Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Planner

What to write about, let’s see.  Well, there’s always more about . . . myself!

I had some nicknames in my teen years.  There were a few that were intended as mockery, but always very gentle, of course.  I might have been a bit odd, but I got along with most people.  A couple of other names were quite descriptive.  I had a tendency to never shut up, for instance.  One of the nicknames referred to that.  The only nickname that I was proud to own was “the Planner.” 

We had a lot of energy, but very little money.  We did a certain amount of sitting around, but we were also restless to do things.  Listening to records and enjoying, well, other things, could only be considered part of a full life.  New York was a great place to be young at the time.  I’m pretty sure that it still is, but in the Sixties, New York was full of things to do that were totally free, or so cheap that they were almost free.  I’ll bet that that has changed.  In fact, I know that it has.

The problem for many people was discovering the what, where and when of these great, cheap events.  It wasn’t a problem for me, though, so I naturally fell into the role of “the Planner” for my group of friends.  Around Thursday, one or more of them would ask me, “so Fred, what are we doing this weekend?” 

It helped to read widely of the city’s countless periodicals.  There were clues scattered in multiple newspapers, often only on certain days, and there where extensive listings in the New Yorker Magazine and the Village Voice.  I read all of those, and I combed through them eagerly for freebies.  You had to scan, but you also had to know what you were scanning for.  Many would have skimmed over the 92nd Street YMCA, for instance, but then they would miss the fabulous free movies, concerts, plays and readings that the place offered at no charge. 

Yes, back then one could stay very busy attending high quality artistic events at little or no charge.  It should be remembered as a magical window of cultural history when the full range of American cultural resources was available to low income people.  


The Museum of Modern Art was a great place to see movies.  I always had a student membership myself, which cost about $12.00 for a year with unlimited free admission.  They showed movies every day, one at about five thirty and another at about seven thirty or eight.  Maybe one in the afternoon on weekend days.  Upon entry, you just asked for a ticket for the movie, there was no extra charge.  Single admissions were cheap enough for most people to absorb.  It was all really high-tone stuff at MOMA.

All of my friends more or less enjoyed the serious Hollywood movies, but foreign cinema was a tough sell for most of them.  For things like Ingmar Bergman, French New Wave, or Italian Neo Realists, it could just be me and one or two friends that were also hard core fans.  It did often happen that reluctant viewing turned to great enthusiasm afterwards.

I introduced my friends to the comedies of the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, and Buster Keaton.  (Keaton was silent, those were the toughest sells of all, unless it was a Lon Chaney horror movie, or maybe Nosferatu, or Caligari.)  We also enjoyed the old Warner Brothers gangster movies, screwball comedies, and some of the great westerns like Red River.  New York was full of re-run houses at the time.  Those were regular movie theaters that were past their prime and a bit down-in-heel.  They showed double features of old Hollywood movies or foreign movies.  Very cheap, like a dollar and a quarter or something.  The Bleeker Street Cinema; the New Yorker; the one around Eleventh Street on Eighth Avenue, what was that one called?  There were specialized theaters, too.

Just walking around one day I discovered a tiny theater in the high forties just west of Times Square, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.  No marquee, nothing but a small entry way and a ticket window tucked away on one side and a couple of movie posters on the wall across from it.  That place was all Japanese, all the time.  I gave it a try and got hooked immediately.  I went there over a hundred times over the next six years or so, and I dragged as many of my friends as possible.  Another real bargain, the same $1.25 for a double or triple feature.  What an amazing education in Japanese cinema!  They showed everything, although I never saw a Kaiju movie there, no Godzilla, etc.  But they did show all kinds of period pieces, all of Kurosawa, including the first police procedurals, samurai movies from the very classy Samurai Trilogy and Sword of Doom all the way down to Samurai Sheriff (which is a long way down, I can tell you).  Family dramas like Ozu’s Tokyo Story.  Roshamon.  The Forty Seven Ronin.  Ghost movies like the distinctly low brow Tattooed Swordswoman, or very serious ghost movies like Kwaidan.  Weird, violent Yakuza movies.  Superhero stuff like Starman.  Many of these movies are the finest expression of cinematic art, and many others were just jaw-droppingly outré. 


Many very good bands were anxious to promote themselves, so they looked for opportunities to set up and play, either free or for a dollar or something.  There was an eighteen month period in '67, '68 when the Who seemed to be playing somewhere all the time, it could be at a university or maybe at the band shell in Central Park. 

Central Park!  Every summer there was something called the Schaeffer Festival, fifty or sixty outdoor concerts and all for one dollar admission.  Saw the Who there, too, of course.  (Sponsored by Schaeffer Beer.)  

The Filmore East qualified as cheap.  Tickets in the Sixties were $2.95, $3.95 or $4.95.  Of all things, the $2.95 seats had the best sound.  Those were in the balcony, and the mix was much better up there.  Downstairs, unless you were right in the middle you probably got too much of one side or the other.  Nobody needed me to tell anybody what was at the Filmore, though.  That was common knowledge.

There were also cheaper double or triple bills featuring second-tier bands in venues that were seldom used anymore, former movie theaters and the like.

Free was ideal, and there were free concerts of rock, jazz and classical.  Jazz was a tough sell, and I didn't care much for it at the time myself.  There might have been a racist component to that, but we did love R & B.  I did get guys to go to some classical concerts.  Again, reluctance changing to grudging admiration.  Many of my friends were musicians, mostly ear players in rock bands.  They could see all the work that went into classical music, though, and how great the players were. 


These were the toughest sell of all.  Everybody knows the Royal Shakespeare Company, but there are other companies in England, Canada and America devoted to that stuff, too.  Lesser known, and often they got the idea to go on tour and they were willing to put on free shows.  Perhaps a mix of paid and free shows.  The Brooklyn Academy of Music was a good place to see them do their stuff.  Not just Shakespeare, but also Restoration Drama.  Those came a little bit after Shakespeare, and I developed quite a taste for that period.  More boffo, as they say, played more for laughs than Mr. Shakespeare.  We went, we watched, and we learned something.  Free. 


New York is one of the best museum towns in the world.  All of the museums were cheap in those days, but I only remember one that was actually free:  The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  One of the best museums in the world, and the price of admission was “discretionary.”  There were suggested “donations,” but you could just throw a dime in the box and smile.  They must have a colossal endowment.   Something on display for everybody, too.  A huge collection of medieval armor; whole Egyptian tombs; religious paintings as big as billboards; they could entertain anybody. 

All of this tour-guiding was a very positive experience for me.  For one thing, my friends were looking to me for ways to keep life interesting.  That was a good feeling.  For another, it was great to be able to broaden their experience of life.  I didn’t have a great education myself, but I had always taken considerable efforts to educate myself.  In the process, I had learned a little bit about many things.  It was knowledge that I was only too happy to share.  Many of my friends had very little education, but, as often happens, they were rather intelligent people who just had never been exposed to a lot of learning.  They could be blasé on occasion, but often there were surprised and delighted with the new experiences.

