Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Four On The Floor


The First Cut Is The Deepest

In the Fall of 1972 my Dad and I had already been looking at cars for weeks… it seemed like forever to this newly-licensed 16-year-old working his first real job. There’d been several vehicle near-misses and each time Dad steered me clear of what would have been a disastrous choice. He did what he was supposed to do when his Son was looking for a first car: use caution. There were a few serious contenders:

An extremely rough ‘32 Ford pick-up stashed in a garage consisting of an engine mounted on a frame, a rusty chopped and channeled cab devoid of glass or anything resembling an interior, a steering wheel and pedals and a crate to sit on. Yes, it started and ran pretty good, but it screamed 'Money Pit' without ever leaving that garage. Dad was seriously concerned. PASS.

A sweet but scary-fast ’56 Chevy hardtop with a bored-out small block, lightened and lowered and ready to do the stop-light tango without hesitation. Can you say ‘ticket bait’?  PASS.

An INSANE ’65 Nova with a drag-prepped big-block, Lenco transmission, street-legal slicks, roll cage and aluminum dash. I drove it out on the street and floored it, whereupon it popped a small wheelie and I immediately pissed my pants. PASS.

A cool ’39 Ford pick-up with a Chevy small block, dumped front suspension, Cragers, primer Black, owned and driven by my Uncle who’d sell it to me if I could find the dough. I hesitated a couple of days too long and it was gone.  FORCED PASS.

Then one afternoon, Dad found it in a newspaper classified ad: 1957 Chevy 2-door Sedan, 283 small-block, 4:11 rear end, 4-speed, mags, Cal-Custom wood steering wheel, daily driver, $500. The ad said to see the man in Azusa, so Dad called and that’s what we did. Our agreement was that Dad would match my savings for the car dollar-for-dollar and I’d pay him back. We drove to a nondescript Azusa apartment complex, found the man and went out to look at the car.

Original Blue paint, slightly faded but waxed and shiny. New Black Naugahyde interior with a perfect dashboard and a Hurst 4-speed shifter mated to a Muncie transmission. Bench seats front and rear, the front bench customized to allow for the floor shifter. The car was a 210 model so it had every bit of chrome and shiny trim available, twin jet fighter hood ornaments, the classic ’57 tail fins with the gas cap hidden in the left rear tail fin. Shiny Cragars front and rear, a slightly lowered front end for that perfect high-school stance. After it passed the visual, I clambered into the back seat, Dad took the wheel and the owner sat up front with him and off we went for a test drive.

That sealed the deal. My $250 and Dad’s $250 got us the pink slip and keys, so with me trailing him in the Chevy Carryall, Dad drove away in My First Car.

Once we got home, I parked the truck and got in the passenger seat and Dad set to showing me exactly how to drive this bitchin’ car. Unlike the sedate test drive with the car’s previous owner inside, my Dad… former dry lake bed and drag racer, East L.A. vato, hard-core car nut… gave me a lesson on how to hustle this little beauty around. He buttered that shifter from one gear to the next, chirping the tires each time, grinning widely as if he was 16 again, almost forgetting that I was sitting next to him. He coached me on the clutch slip for smooth shifting, how to gauge the revs for the next upshift, warned me not to be stupid, drove back into our driveway and handed me the keys.

“Be careful, Son… don’t get yourself in trouble, but go have some fun tonite.”

How can I describe my first solo drive in my Very First Car? I had the bench seat moved all the way forward so I could hold the right side of the steering wheel with my left hand while resting my elbow on the other side, which gave me plenty of grip so I could concentrate on shifting with my right hand, just like Dad. I felt like I’d been driving that car forever instead of only 30 minutes. I cruised the twilight streets of La Puente, listening to the glass packs rumble that sweet small-block song, rising and falling with every upshift and downshift. The street lights flickered off the curves of that sexy hood, the twin hood ornaments aiming the way. It was fucking heaven.

I drove over to my Scouting comrade Bob's house to show him my new ride and off we went into the night, me trying to shift and chirp the tires like Dad did but only being partially successful, Bob seething with envy at my good fortune.  I stupidly decided to drive to a local hangout of a rival high school to show off, but when I tried to burn out in front of a group of girls I dumped the clutch too fast and stalled out the engine, causing a goodly amount of derisive laughter from the crowd. I restarted the car and through sheer luck got the timing right and did a decent burnout, leaving a thick cloud of tire smoke behind.

The rest of that evening was a blur of cruising, posing, slap-shifting and laughing like hyenas. As a high-school Junior, it just could not have been any better, and I knew it.

Cruising Whittier Boulevard

It's a high-school Saturday night and I'm driving my '57 through La Habra Heights towards the promise of another evening filled with cruising, pseudo-street racing and posturing in Whittier, California. 

Stirring the 4-speed, up-and-down shifting as the dark and narrow two-lane road rises and falls and bends back and forth, the sound of the glass pack exhaust barking and rumbling and echoing off the hillsides. At the bottom of the hill I stop at the intersection, turn right and splash into the early cruising evening on Whittier Boulevard.

The speed limit isn't an issue for now, because a languid 25 miles-per-hour allows for the maximum-impact 'see and be seen' reason for this rolling revue. After just a few minutes, I turn into the Bob's Big Boy parking lot, land into a spot adjacent to the street, the lot's surface a few feet higher than the street level to afford an excellent vantage point over the vehicular dance.

I sit on my car's bumper and watch the parade of cars rumbling or racing or cruising by. Every make/model/year of car is on display, heavily modified to bone-stock, sharing the same two lanes going in each direction. Hot girls showing off in their boyfriend's Little Red '71 Corvette. A teen with long greasy hair rolling a primer Gray '55 Chevy hardtop with a straight front axle, blown big block, massive street slicks and nothing to lose. A huge Black Mercury station wagon filled with high school girls, obviously out looking for guys, laughing and shouting and waving at everyone they see.



