Thursday, November 21, 2013

Need For Speed

I read something recently that really pissed me off. 

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

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

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

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

And that REALLY pissed me off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know what I’m talking about here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lead image, gracias de; Deep Purple 'Highway Star' video, muchismas gracias de

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Warrior Pride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And for the record, Nichelle Nichols was SMOKING HOT.

Carlos Magallanes, Sociology Monster

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

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

Friday, April 26, 2013

Genie In A Bottle

We modern Amerikkans certainly are lucky, amirite?

We have every convenience that science (if you believe in that stuff) can offer. Spacephones that provide all the information we could ever want right there in our hands unless we drop the damned thing and the touch-screen goes CRUNCH.  We have cars that are also Wi-Fi hot spots and mobile entertainment pods, with ass-vibrators to warn us about other cars or slow-moving skin bags because we’re too busy looking at the spacephone while we’re backing up.  We have mega-screen plasma HD 3D teevees that will stream digital movies, browse the web, order a crappy pizza and display multiple basketball games so you don’t miss a single point or foul or cheerleader up-skirt.

Yep, we sure are lucky. Unless, of course, you are a woman who decides she doesn’t want to be pregnant.

Here we are, in the second decade of the 21st century, living in arguably the wealthiest and most liberated nation on the planet, yet still having a terribly dividing discourse on whether or not women have the right to decide for themselves if they wish to have children or not.  It’s a real-world issue that is muddied-up by sanctimonious morons who champion their Bronze Age religious dogma as justification for making sure their personal beliefs are codified into laws for everyone else. First Amendment?  What First Amendment?

But that’s not primarily what this essay is all about, nope nope nope.

This essay is about big stiff dicks… raging hard-ons… massive cocks… turgid penises… throbbing dongs.  You know, that which is held most exalted in the male performance-dominated psyche, fixated on what all  men are supposed to be truly concerned about:  getting a great big dick whenever it suits him.  And we have the technology to make sure that happens, thanks to modern medicine.

Are we a nation filled with men who are obsessed with having huge, stiff boners that will stay hard as a Louisville Slugger for hours at a time?  This is a serious question, and I think the answer is “Yes”.

Consider the amount of advertising dollars being spent to market the promise of a raging hard-on for any man who wants one, who needs one, who simply is not a real man unless he has one.  It’s becoming almost comical, this intense focus on the erect male member.  We dare not refer directly to the throbbing boner, nor can we EVER actually show one (unless PORN), but obsessed with the throbbing boner we are, and it is big bidness, baby.

 I never watch traditional stick-and-ball sports on teevee because they bore me to death.  However, I watch a lot of network news and NASCAR racing and OMIGOSH it seems like every commercial break is peppered with ads for Viagra and Levitra and Cialis (what's up with the damned bathtubs?!?) and Androgel 1.62 and all the other modern meds that work wonders on flaccid dicks, making them ramrod-straight and potent.  The ads are filled with are not-so-subtle phallic imagery, from sailboat masts to redwood trees, from Doric columns to muscle cars, from surfboards to large rock formations… anything that issues the subliminal message that you too can be ‘ready’ at a moment’s notice to have sexual relations with your significant other, your medically-induced boner leading the way.
Can't get much more phallic than that, right?

And the people in the ads who are ready to bang away, they all have the same insipid grin on their faces, hee hee hee, because he’s gonna have a BIG DICK in about 5 minutes and she is just so happy about it.  I wonder… is she using birth control, or is she too old to get preggers? Think he’ll use a condom? And the men in the commercials, so handsome and craggily virile, all hetero male and no guessing.  Sure, they might look slightly middle-aged, but they are in CONTROL of their lives… er, that is, they can control their hand that pops a pill in their mouth so that in a few minutes they can wave their fresh boner around and stick that thing right where they want to.  He knows how to MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.

Now, don't get me wrong... I totally understand that our sexuality is a very complicated point of reference, whether male or female. We all want to remain vital sexual beings as long as possible, so it's no surprise that some women turn to hormone-replacement therapy to stay sexually active and satisfied as their baby-making years wind down.  For men, getting older also means lower testosterone levels and the resultant impact on popping a successful boner.  The problem with the male plumbing is that the big dick (or lack thereof) is a clear visual indicator of liftoff or crash-n-burn, and it can be devastating to the terribly fragile male ego when things go awry.