Well, enough about me.  Time for more politics!  (Only kidding.)  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Baby Huey - Running

Interesting dude, for true.  I'll admit that I didn't pay much attention to him back in the old days.

But we're suffering through all of these extra days now, and what better way to fill the time than to discover music that had evaded us?  So let's have some fun.

Interesting life story too, this guy.  Check him out.

Play Ball!

Baseball is a funny game.  The just-completed playoffs were wildly entertaining, with day after day of great games.  Lots of close games, lots of lead changes, pitching duels, big ball, small ball, and everything in between.  Lots of triples, a particular favorite of mine.  And that guy Murphy, on the Mets, did he get hit by a cosmic ray or something?  Did he find a magic ring?  The games displayed another aspect of baseball, too, a less well known and less well loved aspect.  That would be the tweeking of the game by the powers that be.

Baseball is a business, and there are people in charge.  Those people have the authority to effect changes to the dimensionality, the physics and the progress of the game.  People like home runs?  Juice the ball so that it travels further when hit.  You can always deaden the ball later on if things get out of hand.  Want to help out the pitchers?  Raise the mound.  There are other things that can be done.

You could play around with the strike zone, for instance.  That seems to be happening in this post season. The umpires are calling the biggest strike zone that I've ever seen.  It's all easy to see these days.  Those who broadcast baseball now include a vast array of graphics on the screen, including a box depicting the strike zone and showing the exact location of the pitches.  In the last two weeks, with disturbing frequency, an umpire has called "strike," followed immediately by the box showing the pitch as outside by one or two times the diameter of a baseball.  The good hitters can see pitches very well, and they know where they were. Players are going crazy, but the umpires just ignore them.  That shit is either unforgivable or orders from management, my friends.  There are too many umpires involved for it to be either coincidental or accidental.

Why would anyone want to call a big strike zone?  It does help the pitchers.  It does speed up the game.  I find it interesting, but I don't find it to be a problem worth solving, even if I had any hope of solving it.  I'm content to wait to see what happens in the World Series next week.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

New York City: The Worst Weather In The World

My Thai friends are always surprised when I tell them that New York City has the worst weather in the world.  They see these Chamber of Commerce photographs and tourist brochures and it all looks very nice.  Well, they take those photos on nice days, but New York only gets about forty nice days in a year.  The remaining 320 days are problematic.  The problems include, but are not limited to, the heat, the cold, and the rain.  It’s a city of extremes, weather included.  You like hurricanes?  (Typhoons.)  Try a blizzard sometime! 

The Heat

Thailand is hot, but New York is more uncomfortable.  It’s all about the humidity.  Thailand gets high temperatures, but the humidity is generally between sixty-five and eighty-five percent, seasonally.  Humidity in a New York summer can get up to ninety-eight percent.  There’s a difference. 

Yes, New York is hot.  How hot is it, Johnny?  It’s too hot to have the lights on in the house.  If you walked around my town in Queens in the Fifties or Sixties after dark, the houses all had every window and door wide open and the only electric thing that was on was the TV.  It’s too hot to sleep with your head on a pillow.  Too much heat build-up.  You’d sweat to death if it didn’t wake you up first.  Ditto, sleeping on your side, that’s out too. 

There’s a lot of air-conditioning now, but that’s a recent development.  I lived in New York to the age of twenty-seven, and I never had air-con.  Usually not even a fan.  Hot, hot, hot. 

The Cold

New York is slightly less cold than cities further inland, but the dampness in New York compensates nicely.  The dampness intensifies the cold in the same way that the humidity intensifies the heat in summer.  New York is surrounded by water; most people don’t realize that it’s a city composed of islands.  That North Atlantic is a cold ocean, too. 

I remember walking around on days that were so cold that I had to put my glasses in my pocket and cover one eye at a time with a gloved hand.  My eyes were so cold that they felt like they were going to crack open like eggs.  New York is full of skyscrapers like the ocean is full of salt water, and the big buildings create a “canyon effect” that can really drive the wind right through you. 

Snow has one thing in common with war, at least one thing.  Those with no experience of the thing are the most enthusiastic about it.  Snow, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, if I never experience snow again, it will be too soon.  Snow is only fun for children.  Even I will admit that snow was a real treat when I was a boy.  We little brats had a lot of fun.  Then you grow up, and snow becomes a nightmare.  Snow makes it harder to get to work; harder to shop for food; harder to dress your children; snow complicates everything. 

Imagine, for a moment, that you have awoken to find that fifteen or twenty inches of snow has fallen overnight.  Well, get busy Charlie, you’ve got work to do.  You look out the window and see a car-shaped pile of snow where you parked last night.  Digging a car out of a blanket of snow is something that the snow inexperienced never consider.  Here’s how it goes:

First, clear the snow off of the trunk.  In the trunk you have brushes for use in clearing the rest of the car, small pieces of heavy rug to use for traction, one or two ice scrapers for the windows, and a snow shovel.  Snow is a lot heavier than it looks in pictures, and all of this shoveling and brushing and scraping is hard work.  At some point, you need to get into the car, which is also a lot harder than it sounds.

The door lock, of course, is frozen solid, and the key will not rotate.  Now you must have a lighter handy.  Hold the key in the fire for a while and put it in the door.  It will not open the first time.  Wait a moment for the heat to transfer to the lock.  Repeat, many times.  Try to rock the key around as you go.  Eventually the door will open. 

Success!  You’re out of your parking space!  And it only took a half hour!  Now all you need to do is slip and slide your way to work!  Have a nice day! 

Even worse than snow is a freezing rain.  Rain! 


Rain is a constant companion in New York.  The whole year is the rainy season.  Everyone has several pairs of rubber overshoes, waterproof shoes and/or boots.  Everyone has raincoats, maybe more than one.  Everyone has a collection of umbrellas.  It’s never enough.  The sheer volume of rain and wind will overpower everything.  Some days, you get soaking wet in spite of it all.

The worst weather that I have ever encountered was a day in New York that I call a “Thirty-Thirty-Thirty” day.  You’ll have to suffer through a few of these every year.  It’s about thirty-three degrees outside.  Just above freezing, so it’s not snow coming down.  The rainwater itself is about thirty-four degrees, just this side of being ice, and it’s pouring down like there’s no tomorrow.  Add to this a thirty-something mile per hour wind.  That, my friend, is enough to make a grown man cry.  There’s nothing that you can do to stay dry.  Your pants are so wet that freezing water is running down into your shoes.  Your umbrella, if you can keep it from collapsing in the wind, is only a small advantage, because the wind is blowing the rain right up at you, up, down and sideways.  Water is blowing up under your raincoat; it’s running down your neck and up your sleeves.  I’ve gotten to work or school so wet that I could take a bill out of my wallet and squeeze water out of it.  By then you are miles from home, and it will be a long time before you can get into a change of clothes.

