Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Let It Go


As I lean into the reality of achieving 60 years on this planet, an epiphany has struck me that simply won’t let go:  

The act of forgiveness has become a scarce commodity in this modern world.

Forgiveness is an emotional tool that many people have simply forgotten how to implement. For some reason, we’ve lost the ability to forgive the transgressions of others, choosing instead to cling to the venal anger and hatred that comes with not forgiving another human being for something they did or said or didn’t do or didn’t say that was ether bad or wrong or stupid or misdirected or just plain dumb. 


Like it says in ‘The Invisible Sky Wizard Explains How To Live Your Life’:

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” – Luke 6:37

Now… don’t get me wrong here. I’m not a religious person or a believer, and I hold all religions in contempt for the brainwashing and manipulation of so many mentally enslaved people on this planet. But we humans are prone to being brainwashed and manipulated, so I forgive those humans because of their human-ness.  As for the myriad superstition-based religions that seek to ensnare and enslave malleable minds… well, whatever, they have no bearing on my life and I can ignore them with no effort whatsoever. 

Forgiveness has nothing to do with religion, and it seems religious folk are the ones who are the least forgiving among us. But we as a species definitely need to re-learn about forgiveness in order to keep our world spinning in the right direction. 

Here’s a few notable examples of my efforts to forgive.

I forgive George W. Bush.


I forgive him for being the absolute worst U.S President in my lifetime.

No… really. As much as I despised his smirking stupidity, his vapid incuriousness, his destruction of our economy and of countless American and Iraqi and Afghani lives… I forgive him. Viewed now through the lens of time and space, it’s easy for me to chalk up his disastrous tenure at the head of our nation as just… well… he did the best that he could, that’s all.

I forgive him because he’s a human being, and all human beings are flawed.  None of us are perfect, or even near-perfect, with the notable exception of The Artist to whom I am married because she is AWESOME (nice save, eh?).

It’s a funny thing, forgiveness. We have it at our disposal to allocate and use as we see fit, yet somehow we simply refuse to do so because we're dicks. Here are two words that demonstrate this concept perfectly:

Jane Fonda.


There's an entire demographic of mostly-older While males whom, upon hearing those two words, will fly into a blinding ranting rage of hatred and disgust and cursing against ‘Hanoi Jane’ because of an ill-timed photo and film taken of her during the final day of an arduous trip to Vietnam in 1972 for which she has apologized literally thousands of times.

They have no forgiveness for Jane Fonda, even after all these years. They don’t care about the situation she was in, nor her countless apologies, nor the fact that lots of things happened during that ridiculous war that were far and away more egregious and deserving of their venom than an image of her sitting on an anti-aircraft gun in some nondescript rice paddy.

They want to preserve the hate and anger and hostility. They desire to maintain the jagged little pill of blackness in their hearts, which they don’t realize has rotted out their human-ness.  They refuse to forgive, and it will gnaw at them for the rest of their lives.  They’ve chosen that path because they simply cannot find the human emotional capacity within themselves to forgive her, and it will haunt them right into the Dirt Nap.

I forgive my ex-wife.


We weren’t meant to be a couple, which became evident almost immediately after we met and got pregnant and then married, all in rapid succession.  Our marriage was a rolling disaster, and the divorce was tragic and ugly and she made damned sure I always knew how pissed off she was by feeding our daughter a constant stream of negativity towards me that took decades to overcome. But guess what?  Eventually, we became friends again, and she even admitted to my stupid face that I was a Good Father and a Good Person and she had actually forgotten why she stayed mad at me for so many years.

I had forgiven her a loooong time before that, but she finally figured out that forgiveness is better than wretched anger and unreasonable hatred. The Artist had a hard time understanding my decision to let it go way back when, but women look at things differently than men, amirite?

Now… when I say that forgiveness is an important emotional quality to have, I certainly don’t mean I should also forget.  That would be dumb, because how in the hell does a human being learn things if they forget everything that happened to them? As I grow older and shorter, I realize that I’ve always admired Gray Panthers because they've LIVED THEIR LIVES, learned from their mistakes (mostly) and use that knowledge to whip up a frothy cocktail of wisdom and pathos and humor to sip on for the remainder of their conscious lives. 

And it tastes goooood.

I forgive Donald Drumpf for being a Major League Asshole.



Poor Donald... he doesn't even realize why he's such an inflamed, bloated, stinking, reeking asshole. His life of unparalleled privilege has accorded him the ability to say and do whatever the fuck he wants, and NO ONE has ever had the nerve to tell him NO. That's what unearned inherited wealth and power and celebrity can do, but... it's not really his fault.

He was born into an extremely wealthy family, had every possible benefit accorded to him because of his birthright, attended the best schools, never wanted for anything, and was fronted a million bucks by his Nazi-sympathizing Father to get his business career started.  He's been the Captain of his own ship since the beginning and has never even once had to swab decks or peel potatoes or scrape paint or any of the myriad grunt-work jobs the rest of us enlisted slobs have to endure. 

Therefore, it should be no surprise that he acts and talks as if he is simply owed the right to be President of this-here United States on HIS terms and NO ONE is gonna question him because he's DONALD TRUMP. He simply doesn't know any other way to be. He's the poster child for and the very definition of Affluenza.

I forgive him for that, and I'm certain it matters not to him because that forgiveness is for my benefit, not his.

See what I'm getting at?

