaten me personally simply because I used a newspaper open forum letter to state an honest and informed opinion. WHO FUCKING DOES THAT?!?!

Trick question, I already know the answer: someone who is filled with hate and rage and anger and hostility and misplaced angst does something like that.  Someone who uses anonymity to threaten someone else without fear of being found. A typical dickhead (slang).

"Everything you are against weakens you. Everything you are for empowers you." -- Wayne Dyer, author, psychotherapist

The Tea Party-controlled US House of Representatives recently voted to file a lawsuit again BHO for overstepping his authority as President.  His heinous crime: using his enumerated Executive powers to delay the implementation of certain employer mandate elements of the Affordable Care Act. Yep... the same august body that voted over 50 times to defund, dismantle and/or destroy the ACA is suing our Black Panther President for not putting it in motion according to a hard timetable.  The same group of regressives that have worked tirelessly to stymie, obstruct or completely ignore any type of honest lawmaking, their one true responsibility.

This has never happened before in the history of our nation.  The Republican-controlled House of Representatives are suing a sitting President for doing his job because they refuse to do theirs. Why? BLACK LIBERAL DEMOCRAT.

No jobs bills... no support for the unemployed... no infrastructure spending... no immigration reform... no healthcare support... no sensible gun control... no informed climate legislation... nada.  Nothing out of their stupid pie-holes except more tax breaks for the already-wealthy, an inquisition against women's health and contraception choices, a thick and gooey shmear of religious insanity and the never-ending hatred of the Muslim-loving, America-destroying, Marxist/Fascist/Communist tyrant Barack HUSSEIN (black man) Obama(nation).

Whatever. Schmucks (U.S. slang).

Just today, I got a call from a Very Nice Lady at The OCR about an essay I'd written and sent them before the mystery letter episode, a humorous essay about how we are now all at the mercy of the cretins (slang) who surround us every day, carrying loaded weapons in their cars and blind fury in their heads, ready to pull out their pieces and pop off a few shots at whatever target they can hit with their eyes closed, just like Tombstone, Arizona in 1889.  The VNL said she wanted to run my essay as a column in the paper and needed to confirm a few things about me.  Natch, I was pleased to know that once again, a voice for semi-reason would be featured in the paper and gave her the info she needed.  Then I made a huge mistake.

I told The Artist about it.

As you can guess, she was totally against it, and made it abundantly clear how she felt. I demurred, called the VNL back and offered my sincerest apology, but could she please NOT run my essay?  She understood and agreed to delete it from her files.

Of course, The Artist is right... why tempt fate again?  Why give some delusional mental defective (taboo slang) any chance to feel justified in threatening me (or worse) into silence for my thoughts and opinions, simply because it was PUBLISHED IN THE NEWSPAPER? I mean... who the hell do I think I am, anyways?

 I am a man, a human being, a mammal, a terrestrial inhabitant of Mexican heritage.  I am mortal and will eventually die as all mortals do.  I am made of blood and bone and sinew and skin and all the other hallmarks that make humanoids the (apparent) top predator on this spinning Blue Marble... an air-breathing skin bag, skittering along, mating and crapping and breathing and trying to find a really good hamburger.

I am not The President of The United States, but I am just as determined, just as passionate, just as dedicated to equality and compassion for every single person living in this amazing, crazy, beautiful, screwed-up country, no matter who or what they are or where they came from. Armed or not.

"You know, there's a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit – the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us – the child who's hungry, the steelworker who's been laid-off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. When you think like this – when you choose to broaden your... concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers – it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help."                           -- Barack HUSSEIN Obama, 44th U.S. President



Lead image, muchismas gracias de hdwallsized.com; 1 Giant Leap 'Braided Hair' video, gracias de youtube.com; we are all just Bozos on this bus.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Need For Speed



I read something recently that really pissed me off. 

Something that echoed a sentiment I’ve heard most of my adult life.