What can you do to protect yourself?  Wool, dear reader, wool is your friend.  One of the natural properties of wool is that it retains the ability to contain heat even when wet.  So woolen hats are a must, and woolen anything helps.  Ever see those pictures of Irish kids playing outside on rainy days, all wearing those nice Irish woolen sweaters?  Warm as toast.

Best advice:  if you can keep your head warm, and your feet dry, you probably won’t die.  (Antibiotics help, too.  It was a Thirty-Thirty-Thirty day that killed my grandfather, but that was before penicillin.) 

And it rains all year!  It’s horrible.  Springtime can be nice, but when that will happen is anybody’s guess.  Either April, May, or June, it will probably rain almost every day for the entire month.  I was a letter carrier in 1972, and in June it rained twenty-eight out of the thirty days.  And hard rain, too, none of this sprinkling.  Up through the teen years none of this really bothers you, but once you are officially an adult it starts to get oppressive before long.  I lasted in New York until the age of twenty-seven; by then my wife and I couldn’t take it anymore.  We moved to Los Angeles and never looked back.  Well, almost never, but that’s another story.  The weather in L.A. is like a wonderful fairy tale with a happy ending, and we enjoyed it very much.  It was like surviving the sinking of the Titanic. 

Honorable Mentions

Ice Storms.  These are very dangerous, and very beautiful.  Overnight the temperature is just above freezing and there is a mist falling.  Not real rain, but mist.  As the mist settles on the surfaces of the world, it turns to clear ice.  Clear, smooth, shiny ice.  The ice covers every contour of every tree, every building, and yes, every street.  It’s hell to try to drive in, but it’s swell to see. It’s always gone by about nine a.m.

Atmospheric Inversions.  These are supremely uncomfortable and annoying.  Some kind of bubble forms over the area, like a hundred miles in diameter or something, and the air doesn’t move in or out for about a week.  For all of that time the sun just makes the air get hotter and hotter, and it always seems to start out hot to begin with.  There was a good one in June, 1973, and it was as hot as I’ve ever been in my life.  It was almost 100 degrees, and almost 100% humidity.  And zero movement in the air, for days!  I’d sit under a tree reading, and not one leaf moved one millimeter.  There wasn’t a single sound coming from the trees.  Boy, June really is like a box of chocolates . . . you don’t know what you’re going to get.

Sudden Developments.  Another terrible feature of the weather in New York is the profound unpredictability of it all.  No one on the earth has a clue what the weather will be tomorrow.  The worst thing about this is that they try, and they guess, those TV weathermen, those so-called meteorologists.  It’s a mischief. 

How many times did I hear them predict that the next day would be a beautiful day, a perfect day, mild and clear, only to be subjected to a barrage of terrible weather.  Before bed, the weather man says:  great day tomorrow, great weather.  When you wake up, the radio weather guy says:  perfect day today.  And when you look out the window, it does look perfect.  So you go to work in shirtsleeves, wearing your good shoes.  You go to work by taking a twenty-five minute bus ride, followed by a forty minute subway ride, and a couple of long walks are involved.   All morning it’s a beautiful day, and you might even have lunch in the park or something.  But during the afternoon, something happens.

By two p.m. it’s cloudy.  By three p.m. it’s dark, and a wind has come up.  By four p.m. it’s raining.  By the time you leave the office at five p.m. it’s like Noah’s Ark out there, you’re walking in a driving rain and the temperature is fifteen degrees lower than when you came to work. 

It gets worse.  You’re soaked to the skin before you get to the subway, and you stand there dripping wet on the train for forty minutes.  Now you have to catch your bus.  Traffic is a mess, and there are fifty people on line for the bus, which will hold about thirty of them, if you’re lucky.  (People are on the bus already.)  More people are coming out of the subway all the time, and getting on the line.  If you try to hang back, under an awning or in a building, the line keeps getting longer and you never get on a bus.  So you must stand on the line in the rain, for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, in the pouring rain, in your shirtsleeves and you good shoes, with no umbrella, trying desperately to get home from work.  Oh yeah, New York weather is a blast.

It’s crazy how the weather comes up so quickly.  When I was sixteen years old I had a summer job working in a defense plant in our town.  I walked to work.  One morning, one beautiful morning, when the weather prediction for the day was “perfect,” I got to the gate and the guard was looking at the sky.  Somebody said, “nice day, eh?” and the fellow said, “okay now, but it’ll be fucking murder later on.”  Wait now, what do you mean?  “See that?”  He pointed at the sky.  “Pink at night, sailor’s delight.  Pink in the morning, sailor’s warning.”  We didn’t think too much about it.  The fellow at the gate had sailed the seas of the world for twenty plus years with the merchant marine and it turned out that he knew his weather.  At about two p.m. it started to storm around like nobody’s business.  Rain and wind like we thought that the windows would be smashed, and black as night. 

Anything can happen in New York, weather wise, and it probably will happen, too.

The Blizzard.  And now, the coup de grace, ladies and gentlemen . . . The Blizzard!  If you think that you like the hurricanes of the world, the typhoons, well just try them with sub-freezing temperatures, and snow instead of rain, but with the same high winds and all of that lightning, too.  Now that’s a party! 

There’s nothing like trying to make your way home by car after work, and having the time stretch way out as the snow piles up, and having to cross huge suspension bridges while periodically having to get out of the car and join a group of drivers trying to push abandoned cars aside to make a pathway, and all the while it’s snowing like mad, blown by a strong wind, and there’s brilliant lightning flashing in the sky, in the clouds and the snow, and everything is punctuated by terrible thunder.  If that’s your idea of a party, maybe you should move to New York. 

New York is a great place, no doubt.  Best museums in the world, best restaurants, best pizza.  It’s a great place for music and art of every kind.  It’s a tough place, though.  It’s very stressful, and the weather is only part of it.  “If [you] can make it there, [you’ll] make it anywhere.”  Try it if you want to.  Good luck!  I handled it okay when I was young, strong and foolish.  I wouldn’t even try it again at this point.  

Soul Train Line Dancer Rosie Perez

Rosie Perez is living proof that diversity is America's greatest strength.  She's right at the top of the woman pyramid as far as I'm concerned.

All the rest, and the woman has brains and common sense and human decency as well.  It's like Quasimodo in reverse:  all this, and brains too!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Crash And Burn

We are born, a mixed blessing.   If we are lucky, we grow up.  If we are very lucky indeed, we learn to operate the calculus of life and achieve some measure of success and comfort.  Or not.  There are winners and losers in the game of life.

Some bloom early; some late; and some bloom not at all.  None of this is an opportunity for criticism.  It all just happens, and the understanding of the whys and wherefores remains just out of reach. 

One of my teenage friends seemed to have a lot going for him.  He had a nice, long-time girlfriend, good friends, and he had a very good, well-paying job.  He was sociable and generally well liked.  Something went off the rails when he was in his very early twenties, however, and he went into a tailspin from which he never recovered.  He died a terrible, lonely death only twenty years later.  It was the most spectacular crash and burn that I’ve ever seen, or even heard about.

