Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Why We Drink

Why We Drink

With apologies to Frank Capra (See, “Why We Fight”), and thanks to Amos Milburn for the nice live version of "Bad, Bad Whiskey." 

Alcohol has so many negatives that it can seem strange that people drink it at all. It will ruin your health; it will lower your inhibitions enough that you may pick up an STD; it can even make a teenager foolish enough to steal a car and end up in prison. Hell, it often makes men angry enough to kill their friends or their families. It looks like a bad idea from many angles, but people continue to drink it. Many drink it to excess. It's enough to make you wonder.

Then you remember that alcohol is easily available, and that it does a serviceable job in addressing certain uncomfortable situations that many people find themselves in.

If you are a person who worries excessively, having a few pops will temporarily make you forget them. If your temperament is wound a little too tightly, it will temporarily loosen you up. If you suffer from shyness, it will temporarily make you gregarious. Like most drugs, it works much better in the beginning than it does in the later stages of the habit. Oh, yes, it does become a habit.

For many people it becomes a crutch. For a long time I have described  alcohol as being not so much a substance as a place. It's a place that you can go almost any time that you wish, a place where worries disappear, where the women (or the guys) are more attractive, where jokes are funnier, and where Armageddon is a good movie. It is a place that many people can't wait to get to upon returning home after a long, grinding day of trying to make a living. I was one of those people for a few years in the mid-1990s.

In my teens and twenties, I drank with my friends. Teens? Whenever we could manage it. Twenties? Most evenings. In my thirties, I hardly drank at all. Socially, certainly, but that was only a few times every month. Drinking alone or in a group, I've never enjoyed being drunk, and I was never sloppy drunk. I went to law school in my early forties, and that was three rather sober years. I started working as a lawyer at forty-three. Working for other lawyers wasn't so bad, but when I committed to setting up my own practice, with the overhead, the business taxes, and the marketing, things got a bit tougher than I could easily handle. I never drank alcohol during the day, but at home, by eight or nine o'clock, I was a little bit frayed around the edges. No excuses offered, nor do I believe that any are called for. It happened, so what? After a few years I had a handle on the expenses of running a solo practice and I dried out, returning to drinking at a much more manageable level within a few years.

Bad, Bad Whisky . . .” made me lose my happy home, says Mr. Milburn. As it happened, my drinking alcohol at any level had become a trigger for my now ex-wife. She convinced herself that both of her parents had been alcoholics, and that alcoholism had been a large part of them being hapless and distant (her father) or just plain mean (her mother). Entering our third decade of marriage, she decided that I was also an alcoholic, and that we three alcoholics were responsible for ruining her life.

Disclaimer: My own father was not afraid to enjoy a drink on occasion, but he was very responsible about it. He could always sip a short scotch or bourbon and then put the bottle away, with the same self-control that enabled him to smoke one cigar every month or so, never more. My mother was a different story. She was a dedicated, all-day drinker. She started in the morning, and put away a case of cheap rye per week.

After thirty-eight years of marriage, my first wife gave me the bounce. The following year she made her judgment permanent, and that was that. She never changed her mind. I waited five years and then moved on, which I think was only sensible. I was sixty-six years old, and I had to start preparing myself for impending frailty and the avoidance of loneliness in my old age. During that “up in the air” time, I steadied my nerves with a couple of drinks in the evening, and my blood pressure started to climb. That was the only six years of my life that I have ever lived alone.

By now I have lived in Thailand for fifteen years and I'm set up okay. I had an angioplasty a couple of years ago, so now I'm on meds for BP and cholesterol. All of the numbers are good, and I feel fine. My alcohol consumption has followed a pattern: abstinence; one little drink in the early evening; two little drinks; three little drinks; abstinence; repeat. The whole cycle takes about a year.

And now, the COVID-19 section of this essay!

We live in stressful times; no one could think otherwise. We are faced with three worldwide catastrophes simultaneously: climate change; COVID-19; and the Republican fascist coup in America. (Trump is just one aspect of that last one.) My hat is off to anyone who is not driven to drink by that lineup of horror.

I was at the “three little drinks” stage of the above described cycle as of about a month ago, when the generals who have been in charge here in Thailand for the last five years decided that Thais could not be trusted with alcohol during this COVID-19 situation, especially during the Songkran festival (Thai lunar New Year, the “water festival”). With the snap of their military fingers, there were no alcohol sales in the entire country. They said two weeks at first, but it was working so well that they renewed the ban for the remainder of April, and by now they are loving the results so much that alcohol sales are canceled for May as well. And do you know what? I'm just as happy that they are.

After a couple of days of settling into it, I am sleeping like a baby every night. After a couple of weeks, my blood pressure has dropped a few points, which I don't mind a bit. If I get a bit cranky, or worried, or afraid, I watch a Godzilla movie. That always distracts me. I was waiting today for the announcement concerning the government's alcohol policy, and I was fine with it when they announced that the ban on sales would be extended to at least the end of May.

