Friday, May 29, 2015

My Beautiful Launderette


I think it's a universal truth that most people simply LOATHE doing the laundry.  Doesn't matter if it's in their own home or at the laundromat, it's one of those chores that seems to be a complete waste of valuable time, unless you're out of clean g-strings and don't have the dough to just buy some more and toss the dirty ones out the window for the neighbors to fight over.

I enjoy doing the laundry (ironing, too!), but The Artist has banned me from washing anything at home other than my car wash towels because something something hot water something something IT SHRUNK, DAMMIT! But home-based laundry is not what I'm gonna discuss right now, as this essay revolves around coin-op laundromats and the warm place they hold in all our hearts... not.

Actually, I have some strong observations about laundromats.

DOING THE LAUNDRY WITH AUNT PEGGY

My younger brother and I were living with Aunt Peggy and Uncle Tony in La Puente (CA) for several years when I was still in grade school back in the 1960's, and she taught me many things about homemaking that have stuck with me to this day.  One of her regular chores was to lug a huge pile of laundry to the local coin-op about a mile away, and I would always go with her if I was already home from school. Most of the dirty duds belonged to other people who would pay her to wash and (in many cases) iron them for a fee.

Peggy didn't drive so we always walked, her wire grocery cart straining and squeaking under the massive load of clothes. There were a couple of laundromats in the vicinity, but the one on Valley Blvd. was her favorite. We'd go inside and she would scan the banks of old-school top-loading machines, looking for a set of at least five in a row.  When the machines were chosen, she would open the lids on all of them to signify 'THESE MACHINES ARE TAKEN, BITCHES' to anyone else who might muscle in on her row. Same for the wheeled wire carts... she would tie small towels to the hanger racks, daring someone else to grab one.  She was pretty tough, Peggy was.

Then she always did something I never saw anyone else do: she would wipe down the tops, inside lids and baskets of each machine before putting the clothes in.  She also wiped down each machine after she was done with it, explaining that you never know who had used the machines before, but it was just a courtesy to the next user to clean the machines and leave them ready to go. It was a very powerful example of blanket consideration for this small kid to witness, a selfless act of kindness.

I'm not kidding when I say that on those rare occasions when I have to use a laundromat (more on that in a bit), I WIPE DOWN THE MACHINES, even the ones we have at home. Every time I do, I think of Peggy, and I'm time-warped to that laundromat on Valley Blvd. The same goes for ironing clothes. Once the washing and drying chore was done, she would spend hours each day ironing other people's clothes, and she took great pains to teach me the finer points of spray starch, pressing pants cuffs and the correct sequence when ironing the parts of a white dress shirt. I take great pride in my ability to iron like a mofo, and I owe it all to Aunt Peggy.

LAUNDROMAT ETIQUETTE

Although I rarely use the local laundromat, I know deep-down there is a strong code of behavior one must adhere to when you walk through those glass doors.

1.  Don't be stupid.  Use your noodle when you're sharing a commons work space with other citizens you don't know.  Keep your shit in one place, not just dumped all over every flat surface.  Use machines next to each other, so as to allow more efficient use of open machines and provide others a sense of territory. Take enough change, plus some extra, so you don't have to beg others for their valuable coinage, because the change machine is usually broken.  DO NOT ask to borrow someone else's detergent or dryer sheets, just buy the overpriced crap in tiny boxes from the vending machine and learn your lesson for next time.  In other words, act like an adult.

2.  Don't overuse detergent.  This is especially true of the industrial-size washing machines for larger items.  I know you think you'll need more Tide than they recommend to wash your filthy crusty Star Wars comforter, but you'll be so very sorry for thinking you know better. Pay attention to the machine's instructions so you won't have to re-wash your soap-soaked dreamcatcher.

3.  Pay attention to the cycle timers. If you're one of those cretins who starts a washer or dryer and then splits, leaving the machine to finish and sit there cooling off with your clothes inside while others need to use the machines, you deserve the poisonous stares and haughty sniffs of derision from others when you finally come back from Starbuck's with your fucking latte'.