Jimmy was part of a circle of friends that I joined when I was seventeen.  Everyone but him had been born within a few months of me; Jimmy was about two years older.  I already knew him, or should I say that we had always been aware of each other.  For one thing, it was that kind of town, our College Point.  On the small side, insular and clannish.  Jimmy was like me in that he was one of the boys that were always “out,” in the sense that we preferred wandering the streets and parks to staying at home.  He was never warmhearted, but he was always friendly and he never started trouble.  He was visually memorable, being tall and very thin, with a small face and very curly hair, and having a characteristic loping walk.  And usually a scowl.  Even when times were good, Jimmy was very cynical. 

You could almost say that he was popular, almost.  He was, at least, entertaining and funny.  He had a way of putting his own spin on things, like the time he caught a pass in a real football game, with uniforms and everything, and ran the wrong way for an own-goal.  He had a lifelong, obsessive love of the Beatles, which made an interesting contrast to his general negativity.  He played guitar himself, and could sing, and he had been in one of the town bands for a time.  And the girlfriend, don’t forget.  She was kind of pretty, and quite popular.  They had been high school sweethearts, and remained an item for a couple of years afterwards. 

Jimmy’s great success was art, and it was his talent for art that brought him to his great job.  After high school he’d gone to the adult night school in town and learned drafting, engineering drawing.  He got a job at one of the town’s defense plants, and he was so talented that before long he had moved on to mechanical illustration.  That is an extreme variation on the theme of drafting, consisting of cut-away views of completed devices.  Picture an automobile engine with a cut-away window displaying the interior parts, working together.  In color.  It’s a high-paying field, mostly because not many people can do it.

This was Jimmy’s situation when I hooked up with that crowd, and it remained about the same for a couple of years.  Then something happened, Jimmy was overtaken by events.  He and the girlfriend broke up, but I could not say definitively whether that was the precipitating event or a result of something else.  Maybe there was a change that the girlfriend could see, a change that she didn’t like.  It could have been substance abuse, something that we were all dealing with, more or less, but I don’t think that could explain all of it.  It could have been something more insidious, although nothing was ever clinically observed.  There are personality problems that often strike in the late teen years.  Whatever it was, within a year he had lost the job as well as the girlfriend.  He worked little retail jobs for the rest of his life, at low wages. 

He suddenly became something of a sad presence.   We spent many late nights hanging out in the semi-finished basement of his family’s home.  Listening to and discussing records, and working on our substance abuse.  One night he took me aside and asked me to take custody of two of his most prized possessions.  They were plastic models of a bf109 and a Zero, two famous fighter planes from World War II, built from kits and meticulously painted with historically accurate camouflage markings.  You could say, “professionally painted.”  They were beautiful, are beautiful.  He said that he was afraid that something would happen to them, and that he knew that if he gave them to me, I’d keep them safe pretty much forever.  I thought that it was a strange request, but I honored it.  I’ve honored my commitment, too, at least as far as the Zero is concerned.  It still stands in my display cabinet, here in Bangkok.    

There was another strange incident around this time.  Jimmy decided to buy a car.  I’d never known him to even drive a car before.  He had rather a lot of money in the bank from the good years, and he planned to buy a car that he really liked, a Dodge Hemi Super Bee.  That’s a very fast, very expensive car.  He arranged the purchase, withdrew the money from the bank, and he was on his way to buy the car when he realized that he had lost the money.  To watch him tell us this story, later that night, was a bit disturbing.  He seemed to be grasping for a reality that was increasingly eluding him, and he was genuinely baffled about the fate of the money.  It was almost ten thousand dollars, and the mystery was never resolved.*  

My wife and I moved to Los Angeles, and others of the crowd dispersed to northern California, or Long Island, or Connecticut.  Jimmy remained in New York, working at the retail, selling various things at a succession of jobs.  He had never married, and if he’d ever had another girlfriend, I never heard about it.  The late night phone calls started in the early Eighties, we were all well into our thirties by then.  Jimmy would call us, me and others from our group of friends, at very late hours.  He’d call after midnight, California time, that’s three a.m. in New York.  That was still a time when you answered the phone just because it rang, whatever time it was.  Jimmy would be very, very drunk, and he wanted to talk about the old days, how great it all was, the music and the camaraderie.  Before long, sounding like he had tears in his eyes, he was seeking reassurances that we were still his friends, or at least that we had been his friends, long before.  We had been a close knit group, with a lot in common, and most of us are in contact to this day.  Jimmy was one of us, and of course we still loved him as a friend.  Our reassurances never seemed to quite mollify him, though. 

Shortly thereafter I got a call from Jimmy’s younger brother, who had also been a friend of ours.  Jimmy’s landlord had called him because nobody had seen Jimmy for a few days and the lights had been on in his apartment for all of that time.  They let themselves in to discover Jimmy dead on the kitchen floor, half in and half out of the open refrigerator.  He was just about forty years old.  His brother told me that it had been a heart attack, and that Jimmy had been drinking way too much for many years.

That last image haunts me to this day.  The whole story haunts me.  It’s all too horrible to consider the catalog of nightmares that fate has in store for human beings.  Any sensible person faced with a challenge to their happiness should learn to just smile and consider:  it could be worse.   

*Possible exaggeration alert!  Upon reflection, it may not have been the Super Bee.  It may have been one of the more usual Dodge Chargers.  He wanted the big hemi though, at least, and a shocking amount of money was involved.  I think that it was the Super Bee, but I couldn't guarantee it. 

Regarding Politics

I’m so tired of politics.  Tired of worrying about it; tired of hearing about it; tired of being tempted to write about it.  It’s not like I even care anymore, actually, except that I really don’t like being lied to and treated like a fool.  Besides, it’s not like American politics hasn’t gone irredeemably to shit already.  That train has left the station. 

What could be a greater waste of time than trying to convince people to vote, or to see beyond the distractions to the reality of their political decisions, or to consider, God forbid, future Supreme Court appointments when they vote.  And do the Republicans really need one more voice crying in the wilderness drawing attention to their venal, anti-democratic shenanigans?   Waste of time.

I’m sure that I’ll be returning to the theme of politics throughout the election cycle, because it all gets so infuriating that I won’t be able to help myself.  I will, however, be making an effort to keep it to a minimum. 

I’m also sure that I take this cure from time to time and then quickly fall off the wagon.  Pardon my redundancy!  My pain is real.  

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Jimi Hendrix Of Church Music

Aubrey Ghent "Praise Music."  Two thousand, five hundred hits in five years.  One of the biggest problems facing America today is that people don't know what to listen to.  If no one helps you out, how do you find the good stuff?