Postscript: the Lost

The other day someone posted a photo of one of the famous boy baseball teams in our town in Queens in the late 1950s. A name came up that I hadn't heard in a while, and I commented what a good guy he was and I hoped that he was doing okay. Another friend sent me a message with the update.

Red G. was the boy. I remember him well from a very early age, six or seven years old. He was probably less than a year older than me. We were in the same group of little boys, playing around the neighborhood, playing ball or other games, talking about starting a club, sledding in the winter. He was always a sturdy boy, strong and athletic. A few years later was when we were involved with “choose-up-sides” baseball games at the big park near us, which had a great baseball field with a chain-link back-stop and a clay infield. Red was often one of the team “captains,” in charge of choosing players. To my knowledge, he never used his size and strength to push any of the other kids around. That was a popular pastime for many of the stronger boys.

After grammar school I never saw Red for about twenty-five years. My family and I were back in town in the mid-1980s so that I could finish my BA, and one afternoon I was waiting in the old neighborhood for my number two son, then in Kindergarten. I always referred to the mostly women doing the waiting as, “the other moms.” One day there was a guy there, about my age, a couple of inches taller and much stronger looking. We gave each other the same look. “Red?” I said, “Red G.?” He nodded and said, “Freddy?” We hardly spoke, the bus with the kids came, and that was that.

It turns out that Red was a New York City fire-fighter all of his working life. A fireman and a dedicated drinker, always, evidently, drinking in one of the bars that we remember from our teens. The Five-Corners; the College Lounge; the Blue Light. None of our friends were left at the end, they had all either moved or died. Red would either stand there alone or talk to anyone who was in the mood. He had a wife and children, but there had been some drama with one of the sons. Whatever, if Red wasn't on duty, he was at a bar.

He made it to his late sixties before the stroke got him. He spent a few years at a long-term care facility, and he died last year. I much prefer the happy stories about the boys and girls of my childhood, but many times I don't get one. Just the dying doesn't bother me, but Red's life sounds like it had a deep sadness in it. Alcohol can mask that feeling, but drinking cannot cure it.

Make your own decisions, dear reader. We are stuck with our temperaments, and there is very little that we can do about our personalities, but we do have some power over the direction that our lives will take.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Bottesini Concerto in B minor

I know this guy! (The bass player.) His uncle is a friend of mine here in BKK. Patrick passed through last year and we all had a chance to hang out. I wondered if Patrick was the only classically trained musician that I know, and I realized that he's the only LIVING classical musician that I know. My friend Danny passed away a couple of years ago. 

That's me all over. Always looking for the cloud to hide the silver lining. 

Friday, April 24, 2020

Funkadelic-Everybody's Going to Make it This Time

From the LP, “America Eats its Young.”

George Clinton was an interesting choice by fate to be the bearer of this message, but he got the duty, and he did a fine job. Come to think of it, maybe his own experience of life helps me with the point that I am about to make.
All young parents who are sincere about doing a good job of parenting bring their own experience of having themselves been parented during their own childhoods. Many of them are only too familiar with the mistakes that their own parents had made in parenting them, and they set out not to make those mistakes, not to follow those old patterns. For my (now ex-) wife and I, this was the central goal of our plans for bringing up our own children. Then something happens.
We managed to avoid most of the mistakes of our parents, but we ended up making our own mistakes. Overall, I think that we made a much better job of it than our parents had, but I'd hate to send those score-cards to the judges.
Here's George Clinton telling us that “we got to learn from the mistakes that were made in the past.” For all I know, George did manage to avoid some mistakes that he remembered from the generation that raised him, but let's face it, he did make a few of his own before he was done.
Rather than sound ungrateful, I should mention my sincere appreciation for all of the great work that Mr. Clinton did in the music business. The legacy of Parliament/ Funkadelic is a tower of achievement that will stand as long as people enjoy music.
Our mothers and our fathers
They had lives to live
Oh, and today, is proof that mistakes were made
There's not a doubt in my heart
They've done the best that they know how
And there's still time for us to make a change
We got to learn from the mistakes that were made in the past
We got to clean so that we can clean our minds
Cause in order to get it together
We got to get our heads together
Everybody is going to make it this time [Repeat x2]
Our country and our cities, they have been betrayed for money
Ooooh, and somehow, the people, they will make a change, yeah
There's not a doubt in my mind
If hunger and anger place the blame
There won't be a country left to change
We got to see what we're doing in the name of comfort
We've got to see, we've got to feel the warning signs
But in order to get it together
We've got to get our heads together
Everybody is going to make it this time [Repeat x2]
We've got to learn from the mistakes
That were made in the past
We've got to clean so that we can use our minds
But in order to get it together
We've got to get our heads together
Everybody is going to make it this time [Repeat x2]
(Everybody, make it, yeah whoa!)
Everybody is going to make it this time [Repeat x9]
(Got to make it, this time, whoaa! Wooo, woo, woo, hey!)