Everywhere you look, there is seething anger and rage, hatred and angst, rancor and animosity... and all because nowadays no one will give an inch, a millimeter, an iota towards deference or compromise or forgiveness. I can have a FecesBook conversation with someone whom I vehemently disagree with, but I don't hold their ignorant and uninformed opinions against them because they arrived at those ignorant and uninformed opinions via some mechanism that I can't begin to comprehend, so why should I blame them for that? I'm not them and don't pretend to know what's inside their head.


I forgive the long-dead relative who repeatedly sexually abused me as a child.


No… REALLY… I forgive him, and not just because he’s dead. I’m lucky that the abuse happened when I was still young, and although I knew at the time what he was doing to me wasn’t right, he never actually hurt me either physically or emotionally. In fact, he provided me with an early window into my own blossoming maleness and appreciation for why girls were just so darned cute and special and fun to be around… and this was in grade school. Well, that and the hush money he’d give me that would be spent on Orange Crush and Look bars and MAD Magazines.

He grew up in a family environment where sexual abuse, while not necessarily condoned, was a fact of life and just happened. It’s not an uncommon thing, no matter what anyone says, and there are many people who suffer their whole lives with the self-imposed shame of having been sexually or physically abused but never EVER admit or speak or think of it lest they open themselves up to more shame and scorn and ridicule. I’m pretty sure that same internal shame is what caused my younger brother to live his life inside a bottle until he wasn’t living any more.

I forgive the Barack and Hillary Haters.



Think about it:  why do some folks hate Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton so much? These two amazing and dynamic people, who have given a majority of their adult lives towards the betterment of all Americans, are roundly vilified and derided, hated and accused of being any number of terrible things.  Why is that?

Could it be that as a strong and visible politically liberal people, it's very easy to accuse them of wrongdoing and malfeasance without a shred of evidence, yet have those accusations given legitimacy and validation by a media machine that is always taking out the long knives and slicing for no reason other than they can?

After years of negativity and lies and hatred and animosity towards them by a ratings-addicted media, people who simply won't educate themselves are brainwashed and convinced that Barry and Hilz are inherently evil, which is painfully obvious by asking the haters a few simple questions about why they hate them. 

I forgive those haters because of their ignorance... they really DON'T know anything. They simply parrot what they think they know because they only know what they've been told. It happens over and over again to the point of absurdity, but that's the result when someone's been wrongfully vilified for years and even decades.  It becomes a given truth, and unless one is compelled to investigate further, that given truth is all they have.

I forgive the Boss who cursed me out to my face numerous times.


Although he's now retired to play golf and goof off, I was subjected to numerous curse-filled, spittle-flecked, raging rants from a guy who I worked under for 10 long years. His normally semi-snarky attitude was easy enough to handle, but his ability to fly into a screaming "FUCK YOU, MOTHERFUCKER!!!" rant without warning kept me off-balance for many years until I finally figured out where his simmering rage came from.  Once I understood his motivation, I learned how NOT to take it personally.

The Artist isn't quite so forgiving towards him, and of course I love her for that.

People who are prone to such outbursts of anger and hostility are usually marinating in it 24/7 for one or many reasons, but they're well-pickled and can squirt out the Hate Juice with a viciousness that is almost breathtaking. I was known to have a quick temper that dated back to my youth, but I've learned how to resolve those tendencies and rarely (if ever) slip back into that mindset. I know how it feels to be both a giver and receiver of that unleashed anger, so I'm tuned to the wavelength that keeps it at bay. 

Mostly. I'm human, too.

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

During the final few months of my first marriage, we had decided to try counseling to see if the union could be salvaged (it couldn't), but after only two sessions she announced SHE was done with counseling because the problems we were having were MY fault, so it was up to me to get right. Nice.

I continued the counseling sessions for another few months, which turned out to be a watershed moment in time.  Counselor Donna helped me to see where I was at, where I wanted to go and how to get there.  She also introduced me to a phenomenon that often caused marital problems called 'gunnysacking'.

'Gunnysacking' is something people in troubled relationships do when they would rather not discuss or fight about a particular issue. Instead of hashing things out, they take their anger and stick it inside an emotional gunnysack that's always slung over their shoulder. Time after time, it seems easier to stick one argument after another into the gunnysack instead of dealing with the problems at hand.

Eventually, that sack gets loaded down with anger and issues and deferred hostility until one day, usually the result of a minor squabble, one or both parties take their sacks filled with emotional crap and dump it out all at once, which can lead to severe chaos and unintended consequences. Relationships end over this kind of emotional violence.

Donna helped me to understand that my troubled marriage was like me clinging to a slippery rock in the middle of a swollen and raging river, weighted down with a sack loaded to the brim with unresolved emotional crap.  Letting go of the crap-filled sack (forgiveness, no matter what) was the first important step, but I still clung to the rock, afraid of what would happen if I let go (divorce). I could cling to the rock and take what I could get (unhappy marriage), or let go of the rock and swim like hell to try and reach the shore (destination unknown).

Letting go of the rock and making a break for the shore meant I might actually drown in the process, but as R.P. McMurphy said when he simply couldn't budge the massive water station in 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest': "Well I tried, dammit! At least I tried!!"

"There are no guarantees", Donna told me... "but at least you'll know you're going somewhere, and if you try hard enough, you'll reach dry land and the chance to start your life again."

BOOM.