4.  Don't touch anyone else's clothes.  This should be self-evident, but no one wants you pawing through their colorful g-strings, manga onesies and polyester bondage gear, whether in a washer or a dryer.  If you need to use a machine and the clothing's owner is fucking around at Starbuck's, just bite down and wait until another machine opens up, because it most definitely will.  When the errant customer sashays back in, issue the appropriate poisonous stare and/or haughty sniff.  They'll get the message.

5.  Don't be a slob.  I mean it... clean up after yourself.  Don't spill your soap all over everything and walk away as if there's a laundry concierge just waiting to tidy up after your piggish self is done. Wipe down the machine in honor of Peggy Marquez. Leave the lids or doors of machines you've finished using open as a signal to the next Happy Launderer. Park the carts off to the side and outta the way. Laundromats are a true bastion of democratic socialism, so you have to do your part to keep things clean and neat.

6.  Have something to do while you're waiting.  Use your stupid i-phone like you always do.  Read the newspaper or a book. Do a crossword puzzle.  Take a drawing pad and pencil and sketch your laundry compatriots. Or do what I like to do most: talk to someone else in there with you.  You may be surprised at whom you'll meet, because EVERYONE has to eventually wash their poo-poo undies unless they have machines at home or are one-percenters and take everything to the cleaners.

7.  Enjoy yourself.  This may sound counter-intuitive, but the act of cleaning your clothes is an affirmation of your self-esteem and sense of pride. Yes, it takes time that could otherwise be spent binge-watching GOT (meh), but you made the effort and were rewarded with spring-fresh g-strings and bondage gear.  What could be more fulfilling, laundry-wise?

DRYER BRONCO BUSTING

In my last essay titled 'The Eagle Has Finally Landed', I alluded to a 1970 Summertime cross-country road trip I took while in the Boy Scouts, which included a 5-day stay in the then-vacant dorms of the University of Ilinois at Champaign for a national Scouting conference. I can tell you of many things that happened during that fateful stay in those college dorms, but only one (maybe two) will come to the light of day for now:  Dryer Bronco Busting.

Us visiting Scouts were housed in the campus dorms, with almost all the buildings connected via a series of underground hallways, walkways and passages that allowed students to traverse the grounds without having to endure the typically shitty Illinois weather.  There were also game rooms, lunch rooms, study rooms and yes... laundromats along those long underground tubes.

By the end of our first day on campus, someone in our group got word of a crazy activity going on in the laundry rooms that was a regular occurrence during the school year.  Once we'd had dinner with the adults and were released to our dorms, we bolted 'down under' to see what the hell was going on. I wasn't prepared for what I witnessed because 13 years old!

Each underground laundry room was equipped with a half-dozen top-loading washers and gigantic front-loading dryers.  Apparently the college students, after much alcohol consumption, came up with the idea of riding inside the dryers (set to 'air-dry', of course) while they were in motion by bracing themselves inside the dryer barrel and spinning around until they puked their guts out. Presto: Dryer Bronco Busting! Naturally, this idea went over big-time with us unchaperoned Scouts.

Each night of the conference after dinnertime, we'd gather in one of the many laundry rooms, then one by one, a Buster would crawl inside the open dryer, it's door sensor taped down so it would spin with the door open. The Buster would use his arms and legs to brace against the inside of the barrel, then someone would hit the START button. Watching a Buster spinning around and around in that thing was completely hilarious, even when he got sick and started shooting dinner out of his pie hole. Much hooting and shouting and laughing ensued.  And, of course, vomit-mopping.

Yes, I tried it once, but I was only good for about a dozen rotations before I started to get nauseous and begged to get out because I'm a pussy.  Some of my Cali friends did better, although most of them booted their dinner before exiting.  One older Scout from another dorm building had a stomach of steel, because he rode for almost two-hundred rotations, even breaking one machine and jumping into another to keep the streak going.  HE DID NOT PUKE.  We were in awe of the guy. We shouted out the number of rotations, helped him stagger from the broken machine into the next one, and cheered wildly when he'd finally had enough.

Dryer Bronco Busting was stupid and dangerous and destructive and inane and ignorant and just about the coolest thing I'd ever seen with my 13-year-old eyes.  As an adult, every time I use the laundromat and see those large dryers, I am whisked back to the underground torture chambers of spinning awesomeness. Not to mention sordid memories of meeting a really cute 16-year-old girl named Patti who worked in the lunch room underneath my dorm and thought my Indian Dancing was pretty cool and kissed really good.  Heh heh heh.

