Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Life Line

I'm conflicted about a very serious issue and grappling with my own feelings about it.

That image right up there, a melancholy work of art by John Lurie titled 'The Sky Is Falling, I Am Learning To Live With It' was purchased by chef/author/Ramones-lover/TV guy Anthony Bourdain just a few days before he decided to hang himself in a French hotel room using the belt from his bath robe.

Now the artist is twisted into knots (pun... sorry not sorry) with the feeling that somehow his artistic vision had something to do with Bourdain's decision to off himself.

Suicide is like that.  It forces the survivors to question everything about their relationship with the self-departed, grasping for some kind of rational explanation for a seemingly irrational act.

On the one hand, I totally understand how a human being, suffering under a debilitating depression, can find solace in the idea of suicide and then follow through with it. Unless one has experienced the deep dark blackness of an emotional depression, it's hard to see how to pull out of that downward spiral.

On the other hand, I view the very act of suicide as a cowardly reaction to a psychological reality, a reality that is wholly created in the mind.

No, I'm not calling those who consider, attempt or achieve suicide cowards per se. It just seems to me that the act of taking one's life is a pretty convenient way to deal with the horrific emotional and psychological burdens that result in suicidal thoughts.

We humans prefer things easy. 

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the word suicide as 'The act or an instance of taking one's own life voluntarily and intentionally". I've also seen it defined as 'The sincerest form of self-criticism'.

We also know that in most cases, suicidal thoughts are often the result of a lingering mental illness that can last a lifetime before someone finds the opportunity and/or motivation to follow-through with the emotional and physical self-destruction.

In the case of Mr. Bourdain, no matter how much you think you know about his life and his struggles and his reality, it still seems hard to fathom why someone so successful and loved and admired could find himself isolated and alone and with no hope for the future except for the one that doesn't include his conscious existence. 


Mental illness apparently claims another victim.

The Artist With Whom I Share My Life is quick to point out that I, as someone who's never suffered from either a clinical or emotional depression, could never ever understand how dark and empty the world can seem to a human being who is prone to bouts of debilitating depression, self-loathing and anxiety.

Of course, she's 100% right. I can only speculate in my feeble aged brain about how it can be that ANYONE would find life so miserable, so black, so devoid of joy that the only solution is to leave this mortal coil behind for the rest of us to deal with. Try as I might, I just cannot see any situation where that ultimate act would be an option, an answer, a way out... for me, anyways.

But then I started thinking about how we define suicide outside of the dictionary.

Are alcoholics suicidal? If the definition is 'the act or an instance of taking one's own life voluntarily and intentionally' then a practicing alcoholic who knows damned well they're slowly killing themselves with booze is committing an act of slow suicide, amirite? The same can be said for anyone abusing heroin, oxycontin, meth, tobacco or any substance that the user knows will eventually result in them taking The Dirt Nap.

Do we view those substance abusers' slow-motion suicide in the same way we do Mr. Bourdain's sudden act of self-departing? If not, then why not?

Do we consider substance abusers as suffering from a mental illness? If not, then why not?

Just like many of us have difficulty understanding the motivation for hanging ourselves in a French hotel room because life sucks, how can we possibly understand the thought process that says "Yep... think I'll drink myself into oblivion because life sucks." 

I know this much: watching my Mother and younger Brother pickle themselves with booze for years was EXACTLY like watching their slow-motion suicides.  Both of them knew what they were doing, acknowledged and accepted they were killing themselves with booze and yet... and yet, they were unable to stop that Death Train from running them over.

So... does it make any difference if the suicide is slow-mo or not?

Human beings are fragile vessels. We're far too self-possessed for our own good.  We aggrandize our dominant position in this world at our own peril, so when things go out of control, we tend to either a) try and overcome the troubles, b) ignore the issues completely and just roll along to deal with the consequences later or c) retreat into a morass of self-loathing and mind-numbing/life-threatening actions. It would be nice if more of us used our gray matter to logic our way out of things, but that's apparently too hard for many humanoids to attempt.

We all know people like that, don't we?

I have the luxury of being able to evaluate this issue from a place of relative security and happiness.  I have an amazing mate, a good job, a beautiful home, some shekels in the bank, good health, a positive attitude... all the things people strive for their entire lives. Being a celebrity or fabulously wealthy or incredibly powerful does not guarantee a goddamned thing to help with emotional health or to battle mental illness nope nope nope.