Donna saved my life and taught me a valuable lesson that I still use today. Sure, sometimes I get angry about things that I can and can't control, but I don't stay angry. I let that anger rise, internalize my understanding of it and then Let... It... Go. If someone does me wrong or something riles me up, I let through a flash of anger (because it's a solid and honest emotion) and then immediately forgive. I refuse to drop anything into my gunnysack, because life is hard enough to navigate without the extra weight of needless emotional bullshit.

Did I mention The Artist and I have now been together for 34 years?

"Forgiveness liberates the soul. That is why it is such a powerful weapon."

Nelson Mandela knew it. I do too, and so can you.



Mandela image, gracias de static1.squarespace.com; GWB image, gracias de gannett-cdn.com; Fonda image, gracias de static.guim.uk; Flo image, gracias de groundfloormedia.com; Drumpf image, gracias de answerguy.com; Molester image, gracias de dailymail.co.uk; Mob image, gracias de michaelshannon.files.wordpress.com; Boss image, gracias de rawstory.com; Marshall Crenshaw 'Walkin' Around' video, gracias de youtube.com; Fuck Donald Drumpf, I'm With Hillary and I forgive Bill Clinton too.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Rules of the Road


I engage in an extremely dangerous and life-threatening activity almost every day… one that has the potential to seriously injure or kill me, no matter what I say or do.

I try not to think too much about it, otherwise I’d simply not participate.  I accept the risks and do everything possible to increase my chances for survival. The odds are in my favor, but eventually my luck could run out and there ain’t a damned thing I can do about it other than not participate at all.

What is this dangerous and unavoidable activity that has me concerned about my personal safety?

It’s called ‘driving my van on the freeway’.

Think about it: I’m driving a 3500-pound projectile at 75mph alongside dozens of other projectiles, all being driven by people that I will never know, people who could be drunk or high or stoned or sleepy or depressed or distracted or angry or upset or insane or otherwise in no condition to be driving a projectile at high speed. I take it on faith that the dozens of projectiles surrounding me will continue to stay in their lanes, that the operating humans will pay attention to the task at hand and not crash me into oblivion.

Unless they're texting, in which case all bets are off.  Dumbasses.

Thankfully, this life-threatening activity so many of us take part in is considered dangerous enough to be heavily regulated to mitigate disaster which, for the most part, drastically reduces the carnage.

But those regulations cannot and do not eliminate the carnage… they only reduce the carnage.

Our high-speed projectiles are regulated in so many ways it can make your head spin.  There are seat belts and air bags and warning lights and crush zones.  Regulations to ensure the tires don’t explode, the fuel doesn’t self-ignite, the seats don’t fly apart, the headlights shine far and bright enough, the glass doesn’t shatter or implode, the interior fabric doesn’t suffocate us, the fasteners don’t slip off or fail, the exhaust doesn’t poison us, the electrical system doesn’t electrocute us, ad nauseum.

As a result of the massive number of regulations, the projectiles have become amazingly safe to operate at high speed without spontaneously exploding into thousands of pieces, turning our fragile bodies into a red gooey mist. Naturally, there are Patriots across the country who HATE REGULATION OF ANY SORT and would prefer the Federal gummint keep its filthy laws out of their Patriotic lives completely. To those Patriots, I offer a hearty Fuck Off.  I like having a safe vehicle that works well, and I'm certain the Patriots haven’t fully analyzed their insane hatred of government enough to realize how dumb their assertions usually are.

But it doesn’t end there, oh no. There are also a massive number of regulations pertaining to the humans who pilot those projectiles, again all in the interest of reducing the carnage, which can never be 100% eliminated.

Anyone can buy one of these projectiles, but the regulations pertain to the legal ownership and operation of one.  It requires studying the established rules for the safe and sane operation of that projectile, taking a written and operational test to ensure the education was effective, whereupon a license is issued to drive the projectile that must be renewed at regular intervals.  The shiny new projectile must also be registered to ensure it is indeed safe to operate. But then you have to acquire liability insurance to cover the projectile just in case you you drive it drunk or high or stoned or sleepy or depressed or distracted or angry or upset or insane or otherwise in no condition to be driving a projectile at high speed and you injure or kill yourself or another human.

All of that is before you even begin to think about heading out onto those dangerous freeways populated with speeding projectiles driven by other humans who may very well be drunk or high or stoned or sleepy or depressed or distracted or angry or upset or insane or otherwise in no condition to be driving a projectile at high speed.

We all depend on the laws and regulations to make sure the projectiles are safe and the humans driving them have been thoroughly trained in the safe and sane operation of projectiles at speed.  There are no guarantees, but overall the system of laws, education and personal adherence to the laws mean I have a pretty damned good chance of doing my 50-mile daily commute without tragedy.

My high-school Driver's Ed teacher always spoke about 'The Rules of the Road'. I totally understood what he was talking about, even way back when in the dark ages of 1972.

If a driver acts lawlessly or with negligent disregard for others and someone gets killed as a result, more often than not they're charged with 'assault with a deadly weapon' (I'm looking at you, Suge) or perhaps 'involuntary manslaughter' or some other nasty legal term. The price paid for that transgression can be serious... not always, but usually.  That's what happens when you break the law, man.

You know where I'm going with this, don't you?

Try as I might, I've been unable to think of anything that we humans use while in proximity to each other that has as much potential for death and destruction as cars and guns.

But guess what:  one of those potentially deadly weapons is heavily-regulated, while the other is so wildly unregulated as to be essentially regulation-free. 