There’s a reason why male and female hormone levels drop as we age.  It’s called GETTING OLD, and it was something that adults just dealt with until boner pills and HRT became readily available. Yes, I know all about modern medicine, why we should take advantage of it to make our lives better yadda yadda yadda, but this medical dick-stiffener thing has me wondering why it’s become so pervasive, so important.  It makes perfect sense to me that as we age, our body’s natural chemical cocktail would begin to curtail hormone production because no more babies, but I also understand that we want to extend (heh heh heh) our recreational sexual lives for as long as possible because even us olds like to fuck.

There's another layer to this medically-induced boner thingie, and it has nothing to do with the phenomenon of 'erectile dysfunction'. Boner pills are doing a huge business with men of all ages who simply want to guarantee they can bang for hours, thus creating a false reality for themselves. Why (the advert-centered thinking goes) should ANY man not have an insta-boner at his beckoned call? I have known many guys, all younger than me, who made it a point to have the boner pills in-hand for their next big date, their weekend in Las Vegas, their next party run, no thinking necessary.  Just eat the pill, stand back and watch the fun begin.  What happens when they don't have that pill, that guarantee of being able to perform?

Here’s what I really wanna know:  why does it seem like there are never enough ways to market boner pills for men on the teevee, but it is verboten to do the same for meds and procedures for women who want to prevent or end an unwanted pregnancy?  Why are erectile dysfunction and ‘premature issues’ such pressing and urgent concerns that hundreds of millions of advertising dollars are spent to market boner pills, but don’t even THINK about airing ads for condoms or birth control (when was the last time you saw a birth control ad?) or family planning, all to prevent those medically-induced wild boners from knocking-up every fertile female within ejaculation range?

Why indeed.

It’s all about the big dick.  It’s why men take their countries to war (LBJ would actually whip out his dick in cabinet meetings during the Vietnam war to tout his mastery of the situation).  It’s why mouth-breathers buy huge 4WD trucks that never go off-road, or insanely fast sports cars that never see the inside of a race track. It’s why guns of every imaginable type are so popular in this here US of A.  They are all proxies for the big dick, snickering allusions to what supposedly really matters to modern males. Mine is bigger than yours, and here’s a nuke to show you just how much bigger.  Here’s a matte black assault rifle slung on my back to stand in for my tiny penis but you’ll act like I have a massive dong because I have a gun that looks like a big dick.

While the Republican-supported War On Women continues to scythe through women’s individual medical decisions, the boner pill issue hasn’t gone unnoticed by female legislators.  In state houses across the country, female representatives have tried to turn the tables on their male (and many female) counterparts who are bound and determined to eliminate access to birth control, contraception and abortion.  The gals decided to amend the anti-choice laws with their own bills, ones that would issue restrictive guidelines on ‘male enhancement’ medications, forcing men to jump through the same hoops women now must navigate in order to get their dirty slut baby-killing pills or patriotism-hating soshulist abortions.

In Virginia, as the Senate debated requiring trans-vaginal ultrasounds for all women seeking legal abortions, Senator Janet Howell proposed mandating rectal exams and cardiac stress tests for men seeking their Very Important erectile dysfunction baby-making pills. Her amendment failed by two votes, while the girlie-parts-probing sneak-a-peek bill was overwhelmingly passed and signed by the Governor.  Hypocrisy much? In Ohio, a bill introduced by state Senator Nina Turner would have compelled men to get psychological screenings before getting prescriptions for boner meds. Her bill also failed.  Shocking. 

Time after time, in one state house after another, Republicans have passed numerous anti-choice laws, all to subjugate and eliminate a woman’s right to decide what is best for her.  But when the discussion turned to passing the same type of ‘we know what's best for you’ laws aimed at men, the male legislators suffered brain aneurisms at the very notion of MEN being subjected to restrictions before they could get their boner pills.  The misogynistic lawmakers even had the audacity to claim that while boner pills were a necessary ‘medical’ treatment, contraception was nothing more than a ‘lifestyle’ choice and not a health or medical issue.  The gals lost their arguments to the testicle-draggers in every case.