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Bill Wyman and Stanley Unwin - Bill hands his notice in

Well, well. Our Bill "Perks" Wyman and the Professor, Stanley Unwin, England's answer to Professor Irwin Corey, or visa versa. My, my. 

April 21, 2020: Today in WTF

The Eighth Wonder of the Modern World is the exponential increase in things that make you exclaim, “what the fuck?” Here are only four that I effortlessly picked off of the top of the news today, as reported by the New York Times. I remember a simpler time when the WTF moments left a little air in between occurrences. We are now accustomed to seeing their numbers increasing on a daily basis. The line on the chart is shooting through the roof.

Today in WTF: The price of oil set a record low. An all time record low. If you haven't read about it, try to guess what it is. Five dollars? A buck-three-eighty? No. Yesterdays closing price was negative thirty-seven dollars (thirty-seven below zero). It seems that the SARS-CoV-2 thing has almost eliminated the demand for oil, what with no one traveling by land, sea, or air, and it being too warm to sell much heating oil. Oil production is not like the water in the kitchen sink, you can't just turn off the taps. All that oil, and nowhere to put it. They are not only ready to give oil away at this point, they are prepared to pay people to take it away. What the fuck?

Today in WTF: Korean big shot Kim Jung un has been MIA for a few weeks. No one has seen the guy. He skipped the big ceremonies for one of the biggest national holidays in North Korea. Rumors vary from heart surgery to death, but I think it's more likely that he's having a stripper party with twenty varieties of French cheese and plenty of wine and vodka. Maybe he's at a health spa! God knows he could stand to drop a few kilos. The United Nations is excited about it, and there is mass speculation regarding the succession in the event that he has crossed the river. I guess no one wants to see political chaos in a rogue state possessing nuclear bombs. But really, hasn't he done this before? You'd think that there was enough to worry about, with the world health crisis, the world climate crisis, and one country after another throwing their democracies away like old newspapers. One despot goes incognito for a couple of weeks and the entire world of diplomacy is on the edges of their chairs? What the fuck?

Today in WTF: Paul Krugman's column in the Times today was about the Trump White House's tendency to fire any scientists who know what they're doing and replace them with quacks. Need advice about SARS-CoV-2, aka COVID-19, aka the Coronavirus? Ask Doctor Phil! Or Doctor Oz! Those guys are always available for TV appearances and they have ready opinions on all subjects. I've been warning about a Republican coup happening as we speak, under cover of Trump's silly outfits, clown hair and makeup, gobble-de-gook approach to English sentences, and idiotic behavior. This quackery is just part of it.

Don't take my word for it! No, don't do that! Ask the expert:

. . . persecution of every higher form of intellectual activity by the new mass leaders springs from more than their natural resentment of everything they cannot understand. Total domination does not allow for free initiative in any field of life, for any activity that is not entirely predictable . . .”


Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.”

Both quotes from Hannah Arendt, “On Totalitarianism.”

This entry is a double-dip. For one thing, this tendency on the part of Trump is still news? What the fuck? And besides, with the full knowledge of how such totalitarian states arise being part of any decent college education for the last seventy years, this present coup can still sneak in under the radar? What the fuck?

Today in WTF: OSHA is no longer in the business of protecting workers from dangerous workplace conditions. That's according to them, and backed up by their actions and omissions in this current health crisis. For all of the thousands of complaints that they have received from food service workers, delivery personnel, hospital staff, Amazon warehouse workers, and many, many others, OSHA has yet to file ONE complaint with employers. “You're on your own.” What the fuck?

Forgive me, but I lacked the energy to make a longer list. I got to four so quickly, and they were all so fucked up, that I ran out of gas. Frankly, I am losing interest in saving the world. Que sera, sera, MFs.

Jimmy Scott - Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child - 1960 Jazz Vocals

I'm in a bad mood, so I'll just take this opportunity to keep my mouth shut.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Open 'er Up! (Back to Business Edition)

Disclaimer: I'm about to call some people stupid. Or appear to call some people stupid. Or just suggest that some people are doing stupid things. I don't like to do any of these things. In the first place, it's not polite. Besides, I know that I do stupid shit all the time, so who am I to judge? Nobody, that's who. Why bother, then? I'll tell why. Because the stupid is really out of the box in America right now, and we should all be thinking of ways to get it back under lock and key.

People all over the country are taking to the streets to demand an end to all of these COVID-19 “stay at home” orders. They think it's bullshit! There was a real hubbub in Michigan, where an impressive number of cars showed up to drive around the state house, horns a'honkin and lights a'flashin, displaying signs and yelling at the governor to open up all of the restaurants, and factories, and every damn thing! There were also a lot of people standing around with signs and hard-ass looks on their faces. There was even a big group of them wearing camo and carrying big guns! No masks, either, they ain't wearing no damn masks. They were yelling, “lock her up!” about the governor, who is, indeed, a woman, and a Democratic woman at that. The entire world is in dire straights, and these people seem to wish that it was all much, much worse.