We accept that cars can be dangerous, so most of us also accept the myriad rules and regulations so we can feel somewhat safe while driving our projectiles at 75mph in close proximity to each other.  That's the price we pay to have piece of mind in a civilized society.

Sadly, it ain't the same with guns.

Thanks to a seriously flawed misunderstanding of The Second Amendment to our Constitution, along with an insane lust to fondle deadly weapons, our Exceptional America is experiencing a gun-driven bloodbath unique among the world's industrialized nations. It's so easy to obtain a high-caliber weapon in the US nowadays that the idea of owning one is almost blase'. Our government's actual knowledge of the gun violence, its causes and results are woefully inadequate by design (Thanks, NRA and Republicans!), oversight of purchases and misuse are almost non-existent given the volume of guns purchased, and don't even get me started on the insane idea that if you can buy it, you can use it without ANY training or testing or licensing or insurance.

This has to stop.

Lots of words have been written on this subject, and I'm surely not the only rabid wolverine to place this stake in the blood-soaked ground, but the time has come to treat guns the same way we treat cars, both devices that we use while in close proximity to each other that have the potential to injure or kill ourselves and those around us.

This has nothing to do with quashing individual freedoms, government tyranny, watering the Tree of Liberty with Type O Positive, black helicopters, the wild-eyed fanaticism of every ilk/persuasion/religion/political bent, or any of the archaic and inane reasons spouted by The Armed Ones about why more laws won't make a difference.

IT WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE, DAMMIT.

Right now, all over our gun-obsessed nation, we're forced to be in close proximity to people who are carrying loaded weapons but may also be drunk or high or stoned or sleepy or depressed or distracted or angry or upset or insane or otherwise in no condition to be armed. We don't know if that person has just been audited by the IRS, been informed their spouse is gay, been fired from their job of 25 years, been called a pussy by their teenage son, found out they have cancer, had their paycheck garnished for child support, had their home taken away by foreclosure, dropped their Big Mac Combo Meal on the floor at lunch... whatever.

We don't know where or how that person got their gun, if they understand how it works, if they've ever fired the weapon, or even if they understand the deadly force they have concealed in their pants, especially if they don't like the way you looked at them while standing in line at Starbuck's.

On the freeway, we have a pretty good idea that everyone around us is trained in the basic operation of their speeding projectile and have accepted the legal and ethical responsibility for doing so.

On the other hand, we have no clue if the person packing heat in your proximity has the faintest notion of how/when/why their weapon could or should be discharged. 

WE SIMPLY DON'T KNOW.

However, we do know that in the same way humans get VERY AGGRESSIVE when they put their hands on the steering wheel, guns have the unique ability to convince their owners that they are superheroes, imbued with special powers of invincibility and hubris that often ends in needless bloodshed. 

Extra Credit:  the next time you're in your speeding projectile on the freeway, think about how many of the drivers around you are doing so drunk or high or stoned or sleepy or depressed or distracted or angry or upset or insane or otherwise in no condition to be driving a car... AND are carrying a loaded weapon.

SCARY.

The answer to this situation is actually very simple. Treat ownership of a gun the same way we do as a car, nothing more, nothing less. Make it as rote and bland as going to the DMV.  Require the potential gun owner to be more personally invested in their choice to own a weapon, to understand the responsibilities of owning a weapon, to accept the personal liabilities that come with owning a weapon, and to think hard about their choice.

If you're screaming "BUT BUT BUT... SECOND AMENDMENT!!!!" right now, just remember: this is about our personal survival and civility in the MODERN WORLD. We're not shooting each other with fucking muskets, you know. This is the year 2015, not 1875, and the deadly matte black death sticks that are currently all the rage are at least as dangerous than any speeding heavy projectile on the freeway. 

Cars have come a long way since the Cugnot Steamer (don't be lazy, look it up!), and we all benefit from two centuries worth of scientific and technical advances that make cars amazing tools for daily driving... yes, even the lowly and much-derided Mitsubishi Mirage kicks all kinds of ass over most cars built in the 80's. The driver's challenge is to keep up with all the things modern cars can do, but the responsibility of legally owning and driving one is even more important.

So it is with guns.

This form of boring SOP regulation won't end tragic gun deaths... nothing could, because human beings can be stupid and venal and will do stupid and venal things, especially when they're armed while drunk or high or stoned or sleepy or depressed or distracted or angry or upset or insane or otherwise in no condition to possess a loaded weapon. But car-like regulations WILL prevent people who have no business owning a weapon from being able to legally obtain one, and will also reduce the flippant ownership of one.  Could they get one illegally?  Of course they could, just like they could also own and drive a car illegally, but the odds are against them doing it for very long, and most law-abiding citizens will do anything they can to avoid being law-breakers.

As for the 'open-carry' fans, when we see that hog leg on your hip or strapped to your back, swinging around like a metal penis, at least we'll know that you did your due diligence, followed the rules and passed all the tests necessary to allow you to openly display that Steely Dan.  Good for you, nice job, enjoy your death stick.  But if John Law sees your metal penis and asks you to prove you have a license and insurance and you don't, well... you have your metal penis confiscated and maybe you even go to jail if it's happened more than once.

That's what happens when you break the law, man.

Just like a car.

This sea-change won't be easy, and there will be much screaming and teeth-gnashing and upheaval from The Armed Ones, but that's the price they must pay to keep their Beloveds with them at all times, like a deadly security blanket. That's the price we all must pay to survive and thrive in a modern civilized society.