Like all humans, I'm occasionally subject to bouts of sadness or anger or open seething hostility, but they never last very long and for that I am truly grateful. For many people though, these emotions can linger and fester and rot in their hearts and minds until the decay and blackness becomes overwhelming, and it can last for days or weeks or months... or years.  Eventually they seek a way out, some respite from the terribleness they perceive as their life.  

That's when thoughts turn to suicide as a way out.

That's when we need them to know that it's OK to reach out and ask for help.

That's when we ALL need to understand that suffering from depression or mental illness is not a sign of weakness or lack of character, nor is it an easily-solved emotional problem.

Anthony Bourdain's final scene was not filmed or recorded. It seems no one in his circle was aware that he was suffering in silence, all while shouldering the burden of maintaining a hit TV show, the livelihoods of many dozens of people, extended separation from his daughter and his girlfriend... even the inevitable questioning of his very existence, which is something EVERY creative person struggles with.

And yet... did he maintain silence about his struggle?  Did he function in a sea of self-imposed emotional isolation?  Did he sense his looming catastrophe but deny himself the leeway to call 'TIME OUT!!!' and try to set his troubled mind straight? 

I recently watched the final 'Parts Unknown' episode about his visit to Bhutan, and I kept looking for some sign of his emotional struggle, some indication that he just wasn't right. Nothing doing... he was just as Bourdain-ish as always, albeit far less snarky than when I first became a fan of his. No answers were found in that final joint, at least not that I could see.

We know some of the answers now, but it's just too fucking late and so my favorite Bad-Boy raconteur/chef/Ramones-lover/Snark Generator is gone, turned into ashes and departed from this conscious existence. I find myself being both terribly sad and seriously pissed at him for his act of genuine self-criticism.

I'm dealing with it as best I can.

In a past life, when my first marriage was heading for a cliff and the world was black, I'd sit at night and stare at my fish tank for hours on end and feel like my life was over, that there'd never be another day of happiness in my future. Thankfully, a wonderful marriage counselor came into my life and convinced me that there was indeed a happy future, but I had to take a risk to make it happen

And guess what?  She was right!

Don't let your friends or loved ones suffer in silence.  Talk to them... hug them... let them know their fears and anxieties are shared emotions among all of us. Look directly into their eyes and tell them "You matter to me." Keep doing that, over and over and over, even if they pull away, even if the tell you to fuck off, even if they try to shut you out. Stay engaged and don't let up. 

They Are Worth It.

My heart hurts for Anthony Bourdain's abbreviated life, for his daughter's loss, for all his loving fans who will miss his Supreme Snark and wisdom. But mostly, for yet another human who felt so much loss that suicide was their only way out.

Don't let it happen to anyone if you can help it.

"Down... to the bottom.  Hello? Is there anybody else here?

It's cold, and I'm so lonely...

Hello?  Is there anybody else here?

Hello?  Won't you throw me down a Life Line?

I'm so afraid of darkness, and down here it's just like night time.

Ooooohs... are all around me.

Hello?  Will you please send down a Life Line?

Down... and there isn't any hope for me...

Unless this dream that seems so real... is just a fantasy."

Lead image, Gracias de Google Images; Harry Nilsson's 'Life Line', Muchismas Gracias de youtube.com.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800) 273-8255

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Dear Hillary...

Dear Hillary,

HOW ARE YOU? I know that seems like a trite question to ask, but I think about you all the time and genuinely hope that you’re doing well, perhaps even better than anyone might expect. It seems like eons since you were a daily part of all our lives, so the notion that you’re a seriously private citizen now is a bit disconcerting to those like me who’d been looking forward to your eight-year run as the natural and successful follow-up to the remarkable Obama presidency.

Alas, it wasn’t to be.

Given the disastrous reality of the current administration, I started thinking about the myriad reasons that your run for the White House ended up with you winning the popular vote but losing the Electoral vote, a situation that has turned out to be so much worse for the country than anyone could possibly have known.  That is, anyone other than almost everyone who voted for you, because WE KNEW what would happen if you lost and now there’s no doubt about it: we were right.

That’s cold comfort, for sure. The more I look at the 2016 Presidential Election… the one you should have won handily… it struck me as wildly obvious that the reason you didn’t become POTUS was not the result of you’re being (as some claimed) ‘the worst Presidential candidate ever’, an assertion that even a cursory analysis would debunk.