I watch them all from my chrome perch, feeling antsy, ready to get out there and mash it up. I jump into the car, snap in a cassette of bitchin' music I recorded off the radio and melt onto the street and into the parade, just another fast float.

The Stop Light Tango begins.

I roll along at cruising speed, the night lights dancing off the hood of my Metallic Bronze sled, waxed and shining like a rocket ship to Mars. I stop at the red light, hearing my lovely small block burbling away along with Steely Dan, waiting to see if someone sidles up next to me and wants to go.  Light turns green, no takers so I slip the clutch and take off slowly at first, then faster until the revs start to make the exhaust bark before I grab 2nd gear and do it again until my progress is halted by another red light.

This time a challenger lines up next to me, a sweet '65 Mustang Coupe with no hood, headers and chromed valve covers, dumped in front and a driver who wants to RUN. We look at each other, slight nod in agreement, turn our heads straight ahead and wait for the green, making sure there's no cops in front or behind.

GREEN!

I catch him flat-footed, dropping the clutch and lurching ahead, the engine revving faster and faster.

BANG the shifter into 2nd gear, chirping the tires and pulling away from him as he struggles to gain some traction, while I get faster and pull away.

It's over before I can grab 3rd gear... I ease off the throttle before I have to hit the brakes for the next light, the exhaust rapping down loudly, letting him catch me so we can trade looks and smile and silently say 'Later on, dude... we will run again.'

Another red light finds me waiting... waiting... and soon enough a new challenger arrives, much more serious this time. A Blue '67 SS396 Chevelle with chome side pipes, massive tires in the rear forcing him to jack up the rear end for clearance, an obvious runner with a loping cam profile that causes his engine to pulse the ground.

We sit at the light, waiting for the green and I think that maybe he's got more than me at his disposal, but I'm no pussy and my car looks better than his and FUCK THIS GUY. Right before we get the light, we both rev engines in anticipation, who cares if any cops are around because it's Saturday night on Whittier Boulevard and we are gonna GO.

GREEN!

We both drop clutches on cue and take off at the same time, but his big block has more pull than my small block so he lurches ahead while we're still in 1st gear.  I grab 2nd and catch him up, but once he grabs 2nd his cubic inches allow him to pull ahead, but not by much. Almost in slow-motion, I can hear my engine straining in 2nd and his is too, it's a timed sonata of unleashed horsepower.

But it's all for naught, he gets the edge and begins to pull away by two car lengths before we shut down to make the next red light. As I pull up, he looks over and smirks, I smile and silently mouth 'FUCK YOU' and he laughs and I laugh and we rev our engines at each other until the light turns green and he burns out in a flash. I slip the clutch and slowly pull away, thinking 'Hell, he barely beat me with all that muscle, he aint' so hot.'

And so it goes, one hour melting into the next, the evening flashing by like so many fireworks. At one red light, a car filled with girls pulls up next to me and the one with long black hair in the front seat says 'Hey... that's a bitchin' car!' My head swells, my face grins crazy and right on cue, the light turns green and I drop the clutch and do a perfect burnout, still boiling the tires while grabbing 2nd gear, the girls left behind and probably (maybe?) suitably impressed. How did I time that so well?  Fucking lucky, baby.

By midnight, the boulevard is rocking, the traffic is getting heavy and cops are everywhere. The parking lot at Scotty's Burgers, a choice hangout across from Bob's, is overflowing with hot cars and hot boys and girls all doing the dance, posing and preening and making eyes and sometimes a girl goes for a ride in someone else's hot rod. The promise of something new, dreams fulfilled, riding shotgun in a serious piece of machinery, looking out and ahead while the driver, filled with chutzpah, does his very best Bob Falfa imitation.



By now I've been asphalt dancing over 4 hours and the boulevard is too crowded for any serious running, so I decide to head for home. The evening was a success, got my ass kicked a few times but had several excellent runs and lots of eyeballs on my ride and a serious ego boost for me (DUH!), always fulfilled with my beautiful '57 Chevy. Mission Accomplished.

I head East and away from Cruising Central, turn left into and over the hills and down to La Puente, my mind still racing from the night's escapades. I should have kept talking to that cute redhead in the lot at Bob's, maybe she would have cruised with me. I wonder how that Camaro with the blown transmission got home, I heard him miss 2nd gear and then BLOOEY, too bad for him. DAMN, I almost had that Chevelle, fuck that guy's big block!

Before hitting the homestead, I make a quick run to Jack-in-the Box on Amar Avenue for my traditional post-cruising meal: two Breakfast Jacks, onion rings, choco shake and a hot apple pie. Sitting in my car, wolfing down the hot food and watching the cool nighthawks all around me, Led Zeppelin blasting on the stereo... I know these are the nights (and days) to cherish, because soon enough it will all be only a memory.

I love cruising Whittier Boulevard.

Slipping Into Darkness

The Summer of 1974 saw me graduated from high school and working as an usher at the El Monte Theater in the (outdoor) Tyler Mall, still cruising around and having things in my '57 Chevy. Being the paranoid type I always parked it out on the street just down a ways from the theater entrance so I could keep an eye on it. I mean... El Monte, right?

One night I walked outside before the movie's intermission, sucking on a Coke and breathing in some fresh air.  I glanced over at my car like always but... something wasn't right. As I stared at the car about 100 feet away, I saw someone's arm reaching inside the driver-side broken wind wing, obviously trying to open the car without being seen.

I ran towards my car shouting 'HEY FUCKER GET AWAY FROM MY CAR!!!' The would-be thief pulled his arm out and took off across the street, beating it between two buildings by the time I got to the car and saw the broken glass on the street next to it. I was so MAD, some dude trying to kype my ride right out there on the street! I moved the car closer to the entrance and kept going outside for the rest of the night to make sure it was safe.