"We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools." -- Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)



Lead image, gracias de drgrobsanimationreview.com; Deep Purple 'Highway Star' video, muchismas gracias de youtube.com; Fuck the NRA.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Close Encounters Of The Rasta Kind




It was just supposed to be a trip to the local swap meet... that's all.

Through the misty haze of time and space, I recall it was either 1981 or 1982, hard to know for sure, but definitely somewhere in that vicinity. Waaaay back... before I'd met The Artist, before my then Soon-To-Be-Ex-Wife dumped me and all my belongings on the curb in front of our apartment building, before my counseling-inspired epiphany about WTF was going on in my life that was making me such a miserable and depressed wolverine.

On yet another tense Saturday morning, I'd convinced the STBEW that it would be a good idea for me to take our Awesome Daughter (then 3 or 4 years old) for a mellow morning stroll at the Foothill Drive-In Swap Meet in Azusa (CA).  I really just needed a little daddy/daughter time away from the apartment, away from the anger and hostility, away from her cigarette smoke choking up the place, away from... reality.

So there we were, me and the AD, her just barely holding my hand, straining ahead with excitement as we walked along the long aisles of furniture and clothing, tools and stacks of old Playboys, knick knacks and used underwear, the excreta of so many garages and storage rooms and exasperated lives that needed some extra cash. The sun had just popped over the high peripheral walls of the drive-in, but the cool of the morning still demanded our hats and sweaters and cups of coffee or hot chocolate or whiskey, if you were so inclined.

We meandered along each aisle, criss-crossing back and forth from one side to the other, one hump to the other, stopping at some booths and passing others by, focusing on stuff that I didn't want or need but was interesting to look at. Natch, the AD was drawn to the used toys and headless dolls and anything shiny and pretty and light enough for her to grab and show me, shouting "LOOK, DADDY!!", putting a smile on my face as only she could.

At the end of each aisle, more people selling their stuff were lined up along the high walls, taking up the periphery with a vengeance, begging us to see their piles before doing a u-turn into the next long aisle. Of course, we always looked at their stuff, because they were there, and we were there, and it was a way to kill some time on a Saturday morning because there was no tension, no unspoken words of derision, no snarky comments, no fucking cigarette smoke.

About half-way down the asphalt grade, we passed by and stopped in front of one booth along the vengeful sidelines. There were lots of books and records, some interesting clothing,  furniture and other household stuff, like so many other booths. What pinged me was the music... it was reggae music, that much I knew, but I had no idea who was singing a tune about not rocking his boat. After a moment, I glanced at the seller and noticed his long brownish-blonde dreadlocks, which were something of an anomaly at the time.  The more I looked at him, the more I realized that... hey, I know this guy!

He was selling something to another dude, finished up and walked over to where me and the AD were hanging around when I realized exactly who he was.

Me:  "MAX (not his real name)... is that you?"

Him:  "Oh wow... Bob, is that you?"

And that's how we began our Close Encounter of the Rasta Kind.

Max and I had been classmates all through grade and junior high school, sharing the same teachers and pre-teen schoolyard angst that was so much a part of growing up in the 60's. We'd also been fast friends and belonged to the same Boy Scout Troop, with countless camp-outs and hikes and shared scouting experiences between us. He lived only a few blocks from my house, sharing a home with his older sister, Mom and Step-Dad.  I knew it was his step-dad because his Mom had a different last name, and his folks were always really nice to me because I used his house (along with several other friend's homes) as my hideout when my own jail grew too stifling and scary.

Max loved music like me, but he was far more in-tune with the musical context and meanings than I was. His room, a place where we hung out quite a bit during junior high, had black walls and psychedelic fluorescent posters and black lights and incense burners and lots of Beatles posters on the walls.  He was smitten by the whole Sergeant Pepper phenomenon, and we'd lounge on the floor, listening to vinyl records spinning, incense burning, curtains drawn, black light on, day-glo colors bouncing on the walls, dreaming of pretty hippie girls. He introduced me to music I was barely aware of, music that would become integral to my life's journey:  Cream, Doors, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf,... and The Beatles, he always played The Beatles.

As we grew older and started high school, we drifted apart as childhood friends always do, me to my hot-rod cruising and Drama groups, him to the crew that hung out in a notorious walled-in area of our campus called 'The Patio' where all the stoners and hippies gathered, smoking cigarettes and daring the narcs to bust someone. We never friended again, our lives rocketing in different trajectories.

Until we met again at the Foothill Drive-In Swap Meet.

It was a great reunion, he so glad to see me with my daughter, me so glad to see him looking so weird and wonderful, with his freckled face and crazy dreads. We stood there, talking and talking, my daughter happy to play with some toys and sitting on the carpet, shouting "HELLO!!!" at all the grownups passing by.

Him:  "You daughter is so beautiful... you are truly blessed.  I hope that someday my wife and I will be blessed with a young one like yours."

He and his wife were living with (I think) her Mom, trying to scrape together the dough for their own place, so he was here selling reggae records and tapes, Rasta hats and clothing before it was cool, personal items and the detritus of a life in flux.  I felt a sense of happiness at being with him again, my old friend, there with my daughter in tow and a sea of humanity swirling around us, buying crappy shit and shitty crap.

Him:  "Hey man... wanna toke up?"

Me:  "Here? Now? Won't we get, you know... in trouble?"

Him:  "Naw... this place is totally cool, everyone here is just enjoying the vibe, don't worry."