It was an article (in a non-auto-related online mag) about NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Danica Patrick, who had successfully qualified her car for the Pole Position at the 2013 Daytona 500, the first time a female driver had achieved this lofty perch. The article talked about how important she was in the pantheon of modern sports heroes, how she has become a role model to millions of young girls and women, how her singular efforts were making a huge difference to the sport of motor racing in general, and to NASCAR in particular. During that race she led several laps, ran in the Top 10 the whole time until getting shuffled back on the final lap, placed a very respectable 8th at the finish and generally kicked some country-fried ass. It was an auspicious start to what has turned into a very sub-par season for her. Racing is HARD.

But it wasn’t the article itself that pissed me off, oh no... it was the comments posted by people who obviously have no knowledge or understanding of motor racing.

They belittled and insulted Danica, and all other race drivers (including 7-time F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher!!), as not being real athletes simply because motor racing is not considered as a ‘true’ sport, and therefore no one who straps on a brain bucket and grabs the steering wheel is qualified to be classified as an ‘athlete’.  "How..." they screeched, "...is Danica, or any other NASCAR driver, sitting in a car and turning left for a few hours, even comparable to the effort it takes to play football or baseball or basketball or hockey or any other traditional stick-and-ball sport?"

And that REALLY pissed me off.

Tiny little Danica, all 100 pounds of her, muscled her 3300-pound car at average lap speeds in excess of 195mph at Daytona FOR OVER 3 HOURS.  The corners are banked at 31 degrees… even the front straight is banked at 18 degrees, and she competed with 42 other racers, each one confounding physics to keep their cars on the asphalt and away from the concrete walls and out of the grassy infield that sucks cars in and spits them out.  Each driver is strapped to their seat by a six-point harness, surrounded by a roll cage, with the engine howling at over 9000 rpm, liquefied tire contact patches barely gripping the track surface, the cars always wanting to shear off and smack the outside wall.  The physical, emotional and mental strength it takes to compete in this type of environment… well, you either understand it or you don’t.

And that’s just oval track racing. Road racing is another animal entirely.
Some personal context: 

I’ve been a motor racing fanatic as long as I can remember.  I attended my first drag race at Irwindale Raceway as a Cub Scout in 1965. Dad took my brother and I to Riverside Raceway during the heyday of the Can-Am Series, and we watched the green hankie fly to start the first California 500 at the now-long-gone Ontario Motor Speedway.  As an adult, I’ve been fortunate to attend and/or work races at Long Beach, Perris, Charlotte, Laguna Seca, Sears Point, Talladega, Fontana, Phoenix, Denver, Cleveland, Homestead, Indianapolis, Houston, Buttonwillow, Road Atlanta, Road America, Pomona, Daytona, Las Vegas, Willow Springs, Fort Worth… and those are just the ones where the cars had four tires and wheels. Add in jet skis, snowmobiles, drag boats, motorcycles… well, you get the idea.

I’ve also had the extreme good fortune and pleasure to spend time on-track in a variety of race cars, from mild to wild. Open-wheel formula cars at Sears Point and Willow Springs. Baja Class buggies from Ensenada to San Felipe and back again. Slammed euro-sedans slicing through the turns at Road Atlanta. Innumerable blacktop autocrosses from sea-to-shining sea. Hardcore sprint and shifter karting, both indoor and outdoor, with the track surface whipping by mere inches from my skinny ass.

While I am in no way equating my on-track escapades with the likes of Ms. Patrick or Herr Schumacher, I can tell you with certainty that being an athlete (while extremely important) is only a part of what it takes to drive a race car with any level of skill or competitiveness. I can tell you about how my arm muscles burned and my hips were sore and my legs ached and my knees were bashed and my breathing was labored and my heart pounded out of my chest and my fire suit was drenched with sweat after running a dozen laps around the track at Sears Point in an open-wheel Formula Mitsubishi… and that was only a race driving SCHOOL.