"Politics is a contact sport. Only those on the sidelines have clean uniforms." 
      --  The Rev. Jesse Jackso

Nope, I have a different view, one that seems to have gotten almost no airplay, no consideration, not even a decent look.

In my humble opinion, the reason your run for The White House came up short in 2016 was the direct result of a series of forces, actions and events that were employed to willfully and purposefully derail your ability to win an eminently winnable campaign.  Once I started my analysis of the roadblocks you endured, it was as obvious that if any one of the multiple elements listed below hadn’t been enacted, you’d be Number 45 right now.

You had to fight against the most venal, vindictive, dishonest and politically negative powers ever assembled to prevent anyone from getting to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and even in the face of such a massive and calculated campaign against you… YOU STILL ALMOST WON!!!!

The challenges in your path to The White House were many, they were well-funded and well-supported by your enemies, and in concert they were ultimately successful.

Clinton Derangement Syndrome

The 'vast right-wing conspiracy' you spoke about all those years ago did and does exist and has been with us ever since you were First Lady. That so many people seem to viscerally hate you and Bill has never been adequately explained to me. Even now, when I get into a conversation with Clinton Haters about WHY they hate you two so much, they literally cannot quantify that hate... they just hate you!

I liken it to the bloody hatred so many veterans still have at Jane Fonda, the result of a badly-timed photograph taken of her in North Vietnam in the 60's and flaunted out of context.  That hatred of her is still a thing, and so it is with you and Bill. Was his Presidency perfect?  Of course not.  Was he a perfect husband and father?  Of course not. Are you both imperfect human beings who were trying to do their best towards the betterment of our country?  Of course you were. 

Sadly, it didn't seem to matter, and the illogical hatred of you from those days gone by was fostered and nurtured and kept alive for reasons known only to those who chose to allow such venal hatred to live inside their heads and hearts. They had a plan to weaponize that hatred and slavishly enacted it.

What a waste.


If I have to read about another person who is convinced that you were responsible for the deaths in the Benghazi consulate, yet can only offer the most inane facts to support their belief, I'll eat my own right hand.

After numerous hearings and investigations, it didn't really matter that you were 100% cleared of any wrongdoing, malfeasance or malicious involvement in that awful chapter of a country at civil war. THEY ALL BLAMED YOU.  Why? Well, because no matter that they proved you weren't culpable for the deaths, they still believed that you were, and nothing was gonna change their minds. Your guilt was pre-ordained because HILLARY CLINTON, but their own analysis proved them wrong.

They even admitted their goal was to stain your name against achieving the Presidency because their hatred of you was so intense and all-consuming, blinding them to their own venality.  But stain you they did, and it was effective. Another example of the Clinton Derangement Syndrome deployed against you.


Madeline Albright used a private e-mail server during her term as Secretary of State.  Colin Powell also used a private e-mail server and even recommended that you do the same when Barry tapped you for the job. Your server was never hacked, and you never knowingly sent or received classified documents via that server. These are facts.

Your private server was the only shred of an issue found during the Benghazi investigation that could be flogged against you as a tool of destruction. You were called reckless even though literally nothing questionable ever happened as the result of your use of a private server. Given the current chaotic state of the White House's communications and lack of staff security clearances, it's almost laughable that you were pilloried for such a minor issue.

Once again, the Clinton Derangement Syndrome whipped into gear and used your 'reckless' use of a private e-mail server to stain you as unfit for The White House.  They knew they had to do it because you were considered one of the most popular and powerful politicians in the world.

FBI Investigation

It's a natural progression for the Hillary Hate Machine to go from the bogus Benghazi hearings to the bogus e-mail scandal to the FBI probe, which ultimately found nothing to see and even said so. The fact that Director Comey decided to revisit the issue only weeks before the election in order to make sure he got in front of leaks about you from within his agency was a galactic blunder on his part, and most assuredly kneecapped your campaign in a way that has never been seen in modern American history.

And of course, he also failed to mention the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, which was well and truly under way. 


Putin hates you, and I think you enjoyed trolling him because you've always stood up and shoved right back at him when he tried to exert his formidable powers. Unfortunately, he'd already been grooming DJT for years as a dim-witted accomplice. Vlad saw his chance to subvert the will of the American people by schmoozing his way into the Trump campaign, establishing a digital beachhead and using that foundation to manipulate ignorant and gullible Americans.