Excuse me?  Pregnancy prevention is not a ‘medical’ issue?

What I don’t get is the disconnect, the cognitive dissonance that leads conservative men to demand access to and cherish the boner pills and the rampant sexing that results, but to also denigrate contraception and birth control as unnecessary lifestyle choices, as if boners and babies have no bearing on each other.  It reeks of the longstanding fact that whatever men think is important to them is sacrosanct, but whatever doesn’t directly affect them, no biggie, don’t matter, perish the thought.


As the bumper sticker sez:  “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”
I may be a dense wolverine, but even I can see the latent hypocrisy in this issue of boner pills vs. contraception.  I submit that since these two modern medicines are inextricably linked by sex and biology and human nature, for every teevee commercial hawking boner pills, there should be a matching ad for contraception or family planning. 

Yeah, I know.  It will never EVER happen, because our society is still ruled by the mostly dumb and always hypocritical Conservative Men's Club, at least for now.

So here's the crux of the biscuit: we USians are indeed wallowing in the most advantageous period of human existence to this point.  We have access to the best technology, the cleanest and healthiest foods, a lifestyle that allows us to live far longer than even our grandparents, and modern medicines that give us more control of our health than we could have ever hoped for.  It stands to reason that both men AND women should be allowed to control their own destinies when it comes to sex and procreation.  We are not dumb animals (at least not most of us), beholden to the ancient and primitive state of existence, living merely to eat, sleep, procreate and die.

If a man can legally buy and consume a pill to ensure he can get a stiff dick with which to fuck, a woman should be able to legally buy and consume a pill to make sure she doesn't get or stay pregnant.  Why is this such a difficult concept for so many of our fellow 'Murricans to grasp?

Why indeed.

"Today's so-called 'conservatives' don't even know what the word means. They think I've turned liberal because I believe a woman has a right to an abortion.  That's a decision that's up to the pregnant woman, not up to the Pope or some do-gooders or the Religious Right. It's not a conservative issue at all." -- Barry Goldwater

Pill image, gracias de; transporter image, gracias de; Music Machine 'Talk Talk' video, muchismas gracias de

Friday, March 22, 2013

Take A Load Off

At 56 years old and counting, I have a confession to make: I'm addicted to (gasp!) FRUITS AND VEGETABLES... DUN-DUN-DUNNNNNNN!!!!!

The image above is evidence of my addiction, including the questionable paraphernalia that allows me to continue my downward spiral into the morass of natural vitamin intake, a shiny wolverine fur coat and a roughage-friendly alimentary system.  It wasn’t always like this, but now that I've outed my unseemly cravings, I can only hope this admission will serve as a warning to others who may fall into the trap of a semi-healthy diet.  I never planned for this to happen.

Now, don't get me wrong... I am a total Chocoholic, and I get all kinds of crazy if I don't have some of that sweet brown goodie within arm's reach if the craving hits. One thing we are NEVER without at home is chocolicious snackies that get sucked in so fast, the wrappers almost go in too.  On those rare occasions when the goodies have been scarfed and it's too much trouble to hit the store, a handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips will hit that sweet spot just right, I swear. The fact that dark choco is now my fave may explain why sometimes I'll go for the choco chips even if we aren't out of the regular stuff.  This chocolate craving has TEETH.

But for now, back to the healthy stuff.

I have a typical Virgo trait of being very process-oriented (read: anal-retentive), and since I do the grocery shopping for our home, I make it a point to hit the store first ayem on either Saturday or Sunday, depending on the weather (yardwork) and any plans The Artist may have for me/us that I haven’t been made privvy to, which she likes to spring on me with little or no warning… she’s AWESOME that way.  I pull cash from the ATM (I refuse to pay for groceries with a debit card), fuel up the sled, then head off to one or more stores depending on the list.  Yes, we keep a grocery list… you’d be surprised how many people don’t make a shopping list and just buy food commando-stylie, heh heh heh.