So he pulled out a fattie, lighted it up and we stood there, sharing some weed on a Saturday morning at the swap meet, enjoying our cosmic reconnection, feeling like we owned the world. Eventually he started telling me more about his musical spiritual guide, Bob Marley, whose music he played almost non-stop that morning, music that had grabbed my attention to begin with. With the buzz in my head and the sun in my heart (I was so high!), I felt like I had connected to the music, for the first time really taking in the reggae beat and the sun-shiney songs speaking about oppression and salvation and redemption.

I bought my first Bob Marley record from Max right then and there, titled 'Kaya', which displayed a gigantic burning roach surrounded by pot plants on the album cover.  Perfect.

After about an hour, I knew it was time to head off and leave him to his selling.  We hugged and traded phone numbers and promised that we'd get together again.  As the AD and I slowly walked away, my head turned to glass and my hand filled with my daughter's hand, I felt like it was OK to leave this place and head back to the adult prison I shared with the STBEW.

Max and I never got together again.  I called him a few weeks later but the number was disconnected, so he likely had moved on to another space and place. Soon enough, my own life came crashing down in front of the apartment, my crap strewn all around me, sitting on the curb, lucky to have a borrowed car that I could stuff with my stuff and roll on down the road to... somewhere else. Gone was my married co-habative life, my beautiful daughter, any semblance of normalcy.  I became a semi-vagabond, scratching for places to stay, a couch here, a spare bedroom there, sometimes even sleeping in my borrowed car parked in a friend's driveway, too ashamed to ask for shelter.

But it got better. I got better.

I tossed away so many things during that time of flux, but I kept my stereo, my tapes, my records... and my copy of 'Kaya'. My devotion to reggae music and Bob Marley, sown at that swap meet, began to grow into a forest of one-ness with the world, that beat pulsing with my own heart, speaking to me as a catalyst to always be upright, always be moving, always be seeking better things. To this day, I've quietly thanked Max for his musical stewardship and introduction to Bob Marley's world vision through his music, and it has always left me inspired and invigorated to live my life to the fullest.

Robert Nesta Marley died in 1981 from complications of an aggressive cancer that was secretly taking over his body until he noticed a lesion under his big toe, a symptom of a much larger problem, and he rejected traditional medicine for a holistic approach.  Sadly, it did not give him comfort, and he died right around the same time that I discovered him via my good old school friend Max. It's humbling to imagine what Bob's life would have been like had he survived his battle with The Big C, but it's also a fool's errand to speculate like that.  He's become iconic... a musical and spiritual Kahuna, speaking to us all from beyond the ether.  Maybe that's how it was always supposed to be.

But wait... there's more.

Fast-forward to this very year of 2015, to a world of instant digital gratification, social media, Twatters, Snapfucks, Instapoo, FecesBook... all of the digital media we crave with a mindless fervor that makes us think it's OK to cruise the freeway at 80mph while looking down at a text on our device (not me... never me, I swear). As so many do, I look on FecesBook for old friends, school chums, scouting mates, people I knew and liked and loved and cared about.  One day on a whim, I typed in Max's name and BOOM... there he is! I messaged him, waited a few days and sure enough he responded, shocked yet extremely pleased that I thought enough to find him.

We've traded some messages, filled each other in on our things, and it sounds like he's still neck-deep in the musical world, managing reggae bands and promoting concerts.  His dreads are still natty, his face is still freckled, and like me he has some miles on the odometer that have given us both the patina of experience. I made it a point to remind him of our chance encounter so long ago, and how important it was to me then and now. He thought that was pretty cool.

Will we hook up again any time soon?  Hard to say, but we've reconnected again, through time and space and across the vast gulf of our own individual lives. And one thing is for sure: we both still have a deep and sincere love of Bob Marley and his music, a love for reggae that connects us in ways that nothing else can.

I hope that someday, I'll be able to imbue my Grandson with the seed of the Rasta musical spirit, so that he can swim in that ocean of connectivity to the world in a different way than his peers. I feel confident he'll have the same Close Encounter that I did, all those years ago.



Lead image, gracias de journalofmusicalthings.com; Bob Marley 'Satisfy My Soul' video, muchismas gracias de youtube.com.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Point


Funny how things work out sometimes.

I'd been writing an essay for almost a month about my serious issues with The Bible, pondering why so many Amerikkans use a book from the Bronze Age as the benchmark for their lives, and why IMHO it makes no sense to do so in our modern society.

I'd done extensive research, re-acquainted myself with both The Bible and Darwin's 'Origin of Species', and developed what I felt is a strong indictment on the capacity to place any stock whatsoever in The Bible's ancient myths, fables, parables and tales. Although I knew my carefully measured words might incite anger and hostility from family and friends, I always write from my head AND heart and refuse to pull any punches.

Then just a few weeks back, our infamous Supreme Court handed down two sane and intelligent opinions: the first saving the Affordable Care Act from yet another a nonsensical partisan challenge, the second granting first-time equality status to same-sex marriage in all fifty states. After the horror of the racist murders in Charleston, South Carolina, Barry's amazing eulogy for Reverend Pinckney, and the long-overdue formal denunciation of the Confederate Battle Flag, the week ended with a flourish of jurisprudence, democratic process and civil morality.

And right on cue, the Religious Conservatives went into full-tilt spittle-flecked vein-popping nuclear meltdown mode.