And no matter how difficult or physically demanding any of my driving escapades were, I WAS NOT RACING.  I was just driving, learning, doing, and still got the crap beat outta me, still climbed from the cars with legs of rubber, barely able to catch my breath.  I may be in pretty good shape, but a full day of autocrossing on smooth asphalt would result in my resembling a large bowl of ugly jelly by day’s end.

I know what I’m talking about here.

And so I offer a hearty 'KISS MY SKINNY ASS' to anyone who thinks that driving a race car is not an athletic sport.

For professional racers, multiply my efforts by a factor of 10, plus add in the speed I could never achieve, because I ain’t that fast.

The ability to run flat-out, regardless of the size and/or shape of the track or the speed of the vehicle, gives my brain and body a rush of endorphins that is second only to having sex.  It gives me insight as to why professional racing drivers have the itch, the need, the competitive drive it takes to risk life and limb on track, at speed, helmet on, eyes wide open.
 
While I’ve had many opportunities to strap a bucket on my pointy head and do some serious track time, my current running is limited to indoor go-karting at the K1 Speed facility in Irvine (CA). These are not putt-putt karts like at your local miniature golf facility, oh no.  These are high-tech, 20hp DC-electric 45mph sleds with torque up the wazoo and plenty fast enough to get you in lots of trouble, if that be what yer lookin’ fer. Professional and amateur racers run at this place when they're in town for fun and to keep their chops sharp.  Karting is seminal and brutal, even in K1's sterilized 'retail racing' environment.

Most folks will head to this place to thrash around the course with their friends, bumping each other and sliding around and whooping and all that, not really doing serious laps, just goofing.  Not me. I head there right after work when the place is still empty and the track is clear of what I like to call ‘rolling chicanes’, i.e. typical drivers. If I’m really lucky, I’ll be the only kart on track, and that’s when I can really have at it. I can achieve maximum speed on the relatively short course, finding the fastest line and ripping off one fast lap after another, clipping apexes and sliding along the outside turn siding and hauling ass.  Without other karts to contend with, I get into a zone of lap lap lap lap, hopefully each one faster than the last, until the short minutes have expired and I’m drawn back into the staging lanes.

When I drag my butt out of the kart, I am sweaty and breathing hard and my arms are shaky… and I’m totally ready for another session.  Wait for the next session, chug a bottle of cold water and then jump back into the kart for another round of lap lap lap lap faster faster faster, apex accelerate straight hard turn apex turn apex accelerate lap lap lap.  It becomes a blur, my head is totally clear except for the vision of the upcoming turn and where I need to have the kart on track to hit that next apex just right lap lap lap lap lap lap IN.

The last time I was at K1, my fastest lap was less than ½-second off the standing track record, which accorded me no small amount of satisfaction, being an old fart and all.  During that visit, I did three sessions, one after the other, the second and third being the only kart running.  When I was done, I could barely stand, out of breath, my legs were rubber and my arms were burning and… I WAS IN A STATE OF NIRVANA… and this was only an electric go-kart!!!! I could have run another three sessions if I'd had the dough.

I reckon the point I'm trying to make is this: those who denigrate motor racing as not being a real sport with real athletes should STFU and try it sometime before making ignorant noises with their pie holes.  As I've written before, the science involved in motorsports takes the idea of competition to a whole other level, bridging the gap between the physical and mechanical worlds and offering a unique perspective on how the human mind operates at-speed.

This past October, The Artist and I attended the IndyCar race at Fontana's California Speedway (I refuse to call it Auto Club Speedway) to watch the season-ending event for the series, and it was a barn-burner. We were there for every race between 1997 and 2004, then went back when the series returned to the track last year after a 7-year hiatus. We watched in horror as Greg Moore crashed heavily on the back straight during the 1999 race, watched his crew strip the pit once the race resumed (that NEVER happens), watched the Medivac helicopter liftoff to the local hospital, watched as the flags were all lowered to half-staff while the cars still screamed around the oval. When the race finally ended, the PA announcer told us Greg had died of his injuries, and the grandstands grew quiet while we all silently mourned a fallen champion, a racer, a kindred spirit.