My first stop is the produce section for the usual suspects (lettuce, tomatoes, apples, oranges, bananas), seasonal fruit when available (grapes, cantaloupe, cherries, strawberries or watermelon), a selection of tasty veggies (cabbage, green beans, broccoli or artichokes) and ALWAYS the Big Three:  carrots, celery and radishes.  I cruise through the store, aisle by aisle, picking up items and ticking them off the list before heading to the cashier with my motley assortment of re-useable shopping bags.  My bags were collected from various sources for FREE, but the different sizes and colors makes me a bit sheepish when I’m waiting at checkout behind someone who sports a stack of identical bags, all neatly aligned and in the same color, mocking my pile of mongrels (bag envy?).

Sidetrack questions:  Do you have re-useable grocery bags, or still relying on the plastic or paper single-use disposables? Did you know that less than 15% of disposable bags ever make it into the recycling stream?  Did you know that you’re supposed to WASH your re-useable bags on a regular basis? Are you aware the store baggers like to stuff as many items as possible into reusable bags, thereby squishing items and making the bags way too heavy?  Did you know that those same baggers HATE using the reusable bags?

OK, enuf of that. So, once I get back to the homestead and drop the loaded bags onto the kitchen floor, the very first thing I do is pop the teevee on the Classical Masterpieces cable radio station and crank up the volume.  Ahhh... Stravinsky! After the groceries have been stowed, I begin the Sacred Cleansing and Preparation Ritual. Cantaloupe gets washed (with soapy water because salmonella!), sliced in half, cleaned out and sectioned into an awaiting container.  Grapes, strawberries or cherries get a fast rinse. The Big Three are a bit more labor-intensive, but the process has become strangely satisfying for me, especially with that amazing classical music streaming in the background.

Carrots have their ends lopped off, then I peel and slice them lengthwise into quarters, which are then cut into 2-inch chunks before being washed and fridged. Celery gets the ends lopped off as well, and each stalk is sliced lengthwise into halves, cut into 2-inch chunks, washed and fridged. Radishes get snipped from the green tops (bagged ones were all they had when the image above was snapped), have both tips sliced off, then are halved (quartered if they're lunkers), washed and fridged. Once these veggies are prepped, it’s a snap to slap a handful of each into a sandwich bag to munch on at work, a great alternative to a bag of Doritos snaked from the vending machine.

Lately I've been bringing peanut butter to work for veggie dipping. I'm a bad wolverine with sticky paws.

Here’s the weird part:  my little ballet of washing and slicing and cutting has become a chore that I actually look forward to each weekend.  The elements are all there… the healthy food, the great music, the unrushed time spent in preparation, the idea that The Artist is working in her studio mere footsteps away, her brushes flying and her own music pumping.  It creates an aura of serene and purposeful work that is nothing but good.  On top of that, having recently acquired a really nice set of cutlery, I get to use a sweet little paring knife that makes me feel like Giada DeLaurentis gave me personal prep instruction. OMIGOSH a good knife is a thing of beauty, a tool to be used with deftness and care so as not to lop off a fingertip or skewer a palm.  It’s true… a sharp knife reduces the chance of cutting one’s self, and I can say that with certainty. Ouch.

There’s lots more going on here than just cutting up veggies, of course. In recent years, I’ve become more aware of my overall health and fitness, have worked hard to reduce the amount of salt, bread and butter in my diet (oh man that is SO HARD to do because I lovelovelove butter) and avoid fried foods that have become ubiquitous in all our lives. During the work week, my office food stocks are chock-full of goodies that are mostly good, but I am a weak wolverine so there's also the occasional choco bar or bag of chips or cookies.  However, it has become a running joke among my workmates when I walk through the shop while chomping on some veggies, an apple or a banana that it should be chicken nuggets going into my pie hole instead of wabbit food.