This, for instance, is the good stuff.  Let me help you!  I live to serve, it's all about the love.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dangerous Escapades Of Reckless Boys

There was a huge building boom in the private home market after World War II.  By August, 1945 there were over twelve million people in the armed forces, and many of them had had their lives on hold for up to five or six years.   Now most of them would be coming home, and they shared a feeling that they had a lot of catching up to do.  Millions of them wanted to get married, drink as much alcohol and smoke as many cigarettes as possible, have a family, drink real coffee, eat steak and eggs, and buy a car and a house.   I was born in Queens, New York City in 1948, and I had a wonderful perch from which to watch the very last vacant lots, small farm plots (!!!) and the few remaining bits of primeval woodland in Queens fill in like the bottom of an hourglass until every square inch of raw land had been occupied by new homes.  

Children had vastly more freedom in the early Fifties than they do now, more, in fact, than was at all sensible in a place as generally unsafe as Queens.  By the age of four I was part of a wandering pack of mostly boys.  We roamed the immediate neighborhood with zero adult supervision.  Our parents trusted us to cross some streets on our own, but not others, and they trusted us to know the difference.  “Come home when the streetlights come on.”  All through my early life it seemed like there were a great number of children within a year or two of my age.  Behind the two-family house that my family lived in was a field of about one acre in size that had never been built upon.  It had been, up to that time, devoted to agriculture, of all things, someone was still growing beans and tomatoes.   I can picture it to this day.  In 1952 or ‘53 it was slated for the construction of the one-family row-houses that became a hallmark of the town in question, which is called College Point.  When they first cleared the land and prepared it for construction it became our favorite place in the world. 

Regarding “College Point,” it actually was a point of land jutting out into the East River (which is actually an estuary, and not a river at all), just east of La Guardia Airport on the north shore of Long Island (which actually is an island).  There had actually been a college there, briefly, but it had been gone for almost a century before I arrived. 

I don’t remember any fencing around any of those construction sites, although I know that many boys did actually get hurt playing around the dirt piles or the half-constructed homes.   The dirt piles!  What better landscape could an army of reckless boys ever hope for?  I recall these dirt piles being very large, but I suppose we must bear in mind that I was very small at the time.   The dirt was very loose, and the piles were very regularly shaped.  We had “dirt bomb” fights with a dozen boys on a side, hurling clods of dirt at one another.  These often degenerated into rock fights, which were much more unpleasant.  We played King of the Hill, gleefully tossing each other down the side of a pile.  We also engaged in an activity that gives me chills to this day, an activity in which many boys famously die, an activity which is one of the reasons that it never fails to amaze me that boys ever grow successfully to manhood at all.

We dug caves into these piles of loose dirt with our hands.  Caves!  We created spaces beneath many hundreds of pounds of loose dirt.  Boys of four, five or six years old, digging out chambers that were big enough for several boys at a time.  I vividly remember being inside of these places.  There was enough natural light to see, albeit dimly, so I suppose that the aperture was always fairly close by. We would just start digging into the pile and make a little chamber as soon as it seemed practical.   You needed to crawl in, though, and luckily I always got out okay and I don’t remember any collapses.  When those things come down around the heads of the occupants the result is often fatal.  Death by misadventure, I think they call it. 

For my towny friends, this all took place on 117th Street, just south of 12th Avenue.  The bean field was between 12th and 14th Avenues, and between 119th and 117th Streets.  118th Street didn’t go through, because of a sudden change of grade, so sudden that it was almost a cliff.  I lived on 119th Street at the time, close to the corner of 12th Avenue.  There were a lot of children on 119th Street, but they seemed to be mostly girls and their ages didn’t agree with mine.  For me, the real action was around the corner on 118th Street, the long block between 9th and 12th Avenues, where there was an army of boys right around my age.  They were a great bunch of guys.  Some have been quite successful in life; a few have already passed from the scene.  Congratulations, or RIP, whichever is appropriate.

I’m only in contact with a couple of them at this point, but it’s a pleasure to remember them all.  The block itself was very beautiful, lined on both sides with huge, mature trees that blotted out the sun when the leaves were full.  Not a through street, it dead-headed on both sides, so there was not a lot of traffic.  It was a perfect place to play Hide-and-Seek, or Tag, or any of the many games that we enjoyed.  We played games that required no equipment, games that had very few rules, games that had almost nothing to interfere with the fun.   Those were good times.  I say to you all, wherever you are, that you were good, if often imperfect friends, and I remember each of you fondly, and I forgive you your imperfections.  As the three time loser said to the judge upon sentencing:  your honor, whom amongst us is perfect?  I ask you only to forgive me my trespasses, as I forgive you.  Bon chance, my friends.  I’m so very glad that we all survived those impromptu caves.  

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Phil Ochs Cops of the world (lyrics)

Everything old is new again!

This is what we called a "protest song."  Listening to the Republican debates I could detect the same kind of willingness to kill and destroy at the drop of a hat, and the same degree of contempt for the people of the target countries, but without the sarcasm.

I remember it well from the old days, the song and the emotions.  The old, "it'll be easy, let's go in and fuck 'em up!"  Vietnam (100,000 troops wasn't enough, 250,000 will do it!  No?  500,000!  and ten years, and still we lost), Iraq (they'll welcome us as liberators!  Six months, tops! and the country hardly exists anymore, and we're not getting the oil money).  Hopefully, this new crop of imperialists won't get a chance to fully implement their hare-brained schemes.

But, Will People Vote?

The political debates are all the rage this year.  Highest rated shows of the year!  Both parties’ debates sure pulled in a lot of viewers.  So, it does look like people are interested. 

I’ve watched them all so far, and the striking thing about them is that there has never been such a clear divide between the Republicans and the Democrats.  I may be biased, in fact I am biased, but while the Democratic debate this week was quite a dignified affair where issues of importance to us were discussed and examined, the two Republican debates so far have been laughable Clown Colleges of total bullshit. 

I’ll let the real writers examine the details for your enjoyment, but the broad outlines are as plain as the belly in Chris Christie’s suit.  Republicans limit their discourse to their usual talking points:  lower taxes (mostly if not entirely on the top earners); reduce the size of government (the better to drown it in a bath tub); kill popular social programs (in order to save them); deregulate business (so it can raise the general prosperity); and keep American strong.  For variety, they throw red meat to the resentful old white people that vote for them.  Rhetoric about things like abortion, immigrants, homosexuals, people who “live on government handouts,” and the dangers of living with black Americans.  This should all seem quite comical and ridiculous to the American people, but it seems to work pretty well for the Republicans.  The cynicism and hypocrisy of those who peddle this tripe year after year is breathtaking.  

The Republicans don’t seem to know or care anything at all about the lives of ordinary people; they don’t even seem to know the first thing about that beloved abstraction called money!  Carly Fiorina wants to build, what was it, two hundred additional warships?  Three hundred?  I started to do the math on that one and I got dizzy.  They talk about war like it was a matter of glory and national honor, which it to be expected, because I don’t think any of them have actually served in the military.  (der Krieg ist lustig, der unerfarnen.)    They actually stand there and say, out loud, that we must do these things and that we must simultaneously reduce taxes.  Hasn’t that been tried?  And didn’t it fail? 