The next night, my car was stolen right from in front of the theater.

I was heartbroken. THEY STOLE MY CAR!!!!!

That night my Dad and I went to the police station and reported my stolen car, then went home. The next afternoon, we got a phone call that they'd found my car and had towed it to the police yard so I could claim it. I had to wait until the following day to claim my car and drive it home, but that wasn't what happened.

Dad and I went into the El Monte Police tow yard and there, way out back by the fence, my car sat on blocks, all four wheels and tires having been stolen... my bitchin' Cragars and Goodyears, all gone. As we got closer, I saw the windshield had been smashed, the side windows were broken, the stereo was gone and they'd taken something and banged up the previously pristine dashboard. 

Most of the interior was intact but all the chrome parts had been stripped off the engine and, to add insult to injury, they'd obviously driven the car in a reckless manner because the shock mounts in the trunk had been broken and the sheet metal support in the trunk floor was torn and hanging down. They really did a number on my sled.

A few days later, after we'd had the car towed home, Dad and I worked to get the car back in running condition so I could stop borrowing his car for work. I had to call the Police Department for something and was told they'd found out that my car had been part of a group of a dozen classic Chevy's that had been stolen from the El Monte area on the same night, so it was a gang of car thieves targeting specific cars! 

Thanks to a lot of work by Dad and me and parts from Pep Boys and Western Auto, we got the '57 back in running condition and I was rolling again, but... it wasn't the same, and never would be.  It took a month to find a replacement floor to have welded in the trunk to support the loose shock mounts, and I could never replace all the really cool interior and engine bits that had been stolen. They took my Senior tassel and key that had been hanging on the rear view mirror, and the suspension had been badly abused so the car never rode the same again.

I fell out of love with my first car.

I don't remember when I finally sold it, but I know it wasn't a traumatic experience because it wasn't the same car I'd grown to love but a mere shadow of its former awesomeness. That's was probably an unfair mindset, but that's how I felt, so letting it go wasn't that hard.

All the cruising, all the dates, all the street racing, all the crazy shit we did on Hacienda Blvd... all of that fell away when the car was gone.

And then I grew up, but that's another story.



Lead image, gracias de La Puente High School Photography 101 - Roberto Macias, photographer; Whittier Blvd. and Bob Falfa images, gracias de Google images; 'American Graffiti' video, muchismas gracias de youtube.com; Muchismas Gracias de Mi Padre por El '57 Chebby de La Puente!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

You Can't Get There From Here



I am an American citizen of Mexican heritage, born at General Hospital in East Los Angeles, California.

My Father was born in Gallup, New Mexico to immigrant parents.

My Mother was born in Los Angeles, California to immigrant parents.

My Grandfather was born on the road somewhere between Mexico City and the US border in Texas.

My Grandmother was born in Gallup, New Mexico to immigrant parents.

Before my Grampa died at the age of 94 years young, he loved to tell a story about our family heritage that many relatives weren't sure was true, but he swore it was. 

According to Grampa, his parents decided to take a chance for a better life by WALKING from Mexico City to the Texas border while he was still in his Mom's belly.  Along the way he was born and his Father died, so when the clan arrived at the border, Mom was carrying newborn Grampa in her arms and had several other children in tow, all hoping to cross into The Promised Land.

There was only one problem: she arrived at the border without a husband, and therefore would not be allowed to cross into the US as a single Mom.

Her distress was noticed by a man also planning to cross over, so when he found out why she was being denied entry into the US, he offered to claim that he was her husband and the Father of her children.  She agreed, took his last name as her own and they crossed into the US of A successfully.  She decided to keep the last name of the man who helped her reach this country, a name my family still uses today.

Is this story true?  Several of my relatives state he told them the same story, and since we don't have any living relatives to refute or corroborate the tale, we gotta take it at face value as mostly true.

What I know for sure is this: I am borne of a family of immigrants who came to this country for the same reason most immigrants still do -- to find a better life, to do better for their families, to become something more than they could in their own country.

The story of immigrant aspirational movement is the same in 2018, only much more vital and (in some cases) desperate. The United States of America remains one of the most desirable places on Earth for people to aspire to live, and people from other countries continue to stream towards us via both legal and non-legal methods.

BTW, you will NEVER EVER catch me referring to undocumented immigrants as 'illegals' because even if an immigrant breaks laws to enter our country, that human being is still a legitimate human being and cannot be denigrated as 'illegal' simply because he/she broke a law. It's what refugees do. 

Being of Hispanic lineage gives me a unique viewpoint about our current national Conservative freak-out over non-legal MEXICAN immigration by those who would 'build that wall' or restrict legal immigration only to those we deem worthy. The funny part about the freak-out is that IT'S ALL BALONEY and the issue revolves almost exclusively around MEXICAN immigrants, although immigrants from other countries are also now being impacted.

A few factoids to consider:

1. The rate of undocumented immigrants crossing the border from Mexico has dramatically decreased over the past decade (Thanks, Obama!).  In fact, more Mexican Nationals left the USA in the years 2015 and 2016 than came into the country during that same period due to increased border patrol, stricter US hiring laws, violence in Northern Mexico and the Great Recession of 2007.

2.  Undocumented MEXICAN immigrants are responsible for FEWER crimes of any type than non-immigrants, across the board. If this fact shocks you, then you're not paying attention. Google it if you don't believe me.

3.  Undocumented MEXICAN immigrants pay lots of taxes in this country, and almost half of them pay Federal Income taxes even though they get none of the benefits of having paid those Fed taxes. Sales taxes, excise taxes, State taxes, gasoline taxes, property taxes... all gladly paid by undocumented immigrants who understand that taxes are the price we ALL pay for a civilized society.