Why, pray tell, would anyone act this way? Is it because Donald Trump says that we need the country to get back to work, and he ain't wearing no damn mask either? Could be. Is it because those know-it-all doctors are starting to piss people off? Could be that, too. Is it because they need to go back to work so that they can pay their bills, buy food, and look for some affordable health care? Yeah, I think that's a bingo.

The same thing was happening in Frankfort, Kentucky; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Columbus, Ohio. So far that's a list of the usual suspects, Red states that love the Donald, and hate a long list of things that includes libtards, science, and the devil. There are a lot more of these rallies planned. Texas has one on calendar, but also many for places that I wouldn't immediately expect. California (!) for instance, and Oregon. Those west-coasters generally embrace science, did not vote for Trump, and are blessed with rational governments. But it appears that the stupid is well out of control now, and spreading faster than the Novel Coronavirus.

What are we really looking at? Who is behind this angry mob? Die-hard Trump fans? Certainly. Come hell or high water, those people will never admit that they were wrong. It's Trump-right-or-wrong to them. To paraphrase an old Russian proverb, “let him be the worst president in history, and dumb as a bag of hammers, but let him be our president.” (Original: “let it be worse; let it be ours.”) When Trump says “jump,” they don't ask how high. They just become airborne.

Also definitely libertarians, the Ayn Rand crowd. It's all about the FREEDOM, damn it! They're taking away our freedom! That's why the Tea Party is resurfacing, or at least people are waving their “Don't Tread on Me” flags. That's also why some of the gun club up in Michigan were waving Confederate flags. Somehow, I don't think that this is what those founders long ago were thinking when some of them said, “live free or die.”

Idaho, of course, is chiming in. The Idaho Freedom Foundation, in connection with other organizations, is planning a similar rally in Boise. They should get a big turnout up in the white homeland. That's a freedom crowd up there, a “freedom to discriminate and shoot up stop signs” crowd.

Infowars, unsurprisingly, has an opinion on the subject. They think that the virus is a plot hatched by the Chinese communists in league with the Deep State to destroy the American way of life and Donald Trump's career in politics. Inforwars is a bottomless font of stupid.

There's more stupid around right now than you could shake a stick at. The truth is probably that our less educated and more easily led brethren are reacting in stupid ways to a very real set of problems. American health care is no longer set up to help anyone; it's not even about the medical sciences anymore. It's a business; it's all about the money. You can die when we tell you to! That'll be when you're insurance runs dry. You lost your job? No more insurance for you! In the hospital on a ventilator? You have great insurance? They managed to save your life? Sorry, but there's a lot of stuff on your bill that was “out of your plan.” Your co-pay is $135,000. And by the way, American health care isn't in any hurry to develop and field adequate tests in sufficient numbers. Have you noticed? We're still waiting for that first, basic step to be taken. There's a reason for that, but it's too depressing to mention.

The American government is no more interested in people's well being than geese are interested in Jackson Pollack paintings. They're all the way on the money side now. They're going to skim billions from the stimuli and use the confusion to accrue more power to themselves.

Where can people turn to get a break? How about the churches? I'm sorry that I even brought it up. They're part of the problem. Churches are responsible for a considerable portion of our Corona virus cases, and deaths. “You can't tell us to close! God will protect us!” No one, to my knowledge, has been cured in a mega-church service, but a lot of people have been infected at one. Even one of the big-mouth “ I'm not closing my church!” pastors caught the bug himself and died. A fatal dose of either stupidity or greed.

It's no wonder that the American “your on your own” approach to government has driven Americans with few resources to distraction. All of those people are protesting against sensible medical approaches to this world-wide, deadly pandemic, approaches that are designed by experts to help them and their families live through the event, and I don't think that they could all be that stupid. Not actually stupid, although their actions and protests are stupid. They're just acting out, and they're taking advice from a bunch of idiots, from Trump, Fox News, Breitbart, Infowars, Rush Limbo, the whole crooked bunch of them. Those aforementioned devils in expensive suits are making the needy of America look stupid. You heard me. Hey! You people at those “open up the economy” demonstrations! Use your own heads! Stop acting stupid just because somebody who does not have your best interests at heart told you to do stupid shit!

As so often happens, the thread of this trouble making goes back to Reagan. Devil number one! He and his minions got the ball rolling on this anti-government hysteria. “Government is the problem!” “Government never helped anybody!” That started out as a trick to get rid of entrenched Democrats in Congress, “Vote against Washington!” was code for “vote in some new Republicans.” It worked too well. It was out of control, but still being pushed as the Republican agenda, by Newt Gingrich in his time in the House of Representatives. Do you remember? We had started to see many Hollywood movies in which the bad guy was the government, either a government agent or the whole government itself. We still see this in many movies. Now “government is the problem” has the status of a religion. “Drain the swamp!” It's the same now as it has always been: a trick to separate the Rubes from their money and their political rights.