But we were back at Long Beach and Fontana the following year, supporting a sport that we love and cherish, supporting the amazing athletes who choose to compete in such a dangerous thing, plugging in to the highly-electric and eclectic activity that punches our buttons and gives us a visceral joy that nothing else can... except for the aforementioned sexing.

For me, no other professional sport can measure up to motor racing, because unlike football or baseball or basketball or hockey or any of the rest, the race driver commits life and limb to pursue his or her need for speed.  They know the risks, and we fans do too. They know every race holds the chance for the ultimate success or the ultimate loss, and yet... they keep on driving, and we keep on supporting their efforts.

That's why ripping off hot laps at K1 Speed is so intoxicating for me now. I get a whiff of the red mist that racing at 10/10ths pours into the driver's mind and heart and soul... but a whiff is all it takes to make me fight even harder to stitch a good lap together... and then do it again.



Lead image, gracias de worldnewsnetwork7.com; Deep Purple 'Highway Star' video, muchismas gracias de youtube.com.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Warrior Pride



As the date for my 40 year high school reunion draws near (39th actually, but whatever), I am reminded of one unmistakable fact:  I fucking LOVED high school. All four years.  There was lots of teenaged angst and bullshit and boring teachers, bad grades and bad dates and bad football games, but none of that mattered. I have some very strong memories and emotional ties to experiences that occurred during my time at La Puente High School, circa 1970-1974, memories that trigger visceral feelings, joyous visual images, painful yet valuable lessons, but most of all, a sense that I was experiencing a singular youthful period of import and consequence. Plus, I MISSED THE DRAFT!!!!!
These vignettes are dedicated to the classmates I counted as friends, those I never knew, anyone who avoided me like the plague, and everyone who felt that same rush of pure unadulterated panic at not having finished their homework.

Summer School Basic Math with Mr. Jenkins
Thanks to being in the MGM (Mentally Gifted Minor) program in junior high, I was allowed to enroll in a couple of junior and senior-level classes during my freshman year at LPHS.  However, I also sucked at math and was required to take a Basic Math class in summer school prior to starting in September.  This meant I was going to be exposed to the Dreaded Overhead Projector and droning, flat, incessant monotone voice of a teacher who would become the bane of my existence that entire summer, Mr. Robert Jenkins. I would experience the sickening humiliation that could be dumped on the head of any student whose name was called and couldn’t answer his questions (like me), writ large on the projector screen for all to see.

I recall the place was packed with us low-math-achievers, a hot and airless classroom with high ceilings and harsh lighting . Robert Jenkins appeared to be a harmless, balding, bespectacled milquetoast of a man with a faint smile, a wiry build and a stunning tan.  And yet, his method of teaching us the multiplication tables wreaked havoc among the class, causing us to shrink in our seats trying to avoid his bland death gaze, hoping upon hope that he wouldn’t call our name to give an answer. But he always did (his seating chart took care of that), and we were all Frosh meat, ready to be slaughtered.
If you were there, you knew the dilly: a multiplication table was projected onto a huge screen at the front of the class, showing only the outside multipliers and blanks where the answers should be.  The Very Evil Robert Jenkins sat at his Overhead Projector of Death, facing the class, felt pen in hand, and would calmly call out a student’s name and a multiplication question that had to be answered within a second or it was a great big fat FAIL for YOU. Hemming and hawing did not allow escape, he would simply say ‘Wrong’ and move on to the next problem, the next victim, and a demerit for your dumb ass.