It's almost unbelievable that so many people simply accepted what they saw on their devices about you without even the slightest bit of curiosity about its veracity. You had Parkinson's... you were a lesbian... you were involved with a child sex ring in a pizza joint cellar... you were a shrill harpy that everyone on your campaign hated... you were a Russian puppet... you had Alzheimer's... and on and on and on.

Those of us who knew better knew these insane stories were nothing but baloney. We had no idea the Russians were pushing these narratives into our country with a weaponized social media program that went almost totally unseen until it was too late. Putin directed this plan from the Kremlin, and anyone who doubts that now is just plain wrong. Putin was out to get you... and he got you. That so many Americans believed the fake stories and made voting decisions based on them is a modern tragedy.

A Starstruck Media

It was an amazing thing to see in real-time. All during the campaign, you were constantly peppered with accusing questions about E-MAILS!!! BENGHAZI!!!! FBI INVESTIGATION!!! WHY DO YOU LAUGH LIKE THAT?!?!?!?!?! WHY DOES EVERYONE HATE YOU?!?!?!?! It seemed like there wasn't a single interview, news report or op/ed that didn't harp on the negative aspects of stories about you that were not only false, but aggressively pointed to make you appear as some kind of criminally-minded America-hater.

Through those withering interviews brimming with venom and misogyny, you gave honest and detailed answers about your platform, how you would act to resolve the myriad issues that mattered, how you would reach out and govern as a leader for all Americans, not just the ones who voted for you.

But the negativity and disdain for you was all that anyone could or would see or hear... it drowned out your positive, inclusive message.

At the same time, that same media swooned and fawned and lobbed softball questions at The Very Famous Donald Trump, rarely talking about or vetting his horrible business record, his tax evasion, his decrepit moral character, his pathological lying, his ignorance of foreign or domestic policies, his violent tendencies. The media fell all over themselves trying to highlight every shred of his bullshit celebrity, seemingly oblivious to the actual disgusting person he really was.

I know I know... you already know all this, but this letter to you is my way of trying to make sense of the mountain of forces that were aligned against you, your campaign and your chance to become the 45th POTUS of this here US of A.

I wish I could offer you some kind of solace or apology for the horrific treatment you were subjected to during the 2016 campaign... and the decades that preceded it. For some reason, you've been characterized as an awful person without a moral foundation, but that simply isn't true.

You've been a civil rights champion... a women's rights champion... a First Lady times three... a State Senator... a Secretary of State... and twice a formidable candidate for the Presidency. 

Because of who you are and what you've achieved, it took the collective negative might of all the forces listed above to deny you the chance to lead this country as the First Woman President, and for that we will always be the poorer. We watch now as the 2016 campaign winner dismantles our government, disgraces the office of the POTUS, alienates our allies, coddles our adversaries, enriches himself and his cronies, debases Americans he doesn't like and foments division, racism, bigotry and hatred among our own people.

My fervent hope is that you aren't done yet. That you'll continue to speak up and speak out, to use your formidable skills as a politician and an American advocate to help rescue our severely listing ship of state. We need you now, perhaps more than ever.

However, I will totally understand if you choose to just say "OH HELL NO" and recede into your private life, washing your hands of the American electorate who took you for granted for far too long.

On a personal level, I want to thank you for being exactly the Hillary Rodham Clinton that I've always known and loved. I'm only one person, but my gratitude for your efforts towards making this a better nation will never be diminished or eroded. I have always been a proud supporter of you as an imperfect human being, an imperfect politician, an imperfect leader, an imperfect woman/wife/Mother, an imperfect American. 

Imperfectly American... just like me.

"Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well." -- Voltaire, French philosopher and writer (1694-1778)

'Young Hillary' image, gracias de wellesley.edu; Aretha Franklin 'Respect' video, muchismas gracias de youtube.com; Thanks, Hillary!!!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Four On The Floor

The First Cut Is The Deepest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cruising Whittier Boulevard

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

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

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

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

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

The Stop Light Tango begins.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love cruising Whittier Boulevard.

Slipping Into Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I fell out of love with my first car.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

You Can't Get There From Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few factoids to consider:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It would suck, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His eyes and smile made MY day.

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck that guy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never forget: we're all Earthlings.

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