4.  Undocumented MEXICAN immigrants do not 'steal' jobs from anyone. The people who employ them choose to GIVE them those jobs because they will work for less money, don't complain about working conditions, don't demand raises, don't demand vacation days or any of the myriad headaches typical 'Murrican employees cause their bosses.

5.  Undocumented MEXICAN immigrants are the hardest-working people you will ever meet.  They will gladly work one, two or even three different jobs at once because they understand and appreciate the benefits of working hard to get ahead in this country, even if they get paid shit wages and work shit hours and are treated like shit by their bosses who chose them to pay shit wages to because they will gladly work for shit wages that 'Murricans would never ever accept.

Honestly, it's not that hard to understand the plight of undocumented immigrants if you spend even a little bit of time thinking about how YOU would deal with the same issues they do, every single day.

Imagine that you have no documents to show that you're in this country legally, and how much that single fact will impact every aspect of your waking hours.

It would suck, right?

Every time you walk down the street... every time you drive to or from work... every time you stop at El Pollo Loco for dinner... every time you go shopping... every time you go out to visit your friends... you are a target for arrest and deportation, which will rip apart your life and separate your family and cause wrenching upheaval in every way.

Won't matter that you're a model citizen.

Won't matter that you work hard and pay every tax that's imposed on you.

Won't matter that you contribute your hard work and life's energy to making a better life for yourself and those you love.

You'd be branded as a criminal and forced to return to a country that holds no future for you.

Real World Story #1: on the way home from work one evening last Summer, I stopped at a well-known local eatery to pick up some awesome roast beef and pastrami sandwiches for dinner. I entered the drive-thru in my dirty hippie van, placed my order and rolled up to the service window.

I looked through the window and into the area behind the counter, the place a madhouse of activity involving food prep, packaging and serving for the crush of people lined up at the counter... and I noticed something.

Every single person I could see working inside were obviously Mexican (don't worry, I know these things), and they were RIPPING IT UP in order to keep up with the mad crush of hungry customers who'd lose their shit if they had to wait even a second longer than necessary to fill their pie holes with savory cured meat sammiches.

Those workers were hustling, shouting, spinning, cleaning, folding, packing, pouring, stuffing, grilling, stacking... all in a whirlwind of dinner rush frenzy... and they were all SMILING and laughing, obviously glad to be gainfully employed and making money among like-minded people with the same focus:  work hard and feed the customers.

Now, I watched this for all of 4 or 5 minutes while my order was being whipped up by those Hard Working Mexicans, and found myself filled with a combination of appreciation and gratitude and pride. When the (obvious) Manager came to the window with my food, I gave him my money and when he handed me the change I shook his hand and said:

"Thanks... you know what? You have a really great group of people working in there. You and your crew are truly what Makes America Great!"

He froze, looked me right in the eyes, grabbed my hand with both of his and shook it vigorously saying "THANK YOU, AMIGO... it means everything to me to hear you say that.  I wish more people would tell us that, but you just made my day!" Yes, his eyes got a little damp and his smile was YUUUUUUUGE.

His eyes and smile made MY day.



When I drive past the sprawling strawberry fields alongside the freeway and see the MEXICANS out there, working in the hot sun for slave wages for the benefit of the business owners, I feel humbled at my good fortune and silently thank each and every one of them for their efforts.

When I'm travelling and I meet the MEXICAN maids or MEXICAN gardeners or MEXICAN janitors in the hotel, I always stop and thank them personally for their hard work.  BTW, a great way to show your appreciation to the long-suffering maid is to dump all your pocket change into a glass and leave it as a tip each morning.  Believe me.. they remember when you do that.

When I'm walking through my client's six-story office building during one of many daily visits, you can bet your ass that I say 'HI' and acknowledge every single MEXICAN janitor and MEXICAN gardener that I meet. And every time I do, they smile wide and respond in kind and know that I appreciate them being there.

When I'm working on my yards and the truckloads of MEXICAN gardeners roll into the 'hood to start working on my neighbor's yards, I make a point of waving and smiling and offering my visual appreciation for how hard they work and their efforts to keep the area looking great.

When our Racist President demeans and degrades and belittles and vilifies hard-working, tax-paying, America-loving MEXICANS, he shows just how small-minded and ignorant he really is. He shows us all how easy it is for him, a pampered and entitled and wealthy White Male Master of the Universe, to spew hatred and bigotry and stupidity when he's never done a single hard day's work in his life.

Fuck that guy.

If your response to all this is 'Yeah... well, they're here illegally and broke the law, so deport them all!"... well fuck you, too.  No, really... I MEAN IT.

Real World Story #2:  in order to comply with the draconian rules of our Homeowner's Association regarding lawn maintenance, I needed to repair the front lawn irrigation, rip out some massive overgrown tree roots from the lawn and re-seed the grass, a big job. It was a recent Saturday morning and I'd started to chop away at the tree roots but soon discovered it was waaaay outta my league.

I remembered Rosalindo, the guy I'd hired last Summer to trim a bunch of overgrown trees, and contacted him to see if he could stop by and offer a quote. He said he'd be over after another job, so when he arrived around 1PM and provided a reasonable quote, I asked him "So when can you do this work?" He said 'Well, how about right now?" Once the CFO approved, it was ON.

Rosalindo had arrived with a young boy that I soon found out was his son and another older gent. Within 30 minutes, the broken sprinklers and pipes had been identified and the tree roots had been exposed.  Rosalindo and his son took off to buy parts and the other guy set to chopping out the tree roots... ALL of them. It took him over an hour but he removed those nasty roots and, within a few hours, they'd completed all the work.

I asked Rosalindo's son if he enjoyed working with his Dad and he said "Yes Sir... I hope someday to have my own gardening business so I can use what Dad has taught me so I can be successful and take care of my own family." Rosalindo is exactly the kind of role model every kid needs in his life. 