That ribbing comes from a group of guys whose sole intake of vegetables consists of the nasty tomato slice and shredded lettuce on a triple burger from Wendy’s. Almost to a man, they don’t eat fruit of any sort, walk in first thing each day with a Red Bull and a cigarette as breakfast, and scarf down sucky fast food for lunch EVERY SINGLE DAY.  My boss has his standard breakfast in-hand most mornings:  a pack of choco donuts and a 32 ounce soda from 7-11.  The healthiest thing I’ve ever seen him munch on is a chicken bowl from Flame Broiler, which I can attest to as surprisingly tasty.

I can trace the roots of my banana fetish to a boss I had many moons ago, a barrel of a man with a terrible hairpiece who ate a banana every single day at work. He got me started on that and I pretty much have followed suit, bananas being one of my abfab go-to snacks.  My love of fresh fruit goes back even farther than that, back to the mid-1960’s when I lived in La Puente and our back yard was teeming with apricot, peach, plum and nectarine trees.  From Spring to Fall, we kids were always munching on fresh fruit, and we’d toss some over the fence and into the three swimming pools adjacent to our back yard as bribery to be invited for a swim. Just writing about it now, I can taste the sweet-yet-tart flesh of a barely-ripe nectarine, hard to the touch and offering a loud crunch at every bite. We never EVER let fruit rot on the limb and fall to the ground, because we raided the fruit from the tree the millisecond it became edible.  Who says there’s no free lunch?

The weight thing was also a bugaboo for me many many moons ago.  At one point in the mid-70's, when me and my street-racing friend Jerry were out late most weekend nights, we’d stuff our faces at Bob’s Big Boy or Carrows sometime around 1AM before crashing at home, and my weight ballooned to around 220 pounds.  Thankfully that regulated down to around 190, but 10 years ago I had a real-world epiphany about weight and food and health.

I was working the season-opening NASCAR race at Daytona International Speedway in 2003, sporting about 200 pounds of wolverine flesh and not paying attention to my daily nutritional intake because I was doing so much travelling for my job. Our mobile marketing area, consisting of several tractor-trailers with huge enclosed canopies and interactive displays, were on one side of the exhibitor area and the track’s operations center was on the other, perhaps a quarter-mile away. 

After the first few days of set-up, I found myself having to traipse between the two sites many times each day due to the complex nature of our set-up and the needs of our primary client.  Halfway through the event, I found myself running the route in order to make things happen when I began to get really winded, really fast.  By the last event day, it was almost impossible for me to keep up the pace, and it suddenly dawned on me that I was overweight, out of shape and had no one but myself to blame.

I started my caloric intake change that very day, avoiding airport food for some fruit and nuts that I had bought on the way outta town, drinking water instead of sodas and forcing myself NOT to chow down fast food at every opportunity.  I cut way back on most breads and (more recently) sugar, although I had yet to curb the salt thingie.  Lo and behold, I began to see a dramatic change, shedding weight and getting my stamina back, settling in at about 170 pounds and maintaining that pretty much to this day.  I’m at about 175 now, have seen a max of 180 but freaked out and found that I could drop the tonnage pretty damned fast if I put my mind to it.

Thankfully I’ve been able to keep some discipline in my diet and not balloon back to my old rolled mold. The Artist and I regularly enjoy a wide spectrum of healthy foods that include a lot of roasted whole almonds and her jabbing me whenever I get out the tub o’butter.  I struggled mightily with the salt shaker, but now I almost never touch that vile glass vial.  She also has a stellar way with cooking fresh veggies, using a combination of microwave and stovetop to maintain taste, freshness and the heavenly aroma of really good healthy foodstuffs.

One veggie in particular that has become a staple for us are brussel sprouts, those delightful mini-cabbages that have a pungent aroma during cooking but are so delish!  She’ll wash and halve them, nuke until just barely soft, saute’ them in a pan with olive oil to get a bit of char, then sprinkle with toasted pine nuts… NOM!!!!!  The best part: she’ll use the leftovers on HOMEMADE PIZZA! I simply cannot tell you how good this is, you just gotta try it, get over the weird concept and go for it.