No matter.  Several of them even have ingenious plans to reduce taxes on top earners while raising them on working class people.  They are channeling Ron Reagan, without whom Social Security would be solvent and the national debt would be much lower.  I’d better stop about the Republicans now, or else I’ll be taken in for observation as a danger to myself and others.

The Democrats, at the very least, seemed much more intelligent about the whole enterprise.  Whatever is really in their hearts, they do a very good job of always sounding like they want to help the American people.  Their speech is much better organized, and they are much better able to answer questions without simply swinging into elements of their campaign speeches.   With the exception of Jim Webb, they were all trying to stick to proposing solutions to the real problems facing Americans.  Webb seems to be there as some kind of dramatic device intended to make the others look good. 

Having said that, I should try to return to some kind of point to all of this.  Normal, non-crazy American people who are not rich and who have not been driven crazy by the politics of resentment should prefer the Democratic candidates.  They should prefer their ideas, their priorities, their mature and lucid presentation styles, their proposed solutions, and their values.  In polls where the political overtones are cleverly masked, Americans express opinions that are very much like those of the Democratic candidates, and nothing at all like the Republican candidates.  The Democrats are much more in line with current American thinking about the modern world.  So the question is:

Will the American people bother to vote next year? 

I mean, will they bother to get off of their collective, complacent asses and go out and cast votes for the candidates of their choice?  In last year’s off-year election something like thirty-seven percent of eligible voters cast votes.  And we see what happened then.  We got a congress full of raging lunatics who call themselves Republicans but who cannot even get along with each other, much less with anyone else.  Politics is so far out in the ditch that we see Republican candidates for president like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Michael Huckabee, all people who have nothing at all to recommend them for the job, people who, in fact, should be made to wear orange jumpsuits bearing the words, “Danger! Toxic!” Even the so-called real politicians in the group are dangerous and extreme.  Chris Christie? Rand Paul? Marco Rubio?  These are guys that no sensible person would ever consider making president.  Ted Fucking Cruz, for the love of Sweet Baby Jesus!!! 

(Edit after one week:  How could I forget John Bush!  But I am trying very hard to forget John Bush.)  

I hate to tell you, but if y’all stay home next year like you usually do, one of those dangerous assholes will probably win this thing.  And then strap yourselves in, boys and girls, because that will be one, rough, ride.

So do it for America . . . do it for love . . . do it for your families . . . do it for goodness sake . . . do it to pull your own bacon out of the fire!  Just do it!  Vote!  Vote for whomever you wish, but vote!  

Can - I Want More (1976)

Can, in a mood that is, for them, a bit on the commercial side.  They're most "famous" for their work in the Seventies, but they never really went away.  They greatly influenced a lot of music that came after them, although they never get any credit for that.  By now, they've influenced bands that have never heard a Can record.  When I listen to KXLU (Loyola University, Los Angeles), I hear a lot of Can influence.

Great band.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Mr. Fred Coins A Phrase

I think that I coined a phrase today!  I'm so proud!

"ConBot,"  a conservative robot who has internalized all of the hyper-con talking points and mean spiritedly trots them out in comments on the Internet.  When challenged, this type will fall back on, "please give me specifics.  I don't think you know what you are talking about."  Not receiving a scholarly essay with full citations in response, they declare victory and return to the Daily Caller to  brag to their friends.

Someone raised the issue on my Facebook this morning of drug testing for welfare recipients, and one fine fellow chimed in with, "we need to do something about all of these non-productive people.  They can't just expect to be supported by the taxes on real wage earners."  Somebody called him on this cruel attitude, and he demanded "specifics," suggesting that the reply came from some kind of sentimental fool.

I try never to engage these people, but I couldn't resist.  "Mr. (redacted), your fine mind has been compromised.  You have obviously been turned into a ConBot (conservative robot)."

I was rather proud of this formulation, but not overly so.  I always figure, if I've done something, that only proves that it can be done.  And if it can be done, it's probably been done already.  It was new for me, though, and I think that the shoe fits.

Are Americans Nice People?

I like to think that Americans are a friendly, cooperative people, fair minded and good, but is that all really true?  It’s more or less true, I believe, but the question is:  how much more, or less? 

We all have things that we keep carefully hidden from ourselves, and opinions that we wisely keep to ourselves.  It may not even be a good idea to dwell too long on the subject of America’s true character.  We all have a vested interest in the myths, and we all would prefer to believe that America is, on balance, a positive force in the world.  My attitude, like the good Irishman that I am, is that America is not better than other countries, but it’s probably as good as any of them. 

But Americans themselves . . . are they nice?  Are they good? 

D.H. Lawrence is quoted as saying that “[t]he essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.”  The truth may lie somewhere in between.

My Grandparents’ America

This was really the pre-ironic America, a society without Freud and free from self-examination.  This generation, born in the late Nineteenth Century, went through their lives believing that America was literally the America of Saturday Evening Post covers.  They knew that that wasn’t true, because they knew their lives to be desperately hard.  They believed it anyway, maybe just for public consumption or maybe because they had convinced themselves that it was so.  It wasn’t like a Norman Rockwell painting at all, though.

That was America, pre-workers’ rights or civil rights, the America of Jim Crow (and the north wasn’t a whole lot better either), a time and place of grinding poverty and epidemic infant death.  My maternal grandmother experienced five pregnancies that resulted in three live births.  My paternal grandfather’s first wife died along with their first child, in childbirth.  There was a lot of early death in general.  Disease was rampant, antibiotics hadn’t been invented yet, and people had no insurance and no money for medical care.  My maternal grandfather died, overworked and under-appreciated, of pneumonia, at the age of about forty.  There was also a lot of fighting among the men.  My paternal grandfather participated in a great number of these fights, and started most of the ones he was in.  And there was a lot of rape, too.

My maternal grandmother’s sister was raped, and it was a particularly terrible example of the practice.  It was 1918, and she was tricked into a private space and gang raped by a group of Doughboys shortly before they shipped out for World War I.  Her great beauty and outgoing personality were her undoing.  She got pregnant and had the baby, a well-loved aunt of mine. This kind of thing was much more prevalent than is understood or remembered, because the shame of it all drove most women to keep the act a secret.  If my aunt hadn’t gotten pregnant, I would certainly not know of the event.

The point is, America has never been the sunny place that appears in its own self-aggrandizing public relations materials, or should I say propaganda.  In reality, no segment or demographic of American society could stand any of the others during this period.  Some would say that it is no better today.

Those were rough times.  They were rough people living rough lives, in the midst of great economic achievement and obscene wealth.  Not nice at all, and with very little good to recommend it, with the possible exception of jazz.

My Parents’ Generation

The greatest myth of all surrounds this generation, born, let’s say, around 1920.  That’s the myth of the “Greatest Generation,” so-called mostly because they are credited with having won World War II.  For one thing, they had help, you can ask the Russians and the Chinese about that.  For another thing, their conduct of the war was less than great.  It was less, indeed, than admirable in many cases. 