LAUNDERLAND

During our 22 years of residence in Mission Viejo (CA), I've had only a few occasions where I've needed to use a local laundromat, and the closest one to my home is Launderland.  Most times the reason is to wash a large item that would blow up our machine at home, because they have the most excellent industrial-grade front-loading mega-washers that do a fantastic job.

Last year, in preparation for the arrival of my Awesome Daughter and Awesome Grandson for a visit where the AG and I would spend the week camping-out in our backyard, I needed to wash the two sleeping bags that had been stashed in the garage rafters for a decade or so.  First thing one Saturday morning, I cruised over to Launderland with sleeping bags and Tide and dryer sheets and a coffee mug and some magazines, ready to spend a couple of hours there.

It had been a while since I'd last visited, so when I pulled up and parked I was pleased to see it was still almost empty.  I walked inside and was struck at how sparkling clean the place was... floors shined, machines gleamed, signage was fresh and colorful, lights were blazingly bright, plenty of carts and tabletop space and chairs. Channeling Aunt Peggy, I picked a suitable mega-washer, wiped it down good, loaded in the sleeping bags and soap and coins, pushed START and took a seat.

Before I got a chance to start reading my mags, a younger Mexican lady came in with three small kids and a huge pile of laundry.  We exchanged 'Holas!' and she smiled broadly, prolly appreciating my friendly attitude.  Her kids were boisterous but well-behaved, playing around the machines and laughing and making faces at me which I returned right back at them, sticking my tongue out which made them giggle like crazy.  Nice.

I read my mags and watched people stroll in with their loads and, weird as may seem, most everyone appeared to be in a good mood. The place was noisy but not obnoxious, and folks had the right attitude about their task at hand.  I was drenched in a very positive and supportive vibe, because we were all there for the same reason, sharing a clean and bright space that was made-to-order for each one of us.

I pulled the sleeping bags out of the mega-washer and started them in a dryer, then went over to the really nice deep sink area with hand soap and a huge paper towel dispenser, washed my hands and pulled some towels to wipe down the washer. I was drying my hands when I noticed a door near the back to the place with an 'EMPLOYEES ONLY' sign was open and the light was on, with a young woman inside rustling around, obviously looking for something.  I couldn't help it.  I walked over.

Me:  "Hellooo...?"

Her (turning around):  "Oh... Hi there, good morning!  Can I help you with something?"

Me:  "Good Morning! No I'm fine, I was just wondering if you work here?"

Her:  "Yes, this morning I'm checking on some of the machines to make sure the repairs we've had done are still good."

Me:  "Well, that's cool.  I just want you to know that I really enjoy using this facility... you keep it really clean and bright, everything works well, and I know that everyone here also appreciates your efforts on our behalf."

Her (with a beaming smile):  "THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!  It really makes me happy to hear you say that!  My parents own this laundromat, have owned it for almost 25 years, and I'm helping them to keep it going.  They'll love hearing that you took the time to let me know how much you like their shop, as it's one of only two coin-ops in Mission Viejo. The other ones have all closed."

Me:  'Well, I have a history with laundromats, and even though I only use this one occasionally, I know the regulars notice your hard work.  It makes a huge difference for so many folks who need a great place like this."

Her (with an even bigger smile):  "You are very, very welcome. It makes me proud to be in this business, and I know my parents feel the same way.  I hope you'll keep coming back for a long time!"

With that, we parted ways, her to the back of the back of the shop, me to the bench outside to wait for the dryer to finish.  I sipped my coffee and thought about all the people who need a really good laundromat for so many reasons, and are lucky to have Launderland in their neighborhood.  Once they were done, I snagged the sleeping bags, collected my stuff and headed home.

Camping out with the Awesome Grandson during his visit was spectacular, complete with a tent in the yard and fire pit and S'mores and some real guy talk each night.  And the sleeping bags were fresh and clean, thanks to Launderland.

ROAD LAUNDRY

Although I've been off the road since 2006, I traveled extensively for my various employers from 1992 to 2004, with several stretches in there when I traveled three weeks out of four from February to November.  It eventually began to take a serious toll on my home life and relationship, but thankfully a period of forced unemployment and a career change took me off the road and into a non-traveling job.