And he ALAWYS came back to you if you got it wrong the first… second… third time.  It was excruciating to watch some hapless Fresher go down in flames, his or her name getting demerit marks for incorrect or no answers, grades plummeting right before our very eyes. Mr. Jenkins was tenacious and venal with his questions, his faint smile making the brutality even more gory and terrible.
But guess what? WE LEARNED OUR MULTIPLICATION TABLES, and I got hold of basic math skills that I use to this day.  How could I have known his horrific teaching M.O. would result in my ability to multiply and divide in my head, and pretty damned fast, too! I reckon Robert Jenkins was the right kind of teacher for those classrooms filled with math flunkies, and he most likely taught that way for his entire career.  Thanks, Mr. Jenkins… I owe you.

They Call Him ‘The Streak’
Several of us knew it was gonna happen, so we were hanging around the Senior Quad to be there when it did. I think it was somewhere near the end of Senior year, Spring of ’74, when the streaking craze swept this land of ours, naked asses and bouncing junk and (rarely) bouncing boobies on the teevee and in the local paper. Hell, even the Oscars were streaked!

It was between morning classes, the Quad was filled with the hoi polloi of LPHS, and there we were on the fringes, standing around, waiting… waiting… waiting… when we heard the first screams of laughter and knew it had begun.  Here he came, running towards us, wearing a long-sleeved sweater, ski mask, hiking boots… and nothing else, junk flying to howls of laughter at the First Official LPHS Streaker. He ran with grace and strength, legs pumping easily, obviously an athlete, but his sweater was pretty ugly.

He entered the Quad which had already dissolved into total chaos and laughter, ran up to a group of very important girls that were sitting on the grass, stopped in front of them, turned around, bent over and gave them a two-handed full cheek-spread browneye. The girls were choking, sputtering, screaming at him… we were on the ground in hysterics, dying with laughter.  He stood straight and tall, bowed to the outraged girls, then ran out of the Quad to make his escape.  Somewhere on the way out the mask was yanked off his head, but by then it was too late, his escape was successful, his place in the pantheon of awesome things at LPHS had been secured.  We knew who he was, so did lots of others, but as far as I know nothing bad ever happened to him as the result of his public nudity.
A moment of complete and total awesomeness, cast like stone in my mind’s eye, which is also brown.

 Cultural Anthropology with Alan Eggleston
That freshman year of 1970-71 was a watershed for me in so many ways and opened my eyes heap plenty big. The class that had the biggest impact on me was Junior-level Cultural Anthropology, which sounded cool on the registration form but I had no idea what to expect.

On the first day of class in that Frosh year, meek little me finds Mr. Eggleston’s classroom, walks in and sees… a bunch of students standing around along the walls and a large pile of desks in the middle of the room, heaped on top of each other.  The bell rang for class to start, but there was no teacher in sight and we all looked at the pile of desks without saying a word.
After a few minutes, some of the girls started sitting on the floor, looking bored and pissed off. Me and another guy had the same idea to start pulling desks off the pile and setting them upright, so once we started several other guys pitched in and in about five minutes we had all the desks upright and, without even realizing it, formed rough lines of desks all facing the blank chalkboard. Once that was done, we all sat down… and waited.

He must have been watching us, because seconds after we were all seated in our ad hoc configuration, in bounds Alan Eggleston, with his Buddy Holly glasses and shock of wavy black hair and thick black beard and gigantic toothy grin.  He proceeds to cheerily inform us that we are all pre-programmed drones based upon our decision to accept well-worn roles as students and take our places in the educational hierarchy, our self-imposed desk layout an example of how brainwashed we were.  As a fresh Frosh, this was mind-boggling experiential teaching, and I loved it.

Mr. Eggleston’s class was tremendously eye-opening to me for more reasons that I can say here, but his expansive ideas on race and civilization, society and the human condition, all the things that affect our unnaturally aware selves, it changed me completely in just two short semesters. From his slideshows of trips to the pyramids on the Yucatan peninsula to the weirdo made-up societies and artifacts the class cobbled together… and then buried in the Ag unit for one another to dig up and try to figger out the following semester, it was a formative, foundational class that I was lucky enough to grasp and absorb.
The capper? It was in that class that one of the guys handed me my very first copy of NATIONAL LAMPOON Magazine, and it was all downhill from there for this former MAD Magazine reader. I mean… political satire, college-level humor AND boobs in the same mag?  This Frosh mind reeled.