If you or your baby get the Covid-19 and die, my heart goes out to you. If you get sick and live, or have only lost your job and/or your house, I'm sorry about that too. Be careful, however, where you place the blame. We, all of us, have allowed this situation to come into existence over the last forty years. It's our own damn fault that no one cares if we live or die. We were all too stupid to avoid it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Sly & The Family Stone - Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)

My wife and I were the first in our group of friends to get married. That meant that we had an apartment, and for about two years it was a party every evening at our place. This album was in heavy rotation most of that time, and this song was a big favorite. 

I loved the entire presentation, but Larry Graham made a particular impression on me. His playing was really something new. This song is a milestone in the history of the electric bass guitar. 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

They Were Our Friends

Some of my old friends, very few, remember every single person that they ever knew. They remember all of their classmates, all of their neighborhood friends, everyone's parents, and all of our teachers. If one of our old friends on Facebook asks a question about anyone in town, they answer it in detail. It's amazing.

Not only do they remember everyone, but they kept in touch with a seemingly impossible number of people from our town, or in some cases, from their high schools. When I mentioned a certain Sister J., one of these social geniuses informed me that, “she just died last year. I had been visiting her at the Dominican's residence in Amityville. She was a wonderful woman.” My teacher in the second grade was Sister J., and she was indeed a wonderful young woman, only fifteen or barely twenty years older than her students, and so stunningly beautiful that she had become my first childhood crush. It never occurred to me, however, to keep in touch with her for our entire lives. But like I say, some people are social geniuses. God bless them. They are a useful font of information, and often they also remember us more clearly than others do. Fondly, it is to be hoped. In my case, they remember things that I had forgotten.

Memory Note: My wife has a great memory. Names of people, hotels, all kinds of stuff. She remembers our room number on hotel visits years ago. I tend to forget things that are outside of the range of my major interests. She told me once, “don't worry, you're just getting old.” I answered, “oh, Honey, my memory was never that good.”

I'm not in that group that can remember so many people and details. I could, and did, lose track of friends without half trying. I'm sure that this made me an inadequate friend back then. I began young to live my life on a daily basis, dreading every day waking up in the morning, and moving between anxiety and dread all day. Having awoken, my goal became to make it through the day without starting to scream and not being able to stop. God knows that my miserable parents were disappointed in me enough already, without getting a phone call from the hospital telling them that I had been admitted and sedated, and what would you like us to do with him? I'm sorry to say that this is still my modus operandi. Living like this has caused me to frequently forget about people who had been important to me only one month previously. Mea maxima culpa. I wish that it could have been different.

It's part of being this age, I believe, that makes us think about our remote pasts and wonder what ever became of the friends that we had then. In the rush of life we all became somewhat preoccupied with making a living, paying the bills, and maybe raising children and maintaining a marriage. Now many of us wonder, what happened to so-and-so? Something may draw our attention to a boy that was in our company at boot camp, an individual that we may not have had a single thought about in fifty years. We forget details of daily life easily, but suddenly we remember his name and wonder, how did he do out in the fleet, and thereafter?

Facebook has an interesting role to play in all of this. Facebook allows some of those childhood friends to become our friends again in the present. I am grateful to have reconnected with many friends from long ago on Facebook, and also many people of about my age whom I did not know back then. Friends of friends. That last bit is interesting. Some of my new Facebook friends I remember from the old neighborhood, but I had never interacted with them. Only seen them around and knew their names. Several remember me for some reason. Facebook is, however, a mixed blessing. In this pre-fascist/ near death of democracy period of American history, some of those old friends have turned into paranoid, political monsters. It's a terrible thing to witness. Quite a few of the wonderful, sensible teenagers of long ago, kids that I knew well, are now dyed in the wool Trump repeatocons. If he said it this week, they'll repeat it next week. It's depressing to watch American democracy die this way, allowed to die by people who really should have known better. That's how it happens, though. People believe the lies, and then the lies take form and the terror starts, and then it's too late and everybody shuts up. Unless it's time to shout, “I love Big Brother!” But I loved my friends then, and I love them now, Trump or no Trump. They are entitled to their opinions, and within the bounds of the law they are also entitled to their biases and their prejudices. Que sera, sera.

It is likely that the virus, and the accompanying cycle of worry and terror, add to the urgency of our search through the files of our pasts. Some days I can hardly stand the knowledge that many of my memories are unique to me, and that they will pass from the earth along with me when my time comes. That's a silly thing to worry about, but unfortunately pride is one of my shortcomings.

My memories of the dead are tender, at least for those who were good to me, but I have no beautiful words for them. Death, for me, means only that their file is marked, “deceased” and moved to the basement for long term storage. I love them still, and I remember them well, but that won't last much longer. They live in my heart, but that's just a sand castle that the next tide will wash away.