Prisoners of war?  Well, forget the Marines’ treatment of the Japanese soldiers that they met, there was no taking of Japanese prisoners, by their own choice.  And the Marines get a pass, because they had been roughly handled by the Japanese soldiers and they could say that they were responding in kind.  In the European Theater of Operation the worst prisoner abuse took place in the war between the Russians and the Germans.  On the Western Front, the American armed forces committed many of the more egregious excesses.  Many, many prisoners never made it back to the lock-ups, and “die-hards” were simply killed.  SS troopers, and many ordinary German soldiers, were all treated as die-hards. 

Terror bombing by American air forces started a long time before the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  It was, in fact, old hat by then.  Every German city of any size at all was leveled, and towards the end this was done by fire-bombing.  Every single Japanese city was leveled.  Nagasaki completed the set.  The loss of civilian lives in Germany and Japan was huge.  (Other countries suffered greater losses, but not at the hands of Americans. Rather, at the hands of the Germans and the Japanese.  That's another story.)  

Racism was rampant all through this period.  During the earlier, simpler times, racism was casually accepted and almost universal.  By the Thirties and Forties, civil rights were beginning to be discussed, and black Americans were beginning to speak up a bit (they had to be very careful about it, you know, or they’d get themselves hung from a tree or something).  In these discussions, the vast 
majority of white Americans gave a resounding HELL, NO.  That’s not very nice.

Over in California, there were the Zoot Suit riots.  White people were furious to see Chicanos getting decent jobs and wearing decent clothes. 

And let’s not forget the internment of Japanese AMERICANS during the war.  Those poor souls lost all of their stuff and spent years in dusty desert shit holes before the Supreme Court decided that it was all illegal, done because they happened to be members of a group of Asians that we didn’t like.

The “Greatest Generation” were themselves, almost to a man, a bunch of racists and xenophobes for the remainder of their lives.  Thank you for your service!  But a little more common decency would not have been out of place.

More Recently

My generation wasn’t much different, not much better.  We had a few things happen that started to open some eyes, things like the integration of baseball and rock and roll radio in the Fifties.  (By the Sixties, radio was segregated again.)  Most young people were still ill disposed to black Americans who did not play baseball or make hit records.

It’s possible that we fought a bit less than previous generations as boys, but we fought a lot.  There was a lot of bullying, and a lot of rough teasing of the handicapped, especially the mentally handicapped.  There were good boys and bad boys in my milieu, but the bad outnumbered the good.  We who found ourselves somewhere in the middle were a mixed bag of tricks with little to recommend us.

As adults, we hardly fight at all, for the same reason that children don’t fight much anymore.  These days, fighting is very likely to result in one’s getting shot, either during the fight or afterwards.  America is a violent place, senselessly so. 

Regarding racism, things have always been terrible and it would be ridiculous to suggest that they have gotten much better.  The furious row over our Kenyan Witchdoctor President and his Wookie Wife preclude any hosannas at all.  What could have been a moment of triumph has proven to be a moment of shame.  Not to mention that police shootings of black Americans now make the old school lynchings seem almost quaint.  The situation now may be even more horrible and discriminatory for blacks than at any time since the abolition of slavery, because it’s all so out in the open again and it’s obviously sanctioned by a substantial part of our government. 

Not only blacks are getting shot, and it’s not just police doing the shooting.  Everyone is shooting everyone these days.  It’s the new national sport!  Mass shootings; grudge shootings; ambush murders; accidental shootings; suicides; shootings incident to crime.  Children find guns and shoot other children, and then get charged with murder as adults (this is a way that our sick society attempts to exculpate itself). 

And we are as xenophobic as ever.  Just ask any Muslim.


But what about those Americans, eh?  How about that American character? Over-rated, at best.  And certainly not in the mold of so-called “American Exceptionalism.” 

Was D.H. Lawrence right about us?  He was close, at least.  We are a hard bunch, and stoic, and proud of our isolation (we call it, “independence”), and there are lots of killers among us, more, it seems, every day. 
I do think of us as a friendly, sociable people, though, which is a positive.  We’re direct, I guess that one can cut both ways.  We’re undeniably hard working, our government and our Galtian overlord super-rich masters do make sure that we keep those hamster wheels spinning.  We’re creative, that’s another positive.
But . . .

Cooperative?  It happens, but not always.  We hold grudges, and we’re still very selfish, xenophobic and racist. 

Fair minded?  Usually, but only if times are good, and not at all if a minority is seeking to level the playing field.

Nice? That may never have been in the cards, except for some blessed individuals.

Good?  That, dear reader, is probably out of the question.  

Friday, October 9, 2015

Attention: Teachers!

"Every class should be five minutes long, taught by holograms of Rhianna, and consist of self-graded multiple choice tests composed of emoji."

Rebecca Shuman

Monday, October 5, 2015

Big Maybelle - One Monkey Don´t Stop No Show

Some days it is just beyond me why we should begin to care if the world destroys itself, either by fire, or by poison, or by explosives, or by stupid carelessness.

This kind of music may not be your idea of beauty in the world, but it is for me.  I'd bet my tattoo that whatever your idea of beauty is, people don't give a shit about it either.

Sorry About That, Mr. Pope

I try to be good about avoiding knee-jerk reactions to events in the news, especially those concerning subjects that I may be prejudiced about.  But I get carried away sometimes.  Like last week with Pope Francis and his meeting with Kim Davis.

When I read that the meeting had happened, I did a little looking around to make sure that the information was correct.  The Vatican itself confirmed that the "meeting" had indeed happened, and the report that he had offered her some words of encouragement seemed believable.  So there I went, condemning the entire church, as is my habit.  They've been working hard for millennia to earn our distrust, and I'm not one to deny them.

By now it seems that there is much more to this story than initially met the eye.

There's a nice little article by Charles P. Pierce in this Month's (on line) Esquire Magazine with the wonderful title, "The Papal Chase: WTF Edition."  There is considerable evidence, anecdotal and circumstantial as it may be, that the pope was set up by culture warriors and political enemies within the church itself, and no evidence that the pope had anything to do with setting up the meeting or that he ever had a clue who Kim Davis was.  Mr. Pierce makes a persuasive argument that Ms. Davis was brought in for an assembly line meet-and-greet and that the pope's "words of encouragement" were general and merely polite.

Those doing the setting up may have had a dual purpose for the trick, to boost Kim Davis as an anti-gay-marriage icon and to dim the enthusiasm of Americans for Pope Francis.  Mr. Pierce seems to have a favorite word, or family of words.  He got many variations of it into this rather brief article. They were the verb, "to ratfck;" the adjective, "ratfcked;" and one of the noun forms, "ratfckery."  If his own red-capped devils are out for him in this manner, one can only hope that the pope keeps his own ecclesiastic stiletto handy.

It's worth recalling that Pope Benedict is still alive, and worth recalling two additional things about him.  For one thing, he was ultra, ultra-conservative, which Pope Francis is not; and for another thing, he had a thin skin and certainly doesn't appreciate all of the attention and glowing press that Francis is getting.  It occurs to me now that Benedict's last name was Ratzinger, which could be the linguistic genesis of all of that ratfckery.