Getting Jumped
I was a Junior and had finally ginned up the courage to ask her to go to the Prom with me, and she agreed.  One problem:  she had just broken up with her long-time boyfriend, who was mightily pissed off about getting dumped AND he was a Senior AND was still in love with her AND was gonna do something about it.  I knew all of this, but my 16-year-old ego was chuffed at having a cute date for the Prom and not really worried about some dude who she’d dumped.

I was taking a night class in Drama, having discovered a new outlet for my weirdness, and had just come out of class and walked to my car parked in a darkened lot near the edge of campus.  I was unlocking the door when I heard someone behind me say “HEY, ASSHOLE!” I spun around only to be met with a flying fist that barely caught my jaw but was enough to knock me off balance and onto the ground.  It was really dark and I couldn’t see who was pounding me, but he wailed with fists and kicks for about 10 seconds while I sprawled on the ground, stuck between two cars and trying to cover my face from his fists, rolling into a ball to protect my nuts.
He stopped, towered over me and said “That’ll teach you to ask MY GIRL to the Prom, ASSHOLE!”, then one more kick and he was gone, slipping into the night. I staggered up, took stock of myself to see how bad off I was. Slightly dirty clothes, one side a little sore, minor bloody nose, no black eye or facial damage to speak of… actually, not too bad. His last comment gave away his identity, and although I had considered filing a report, I decided not to for many large and small reasons. When she found out what had happened, I was smothered in gracious high school loving, but it was only a temporary reprieve before I was subjected to…

My First Prom
A few weeks before the 1973 Junior-Senior Prom in that very hot month of May, she informed me that she had been grounded by her parents and forbidden to attend the Prom, but was gonna go anyway whether her folks liked it or not. She would hide her gown at a friend’s house, lie about what she was doing that evening and I would pick her up from there.

I was not amused.
The day of the Big Prom, our family had just arrived back home from a sweltering week of ‘vacation’ at the nasty Salton Sea, so I was badly sunburned with a huge and painful blister on my shoulder. I didn’t feel like washing my car, but Mom insisted she would help so together we bathed my ’57 Chevy and she crawled inside and wiped down the interior while I stood in the driveway, sunburned, moody and uninspired. Thanks, Mom.

I drove to El Monte to pick up my blue-and-white brocade tuxedo (ew) and naturally had a flat tire on the freeway. I pulled over to the shoulder and changed out the spare in the hot sun, my shoulder blister screaming ‘I’M GONNA POP!’ as I wrestled with the jack and the nasty spare while cars whizzed by behind me. I grabbed my tux and was able to get the tire repaired so my sled would have all four shiny Cragars in place for the night’s festivities because a spare simply wouldn’t do.
When I got home and tried on the tux, I discovered they gave me the wrong pants so I had to race back to El Monte for the right ones, just barely making it before they closed shop.

I drove to her friend’s house where she was dressed and lovely, ready to Prom it. The corsage I bought matched her summery halter gown perfectly, but her friend’s parents were obviously aware of our subterfuge and made it exceedingly clear they didn’t approve.  “Great”, I thought to myself, “they’re gonna fink us out.”
We drove to the (now demolished) Ambassador Hotel in downtown Los Angeles with Al Green crooning ‘Let’s Stay Together’ on my cassette deck (no 8-track for me, bucko), getting lost in the maze of streets but finally finding our way into the main ballroom for the festivities. She looked beautiful, I looked semi-respectable.  We found our table, sat down and started the evening.

She didn’t want to dance. Not even once. WTF?!?!
I spent the whole evening terrified that her Dad would find out that we’d gone to the Prom and tear over to the hotel, walk in to find us and then punch me out right there in front of everyone and drag her out. The fact she didn’t want to dance should have been a clue that she wasn’t enjoying herself.  Guilt? No-fun-having? Something else?  How the hell did I know?