Based on their universal derision of the SCOTUS decision on the ACA, you'd think they were ready to impeach and/or lynch the liberal justices, that Chief Justice John Roberts was being blackmailed by the Usurper Black Man Probably-A-Muslim Non-President, and that a pogrom of anti-religious sentiment was being fostered to lock up Believers in re-education camps underneath shuttered Wal-Mart stores that weren't already being used for the impending overthrow of the Republic of Texas.

But that was just the appetizer.

When the decision legalizing same-sex marriage was announced, I was astonished at the vehement reaction by those same patriotic Religious Conservatives. As usual when things don't go their way, they screeched about losing their religious freedumbs, and that our nation would cease to exist as a beacon of morality and be plunged into a dark cavern of forced gay marriages leading to the spectacle of dogs and cats living together, or something to that effect.

What really got my attention was the unhinged hysteria, threats of political retribution and physical violence against any and all who choose to side against them on this issue, all in the name of their pissed-off omnipotent Sky Wizard:

"God is still very much at work! He's still very much at work, and He will not tolerate this. While the president is decorating the White House with the rainbow colors, lighting it up... which, by the way, an unbelievable affront to God. Do you understand really, that the rainbow, has it been so perverted, and so co-opted, in this country, that people listening and they don't understand that that was God's sign to mankind that he would never destroy the earth again by flood?  And he destroyed it because of the things that men were doing to each other! And so you take his symbol and you use it for a sign of sexual behavior that is ungodly, unallowed, the boundaries, God says 'No, no, no,' and you take his sign, and you think that you're rewriting the laws of nature? That the creature is telling the creator how it's going to be? And you think that's not going to have some consequence? No, my grief is for you because you don't understand what you just did! You don't understand. Now to get more practical about this, the terror threat against this nation has gone up exponentially." 
Sandy Rios, American Family Association

"Same-sex 'marriage' is not the ultimate issue, it is a stepping stone. The real issue is the Obama administration's dogged determination to eliminate anything and everything that stands in the way of the President's radical agenda. Silence dissent. And to do that, you punish speech - and belief. Orthodox Christianity's truth doesn't change, and as long as we remain tethered to this transcendent, unchangeable truth, we are a problem for them. If you can't change it, you must eliminate it. Which is what they are seeking to do. With the Supreme Court ruling to redefine marriage, things are going to get rough for Christians in America." 
Tony Perkins, Family Research Center

"This ruling is not about marriage equality, it's about marriage redefinition.  This irrational, unconstitutional rejection of the expressed will of the people in over 30 states will prove to be one of the court's most disastrous decisions, and they have had many. The only outcome worse than this flawed, failed decision would be for the President and Congress, two co-equal branches of government, to surrender in the face of this out-of-control act of unconstitutional, judicial tyranny. The Supreme Court can no more repeal the laws of nature and nature's God on marriage that it can the laws of gravity.  Under our Constitution, the court cannot write a law, even though some cowardly politicians will wave the white flag and accept it without realizing that they are failing their sworn duty to reject abuses from the court.  If accepted by Congress and the President, this decision will be a serious blow to religious liberty, which is at the heart of the First Amendment."
Mike Huckabee, Former Governor of Arkansas, current Presidential candidate

I've had just about enough of this ignorant, fanatical bullshit.

I've had it with Christian zealots trying to claim that they alone are the arbiters of what is and isn't 'Constitutional', when they freely admit that their belief in God and The Bible is more important to them than The Constitution and Man's Laws.

I'm done with these religious fanatics who obviously have little if any actual understanding of how our three separate branches of government are supposed to work, separately and together.

I'm sickened at the notion that supposedly-educated adults will try and frame serious and important social issues within the context of their faith-based mysticism.

Here's what disturbs me the most: these religious fanatics... the Rios', Perkins', Huckabees... are the same ones who are always issuing threats against anyone they don't agree with. Fire, brimstone and damnation. Second Amendment Remedies. They love guns (you know I'm right), and are the first to use insults and eliminationist rhetoric, veiled or overt, to push their agenda forward. They claim they have their God's blessing and approval, so anything and everything they do is for His glory, and therefore acceptable.

See that image at the top of this essay?  It asks you to explain the difference between a Christian Warrior and a Muslim Jihadi.  The explanation is:  THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE. They are both totally fucked in the head.

When religious fanaticism and zealotry take over a person's brain, heart and soul, they become society's worst enemy, doesn't matter which society or country.  When they no longer place Man's Law above their chosen God's Law, they're already dead and in their respective heaven, they just haven't left this mortal coil yet. I've said more than once that I fear a violent Christian uprising in this country far more than I do anything that can be mustered from the Middle East, because the Christian fanatics are already here, and they are armed, baby!

On (almost) every continent around the globe, the fires of sectarian wars and death are raging, all in the name and honor and glory of one deity or another.  It's a sickness, this ability to give up your humanity for some faith-based cause that promises immortality if only you suspend your free will and sanity. It's Hutus against Tutsis, Sunnis against Shias, Muslims against Christians. It's totally insane, yet they keep killing each other over their faith.

"My God's bigger and better than your God, and I will kill you to prove it."

Ignorant. Infantile. Immoral. Insane.

"The true civilization is where every man gives to every other, every right that he claims for himself."
Robert Ingersoll, political leader, orator (1833-1899)

I love how those who are dead-set against same-sex marriage refuse to equate it as a civil right, as if the struggles for Black Americans to survive and thrive was somehow different. Here's a few choice comments being used frequently by those who hate the idea of same-sex marriage:

"It's unnatural."