They arrived at 1PM, offered a good price, started work and were finished by 5PM. This was on a Saturday and I'd called him out of the blue, never expecting he'd be able to do the work right away. That's what I call dedication.

Rosalindo, his work ethic and being a great role model for his Son is what Makes America Great. His immigration status is literally of no consequence because his words and deeds define the kind of person he is, and why we should all be grateful he's chosen to live among us to raise his family... his AMERICAN family.

So the question I'm left with is this:  how do we resolve this issue of so many citizens hating on undocumented (Mexican) immigrants who actually DO Make America Great? I have a few ideas about that.

1. STOP THE HATING. This should be a no-brainer, but our national psyche has been so infected with bullshit racism and bigotry that people don't even think twice about hating on 'them damned illegals'. Every single one of us (with the notable exception of Native Americans) are immigrants or borne of immigrants. That reality doesn't change simply because someone is a few generations beyond that immigrant status. Ignorance of history is no excuse for ignorant racism.

2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Unless you're a MAGA hat-wearing dumbass, try to educate yourself about the real situation around immigration reform and the challenges faced with enacting serious but empathetic changes to our current system.  Yes, our immigration system is broken, but it can be fixed if we choose to do so without all the hate and stupidity. There are people with selfish, self-serving and sinister goals who do not want to reform the immigration system. Those people suck.

3. TRY SOME EMPATHY ON FOR SIZE. Think about every service industry you rely on to get through your daily life. Every. Single. One. Then imagine that instead of all the 'illegals' doing those low-wage jobs, they're being done by you, your kids and Grandkids. It's a thought exercise that will totally mess with your head because once you place yourself in the same situation as the millions of undocumented immigrants whose efforts we take for granted, you might just view their plight in a different way.

4.  VOTE!!!!!! The reason we still have a broken immigration system is because politicians think we can be scared with bullshit stories about scary illegals raping our women and takin' our jerbs. We gotta stop being such sheep and being manipulated so easily. Pay attention, educate yourself on the subject and VOTE, BABY. 

I have no allusions about how this will all shake out, and I'm only one Born In East Los Angeles Mexican-American. But I know the facts, and I know where I stand: in support of every single human being who works hard, plays hard, loves life and loves others with verve and abandon. Let's work together to lift up everyone we can, no matter where they came from. 

Never forget: we're all Earthlings.



Lead image, gracias de googleimages.com; 'A Day Without A Mexican' video clip y The Youngbloods 'Get Together' music video, muchismas gracias de youtube.com.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Distant Drummer


It was just supposed to be a visit to the museum… nothing more. But it became something more, purely by accident.

Oh sure, there’s lots of mind-numbing activities one could enjoy in Las Vegas, and for sure The Artist and I partake in many of them, both banal and bizarre. But come on... a museum of natural history? IN LAS VEGAS?!!?!?!?!?!

Come ON.

But it’s true. There we were, on one of our many trips to that dazzling burg in the blanched desert to celebrate our wedding that took place on The Las Vegas Strip back in the far-away year of 1986. I know, Las Vegas in July is just insanely hot, but we really don’t spend that much time outdoors anyways, and we both hate blistering by the pool.

So to make the anniversary trips more fun, The Artist does something that always makes for an interesting and enjoyable time for when we’re not sexing up in our room or playing the slots.

In the weeks prior to an upcoming journey into the Vast Hotness, she searches the intertubes for alternative LV activities. There’s lots of really cool things to do that don’t involve slot machines, alcohol or endless foot travel. Recent side trips included the Ethel M Chocolate Factory (she of the M&M Mars Family), the Pinball Hall of Fame (500 machines from vintage to modern), the Bellagio Hotel Gallery of Fine Art  (world-class art is there if you can find the place), Frankie’s Tiki Room (a genuine hard-core tiki lounge, darkest bar I’ve ever been in), and the King Putt indoor/Egyptian-themed/black-light miniature golf course(!?!?!).

This trip found us sweating outside of the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art on the campus of UNLV, which was hosting a gallery exhibit of ceremonial masks from the indigenous peoples of the West spanning almost 2500 years. She thought it sounded intriguing, so one stifling weekday morning after we roused from the hotel room sexing bed we made our way out to the campus, the place literally abandoned for Summer break.

We arrived just before the museum’s 10AM opening, which allowed us the chance to walk the small but excellent desert foliage garden out front, grabbing whatever shade was available. Natch, we were the first (and only) people to walk in when they unlocked the doors and were almost knocked over by the arctic air blasting from inside.

The gallery exhibit of ancient masks was simply breathtaking. Displayed on a timeline, it was stunning to see how long-dead hands had lovingly formed these avatars of ancient peoples, fabricating and decorating them in a way that would exalt their ancestors, their spirits, themselves.

But something else grabbed my attention, dragged it away from those beautifully symbolic masks. It was sitting there, in the literal center of the gallery, waiting just for me.

A giant American Indian pow-wow drum, easily 4 feet in diameter.

The moment I saw it, drumsticks leaning all around the side, surrounded by empty benches, I looked over at The Artist who was already looking at me with an expression that said 'You're not really going to, are you?' She knew what was in my head, but she also knew it would be impossible to prevent the inevitable.

Remember, we're the only people inside this museum gallery on a weekday morning. I walk up to the drum, sit down, grab one of the drumsticks, and begin to softly drum.

"bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum hum bum..."

A steady, even cadence, not the made-up Hollywood drumming that everyone thinks is real.  You know:

"BUM bum bum bum BUM bum bum bum BUM bum bum bum BUM bum bum bum..."  

That's a fake drum cadence, and only a very few non-American Indians know the difference.  

But I do.