All of this is just ancillary to the idea of eating better, cooking with fresh foods, planning ahead when grocery shopping and making sure there’s always something healthy ready to go in the fridge.  Yes, my blood pressure is a tad bit higher than I like (130/80), but my doctor sez that I’m in pretty damned good shape for an old Messican, which means that our healthy eating efforts are not in vain. Even after two knee surgeries, I have full range of motion and take care not to abuse them complex joints like I used to, yet another sign that I am get both older AND smarter. I’m sure The Artist would take issue with the ‘smarter’ part.

This isn’t rocket science, the healthy-eating thingie. It just takes some of that ‘self-discipline’ goo that we always seem to have a shortage of, an eye and nose to find a really good cantaloupe, some bangin’ classical music, a sharp knife and the brain power to use it all without needless bloodshed.
I’m a healthy, shiny-coated wolverine.


Lead image de Oblio; The Clash 'Lost in the Supermarket' video, muchismas gracias de YouTube.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Church of the Blessed Bullet


"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them, and they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." – Barack Obama, Uppity Socialist Kenyan Usurper Not-The-Real-President (black man)

Ya, I know… another essay about guns, but this time I think perhaps I’ve learned something that so far has eluded me.

I think I finally get it.

The gun-fondling thing, that is.

Through all the media baloney, political posturing, pearl-clutching and hand-wringing. Through all the school and shopping mall and theater and home and gun show and vacation spot shootings and the bloody aftermath of each.  I finally get it.

I finally understand the bug-eyed screeching, the waving around of loaded weapons, the invocation of what it means to be a ‘true patriot’, the threats of secession and insurrection and watering the tree of liberty with Type O positive. The notion that ‘an armed society is a polite society’. The idea that if every law-abiding citizen was armed, no one would DARE try to rob or hurt or otherwise be mean to anyone else for fear of being blasted by other law-abiding citizens packing heat.

I get it now.

It’s not really about the Second Amendment to the Constitution, because anyone who actually reads those few words… ALL of them, not just the part they like… and then allows their grey matter to cogitate for a few scant moments will realize the pro-gun arguments now being flung at every wall are simply wrong, outdated remnants of an antiquated mindset from a bygone era.

It’s not about the right to bear arms, because when the Second Amendment was written, the modern firearm of choice was a flintlock musket, not a matte black dildo-with-bullets. Really, you want to own a whole bunch of guns as you imagine the Founding Fathers intended?  Fine… as long as they’re muskets.

It’s not about personal freedom, because if there’s one thing that will NEVER EVER happen, it’s that someone from the Black Helicopter Brigade will come knocking at your patriotic door to take away your guns and register you with the ‘Hates Government’ FecesBook page.

It’s not even about the inherent and implied violence that surround guns like a stinky brown fart, something that gun fans use as their unspoken-yet-always-evident threat to anyone who even hints at the notion that a household with guns is 40 times more likely to have someone living in the home shot with that very same gun.

Nope, it ain’t any of those things that propel the rabid supporters of unfettered and unregulated gun ownership.

It’s a RELIGION, this gun ownership/fetish/fondling thing. I’m serious here, so think about it… HARD.

Doesn’t matter if you are a Obama-hating libertarian or a solid church-going registered voter/citizen.  Doesn’t matter if you hoard guns to fend off The Takers who will inevitably come around when the Zombie Apocalypse finally starts, or if you just enjoy hunting or target shooting or the mechanical nature of firearms. How else can one explain the love and devotion and passion and sheer blissful ecstasy that is demonstrated by The Armed Ones when they are fondling their beloveds?

Religion is the reason, and I’m not taking about a sectarian religious belief writ in any book or scroll or sheaf, although that kind of religious belief more often than not allows followers to rationalize their use of guns to mow down infidels who do not agree with them, amirite? Nope, the religion I speak of surrounds the very notion that guns = power, guns = authority, guns = don’t tread on me, man, or you’ll be eating lead.  Governments believe it, so it’s no wonder there’s always a shooting war happening somewhere, with opposing sides blasting away with fire in their eyes and their deity-of-choice right there with them, weapon in hand, spewing out their power one bullet at a time, in rapid-fire succession.