We left Prom without having danced even once, drove home and I got a simple kiss on the cheek and thanks for the date.  The following week, she got back together with her ex and I never spoke to her again. Not even once.
I won’t detail them here, but the rest of my Proms and Winter Formals, even one I was invited to after I graduated, were crazy and fun and weird.  I reckon that made up for the off-kilter and underwhelming first time.

Cruising Hacienda Boulevard
Of course, everyone cruised Whittier Blvd. in those heady days because it was the thing to do.  However, he and I had a little thing we loved to do on Hacienda Boulevard in the evenings that left us in stitches, but probably left other motorists pissed off.  Luckily, we never got caught doing it.

It started with a trip to McDonald’s on Hacienda, just North of Francisquito. Natch, we would scarf down an unholy amount of food, although he could eat more at one sitting than any normal human being I ever knew, mostly because he had an enormous mouth filled with giant teeth (but he had a brilliant smile, right girls?).  Remember, this was when you could get a burger, fries and small coke for ninety-nine cents.
We would stuff our pie holes, then order at least three Big Macs to go.  Not to eat… to FLY. Think about it:  a Big Mac is bun-meat-bun-meat-bun, five Frisbee-shaped layers o’ goodness. We’d pull out of the lot and onto Hacienda and just motor along, me driving and him in the passenger seat. He’d open one Big Mac, grab the top bun with his right hand, hold it out the window and then FLING it straight up into the air, the trajectory and direction totally unknown but it would come down somewhere behind us and, if the traffic was just right, would land SPLAT on the windshield of an unsuspecting motorist. We watched for the landings in the rear-view mirrors.

Much hyena-like laughter would ensue. Now you understand the reason Big Macs were the perfect flying food… FIVE FOOD FRISBEES IN EACH ONE.
Yes, it was wasteful.  Yes, it was mildly dangerous. And yes, it was hilarious.  We usually waited until just past sunset but before it got totally dark because we wanted to see the landings. Speed, distance and stealth were all at play, so it was important for the driver to pay attention. Good thing cell phones didn’t exist.

We only did this on Hacienda for reasons that are still a mystery to me.  Mebbe it was such a wide and busy street that we knew we could fly food without getting caught, but I doubt we gave it much thought.  You know, like almost everything else teens did/do.
Now that I’m an official Mudge, every time I have a Big Mac, all I can think of is flying food on Hacienda Boulevard.

Meeting Kurt Vonnegut
Thanks to Mr. Kumar’s Literature class, I was able to sign up to attend a Science Fiction convention at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles late in my senior year. I had hoped to get the chance to attend IHC as a student in the Fall, but the GPA and tuition requirements were both out of my league, so being there for the convention would have to be sloppy seconds.

The list of meetings, speeches and events was long and weird, but I took in a speech by Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura from ‘Star Trek’) and a roundtable discussion on ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ that was waaaay over my head.  However, the crown jewel of my adventure would be the Q&A session with Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite authors and philosophers. I felt lucky to have a chance to ask this great man a question or three, or at the very least listen to him expound on his writing and views on life and science.
The session was held in an auditorium-style classroom that held perhaps 100 people, all seated on a series of risers that surrounded the dais. By the time I got there, the room was almost full, so I grabbed a chair and waited for the Great Man to appear.  The bell rang and, a few seconds later, in walks Kurt Vonnegut, dressed in a rumpled corduroy coat and slacks, smoking a cigarette. The room was silent as he walked to the front of the room, sat down in a chair facing the lot of us and… smoked and said nothing.

Now remember, the room was filled to capacity with antsy, anxious students waiting to be bathed in great words of wisdom from a famous author, but there wasn’t a sound to be heard from anywhere inside that room.  All 200 eyeballs were targeted on Kurt down there in front, where he sat and smoked, finished one cigarette and then lighting another. Some of us looked at each other with a “WTH?” look, shrugged shoulders and then more silence.  No one moderated, no one took charge, no one spoke up.
It went on like that for the whole hour.