I sat there, drumming with my eyes closed, hearing the echoes bounce around in the empty gallery, filling the place with an ancient sound, and in that instant I was transported through time and space to other moments in my life.

"bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum hum bum..."

I traveled to my performances of the Eagle Dance at many Boy Scout ceremonies celebrating a Scout's achievement of the Eagle Badge, the highest award in Scouting. I wore my dance costume without the large feather bustle on my shoulders or the horsehair roach on my head, replaced by a set of feathered eagle wings and a ceremonial Eagle headdress, dancing and spinning and flying across the stage, at one with the moment.

"bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum hum bum..."

I traveled to one of the many Indian pow-wows our Order of the Arrow dance team was invited to attend, REAL pow-wows replete with women and children and youth and elders, all dressed in their finest costumes, dancing around and around and around the drummers in the center, all drumming and singing ancient songs of the Original Americans. I even met Iron Eyes Cody once and he shook my hand and thanked me for being there.  I danced for hours in those circles with Original Americans.


                                                       Iron Eyes Cody

"bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum hum bum..."

I traveled to another pow-wow, dressed in my completely handmade costume, a Modern Oklahoma Fancy Dancer, with my bells ringing and fringe flying and feathers swooping and my head roach tossing back and forth, and then the drumming became more insistent and we youth, we Fancy Dancers, began to dance even faster to keep up with the drumming cadence.

"BUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUM..."

Faster and faster we danced and spun to keep up with the beat, and on each heavy beat we'd either bounce in the air or drop to the ground and bounce right back on the beat, each and every time, faster and faster and faster.

"BUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUMBUM..."


                     Modern Oklahoma Fancy Dancers, circa 2016


As is typical of time travel, I was only drumming there for a few minutes, but it felt like I'd been there for much longer. Eventually The Artist begged me to stop because I was prolly getting the docent angry, so I stopped drumming, put down the stick and waited for the echoes of the past and present to fade away.

I love time travelling.

We finished our gallery visit and decided to head out to another weirdo non-gambling Las Vegas activity. As we started to leave, I veered off and went over to the museum office where the docent who let us in was doing some paperwork.

Me: (peeking my head into her office) "Hi there... many thanks for the really great exhibit. I'm glad we made the trip out here."

Her:  "Oh, you are most welcome!" (Brief pause) "By the way, was that you drumming in there?"

Me: (highly embarrassed) "Ummm... yep, that was me.  Hope I didn't make too much noise on this quiet morning for you."

Her:  "NO NO NO... your drumming was amazing! It's nice to hear someone drum who knows what they're doing with that wonderful instrument.  Thanks for that!"

Me:  "Oh, OK, you're welcome. Thanks again!" (head swells to ten times its normal size)

Out into the Stoopid Hot we walked, into the sunshine and mindless excess that typifies Las Vegas. However, I left something important behind, something that was a part of me, and I was glad to leave it.

I had punched a hole in the time/space continuum, stepped through and went for a stroll with a drumstick in my hand, an ancient beat in my heart, and the memories of a joyous time paying homage to the Original Americans in my mind's eye.  That hole was still in there, exactly where I left it, waiting for someone else to peek through.

I will always be grateful for those formative youthful years communing with Indian spirits at pow-wows, dancing for hours around and around the drummers, singing their ancient songs to their ancestors, who were swirling all around them.

I will always be grateful for the chance to participate in such a singular and special activity, accorded to me by the Boy Scouts of America, the Order of the Arrow, and My Father, without whom none of it would have been possible.



                    My first Indian dance costume, circa 1969, fabbed by Dad

The same Father who spent hours and hours fabricating my costumes while I sat at his side, watching and reveling at his skill with needle and leather and feather and bell.

The same Father who spent countless hours carting our dance team around from one show to another, giving up his time and energy to allow us to fulfill our Scouting dreams.

The same Father who cheered me on at competitions, soaking in the success when I won, consoling my broken heart when I didn't, but always showing me that my efforts were valued nonetheless.

The same Father who watched as I took possession of a set of amazingly beautiful Fancy Dance feather bustles hand-made by a Real Indian, complete with Cloud Eagle feathers, from the son of the man who made the bustles and wanted to see me compete in them.

And yes, the same father who I railed against as I grew older and decided I didn't need Scouting or Indian dancing or any of that stuff, but stayed silent anyways.

That Father.  The Best Father Ever.

To this day, I am always thanking that guy for all the things he gave me as a growing, obstinate, fickle youth. Especially the chance to dance with feather and bell, around and around the giant drum, honoring The Original Americans.

"bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum hum bum..."



Lead image gracias de drumsktcorp.com; INFP Fancy Dance and Red Eagle 'Song of Survival' videos gracias de youtube.com; first costume image Muchismas Gracias de Mi Padre

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Anatomy of a Murder


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

Donald J. Trump is set to become the 45th President of the United States of America.

He will be my President.  I'm not happy about it, but that's how politics and elections work sometimes.

A large number of us are still mystified as to how and why Donald Trump defied the odds and snuck away with enough electoral votes to move into the White House.  

My standard answer is: it didn’t just happen. It took almost a decade for us to get to the point where a racist pussy-grabbing tax-cheating scumbag like Trump could con and lie his way into the Oval Office.

It's no secret that Donald Trump, a pathological liar, murdered Truth as a pathway to his electoral success, but there were many accomplices in this murder. Each in their own way, with their own agendas, conspired to murder Truth as a means to an end that they held as Most Important, moreso than their citizenship or civility or decency. They lied about facts, lied about their motives and intentions, lied about reality, lied lied lied about everything they could think of to generate a reality we now refer to as ‘post-truth’.

And guess what?  IT WORKED!!!

I knew trouble was brewing a few weeks before the election.