For those in the “what ever happened to . . .” category, I cannot address them all individually. These are the names from the past for whom the trail ended suddenly. There have been several that I tried to contact over the years, by letter when that was our only recourse, and by e-mail or Facebook later on. I had only negative reinforcement in those efforts, with one notable exception (thanks, Michael!). I may be more sentimental than most. For the bad boys whose names come to mind, the answer may be that they are either dead or in prison, although they may have successfully made the leap to organized crime, where, come to think of it, “dead or in prison” remain likely outcomes.

Many of my missing childhood friends probably just moved away without fanfare, as is usually the case. There were also a large number of children, mostly boys, who after a certain age were rarely seen outside of their homes unless it was in travel to or from school. My town was tough, very tough, and taking a beating or some very rough teasing was always a possibility. We either had to learn to deal with it or stay inside. I was more afraid of my mother than I was of the tough boys, so “out” was always my first choice. It's not as though the tough boys ever killed anybody, and they reserved their worst beatings for each other. A couple of the bad boys are now Facebook friends of mine, although when they discover my politics it renews their old urge to bounce me off of a wall.

There have been several friends who gave up on me and cut me off. Compassion fatigue, you know, people just get sick of the negativity that comes along with depression. It is also likely that I have habits which some people might find annoying. To those few who had been great friends to me for decades before giving up, just know that I love you and I understand. Thanks for everything; no hard feelings.

To all of my friends, known and unknown, I hope that your paths have not been too difficult. I believe that that is all we can politely ask of fate, or God, if you will. It's the only prayer that I pray. “Thank you, (fill in the blank), for never letting the worst happen.”

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Johnny Burnette Train Kept A Rollin'

Of all things, the guitarist came across the knowledge of how to create this tone by accident. The secret is a slightly loosened tube, probably one of the power tubes. 

I still have a Bearsville CD of Johnny Burnette's Greatest Hits that includes this version of this song. It's the most expensive CD that I've ever owned, I think I paid $34 for it at Tower Records in Marina Del Rey in the late 1990s. My ex-wife and I always had Friday dinner at ChanDarette, a Thai Fusion place down there. I was usually a little lit after a long dinner, so there were times that I splurged on things like this. Twenty-five years and I still love it, so I guess it was worth it. 

World Wide Anxiety Update

The other day I mentioned a certain event that was so powerful that it was making the entire world simultaneously anxious. That's an interesting idea.

Consider how many cultures there are in the world who generally remain unaware of current goings on outside of their little area, people who live in the margins of the earthly life. Some live out in the woods, like the Amazon, or Papua New Guinea, and some live in countries that don't get a lot of press, and don't generate a lot of economic activity, and concern themselves almost entirely with their own way of life. Well, even the people out in margins are getting sick now, so they're on board. They're anxious too.

Come to think of it, I knew a Euro-hippie woman back in the 1970s who was so completely disinterested in the world at large that when I mentioned that Patty Hurst had been convicted of that bank robbery, she looked genuinely confused and said, “who is Patty Hurst?” Wherever that woman is now, I wish her well. She was fourteen ounces of life in a twelve ounce bottle. My guess is that she is aware of this new plague. And she's anxious about it. She had a son, and she's probably a grandmother by now. So yeah, she's anxious about it.

What about the entire countries that usually don't give a shit? Like Lao, for instance.* Lao is a fairly large country with a population of about seven million. It is located north and east of Thailand; north of Cambodia; and west of Vietnam. It's mostly mountainous, and it's almost completely undeveloped. There are places so remote that if you could get there by helicopter, you might find herds of wild elephants, this is up in the mountains. That's also where most of those gray Asian leopards live. People live up there too, hill tribes mostly. Almost no one ever goes to Lao, maybe some NGO types, and foreign construction engineers working on dams or hydroelectric plants. A couple of tourists, but not a lot, mostly in Luang Prabang, which is pretty, but wildly overpriced. Well Lao just got their tenth confirmed case yesterday. They do a lot of across the river business with Thailand, so you can bet that they've all heard about it by now. And you can bet that the disease is spreading, and that they're anxious.

You can't hardly get away from this thing already, and the numbers are still small. Iceland, check. Tajikistan, check. It's everywhere. And it's a sneaky fucker too, half of the people with the virus never show symptoms. They have no fever, no cough. They're just out there breathing on us. It's mysterious! I'm sure that the virologists are fascinated by the entire thing. I wish them Godspeed coming up with a vaccine. None of us will be letting out breaths out until that happens. Even then, this sneaky little fucker might mutate! What form might that take? Well, this virus is “novel,” so no one can even imagine! What fun.

Top marks to Taiwan, they really leapt into action at the first sign of trouble. Plus, they have one of the best and most modern health care systems in the world, and a government that is set up to get things done expeditiously. They got great results. Singapore did a fine job too, and Germany seems to be working it hard. Iceland did okay. Lots of places are doing better than average.