"It's contrary to God's will."

"It's about illicit sex, not committed relationships."

"The majority of Americans oppose such marriages."

HA!!!  Fooled you... these are the exact quotes that good, decent, God-fearing people said about interracial marriages back in the day, back during the most recent national struggle for civil rights of people to live their lives the way they chose. In fact, you can take ANY derogatory statement about same-sex marriage being spouted today, replace the words 'same-sex' with 'interracial' and you have a verbatim message as used by those God-fearing regressives who felt our country would fall into the Godless abyss if the coloreds were allowed to marry their lily-white virgins.

But that's not really The Point of this essay.  Here's The Point:

We have a growing Christian fanaticism problem in this country, a far greater threat to our democracy than from any nascent offshore extremists. 

We have a segment of our population that believes their version of Christianity is more important and vital than The Constitution, which they really don't even understand or comprehend.  We have a portion of our society who, although they've never actually studied and/or understood the framework of our democracy, have decided their religious indoctrination trumps their civil responsibilities. To them, God's Will overcomes Man's Law, and that's a dangerous mindset to have. It is literally the same exact philosophy that allows ISIL jihadists to destroy ancient artifacts, murder innocent people and threaten the stability of the entire Middle East. Their God rules, an they will PROVE IT WITH GUNS.

The two women pictured above are one in the same... they are both brainwashed religious warriors, unashamed to glorify violence as their pathway to immortality.  Their skewed views on faith allows them to justify violent religious insurrection. There's no other way to interpret the visual messages.

They are both terrorists.

"Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!"

"Allahu Akbar!"

Ignorant. Infantile. Immoral. Insane.

Although I choose not to cede my free-thinking mind over to religious voodoo, I revel in the notion that people in this country are free to believe whatever they choose, or not to believe at all, just like the First Amendment states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

So when the fanatics like Huckabee, Santorum, Gohmert, Graham, Perkins, Hamm, Rios, Cruz, et al ad nauseum, make statements that our nation should be ruled by Biblical Law instead of Constitutional Law, they're fomenting insurrection... sedition... treason. They're stating their intention to establish a theocracy, and are not shy about threatening civil disobedience and inciting their followers towards violence to reach that goal.

Ignorant. Infantile. Immoral. Insane.



But it doesn't have to be that way... honest! We must simply choose to be the opposite of what they are, which is:  Intelligent. Mature. Moral. Sane.

Several years ago, The Artist and I visited the 'Body World' exhibit at the California Science Center, a somewhat controversial display of self-donated human bodies that had been subjected to a process known as 'plastination'. Essentially, this process replaces the tissue and blood with polymers that maintain the integrity of soft structures, allowing the body to be dissected without decomposition and that lovely aroma. The exhibit included dozens of adult and child cadavers, showcased in a radically beautiful format that allowed us to see the skinless inner workings of the human body almost exactly as they are in live beings.

We learned that the originator of the exhibit, Gunther von Hagens, first presented the complete bodies with no external facial features, but that people had a hard time relating because they were displayed without the facial features the skin provides.  To counter that off-putting visage, he began to leave the lips, eyebrows and nose on the faces, which immediately made the bodies much more pleasant to view, and therefore accessible to the viewer.

"I've got you under my... oh, wait a minute."
As we walked through the amazing exhibition, I had an epiphany about the bodies: even though we knew people from all over the world had donated their bodies to be plastinated, it was impossible to discern their race, because they all looked the same without the skin! I got excited about the notion that it was a perfect metaphor to counter the divisions we humans seem to have between each other based on our religious beliefs and skin color. You know, the very divisions that typically lead to ethnic and sectarian strife, hatred, violence and bloodshed.

We are all the same under our skin.

It's the same with our minds.  No one is born a racist... a homophobe... a religious fanatic... it's all learned from someone else. If we're going to survive as a species, we must learn that it's OK to have a deeply-held faith and live your life according to the precepts of that faith. However, that faith must be counter-balanced with the knowledge that every single person alive is unique and operates under a different set of principles, some that are agreeable and some that aren't.  It doesn't make them bad or evil or wrong, just... different.

As a species, we must learn to accept those differences and revel in the idea that as different as we all might be in our philosophies, our minds and bodies are all exactly the same under the skin... there is no difference. In this country, we must adhere to our co-owned heritage of The Constitution as OUR laws... all of us, believers and non-believers, and never allow religious doctrine or dogma to take precedent over our most valued values, the ones we co-own. Together.

"It is well to remember that the entire population of the universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others."
John Andrew Holmes, american politician, poet (1773-1843)

Of course, sure as my head is shiny and bald, there are going to be certain people who will read this essay and automatically assume that I advocate for the destruction of their religion, to suppress their faith and quash their religious freedom. Their reasoning is faulty and misguided, but they will hold fast to those concepts because they are blinded by their faith, a requirement to maintain such a naive view of our varied and complex world.

The secret to casting off the shackles of intolerance and ignorance, of religious fanaticism and sectarian hatred, is to be a human being who loves every other human being equally and without reservation.

To be Intelligent. Mature. Moral. Sane.

That is the difference.

That is The Point.



Lead image, 'Inherit The Wind' and Neil Young 'Imagine ' videos, gracias de youtube.com; Body World image, gracias de darkroom.baltimoresun.com.

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!!!!!