I had a conversation with an elderly fellow who, for the sake of all involved, will remain nameless.  We were talking about the upcoming Presidential election and he made it very clear that he was voting for Donald Trump. This is just a small sample of how the entire stupefying conversation went:

Me: “You realize that he’s wholly unqualified and unfit for that job, right?”

Him:  “It doesn’t matter. He’s going to make America great again. He’s a successful businessman and knows what he’s doing.”

Me: “Does a successful businessman claim a billion dollars in losses and file for bankruptcy multiple times?”

Him:  “That’s not true. Where’d you hear that?”

Me:  “Ummm… yeah, actually it is true. So what exactly is he gonna do to make this country great again?”

Him:  “He’s gonna bring back law and order to stop all the riots going on.”

Me:  “Which riots are those?”

Him:  “Well… the ones all over the place, those riots where all those blacks are destroying property and killing cops!”

Me:  “Surely you’re not referring to the civil unrest over indiscriminate police shooting of unarmed black men?”

Him:  “Yeah, those riots.”

Me:  “Riiiiight… OK, what else is he gonna do to make this country great again?”

Him:  “I forget, but I know that I knew and I agree with everything he says.”

Me:  (incredulous, eyes bugging out) “Come ON… he’s a racist and a bigot and a sexual predator! He’s a tax cheat and a pathological liar!”

Him:  “No he’s not! Who says that?”

Me:  (eyes narrowing, throwing a sideways look) “What news shows do you watch?”

Him:  “Well… mostly Fox News.”

Me:  “Any others?”

Him:  “Nope… don’t need to.  They’re the only ones who tell the truth. The rest of the lamestream media are liars.”

Me:  (head explodes and launches brains all over the walls, body falls into a twitching heap on the floor)

Congressional Republicans Murdered Truth

From the moment Barack Obama announced his run for the Presidency in 2007, the latent racism and bigotry bubbling just below the surface of our national skin spewed out like a ripe pimple being pinched. It didn’t matter that he was an American citizen, a Christian, a public servant, a Harvard graduate, a constitutional law expert. The GOP and Congressional Republicans would seek to de-legitimize and destroy him because they could not and would not allow a Black Man to be President.

They lied about his heritage. They lied about his faith.  They lied about his education.  They lied about his family. They lied about his politics. They lied about his qualifications. They lied about his patriotism. They lied about everything pertaining to him and they never stopped lying, not even once.

When he won the Presidency, they lied about his intentions. They lied about his motives. They lied about what he would do.  And on the day of his inauguration, a group of powerful Republican liars met in a Washington DC restaurant and developed a strategy to destroy him. They agreed to obstruct, delay, stonewall, obfuscate, slow-walk, deny, torpedo and sabotage anything and everything he tried to do. 

Don't believe me?  Go look it up.

They wanted to teach that uppity Black Man a lesson for thinking he could make things better for Americans. Their guy W had spent the previous eight years destroying the very fabric of our country and left a smoking mess for Barack Obama to somehow fix (which he eventually did), and that just would not do. And they would be damned if they’d give the uppity Black Man a single solitary win, so they enacted their plan to do just that, as only Republicans can do because they are inveterate liars.

If Obama was for it, they were against it. Didn’t matter what it was, who it would benefit, how right or fair or just it was.  They objected to every single thing he tried to do. From rescuing the economy to providing affordable healthcare to creating a more just legal system, they dug in and stood their ground.  NO NO NO to everything.  And then they lied about it.  They refused to govern and became the Disloyal Opposition, sabotaged everything he tried to do, and then blamed him when the results weren’t as successful as they could or should have been. They even shut down the government based on lies and blamed that uppity Black Man for it.

They lied about the economy even when it revived and thrived.  They lied about the Affordable Care Act even though it dramatically lowered the costs of healthcare, reduced the Federal deficit, provided 20 million Americans with coverage and dropped the number of the uninsured to historic lows.  They lied about unemployment even though it was reduced to the lowest rate in decades. They lied about a lack of jobs even though millions and millions of new jobs were created.  They lied about his foreign policy even though he ended two illegal wars and rebuilt trust and admiration from around the globe that had been squandered by his predecessor. They lied about the federal deficit, claiming it had skyrocketed when in fact it had been lowered by two-thirds.

They went on Fox News, the most popular ‘news’ channel ever, and lied and lied and lied. Every time they were in front of a camera or reporters or constituents, they lied and lied and lied.

And guess what?  IT WORKED. The unthinking and incurious masses of Americans who watched Fox News night after night, lie after lie, believed the lies and started to blame that stinking liberal Obama for all the bad things that were happening, for the inability for Congress to get anything done, for the stagnation of job creation and the skyrocketing crime rate, even though it was all based on lies.

Those ignorant Americans didn’t bother to think about whether or not their single source of information might be lying to them because it was too much trouble to check other sources, to use critical thinking about what they were hearing, to weigh facts against hyperbole and lies. They bought the lies hook, line and sinker.

And here we are.

A Compliant And Weak Media Murdered Truth

When Donald Trump announced his candidacy in the Summer of 2015, his speech was filled with lies and racism and unhinged insanity, but the mainstream media slavishly covered every single minute of it.  Oh sure, they chortled and guffawed at his obvious stupidity, but... no one came right out and called him a liar, nor would they.

They couldn't, and he knew it, because he is a Master of the Universe, an entitled celebrity asshole with wealth and power and influence. Someone who spent his entire life supping from a gold-covered chalice, shitting in a gold-encrusted toilet, demeaning and insulting and degrading everybody else because he could... always had, always would. And NO ONE would ever be able to tell or show him otherwise.

The mainstream media both craved and feared Donald Trump.

They would enable and embolden this pathological liar because regardless of how insane he might be, they wanted to make sure he would always give them what they craved most:  ACCESS and RATINGS. His incoherent ramblings were ratings gold, and they would never EVER do anything that would jeopardize access to the fountain of stupid that is Donald Trump because he is a Master of the Universe.