However, I really enjoyed the travel experience, which allowed me to visit many places around the country and offshore that I'd have never otherwise had the chance to see and appreciate.  Natch, one gets used to the 'hotel room shuffle' after a while and learns how to pack light and make the best of each stop along the way.  This includes doing the laundry, especially when a job involved more than a few days in one place or another.

Yes, I always traveled with a mini-iron and a can of spray starch. Deal with it.

I hated having my laundry done at the larger hotels, even though my employers would usually cough up the reimbursement for the insane prices the hotels normally charge.  I mean, COME ON... $8 to wash a pair of socks?!  That just ain't right, no matter how you look at it. Therefore, me being me, if I had the time in-between flights, I would always search off the hotel grounds for a local coin-op laundromat to wash my manga onesie and bondage gear.

The best part of using a local laundromat while traveling is getting the chance to see the neighborhood and meet the people who live there.  Unless the coin-op is at or near a tourist attraction, it's a sure bet the only folks you'll run into while doing laundry will be locals without an in-home machine, at least base on my experiences.

Along with a walking tour of an area that I'd landed in, there's nothing like using a neighborhood laundromat to get a real feel for your location.  Doesn't matter what part of the country I'd be in, some of the best people I've met were also washing their duds, just like me.  College students... retired couples... other business travelers... young singles... harried Moms with kids in tow... older single men... the laundromat population is pretty consistent.

Owing to the fact that I am DEFINITELY from Southern California, it was surprising to hear so many people I'd met in coin-ops say "We don't usually see out-of-towners in here, how come you don't just have the hotel wash yer clothes?"  After a while, I just decided to tell people that I liked doing my own laundry without mentioning my 'meeting the natives' spin, which can rub some folks the wrong way.

I recall one week spent in Greenville, South Carolina during a BMWCCA event that I was working, long days at the race track or inside a convention center, so the after-hours were a great time to bug out and see the sights.  Walking in Downtown Greenville was amazing, where they had begun the process of uncovering the original colony's cobblestone streets, removing centuries of progress to reveal the town's beginnings.  I had to ask the hotel concierge directions to a coin-op I'd found in the phone book (this was back in 2000, eons before wi-fi and smart phones), which landed me in what appeared to be a pretty hardscrabble neighborhood only a mile or so from the hotel.

I parked out back of the low brick building and walked in to see a very bare-bones laundromat with concrete floors, bare fluorescent lights, folding chairs and tables... you get the picture.  The machines were old but everything was working, so I started my loads and just sat outside to enjoy the strange 'hood fresh air. Sure enough, several locals drove up to use the place, walked by and said hello, started their washers and then came back outside to see who this obvious stranger was, hanging around their laundromat.

Not only did I have a splendid time chatting with some of the locals, I convinced a few to check out the track day activities at Road Atlanta to watch the drivers thrashing their hot BMW's.  I also learned the coin-op was in the same building as a historic diner that was almost 100 years old, which explained the rough appearance of the laundromat!  I stopped into the diner, which was PACKED, sat at the counter and had an egg salad sandwich, talking and joking around with others at the counter and the staff, and generally had a truly fun afternoon.  All because I wanted to do my laundry.

On the flip-side, spending twelve days working at the World Finals of PWC racing in Lake Havasu City (AZ), would leave me a frazzled mess, so driving off-site to the local coin-op/convenience store/gas station was the only way to decompress from the 18-hour event days and the pressurized environment of  operations, racer baby-sitting and endless event logistical headaches.

CODA

I had some misgivings about sharing these weirdo laundromat stories, because I'm not sure any normal or sane person thinks about these things.  However, I decided to go ahead and post because they were all in my skull and have been rotating and spinning around in there for a damned long time, just like a giant clothes dryer with many quarters inserted.  To paraphrase a not-famous quote by singer/songwriter Joe Jackson, "This essay represents a desperate attempt to make some sense of going to the laundromat. Deep in my heart, I knew it was doomed to failure. The questions remains:  why did I try?"



Lead image, gracias de benofsky.com; Frank Zappa 'Road Ladies' video, muchismas gracias de youtube.com. Don't over-soap!!!!!

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.