Lots of places are doing below average, and many places are just plain fucking it up. Some are engaged in magical thinking that allows them to believe that if they mimic some of the things that other countries are having luck with, they'll be able to beat the virus down to a dull roar in the same way. They're concentrating on the optics. Brother, I wish it were that simple. Some countries are still scratching their heads, looking for a way to make money off of the virus or achieve political supremacy. There are a couple of them in Europe; I can't speak for the entire world. People who are terrified are easily manipulated. Let's see, who's going to die, anyway? Who would they have voted for? My own miserable country displays its unfortunate tendency to monetize everything, to use any distraction that presents itself as an excuse to enhance their group's political power, to use any excuse for a Federal bailout that will go mostly to filling certain people's pockets, to make self-serving comments to the press to assist them in making the stock market their own personal ATM machine, and to invent cute but inappropriate nicknames for the virus to turn the whole matter into a racist mess.

That's our choice now. The lucky ones only have to worry about the virus, but they are sure that their country is doing all that it can to keep the number of deaths down, and they live in countries where getting top-notch medical care is a right, not an expensive privilege. They'll get their jobs back as well. That's the lucky few. Then there are the people who are worried about the virus, living in countries where this is stretching the medical establishment to the breaking point, but at least they know that they'll come out of this with their democratic freedoms intact, without having incurred major debts in the attempt to keep their families alive. Many people are stuck in countries where the medical and political responses have been inadequate, and the virus is already being used as an excuse to eliminate or weaken their democracies. This group includes America and Israel. Several democracies have already crossed the river of no return, so the survivors in those countries will live out their lives under a strong-man of some kind, with any rights that they might have had having evaporated in the viral mist. None of these choices is in any way attractive, and the entire enterprise is unsettling and anxiety producing. That's for every single person in the world over the age of about seven.

The entire thing is amazing, that now overused and misused word, used here in it's correct context. If it plays out in the way that appears most likely, it will be a “before/ after” moment in history. Dare we even hope for a quick pharmacological fix? Something to get us through the development period for a true vaccine? That would be a wonderful surprise. We dare not hope, I'm afraid. You can't hope for a wonderful “surprise.” There ain't no Santy Claus.

In the meantime, be careful crossing the street! Don't slip in the shower! Death has proven to us many times that it can keep up with its work load, no matter what kind of additional demand is placed upon its time. And no matter how anxious you become, don't take any foolish action to make things worse. We're all human, so we'll all be dead before too long anyway, in the natural way of things. Just wait for it.

*Lao. Take my word for it, they don't appreciate it when anyone calls the place, “Laos.” They don't want you to call them, “Laotians.” They are the Lao; their country is Brataet Lao; they speak Lao and use the Lao alphabet. The French came up with that Laos/ Laotian thing, and the Lao are good and sick of it. They have mostly dirt roads, and a few grass airfields, they shop in outdoor markets, and they cook their own food, and that's the way they like it. Now the outside world is getting them sick, and that will probably make their tendency to “self isolate” themselves from the world even more intense. They are really very nice people, and very happy in their isolation. They're poor, but they don't know it. They have their families, their friends, and their culture, and they are happy. They're so far off of the beaten path that they just might do okay in this thing.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Gil Scott-Heron, Winter In America, Central Park Summerstage, NYC 6-27-1...

Hey, Jack! A five minute introduction to a great song! You don't see that shit everyday. 

The record shows that Gil Scott-Heron was not the most agreeable of men. For me, his status as a great artist is not diminished by that fact. After all, Caravaggio remains a great painter, does he not? And a murderer, in the margins. 

Friday, April 3, 2020

Events That Alter The Path Of History

It doesn't happen often. Most events don't offer the required emotional impact. I'm only considering events that have occurred within my lifetime, so we're talking about after 1950 or so.

One momentary event can only alter the path of history if it can demonstrate that it will, within itself, enter the consciousness of the entire population and change the character of everything that happens after it. It will alter the way that people think of the world. This leaves out many otherwise momentous events. The Soviets, and then the Chinese Communists, exploded atomic devices? No, not a big enough deal. Those we could see coming. Death of Stalin? Same thing. Not a big deal, because no one lives forever. Sputnik? Now you're getting closer. That was a surprise to kids like me, because we'd never even thought about that before, other than watching Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, and the old Flash Gordon serials. But it was a shock to anyone who realized the capabilities of such rocketry. (ICBMs.) So, no, Sputnik doesn't qualify. Too abstract, and it didn't really change anything beyond some acceleration of programs already in place.

Events that instantly alter the path of history must place a new filter in the thought process of every person on earth. They must render more cynical every person who becomes aware of the event, and everyone must almost immediately become aware of the event. We all become more cynical, or more pessimistic; the point is that people are forever changed. These events change the meaning of everything that subsequently happens from what it would have meant before the event to what it means in light of the event.

There have only been two such events in my life, according to my way of thinking. Three, if you add the one that punched us in the stomach in just the last few weeks and which we are in the midst of right this second.