What they didn't realize is that a massive number of Americans had been pre-conditioned to believe the lies he was spewing each and every day, because they'd already been brainwashed by the incessant lying of Congressional Republicans.

The very same Republicans that had been lying and lying and lying in front of every camera that would point in their direction. Access is key, and any reporter or media that questioned them on their lies was immediately cut off from access to the Lying Republicans. No more interviews, no more quotes, no more access... so a decision had to be made. Maintain access by glossing over the lies, or question the lies and suffer the consequences.

Guess which one they chose?

And here we are.

An Ignorant and Brainwashed Public Murdered Truth

"If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be" -- Thomas Jefferson

In the weeks leading up to the election, it was obvious that we had already entered the 'post-truth' era. The lies and bullshit being spread about Hillary Clinton were unbelievable, but a huge swath of the public believed the lies because they had been preconditioned to think that way. They loved the lies, and what Grade-A Quality Bullshit the lies were! For example:

"Hillary lied about Benghazi and purposefully allowed the embassy to be overrun and burned and did nothing while the staffers were murdered."

"Hillary lied about her e-mails and server."


"Hillary suffered a stroke and is barely able to stand on her own."


"Hillary is a crook."


"Hillary has never done anything positive during her time in the public sector."


"Hillary is sick and hiding it from the media."


"Hillary is a secret lesbian."


"Hillary profited from The Clinton Foundation."


"Hillary is involved in a child sex ring run from the basement of a DC-area pizzeria."


"Hillary is responsible for the civil wars in Syria and Iraq and civil unrest throughout the Middle East."


And yet... rather than try and analyze these statements to see if there were any facts to bolster them, the Ignorant Public that loves to not think swallowed the lies whole, without hesitation, without a single thought given to the notion that maybe... perhaps... possibly... the lies were actually LIES.

Nope.  Didn't happen. They swallowed the lies whole like a carp sucking down a mayfly. Didn't even taste it going down. Sustenance.

There's a popular meme that says 'If you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs.' And make no mistake, a large swath of the American electorate is 100% USDA Grade-A Select ignorant. It starts with the watering-down and elimination of high school Civics and Social Studies and History and Political Science courses, allowing students to whip through to graduation without ever thinking... even once... about their civic duties and responsibilities, or How Things Work.


Then the semi-ignorant students are allowed to swim through college (if they go at all) without ever knowing the most basic facts of American Citizenship or American History. Those who don't attend college become Diploma'd ignoramuses with no critical thinking skills or the ability to reason fact from fiction, ripe for the picking by Lying Liars.



And here we are.

Does this seem a bit harsh? Am I being needlessly cruel or caustic or otherwise unfair to those mediocre students who, through no fault of their own, become dim adults lacking the capacity to think for themselves without their spacephone?

Well, harsh is pretty much all I have in me right now, because one of the best parts about getting old is that I've stopped giving a diddly-fuck about what others may think of my opinions. I've stopped worrying about the delicate fee-fees of the vast swath of Ignorant Americans who can't think their way out of a paper bag, who can't be bothered to educate themselves about their world, who are as incurious and bereft of context and contrast as our new Asshole-In-Chief.

As an adult trying to navigate the vast ocean of life, I've always tried to fall back on the meaningful brilliance of the many fine teachers I had in junior and high school, along with my years as a Cub and Boy Scout.  It was all of a piece, and among the most important things I learned to strive for are:  

Be truthful, no matter what. 

Treat others with the respect they deserve. 


Call 'BULLSHIT' when it's obvious. 


Question everything, and be prepared to deal with the hard answers. 


Don't be afraid to ask questions or admit you don't have all the answers.


Give everything you can to the benefit of others.


Never ever stop learning.


Truth is easily lost in the blaring reality we all share, but we gotta keep our eyes on it at all times or it becomes obscured, shaded, hidden from view. I've opined before that we have so much information flooding into our lives that it becomes almost too much to bear, allowing facts and truth to be lost the fizzy reality cocktail we drink deeply from every day.

Don't let it happen. Don't let Truth be murdered right in front of your eyes.  I know it's hard, but you gotta weed through the noise and keep looking for the hard-nuts Truth about what is meaningful and important.  Otherwise you'll become just another American Ignoramus, calmly feeding on the radioactive pablum that suffocates Truth in a thick layer of bullshit.

As a Boy Scout, I had to memorize and try to live by the Twelve Scout Laws:

"A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent."

These weren't meant to be hard and fast rules, but instead goals to strive for, to achieve in order to be a Better Scout, a Better Human Being, a Better American.  Little did I know that as I grew into Adulthood and Curmudgeonhood, those very same laws would guide me in my world view, in my interpersonal relationships, in my understanding and treatment of others.

Trustworthy is the first Scout Law.

trust-wor-thy -- (adjective) -- able to be relied on as honest or truthful; synonyms: reliable, dependable, honest, upright, principled, true, truthful, ethical, virtuous, incorruptible, unimpeachable, above suspicion, responsible, sensible, levelheaded, staunch, steadfast... "a trustworthy citizen".

Maybe this is why I'm so unbelievably angry with the Lying Republicans, the Lying Media, the Ignorant Americans who lie to themselves. I know it may be too much to ask that other citizens try a bit harder to be more truthful, more honest about the things that affect us all. I'm not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I really try hard to be honest and trustworthy in everything that I say and do, every single day.  

Why can't they at least try to do the same?

Actually, I know why... and so do you.

Lying is easy. 




Lead image, gracias de vintagecoolhunter.com; 'Politically Challenged' and Rollins Band 'Liar' video, muchismas gracias de youtube.com; todas mis gracias y alabanza a Carlos Magallanes, Los Boy Scouts de America, y Mi Papa.