“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of…” well, you know the rest.  The Church of the Blessed Bullet. Holy, Holy, Hole-y. ALL MUST KNEEL AT THE ALTAR OF THE BLAZING MUZZLE! “Body of Glock… (amen)… Body of Glock… (amen)… Body of Glock… (amen).” 

Let’s take a look at this long-standing religious belief that centers around, and holds as most exalted, the Almighty Gun, PRAISE THE TRIGGER.

Think about it: even if you adhere to the basic tenets of the Bible or Qur’an or Talmud, you cannot possibly take every word, every phrase, every concept written in those ancient tomes as literal, actual facts and specific unerring guidelines to live by in our society unless you are a fundamentalist religious zealot, in which case please stop reading this now and forget you ever heard of me. 

EVERY religion now being practiced on this planet cherry-picks their teachings and follows those precepts they like, glosses over those they don’t and simply ignore the ones that harken to a much more brutal and hostile world than the one we live in today. Enlightened believers understand those religious tomes are allegorical, not literal… they are morality plays written for uneducated masses of the past to be lulled into acquiescence and servitude at the hands of the learned religious scholars who sought to control them. Don’t believe me?  Look it up.

It’s the same for The Church of the Blessed Bullet. Here, read this:

“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

As anyone who doesn’t get all their information from Fox News knows, the gun-fondlers currently pointing their death sticks in our direction never EVER refer to anything in the Second Amendment before the second comma.  They prefer to quote the abridged version that doesn’t speak to ‘a well-regulated militia’.  In fact, we are now learning the version above was actually a re-write of the original text so as to allow state-sponsored militias, also known as ‘slave patrols’ in the South, to continue their activities to track down escaped slaves and keep them on their respective plantations, without interference from the federal gummint. Don’t believe me?  Look it up.

Like the followers of sectarian religions do with their ancient teachings, the gun-fondlers cherry-pick the Second Amendment to mean only what they want it to mean and disregard the part they dinna like, PRESTO CHANGE-O! It’s what religions do and have always done to try and stay relevant. So it is with The Armed Ones, who love invoking the Founding Father’s (abridged) words about gun ownership for the masses without the tiresome chore of actually understanding the context of their words. That’s what blind faith does to people.

Another hallmark of hardcore religious belief is the ability to reject any facts or information that does not confirm those firmly held beliefs, no matter how solid or educated or confirmable those facts might be. “The Earth is 6,000 years old… God created man and Earth and the universe… evolution is bunk… ancient men rode dinosaurs… no other life exists beyond our planet… man has no impact on climate change… the Constitution is based on the Bible… a fertilized egg is a human being… the United States is a Christian Nation...”  You get the drift, right?

For The Church of the Blessed Bullet, the firmly-held beliefs around gun ownership are rooted in the same type of ideas devoid of facts, context or even historical precedent.  “The Founding Fathers would approve of unfettered and uncontrolled gun ownership… the Second Amendment helps the citizenry to prevent tyranny… the government should have no say about what kind of guns a citizen may own… more guns in more hands means a safer world for everyone… anyone who lawfully owns a gun is automatically a ‘good guy’ that we should not fear… guns don’t kill people, people kill people…” Blind faith as reality, armed and dangerous, with a hair trigger.

It doesn’t stop there. Whether they will admit it openly or only within their cloistered circle, followers of sectarian religions typically make the assertion they are somehow better than either non-believers or those who choose another non-approved path to redemption (whatever the hell that means). Their belief makes them special, a cut above, chosen, imbued with the glory and promise of life everlasting with their savior when they finally take the dirt nap, as long as they believe. The Armed Ones are blatant about how special they are, whipping out their death sticks and holding them close to their hearts, comforted with the knowledge that anyone who deigns to question the bullet’s superiority can be silenced from a distance, in rapid-fire succession. The Armed Ones believe they are the only true patriots, and they will point their sacred scimitars of freedom at your face in an instant if you beg to differ… PRAISE THE TRIGGER!