After the most uncomfortable hour of my life to that point, the bell rang again to signal the end of the session, so students slowly got up and began to file out of the room, their heads filled with questions about what had just happened… or rather, what DIDN’T just happen. Kurt still sat there, smoking away, so when I finally got down to the floor I walked up to him and said “Mr. Vonnegut, I’m a big fan of your writing, especially ‘Slaughterhouse-5’ and ‘Breakfast of Champions.” He smiled big, shook my hand and thanked me for taking the time to read his books and attend the day’s activities. A few more stragglers walked up to him and he thanked each one of them too, but we were all mystified about the previous hour. No one knew what to say, and then he stood up and walked out and was gone.
Was he waiting for someone to ask him a question?  Was it some sort of weird performance art piece? Why wasn’t there an event moderator to help start things? Did he wonder about the silence like the rest of us, or was it part of the plan?  I’ll never know. But at least I shook his hand and we traded thanks.

And for the record, Nichelle Nichols was SMOKING HOT.

Carlos Magallanes, Sociology Monster

A teacher among teachers, a spiritual mentor to those of us who chose to listen and learn from his bearded bad self. The fact that so many years later he is now my Facebook friend gives me much, much pleasure. He still RULES.
Becoming a Letterman
Being in Drama during my Junior and Senior years made all the difference for my youthful self-esteem, and not just because the girls in Drama class were quite a bit different than all the rest. Teacher Jim Ellis (R.I.P., Big Guy) was a tremendous mentor and supporter of us all, a motley group of high achievers, weirdos and geeks.  He helped us to transform into a confident band of thespians (or thesbians, as some critics would shout out across the room) that made a name for ourselves on campus.
Mr. Ellis figured out a way to have us perform scenes from whatever play we were rehearsing for the English, Sociology and Literature classes during regular school hours, so we'd get to spend a whole day in the Little Theater performing for a packed house while practicing lines at the same time.  This had the unexpected consequence of making us all better-known in school that we'd otherwise have been, which was almost startling. I'd be walking through school between classes and someone would shout 'HEY BOB!' and I'd spin around and wave, unaware of who'd just shouted at me.
As the end of my Senior year drew near, Mr. Ellis asked me to stop by his classroom after school for a few minutes to discuss something.  I was worried about I-don't-know-what when I sat down and asked what was up.
Him: "Bob, I have something important to tell you."
Me: "Ummm... OK, what is it?"
Him: " Well, you've been in quite a few plays the last two years, and your grades in my classes have been really good, so I've submitted your name as having qualified to earn your LPHS Letter in Drama. That means you'll be a Letterman at graduation."
Me: "Wait wait wait... are you telling me that I'm a Letterman, same as the football players?"
Him:  "That's right, it's all about your achievements, no matter the discipline."
Me:  "Areyoukiddingme?!?! Do I get the jacket too?"
Him:  No, you'll have to buy that, but the Letter is gonna be all yours."
Me: "!?!?!?!?!?!"
So I got my LPHS Letter, complete with an embroidered comedy/tragedy icon to indicate it was for Drama.  I never bought the jacket, and I gave the letter to my Mom.  She dug it, and so did I.
 Epilogue:
I can't wait for the reunion to meet and greet so many of my classmates from high school, junior high and even grade school. I suspect there will be missed connections, some tears and lots of laughter and drinking (no drinky for me) and, with any luck, not a single fight will break out and cause chaos and wind up in the parking lot with the City of Industry Sherriff's swinging batons.  That would both suck AND rule.
Stay tuned...


Blue Swede 'Hooked On A Feeling' video (Billboard Top 100, 1974), muchismas gracias de youtube.com; lead image of the author in his first Boy Scout indian dance costume, circa 1970, muchismas gracias Papa!