For me, the first one was the JFK assassination. That was the death of innocence for a large part of the earth's population. I was only fifteen at the time, so it was only later that the full meaning of it sunk in for me. JFK was a big deal, he was a world-wide phenomenon. That's easy to forget today. Now, to most Americans, he was just a liberal Democratic president who probably got what was coming to him. The reality of JFK at the time went much deeper than that, and not just for Americans.

Around 1980 I worked at a camera factory in West Los Angeles that had an interesting strategy for saving money on payroll. They hired a lot of people that were just plain desperate, like me, and they hired people from other countries who needed visas to stay in the States. Half of the machinists were Russian Jews on some special program, and one guy that I got to know very well was a rich kid from Egypt who was probably trying to avoid military service. He told me about his mom having a big shrine in the house. It had three parts, with multiple photos, statuettes, candles, the works. One of the three was JFK. It wasn't political, like having Nassar up there. To her, JFK was a saint. The whole idea of “they” got a lot darker when JFK got shot. We finally get a decent, honest man to lead us (yeah, I know), and right away “they” took him away from us.

The second event on my short list is 9-11. I was on the West Coast, and my alarm went off at about 6:00 a.m., that's 9:00 a.m. New York time, and out of the daze of sleep NPR's Morning Edition was offering blow-by-blow coverage of a plane that had not long before crashed into the World Trade Center. I got up and put on CNN, and there are the videos and everything, but it's still a plane crash as far as anyone knows, so I'm still going to court. I've got appearances to make. I had TVs everywhere at the time, all with the cable hook up, so all of a sudden I'm watching live, in real time, a second plane crashes into the second tower. At that point, I sat on the bed and did the math. Someone has done this; I can guess who, because they have attacked these buildings before; the old world has just died, I said to myself, and everything that happens after right now is the new world. (I did drive to the courthouse, by the way. Of course, it was closed. I wasn't taking any chances.) 

Now we're experiencing number three. It seems like the “midst” of this one will last for a while, so maybe we ought to get used to it. It lacks the instant quality of the other two, but it brings its own unique qualities. What does it take to make every single person in the world simultaneously anxious at a level that is life altering? Well, now we know. We'll all be scared shitless at least until they come up with a medicine that will knock the wind out of its sails. Like, you know, with HIV, there's a medicine generally available that both a) prevents the virus from becoming full-blown AIDS; and b) prevents the spread of the disease. That's some good medicine, and that's what we need. What we really need, of course, is a vaccine, so that we can all get inoculated and just forget about the whole thing. Like we've forgotten about smallpox. At least, that is, until some genius brings it back to life. The vaccine will happen someday, but that day is probably eighteen months away. There will be drama at that point too. They give those things away in most countries, rich or poor, because the minimal expense of their distribution is obviously to be preferred over spreading AIDS or our new plague around. That is the compassionate thing to do, and definitely pragmatic as well. It's a win for everyone. I wonder if we'll be so lucky this time, with even the President of the United States of Blood, Bones, and Profits trying to get into the act of profiting from this plague. (“Buy me that vaccine they're working on in Germany.”)

Call it what it is: it is a plague. To call it a pandemic is like calling a balls-to-the-wall crack-whore a “taxi dancer.” There's no need to be polite! Plagues do not offer dispensations for your courtesy.

Is it really necessary for people to eat pangolins, and civits, “jungle meat,” and God knows what all else? The fallout from this fucking bat-virus will be extreme and disagreeable. That's economically, medically, politically, socially, wholly, and individually. Within a couple of years, nothing at all will be the same.

There's a small chance that things will be better. A very, very small chance.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Gil Scott-Heron - 'I'm New Here' (official video)

Here's another very nice song by a cherished veteran. There's a message here, for sure, but I'm not so sure that it's the message that Brother Gil thought it was. 

Because that's just the nature of things, you know, by the time you turn around, everything is new again and you don't know what's happening at all. So in one way, hey, Boomer! when was the last time that you felt like you comfortably understood what the fuck was going on? And in another way, when I listen to the new Dylan song I understand all of the references. People younger than x-years-old are in the dark about a lot of it. Old Bob drops in "don't let me be misunderstood," and dozens of others. That "Murder Most Foul" should have footnotes for the uninitiated.  

What's Fred Up To?

"Have you heard from Fred lately?"

"Fred's dead."

"Oh, that's too bad . . . did he suffer?"

"I don't think so."

"Oh, too bad."

Vince Taylor and his Playboys - Brand New Cadillac

Famously covered by the Clash on London Calling. Good song. 

Okay, Professor Google tells me that this was originally a Vince Taylor "B" side. I like the band, which includes Joe Moretti playing the guitar. There's an impressive list of bands that covered the song, either playing it at shows or releasing records in other countries. Reading about all of those shenanigans makes a nice catalog of record business misconduct. Many law suits were involved. 

Vince lived the last almost ten years of his life in Switzerland, working as an aircraft mechanic. Go figure. Died at age 52 of lung cancer.