About the comment made by NRA spokesmodel Wayne LaPierre that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun… is a good guy with a gun.” Two words:  CHRISTOPHER DORNER. Trained by the military to be an assassin, hired by the L.A.P.D. and given access to as many assault weapons as he wanted, he was the quintessential ‘good guy’ until he snapped and became the vilified ‘bad guy’.  He was a law-abiding and well-armed citizen soldier until his addled brain convinced him that The Church of the Blessed Bullet would give him the justification he sought to right some wrongs and… well, after a week of terror and four dead bodies and many wounded and thousands of spent rounds and a couple of lobbed tear gas canisters... BBQ! Yep, he was good, then he was bad, then he was crispy.

Pity Chris The Assassin. His world was steeped in gun love, in gun worship.  Watch the videos of him in action and see a man totally and completely enamored with the strength, the power, the authority bestowed upon him merely because he chose to kneel at the Altar of the Blazing Muzzle. It was his deity, and he lived to use that power for what most would consider ‘good things’… until they weren’t good any more. He used his blind faith in guns to mete out his own warped sense of justice, making himself the arbiter of death and the one we all fear is probably standing right next to us in line for coffee, loaded weapon hidden from view, angst gnawing at his consciousness, a worn-out spring wound far too tight.

Chris Dorner was a good guy until he was a bad guy.  Sorry Pastor Wayne, your concept sucks donkey balls.

Religion has a unique tendency to alter the worldview of ardent followers, and it doesn’t really matter what philosophy makes up those belief systems. Arab against Jew, Christian against Muslim, Tutsi against Hutu… it all runs together, it all degenerates into the same anger and bloodshed, the same zealotry and insanity. The Armed Ones are the first to say that they hold all that cards, hold the power, hold the ability to mete out patriotic justice and death one bullet at a time, in rapid-fire succession, and they wave their loaded cards at everyone else.  They smile broadly, hearts and minds devoted to the trigger and the bullet, convinced their guns mean they will be in control, convinced their guns mean they are always gonna be right, convinced the rest of us will just blithely cede power to them because BULLETS.  Holy, Holy, Hole-y.

I don’t have any answers here, and I don’t pretend to know what will come of our current national dialog about guns and death and good guys and bad guys and armed janitors and 100-round drums and school shooting drills and blood-soaked liberty trees.  I don’t understand the gun fondlers, or why they worship the idea of holding the power of instant death in their hands. I don’t understand the wide-eyed fear of ‘the other’ that spurs so many people to buy as many guns as they can, as if the Zombie Apocalypse was on the news just last night, right after the Weather Goddess predicted acid rain for all eternity.
As a non-believing anti-theist, my only guess is that FEAR is the driving factor in the religious fervor surrounding the death sticks, and the Uppity Black Man seems to have hit the nail on the head in his remarks during the 2008 Presidential campaign.  Fear is what gives religion its power... fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of pain, fear of not mattering, fear of weakness, fear of loneliness, fear of 'the other', fear of being inconsequential.
The Church of the Blessed Bullet is based upon a foundation of fear that, at least from my perspective, has no place in a modern, civil society.
I do not fear death or spiritual emptiness or being involved in a multi-car pile-up on the 405 freeway. I do worry that The Artist will someday realize she could find someone much better than me, but as long as I show her love and tenderness and support and keep making tacos and cleaning bathrooms, she will accept me for my shortcomings. I do not fear pain or old age or infirmity or being extraneous in the grand universal scheme.  I worry that an adherent to The Church of the Blessed Bullet will make the decision to take me out without my prior acknowledgement or approval, Holy Holy Hole-y.

Guns = death. Guns = sorrow. Guns = hatred. Guns = violence. Guns = humanity de-evolved.
I do not live in fear.  I am made from the stuff of stars, and when my spring can no longer be wound, I will freely give my life's force back to Mother Earth to use as she will.  There's nothing to fear about that, and I don't need guns to make me feel safe or better about myself, about my world or my place in it.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." -- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Lead image, gracias de; Tom Lehrer 'National Brotherhood Week' and Jimi Hendrix 'Hey Joe' videos, muchismas gracias de You Tube; Fuck the NRA; muchismas gracias to Alan Eggleston for introducing me, a weirdo high-school Freshman, to Tom Lehrer in 1970.