So I'm leaving in place all of the nasty things that I said about the church itself.  This evident back-room dealing and internecine warfare only make them look worse.  But I'm giving Pope Francis a pass on this one, there being little or no evidence that he did anything in particular wrong.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Regrets, I've Had A Few

This week a Facebook friend posted something about death care nurses commenting about things that dying people have expressed to them as regrets over the years.  It was pretty typical stuff, things that most of us might regret.  Having done something; not doing something; losing track of family or friends.  I’m guilty of all of those.  What I regret most of all, though, is having gone to law school. 

No offense to my school, they were great.  Getting in was easy, because I did very well on the LSAT and had a pretty good undergrad index.  They were looking for age diversity, and I had it!  I even got a 25% ride on the tuition, from the school!  Law school itself was actually fun.  I mean after getting my first semester grades it was fun, up to that first hurdle no one is sure that it’s going to work out.  They do scare you that first year, and work you hard.  I wouldn’t say that school was easy, but it went fine.  I even finished exactly where I set out to finish:  the middle of the class.  I was number 147 out of 290 graduates, the very top of the bottom half of the class!  I figured that if I could beat out half of those hot shots I’d be doing fine. 

Practicing law though, that was not a good fit for me.  To thrive at it, you need skin that’s thicker than a rhino’s and you need to have your empathy turned way down low.  I didn’t bring either of those skills to the enterprise.

When I started out I was hardly drinking at all and I was functioning pretty well as a husband, father and friend.  After a few years all of those outcomes were in doubt.  Law work is brutally stressful, and it takes a toll.

How stressful was it, Johnny?  You spend most of every day under intense time pressure, and everything that you do is under a microscope.  If any of your clients are unsatisfied with the result that you got for them, they are liable to visit another lawyer for a free consultation.  The other lawyer is almost certain to tell them, “yup, he fucked it up, let’s sue the bastard!”  Judges are a mixed bag of tricks, and the lawyer’s experience of them will vary mostly from bad to worse.  Even the good judges used to be lawyers themselves, so they are all sitting up there assuming that all the lawyers are lying to them, everyday.  Plus, there’s the driving.  People have no idea how much driving lawyers do, especially in a place like Los Angeles.  I frequently did over two hundred miles in a day. 

And the other lawyers!  “Opposing counsel!”  They live to make your life difficult, and in every court appearance they will try to paint you as a numbskull who is wasting the court’s time.  God forbid you should have a big firm on the other side.  I was a solo practitioner, so I was doing everything by my lonesome.  There’s nothing like hearing your fax machine light up at 4:45 pm, delivering some forty page brief and a notice for an ex parte hearing the very next morning at 9:00 am.  The notice includes a recitation of what they did to try to contact you before going ex parte, little or none of which actually happened.  You go back to your desk and you need to write a response on the spot so you can send it to them before you go home.  The usual ten hour days can stretch out. 

Nor did I appreciate getting “confirming letters” for telephone calls that had never happened, the letter confirming that I had agreed to something.  Or the postdated letters, back dated so they wouldn’t blow a response date for discovery or something.  You can change the dates on those Pitney Bowes machines, you know. 

If you’re lucky, you’re in twenty or more fights at the same time.  When one fight ends, you’re lucky if you get into a new fight within a day or so.  That’s called making a living. 

After days like that, most people are in the mood for a cocktail.  I even started smoking again.

The law ended up ruining my relationships with my wife, my friends, and my children, and it could still turn out to have assisted in the ruination of my health.  For twelve years I did it, and most of the work came out okay, but I don't know if I'll ever get over the experience.  I mean, I cooperated in those ruinations, but I can offer an explanation: my temperament was just not able to manage the stress.    

(“I have no excuse, your honor, but I can offer an explanation.”  Good joke:  guy’s at a family party; he’s talking with his brother in law, a lawyer, and the lawyer is always correcting him; guy says, “why are lawyers so exact all the time?”  lawyer says, “not exact, we are precise.”) 

Why would anybody go to law school?  Why did I, of all people, go to law school? 

At the time, I wanted to go to grad school and get myself a career.  At the time, I was forty years old and I had had an extensive collection of nowhere jobs, a list that sounds like something out of a Preston Sturgess screwball comedy. 

As a concession to the brevity of life, I will dispense with a recitation of my entire education history.  But I had finally achieved a BA at the age of thirty-six.  It was a pretty good one, too, in Art History, from Queens College of the City University of New York, with department honors.  I thought that I had finally figured out the school thing and maybe I should go to grad school.  I seriously considered the Ph.D. route to university teaching and writing scholarly articles and books, but I could see that the politics of that were just murder and you had to spend years teaching survey classes in Nebraska or something.  Finally I got the bright idea:  what about law school? 

I liked the idea for several reasons:

1.       I thought that I could do it.  I had become a very well organized student, almost all A's.  (Two B+'s in tough German courses.)  I could handle ambiguity and I could argue pretty well already, and I was a good writer.  I’d always been verbally adept.  Plus, I had spent a week on a jury in my early thirties.  It was a terrible armed robbery case, with a lot of witnesses and evidence.  I looked around the courtroom and thought, “I could do any of this.”  I didn’t see anybody who seemed particularly smart, much less a genius;

2.       I thought that it would all be interesting.  And it was, too!  School, practice, clients, everything, it was all very interesting; and

3.       The law is a bright-line credential.  You have a JD?  It’s a fact.  You have a law license?  It’s a fact.  There’s nothing vague about it, like having a Ph.D in Anthropology, or even an MBA. 

So I did it, I did it to myself. 

It was such a relief to leave the practice of law.  My wife and I joined the Peace Corps and had the great luck to be sent to Thailand for two years (and three months).   I enjoyed that time immensely.  Pleasant work, fascinating surroundings, nice people treating me with respect, lots of travel and beauty.  The damage had been done, though.  Not long after we got home it became apparent to my wife that living with me wasn’t working for her anymore.   It seems to be happening to lots of people these days.  Even Al isn’t married to Tipper anymore.  Sometimes, what goes around does, indeed, come around.

So, the law, that’s my biggest regret, in a lifetime that was no stranger to regret.  For me though, things always do seem to work out.  I'm a lucky guy.  Sometimes it seems that I live in the eye of a huge vortex of negativity.  I can see the cars, the roofs, the cattle, and the trees, swinging around me in the vortex, but where I am it is strangely calm.  For the last eight years I’ve been teaching law at a big university in Thailand.  The subject matter varies, but mostly I concentrate on teaching our students vocabulary and strategies for talking about the law in English.  They all want to be lawyers, and these days they’ll have to learn to discuss such things with lawyers from Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and beyond.  I feel very grateful to have this job, and I feel like I am being useful.  It is my briar patch, and I am satisfied.

My calm spot.  Good luck out there in the vortex.

Okay!  That’s enough work for one Saturday!  Where’s my cocktail?